Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Famous psychologists

This, Historical impact in psychology differs between demographic groups by Christopher D.Green and Shane M.Martin, does not answer any questions but it does raise some interesting ones. From the abstract:
Psychology has a long tradition of creating lists of the most eminent members of the discipline. Such lists are typically created under the assumption that there is a general answer to the question of eminence, covering all psychologists everywhere. We wondered, however, to what degree perceived eminence depends on the individual's particular demographic situation. Specifically, are different historical figures “eminent” to people of different genders, ages, and geographical locations? We tested this by asking a wide swath of people – mostly psychologists – who they think has had the most impact on the discipline of psychology, historically. We used an online game in which “players” were shown a series of pairs of significant figures from psychology's past and asked to select which had had the greater impact. We then converted these selections into a ranked list using the Elo rating system. Although our overall rankings had considerable similarity with traditional efforts, we also found that rankings differed markedly among different demographic groups, undermining the assumption of a general measure of eminence that is valid for all.
While their methodology is reasonable, the lack of detail regarding the population sample size and any indication of rigor with regard to random sampling and independence is concerning. If they asked fifty psychology grad students at a particular university, that is one thing. If they asked 3,000 national practitioners, that is another. Absent that information, there is not much to go on here.

None-the-less, it is an interesting question. Stipulating the shakiness of their data, I looked at it in a little detail to see if there were any patterns other than that male and female psychologists had a slightly different list and different ordering of names from one another. I exported the list to excel and then also married the listed names to the HPI (Historical Popularity Index from Pantheon. Pantheon compiled a list of 11,341 individuals who have entries in at least 25 of Wikipedia's some 295 language versions. This cutoff of 25 provides an objective and empirical means of measuring global recognition, eminence, or "fame." By bringing Pantheon into the data set, it allows us to compare the answers from Green and Martin to a global, massively used and empirical source of fame of psychologists.

I am handicapped in spotting patterns because I only recognize about 35% of the names on the lists. Perhaps there are patterns to subject area, research approach, or other factor which I would recognize, if I were more familiar with all the individuals.

Working only with Martin and Green's dataset, there is not much of a pattern to the data other than the paper's conclusion that male and female psychologists choose slightly different names and ranking them in a somewhat different order. Ten names are common between the male and female lists.

For those names in common, three are essentially ranked about the same (within three positions) - Harlow, Freud, and Skinner. Four names are medium distance apart in ranking (between 5-7 spaces apart) - Piaget, James, Thorndike, and Milgram. Then there is a group of three where there is significant disagreement on importance with more than 13 spaces difference in ranking - Pavlov, Banndura and Wundt.

Looking at the global HPI index, female psychologists selected names which were slightly more recognized among the reading public than did male psychologists. For the HPI indexes for the names not on both lists, the degree of fame is about the same as well.

Among the names appearing on only one of the two lists, 11 are not sufficiently well-known to make the Pantheon list.

Other than that, I see only one glaring difference in the patterns between male and female candidates. Male psychologists included Charles Darwin as an imminent psychologist and ranked him very highly (fifth place). Female psychologists did not include him at all. Technically I think the male psychologists are right, while Darwin is primarily thought of as a biologist, his work included a significant body of research on psychological issues including emotions and facial expressions. But interesting that it is high on one list and not included on the other.

Somewhat surprising to me that Abraham Maslow shows up on the female list at a relatively prominent level of 6th place but not at all on the males psychologist's list.

A couple of other points. All the names are individuals of European origin and all but one of the thirty names are male. I checked the thirty-eight people in Pantheon who are listed as world famous psychologists among the 11,341 generally famous. Among the thirty-eight, all are of European origin and all but two are male. The participants in this exercise are not out of line with reality.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect were the names not on the list. Pantheon has an additional 22 names of globally famous psychologists who don't show up on the two lists in the research paper. Carl Jung is probably the most surprising omission. But some of the others are as well. There are two famous contemporary names who were omitted, including the only psychologist to have won a Nobel award; Daniel Kahneman and Steven Pinker. But the others are surprising to me in their omission such as Erich Fromm, John Dewey, Alfred Binet, Viktor Frankl, Alfred Kinsey.

Like I said. More questions than answers. But interesting.

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