Awful Alternatives to the Scientific Approach

One way to establish the importance of science to psychology is to contrast psychology to its pseudoscientific rivals, such as graphology, astrology, or phrenology. An exceptional resource for such a presentation is "The 10 Commandments of Helping Students Distinguish Science from Pseudoscience in Psychology." (The article, by Scott O. Lilienfeld, first appeared in the "Teaching Tips" section of the September, 2005   APS Observer,) If you do not want to organize your presentation around Lilienfeld's 10 commandments, you could organize your presentation around the key characteristics of science (to do so, you may want to make an overhead of of Table 1.1).

In addition to giving examples of how pseudoscientific approaches go wrong, you might have students write a paper about why phrenology is not a science (even though some still claim that it is) and why the lack of a scientific approach led to erroneous conclusions. For a more current pseudoscientific approach, you could refer them to Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker article on criminal profiling.

Alternatively, you might have them go to the library and learn about the horrors of medicine prior to the use of the scientific method.

The following references might be useful:

Burke, J. (1985). The day the universe changed. Little, Brown: Boston.

Stanovich, K.E. (1990) How to think straight about psychology. Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman.

In addition, you or your students may enjoy the following links:

To emphasize the importance of using scientific reasoning to critically examine claims, you could:

  1. Show the PBS video "Secrets of the Psychics." The video (available from PBS) mesmerizes students and makes some good points about the need for experimental control. If you do not have the video, you can get it online via Youtube (click here for full 54 minute version).


  2. Demonstrate the Clever Hans phenomenon. Such a demonstration takes some time to set up, but works beautifully. The full description of the demonstration is described in
    Marshall, M. J., & Linden, D. R. (1994). Simulating Clever Hans in the Classroom. Teaching of Psychology, 21, 230-232.

  3. Show the early part of the video "Beautiful Dreamers."
    You can use the first few minutes of this video (available from video stores) to emphasize that

  4. Show the PBS video "Prisoners of silence." ( Full version can be accessed from YouTube here)
    This "Frontline" documentary exposing facilitated communication dramatically makes the case for the need for research methods. Showing the video dramatically makes the case. However, Stephen L. Chew and Jacqueline L. Goldstein (Department of Psychology, #292308, Samford University, Birmingham, AL 35229) have prepared a set of discussion questions to go along with the film. In their demonstration, students watch a segment, respond to some discussion questions, watch another segment, etc. Ask for their 1996 paper: "An interactive, real world demonstration of the importance of understanding research methods." Click here to obtain the masters for the overheads we use for the video.

  5. Show the video "Beyond Science." You can watch it here for free. This hour-long video clearly shows the logic and the value of the scientific method. We think it is a video everyone should see. For more information about how to use this video in your class, click here.

  6. Expose students to the Barnum effect.

  7. Have students critique videos of commercials, editorials, or letters to the editor.

  8. Compare the scientific method to everyday reasoning. The following references may be helpful.

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