Is Psychology a science? It tries to be. It can certainly go through the motions of empirical enquiry, and good work abounds: well-thought out studies, interesting hypotheses and an accumulation of valuable results. Sure, there is a long tail end of not-so-good publications, but that is to be expected in any discipline.
Are there some things we ought to do better? Here are three suggestions:
1 Agree upon some basic measures. It would be alarming in any other discipline if, after a century of enquiry, we still had no agreement about what psychological measures we should apply as a matter of course. I am not talking about basic demographics on people, which any organisation collects, but the agreed basics of psychological description. How about an agreed brief measure of personality and an agreed brief measure of intelligence? What else? Simple reaction times? We ought to be able to specify what sort of people we are studying in terms of psychological characteristics. We can then show some psychological linkage between different studies.
2 Agree to pay attention to previous research, and relevant research in related fields. Psychology has an alarming tendency to ignore previous work, particularly when terminology changes, which is frequently. It often also ignores problems with measuring techniques, as if it were optional to attend to these matters. Few psychology researchers want to stop their work so as to repair instruments and recalibrate them properly. The experimentalists are much better at this than clinicians, but the former tend to have the smaller and less representative samples. They are interested in effects between difference conditions, rather than whether young psychology students are a fair sample of humanity.
3 Agree to collaborate, and move from sole practitioners in cottage industries to more systematic large scale research projects. Academic advancement is based on “making a name for one’s self” which encourages apprentice piece publications, repetition of papers each dealing with sub-sections of a data set, and anything which brings attention to a person. Engineering projects encourage far more team work, with a team or company name being more important than individuals. Would functional specialisms develop within research projects, rather than expecting every researcher to be a generalist? Would Psychology have a better future if it had more large projects? Imagine if the smallest publishable sample size was 500 persons: might that drive up the representativeness and reproducibility of results?
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