Is psychology a cargo-cult science?

CIMG2472Just click on the picture to watch my lecture given at 15th European Skeptics Congress in Stockholm, Sweden, August 2013.


Islanders from the Pacific Ocean make natural sized planes from wood and cane, build runways and light bonfires on them. They do it because they observed what white soldiers had done. The Islanders drew the conclusion that it is a kind of ritual aimed to bring planes full of goods sent by gods. This phenomenon was called cargo cult. In 1974 Richard Feynman, a famous physicist and Nobel Prize winner, gave a lecture entitled ‘Cargo Cult Science’. He compared psychology and other social sciences to cargo cult. He argued that social sciences imitate science, in the same way as cargo cult believers imitate actions aimed to bring planes. In his opinion, many problems, which are in the limelight of psychology, are not solved and they may even grow bigger. Are social sciences cargo cult sciences? There are many psychological practices which confirm Feynman’s point of view, but there are also examples which show that psychology is not a cargo cult. Examples supporting both points of view will be presented. The next question is consequently: Why do so many psychological undertakings become cargo cult like? The main reasons include junk science, narrow research data base, and pseudoscience. A more detailed description will be presented during the lecture. The final question addressed during the lecture is: Who and how can we prevent the spreading of cargo cult within social sciences? Scientists, executives of science, popularisers, and receivers were identified as the main responsible groups. A discussion on the methods of prevention will conclude the talk.


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