Spurious Science

Research can be tailored to fit fond notions.

Posted May 27, 2011

It's not easy deciding what to believe in the torrent of information on psychological studies and syndromes. I just read two PT contributions that really impressed me in the way they challenged research. I wanted to point them out because the common theme is not obvious from their titles.

In When Experts Who Want to Be Rich and Famous Stray, Schnarch explores the use of new syndromes to excuse bad behavior. Such syndromes might emerge from good-faith efforts to help people, and sometimes they do help. But the down-side risks of diverting resources and reinforcing bad behavior are well described in this piece. Says Schnarch, You don't catch "fears of abandonment" or "codependency" from your family-you catch these from therapists who think up and then adopt these entities as if they were "real."

My own pet peeve is research that misrepresents animals as "caring nurturers" (to quote Al Franken from Saturday Night Live). Such research fits the fantasy that nature was a utopia before civilization ruined everything. Researchers can "prove" this by throwing out all the trials that don't prove it. More in my posts on The Myth of Animal Altruism and Self-interest Drives Animals to Dominate or Submit.