Is psychology a science?
Posted by josh on Thursday, January 03, 2008
Is psychology a science? I see this question asked a lot on message boards, and I thought it was time to discuss it here. The answer depends entirely on what you mean by "psychology" and what you mean by "science."
First, if by "psychology" you mean seeing clients (like in Good Will Hunting or Silence of the Lambs), then, no, it's probably not a science. But that's a bit like asking whether engineers or doctors are scientists. Scientists create knowledge. Client-visiting psychologists, doctors and engineers use knowledge. Of course, you could legitimately ask whether client-visiting psychologists base their interventions on good science. They often don't. But that can also be said about doctors and, I'd be willing to bet, engineers.
However, there is a different profession that, largely for historical reasons, shares the same name. That is the branch of science which studies human and animal behavior, and it is also called "psychology." It's not as well known, and nobody makes movies about us (though if paleoglaciologists get to save the world, I don't see why experimental psychologists don't!), but it does exist.
A friend of mine (a physicist) once claimed psychologists don't do experiments (he said this un-ironically over IM while I was killing time in a psychology research lab). My response now would be to invite him to participate in one of these experiments. Based on this Facebook group, I know I'm not the only one who has heard this.
There are also those, however, who are aware that psychologists do experiments, but deny that it's a true science. Some of this has to do with the belief that psychologists still use introspection (there are probably some somewhere, but I suspect there are also physicists who use voodoo dolls somewhere as well, along with mathematicians who play the lottery). The more serious objection has to do with the statistics used in psychology.