In this special section of The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, we examine the question of whether the concept of “pseudoscience” is useful for describing and understanding scientifically unsupported practices in clinical psychology and allied mental health disciplines. Although psychological authors have invoked the term “pseudoscience” with increasing frequency over the past decade, it has received little critical scrutiny. Some authors contend that this term is overused, hopelessly vague, or virtually meaningless; others contend that it is necessary for an adequate understanding of unscientific mental health practices.
In his target article, Harvard professor Richard McNally argues that the pseudoscience concept offers precious little above and beyond the more parsimonious concept of empirical support, and that clinical psychology would be better off without it. He goes further to contend that the concept is misleading and may distract researchers and clinicians from more critical issues, particularly those involving the scientific evidence for mental health claims. In response, psychologists James Herbert, William O’Donohue, and Scott Lilienfeld, along with philosopher of science Mario Bunge, maintain that the pseudoscience concept is indispensable for clinical psychology and related disciplines, and that abandoning this concept would be counterproductive. Finally, McNally responds to his four critics by reiterating his call for a renewed emphasis on the level of scientific support for mental health claims.
We hope that the readers of The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice will benefit from this collegial and lively interchange, and that they will emerge with a heightened appreciation of the potential uses and misuses of the pseudoscience concept.