Why psychology is not a science

In assessing psychology as non-science I am not dismissing its usefulness. While I have also claimed that medicine and technology are not sciences, it would be ludicrous of me to say that they are useless. Until we scientifically understand the material basis of the mind – the brain, its billions of neurons, and the electrochemical processes that take place among them – psychological and psychiatric therapies are our only hope of treating mental illness.

Social investigators should not be offended if they are not called “scientists.” Many human endeavors are necessary and useful even though their practitioners are not labeled “scientists.”

No musician, artist, or poet is expected to be called a “scientist” even though their discipline is indispensable for human intellect and pleasure.

Psychology started as the discipline that studied the mind. Wilhelm Wundt, considered the father of psychology, created the field of experimental psychology in 1879 in a laboratory devoted exclusively to psychological research. Some psychologists argue that psychology is too young to be dismissed as a science. After all, it has been only 135 years since Wundt created the field. So, let’s compare the progress in physics in its first 135 years with that of psychology. One can argue that physics started with the publication of Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy in 1687. Add 135 years to this and you get 1822. I’ll simply list some of the most important discoveries in physics that occurred prior to 1822:

  • integral calculus was discovered and used to prove the exactness of the universal law of gravity;
  • laws of motion were applied to fluids and the mathematics branch of partial differential equations was created;
  • the universal gravitational constant was accurately measured, making it possible for physicists to “weigh” the earth and the sun.
  • conservation of matter was discovered in chemistry;
  • mathematical law of electrostatic force was discovered;
  • the wave nature of light was demonstrated;
  • atomic theory was proposed to explain chemical reactions;
  • laws of motion and gravity were applied to the motion of the dwarf planet Ceres to predict its reappearance after it was sighted for a brief period in the night sky;
  • mathematical formula for kinetic energy was discovered;
  • further proof of the wave nature of light was verified experimentally by interference;
  • connection between electricity and magnetism was discovered and initial mathematical formulation of electromagnetic theory was made.

The important fact about these discoveries is that

Each new discovery is heavily dependent on some of the discoveries made earlier. Physics is an unbroken chain of discoveries, each link held tightly to the previous and next links.

This cannot be said about psychology. Wundt and his student Edward Titchener believed in structuralism, which is based on the notion of introspection: self-reports of sensations, views, feelings, emotions, etc. No sooner had structuralism been created than another “school” of psychological thought came into being called behaviorism, with the specific purpose of breaking the link to structuralism. There are now over thirty schools of psychology, some of which advocate ideas which are 180 degrees away from some others! Some psychologists even admit that “psychology has its fair share of pseudo-science.”

This medley of contradictory – even pseudo-scientific – ideas in and of itself should prove that psychology is not a science.

Nevertheless, as an exercise in the application of the list of the characteristics of science, I’ll examine if psychology passes any of those characteristics.

18 thoughts on “Why psychology is not a science”

  1. Correct, the main problem is that the practitioners of this pseudo-science get to deternine fait of people. Jobs, profiling all this bullshit.

    1. The opinions of these pseudo-scientists played a large role in my divorce and custody case. The courts know no difference in rigor between psychology and physics.

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  3. I am a Clinical Psychologist and have to say you are correct maybe with one small exception…experimental psychology. Unfortunately, experimental psychology remains a very small part of all the different psychological schools but they do at least stick to the scientific method.

    1. Then first they must have agreed upon definitions for the terms and subjects discussed. Then they must be able to formulate a hypothesis based upon those definitions and observations. Those hypotheses then must be subject to peer review with the relative fields. Experiments are then devised to test the hypothesis with repeatable results by other independent researchers and laboratories. If the results are not accurately repeatable then part or all of the hypothesis is wrong. Please correct me if I am mistaken about this process.

      1. The problem is that in social sciences no “experiment” is repeatable. Two Cornell psychologists do an “experiment” and conclude that “Academic math-intensive science is not sexist” (http://bit.ly/2qmVctn). Then others repeat the same “experiment” and conclude the opposite (http://bit.ly/2qn3LE1).

        This is related to falsifiability, the definitive test of science. Social sciences are not falsifiable (see the 7th characteristic of science http://bit.ly/2qmP6IW).

  4. I’m glad you specified that you don’t think less of Psychology for not being a science. I can tell you’re really passionate about the topic, and I encourage you to keep looking into it further! I’m sure you’ll understand it a bit better one day.

  5. I’m a roboticist with a former background in Neuroscience.
    Neuroscience and the entire human experience is based on psychology. To say that it is not useful is complete and utter nonsense.
    Without psychology we would not have any form of criminal profiling, understanding of addiction or any other phenomena, an understanding for any behavioural disorder or anything to base the entire field of cognitive and behavioural neuroscience. Obviously, you have no background in psychology, but to have the audacity to claim that its useless is a bit of a stretch.

    1. So, as a neuroscientist, did you study in a science faculty and did you also study neurology in a medical faculty or are you simply a humanities phrenologist?

      1. Don’t accept the premise of the question, guys. Neuroscience is NOT based on psychology, it’s based on biology.

  6. Science or not, the field does not perform bio-chem testing to rule out possibilities of organic physiological imbalances. which do have correlations with psychological imbalances. This was proved early on by Abram Hoffer,MD,PhD but not accepted due to the politics of psychiatry & med industry.Old case in point is ‘mad hatters syndrome’ who suffered from mercury poisoning. Symptomatic ‘diagnosis’ which match the DSM ‘bible’ for insurance billing & drug prescribing is the business, not science, of psychiatry. I’ve had this conversation with my psychologist brother for many years. Symptoms are billable & toxic drugs are prescribed. A psychologist needs 6-mos. of pharma study to prescribe, i.e.,license to suppress symptoms.

    1. Really? The rules might be different where you’re from but in Australia a psychologist actually can’t prescribe any medication. A psychiatrist has had years and years of education and training on mental illness specifically and therefore can. A pharmacist only accepts and distributes prescriptions; they don’t actually write them for you.

  7. Psychology does not fulfill the necessary elemental aspects of the scientific method in any repeatable fashion; wherein the results of a scientific experiment are manifest and repeatable for any number of attempts using the same hypotheses and materials. This cannot be said of the field of psychology.

  8. I think you are all over complicating it. If there is no tangible quantifiable data then no science can be applied. And in psychology there is no tangible quantifiable data.

  9. I have a question. Have you ever heard of the concept of “general intelligence” (which is called ‘g’)? Spearman was the first psychologist / sociologist to propose that ‘g’ is an innate, immutable, and biologically hereditary trait of an individual human, and that with the right experiments, it can be measured. It is also claimed that the fact that results on IQ tests and on specific subjects are strongly correlated, and that these correlations can only be explained by the existence of ‘g’.

    The field of intelligence testing is called Psychometrics. So why isn’t the field of IQ testing truly a science?

    Have you also heard of “The Bell Curve”, which was written by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray. In this book they state that IQ is largely hereditable, and that African Americans have an average IQ of 85 ( = one standard deviation below the mean), Whites 100, and Asians 110, thereby proving that Blacks are innately genetically inferior to Whites in intellect.

    Therefore is the field of IQ testing (and the fundamental assumptions which underlie the very concept of IQ) a true science?

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