Reviewed Books & Films

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Uncritical Critical Thinking

APA

Among the frustrations of anyone who alleges to be a critical thinker are discussions that turn into arguments. During the discussion phase I may say, “well, the scientific evidence shows . . . .”  If open-minded discussion continues, my friend might counter with reference to other evidence, although neither of us may have documentation at hand or even in memory. We begin to argue, however, if my friend claims that those scientists I mentioned are biased liberals and refers to an article in the Wall Street Journal. I confess that in many discussions I have not read the “evidence” but only a review of research on, say, global warming. So, at best, we agree to disagree and order another round.

Critical thinking is hard cognitive work, and we can use help to keep it sharp, so it is disappointing to read about an apparently widely used book (in its 7th edition) on critical thinking in which the authors are “debunkers who fail to consider evidence and argumentation that are inconsistent with their beliefs” (last para.). In his review of How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age, Etzel Cardeña goes on to say the authors “offer an unscientific double-standard discussion instead of engaging in the difficult task of trying to think and argue about complex evidence that sometimes resists easy explanations” (last para.).

What we really need is a book on how to discuss weird things, or better yet, an Evidence App for our smartphone that will take us to reviews and meta-analyses on various topics with links to the original sources. Wouldn’t that make me popular as a dinner guest? Short of that, I could use some advice on evidence-based everyday discourse, including a better guide than How to Think About Weird Things.

Read the Review
ReviewDo as I Say, Not as I Do
By Etzel Cardeña
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(28)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What's Your View of Heaven?

APA

Heaven Is for Real is a film based on the true story of a 4-year-old boy who reported he visited heaven while under anesthesia during a life-threatening operation. The film has garnered a significant amount of media attention and popular interest. In his review, Edward Cumella reports that the film offers minimal insight into the phenomenon of near death experiences (NDEs) and misses opportunities to discuss scientific information and explore complex questions relating to NDEs. In addition, he reports that the film reinforces stereotypes of psychologists and of scientists.

What is your view about NDEs? Are they a connection with “something greater” (e.g., a heaven), are they merely an artifact of our brain processing material, or are they something else?

Is it possible for movies or books to convince consumers one way or another on the existence of an afterlife? Or, are they simply mechanisms that individuals ultimately use to support their existing bias?

Do movies that perpetrate misconceptions about scientists and psychologists do more harm than good for the field of psychology?

Read the Review
ReviewIs Heaven Real? Heaven Knows!
By Edward J. Cumella
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(32)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Have All the Grand Masters in Psychotherapy Died?

APA

Gestalt therapy is intimately linked to the life and work of Fritz Perls, and almost everyone in my generation of clinical and counseling psychologists remembers the iconic “Gloria tapes” in which the therapy styles of Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis, and Fritz Perls were juxtaposed.  In his review of Eleanor O’Leary’s Gestalt Therapy Around the World, Paul Priester asks,

What happens to a school of psychotherapy when its founder dies? Perhaps even more poignantly, what happens to a school of psychotherapy after the first generation of clinicians trained by the founders die? (para. 1)

Why aren’t there heirs apparent for Rogers, Ellis, and Perls? Did all three men fail in succession planning? Is there anyone today of similar stature to these giants in the world of psychotherapy? If not, why not?

Read the Review
ReviewWho (in the World) Wants to Work? The International Persistence of Gestalt Psychotherapy
By Paul E. Priester
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(26)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Should I Recommend Criminal Profiling as a Career for My Undergraduate Psychology Majors?

APA

For most of my career, students in my classes always asked me about becoming a clinical or counseling psychologist, what was needed to be admitted into those graduate programs, and so forth.  (Rarely did they ask about my field of social psychology!)  However, in the last few years, more students have told me that they want information on becoming a criminal profiler.  

As Troy W. Ertelt and Kristin E. Matson note in their review of Curt R. Bartol and Anne M. Bartol's Criminal and Behavioral Profiling: Theory, Research, and Practice, many people have an inaccurate perception of profilers. I sometimes think that my students who have watched films and television shows like Criminal Minds think that profilers have their own jet aircraft, look like Paget Brewster and Shemar Moore, and have an encyclopedic knowledge of psychology to help them quickly and accurately profile and catch criminals. In some ways, even news programs that interview profilers for crime stories perpetuate these inaccurate perceptions.

So, given the Bartol and Bartol book, and the Ertelt and Matson review, what should we tell students?  What is the best way to correct their misconceptions? Should we discourage them from becoming profilers?

Read the Review
ReviewFishing the Science Out of the Hype in Criminal and Behavioral Profiling
By Troy W. Ertelt and Kristin E. Matson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(26)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Is Higher Education Simply a Business?

APA

Geoffrey Cox, president of Alliant International University, has written a thorough and thoughtful review of Suzanne Mettler’s provocative book Degrees of Inequality:  How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream, challenging many of her assumptions.

On the book jacket, Mettler argues,

America’s higher education system is failing its students. In the space of a generation, we have gone from being the best-educated society in the world to one surpassed by eleven other nations in college graduation rates. Higher education is evolving into a caste system with separate and unequal tiers that take in students from different socio-economic backgrounds and leave them more unequal than when they first enrolled. . . . As politicians capitulate to corporate interests, owners of for-profit colleges benefit, but for far too many students, higher education leaves them with little besides crippling student loan debt.

Mettler says these for-profit universities are primarily responsible for the enormous and growing chasm between educational haves and have-nots, and many other reviewers of her book agree.  For example, Gary Rivlin (2014), writing in The New York Times Sunday Book Review column, notes,

For-profit colleges are the true bad guys in this tale. Though their “ardent defender,” the Republican Party, contends that the schools provide “meaningful opportunities for low-income and minority students,” Mettler mounts a persuasive case that . . . [t]hese institutions are generally more skilled at getting rich off those living in the lower economic reaches than they are at preparing them for the job market. She has mined congressional reports, newspaper accounts and academic ­studies, piling up example after example of recruiters who’ll say practically anything to enroll a student, any student, in their programs, resulting in graduation rates not even close to those of traditional colleges. And how do those who manage to earn a degree fare? In the 2007-8 academic year, the average student working on a bachelor’s degree from a for-profit college found herself in deeper debt ($32,700) than her counterpart attending a private college ($17,700). And good luck settling loans with those low-paying jobs so many graduates find themselves working, despite the dreams that the school’s marketers put in their heads. Alumni of the for-profit colleges account for nearly half of all student-loan defaults, according to Mettler, even as they make up one in 10 students pursuing a postsecondary education. (para. 3)

President Cox finds these arguments somewhat glib, and he wonders whether the U. S. higher education system causes societal disparities or simply reflects them.  He makes the obvious case that enhancing educational access will require additional funding, and this money will have to come from somewhere.   

We must also recognize that higher education is a capital-intensive enterprise, and if we take seriously the challenge of increasing access, it will require substantial new investment. This could come from redistributing some of the public largesse bestowed on the elites or by finding more resources in strapped state budgets, but neither of these seems likely. The only other alternative is private capital. We need a system that holds for-profit education fully accountable but also treats it as a necessary, full partner in the effort to expand capacity and opportunity. Only then will it cease being primarily the route for those disenfranchised by other segments of the higher education system. (penultimate para.)

Are most of the thousand or so for-profit colleges that have been created in recent years simply exploiting disadvantaged, naïve, and unsophisticated students and taking advantage of generous and largely unregulated federal loan programs, or do many for-profit colleges offer a viable and meaningful shot at a good education and a rewarding career for over a million students who would not otherwise have these opportunities?

Reference

Rivlin, C. (2014, June 6). B.A.s and I.O.U.s. [Review of the book Degrees of inequality, by S. Mettler]. The New York Times. Retreived from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/08/books/review/degrees-of-inequality-by-suzanne-mettler.html?_r=0 

 
Read the Review
ReviewShow Me the Money!
By Geoffrey M. Cox
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(28)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Why Do So Many Psychologists Write So Badly?

APA

Michael Corballis wrote a laudatory review of Language, Cognition, and Human Nature: Selected Articles by Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychology professor and one of the leading intellectuals of the 21st century.  Corballis notes, “Pinker is a rarity among academic psychologists not only as a stylish writer, but also as a profound thinker with an ability to grasp the major issues of human nature and human evolution” (final para.).

Corballis is especially enthusiastic about Pinker’s ability to write clean, clear, and direct prose that can be appreciated by academics as well as by educated readers without specialized training in psychology or linguistics.  However, Pinker’s writing is apparently sometimes too clear for those academic journals in which he publishes.  Pinker notes in the introduction to his book,

The process of getting an article accepted for publication in an academic journal is by far the most unpleasant experience in intellectual life, since it requires devoting time and brainpower to making one’s article worse in an abject effort to satisfy the whims of an anonymous referee. (p. x)

Later, discussing one of Pinker’s articles published in the prestigious and scholarly journal Psychological Review, Corballis writes, “If an anonymous referee made that one worse, it must have been a cracker to begin with” (para. 6).

Why is so much of what we read in psychology journals obscure and pedantic?  Why can’t we all write like Steven Pinker?

Read the Review
ReviewA Pinker View of Almost Everything
By Michael Corballis
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(20)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Do We Need Six Psychology Dictionaries—Or Any?

APA

Seven years ago in PsycCRITIQUES I reviewed the first APA Dictionary of Psychology (Korn, 2007). Since then there have been two shorter editions (concise and college) and three special topic editions, including most recently The APA Dictionary of Statistics and Research Methods. In his review of this volume, Michael Palij provides an interesting history of statistics dictionaries and  an analysis of the purpose of a dictionary, and he points out that all this information is available on the Internet. Even the Oxford English Dictionary is available online, for free.

Do we really need any of these APA volumes? I enjoyed searching through my copy of the Big One when I did my review, but concluded that there was “no significant difference” (Korn, 2007, last para.) between searching it or the Internet. And that was a biased judgment from an older person still in love with hard-copy books. I confess that I have not looked in that dictionary in the past seven years. The need for an APA statistics dictionary seems especially questionable. Palij points out that statistics is a tool used by many disciplines other than psychology and is its own discipline with its own dictionary. He also notes several important missing items and the editor’s “argument that ‘space limitations prevent us from providing certain information’” (last para.). There are no space limitations on the Internet.

Perhaps readers could help me understand the need to sacrifice so many trees in publishing these dictionaries. Why would you use a hard-copy book to find the definition of anything?

Reference

Korn, J. (2007). You can look it up. [Review of the book APA dictionary of psychology, by G. R. VandenBos (Ed.)]. PsycCRITIQUES, 52(1). doi 10.1037/a0006301
 
Read the Review
ReviewNumbers, Words, and Things: Reviewing a Statistics and Methods Dictionary
By Michael Palij
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(25)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

What Does Developmental Psychology Tell Us About the Identity of Cybercriminals?

APA

In his review of Gráinne Kirwan and Andrew Power's book Cybercrime: The Psychology of Online Offenders,  Thomas Holt describes the authors’ typology of cybercrime that consists of Internet-enabled crimes that “can also occur in the real world (e.g., piracy)”; Internet-specific crimes that cannot exist off-line, such as malicious software distribution; and  crimes in virtual worlds, “where nonhuman characters and representations of people engage in offenses that would otherwise be dictated as crimes in the real world“ (para. 2).

What do developmental psychology and other areas of psychology that study identity development tell us about the nature of cybercriminals?  Is there something unique about this new type of offender compared with other offenders who steal, assault, and so forth?  Do current models and theories apply, or do we need to develop new ones for cybercriminals?  Much is discussed these days about preventing the development of criminals.  Should we also discuss how we can prevent individuals from turning to cybercrime? 

Read the Review
ReviewTheorizing the Motives of Cybercriminals
By Thomas J. Holt
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(22)







Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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