Psychology, Science, & Pseudoscience

At my university I offer an undergraduate class called Psychology, Science, & Pseudoscience. This is what I circulate by way of an official class blurb:

Pseudoscience refers to a practice or body of knowledge that purports to be scientific but diverges from the quality-standards conventionally applied to science and scientists. Examples include supposedly scientific claims about telepathy, mediumship, and alternative medicine, but also many claims relating to climate-change scepticism, political conspiracy theories, and several xenophobic tropes.

According to some critics, several areas of mainstream psychology can also be said to at least hover at the boundary between science and pseudoscience. In this module we consider: (a) the nature of science and pseudoscience; (b) the distinctions and overlaps between psychology and pseudoscience; and (c) the psychology of ‘evidence’ and the way people often prefer nonsense over logic.

We also examine how mainstream psychologists can themselves engage in their own forms of faulty scientific reasoning when they garble concepts relating to statistics and probability, when they succumb to bias and social influence, and when they sympathise with anti-science sentiments. As a case study, we consider the way psychologists have traditionally discussed and examined so-called ‘Medically Unexplained Symptoms’.

We conclude by considering how evidence-based reasoning, while humanly difficult, is critical to the well-being of the world.

Anyone who is interested are welcome to download the entire Class Information document by clicking here.

From time to time I will post relevant content on this page. Accordingly, you can consider this page a constant work in progress.

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Is Psychology a Science?

Here is Lecture 07, Is Psychology a Science?

As it happens, I recorded this in early October during a campus-wide internet outage caused by a cyber attack on my university. As a consequence, I used my own laptop (and thus my own version of PowerPoint) and I must say that the resulting recording quality is pretty good. You can decide for yourselves whether the actual content matches the production values.

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Limits on Evidentiary Reasoning

Here is Lecture 08, where we begin to explore the psychology of evidentiary reasoning.

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Struggles with Probability

In Lecture 09, we talk about the difficulties of reasoning through chance and probability, even when it is your job.

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Struggles with Randomness

Here, in Lecture 10, we consider how human mind’s are blown by the concept of randomness and flukes.

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Struggles with Rationality

And, wrapping up our tour of cognitive limitations on comprehension, in Lecture 11 we broach the core issue of how human minds think in habitually irrational ways.

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