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Junk psychology



I picked up a book on defence mechanisms by a female psychologist who is a leading academic in the field—has carried out many studies into the topic.


She told me that defence mechanisms are “unconscious processes”, then she told me that she measured defence mechanisms—their prevalence and type in different age groups, longitudinal studies—with a “self-assessment tool”.


How is a person meant to self-assess whether or not they have experienced a process that is unconscious?


It’s a contradiction—how can you self-assess what is unconscious to your self?


“Well, I mean, they realise after it happened that is what happened and then they note it down.”


So the “science” here relies on the person so studied engaging in reflection on an event in the past and then attributing it to an unconscious process—these self-reports are then quantified.

Isn’t that a bit…vague? Isn’t it very possible people might just look back and attribute all sorts of reactions to a defence mechanism? Does the definition of defence mechanism in this case amount to “if I feel some event in the past was a defence mechanism, that is a defence mechanism”?


Worse, the woman boasted that in an earlier study, in the 1990s, she had surprised the academic community because she established a link between defence mechanisms deployed at age 3 and then at 18 (longitudinal, statistical test for significance).


She then said, “If you don’t think defence mechanisms exist, you are unlikely to find them”. She literally used those words. If you know what you’re looking for, you’ll find it. Isn’t that the opposite of science? Aren’t you meant to not impose your expectations on reality but, rather, humbly formulate a hypothesis and then see if the data confirms or refutes it?


It’s okay, this woman knew what she was looking for—and lo, she found it.


That’s more or less religion, not science (seek and ye shall find—a link between defence mechanisms used at 3 and age 18).


This woman has a great reputation as an expert and a ton of journal articles and books to her name—she’s the kind of person who journalists go to for quotes and information.


And it’s not just psychology that is like this.



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