I have edited my answer to reflect on some more research I have just carried out on this area. The new information has highlighted that it is not necessarily as clear cut as initially thought. Because of this, as done previously, but clearly defined now, I feel I need to separate my answer into its relevant parts, and maybe this whole discussion will need to be also, in order to form a full discussion and consensus on whether a subject area is to be considered pseudoscientific or not and full consideration needs to be made on all the relevant areas to decide whether any subject area is on-topic within PsychologySE.
First of all, we need to determine what is Pseudoscience within PsychologySE
In general, the definition of pseudoscience is [emphasis mine]
[a group of, or set of,] statements, beliefs, or practices that are claimed to be scientific and factual in the absence of evidence gathered and constrained by appropriate scientific methods (Cover & Curd, 1998). Pseudoscience is often characterized by the following: contradictory, exaggerated or unprovable claims; reliance on confirmation bias rather than rigorous attempts at refutation; lack of openness to evaluation by other experts; and absence of systematic practices when developing theories. The term pseudoscience is often considered pejorative (Hansson, 2008) because it suggests something is being presented as science inaccurately or even deceptively. Accordingly, those termed as practicing or advocating pseudoscience often dispute the characterization.
A pretended or spurious science; a collection of related beliefs about the world mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method or as having the status that scientific truths now have, (OED, 1989)
for anything to be considered scientific (not pseudoscience), experimental results should be reproducible and verified by other researchers
Many writers on pseudoscience have emphasised that pseudoscience is non-science posing as science. The foremost book on the subject (Gardner 1957) bears the title Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, listing on the front cover L. Ron Hubbard, Psionics Machines, Flying Saucers, Wilhelm Reich, Dr. W. H. Bates, Alfred Korzybski, Atlantis and Bridey Murphy as examples; and according to Brian Baigrie (1988, p.438),
[w]hat is objectionable about these beliefs is that they masquerade as genuinely scientific ones.
These and many other authors assume that to be pseudoscientific, an activity or a teaching has to satisfy the following two criteria (Hansson 1996):
- it is not scientific, and
- its major proponents try to create the impression that it is scientific." (Hansson, 2008)
So what about Freudian theory and other theories such as Jung, Erikson, Skinner....? Are they pseudoscientific?
Well according to a PsychologyToday article (2016), psychology, in general, is not a real science, however,
psychology was defined by the application of scientific method(s) and psychologists conduct valuable research and have developed some key insights into animal behavior, cognition, consciousness, and the human condition.
and yet, another PsychologyToday article (2013) states that
- Psychologists do unscientific things,
- Psychology doesn't define its terminology well enough to be considered a science,
- Psychology relies too heavily on subjective experience, and
- Psychology isn't falsifiable.
As RationalWiki states
It's important to remember that Freud's writings on psychology consisted only of case studies and don't follow a strict application of the scientific method.
The problem here is that as psychology talks about things in a different way to the likes of neuroscience for example, however it doesn't necessarily mean that the research and development of theories to do with the human psyche are not scientific. It is just that they cannot be measured in the same way as conventional science.
Another point raised by RationalWiki is that
Repressed memory is now considered pseudoscientific. There is no special mechanism that "represses" memories and it's likely that many of the "repressed" memories Freudians claim to have discovered were actually just inadvertent inventions of the therapist or patient himself.
There has been a lot of debate on repressed memories over recent years and the debate and scientific studies has led to further studies on False Memory Syndrome (FMS). FMS is subject to debate and has even been successfully used as defence in criminal trials against those accused of rape.
It is for this reason that those practicing in the field of abuse and trauma therapy need specialist training and are warned that they must be particularly careful when examining past events that false memories are not created.
I argue that I have witnessed the fact that repressed true memories do exist, although it cannot be scientifically tested.
Although the scientific method is often touted as the sin qua non [sic] of science, it is not. Indeed, if science were solely a method, then it would not be all that valuable, a point that is sometimes lost on empiricists enamored with the scientific method. Thus, it is crucial to keep in mind that the scientific method is not an end unto itself, but rather is a means to an end. The ultimate desired product of the method is a cumulative body of knowledge that offers an approximate description of how the world works. In concrete terms, this refers to the body of peer reviewed journals, textbooks, and academic courses and domains of inquiry. Ideally, the body of knowledge will have a center that is consensually agreed upon (e.g., the Periodic Table in chemistry) and peripheral domains that represent the edges of scientific inquiry and where one will find much debate, innovation, and differences of the opinion.
Dream interpretation was an important "technique" in psychotherapy. However, after over a hundred years of research, there is still no scientific consensus on the meaning of dreams, or even if they mean anything at all! Dream interpretation is currently patent quackery.
To call dream interpretation "quackery" would signify that dream interpretation is seen as a means of therapy. Whilst there is no scientific consensus on the accuracy of dream interpretation, it is not a form of therapy and never was. It is a tool, which whilst possibly inaccurate, can give an indication as to possible areas of concern when exploring with your client where problems lie.
Take for example the Freudian case of "Wolf Man" Sergei Pankejeff.
Pankejeff sought treatment for depression in 1910 after his sister and father committed suicide. Freud fixated on a dream about wolves (hence the "Wolf Man" moniker) Pankejeff reported and spun a strange tale from this.
interpreted [the dream] in minute detail to represent a disguised memory of the patient, at age one and a half, observing his parents engaging in “coitus a tergo [from behind], three times repeated.” (Esterson, 2003).
Without knowing the full details of the dream and the conversation between Sergei and Freud, we cannot determine how he came to this idea, however, this is a possible interpretation according to Freud.
As commented in the question https://psychology.stackexchange.com/questions/17705/is-all-anxiety-experienced-because-the-ego-cannnot-use-the-reality-principle
I say that Freud is very on topic, however, the question was put on hold as off-topic with a comment that
Freudian theories are very much outdated and considered to be pseudo science, which is off-topic on Psychology.SE
Whilst there are anti-freudian psychologists out there, Freudian theories are not outdated and very much accepted in psychology, for example, Freud's theories on ego-defence mechanisms (see this answer also) are followed a lot when looking at the mental health of a client; therefore, @RobinKramer's comment
My preference, however, would be to discuss Freud purely from a historical perspective
is not able to be carried out fully because Freud's theories are not just historical, but current too. Therefore, in my opinion, this question on the ego and reality principle is very much on topic.
So where do we go moving forward?
Freud is one of the founders of psychoanalytical (and psychodynamic) therapy, and as covered in a previous answer of mine, Freud's work is derived from empirical evidence and backed up with high profile journal articles, but his work is also seen as non-falisifiable under Karl Popper's criteria of falsifiability to distinguish science from nonscience (Popper, 1959).
In a scientific sense prediction refers to the ability of a hypothesis to accurately forecast what will happen under specific conditions. In order to test a hypothesis a scientist will make a prediction based on the hypothesis.
My argument on the predictability of mental health science is that not all outcomes can be predicted. Take survivors of abuse for example. It is well known that there are some who will go on to have mental health problems, and they last for many years. However some only suffer for a short time and some move on from the abuse without any adverse affects. A group of people can suffer the same "type and amount" of abuse (for want of a better phrase), at the same age and for the same duration, and each one of them can suffer differently. That surely throws scientific predictability out of the window as far as testing psychological theory is concerned. On the subject of predictability testing, with something like abuse it would be unethical to test predictability by subjecting test subjects with abuse and seeing what the result is so you would have to rely on case studies for this which is also a part of the problem with Freud's theories.
Interestingly, Popper argued the case of Freud's theories being unfalsifiable
largely on the basis that psychoanalysts could easily deploy various defense mechanisms themselves and other psychoanalytic concepts to dismiss countervailing evidence.
and Hans Eysenck, an opponent of Freud, argues that
Freud's theories are falsifiable and therefore a science, though an incorrect one.
Whatever your standpoint is on Freud, I have seen plenty of questions on Psychology.SE about Freudian theory which I have provided well received answers to, so there seems to be a bit of contradiction here.
We need to define what pseudoscience is within Psychology.SE. If psychology is considered to be pseudoscientific in general, and pseudoscience is off-topic, does that mean all questions around psychology should be deemed off-topic within Psychology.SE? If not, considering @AaronWeinberg's hopes for agreement, for example,
we don't want to discourage/alienate professional clinicians of any school or discipline
how do we determine what psuedoscience within psychology is on-topic and what is off-topic? This may need to be explored in line with the Cognitive Sciences Reboot 2017: Call for action
My opinion is that the "pseudoscience" within Psychology should not be considered off-topic within Psychology.SE if Psychology is on-topic.
I spent several hours trying to formulate a thorough answer to the question before it was put on hold, in order to cover the fact that Freud's theories are not the whole story, and that his theories form part of the story and it is a shame I cannot provide an answer as the question is on hold.
Baigrie, B. S. (1988). Siegel on the rationality of science. Philosophy of Science 55(3): pp. 435-441
Cover, J. A. & Curd M. (1998). Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues New York: W. W. Norton & Co.: pp. 1—82
Esterson, A. (2003) Freud's Theories of Repression and Memory. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice 2(2)
Gardner, M. (1957). Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. New York: Dover Publications
Hansson, S. O. (1996). Defining Pseudoscience. Philosophia Naturalis, 33(1): pp. 169—176
Still to find DOI/PMID reference
Hansson, S. O. (2008) Science and Pseudo-Science. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition) [Online]
Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/pseudo-science
OED (1989) Oxford English Dictionary, (Second Edition) Oxford: Oxford University Press
Popper, K. R. (1959) The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York: Routledge
PsychologyToday (2013) The Psychology of the "Psychology Isn't a Science" Argument
PsychologyToday article (2016) The “Is Psychology a Science?” Debate [Online]