Monday 14 May 2018

Psychology Matters

Well it does, doesn't it? In the same way as you're reading Science Matters because it does. And the same way I teach Human Physiology with passion and interest because, well, I have a body. Psychology Matters is also the title for  series of symposiums around the country on Psychology Matters Day 2018 . . . that was last Saturday 12th May. Someone told me at short notice and I, in a desultory fashion, alerted  my contacts in the venue Cities: Dublin Galway Waterford and . . . somewhere else. The Psychological Society of Ireland PSI has unaccountably cleansed the PMD18 webpage. Lucky I took notes. Because I got off my sofa on a sunny Saturday afternoon and drove +50 km to see what was happenin' in Waterford Institute of Technology WIT. Thinking I might double the audience, I was amazed to find that at least 50 other people had turned up to learn something scientific about how the human mind tick-tocked.

And my conclusion? Mixed! It was certainly more engaging than sitting at home; alone; on my sofa; looking at the ceiling; with my mouth open; and my mind closed. But it was a bit like the PSI had canvassed their membership for people to give up a chunk of their weekend, and travel to Waterford, pro bono publico. and a totally random set of 20 minute talks materialised.
  • The PSI President Brendan O'Connell came down because he grew up across the road from WIT in Lisduggan. He talked about pathways to prison and presented some really depressing statistics about how you could predict who was destined to grow up to spend time in chokey. He refuses to countenance the term psychopath: it's a cop-out for not addressing any sort of solution for our most troubled citizens.
  • After those statistics, it was [perhaps consciously] appropriate to hear from James Claffey, whose expertise in dealing with depression [with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy CBT, as a sports coach] started when he became clinically depressed as a teenager. His watch-word is "It's okay not to be okay" and he is campaigning to End Mental Health Stigma at See Change. May 2018 is Green Ribbon month to raise awareness and stop people burying their troubles until they trudge out to the cow-shed with a rope.
  • Next up was another professional who uses CBT: Anita Corfe who works with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder OCD. There is rather more to OCD and it's a lot more widespread than <Judi Dench alert> Lady Macbeth washing her hands. This gave an interesting angle on what I know about OCD - mostly garnered from a project student a few years ago.
  • The next fellow was Seamus Power a lecturer from WIT whose position was that chronic disease is triggered by diet and lifestyle. Not strictly Psychological, and not really surprising to be told again that if you don't sleep 7 hours a night; don't eat breakfast; don't exercise but do smoke, do get hammered regularly, do eat between meals THEN you'll likely finish up obese, and/or diabetic, and die before your time from a coronary infarction or a stroke. Power's position follows Hippocrates "If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health." which should remind you of Michael Pollan's foodie regimen: "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much"
  • Next to bounce up was Ciara Losty who is a sport psychologist. I mean, that's a job! She advises teams about their psychological status and devises protocols for making this better - as in more effective at winning. The most useful take home was her advice that, rather than trying to think the optimum strategy, it is often better to just do it and think through the consequences of your action afterwards. For a bloke who lives in his head, this was salutary advice which I have been working towards for at least 20 years.
  • The schedule next delivered another Lecturer at WIT called David Delany who holds a PhD in computational neuroscience from Trinity College Dublin. His position seemed to be that <Trinity-speak alert> unless you used schemogenic thinking in your dealings with the world, you were effectively behaving like a pre-literate savage. My take on his long explanation was that he was making it all far to complicated. I feel vindicated by the fact that schemogenic thinking is a googlewhack mainly because Google doesn't recognise schemogenic as a word. But it could be me: maybe I have a metaphorical bone through my nose and make a living banging two rocks together.
  • The final speaker was Fiona O'Donovan a post-graduate student from RCSI, the Royal College of Surgeons up in Dublin. She is writing a PhD and has had to do a comprehensive literature review of her area of psychology. She clearly has a well-polished crap-detector because the title of her talk on Saturday was "How credible is psychology" and her answer was "in two words: in-credible" [im-possible is not a Goldwynism apparently]. It's because the academic psychology literature is fat with under-powered, tendentious, headline-fishing nonsense which would never have been published if someone like Ms O'Donovan had refereed the paper. We're not to unduly slag Psychology for this because my own field is also fat with under-powered, tendentious nonsense which should never have been published. But nobody really cares about synonymous codon usage, whereas every human, including lazy-arsed newspaper editors, has an interest in, and position on, psychology. Ms O'Donovan cited the Reproducibility Project [bloboprev] which tried to replicate some key-note studies in psychological research. Woefully, only 36/100 of these findings were vindicated. That needs to be said, but you have to wonder whether the best venue for washing science's dirty laundry is on a Saturday afternoon at a Psychology for the Public event.
Hats off to the Psychological Society of Ireland for organising these events across the country. The Public Understanding of Science - including psychology - is not great. Joe Public needs to be able to critically evaluate the claims of science - in the efficacy of the HPV vaccine for example - in order to make informed choices.

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