The next set of letters Paul and I wrote to each other meandered considerably. Comments on health, scientistic hyper-skepticism, and a paradoxical finding in taxometric research popped in and out. At one point, Paul sent me, without comment, a single page from Joseph Ellis’s book, Founding Brothers. This page quoted some of the famous correspondence between Adams and Jefferson that resembled ours, both in content and spirit. The most persistent theme, however, was a continued effort to make sense of the occasional outbreak of foolishness on the part of otherwise bright and rational people, and the corruption of an authentically scientific mentality implied by the lapses:
Dear Don: Vision after 2nd cataract operation still impaired (not always “miraculous”) but improving; hence big script and short note.
Yes, the too intimate fusion of doctrine with self-concept is a big one, probably biggest after g and mis-education, followed by narrow exposure to selected sub-groups and biased reading. My self-concept is “I try to be a rational person,”from 9th-grade science + peer group + Feigl, etc. If one’s self-concept is 150not about method but doctrine, “Iam a Catholic” (”Freudian,” “Behaviorist,” “Rorschacher,” “Multiphasiker” inpsy), this corrupts the mind.
Challenger disaster due partly to poor graphics—literally—along with dumb NASA bureaucratic PR “urgency.” Vve seen one simple scatter-plot of ring rigidity against temperature that clearly advised delay.Paul
Dear Don: I sealed last letter before your 12/21 afterthought. I agree with your postscript on sheer arrogance; believing in group adulation encourages dogmatism. I believe we can now list (without weights) factors leading high-g people to say silly things at times, fusing our thoughts.
Poor education; a dept. that’s too ideological, few scientific (or clinical) alphas, no bright, critical peer group to challenge &hone the mind. Political-religious atmosphere.
Self-concept tied to doctrine more than method: “I am a Freudian, proud of it.”
Neurotic insecurity aiding and abetting (2).
Being adulated and swallowing it. [David] Lubinski would add a purely cognitive (non-emotional/motivational) dimension of clear thinking. Somebrights “just don’t think clearly,” a factor like poor spatial reasoning, poor mechanical ability, poor musical talent, whatever. No good tests available. I d.k. what I think about that.
I saw [Richard] McFall [with whom I, DRP, had argued in print about the limits of a “science-based” profession] at anAPA meeting. He assumes I agree with his extreme view. I just gently warded him off. Should our list include “drive to be special,” when a sub-culture reinforces a radical hobby-horse? I disagree with him, of course, but if he said, “Someone should help troubled people, but WE—scientific psychologists—shouldn’t be the ones, absent proof,” could we answer that? He could point to history of useless medicine.Paul
Dear Don: Vision still marginal, saw retina experts yesterday—not a fun way to spend my birthday. Life is spelled HASSLE, as Ellis says (ditto the Enlightened One 500 + B.C.E.).
Ruscio & Ruscio ( J. Abn. Psy. recent) use TX [taxometrics] on huge N, conclude major depression not taxonic. I can’t believe it. So Meehl in strange 151position of believing “clinical experience” against my own statistical method! This suggests a paper on why (not attack on Ruscios, instead some reflections on this eternal bugaboo question). If I want to cite McFall and Peterson on hyper-scientism vs. disciplined clinical inquiry, what are best single references for each of you?
Hunch! The Ruscio finding comes from using indicators not sensitive enough in the right region to capture taxon. E.g., “I feel discouraged” is too weak to detect gross irrational hope loss, found in severe Depr. but not in reactive, OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder], anhedonic, etc. depressions. But I can’t prove this, alas.Paul
Tm sorry to learn about your visual problems, tho glad to see improvement (smaller script, longer note) between letters of 12/27 and 1/4. Yes, life is HASSLE. Jane is still struggling with the pain and uncertainty of 2 herniated discs; I spent 2 days in local ER couple months ago following brief mild, but unmistakable TIA→many tests→mainly favorable results but fairly high residual risk of stroke→closer focus in work + resumption of regular exercise (which I had stopped with first visit to Berkeley) + resumption of regular meditation (which I had stopped out of sheer laziness 5-6 years ago). Sure enough, the Enlightened One had it right, but I seem to need a kick in the butt every so often to boot me back on my path.
In your inimitable way, you have listed probable determinants of the high g/silly statement syndrome about as concisely as our common observations & rationality allow, tho I’d prefer to distinguish ideological culture from absence of bright, critical peer group as separate items rather than conflating them under “poor education,” e.g., our clinical faculty at Illinois consistently included several very bright, critical peers, but became increasingly ideological (not merely behavioral but “operant”) to point of foolishness (e.g., Ullmann &Krasner’s 1969 book which disputed the occurrence of schizophrenia as a disease. Lenny Ullmann used to go around giving talks entitled, “Schizophrenia: It Ain’t”). So I come up with:
Ideological educational culture.
Absence of bright, critical peers.
Valuation of self tied to doctrine more than method (at least partly in defense against neurotic insecurity).
Intellectual arrogance (resulting at least partly from incorporation of public adulation into self concept).
152 I don’t know either what to think about existence of “clear-thinking” factor distinct from g. Could be. I think the question is worth asking & might ultimately be answerable, but am inclined to view the “clear-thinking” factor as a mixed disposition closest to the characteristic we’re trying to parse, i.e., the freedom from silly statements by highly intelligent and learned people that emerges as resultant of 1-4 above. Enuf on that.
On McFall dfhis various arguments: I think he does say “[Perhaps] someone should [try to] help troubled people [even if they don’t know just what they are doing scientifically] but WE—scientific psychologists—shouldn’t be the ones to do so, absent proof” I consider that an arguable point of view which McFall not only preaches but embodies in the IU [Indiana University] clinical program. As I understand the IU program, students there learn only empirically supported treatments, which they then hand off to others, and devote themselves to the scientific development and evaluation of additional methods. Go Indiana! say I.
I do not think, however, that the history of useless medicine would provide a strong basis for his argument as a moral imperative, which is the way McFall states it. My reading of the history of medicine does not tell me that the development of safe, useful procedures typically started in the laboratory and then made its way into the hands of practitioners. It usually went the other way around, starting with Hippocrates, the scientific practitioner, doing his best to heal the sick, first doing no harm, and then doing whatever available knowledge (not doctrine), his own observations, and rationally determined action in the interest of the patient might suggest. The decisive experiments came later. I don’t object if McFall decides to restrict his own practice &the tutelage of his students to the tried and true, dfin fact applaud his emphasis on training students to try other procedures under clearly defined experimental conditions to find out what else is true. But in our infant science and our even more infantile profession, I see room for my “disciplined inquiry” as well. If McFall’s restriction had been generally accepted all along, we’d have had no Freud, no Rogers, no Ellis, no Wolpe, no Lazarus.
Best single reference to McFall’s position is his “Manifesto For a Science of Clinical Psychology,” The Clinical Psychologist, 1991, 44, 75–88. Best single ref. for my position is my piece on “Connection & Disconnection of Re-search and Practice in the Education of Professional Psychologists,” which I enclose. Best reference on the McFall-Peterson dialogue is the enclosed series in Applied and Preventive Psychology.
In your response to Dick’s assumption of your agreement with him at APA, I think you responded the way I do to deans of free-standing schools who assume I approve their opening of new, under-funded, ill-conceived operations. (I have visited several of these. A few good ones. Many awful.) They sometimes tell me how deeply informed & inspired they have been by my writings, but it’s clear they haven’t understood the fundamentals. Like you, I find the situation awkward but can’t think of anything better to do than gently ward them off and trust that 153our (grossly inadequate) accreditation system & economic forces (provided we see a reversal of Gresham’s Law) eliminate the worst of their creatures.
I read the Ruscio dfRuscio (2000) with interest, surprise, & like you, serious doubt (ifyou ask me to vote, disbelief) about the validity of their conclusion. My hunch about the failure to detect taxonicity is the same as yours: weak indicators. The authors are correct in noting that the instruments they used are the most widely used in the profession, probably the “best” available for use in their study, & the indicators they subjected to taxometric analysis appear to be as well defined as the raw data allow, but dammit they are still depending entirely on responses to individual questionnaire items of unknown empirical status. However sophisticated & powerful the statistical analysis, there is only so far one can go with flabby observations. I still hold to the opinion I came to in Clinical Study (1968), i.e., the tests on which so much of our science and practice depend are never going to provide the robust information needed for strong science and a solidly grounded profession. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t do the best we can with what we have, or that my suggestions (extend senses by direct observation, functional analysis, & other means) will free us from ignorance & uncertainty. I just doubt that we have a sufficiently advanced technology of assessment to provide the data required for a decisive test of the taxonicity hypothesis. In the case of severe D, I have an additional hunch we’ll need some hard signs (e.g., improved neural imagery, better measures of vegetative functions) to give the latent taxa a chance to show their peaks. If you go ahead with a paper, I would be very interested in your reflections on “this eternal bugaboo question,” as you describe it.Don
RS. Interesting coincidence: When your single page from Ellis’s Founding Brothers arrived I already had his book at the top of my evening reading list & had been reading around in an old selection of theJefferson/Adams letters. Editor of the latter wrote, Ambition had no further bait for them, they had no further favors to ask. They waited in the twilight, and gossiped, and speculated, and gave their ideas and convictions free rein….”
Dear Don: Lubinski intends his “clear-thinking” factor to be like other sheer ability group factors, such as emerge in factor analysis, minimally influenced by emotion, motivation, or even experience. So it will be hard to get at even if it exists. He doesn’t press it, just an option.
I agree better to parse the education thing, separate bright critical peers.
Those damn disks—did I tell you about mine? Hospitalized for septicemia (and maybe S.B.E., they never found the focus, that’s a bet from history and known valve lesion), on 3rd day I get acute back pain & hardly get out of bed or walk. Feared spinal abscess ruled out by 2 MRIs. After discharge I needed a 154walker & pain pills foracpl weeks, than a tetrapodcane (and some pills), then plain cane. But now all OK, take my walks. Cause of (verified inflamed) protruding disk? Unknown. Relation to the septicemia? Unknown. Perhaps sheer coincidence. I presume your wife knows the stats, they recover without surgery in very high %.
Too easy to get careless about meditation. I did after hospital, but now regular again. My wife has been slipping so I remind her. Did you know Tim Beck is a meditator? But Ellis pokes fun at it. And this is one where we have fairly good data, even a meta-analysis. Alas, “People believe what they want to believe,” as Mencken said. Try to keep well!Paul