This article was written for the academic journals in 1990 but was not accepted for publication. It was one of several articles written in 1990 to see if more outspoken articles would be accepted. None were.
PSYCHOLOGISTS ONLY PLAY AT SCIENCE
By: John J. Ray
Both detailed and wide-ranging surveys of how various research topics are treated by psychologists reveal a consistent pattern of failing to consider what went before. Psychologists substantially live in an eternal present that has little or no awareness of the past. The result is continual re-invention of the wheel, a failure to learn from past mistakes and the impossibility of ever disposing of erroneous theories. Bibliographical research as a prelude to new data-gathering seems to be a custom much more honored in the breach than in the observance. There seems to be a common belief that no-one previously could possibly have had such clever thoughts as those of the researchers concerned. Such behavior has more in common with childish play than with science.
Psychologists have, of course, long claimed to be scientists but this would seem to be a good occasion for examining that claim. What follows below, however, is not at all congratulatory. The paper falls into two broad sections: In the first just one case is examined intensively and in the second a more summary treatment is given of a wide range of cases.
The present paper is not, of course, wholly original. For example, some time ago now Faucheux (1976) criticized the lack of care and insight typically shown by psychologists when they do cross-cultural research. He showed that much of such research was really little more than playing at science. It will be contended here, however, that the criticisms made by Faucheux are more widely applicable than even he thought. It will be contended that psychology generally is badly flawed as science.
It seems useful to introduce this theme by considering in depth just one book -- the book which won the 1988 prize for behavioral science research awarded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Altemeyer, 1988). Surely this book should provide us with a glimpse of what mainstream academic psychologists today consider to be first class science.
Setting the Scene: Altemeyer's 1981 work
Altemeyer's topic is Right-wing authoritarianism. In his earlier book on the same topic (which also received some quite rapturous reviews), Altemeyer (1981) did some rather surprising things for anyone purporting to be a scientist or even a scholar generally. As I pointed out in various papers (e.g. Ray, 1985a & 1987a) Altemeyer failed to consider what was meant by "Right-wing" and gave a definition of "Right-wing authoritarianism" which sounded remarkably like a definition of traditional political conservatism. In other words, his ignoring the literature on conservatism caused him to pay the penalty of simply reinventing the concept under another name. I confirmed that his RWA scale was simply another measure of conservatism by showing that it correlated highly with other measures of conservatism but not at all with a well-validated measure of authoritarian personality (Ray, 1985a). The latter finding has been replicated by Byrne, Reinhart & Heaven (1989). See their Table 2.
The key fact that Altemeyer seems to have been unaware of is that respect for various traditional authorities has long been an integral part of political conservatism but that such attitudes to authority have little or nothing to do with propensity to behave in an authoritarian way (Ray, 1973 & 1976. Again see Table 2 of Byrne, Reinhart & Heaven, 1989, for independent replications).
So why did Altemeyer not know this? Because of his very limited literature review. He virtually ignored the political science literature (even though he was writing on a political topic!) and his review of the psychological literature was comprehensive only up to about 1972 or 1973. As science is supposed to be a cumulative, "brick by brick" process, this was a recipe for disaster and disaster struck in the form of causing him to reinvent the wheel.
Refusal to learn
One might have thought that this would be a chastening experience for Altemeyer. Not a bit of it! In his second, prize-winning book (Altemeyer, 1988), he is, if anything, even more unscientific. He makes no attempt to update his literature review and thus ignores most of the last 20 years of research by others on his topic. As it happens, there are only three authors now who continue to write, year after year, on the topic of authoritarianism. They are K. Rigby, P.C.L. Heaven and myself. Other authors seem to contribute just one or two papers on the topic and then fall silent. The three authors mentioned, by contrast, are prolific. I, for instance, have had over 100 papers published on authoritarianism and conservatism. If Altemeyer were a true scientist, therefore, one would expect extensive citation of these three authors in his 1988 book. What do we find? Rigby is totally ignored, Heaven gets one citation (only apparently because he once used Altemeyer's scale) and only three (out of more than 100) of my papers are cited. Two of the three concern occasions where Altemeyer's work was referred to.
The third reference, however, is instructive. Apparently even Altemeyer felt a bit embarrassed about ignoring a body of work as large as mine so he sets out to justify his ignoring it. He does this by attacking just one of my papers (Ray, 1976) concerning just one of the many measuring instruments that I have produced. His main objection seems to be that my Directiveness scale has a reliability which -- at .74 -- is "too low", though he concedes that its predictive validity is good. Quite aside from the fact that lower reliabilities are very commonly reported in psychological research, what Altemeyer ignores here is that I have agreed with the sort of criticisms he makes. The scale concerned would not now be in its Mark VI version if I had not! In other words, Altemeyer goes about criticizing the Mark I version of the instrument without telling his readers that it has subsequently been extensively revised! What he thinks he achieves by that is hard to imagine.
Altemeyer also makes the point that the conception of authoritarianism embodied in the Directiveness scale is very different from his own. It is not clear that this is a reason to ignore different conceptions but, even if it were, how does it justify ignoring the work I have done with various other scales? My "A" scale, for instance, (Ray, 1972 & 1984) reads rather similarly to Altemeyer's RWA scale but work with the "A" scale is not referred to.
Clearly, Altemeyer is interested only in playing his own games and seeks any excuse to avoid doing any reading. The basic concept of science where knowledge accumulates gradually over the years from the work of many authors is quite alien to him.
Is this because his own work is so brilliant that it constitutes a quantum leap? Hardly. Altemeyer (1988) attempts to make some rejoinder to my repeated earlier observations (e.g. Ray, 1985a & 1987a) concerning his inadequate definitions by offering a definition of conservatism (which he appears to equate with "Right-wing") which may owe something to dictionaries but which shows no contemporary political awareness at all. He defines conservatism in a way which pays some heed to its basic lexical meaning (rejection of change) without apparently being in any way aware that anyone, Right or Left, will reject change if their interests are threatened. Thus, hard-line Communists in the Soviet Union and China long resisted change in their countries towards a more open and democratic society -- even at the cost of great bloodshed. And equally, anyone, Right or Left, will advocate change to further their own ends. Thus Britain's Prime Minister Thatcher was the leader of Britain's "Conservative" party but was at the same time one of the most actively reformist leaders Britain has ever had. Saying that she defended the status quo is laughable. So in Altemeyer's strange world (i.e. according to his definitions) Margaret Thatcher is a Leftist and Brezhnev, Li Peng and their ilk are Rightists! Black might as well be white. The real difference between the political Left and Right is, of course, that the Left claims that a high level of government intervention is justifiable for benefitting the poor and disadvantaged whereas the Right rejects that.
Nor is this rejection of the efficacy of State intervention peculiar to Mrs Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the late 20th century. To quote one history of the earliest English Tories (Conservatives):
"The principles of Tory paternalism do not lend themselves to effective legislation or improved administration. Coleridge, the most profound and influential of these theorists, looked to the moral regeneration of the individual, not to the reforming State, and he envisaged the Church of England as the head of a paternalistic society. He despised what he called "act of Parliament reforms", and he exalted the Church as much as he feared the State."
Of a slightly later period we read:
"Only State aid to all voluntary schools could extend education, but the Tories would not tolerate State intervention in a sphere reserved for the Church. In a grandiloquent speech to the Commons, Disraeli played deftly on this deep jealousy of the State. He raised the specter of a centralized despotism comparable to those which oppressed China, Persia and Austria, and sombrely warned that the grant would force a return "to the system of a barbarous age, the system of a paternal government"."
Both quotes from Roberts (1958). The more things change.....
Obviously, then, Altemeyer's view of conservatism has not been much influenced by any knowledge of history.
Perhaps the most decisive comment on Altemeyer's brilliance, however, can be left to Altemeyer himself. He admits that his scale of "Right-wing authoritarianism" gives virtually no prediction of anything political! Scores on it are roughly normally distributed but Leftists are almost as likely as Rightists to get high scores on it! It measures an essentially non-political form of conservatism. How research with it is supposed to enlighten us about "Right-wing authoritarianism" is therefore a considerable mystery. Altemeyer claims in effect that many Right-wing authoritarians are Leftists!
That is surely mere mumbo jumbo. Black might as well be white. In response to Altemeyer's first book I was able to design research which might or might not falsify his claims. In response to his second book I could conceive of no new useful research to test his claims because Altemeyer himself had already shown them as false! And this is prize research.
An unfortunate exception?
It may seem that I have dwelt over-long on what is clearly a meretricious piece of work. In reply I am at first inclined to comment that a few pages is a fairly economical demolition of a rather large prize-winning book but a much more important answer is that Altemeyer is typical of psychologists who undertake politically relevant research. He is not an isolated and unfortunate exception. All the surveys of the matter show that psychologists are clearly of a fairly reliably Leftist or "liberal" bent (e.g. McClintock, Spaulding & Turner, 1965) and it would seem that this renders most of them incapable of anything approaching objective or creditable political research. They sometimes show an almost desperate eagerness to denigrate the Right and are blind to any fault on the political Left.
This is a large claim. Can it be justified?
Political bias in action
The first justification, of course, goes back to Altemeyer's work. Whatever else it does, Altemeyer's work does purport to show Rightists in a bad light. This alone seems to have sufficed to win it a prize of such distinction. Its status as science would certainly have won it nothing.
But Altemeyer's work really shows us more than that. It shows us psychologists' inability to learn. The first notable scale of Right-wing authoritarianism was that produced many years ago by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950) and far more people have used the 'F' scale from that work than seem ever likely to use Altemeyer's RWA scale (Altemeyer, 1988, himself admits the limited usage the RWA scale has had). But what has research with the F scale shown? It has shown that it measures a form of conservatism with little relevance to current politics and little or no validity as a measure of authoritarianism (Titus, 1968; Hanson, 1975; Ray, 1973, 1976, 1983b, 1984 & 1988; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983). Does that sound familiar? It is, of course, just what proved true of Altemeyer's RWA scale. Altemeyer (1981) summarized at considerable length most of the problems of the F scale and devised his RWA scale to replace it but ended up making the same mistakes all over again. The need to prove a point (i.e. that Rightists are in some way defective) seemingly leads inexorably to the same follies.
Such folly, however, is not confined to Altemeyer. The F scale must hold some sort of record for the number of researchers who have used it and most of these to this day show no awareness that it is in any important way flawed. Let us look at some examples.
Meloen et al.
Meloen, Hagendoorn, Raaijmakers & Visser (1988) present a finding to the effect that members of the Dutch "Center Party" score high on the F scale as support for the Adorno et al (1950) theory. This is on the grounds that repatriation of minorities was a policy of that party.
Yet the F scale was manufactured as a covert measure of racism. The finding may show that Adorno et al were good at producing covert measures but it tells us nothing about their theory. The basic question in assessing the Adorno et al work is not whether the F scale predicts racism (It generally does. See Ray, 1980) but whether it measures authoritarianism (It does not. See Ray, 1976, 1983b, 1984 & 1988). Meloen et al seem quite unaware of this, however, and even report that their allegedly extensive literature review found nothing adverse to the Adorno account. How they managed to avoid finding (to name a few) Christie & Jahoda (1954), Titus & Hollander (1957), Rokeach (1960), McKinney (1973), Altemeyer (1981) or most of my hundred or more papers on the topic must remain a considerable mystery, to be polite about it.
So, in accord with the generalization proposed, Meloen was unable to see the evidence adverse to the Adorno theory and the "support" his own work gave to the theory was really no such thing.
Another recent F scale user who gives the impression of knowing virtually nothing of the literature on the F scale is Van Ijzendoorn (1989). He reported two studies wherein college and High School students who scored high on a one-way worded version of the F scale also showed some tendency to score low on a measure of moral development adapted from Kohlberg (1984). Van Ijzendoorn concludes from this that authoritarians suffer from arrested moral development.
He seems completely unaware that the F scale is generally held to measure to at least some extent a type of conservatism or to have a Right-wing "bias" (Brown, 1965) and that the "higher" stages of Kohlberg's scale reflect primarily not developmental observations but rather the requirements of liberal ideology (See both Kohlberg, 1981 and the vast review in Modgil & Modgil, 1985). In other words, conservatives score low on a measure of liberalism. How surprising!
Van Ijzendoorn's findings can, in other words, be seen as entirely artifactual. Whether they are or not, who knows? Van Ijzendoorn just made no effort to find out. Had he considered the literature he might have attempted to control for conservatism by way of partial correlation or some such but he did not. He ignored the literature on authoritarianism at the cost of making his own "support" for the Adorno theory totally ambiguous.
Mercer & Kohn
Mercer & Kohn (1980) reported research with a version of the F scale which purported to show that authoritarianism was caused by the type of parenting experienced and that authoritarianism was a useful predictor of drug-abuse among High School students. Challengingly, high F scorers ("authoritarians") were shown to be less likely than others to resort to drug abuse. This, of course, very much flies in the face of the Adorno et al assertion that "authoritarianism" is maladaptive. Drug abuse is one of the great plagues of the modern world and resistance to drug abuse is surely something that almost all parents would want for their children.
This, then, should have presented something of a conundrum for Mercer & Kohn. Some attempt to reconcile their finding with previous assertions about the maladaptive nature of a high score on the F scale was surely to be expected. As it
is, however, no mention of any such problem is made. Naive readers of the paper would not guess that a theoretically interesting finding was being presented. Something adverse to the Adorno theory was simply ignored.
Their remarks on authoritarianism and parenting are also uninformed. They appear to accept unquestioningly that the F scale measures authoritarianism despite all the years of evidence to the contrary. If, however, we take the view (See Ray, 1983b & 1988) that the F scale measures to a very large degree an old-fashioned orientation the findings make sense. They reduce to saying that strict fathers and loving mothers are showing a slight tendency towards becoming old-fashioned. As there seems to have been something of a breakdown of home and family life (as a conservative might put it) or traditional sex roles (as a liberal might put it) in recent decades this does make some sense. Such sense is not to be found in Mercer & Kohn (1980), however. What sense does it make to say that loving mothers are "authoritarian"?
Fisher et al.
Fisher et al (1988) present findings which purport to show that "erotophobia" is authoritarian in the sense of correlating with F scale score. This seems in line with the Adorno formulation that authoritarians have an exaggerated concern with sexual goings-on and is presented by Fisher et al in an uncritical way. If, however, they had taken account of the results of F scale validity studies, they would not have been so sure of their interpretation. If we take the perspective (Ray, 1983b, 1987c & 1988) that the F scale is mostly a measure of an old-fashioned outlook the findings become very predictable. Fisher et al simply showed that it is old-fashioned to be prudish. Given the great wave of sexual liberation that followed the general release of the contraceptive pill, this is hardly surprising.
A finding that initially seemed interesting and theoretically significant becomes a very ho-hum one indeed once looked at carefully.
Again support for the Adorno account could be found only by ignoring the considerable literature that showed the F scale not to measure what it purports to measure.
Grossarth-Maticek et al.
A final study that does to a degree belong among the studies so far discussed here is one by Grossarth-Maticek, Eysenck & Vetter (1989). Eysenck (1954) has, of course, distinguished himself as one of the most notable critics of the Adorno et al work so this study does not display the same sort of utter ignorance that has characterized the other studies so far discussed. What is notable about this study is the contrast between the Herculean labors that went into its execution and the quite insouciant ignorance that went into its design. The execution of the study entailed interviewing 6796 middle-aged West German males over an 11 year period. That is quite amazingly hard work by the standard of what is generally reported in the psychology literature.
Equally amazing, however, is that the hard work that went into the execution was not matched by similar hard work at the design stage. The study of racism is now an old one and one would have thought that the scale of racism adopted for use by Grossarth-Maticek et al would have some connection with some existing instrument. Not a bit of it! The scale used has no acknowledged antecedents and resembles no other scale that at least this author knows of. Grossarth-Maticek, in true social-science style, once again reinvented the wheel. Is this because the Grossarth-Maticek scale is some sort of quantum leap in measurement sophistication?
Far from it. The scale is almost ludicrously naive. No reliability or validity data for it appear to exist, it has no balance against acquiescent bias, only 4 out of its eight items actually refer to race or particular races and all items are worded in such an extreme and paranoid way that, on average, each item is assented to by only about 5% of the sample! It would be hard to devise a worse or less informative scale. And this is a particularly hard-working and diligent author. His negligence cannot be attributed to lack of motivation. Only a culture that is not really concerned with the canons of science can explain such negligence. Because of that culture eleven years of work were wasted before they even began.
The conclusion of the paper to the effect that the Adorno et al picture of the racist personality was to a degree replicated is therefore of a quality comparable to other such conclusions. Whether acquiescence, racism, hostility, paranoia or nothing at all was in fact studied is simply unknown. Given the very low rate of agreement with the scale items, the latter may well be the safest conclusion.
Other writers on authoritarianism
Other recent writers who continue to ignore the literature, particularly as it concerns the F scale and the Adorno et al theory include Miller, Slomczynski & Kohn (1985), Maier & Lavrakas (1984), Browning (1983), Sidanius (1985), Rump (1985), Kelley (1985), Weigel & Howes (1985), Tom et al (1984), Kline & Cooper (1984) and Petersen & Wilkinson (1983). These authors offer in some cases even clearer examples of ignoring adverse findings and "manufacturing" favorable findings but as I have recently pointed out the follies of all of them at some length elsewhere (Ray, 1987b & c, & 1989) I will not repeat the exercise here. I believe that enough has been said, however, to show that any attempt to produce a list of studies that perversely assume the basic correctness of the Adorno et al work would result in a very long list indeed.
Authoritarianism is however one of the most minor topics in modern-day psychology. Unscientific practices there might conceivably not generalize to other areas of psychology. Unfortunately, they do.
Another field of study that has long been with us in psychology is achievement motivation. The best known way of measuring it is by way of projective tests. Nearly every year, however, some psychologist somewhere has the bright idea that it might be measured by way of self-reports (i.e. by a behavior inventory). And almost every time the psychologist concerned seems to assume that no-one else has ever had such a flash of inspiration. As I have documented at length elsewhere (See Ray, 1986a), over the last 40 years there have been over 70 such scales produced and in only a few cases did the authors know of any of their predecessors. In this field, the wheel is happily invented anew each year.
The coronary-prone personality
So achievement motivation is a bit old-hat too. What about newer concepts? Unfortunately it is the same. The concept of the "A-B" personality seems at the moment to be inspiring new papers daily. Such papers are too easy to find for me really to need to list any of them but perhaps papers by Nielson & Dobson (1980), Hicks, McNicholas & Armogida (1981), Kobasa, Maddi & Zola (1983), Hicks & Gaus (1983), Musante (1983), Strube, Turner, Patrick & Perillo (1983), Byrne, Reinhart & Heaven (1989), Yarnold & Grimm (1986) might be mentioned as a few examples of this type of study. Such studies generally show little or no awareness of the many other studies that have questioned the validity and unitary character of the A-B measure (e.g. Booth-Kewley & Friedman, 1987; Linden, 1987; Hansson, Hogan, Johnson & Schroeder, 1983; Ray & Bozek, 1980; Diamond, 1982). The A-B personality concept was devised by cardiologists to encapsulate what they saw as the typical personality of a sufferer from coronary heart disease and it is generally measured by the Jenkins Activity Survey (JAS). The items used in the scale are a rather confused melange with several themes evident. The most original concept involved is the Speed and Impatience (SI) factor. The other items mostly relate to the familiar psychological concepts of dominance and achievement motivation (Ray & Bozek, 1980). Descriptions of what constitutes A-B, however, generally seem to stress the SI factor. It is therefore a considerable irony that the test manual for the JAS (Jenkins, Zyzanski & Rosenman, 1979) shows the SI factor as not predicting coronary heart disease (CHD) in the various studies it surveys. So what factor does do the predicting? None, usually. There are many studies showing the JAS as not predicting the cardiac phenomena that it on theory should (e.g. Nanjundappa, Friis & Taladrid, 1987; Emara, El-Islam, Abu Dagga & Moussa, 1986 and Appels, Mulder & Van Houtem, 1985). One some occasions, however, a weak association can be found and on one such occasion Ray (1986b) showed that a scale of aggressive dominance explained more variance in CHD than did A-B and that it was only insofar as the JAS measured aggressive dominance that it provided any prediction of A-B. Most users of the JAS, however, seem to have heard of none of this and treat the JAS as if it were a valid measure of what it purports to measure. When even the JAS test manual plainly listed information that should have alerted JAS users to the validity problems, that is surely a truly woeful situation. Is there any limit to how blinkered or unwilling to read psychologists can be?
So maybe cardiologists invent concepts that confuse psychologists. What about other modern concepts? One such is the feminist prescription that everybody should be androgynous (exhibit both stereotypically male and stereotypically female traits). This state is said to be the most psychologically healthy. Bem (1974) seems to have been the main influence in igniting the interest of psychologists in the idea and her scales of the two traits of masculinity and femininity seem to have been the most used. Regrettably, they are invalid. They received critical mention almost from the time that they were first published (e.g. Edwards & Ashworth, 1977; Sines & Russell, 1978) but rather than making an attempt to list the whole range of such critical studies let it suffice it to say that, when used on general population samples and even on some other samples, the items of these scales or their derivatives do not differentiate males and females (Edwards & Ashworth, 1977; Myers & Gonda, 1982; Ray & Lovejoy, 1984; Uleman & Weston, 1986; Heerboth & Ramanaiah, 1985). How something can be said to be feminine when males and females are equally likely to be characterized by it is a considerable mystery but most of the users of the two scales (again examples are legion but perhaps Moore & Rosenthal, 1980; Baucom, Besch & Callahan, 1985; Baucom & Danker-Brown, 1983 might be mentioned for form's sake) seem unaware that any such mystery exists. As with the California F scale and the JAS, however, an informed reader could only wonder why these scales continue to be used at all. That they are in fact constantly used is a real wonder.
Racism and stereotyping
Many people regard the issues associated with feminism as very important ones. If such issues are so badly researched might it be that other important issues are also unscientifically treated by psychologists? One issue that is surely important is racism. Racism is something that costs happiness and even lives daily. Surely psychologists take that seriously. Unfortunately, the literature on stereotyping would suggest that they do not. Stereotyping is, of course, commonly resorted to as part of the explanation of racism and, as Weber & Crocker (1983) observe, most psychologists seem still to adhere to the old Lippman view of stereotypes as being very rigid and resistant to change. This view is even offered as textbook wisdom. To quote: "In-group/out-group biases lead us to conclude that we are better than they are. Our stereotypes reinforce these biases, stand resolute against disconfirmation, and function as self-fulfilling prophecies." (Forsyth, 1987, p. 233) or: "Stereotypes are a major mechanism in sustaining prejudice. Once people agree on prejudicial labels, such labelling becomes resistant to change." (Gergen & Gergen, 1986, p. 146).
Such writers are evidently ignorant of most of the actual research into the processes of stereotyping. As such research shows (McCauley, Stitt & Segal, 1980; Bond, 1986; Weber & Crocker, 1983; Triandis & Vassiliou, 1967; Kippax & Brigden, 1977; Schutz, 1932; Berry, 1970; Locksley, Hepburn & Ortiz, 1982; Galper & Weiss, 1975; Braithwaite, Gibson & Holman, 1985-86; Forgas, 1983; Stein, Hardyck & Smith, 1965; Bayton McAlister & Hamer, 1956) stereotypes, far from being rigidly held, are in fact highly susceptible to influence from all sorts of sources and represent generally accurate generalizations that facilitate processing of input from the environment. There are some studies which show people to have a degree of reluctance to relinquish a stereotype (e.g. Pettigrew, 1979; Johnson & Judd, 1983; Darley & Gross, 1983) but that is not at all inconsistent with what was just said. One swallow does not make a summer and good generalizations cannot remain founded on just one or two examples. When a person is presented with stereotype-inconsistent information he/she will have regard not only to that information but also all the other information he/she has on the subject. Few if any generalizations are perfect and total fluidity of response to new information would be mindless. What is needed is an assessment of how much new information is needed to change a stereotype rather than a simple demonstration that new information is not always influential. Few researchers into racism ever do this, however, and a mythical view of what goes on in stereotyping is retained (e.g. Simpson & Yinger, 1965). An informed view would be that stereotyping has as much (but no more) to do with the formation of racist attitudes as it does with the formation of any attitudes and that persistence of stereotypes is generally evidence of some sort of real (though possibly minimal) modal intergroup differences -- surprising though that might sound to the reader not familiar with the relevant literature.
So perhaps it is now clear that psychologists do not do well when researching socially sensitive phenomena. What about some really technical area with no sensitive implications? Few debates could be more technical than the debate over acquiescent response bias: The alleged tendency to say "Yes" to questionnaire items without really meaning it. If such a tendency exists it is clearly a problem for questionnaire users and has to be allowed for in designing research.
The obvious control against it is to include in the questionnaire items that are both "for" and "against" some point of view or that are both "true" and "false" in relation to the existence of some trait in the person. Such scales are called "balanced" scales. Almost all those who have studied the phenomenon do agree that meaningless acquiescence exists and that it does distort the meaning of responses to questionnaire items. There have been occasional optimists who purport to show that meaningless acquiescence does not matter much (e.g. Rorer, 1965) but such dissent has been met with a chorus of criticism, refutation and contrary argument (e.g. Peabody, 1966; Campbell, Siegman & Rees, 1967; Jackson, 1967; Ray 1983a & 1985b). The situation appears to be that meaningless acquiescence does exist and it does show some tendency to generalize from scale to scale but it does so unpredictably (Ray, 1985b).
This unpredictability, in fact, poses the biggest problem. If it could be predicted, special precautions against its influence might not always be necessary but, as it is, such precautions are always necessary. All scales should be cast in balanced form. But are they? Unfortunately not. One-way-worded scales are still widely used by psychologists (e.g. Rushton, Chrisjohn & Fekken, 1981; Bem, 1974; Van Ijzendoorn, 1989). Psychologists can in fact be surprisingly rigid in their attachment to their old unbalanced and problematic scales. One author (Van Ijzendoorn, 1989) even used a one-way-worded scale when he knew that its form had been criticized and that an alternative balanced version was available. Such behavior is not even cautious, let alone scientific.
It may be noted that most of the work I have criticized is North American in provenance. As I am Australian, is this just another boring example of anti-Americanism? Am I holding up Australian psychology as some sort of alternative? I am afraid not. For somewhat different reasons, Grichting (1989, p. 126) recently concluded about Australian psychology: "I submit that psychology and sociology in this country have not employed scientific methodologies which are likely to push ahead the frontier of knowledge....". It may be noted that Grichting was also concerned by (among other things) the failure of psychologists to learn from what had gone before in their literature and that he arrived at this conclusion by way of a lengthy review of the recent contents of Australia's four main social science journals.
It may also be noted that Altemeyer is a Canadian and that other writers I have criticized are Europeans (e.g. Meloen, Van Ijzendoorn). The problem, then, appears to be psychologists in general rather than any one national grouping of them.
I feel that the brief exploration of modern-day psychology which I have attempted above really does make one despair about psychologists. They are more like big children playing games than they are like scientists. They are just not engaged in any sort of cumulative enterprise. History mostly seems to begin anew for them with every day that dawns. It is hard to catch their attention but once something does catch their attention it is virtually impervious to any sort of unlearning, rejection or disconfirmation. It is almost as if a concept is liked because it is "pretty" rather than because it has any relationship to reality. Because it will almost never be read or heeded by those who should read and heed it, getting a psychological research report or any paper at all published is merely a form of point-scoring. Why the taxpayer and others continue to fund such silly games is the real mystery.
The present critique is, of course, not the first of its general kind. Much of what has been criticized in the present paper falls in the realm of social psychology and social psychologists have certainly had self-doubts on previous occasions. Ring (1967), for instance criticized social psychologists for the triviality of the topics they studied and several authors seemed to think that the uninspiring results generally obtained from social psychological research meant that the whole natural science paradigm had to be questioned (Gergen, 1973; Harre & Secord, 1972; Israel & Tajfel, 1972). The problem identified by Ring is probably now less salient but the latter group of critics would seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Before abandoning normal science why not try it first? Why not just develop the habit of reading what one's colleagues are writing? It does not sound hard to do.
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