Surprising authors and the Conan Doyle effect

“You’ll Never Guess Who Wrote That: 78 Surprising Authors of Psychological Publications” by Scott O. Lilienfeld (Emory University) & Steven Jay Lynn (Binghamton University): Perspectives on Psychological Science Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 419-41 (July 2016). The abstract:

One can find psychological authors in the most unexpected places. We present a capsule summary of scholarly publications of psychological interest authored or coauthored by 78 surprising individuals, most of whom are celebrities or relatives of celebrities, historical figures, or people who have otherwise achieved visibility in academic circles, politics, religion, art, and diverse realms of popular culture. Still other publications are authored by individuals who are far better known for their contributions to popular than to academic psychology. The publications, stretching across more than two centuries, encompass a wide swath of domains of psychological inquiry and highlight the intersection of psychology with fields that fall outside its traditional borders, including public health, economics, law, neurosurgery, and even magic. Many of these scholarly contributions have enriched psychology and its allied disciplines, such as psychiatry, in largely unappreciated ways, and they illustrate the penetration of psychological knowledge into multiple scientific disciplines and everyday life. At the same time, our author list demonstrates that remarkable intellectual accomplishments in one scientific domain, such as physics, do not necessarily translate into success in psychology and underscores the distinction between intelligence, on the one hand, and critical thinking and wisdom, on the other

A majot point of the study is that both popular writers and successful scientists in other fields are inclined to seriously underestimate the challenges of doing research in a number of subfields of linguistics — I mean, how hard could it be? — notably psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, phonetics, semantics, and syntactic variation — all of which can fairly be said to be hard  that is to say, difficult, science — a point made clearly in the full article.

Extended excerpts (the article is probably behind a firewall for most readers of this blog):

One of the small and nonguilty pleasures of life is to discover tidbits of information that enlighten, intrigue, and amuse as well as provide a bit of the unexpected. We suspect that many readers who share our fascination with psychological trivia will be surprised and delighted to discover that several celebrities, noteworthy historical and political figures, and individuals who otherwise have achieved visibility in one field or another have published scholarly works that have enriched our collective understanding of psychology. For example, many readers may not have supposed that British actor Colin Firth coauthored an article on the structural brain correlates of political orientation or that American writer Gertrude Stein penned articles on attention and motor automatism that eventually drew the attention of B.F. Skinner.

A host of other revelations are in store. In the pages of published journals and books, one can find psychological contributions from politicians such as Ben Carson, scientists such as Albert Einstein, actors such as Natalie Portman, and religious leaders such as his Holiness the Dalai Lama. One can also come upon articles by assorted controversial individuals, such as Phil McGraw (“Dr. Phil”), Laura Schlessinger (“Dr. Laura”), and Brian Weiss, who populate the media and who — for better or for worse (in our view, often much worse; see Arkowitz & Lilienfeld, 2009) — have parlayed their mental health backgrounds into television shows, advice columns, or overflowing weekend workshops. In still other cases, readers may be surprised to learn of certain individuals with psychological training who have made their mark in other domains, such as fiction writing or acting. In this article, we offer an entertaining and unabashedly subjective sampling of these “findings.”

… we provisionally offer two complementary conjectures for what we dub the Conan Doyle effect [after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was taken in by a preposterous hoax]. First, we suspect that some highly intelligent scientists in other domains underestimate the formidable conceptual and methodological challenges of psychological research (Lykken, 1991). Biologist E. O. Wilson (1998) suggested that psychology and other social sciences are the genuine “hard sciences,” because their foci of study are frequently resistant to straightforward answers

… Our second hypothesis stems from findings that measures of intelligence and critical thinking, the latter as operationalized by an ability to overcome or compensate for biases (e.g., confirmation bias), tend to display only modest intercorrelations (Stanovich & West, 2008). One potential explanation for this striking divergence comes from the writings of Sternberg (2002, 2004), who argued that foolishness, which he defined as the inverse of wisdom, often derives from the tendency of some intelligent people to erroneously believe themselves to be immune to foolish behavior.

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