"There is a tendency among physiologists—among natural scientists generally—to look upon psychology with distrust, if not with indifference or scorn."
Psychology has been having a crisis of confidence lately: blatant and high-profile fraud cases, questions about sloppy methods and statistics, and the increasingly acknowledged file drawer problem of unpublished negative results. For these reasons, I thought it was interesting to take a look back and see similar criticisms of the field over 100 yrs ago.
"Even the honest and sincere defender of psychology, or of the possibilities of such a science, cannot deny that much work which has been placed upon record as experimental psychology is pure rot."
Yerkes was a primatologist and an editor of the Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology. For most of the journal's existence (1891-present), it has been known as the Journal of Comparative Neurology, but "Psychology" was added to the title from 1904 to 1910. The quotes here are taken from one of Yerkes' editorials:
"The average German physiologist uses very different tones of voice for the “Physiolog” and the “Psycholog.” Some of them apparently feel that psychology is too near akin to metaphysics to be a safe favorite for the natural scientist, while others are evidently satisfied in their own minds that the psychic is not and cannot be material of a natural science. In America too there is a strong prejudice against psychology, among the natural scientists especially, or, if not prejudice, there is a distrustful curiosity which makes the life of the truly scientific student of psychic reactions at times unpleasant. This general distrust and ridicule of psychology is doubtless due, first, to the fact that the naturalistic movement of the last century was accompanied by a wide spreading and deep distrust of the speculative sciences of which psychology was then, and is still by many, reckoned as one; and second, perhaps almost as largely, to the semi-scientific and too often carelessly used methods of that new psychology which called itself experimental."
Yerkes was a keen observer of Psychology and a strong supporter of its importance as a natural science. Unfortunately, he also promoted eugenics in the 1910's and 1920's.
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