Politics, psychology, the Society and The Psychologist

We reflect on recent Twitter debate.

A tweet we posted from @psychmag has prompted an interesting discussion on what psychology and The Psychologist is or should be. You can view the exchanges, which took place during the week beginning 25 January, via our profile, but we thought we’d share some of it here.

Our tweet thread read:
Today’s feedback: ‘you have become so left wing in your content that I just cant bear to look at another copy of the psychologist. How different from 25 years ago’ vs ‘The Psychologist magazine is brilliant, creates a feeling of belonging, in an amazing community.’
Definitely seems we’ve polarised opinion amongst our readers in recent years. If you’re in the disaffected group, please engage – help shape our content. Meanwhile I cling to the Simon Munnery adage: “If the crowd is behind you, you’re facing the wrong way.”
…I do wonder what ‘right wing’ content we might seek out. But I totally get the @JonHaidt sentiment [from our November 2016 interview] that ‘we need to bust up the orthodoxy’…

Here’s a snapshot of how the discussion then developed.
It has become political, with contributors’ assumptions about issues, that clearly show their left wing or Remain bias’. It would be good to search several year’s worth of mags. for the word ‘Brexit’, for example and see which category it fits more: negative, neutral or positive.

But that begs the question of where the psychologists writing about Brexit from a positive perspective are hiding?

Nicola Beaumont @PsychBeaulogy
Too afraid to talk about it, that would be my first guess, ie fear of being labelled racist, xenophobic, bigoted. My second guess is that there are plenty, but their contributions aren’t welcome.… I very much doubt you would publish anything that supported Brexit or supported Conservative views, because they would be outrage from leftists. It’s time for people to practice what they preach and become more tolerant of other opinions.

Try me!

if people think psychology is not political, they can keep dreaming… if they think it is political and they feel disaffected and disenfranchised they should engage more, as suggested.

While I can imagine some possible exceptions, I dont think psychology has any business in politics. And it’s easy to say people should engage more but the truth is in today’s climate its not safe for some people to engage if they want to keep their job, livelihood, etc.

But what can that possibly mean? No business in understanding the process of politics? Or in using research evidence to inform policy making or understand its impacts? Or in understanding how personal politics may affect the scientific process?

You make good points. The scientific study of the political process makes sense. Informing policies? I see the concept but the pragmatics are bad I’m thinking more of taking political positions which both psychological orgs and academia do often and without proper justification.

Deciding what ‘proper justification’ is is political.
It’s the politics of any profession really.

Which is precisely why we should stay out of it.

What does ‘staying out of it’ even look like here? Not realistic in my opinion. Keep dreaming about this objective impartial apolitical state of affairs… if people think psychology is not political, they can keep dreaming if they think it is political and they feel disaffected and disenfranchised they should engage more, as suggested.

Richard Hassall @RHHassall
How do you define neutrality and why would neutrality be somehow more scientific? Psychology is necessarily concerned about the wellbeing of people - in today’s world that’s an issue which inevitably overlaps with politics. The Psychologist only reflects the concerns of readers.

Several people praised our attempts at engagement…
Loving watching this thread play out but a bit sad I’m not running my critical psychology module this semester. There’s a fantastic seminar to be had unpacking the explicit and implicit arguments about what psychology is/isn’t & should/shouldnt be.
Thx for this @psychmag

I really appreciate this open engagement with members … I am firmly in the leftie camp I imagine so perhaps why I’ve enjoyed reading our mag more and more in my 13 or so years as member.

Thanks...definitely keen to engage. I’m unapologetic about an increasing focus on social justice, climate change, diversity etc. But surely that’s a separate issue from the risks of becoming a liberal echo chamber, where I agree we should provide space to challenge the orthodoxy.

But is the orthodoxy needing challenge not of the right wing at present? The value alignment of a caring profession will likely rest with left of centre policies/views – wealth redistribution, public sector funding, challenging elitism & so forth, or perhaps that’s my own bias.

I think both the right and left have orthodoxies which are unhealthy and need to be challenged. Echo-chambers tend to amplify good ideas into becoming bad ones, and often succeed mostly in fueling more bad ideas on the ‘other side’ and limiting compromise.

Psychology, meet sociology… we’re psychologists and now discussing what sociologists have been discussing for a lot longer than we have. We seem to think psychological ideology will also address sociological and political affairs. To work, it has to be multidisciplinary.

Agree with that. And the novelists / poets have been considering it all for even longer!

Absolutely true. Psychology is a study of human behaviour. Not the study of human behaviour.

Another thread in January considered what some readers perceive as an over-emphasis in our pages on diversity and climate change. While we have had an equal or greater number of readers bemoaning our lack of focus on such issues, this discussion again went to the heart of what psychology, The Psychologist and the Society is and should be.

We are proudly the voice of the membership, and from where we’re sitting there has been a huge increase in member activity which applies psychological theory and research to pressing societal issues. The Society is playing a key role in organising and amplifying those voices on diversity, climate change, and topics broadly under a ‘social justice’ umbrella. So it’s only natural we seek to reflect that, even if such subjects can be controversial, challenging and uncomfortable to think about.

But there’s room for all sorts of other content. We have pages to fill every month, and a website which has become a daily concern. Our message is always this: You shape our content. Tell us what you’d like to see in our pages, engage on Twitter, or get in touch to contribute.

Illustration: Tim Sanders

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