For those of you who have been following my columns, you know that I have been very interested in affecting the big wide world out there to let everyone know that psychology is a science.
My jaundiced view of people's responses to psychology has been largely colored by my personal experience on occasions when I meet nonpsychologists--at parties and informal gatherings, and at the university, where I encounter faculty members from other departments. Other sources are newspapers, magazines and novels where references are regularly and interchangeably made to psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, salesmen (you do not often see references to saleswomen) and persuasive people in general, to take but one sampling. The other day, I decided to check up on at least one other source to tell me how that big wide world views psychology.
I went on the World Wide Web, chose Google and put in "psychology" as my search term. Google's response took, according to the Google folks' own estimate, exactly .06 seconds. And, hold your breath, it called forth "approximately" 8,100,000 "results." I guess they don't bother you with precise figures once the counts reach these heights. What I found particularly encouraging was the category sequence in their search, namely "Science>Social Sciences>Psychology."
Good beginning. The first of these results was labeled Encyclopedia of psychology--psychology Web sites. I decided to click on that link, which brought up a series of categories: Career (34); What career, why and how to begin; Environment behavior relationships (1016); The study of psychological phenomena; Organizations (127); Organizations and institutions of psychology; Paradigms and theories (66); Ways of thinking about psychology; People and history (93); The history of psychology, and its people; Publications (315); Publications and documents; Resources (241); Resources for information underlying reductionistic machinery (63); The biological factors underlying behavior.
These categories sound pretty good. Sporadic follow-up showed good journals and Web sites, although, to be sure, I did not follow up all of them by any means. When you go to the psychological careers category, you find many references to the APA Web site, and, at the very end, you find an essay titled "What psychology is"--a beautiful description of psychology and what a psychologist does. When I finished reading it, I realized it came directly from the APA Web site. Once again, this can reassure us. Well, I still thought there must be some misunderstanding of what psychology is, so I kept looking. Finally, I found psychology and astrology.
This is what was written: "Both psychology and astrology are tools used to assist understanding of self, others and the world in general. However, astrology with the nonsense removed, (and there is much nonsense) can be used with both greater flexibility and scope. Below are some of the useful ways where astrology can be used: Career: Counseling without long drawn-out expensive tests. The ability to assess when, where and for how long major stresses will show in a person's life. The importance of knowing when major stresses will end is most important. The ability to compare two personalities without seeing either. The ability to assess children's strengths, weaknesses and talents at birth. The ability to do all the above without constant consultations."
What to make of all this? In general, the World Wide Web seems to be doing pretty well by psychology, the above example notwithstanding. Nevertheless, we do have work to do to spread the word about psychology as science.
We can do it on the Web by adding to the good material that is already out there. We can also tell our friends and colleagues--both psychologists and those working in other fields--about the APA Web site and all the good things it shows.
And if you are particularly interested in science, of course, go to the APA Science Directorate and see all the information we have, including announcements of awards; research funding resources; advanced training institutes; Psychological Science Agenda, our science newsletter; SPIN, the Science Policy Insider News; PSWIN, the Psychological Science in the Workplace InfoNet and so on.