Theory in Psychology

Just a quick item: there’s an interesting article here https://osc.centerforopenscience.org/2013/11/20/theoretical-amnesia/ that argues that there is a lack of theory in psychology.

First an amazing quote:

Scientific theories are perhaps the most bizarre entities that the scientific imagination has produced. They have incredible properties that, if we weren’t so familiar with them, would do pretty well in a Harry Potter novel. For instance, scientific theories allow you to work out, on a piece of paper, what would happen to stuff in conditions that aren’t actually realized. So you can figure out whether an imaginary bridge will stand or collapse in imaginary conditions. You can do this by simply just feeding some imaginary quantities that your imaginary bridge would have (like its mass and dimensions) to a scientific theory (say, Newton’s) and out comes a prediction on what will happen. In the more impressive cases, the predictions are so good that you can actually design the entire bridge on paper, then build it according to specifications (by systematically mapping empirical objects to theoretical terms), and then the bridge will do precisely what the theory says it should do. No surprises.

I love it!

The article goes on to argue that an overreliance on data compensates for the lack of theory. It’s pretty interesting – go read it!

It’s interesting to note that linguistics – as a subfield of psychology – to my mind does not lack theory in the sense that is described in the article. Theoretical linguists also always had a healthy skepticism towards big data approaches to language (or at least to the scientific merit of it; for technology it seems to be okay for some limited uses).

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