Letter/Observer Forum


Kahneman: First ‘clear’ psychology Nobel
The letters submitted to the Observer [January 2003] arguing that Daniel Kahneman was not the first psychologist awarded a Nobel Prize raises the question of who is a psychologist. Kahneman is the first clear psychologist. Daniel Kahneman received his PhD from a psychology department (University of California, Berkeley). His many professorial positions were in departments of psychology. His primary professional organizations were psychology organizations. The majority of his great number of publications was in psychology journals. He clearly meets anyone’s criteria for “psychologist.”

Simply occasionally publishing in psychology journals is not sufficient reason to be labeled a psychologist. Otherwise, publishing an article in a neurology journal would make one a neurologist. Being hired by a psychology department does not make one a psychologist. Otherwise, being hired by a chemistry department would make one a chemist. And doing research related to cognition, decision making, sensory physiology, animal behavior, and so on, are inappropriate criteria since we would thereby annex many fields.

The animal behaviorists Karl von Frisch, Nikolaas Tinbergen, and Konrad Lorenz worked as biologists and zoologists and received their PhDs in these fields. Lorenz, in his Nobel autobiography at least took a course from Karl Bühler and was influenced by the writings of MacDougall and Watson. Ivan Pavlov was trained and worked as a physiologist. His Nobel Prize was awarded for his early work on the physiology of digestion. His work on conditioning, which he considered a physiological question, occupied the later part of his research career. Erik Kandel was a biologist and a physician by degree. David Hubel and Thorsten Wiesel (who spoke disparagingly of psychologists) were physicians by training. None of these laureates were employed by psychology departments, belonged to psychology organizations, or typically published in psychology journals.

The closest alternatives, prior to Kahneman, seemed to be Georg von Bekesy, Roger Sperry, and Herbert Simon.

Roger Sperry received his PhD in zoology. However, he did one year of postdoctoral work with Karl Lashley and of the five academic departments, he did work in a psychology department for one year (University of Chicago), at least bringing him in contact with psychology. Georg von Bekesy was trained as a physicist and felt that researchers in his area should be trained as physicists. His Nobel Prize was for his work on the structure of the auditory system. The only claim to his being labeled a psychologist would be that the department of psychology at Harvard employed him. Herbert Simon received his PhD in economics and his work spanned artificial intelligence, expert systems, and decision making.

Rather than claim these researchers as psychologists it might be better to ask why individuals trained as physicians, biologists, physicist and economists were able to make zeitgeist-breaking innovative work in areas of considerable interest to psychological science.

Douglas Whitman
Wayne State University

Nobel column ‘correctly stated’
Eva Dreikurs Ferguson [January 2003] takes my December 2002 essay to task for failing to cite Ivan Pavlov and Georg von Bekesy as precedents for Daniel Kahneman’s recent Nobel Prize.

Without taking anything away from their important accomplishments, this is Kahneman’s moment in the sun, and as I correctly stated, he is “the first PhD in psychology to receive a Nobel Prize in Economics.” My essay discussed that prize alone and made no mention of the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine.

Robert MacCoun
University of California, Berkeley

Pavlov Nobel not for psychology
In regard to Eva Dreikurs Ferguson’s listing of the “other” Nobel psychologists [January 2003], Pavlov did not receive the Nobel for his work on conditioned reflexes. His prize was for work on the physiology of digestion, particularly in the stomach and salivary glands. He developed the Pavlov pouch, which these days is reminiscent of stomach stapling, in which a portion of the stomach is isolated from (but still connected to) the rest of the stomach. This allows analysis of the pouch’s secretions uncontaminated by the food in the rest of the stomach. Pavlov did not consider himself to be a psychologist, as evidenced by his Psychological Review article “Reply of a physiologist to psychologists.”

W. Scott Terry
University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Social construction of Nobel numbers
The ambiguous boundaries of psychology as a discipline will challenge any who want to sort or number its laureates and laggards. Like Daniel Kahneman, Friederich A. Hayek was awarded the Nobel in Economics. As Walter Weimer and I pointed out in his American Psychologist obituary in 1994, Hayek remains unknown to many psychologists despite his remarkable early contributions to theoretical psychology. His book The Sensory Order (1952) criticized radical versions of reductionism and behaviorism, and it laid foundations for much of what is now being called constructivism in psychology and neuroscience. His theory of complex phenomena contrasted so sharply with the view of John Maynard Keynes that the University of Chicago had to create a special appointment for Hayek as a professor of “social and moral sciences” rather than economics. A cousin of Wittgenstein and close friend of Karl Popper, Hayek’s later works converged with those of Don Campbell in the area of evolutionary epistemology (which is quite different from contemporary evolutionary psychology).

Even more important than who we count as psychologists laureled in Stockholm, however, is our need to be aware of the politics and social processes involved in awards of fame and fortune. Like the medal counts at the Olympics, we continue to exhibit a Pythagorean fascination with who has how much. Thus, while we publish tables on the best and most bountiful, let us at least be aware of this fetish. Hayek accepted his award with cautionary words about our pretense to knowledge and the considerable degree to which we construct, personally and collectively, the prizes we prize.

Michael J. Mahoney
University of North Texas and Saybrook Graduate School

Science-oriented vs. nonscience-oriented psychology
I was heartened to see APA president Robert Sternberg extend a hand to APS in a spirit of collaboration and friendship (Observer, January 2003). The APA-APS split is ridiculous, but more for a reason he implied than the one he described. Sternberg described the split as having arisen between APA practitioners and academics (in APS, read: “scientists”), but he implied a deeper division. He wrote that whereas APS serves “scientifically-oriented” psychologists, APA must serve them and “many other kinds of psychologists.”

This should give us pause to consider whether APA is (a) split between scientists and practitioners or (b) divided between scientifically- and nonscientifically-oriented psychologists. The first dichotomy marginalizes clinical researchers, applied behavior analysts, and evidence-based practitioners. The second dichotomy should marginalize nonscientifically-oriented psychologists in a “scientific and professional” organization (see www.apa.org/about/), but apparently not. As a result, within its own ranks, APA allows scientifically- and nonscientifically-oriented psychologists to fight over the oil fields of human misery. This is appalling, but APA is unlikely to stop it. By serving both kinds of psychologists, APA retains these fields and gains access to new ones. In the long run, however, this weakens APA’s credibility and intellectual coherence as a self-stated “scientific” organization. This is not an argument against humanism, which also can be science-based, but for the clarification of organizational purposes and their consequences.

APS could help. It could stop conflating the scientist-practitioner split with the division between scientifically- and nonscientifically-oriented psychologists; the former is a false dichotomy where practitioners are scientists. It could strengthen the credibility and coherence, and ultimately the effectiveness of psychology as a discipline by formally accommodating and publicly advocating for science in practice. It could even support and accredit training programs for (yikes!) scientist-practitioners, and let APA have the PsyD degree. These “coulda-s” are as much about time and money as they are about organizational priorities and their consequences. For the sake of the consequences, APS should extend a hand to practice-as-science and science-based practice in a spirit of collaboration and friendship.

Edward K. Morris
University of Kansas

APS regularly opens certain online articles for discussion on our website. Effective February 2021, you must be a logged-in APS member to post comments. By posting a comment, you agree to our Community Guidelines and the display of your profile information, including your name and affiliation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations present in article comments are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of APS or the article’s author. For more information, please see our Community Guidelines.

Please login with your APS account to comment.