Not Science?

A lovely two day thus far. A bit warm, but the gym was blissfully sparse of educationalists and had only one, exceptionally noisy, weight bouncer. The podcast today was a selection of science podcasts from various sources and aside from a particularly unengaging interview about pesticide suicide – evidently an African activity – and the realization that public radio science podcasts (radio broadcasts) are particularly vapid, there was not much noteworthy.

I have been considering an article [Link] in Scientific American that asks the question of whether psychology is a science. This is a topic – in general – that intrigues me. Part of it is important, of distinguishing deliberate falsehood for unfair gain from actual seeking of understanding. But part of it is looking for a balance. Physics, and physicists, tends to look down on the other sciences as “stamp collecting”. As one who has collected stamps since childhood I don’t so much consider that insulting as disparaging of stamp collecting.

I should comment that I have colleagues who are psychologists and they are not at all like the psychologists one sees on the electromagnetic audio-visual receiver. They do not observe someone for thirty seconds and immediately offer some pithy insight. In fact, they don’t seem to have many insights to offer. They do experiments that are at once appalling and embarrassing. These are all observational experiments, and they are very poorly controlled, mostly because they deal with animals (including humans) that they don’t harm other than observing them and perhaps forcing them to participate in the experiments. From my standpoint they are treating whole animals as if they were elementary particles which strikes me as egregiously simplistic. And I can’t even think about identicality without pain medications. It’s rather like mixing Fermions and Bosons and then measuring the statistics.

The embarrassing part is that they really don’t have a choice. Given the restrictions on dealing with humans, and other animals, they really can’t have control, so rigorous experimentation and testability are basically irrelevant to these efforts. So the question is does this make it not a science?

I have to admit to being conflicted. One the positive side these folks are trying to understand an aspect of reality. On the other hand are they using effective methods? In the latter, are they like alchemists rather than chemists? I’m not sure, but I do know it isn’t stamp collecting – stamps don’t make poo and get ornery.

, , ,