Meehl1978 - Theoretical Risks and Tabular Asterisks, Sir Karl, Sir Ronald, and the Slow Progress of Soft Psychology

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Key takeaways

  • Many fields of psychology are not cumulative, and theories fade away over time due to lack of interest rather than failure to be corroborated. “One tombstone at a time”
  • In more developed sciences, theories are either widely accepted and integrated in the larger body of knowledge or are disproven and abandoned.
  • Meehl then identifies 20 difficulties that psychology has to deal with if it wants to become more of a developed scientific discipline with cumulative knowledge acquisition.

…in soft psychology theories rise and decline, come and go, more as a function of baffled boredom than anything else; and the enterprise shows a disturbing absence of that cumulative character that is so impressive in disciplines like astronomy, molecular biology, and genetics (page 807)

…it is usually not possible in the soft areas of social science to provide rigorous, explicit, or–the holy word when I was in graduate school–operational definitions for theoretical concepts. (page 815)