Monday, June 18, 2018

Hate Mail - The Entire Field of Psychology Is Pretty Well Summed Up In The Far Too Little Known Stanford Prison Experiment Scandal

I can't remember if it was when I realized cable TV sucked so I dropped it or if I took the great change to HD TV to get rid of the boob tube altogether, one of my brothers-in-law was horrified.  He gave a list of "great things" on TV that I'd be missing.  As he listed things and I said I didn't have any interest in it, his list shortened.  In the end I told him that if he threw a pail of quarters into a cesspool I wouldn't go swimming in it to find them.   I'd like a show of hands, who would do that?  And there are a lot fewer "good shows" on TV than there are quarters in a pail.

You should soak your head so as to cool off and read this article recently published at Vox about one of the most famous and widely believed experiments in the post-war history of psychology, you know, the period when it was supposed to have left the shoddy pre-war practices behind it.  Remember, it's only one of many such experiments that have been debunked after it entered into "science" and from there into the received common wisdom of the college educated and the watchers of TV and movies.

The Stanford Prison Experiment, one of the most famous and compelling psychological studies of all time, told us a tantalizingly simple story about human nature.

The study took paid participants and assigned them to be “inmates” or “guards” in a mock prison at Stanford University. Soon after the experiment began, the “guards” began mistreating the “prisoners,” implying evil is brought out by circumstance. The authors, in their conclusions, suggested innocent people, thrown into a situation where they have power over others, will begin to abuse that power. And people who are put into a situation where they are powerless will be driven to submission, even madness.

The Stanford Prison Experiment has been included in many, many introductory psychology textbooks and is often cited uncritically. It’s the subject of movies, documentaries, books, television shows, and congressional testimony.

But its findings were wrong. Very wrong. And not just due to its questionable ethics or lack of concrete data — but because of deceit.


A new exposé published by Medium based on previously unpublished recordings of Philip Zimbardo, the Stanford psychologist who ran the study, and interviews with his participants, offers convincing evidence that the guards in the experiment were coached to be cruel. It also shows that the experiment’s most memorable moment — of a prisoner descending into a screaming fit, proclaiming, “I’m burning up inside!” — was the result of the prisoner acting. “I took it as a kind of an improv exercise,” one of the guards told reporter Ben Blum. “I believed that I was doing what the researchers wanted me to do.

Tell me, for a start, how any psychology experiment can prevent subjects from doing exactly what Blum admitted he was doing, guessing what the researchers wanted him to do and doing that?   Or trying to guess what the researchers wanted and not doing it on purpose or otherwise messing with them?   Unless the subjects admit to doing that, what they did will be presented as if it was some kind of natural phenomenon representing events and thinking "in the wild" as it were.  As it is, any psychological experiment is entirely dependent on the self-reporting of subject who may be mistaken as to what happened, may lie about what happened, might not be able to admit their calculated attempts to please or mess with the researchers, etc.

Of course there is no way for anyone conducting such an experiment to prevent that or other, similar faulty aspects of psychological experimentation from happening and, as in this, what should be come an infamous example of pseudo-scientific fraud, such junk research will be reviewed by others with faculty positions in the pseudo-science, reported in their pseudo-scientific journals and will become official science, no matter what crap it is that they publish.  I would bet that a comprehensive review of psychological experimentation would show that there are ideological and cultural predispositions that are reinforced by the junk science. 

And, if you read the article in full, that was only one aspect of the total trashing of the alleged standards that comprise the scientific method in this very famous, very often cited experiment that the students of intro-psy courses put into the popular culture through putting its conclusions into their TV and movie scripts, their play scripts and into trashy novels.  Antd, again, I believe there is probably an ideological predisposition that was being pushed by those who conducted the experiments, either on the basis of their own ideological orientation or by reinforcing what they knew reviewers would want to hear BECAUSE IT FIT WITH PREVIOUS PUBLISHED PSYCHOLOGY, OR BECAUSE THEY SHARED THAT IDEOLOGICAL DISPOSITION.

The Zimbardo prison experiment is not the only classic study that has been recently scrutinized, reevaluated, or outright exposed as a fraud. Recently, science journalist Gina Perry found that the infamous “Robbers Cave“ experiment in the 1950s — in which young boys at summer camp were essentially manipulated into joining warring factions — was a do-over from a failed previous version of an experiment, which the scientists never mentioned in an academic paper. That’s a glaring omission. It’s wrong to throw out data that refutes your hypothesis and only publicize data that supports it.

Perry has also revealed inconsistencies in another major early work in psychology: the Milgram electroshock test, in which participants were told by an authority figure to deliver seemingly lethal doses of electricity to an unseen hapless soul. Her investigations show some evidence of researchers going off the study script and possibly coercing participants to deliver the desired results. (Somewhat ironically, the new revelations about the prison experiment also show the power an authority figure — in this case Zimbardo himself and his “warden” — has in manipulating others to be cruel.)

Psychology is and from the beginning was a pseudo-science because it proposed to study phenomena that couldn't be directly observed, defined adequately to determine of the phenomena allegedly reported were, actually, representative of repeated events or even if they actually existed anywhere but in the minds of the researchers.  It was reading William James early psychological writing that convinced me that a combination of the authority and influence of those who first proposed psychology was as proper scientific study and their desire for their proposed study to have the prestige and power of science that led universities, other authoritative bodies, governments and, worst of all, courts to pretend that what  they were doing was science when everything about it demonstrated that it was not science and there was no prospect for such a study to be able to meet the exigencies required to be science. 

At this point, there is no reason for anyone to take much of anything in psychology or the other behavioral and social studies called "science" as reliable because largely it isn't.  If there can be some salvage work done to find something reliable in the approximately hundred forty years of stuff published, I don't know.  It would be like finding quarters in a cesspool to find them.   It is an appalling thing that so many judges rely on the crap that comes out of psychologists to destroy or warp the lives of so many people. 

1 comment:

  1. Most of the problem (aside from what you describe as the reportability issue, which is the same basic complaint made against the "soft" sciences by the "hard" sciences) stem from the idea that there is a "human nature" which, given the right stimulus (or "switch") can be turned on and the response (like a light coming on) is always the same.

    So we all know we will descend into "Lord of the Flies" rapidly when we remove the police force of government and everyone is left to their own defenses/devices. Hasn't every apocalyptic movie up to "The Road" said so? Except, of course, it never happens.

    Yes, there are corners of the world where evil people run amok with guns and machetes, but that usually happens after months of chaos and disruption and still only among a minority: the majority still just want to get by. During Katrina New Orleans supposedly descended into hell; except all the stories coming out of the SuperDome were apocryphal (it was in the use the next season; no bodies were found there; no evidence of "rape gangs," etc.), and of course when white people looted a flooded store they were seeking food, black people were stealing from the same store.

    Ike and more so Harvey didn't turn Houston into a hell-hole; it created a greater feeling of community camaraderie than has been known in this town even after the Astros won the Pennant (it's only baseball, after all).

    But we all "know" that, under the "right" conditions, we're all brute savages just waiting to kill our neighbors and eat from their skulls. Right? Because "Stanford" and the "shock experiment" (which didn't prove what it said it proved, either), etc., etc, etc.

    Well, and because of literature. Apocalyptic stuff is big, now. Every white wealthy person in America is convinced the world is going to end because they don't think the world can sustain the kind consumption they have been demanding of it in their lifetimes. Read an interview with Paul Schrader about his new film "First Reformed." Schrader is convinced the world ends by 2100, for the same reasons I was told it would be an unlivable hell-hole by 2000, back in the 1970's. But this time it's gonna happen! Which is not to say our current American lifestyle is sustainable, or that the whole planet can join us in the First World As We Know it (it can't), but the loss of that lifestyle won't mean the end of humanity as we know it. A world where I can't actually buy, or expect to buy, a hamburger or a taco every ten feet without fail, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, with no chance of interruption in the supply, doesn't sound like hell to me. It might be less convenient than the present; it might also be more sane.

    Sorry; rambling. But honestly: we just want to think we're that important ("Its' the end of the world! How can it last beyond me?????") and that it's all downhill from here. Mostly because we've bought the idea that "hope" is only a desire for a new cell-phone, and not the chance at a new social paradigm.

    Besides, when the answers are simple ("we're all savages!") it's easier to blame everybody else ("well, except for me and thee. Well, me surely.").