The Paula Gordon Show
Psychology is NOT Science

Margaret Hagen

      Margaret Hagen has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the University of Minnesota.  She studies visual perception, searching to understand the relationship between what we have in our heads and what goes on in the world, including the relationship between size, distance, shape, slant, color. She currently teaches at Boston University. She is a prolific author with a number of books and articles to her credit. Her dog and cat were welcome participants in this conversation.

Excerpts2:53 secs

      Boston ų Americans strongly believes in psychology -- almost half of us have had psychotherapy.  The problem is that psychology as a scientific discipline is in its infancy, according to experimental psychologist Margaret Hagen. Were the battle lines between experimental and clinical psychology limited to arguments in university psychology departments, an experimental psychologist calling clinicians „seminariansš might be amusing. However, this is much more than a squabble in the Ivory Tower.

      Psychology plays a major role in America‚s courtrooms. That dramatically elevates the importance of „what‚s science.š America has over a million psychological clinicians from psychiatrists to counselors and the „psycho-expert industryš makes over a billion dollars a year as „expert witnessesš at all levels of our courts. Professor Hagen makes a powerful case for „the fraud of psychiatric testimony and the rape of American justice.š

      Having a „paid friendš is fine according to Professor Hagen, but don‚t confuse „insight therapyš with science. Science is based on hypothesis testing, independence from the scientist, believing things are true only when proven to be true, and on clear and consistent definitions. Only a tiny fraction of psychology meets these criteria.

      Dr. Hagen categorizes clinical psychology as „classical junk scienceš -- based on belief rather than physical evidence that can be consistently replicated. In 1993, the Supreme Court defined, for evidentiary purposes, what constitutes true science, but the implementation and impact of that decision have been erratic.

      Nowhere in the profession of clinical psychology is there a requirement for a patient‚s informed consent to therapy.  Even psychiatrists are exempt from this standard medical practice. A good place to start imposing discipline according to Professor Hagen would be for Medicare only to reimburse therapies which have solid scientific evidence that they are safe and effective. Only a handful of psychological disorders show compelling evidence that they are biologically based (for instance some forms of anxiety and depression.) „Insight therapiesš and most of classical psychology fail to meet the minimum criteria for „science.š  Dr. Hagen and like-minded colleagues have taken a lot of heat from within the profession for their dissent and for their calls for internal policing.

      Bottom line -- we don‚t know nearly as much about psychology as we would like to know, as we need to know and as „expertsš pretend we know. We would all be well-served for the entire field of psychology to do a lot more work. And stop pretending.

Conversation 1

Margaret Hagen describes the dramatically increased opportunities for psychology professionals to enter America‚s legal system to Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. One million psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors and clinical social workers are now „in practice,š a resource on which courts at all levels increasingly draw. The „psycho-expert industryš nets over a billion dollars a year for presumed expertise Dr. Hagen says is not there. „The percentage of what meets minimum standards for őscience‚ in psychology is minuscule.š


Conversation 2

Science is based on hypothesis testing, independence from the scientist, believing things are true only when proven to be true, and clear and consistent definitions Anything else is „junk science,š which she describes. „Clinical psychology, in my view, is classical junk science.š

Practitioners of psychotherapy maintain psychotherapy is as much art as science. Dr. Hagen grudgingly accepts the „art,š but cannot find the „science.š She compares this description to her experience as a teacher. She believes in intuition, and in intuition‚s frailty.

Until recently, an expanding degree of permissibility for „opinion testimonyš allowed testimony which did not meet the definition for „scientific.š Finally in 1993, the Supreme established what science is and is not.


Conversation 3

Dr. Hagen names a number of others in her profession who believe „the scientific field of psychiatry is almost non-existent.š

Almost half of all Americans have had psychotherapy and Professor Hagen fears people can end up a lot worse off after therapy than before they began. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help some people, but Professor Hagen counsels against spending money on „insight therapy.š Grow up. „To change your life, you have to change your life.š

Dr. Hagen describes her own work on visual perception.

Psychology departments include clinical psychologists and experimental psychologists. She expands on the idea of clinicians as seminarians who are often anti-science.


Conversation 4

Dr. Hagen names a number of others in her profession who believe „the scientific field of psychiatry is almost non-existent.š

Almost half of all Americans have had psychotherapy and Professor Hagen fears people can end up a lot worse off after therapy than before they began. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help some people, but Professor Hagen counsels against spending money on „insight therapy.š Grow up. „To change your life, you have to change your life.š

Dr. Hagen describes her own work on visual perception.

Psychology departments include clinical psychologists and experimental psychologists. She expands on the idea of clinicians as seminarians who are often anti-science.


Conversation 5

Dr. Hagen describes the up and down sides of a variety of therapies, including psychopharmaceutics. Medicare should only pay for therapies which can demonstrate scientific evidence that they are safe and effective. „Paid friendsš are fine, but not based in science.

The psychology profession does not police itself which Dr. Hagen calls morally and ethically wrong. She describes being harshly criticized by colleagues for voicing her concerns.

Dr. Hagen describes potentially dangerous consequences when psychology practitioners promise greater expertise than they can deliver.

She names the several classic psychological tests and systematically discredits them.


Conversation 6

Professor Hagen believes we don‚t know nearly as much about psychology as we would like to know, as we need to know and as the experts pretend that we know. As a scientific field, psychology is in its infancy and Dr. Hagen hopes it will grow. She urges funding and encouraging students to major in the parts of psychology that are scientific and solid. Pretending the whole discipline is scientific is fraudulent, dangerous and destructive to the American justice system.


Acknowledgements

Elizabeth Loftus alerted us to Margaret Hagen‚s challenging perspectives. We appreciate Dr. Loftus‚ good advice!

Professor Hagen was extremely courteous to us during our visit. We thank her for her hospitality as well as her insights.

Related Links:
Margaret Hagen‚s book Whores of the Court: The Fraud of Psychiatric Testimony and the Rape of American Justice is a ReganBook, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


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