The psychological science I know and love…
What is happening to the psychological science I know and love? For decades, the BPS and its outlets such as The Psychologist, focused on cutting-edge science and implications for psychological policy and practice. Now we are increasingly preoccupied with wider matters such as white male privilege; unconscious bias (presented as fact despite the lack of scientific evidence for the concept directly linked to behaviour); our apparent institutional racism as the cause of our lack of diversity (notwithstanding the dearth of serious efforts to increase intake of people from socially deprived backgrounds) or our need to be political (as long as its left-wing); preoccupation with labelling people, language use, anecdotal tales and experience around ‘power narratives’.
We appear to ruminate over the need for privileging young people, privileging women, privileging BAME groups and privileging tabula rasa beliefs of human development. If we have to teach psychologists they need to be kind to everyone and despise inequality or unfair treatment of any individual then this is a serious concern. There is nothing wrong per se with navel-gazing over these issues; it’s just that there is no scientific rigour brought to bear. But then silly me, science is being treated as a power narrative, or patronisingly seen as one ‘lens’ or ‘narrative’ of viewing the world. If that’s the understanding being peddled, then psychology is in big trouble.
So what topics are we not even mentioning as psychological science trundles on in the background? New ways of looking at paranoia, genetic factors influencing poverty and social class, evolutionary drivers to human cooperation and honesty, decoupling obesity from addiction models, oh and implicit bias studies showing this bias only translates into the real world if people have conscious attitudes that gender gaps don’t exist. As a magazine you have to be a broad church in terms of knowledge sources but surely future scientist practitioner psychologists should be inculcated into the promise and even primacy of scientifically generated knowledge to change our world for the better? The alternative won’t be credible to change policy decision-makers’ minds on so many pressing issues, relegating our wonderful profession to being perceived as an inconsequential pressure group built upon a multiplicity of experiences and anecdote.
Dr John J Marshall
Consultant Clinical & Forensic Psychologist
Editor’s reply: We have received a number of comments on our recent coverage, including Dennis Relojo-Howell’s accusation that we push ‘left-wing type agendas’ and have an ‘obsession’ with ‘social justice’ – see https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/psychologist-time-polarisation where you can also find my full response. In brief, we have also received a large amount of positive feedback in relation to the March edition, and our recent coverage in general. Yes, our shift in recent years, towards topics which some might consider under the very broad banner of ‘social justice’, has been a deliberate one, reflecting a move in the Society itself and the more active sectors of its membership. We have a responsibility to do this. We are also taking a steer from the Society’s recent ‘member journey’ work, which surveyed thousands of members over what they want from the organisation Also, we are a magazine, not a journal. We unapologetically showcase Psychologists as people, with other interests, beliefs, motivations, narratives and more.
There’s a whole wider debate about what The Psychologist / the Society / Psychology / Science is and should be, and which voices get to define that. But we are listening, and talking. So as ever the main message is to engage with us: that’s what will shape The Psychologist’s future.
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