A blog about problems in the field of psychology and attempts to fix them.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Adjuncts and Unions

So, even though my posts about adjunct professors haven't gotten much traction here, there has been quite a bit of chatter generated over at my Psychology Today blog.

This is the third in a series of posts about adjunct professors. The first post, about research professors vs. teaching-only professors, went mostly unnoticed, but the second post, where I started to dissect the rhetoric surrounding adjunct professors, generated some serious and lengthy discussion in the comments. Before I try to do more, I want to publicize some of that discussion, especially the information supplied by Ana Tamayo of Adjunct Justice and Robin Sowards of the Adjunct Faculty Association, which is affiliated with the United Steelworkers. Because we have different experiences, and likely different images of what an ideal university and an ideal faculty member look like, our approaches to the problem are different... and they should be.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

All it takes to be a behaviorist... or... Manifesto, Take 2

There is much confusion over what it means to be a behaviorist. This is largely due to silly posturing by Big Names over the past 100 years ago. Rather than work to develop the theory and implications of behaviorism based on broad first principles, researchers developed their own niche specializations, and then each declared "Behaviorism" to be "What I do." I don't want to dwell on this history here, but rather present a sketch of how behaviorism should be understood.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fixing Psychology, 100 Posts at a time!

So, there I was, pre-tenure at a schizophrenic part-research-university, part-liberal-arts-college, part-trade-school, with a disabled wife and two young girls... and I figured I had enough time on my hands to start a blog. Probably not the smartest move, but it has gone pretty well so far.

FixingPsychology is just over two-years old, and this is the 100th post. With some feverish periods and a few dry spells, that means I have kept surprisingly close to a post a week, on average. Even better, I think very few of them sucked. In honor achieving this arbitrary, but culturally-significant, number, I have cleaned things up a bit (making sure every post had labels, adding a word cloud to the right side bar, etc.) and decided that a short retrospective was in order....

Who is reading the blog? What are they reading? Are there any bigger picture or themes? What might a reasonable reader expect in the next hundred posts?

Monday, October 14, 2013

What's wrong with (the rhetoric surrounding) adjuncts? Part 1

The Adjuncts vs. Professors conundrum has been on my mind. In a recent post, I talked about why it should be hard to compare what adjuncts bring to a classroom with what research-active professors bring to the classroom. I avoided the really tough talk in the last article, and I will avoid it here as well. However, I hope to lay some groundwork, inspired by a recent story. The story involves a woman who died at 83, having taught French for 25 years at Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The context of the story, as usually presented, is that Duquesne is not letting its adjuncts unionize and, due to the lack of a union, the woman died without proper healthcare and neigh homeless. The details of the story are sketchy; as in, they are only loosely sketched out anywhere I have found them. Where were social security and medicare? How does a college stop the organization of a well-mustered union? Etc. All that aside... while I do not think I am a heartless troll, I have trouble fully sympathizing with those who feel that the woman should have been entitled to more from Duquesne than she received. The plights described in the sketched version of the woman's story are NOT unique to adjunct professors, it is a trait that many members of Expertland share:

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Congratulations to Michael Turvey!

Recently Michael Turvey became an inaugural recipient of the Association for Psychological Science's Mentor Award. This is a much deserved honor.

Because I argue with Michael at meetings, and have posted things here about how I think his approach differs from Gibson's, many seem to have the impression that I do not like Michael. To the contrary, I like him, and have the greatest respect for his role in holding ecological psychology together, in advancing its science, and in training its proponents. I argue with him because he is brilliant and he has a clear position that he hold confidently - there is no better class of person with which to clarify your ideas. I get the impression he enjoys our interactions as well, at least as occasional diversions. If nothing else, he is generously tolerant of my impertinence.

This award is all the more encouraging to me, as I often hear people talk as if being a good scientist and being a good educator are incompatible goals. Michael proves otherwise, with tremendous success as a researcher, a graduate student adviser, and a classroom instructor.

I recommend listening to Michael's acceptance speech. It is short, but charming: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/members/awards-and-honors/aps-mentor-award/mentor-award-recipients/turvey

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why research professors? Part 1

I'm in a bit of a reactive mood. Over on my more public-oriented blog, I recently posted about one of the big reason we should be suspicious about US allegations against Syria. Here, though, I want to react to an article from Inside Higher Ed, that suggested adjuncts teach better than tenure-line faculty. (The article was passed on by my collaborator, Nicholas Rowland, through the organizational theory blog he is part of, and the original can be found here.) Alright, enough of a lead-in...

Some adjuncts certainly teach better than most tenure-line faculty members, but any research into who is better overall needs to be viewed with suspicion due to two potentially big sources of confusion. The first source of confusion is caused by the way adjuncting has shifted from a part-time job that is a totally legitimate, but tiny, part of most colleges' teaching rosters, to a full-time job that is a possibly illegitimate, and large, part of many colleges' teaching rosters. That is an issue for later discussion. The second source of confusion is that few people seem to understand why we might want to have researchers in teaching roles. This is the confusion I want to talk about, though it is too big to tackle in a single post, so I will only talk about it in the context of the recent article.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Getting back in the swing of things

Updates this summer have been a bit sporadic, in part because I have been switching jobs. While I don't normally want to post "personal" things in this space, this particular change is obviously professionally relevant. 

I am now working in the Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning (CTRL) at American University in Washington, DC. We are focused on supporting faculty and graduate students across the range of disciplines at the University. I am in the "Research" part of the center, and have responsibilities including running a computer lab stocked with the latest research software, (including overseeing the twelve graduate student consultants who act as front-line help) and developing a better working relationship between CTRL and the Office of Sponsored Programs (including much work related to grant development). There will also be many consultations regarding ongoing research projects, which I really enjoy. To cap things off, Terry Davidson has generously arranged an affiliation with his Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. Thus, while I am not yet in a position to have my own graduate students, I am now in a position to work closely with several of them.

The DC location also puts me closer to a group of pragmatist philosophers that I have been hoping to work with more closely, and provides countless other exciting opportunities.

A few people have asked if it is a "good" job, and I'm not quite sure how to respond. I wouldn't have taken it if it was bad. I guess what those inquirers are looking for is something like this:
It was definitely the right move for my family, and I am fairly confident it was a good move for my career. CTRL was very excited to offer me the job, and the position gives me the opportunity to develop skills I have long-wanted to develop, at a vibrant university, with a good set of co-workers. When they offered, I was happy to accept.
I have many things to catch up on here on the blog, and now that the semester is starting, I will get back into the routine of posting at least once a week. Many thanks to those who have not abandoned my blog during these inconsistent times.

Expect my contact information on various pages to start updating slowly. Oh, and if you are one of my many readers in the Maryland, DC, or Virginia areas, and you want to chat some time, let me know.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

APA Convention - Society for General Psychology

As I mentioned in a prior post, while I'm not a big fan of the main APA convention, I am a big fan of the APA Shadow Convention (© Charles 2012). This year I am in charge of the hospitality suite run by The Society for General Psychology (APA Division 1). We are co-hosting a number of events with The Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology (Division 24) and The Society for the History of Psychology (Division 26). It is a pretty fun program, with some experiments thrown in (Post-symposium discussions, a Speed Scholars Event, etc.) as well as a lot of social activities. There is also the two-hour "Unifying Psychology" Lunch I mentioned in the last post, featuring several authors from this month's special issue. I'll do my best to get the program cut and pasted below. Hope to see some of you in Hawaii!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Unifying Psychology - RGP and APA

This month's issue of the Review of General Psychology is a special issue on Unifying Approaches to Psychology. I highly recommend it! The issue features 19 brief statements that move us towards a more unified field. Most importantly, the articles are not speculative pipe dreams; they are introductions to already existing and already productive interdisciplinary approaches also, later this week at the APA convention in Hawaii several of the authors, and anyone else who is interested, will be getting together in the Division 1 Hospitality Suite for a two-hour luncheon to discuss next-steps now that the issue is out (Friday August 2nd, from noon to 2). The ever-brilliant Daniel Hutto has generously offered to serve as host. The table of contents is:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Psychological Realism and Poker

During my post-doctoral years I played poker very seriously. For a while, my poker library grew much faster than my psychology library, and I became a profitable mid-level player. I have played very little since my post-doc ended, but I think the experience was valuable. For one thing, the mathematics of poker is fascinating, and I still nurture a hope of one day teaching a "Statistics of Poker" seminar. For another thing, I think poker provides an excellent context for thinking through theories of psychology. On the surface, poker seems like it is a game about cards, and on the surface it is. However, you don't need to get much below surface-level to see that poker is primarily a game about the behavior of the other players. The player on your right just put in a big bet: Does he have a big hand? Is he bluffing? What does he think you have, and how does he think you will respond? Given what he might have and what he thinks you might have, if you put in a huge re-reraise, how will he respond? The layers of analysis that can be applied to these situations is fun, but not really on topic for this post (though I talked a little about it here). Instead, I want to delve into a very typical poker situation from the point of view of a psychological realist vs. a dualist.

Note that this is a preliminary analysis that I hope to develop further, and I would love any feedback. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What do we know for sure about the brain

If I was going to list everything we knew for sure about the brain, it would be a very, very long list. Instead of trying to do that, I am going to focus on things we know relevant to my last post, which was quite negative about the new "brain mapping" initiative, and which generated a lot of criticism
(http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fixing-psychology/201304/why-brain-mapping-is-stupid-idea). The title of the post then, should maybe be less “What do we know about the brain?” and more “What are some first principles we can use to understand how the brain operates?”

Friday, April 5, 2013

Why the Brain Mapping project is a Stupid Idea

It was just announced that President Obama wants to start spending one hundred million dollars to "map the brain", and that his oft-times rival Eric Cantor thinks it’s a great idea. But it is a terrible idea, because I can tell you, right now, about half of the big lessons they will learn. For a million more, I could probably gather a group of experts together to tell you about half of what remains. I'm not sure what, exactly, would be left after that, but I'm sure it would be comparatively cheap to figure it out. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Eugene Taylor and E. B. Holt

Eugene Taylor recently passed away. For those who do not know, he was one of the world's leading experts on the works of William James, a champion of Humanistic Psychology, and a leader in integrating "Eastern" and "Western" psychology. He held positions at the Saybook Institute and Harvard Medical School. He had encyclopedic knowledge in his areas of expertise, but was also a bit of a jerk about it, insisting upon both his knowledge of the facts and his unique ability to interpret the facts correctly.  In Eugene's opinion, no more than six or seven people in history had every truly understood James's work, and the others were dead. He spoke of James's work for example, with the zeal of someone who had not only familiarized themselves with all records regarding James, but also double checked all the interpretations with James himself at an appropriate seance. Given Eugene's understanding of James's work, he might well have.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Could Affordances Structure Light?

This post should have a subtitle. It should read: Could Affordances Structure Light? Ken Aizawa gets a 10-month-delayed response

Last April I started blogging about my (now-submitted) attempt to update Cutting's paper distinguishing between Gibson's approach on ecological psychology and the emerging Connecticut approach. The first post generated many comments, and I promised to follow up on some of them soon. Well... in publishing time this is still "soon", even though in blogging time it is ages. In particular Ken Aizawa hit me with a few hard questions including the perennial stickler, "Can affordances structure light?"

I think it is important for ecological psychology that they do, and I think they do. However, my position (which I associate with Gibson's thinking) is less extreme that that promoted by the Connecticut approach (e.g., Turvey, Shaw, Mace, and the young Reed). I also think it is pretty darn simple to support:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pragmatism and Behaviorism: "Hypotheses"

Below is a quote from psychologist E. C. Tolman. It shows the clear influence of Pragmatist thinking on Radical Behaviorism. (Personally, I think it could be done better without reference to something "within the organism", but that is a minor point.)


(2) But let us turn, now, to a brief consideration of the second main subtype of cognitive behavior-readiness, what I called hypotheses; or intentions, expectations and attainments as to relations. Suppose a rat be run in a successive discrimination box. Such a box is an apparatus in which the animal has to choose one of two doors at each of four successive choice points. One of the two doors at each such point is lighted and one is dark. The lighted door may be either the one on the left or the one on the right in chance order. Thus at each such point the animal has the possibility of responding either on the basis of light-darkness or on that of right-leftness. Suppose, now further, that it be arranged by the experimenter that the correct choices shall in a day's series of 10 trials, or 40 choices in all, fall an equal number of times to the left and an equal number of times to the right, and suppose it also be arranged that the correct door be an equal number of times a dark door and an equal number of times a lighted door. Under these conditions it was found by Krechevsky, whose experiments it is I am reporting, that the rat will pick up one systematic way of behaving after another. In the first two or three days he may pick up, say, the propensity of choosing always the right hand doors. But then he will shift sooner or later to some new propensity, to that say, of choosing only the left hand doors; and then still later to that of choosing alternate right and left doors; or he may shift to choosing all the lighted doors, irrespective of side, or all the dark doors, or to choosing alternately light and dark; and so on. Each such systematic propensity will be adopted for a time and then dropped in favor of some other. And, following Krechevsky, we may now define each such intervening condition (or "I") in the organism, behind any one such systematic way of behaving, as an hypothesis. An hypothesis, behavioristically, in other words, is to be defined as nothing more nor less than a condition in the organism which, while it lasts, produces just such a systematic selectivity in behavior. Further, it appears that such an hypothesis or selectivity is equivalent to an intention or assertion of a specific relation as obtaining in the environment. In the above case these assertions are to the effect that it is such and such types of door which lead on and such and such other types which are closed. The rats assert-hypothesize-that it is the right hand doors, or the left hand doors, or alternate right and left doors or dark doors, or whatever, which, as such, lead on. And when any one such assertion proves incorrect, an animal sooner or later drops it for a new one.

In the experiment as thus far described, the problem given to the animals was actually insoluble. The correct doors were, that is, determined by chance. And no hypotheses--none of the systematic selectivities in the behaviors of the animals-could prove successful. This meant that during the entire duration of the experiment the rats kept shifting from one hypothesis to another. In other experiments, however, the situation was different. Thus in one case it was arranged that after a rat had once adopted some hypothesis with a given degree of consistency the experimenter then made that hypothesis correct. Under these conditions the animals persisted in their now correct hypothesis throughout the entire remainder of the investigation. Or, again in still another set-up, a certain hypothesis was made correct from the very beginning. In such a case the rats might begin with various wrong hypotheses. But they always ended sooner or later with the single correct one. So much for rats, let us turn now to human beings….

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why it is important that we see the things we see

A little bit ago there was a nice post over on Gary William's blog about "Panpsychism vs. Inogranicism" - usually taken as two extremes at which either everything is said to have mental properties to some degree (panpsychism) or the existence of mental things is denied across the board (inorganicism). This grew out of a book review from a few months ago, in which Gary claimed the author endorsed panpsychism, for the slightly less extreme position of claiming at least some inorganic things should be considered to have mental properties. At any rate, the comments on the post got interesting, and I was posed a question that would take too long to answer in there... so I'll try to answer it here... The answer requires a bit of discussion about radical empiricism and realism, in particular regarding color perception. These are crucial issues for creating a psychological science with any chance of making sense. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Holiday Special - A Year of Scandals 2012

A bit delayed but... its that time of year again. Time to look back on the Year of Scandals in psychology. (Last year's edition of holiday joy can be found here, and here.) This past year has seen a number of problems with our field come to light. It has also seen a rise of public consciousness regarding these problems, and a host of suggested solutions. Much is still up in the air, but it does feel like we are moving in the right direction. In addition, there is growing consciousness of some wider problems in science and in academia.

What salacious stuff happened this year?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why am I suspicious of the Ecological Approach to touch (haptic perception)?

I have never done haptic research, but it is a rapidly emerging part of Eco-Psych these days. I have seen many talks at conferences, and overall I think the work is quite interesting. Touch is understudied in psychology, as a whole, and it is good that it is getting this increased attention. That said, I have been getting increasingly uncomfortable hearing these talks at Ecological Psychology conferences, because something often seems a bit off. Something seems, to me, to contradict fundamental tenants of the ecological approach. I have never been able to convince any of these researchers to even see the problem I see, nevertheless take it seriously. They don’t have any particular reason to cares what I think, and that’s alright. However, when preparing the previous post on one of the foundational papers in the discipline TSRM, 1981, I found a passage in which Turvey, Shaw, Reed, and Mace explain the problem (30 years ago). Most people in the field seem to care what those people think (and what they thought before), so maybe my concern will make more sense if I let them explain it.

In the following quote (TSRM, 1981, p. 242-243), they explain why it is absolutely crucial that vision be understood as reliant on optical information outside the organism….

-----Start quote------

The intentionality of visual perception can work only by explaining how organisms can “come into psychological contact” with objects with which they are not in physical or, more aptly, mechanical contact. Solving this problem of perceptual “action at a distance” is the function of Gibson’s theory of ecological information for perception. As Gibson (1975, p. 310) once wrote in reply to a critic:

"When Boynton (1975, pp. 300--l) asserts that 'we are not in visual contact with objects, or edges, facets, faces or textures, we are in contact only with photons' this assertion is loaded with epistemology. It is a strictly philosophical conclusion. I disagree with it. There is a misunderstanding of the metaphor of visual contact, one that goes back to Johannes Muller, and it is one that I discussed repeatedly in The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems (1966). It leads to the doctrine that all we can ever see (or at least all we can ever see directly) is light.”

The philosophical assumption underlying virtually all research on vision, and underlying all criticisms of Gibson, is that visual contact must be reduced to a physical or mechanical contact of the sort described above. Thus the intentionality of vision is claimed to be only apparent, and is reduced by assumption to causality of an absurdly simply sort. For centuries students of visual perception have been asserting that all that organisms ever see directly is light because (they claim) only light comes into contact with the ocular apparatus of organisms. The fact that critics of Gibson (e.g., Ullman, 1980) repeatedly ask how it is that optimal information gets “into” the organism shows that this simplistic doctrine of physical contact is still being invoked as the material basis of psychological contact.

------End Quote------

So… at least when we are talking about visual perception, Gibson, and TSRM are insistent that the information (the patterns in ambient light that specify the state of the organism's surroundings) are not in the organism. This is considered crucially important to creating a sound foundation for our discipline. It is also crucial for professional posturing, as they assert, roughly:
One of the biggest and most important differences between Ecological Psychology and the so-called Cognitive approaches, is that we are not talking locating the functional basis of perception inside the organism, and they are. When they do this, they got caught in many philosophical quagmires. Our insistence on the existence of information external to organism avoids those quagmires, and render many of the classic Problems of Perception moot.
I imagine that the equivalent version of this for haptic perception is to insist that the higher-order properties of 'things that can be felt' exist out-there, in the object itself. Sometimes the object must be moved by the organism to detect these properties (e.g., you often can't tell the difference between a functional sword and a decent copy without wielding it), but center of mass and other such properties are 'out there' in the object, and the resistance the sword gives to certain types of movements is similarly 'out there', when the one tries those movements.

However, that is not the way the field seems to be going (it has gone that way at least sometimes in the past, but that is not the direction it seems to be headed in now). At the last ICPA in particular there was a wide range of talks trying to determine where, inside the organism, the information might be. People were looking at different structures at joint points, as well as looking at the elaborate interconnections created by connective tissues across the whole body.

Because my intuitive thinking is in line with the above quotes, I am pretty suspicious when people talk about haptic information being specified inside the organism. Within the ecological approach, certainly the default assumption think that the haptic information, like the optic information, would need to be outside the organism.There might be convincing arguments to allow an exception in this case, but I have not heard them. How will we go this route without falling prey to the Problems of Perception?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Defending John Watson - Asshole Behaviorist

Mike Samsa had a post a few weeks ago explaining common misunderstandings about behaviorism. There were some good points. Among them was discussion of Watson's claim regarding his ability to manipulate children:
Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors... (1930, p.82)
Now, I don't really like Watson. I think he derailed what was supposed to be a brilliant next step in the development of American Philosophy, and turned into something trite and hollow. Also, he was clearly an asshole, both as a member of the profession and as a human being.

That said, I am certainly willing to defend this claim. I think, when it is examined carefully, that it is quite reasonable, and that history has proved him right.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

TSRM 1981 & The New Connecticut Approcah to Eco Psych

Warning: If you aren't interested in Ecological Psychology, this will probably be a boring post....

In past posts I talked about the two ecological psychologies article by Cutting, which asserted that Turvey and Shaw were doing something fundamentally different from Gibson. I've also argued that Gibson was doing something grounded in American Philosophy, which his latter standard bearers did not appreciate. Much of the impetus for the new direction comes from the debate in 1981 between Fodor and Pylyshyn on the one hand and Turvey, Shaw, Reed, and Mace on the other. I've already summarized F&P's arguments, and stated in two places the main points I think should have made in a reply. If you recall, F&P started all this by publishing a 58 page critique of Gibson's 1979 book. Apparently, TSRM felt the need to up the anti with a 68 page reply. Good lord. Luckily for F&P we were past the days of duels!

TSRM is a philosophical tour de force, bordering on an unfocused mess. They spend an incredible amount of time getting sidetracked into trying to undermine more or less everything F&P say.  I don't want to discuss too much of that here, and instead want to summarize how they defend the ecological approach, and where they see the field going.