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The first three are fairly straightforward and the fourth is particularly relevant for this debate and debates like it (i.e., involving what does or does not get classified as a science).These elements are crucial to understanding the ways in which psychology is and is not a science.
Scholars of the field know this debate has continued on and off, right up through the present day.
The debate flared in the blogosphere a couple of years ago, after an op-ed piece by a microbiologist in the LA Times declared definitively that psychology was not a science, followed by several pieces in Psychology Today and Scientific American declaring definitively that psychology is, in fact, a science. The answer is that it is complicated and the reason is that both science and psychology are complex, multifaceted constructs.
These are solid definitions, but we need to flesh them out a bit.
I consider science to be made up of four elements: 1) the scientific mindset; 2) the scientific method; 3) the knowledge system of science and 4) science as a rhetorical label.
The scientific mindset also includes the following characteristics: emphasis on empirical evidence (i.e., data collection) to develop explanations; attitudes of openness to possible (natural) explanations and a skepticism about tradition, revelation and authority; an emphasis on objectivity (i.e., independent from the bias of the observer); an emphasis on logical coherence; and the belief that humans can build systems of knowledge that do, in fact, correspond to the way the world actually works.
Another defining feather of science is its reliance on systematic methods of data collection and critical analyses of the ideas of science.
If one is a psychologist or even has a passing interest in the field, one has likely encountered the question about whether psychology is truly a science or not.
The debate has been prominent since psychology’s inception in the second half of the nineteenth century, and is evident in comments like that by William James who referred to it as “that nasty little subject”.
Ideally, the body of knowledge will have a center that is consensually agreed upon (e.g., the Periodic Table in chemistry) and peripheral domains that represent the edges of scientific inquiry and where one will find much debate, innovation, and differences of the opinion.
A final element that is particularly relevant in this context is that the term science has much rhetorical value in our culture.