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Rethinking Psychology: Good Science, Bad Science, Pseudoscience (Brian M. Hughes)

Brian M. Hughes

Palgrave, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-137-30394

Brian Hughes is Professor of Psychology at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He has held visiting academic appointments at the University of Missouri, Leiden, Birmingham, and at Kings College London. His research focuses on psychological stress on its impact on health, and on psychosocial moderators of stress processes. He also writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, and medicine. He holds Ph.D. and B.A. degrees from the National University of Ireland, and an Ed.M. degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

The workings of the human mind have persisted as a popular cultural fascination for centuries. This has led to the emergence of scientific psychology, a modern empirical enterprise that uses scientific methods to resolve uncertainties in our understanding of people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. So, all is right with the world except, Hughes argues that many of today’s psychologists fail to take a scientific approach to their work and in addition that much of the research suffers from serious methodological flaws. Hughes points out that psychology attracts significant attention from people who hold deeply negative views about science and further he quotes that “Psychology has become a field where science meets pseudoscience”. He goes on to suggest that it is important because psychology touches everyone’s lives. Hughes determines that as we talk about mental health, education, social conflict, or crime, our ability to think clearly about these matters depends on how well we study them.

The problem is that psychologists often try their best to conduct rigorous scientific research but this can be marred sometimes when psychologists have a casual, and sometimes naïve, approach, and often overlook the limitations of their most conventional research approaches. In addition, he implies 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. Hughes’s bottom line proposes that psychologists are just simply incredibly poor at critiquing their own work.

Of particular interest are the sections on the explanation of what is a science, why it is important and what is pseudoscience and why it has become popular. Other areas of note are on the scientific nature of psychology and related evidentiary reasoning of psychology. Part two investigates psychology and pseudoscience in practice while part three explores psychology and pseudoscience in context concluding with the question of why should we care?

One of our past OUPS speakers, Christopher French of Goldsmiths, University of London said ‘Professor Brian Hughes has written an important and engaging book exploring the relationships between science, pseudoscience, and psychology. 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.'

In summary, the author explores the nature of scientific reasoning, the contrasting way fringe scientists study the mind, and the creep of pseudoscientific practices into mainstream psychology. It also considers the peculiar biases impeding psychologists from being truly rigorous, and argues that pseudoscience not only damages psychology, but threatens the coherence and the dignity of humanity at large. This book should help students to question more critically the research they read during their degree, rather than simply accepting published work as quality science. For those who have already done so it is an interesting read too!

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