(Written for publication in The Psychologist in 1993 but not accepted for publication)
DEFENDING EYSENCK AND GROSSARTH MATICEK
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Coopers Plains, Qld, 4108
In your August issue Gallacher (1992) drew to the attention of your readers some trenchant criticisms in the medical literature of work by Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek on the causes and cures of heart disease and cancer. Gallacher suggests that psychology as a whole tends to be discredited by such criticisms and asks for wider responses from psychologists to the issues involved.
For a start, your readers should be aware that a swingeing attack on the Eysenck & Grossarth-Maticek work has also appeared in the psychological literature (Ray, 1990). The criticisms made were primarily psychometric but Eysenck's unusual methods of data analysis were also touched upon. (Readers may perhaps in passing
reflect on the fact that the journal in which the attack appeared is in fact edited by Prof. Eysenck). One can then unequivocally say in answer to medical critics that other psychologists have ALREADY criticized the Eysenck & Grossarth-Maticek work.
As psychologists, I think it is then at this point appropriate and relevant for us to ask why did a researcher with experience as vast as Eysenck's expose himself to such attacks and criticisms? The answer is a simple one and in fact says much for Eysenck's formidable industry and research skills. What appears to have happened is that Grossarth-Maticek embarked many years ago on a research program of almost unprecedented scope, industry and persistence. Over many years he gathered both psychological and medical data on a very large number of people. As is all too common even among psychologists, however, Grossarth-Maticek (who has a medical background) designed his research with little consideration for, or awareness of, the existing work by others in the field (cf Ray 1984 & 1986a). The result was a research design of incredible naivety that almost totally ruined and vitiated his many years of work.
Eysenck, however, to his credit, was not prepared to let all that research data go to waste and applied his formidable psychometric and statistical skills to salvaging something from it. I do not believe that he succeeded, however. The psychological data in particular was just too ludicrous for words (Ray, 1990). I give
Eysenck full marks for trying, however, and I believe that his critics in the medical world should do likewise.
I suspect, however, that what has really powered the criticisms of the Eysenck/Grossarth-Maticek work is unfamiliarity with Eysenck's characteristic style. Those of us who have been reading his work for many years are all of course aware that Eysenck has a habit of overstating his case -- i.e. of making broader generalizations than his data really warrant. This is however a reasonably proper thing for a theorist to do and Eysenck is arguably the last of the great German
psychological theorists (Ray, 1986b). Be that as it may, Eysenck's characteristic manner of stating his case is certainly attention-getting and, in an age where most published reports of psychological research seem destined to remain forever unread (except perhaps by the author's mother), that is certainly an understandable strategy to adopt if psychological research is ever to be of any help to anybody.
I think Eysenck should also have been extended some indulgence because of the fact that his background is not a medical one. Cross-disciplinary research is almost necessarily difficult and challenging and medically trained researchers who venture into psychology make some rather large howlers too. I think the debacle of the "A-type" who was supposed to be prone to coronary heart disease is now generally well-known (Ray, 1991). As I pointed out years ago (Ray & Bozek, 1980), the measure of "A-type" personality used by the researchers concerned would never have been expected by a psychometrically-trained person to generate any useful information.
So again vast energies and many years of research yielded nothing positive.
Cross-disciplinary research is too important, however, for us to let such mishaps deter us. We have to try. Armchair critics will CERTAINLY not produce the data we need.
JOHN J. RAY
Gallacher, J.E.J. (1992) Sharp attack on psychological treatment. The Psychologist 5, 360.
Ray, J.J. (1984) Reinventing the wheel: Winkler, Kanouse Ware on acquiescent response set. J. Applied Psychology 69, 353-355.
Ray, J.J. (1986a) Measuring achievement motivation by self-reports. Psychological Reports 58, 525-526.
Ray, J.J. (1986b) Eysenck on social attitudes: An historical critique. pp. 155-173 in: S. Modgil & C.M. Modgil (Eds.) Hans Eysenck: Consensus and controversy Lewes, E. Sussex, U.K.: Falmer.
Ray, J.J. (1990) Racist extremism and normal prejudice: A comment on Grossarth-Maticek, Eysenck & Vetter. Personality & Individual Differences, 11, 647-648.
Ray, J.J. (1991) If 'A-B' does not predict heart disease, why bother with it? A comment on Ivancevich & Matteson. British J. Medical Psychology, 64, 85-90.
Ray, J.J. & Bozek, R.S. (1980) Dissecting the A-B personality type. British Journal of Medical Psychology 53, 181-186.
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