New Book By Leading Psychologist Challenges Scientific Standing of Psychology

L-R: Brian Hughes, Professor of Psychology, NUI Galway and Douglas Carroll, Professor of Applied Psychology, University of Birmingham at the launch of Professor Hughes’ book ‘Rethinking Psychology: Good Science, Bad Science, Pseudoscience’.
Apr 25 2016 Posted: 09:03 IST

A new book by a Professor of Psychology at NUI Galway argues that many psychologists fail to take a scientific approach to their work, and that much of the field’s research suffers from serious methodological flaws.

The book, ‘Rethinking Psychology: Good Science, Bad Science, Pseudoscience’, by Brian Hughes, was published worldwide this month by Palgrave, and was launched at NUI Galway this week.

Psychology is one of the most popular subjects in universities across the world and is widely regarded to be a modern empirical science. Despite this, Hughes argues that psychology attracts significant attention from people who hold deeply negative views about science. As a result, psychology is often studied by students and researchers who lack true scientific rigour. According to Hughes, “Psychology has become a field where science meets pseudoscience.”

“This is important because psychology touches all of our lives,” Hughes said. “When we talk about mental health, education, social conflict, or crime, our ability to think clearly about these topics depends on how well we study them. Psychologists often try their best to conduct rigorous scientific research. But many psychologists have a casual, and sometimes naïve, approach, and often overlook the limitations of their most conventional research approaches.”

“Psychologists are excellent at identifying controversial studies and debunking them, such as the way empirical science quite rightly dismissed the alleged link between MMR vaccination and autism. But psychologists are often less effective at critiquing the quality of mainstream research, such as research about gender differences in human behaviour, evaluations of behaviour change interventions, or studies of how psychotherapy works. In short, psychologists are often very poor at critiquing their own work.”

Leading British psychologist Christopher French, Professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, agrees. “Brian Hughes has written an important and engaging book exploring the relationships between science, pseudoscience, and psychology,” according to French. “He argues persuasively that psychology itself can properly be considered to be a true science but one that is marred within by pockets of pseudoscience. This book should be read by anyone with a serious interest in the subject.”

David Hevey, Associate Professor at the School of Psychology in Trinity College Dublin described the book as “a timely and comprehensive reminder of the critical role of science in both academic and professional applications of psychology.”

Anna Phillips, Reader in Behavioural Medicine at the University of Birmingham praised the book’s message for psychology students. “This book will help students to question more critically the research they read during the course of their degree, rather than simply accepting published work as quality science,” said Phillips.

Hughes’s own research focuses on the links between psychological stress and physical health. He has held visiting academic appointments at the Universities of Missouri, Leiden, and Birmingham, and at King's College London. He is the current President of the International Stress and Anxiety Research Society, and a former President of the Psychological Society of Ireland.

‘Rethinking Psychology: Good Science, Bad Science, Pseudoscience’ is published worldwide by Palgrave and available from all good booksellers.


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