Scott Lilienfeld, Advocate for Excellence in Psychological Science and Practice, Succumbs to Pancreatic Cancer

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Nationally recognized psychologist and Emory Professor, Scott Lilienfeld, died on Sept. 30 at his home in Atlanta. The cause was pancreatic cancer. He was 59.

Dr. Lilienfeld was considered by many across the nation to be a firm, resilient, and insightful voice for scientific, professional psychology. He dedicated much time and work to helping maintain awareness in the field for standards of excellence for professional psychologists.

Dr. Lilienfeld was the 2018 keynote speaker for the Louisiana Psychological Association,. He delivered the address, “Being the Essential Partner: Understanding and Overcoming
Skepticism about Scientific Psychology.”

He received the James McKeen Cattell Award for Lifetime Contributions to Applied Psychological Science, Association for Psychological Science (APS).

His work has been cited over 21,295 times. He delivered the Award Address, “Psychology’s Public Image Problem: Why Many Laypersons and Politicians Don’t
View Our Field as Scientific,” at APS.

Dr. Lilienfeld served as the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor at Emory University, and authored numerous works, including Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, and Psychological Science Under Scrutiny: Recent Challenges and Proposed Solutions, was Editor of Clinical Psychological Science, and a regular keynote speaker, including for APA, APS, SEPA and SWPA.

In his 2012 American Psychologist article, he wrote, “…professional organizations must continually underscore the point that trained psychologists are virtually unparalleled
among rival professions in one crucial respect: our ability to apply scientific reasoning and rigorous methodology to assessing, evaluating, and alleviating human problems, whether they be mental health difficulties, such as depression or anxiety disorders, or
broader societal difficulties, such as prejudice or blind obedience.”

Among his findings he cited that only 30% agree that “psychology attempts to understand the way people behave through scientific research” and 41% see psychological research as less rigorous than medical research.

Along with many findings he noted that an APA Presidential Task Force found that, “Despite psychology’s foundation in science and its standing as the science of human behavior, it is not fully accepted as a science by the general public.”

In 2018, Dr. Lilienfeld reviewed the common criticisms of psychology’s scientific status he discussed rebuttals of the criticisms, and gave main reasons for negative public views of psychology.

He noted that the public face of psychology is not represented by psychological scientists. “Psychologists are rarely called on by the media to comment on psychological findings; when they are, they are rarely scientific psychologists,” he said.

He pointed to “The Illusion of Understanding––We’re all ‘psychologists’ in everyday life, so psychology seems easy.” Among the problems he included the “Confusion Between Psychologists and Psychotherapists,” as an important factor.

He also said that that scientific psychology is challenged by the “scientific impotence excuse,” and that “When psychological findings conflict with our deeply held intuitions, we may resolve that cognitive dissonance by dismissing a scientific approach to the
questions at hand…”

Among the remedies, Dr. Lilienfeld said that, “Academic and practicing psychologists have not spent enough of their time disseminating science to the public, combating bad science, and correcting misconceptions of the field.”

“We must play a more active role in educating laypersons about psychology’s scientific side and confronting its nonscientific side,” he said.

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