Psychology is Science

test tube person
test tube person

I hope that most people who read Alex Berezow’s editorial in the Los Angeles Times denying that psychology is a science found it misinformed and bordering on absurd. All Berezow had to do to find evidence that psychology rises to his standards of science was to read past the opening paragraphs of the very editorial that he was responding to, written by Tim Wilson just the day before. Unfortunately, there are still people out there who have a distorted and caricatured idea of what psychology is, a problem that Wilson was trying to combat. Sadly, the LA Times found one of these people and gave them editorial space to perpetuate their ignorance. Berezow’s argument hinges on psychological science’s failure to meet certain requirements needed to be “considered scientifically rigorous,” all of which are met by vast amounts of psychology research. Of course Berezow doesn’t agree and goes on to build a straw man out of happiness research, ignoring countless examples of research in psychology that would refute his claims, including research on happiness (e.g., Nobel Prize winner Danny Kahneman's work on how we experience vs. remember happiness)! Berezow himself does a perfectly good job refuting his own claims when he tells us that his own example is a terrible one:

To be fair, not all psychology research is equally wishy-washy. Some research is far more scientifically rigorous. And the field often yields interesting and important insights.

Well said. But let’s put Berezow’s abject ignorance of the empirical methods of psychological research aside for a moment and ask a different question:

[pullquote align="left|center|right" textalign="left|center|right" width="30%"]Do we just give up on any question that can’t easily be studied in a test tube or under a microscope?[/pullquote] If psychology is real – and I don’t think even Berezow is denying that – then how exactly does he propose that we study it? Do we just give up on any question that can’t easily be studied in a test tube or under a microscope? Because we certainly can’t ask a physicist to explain to us which post-traumatic interventions are effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD; we can’t ask a chemist to explain to us why people have difficulty explaining why they made the choices they made; and we can’t ask a biologist to tell us why they are bad at predicting what will make them happy. You know who we can ask? Tim Wilson.

Psychology uses scientific methods to help us better understand and predict things about the world. To me that makes it a science. Not a perfect science -- Wilson acknowledged this too -- but then again the "hard" sciences got a few centuries of head start.