Letter/Observer Forum

If You Can’t Take the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen

Until now, I could honestly say that I have been impressed by psychological publications, at times bored, at other times pleased, but until this issue, rarely would I use the term embarrassed to describe my reaction to psychological publications. Let me explain.

I believe that it was President Truman who suggested that if you cannot stand the heat you had better get out of the kitchen. Well, the several authors who either wrote the papers in this section on inconvenient truths or made comments describing their own encounters with troublesome critics would have done well to heed the former President’s sage advice. Instead, the contributors sounded like little babies, shocked at finding themselves living in a world that was not overjoyed by their work, a world filled with political debates and disagreements. Are these stalwarts of psychological science as naïve and poorly informed as their comments suggest? Why think that psychological scientists are immune from the battles raging in the halls of Congress and in political settings across the nation?

It is clear (to me at least) that the claims of the several psychologists referred to in this section of the Observer — claims that things would settle down into a polite debate over “facts” once everyone had been educated about the science of psychology, as though a disembodied array of data would convince detractors to alter their personal beliefs — are without merit. Are these several psychological scientists so naïve that they cannot recognize that once their work touches on issues in which people have been deeply invested, they are not likely to roll over and agreeably accept other points of view?

I cannot believe that as distinguished a colleague as Saul Kassin, for example, was really shocked that he received angry, even threatening emails from people upset by his research claims on false confessions — as though scientists should be sheltered from the same public that harasses politicians. Does such naïveté exist because we scientific psychologists believe that we are dealing with pure facts not tainted by the sociocultural biases that infect politicians and the public?  I, above all, should not be surprised by the hubris of scientific psychologists for whom the social constructionist movement is some oddity rather than being the grounding for all forms of psychological inquiry.

Rather than continuing, let me conclude by returning to Harry Truman. Hey, you scientific psychologists, instead of wrapping yourselves in a cloak of invisibility beyond the ken of the common people of our world, recognize that this kitchen is a hot one; get out, please, if you feel threatened by that heat, and move to the safer climes of your self-contained sandbox.

-APS Fellow Edward E. Sampson
Emeritus Professor of Psychology

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