Psychology’s Ghosts: The Crisis in the Profession and the Way Back.
I’m sitting beside a tall stack of books by Jerome Kagan, published by Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Basic Books. This stack doesn’t include Kagan’s papers (nearly 400), or his textbook Psychology: An Introduction, written with Julius Segal, which has gone through at least nine editions.
A professor emeritus at Harvard, Kagan, now 83, began his career at Yale, where his apprenticeship to behavioral researcher Frank Beach required him to masturbate a group of male dogs over several evenings. Eventually he got a day job, assessing children for a longitudinal study of childhood temperament at the Fels Research Institute. He moved to Harvard in 1964 and continued to study children. His research culminated in The Nature of the Child (1984), a developmental study that emphasized the enduring role of temperament. Kagan went on to codirect Harvard’s Mind/Brain/Behavior Interfaculty Initiative, an interdisciplinary program established in 1993 to investigate relationships between the nervous system, human behavior, and mental life.
The themes of Kagan’s books widened accordingly, to include more philosophical and cultural questions. Indeed, Psychology’s Ghosts revisits ideas Kagan advanced in previous books, namely Three Seductive Ideas (1998), An Argument for Mind (2006), and The Three Cultures (2009)—the title of the latter an allusion to C. P. Snow’s influential lecture cautioning against the growing gulf between the sciences and the humanities. Where in 1959 Snow saw a schism, Kagan now sees a 21st-century Bermuda Triangle: social scientists, lost in the airspace between two great branches of knowledge, unwilling or unable to read the signals from either one.
Psychology’s Ghosts makes important criticisms of the profession: Psychologists should pay more attention to the setting, age, class, and cultural background of their research participants; researchers should look for patterns of measures rather than use single measures; and psychiatrists need to consider life circumstances rather than simply diagnosing patients and prescribing medication on the basis of symptoms. Kagan singles out the infamous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for well-deserved scorn. However, most psychiatrists and psychologists see the DSM as not much more than a tool for billing insurance companies, so Kagan’s low opinion won’t be news to them.