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The Science of Psychology What are the aims of science and what place has psychology and statistics within it? Outline How do we come to know anything? Defining Science Characteristics Objectives and Techniques Philosophical Issues: How does science proceed? Logical Positivism Popper

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the science of psychology

The Science of Psychology

What are the aims of science and what place has psychology and statistics within it?


How do we come to know anything?

Defining Science


Objectives and Techniques

Philosophical Issues: How does science proceed?

Logical Positivism





Truth and Relativism

Psychological Science

Where does Statistics come in?

Doing good research


how might we come to claim some knowledge
How might we come to claim some knowledge?
  • Authority
  • Religion
  • Empiricism
  • Rationalism
  • Science
what is science
What is Science?
  • Science represents a special kind of epistemology that combines empirical, rational, pragmatic, and even aesthetic dimensions.
  • " is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority.“
    • Bertrand Russell
  • Could and has been seen by different people as:
    • A set of facts and a set of theories that explain the facts
    • A particular approach, the ‘scientific method’
    • Whatever’s being done by institutions carrying on "scientific" activity
  • So what is it? How does it progress? Does it?
philosophical issues
Philosophical Issues
  • Logical Positivism
  • Karl Popper
  • Thomas Kuhn
  • Imre Lakatos
  • Paul Feyerabend
logical positivism
Logical Positivism
  • An early approach (around the 1920s)
  • Concerned itself with the scientific status of statements
    • Statements must be empirically accessible
    • Laws have a strictly technical function (not moral or ethical)
    • There is a progressive unification of scientific laws
logical positivism10
Logical Positivism
  • Asserts that statements are meaningful only insofar as they are verifiable, and that statements can be verified only in two ways:
    • Empirical statements, including scientific theories, which are verified by experiment and evidence;
    • And analytic statements, statements which are true or false by definition, and so are also meaningful1
  • The verifiability theory of meaning
    • Statements are true in as far as they are empiricallyverifiable
  • The correspondence theory of truth
    • The truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world, and whether it accurately describes (i.e., corresponds with) that world2
karl popper
Karl Popper
  • Problems with the positivists
  • No amount of confirmation can achieve certainty for some types of statements
    • Verifiable
      • There are black swans (positive existential claim)
      • Not all swans are white (negative universal)
    • Not verifiable
      • There are no black swans (negative existential)
      • All swans are white (positive universal)
  • ‘Confirmed’theory is not truth, but merely conjecture…
  • … however, theory can be falsified with more certainty
karl popper12
Karl Popper
  • The integrity of the scientific procedure hinges partly on an honest quest for negative instances1
  • One mark of nonscientific or pseudoscientific theories is that they tend to live forever because they are not falsifiable
  • Good theory
    • Forbids certain states of the world
      • If they exist, theory falsified.
    • Makes bold predictions
    • Resists falsification
  • Scientists should not seek to confirm their theories, but to falsify them!
karl popper13
Karl Popper
  • Popper argued that there is no such thing as neutral observation; rather,
    • “Observation is always observation in the light of theories... It is only the inductivist prejudice that leads people to think that there could be a phenomenal language free of theories.”1
  • Popper likens theories to “nets cast to catch what we call ‘the world’: to rationalize, to explain, and to master it. We endeavor to make the mesh ever finer and finer.”
  • There is the hope of progress, but no grounds for absolute certainty
thomas s kuhn
Thomas S. Kuhn
  • Kuhn’s work (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962) emphasized the importance of understanding science in terms of its community structures and its historical development
  • Growth of knowledge not a logical process but a psychological and social one1
thomas s kuhn15
Thomas S. Kuhn
  • Extension of Polanyi’s notion of the ‘Republic of Science’
    • Science is bound in tradition while at the same time anti-authoritarian
      • Will hold to that tradition evenin the face of falsifying evidence
    • Adherence to the tradition will only go so far
      • Revolutions will occur
    • Science “is disciplined and motivated by serving a traditional authority, but this authority is dynamic; its continued existence depends on its constant self-renewal through the originality of its followers… In this view of a free society, both its liberties and its servitudes are determined by its striving for self-improvement, which in its turn is determined by the intimations of truths yet to be revealed, calling on men to reveal them.”
thomas s kuhn16
Thomas S. Kuhn
  • Prescientific development is marked by competing systems or schools of thought such that all ‘facts’ are given equal footing
    • Psychology?
  • In time, one of the competing schools prevails over the others
  • The dominant school is in charge of the intellectual agenda and there is a transition to normal science
    • E.g. Theory of relativity in physics
  • Normal science defines problem areas and provides methods of practice. It is the tradition in which most scientists work.
    • Normal science as “puzzle solving”, whatever the scientists within the paradigm are engaged in
paradigms and crises
Paradigms and crises
  • Paradigm refers to “the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on, shared by members of a given community.”
  • Crisis occurs when new discoveries or anomalies can’t be incorporated into the paradigm
    • Some members of the community lose faith
  • A scientific revolution is marked by a radical new and more successful organization of the world
  • Following a revolution, the old paradigm is displaced and there is a move back to a normal science that works within the broad outlines provided by the new paradigm
thomas s kuhn18
Thomas S. Kuhn
  • Kuhn portrays scientific development as a succession of tradition-bound periods punctuated by non-cumulative breaks
  • Scientists carry out their day-to-day affairs within a framework of presuppositions about what constitutes a problem, a solution, and a method
  • Science is more a reflection of scientists’psychology
imre lakatos
Imre Lakatos
  • ‘Contrary to naïve falsificationism, no experiment, experimental report or well-corroborated low-level falsifying hypothesis alone can lead to falsification.’
    • Even Popper’s more sophisticated falsificationism doesn’t seem to really portray the way science actually works
  • Kuhn’s ‘mystical conversion’ from one dominant paradigm to another is also lacking
  • Lakatos took on a viewpoint somewhat between Kuhn and Popper
imre lakatos20
Imre Lakatos
  • Typical unit of science is not an isolated hypothesis, but rather a research program, which contains:
    • Hard core
      • Required components (tenets, thoeries) of the research program not subject to falsification i.e. must not change if program is to be maintained
    • Protective belt
      • Auxilliary hypotheses that can be shown false w/o destroying the research program
  • Unlike Kuhn’s normal science, research programs rarely hold dominant sway and are usually in competition until degeneration sets in when the hard core is compromised
  • A program without progress dies
  • “It is not that we propose a theory and Nature may shout NO; rather, we propose a maze of theories and nature may shout INCONSISTENT.”
paul feyerabend
Paul Feyerabend
  • ‘Anarchist’ philosopher
    • “Anything goes”
  • Science not objective, disinterested or detached
  • Not superior to other types of knowledge, which also achieve reliable results
    • No prescribed method to which all scientists adhere
  • No need for (or real means of) demarcating between science and pseudoscience
  • The point of the previous notes is to get us thinking about what science is, not necessarily coming to a hard and fast conclusion
  • If you are to engage in a scientific investigation, you ought to have thought at some point what the heck science is, and specifically about psychological science, and how it might proceed
the rise of relativism 1
The rise of relativism1
  • Based on Kuhn’s ideas (whether he would agree or not) and the extreme form presented by Feyerabend, a relativistic take on science and knowledge became (has become again) quite popular2
    • No absolute truth
    • Science is a product of cultural, historical, political etc. biases that determine what “truth” is
  • Veriphobia3
    • Fear of truth
    • No objectivity?
    • Pervasiveness of veriphobia
      • ‘truth’, T vs. t, truth, and even jokingly referred to by Colbert- truthiness
why did truth fail us
Why did truth fail us?
  • Early days of science marked by overconfidence
  • Claims of truly objective, value-free pursuit of knowledge were eventually seen to be not an accurate portrayal of science
  • Subjectivity and interpretation in science is the rule, rather than the exception
the relativistic stances
  • Truth as consensus
    • Truth is whatever we are all in agreement about (Rorty)
  • Truth as domination
    • Truth is what the ruling party says is fact (Foucault)
    • Science is racist, sexist, classist etc. (Harding)
  • Veriphobia is seen as a subversive stance by some in the social sciences and humanities, as well as the general public, and indicative of a healthy skepticism
    • It isn’t either
  • Did the sun actually rotate around the earth just because we believed/theorized it did? Was the earth ever actually flat?
  • If scientific endeavor is solely the product of biased methodology, or one idea/hypothesis is as valid as another, how has it progressed? How can so many individuals with differing biases come to agreement?
  • Practical consistency
  • Belief is that upon which one is prepared to act1, and few if any act like a good ‘relativist’ would.2
    • Dawkins
    • “Show me a cultural relativist at 30,000 ft, and I'll show you a hypocrite!”3
so what s the point
So what’s the point?
  • Science is obviously not perfect, its practitioners are as fallible as anyone else
  • This does not necessarily undermine the general approach, which has advantages over others (e.g. astrology) to solving the problems it tackles, nor does it change the ultimate reality of what is being examined (i.e. the truth of the situation), however uncertain present knowledge may be.
  • “Without a sense of truth, and an explicit goal of truth-seeking in our work, inquiry becomes a fatuous exercise on self-promotion.”
    • Bailey
  • Sham-inquiry
    • (Peirce)
  • Sokal hoax
    • "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"
    • What happens when there is no accountability for truth
"The displacement of the idea that facts and evidence matter by the idea that everything boils down to subjective interests and perspectives is… the most prominent and pernicious manifestation of anti-intellectualism in our time."Larry Laudan, Science and Relativism (1990)
paths to understanding
Paths to Understanding
  • So how do we get to truth?
  • C.S. Peirce
  • Method of Tenacity
    • Cling to some knowledge because it makes us ‘feel’ good
    • Won’t get very far that way
  • Method of Authority
    • Expert says so, it must be so
    • Fine if they know what they’re talking about
  • A Priori Method
    • Use reason alone to come to a conclusion
  • The ‘Scientific Method’
    • Observation and reasoning about evidence.
    • Our best approach
is psychology a true science
Is Psychology a true science?
  • For the most part, science is defined by its empirical approach
  • Must be able to observe events in some way to talk about psychological theories in a meaningful fashion
    • Variables are manipulated and measured
  • Is psychology scientific?
    • Yes, though some endeavors that fall under the heading of psychology are not
  • The scientific approach to studying psychological phenomenon began in the 19th century, and has expanded since
  • Although often difficult to come to hard conclusions, the methods utilized are scientific in nature
where does statistical analysis come in
Where does statistical analysis come in?
  • “Statistics is a science in my opinion, and it is no more a branch of mathematics than are physics, chemistry and economics; for if its methods fail the test of experience - not the test of logic - they are discarded”
    • J.W. Tukey
where does statistical analysis come in35
Where does statistical analysis come in?
  • Means to an end
  • If we want to speak intelligently regarding the various realms of psychological investigation (perception, attention, memory, causes of specific behaviors and disorders, social interaction etc.), we must have a means to investigate the things that matter to us
  • Science provides the approach- statistics is thus a tool to reach greater understanding
good research practices
Good Research Practices
  • Enthusiasm
    • Enjoy what you’re doing and find research questions that interest you
  • Open-Mindedness
    • To other’s ideas, new techniques etc.
  • Common sense
    • Don’t leave home without it
  • Role-taking ability
    • How are others going to use and interpret your research?
  • Inventiveness
    • New ideas, efficient problem solving
good research practices40
Good Research Practices
  • Confidence in one’s own judgment
    • Be bold when appropriate, but also be aware that in areas you are not familiar, you won’t know what you don’t know
  • Consistency and care about details
    • Don’t half-ass your work or you waste every bit of time you spend on it
  • Ability to communicate
    • Knowledge is minimally valuable if you can’t sufficiently explain to allow for further research and thinking by others
  • Honesty
    • Goes without saying

There is no one definition of science or its methods, though one thing we can say for sure is that it’s very much misunderstood by non-scientists

When talking of psychological science it gets even worse

For example, the vast majority of the public seems to think Freud is as influential as ever, and yet he was heavily criticized by psychological scientists from the getgo.1

It doesn’t help that scientific psychology is fraught with bad research practices

“Top” journals are no exception, though better than some

Many still do the same tired analyses they learned in graduate school, and even do those incorrectly and poorly when appropriate

This course is a first step you can take to make your field more applicable to modern problems and acceptable as a scientific discipline