Over the past year, psychology as a field, and in particular social psychology, has come under scrutiny after several notable cases of scientific fraud. The most notable was Diederik Stapel, who outright fabricated data for at least 30 publications. A couple other cases of data manipulation and fraud have just surfaced recently, leading to further resignations of researchers in the field. Amidst these news stories, some have asked the question, “Is psychology trustworthy? Is it even a science at all?”
Of course, these are not new questions for psychology to deal with. Making the case for psychology as a science has been a continual process over the years, and psychology to some extent still suffers from the impression that has remained from the psychoanalytic tradition of Freud. The psychoanalysts loved to sit people on couches and talk about dreams and repressed childhood memories and so on. But we’re past Freud. Honest.
However, given the recent scrutiny, I thought it appropriate to take the time to address the question again and argue that yes, psychology is indeed a science. I come from the perspective of a graduate student in social psychology—traditionally the most “suspect” of the areas in psychology—and as such, most of my experience and examples come from that area. I approach this question from the “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck” approach (see, I’m using the scientific method already!). I would like to argue that psychology operates very similarly to other fields of science that are not in dispute—the so-called “hard sciences”. So let me outline just a few of the ways in which psychology parallels these fields.Continue Reading