Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Throw Away Line

"Yet despite its widespread use and vast financial success, and although it was derived from the work of Carl Jung, one of the most famous psychologists of the 20th century, the test is highly questioned by the scientific community. "

It's funny, in the author's throw away line intro, she highlights one of the biggest mis-understandings of the role of science.  The point of science is to "highly question" everything.  The practice of science is to identify a conjecture, and test it - IOW, try to prove that conjecture is wrong.  If sufficient testing is conducted, a conjecture may be considered a "hypothesis", then a "theory", and possibly one day a "law".  There is never a point in which something is proved true.  The scientific method only works if one uses it in this way.  IOW - saying "the test is highly questioned by the scientific community", the author is saying the equivalent of "not all scientists are asleep." 

Nevermind the implication that the opinions of scientists matter.  A scientist is a person with an opinion.  Science results when folks who have opinions subject them to the scientific method.  If 1000 scientists say "we think X is correct" and 1000 scientists say "we think X is false", that's all good and everything, but it has little or nothing to do with the practice of science.  The opinion of the "scientific community" is as relevant to the practice of science as are the opinions of football prognosticators to the outcome of football games. 

The linked article though is an interesting read, and clearly highlights the often seen divide between academia and reality.  Often, academics see little need or have little ability to work in ways that allows a translation from laboratory to life.  This has led to a widespread perception that academics are good for little amongst those that must produce a product to feed themselves.  In our culture's widespread mis-understanding of the scientific method, which leads many to treat science as an article of faith, we have come to write and speak about science and scientists as if it and they are some special class of human.  Have a read and see if you can see this thread in the following cuts:
"Academics would contend that is precisely Myers-Briggs biggest flaw: It's about belief much more than scientific evidence. And it's administered by leadership coaches who, by and large, have no formal education in the science of psychology."
--In other words, "we don't care if folks think it is useful."
""People like it because it reveals something they didn't know about themselves or others," says Wharton's Grant. "That could be true of a horoscope, too."
--In other words, "people like it, but that does not mean that the system has been shown to have scientific validity."  To which, I would say, "whatever."

"Even Katharine Downing Myers concedes that "psychologists had no use for the indicator; they felt that Jung was a crazy mystic."
--"Concedes"?  Why would it need to be a concession?
"And yet the psychological community has been reticent to speak up too vocally against it. The fact is, many psychology professors do lucrative side work as organizational consultants. And as taboo as it is to praise Myers-Briggs in U.S. academia, it's equally taboo to disparage it in corporate America."
--What would they say "against it"?  "We have not tested this, therefore, it may or may not be scientifically valid."  Whatever.  Shut up or test it already.
""Some psychologists see it as a necessary evil," Grant says. They think: "I want to have influence with practitioners, so I can't poke a hole in their sacred cow."  Continuing:  "It is sacred because CPP has done such a thorough job of ingraining it in organizational culture, because company norms are hard to break, because institutions are attracted to the safety of its all-personalities-are-created-equal message, and because - despite what Myers-Briggs advocates would call the complexity and depth of the tool - it is, in the end, elegantly simple."
--Nope, it's sacred because it resonates with people. People wish to be understood, and they want to understand themselves. This tool helps them. In that way, it works, and it wouldn't work any better if a guy with a PHD said "I've tested this tool and found it to have scientific credibility." 

I don't know whether these PHDs take themselves overly seriously, or the author merely set them up to sound as thought they do.  What I know is that in 30 years of fooling around with the MBTI and the Keirsey adaptation of the same system, people love to gain the insights this system offers.  I have even seen people in tears after seeing their type described in writing - "I've always been told I shouldn't be this way".  Seeing their type decribed in writing, they realize they couldn't have been any other way, and their choice to "be who they are" is validated. 

Do you care whether the system has been tested by PHDs, or do you care that it provides you insight and a better strategy to understand others, and to be understood by others? 

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