Paul E. Meehl
Paul Everett Meehl (3 January 1920—14 February 2003) was an American psychology professor. Known for his work on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, statistical vs. clinical prediction, and philosophy of science.
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- My thesis in a nutshell: "There is no convincing reason to assume that explicitly formalized mathematical rules and the clinician's creativity are equally suited for any given kind of task, or that their comparative effectiveness is the same for different tasks. Current clinical practice should be much more critically examined with this in mind than it has been."
- Because physical theories typically predict numerical values, an improvement in experimental precision reduces the tolerance range and hence increases corroborability. In most psychological research, improved power of a statistical design leads to a prior probability approaching ½ of finding a significant difference in the theoretically predicted direction. Hence the corroboration yielded by "success" is very weak, and becomes weaker with increased precision. "Statistical significance" plays a logical role in psychology precisely the reverse of its role in physics. This problem is worsened by certain unhealthy tendencies prevalent among psychologists, such as a premium placed on experimental "cuteness" and a free reliance upon ad hoc explanations to avoid refutation.
- (1967). "Theory-testing in psychology and physics: A methodological paradox". Philosophy of Science 34 (2): 103–115.
Theoretical Risks and Tabular Asterisks: Sir Karl, Sir Ronald, and the Slow Progress of Soft Psychology (1978)
Full citation: Paul E. Meehl (1978) Theoretical Risks and Tabular Asterisks: Sir Karl, Sir Ronald, and the Slow Progress of Soft Psychology Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 46, pp. 806–834.
- [...] Perhaps the easiest way to convince yourself is by scanning the literature of soft psychology over the last 30 years and noticing what happens to theories. Most of them suffer the fate that General MacArthur ascribed to old generals—They never die, they just slowly fade away. In the developed sciences, theories tend either to become widely accepted and built into the larger edifice of well-tested human knowledge or else they suffer destruction in the face of recalcitrant facts and are abandoned, perhaps regretfully as a “nice try.” But in fields like personology and social psychology, this seems not to happen. There is a period of enthusiasm about a new theory, a period of attempted application to several fact domains, a period of disillusionment as the negative data come in, a growing bafflement about inconsistent and unreplicable empirical results, multiple resort to ad hoc excuses, and then finally people just sort of lose interest in the thing and pursue other endeavors.
Quotes about Paul E. Meehl
- Meehl was an American psychologist who studied the successes and failures of predictions in many different settings. He found overwhelming evidence for a disturbing conclusion. Predictions based on simple statistical scoring were generally more accurate than predictions based on expert judgment.
A famous example confirming Meehl’s conclusion is the “Apgar score,” invented by the anesthesiologist Virginia Apgar in 1953 to guide the treatment of newborn babies. The Apgar score is a simple formula based on five vital signs that can be measured quickly: heart rate, breathing, reflexes, muscle tone, and color. It does better than the average doctor in deciding whether the baby needs immediate help. It is now used everywhere and saves the lives of thousands of babies.
- Freeman Dyson, (December 22, 2011)"How to Dispel Your Illusions (review of On ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman)". New York Review of Books.