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Psychology's Ghosts: The Crisis in the Profession and the Way Back Hardcover – March 27, 2012
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About the Author
Jerome Kagan is Professor of Psychology Emeritus, Harvard University, where he was co-director of the Mind/Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative. He is the author of nearly 400 papers and numerous books. He lives in Belmont, MA.
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The author tempers his belief that psychology has much to offer with interesting observations about its limitations and thoughtful criticisms of its failings. The author conscientiously strives to make his criticisms of psychology constructive in nature, and offers specific suggestions and recommendations to address the limitations and failings in psychology that he identifies. In general, the author's observations, criticisms, suggestions, and recommendations are cogently presented and warrant serious consideration, even if the reader ultimately concludes they are not persuasive, in whole or in part.
My only disappointment with the book was the inconsistent handling of the author's comments about the psychological motivations and thought processes of various individuals and groups. The author often cites memoirs, biographies, and other relevant sources to support his comments and observations about the motivations and thought processes of various individuals and groups. However, the author occasionally fails to cite any similar documentation or sources to make comments about the psychological motivations and thought process of other individuals and groups. Without such citations or references, the author's comments about psychological motivations and thought processes of some individuals and groups are merely speculative and not entitled to much weight.
This book is not recommended for readers looking for a casual or general introduction to the current state of psychology. The author's discussion, analysis, conclusions, and recommendations will be better understood if the reader has some prior knowledge of, or experience with, psychology, psychological research, the scientific method, and the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.
Any reader interested in the difficulties associated with trying to apply the scientific method to subjects beyond traditional sciences should consider also taking a look at Jim Manzi, Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society
Professor Kagan has a peripatetic writing style. He meanders through art, literature, history, lab results, and field observations to support his arguments. The reader can marvel at the breadth of Professor Kagan's knowledge, but often has to flip back several pages to remember what point Kagan is trying to make.
For example, one of the principles Professor Kagan offers in chapter five is "Watch Out for Ethical Preferences." According to Kagan ethical premises that pervade psychology--and society--in North America and Europe are the need for a childhood free from stress and full of a mother's physical love. This launches a 20-page discourse that wanders through Maoist China, Israeli Kibbutzim, the ancient Maya, string theory, Galapagos finches, Freud, Bowlby, Adam Smith, John Locke, and a dissertation defense Kagan sat on 30 years ago.
A reader without a deep and ready knowledge of psychological research will be at a loss to weigh the bits and pieces that Professor Kagan presents as evidence in support of his arguments. Furthermore Kagan steadfastly refuses to cite the type of evidence, quantitative results, that might help gauge the importance of the phenomena he is describing. Among all this erudition are also unsupported generalizations, sharp criticisms of modern society, and a Jeremiad or two.
This wandering style will cause the reader's mind to start wandering as well, and his or her attention will falter from the book. After about an hour spent reading, the reader will feel that he/she has arrived nowhere.
Looking at the reviews of Professor Kagan's other books, it appears that he might have covered some of this material previously. The other reviews also comment on his discursive style. So if you have read one of Kagan's other books, you probably know what to expect.