77-year-old paper by controversial psychologist Hans Eysenck earns an expression of concern

Hans Eysenck

Journals have issued expressions of concern for seven more papers by Hans Eysenck, including one for a paper the now-deceased psychologist published in the middle of World War II. 

Suspicions about Eysenck, who died in 1997, surfaced in the early 1990s, if not before. At least 14 of his papers have been retracted so far — a total his biographer has said could well eclipse 60. And 71 have now been hit with expressions of concern.

The latest such moves come from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, which issued the following notice

JRSM and SAGE Publishing hereby issue an expression of concern for the following articles:

1. Eysenck HJ. Suggestibility and Hypnosis—an Experimental Analysis. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 1943; 36(7): 349–354. https://doi.org/10.1177/003591574303600713.

2. Eysenck HJ. The Measurement of Personality. [Résumé]. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 1946; 40(2): 75–80. https://doi.org/10.1177/003591574604000209.

3. Eysenck HJ. Personality and Behaviour Therapy. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 1960; 53(7): 504–508. https://doi.org/10.1177/003591576005300705.

JRSM and SAGE publish this expression of concern to alert readers to the articles listed above in relation to a review conducted by King’s College London. The review examined publications authored by Hans J. Eysenck with Ronald Grossarth-Maticek on the subject of personality and certain health outcomes. King’s College recommended retraction of a number of articles based on the following findings:

— Concerns with the validity of the datasets, including the “recruitment of participants, administration of measures, reliability of outcome ascertainment, biases in data collection, absence of relevant covariates, and selection of cases analysed in each article.”

— The results reported by Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek were implausible and incompatible with modern clinical science and the understanding of disease processes.

While the King’s College review did not consider the above-listed articles from JRSM, we believe it is important to alert readers to the King’s College review and to the questions about the work of Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek.

The rest come from the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, another SAGE title,  which has a similar notice for these articles

  1. Eysenck, H. J. (1985). Behaviourism and Clinical Psychiatry. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 31(3), 163–169. https://doi.org/10.1177/002076408503100301
  2. Eysenck, H. J. (1960). Objective Approaches to Personality Assessment. Edited by B. M. Bass and I. A. Berg. Princeton, New Jersey: D. van Nostrand Company Inc., 1959. Pp. 233. Price, 37s. 6d. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 5(4), 320–320. https://doi.org/10.1177/002076406000500424
  3. Eysenck, H. J. (1960). Levels of Personality, Constitutional Factors, and Social Influences: An Experimental Approach. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 6(1–2), 12–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/002076406000600104
  4. Eysenck, S. B. G., & Eysenck, H. J. (1962). Rigidity as a Function of Introversion and Neuroticism: a Study of Unmarried Mothers. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 8(3), 180–184. https://doi.org/10.1177/002076406200800302

Both journals direct readers to the King’s College report on Eysenck, available here.

About that 1943 paper: It’s now 77 years old, which is getting on in years, to be sure, but not a record for a notice on a paper. The oldest retraction we’ve seen so far involves a 1923 case report that was retracted 80 years later, in 2003.

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2 thoughts on “77-year-old paper by controversial psychologist Hans Eysenck earns an expression of concern”

  1. Having just read the article summary of a paper attracting an “Expression of Concern”:

    2. Eysenck HJ. The Measurement of Personality. [Résumé]. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 1946; 40(2): 75–80. https://doi.org/10.1177/003591574604000209.

    I cannot believe any sane person could issue an ‘expression of concern’ over something so benign.

    I think they ought to read:
    Barrett, P.T. (2018). The EFPA test-review model: When good intentions meet a methodological thought disorder.. Behavioural Sciences (https://www.mdpi.com/2076-328X/8/1/5), 8,1, 5, 1-22.

    Michell, J. (2020). Thorndike’s Credo: Metaphysics in psychometrics. Theory and Psychology (https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354320916251), 30, 3, 309-328.
    Michell, J. (2020). Representational measurement theory: Is its number up?. Theory and Psychology (https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354320930817), In Press, , 1-21.

    followed by:
    Trendler, G. (2018). Conjoint measurement undone. Theory and Psychology (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0959354318788729), 29, 1, 100-128.
    Trendler, G. (2019). Measurability, systematic error, and the replication crisis: A reply to Michell (2019) and Krantz and Wallsten (2019). Theory and Psychology (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0959354318824414), 29, 1, 144-151.

    There is enough ‘insult’ to these ‘protectors of the faith’ in those articles (and the many more referenced by me in my 2018 paper) to suggest they should all be called cheats, liars, and fabricators of ‘the truth’. But those epithets are left unsaid because the axioms, logic, and reasoned argument are so clear that such petty insults are just silly.

    I am not here to defend Hans Eysenck – merely to point out that if anyone is to arrive at judgements about older and earlier work from anyone, it has to be on the basis of reasoned logic, facts, an understanding of quantity, and careful evaluation of evidence and the ‘knowledge-claims’ made on the basis of such evidence, not some kind of moralistic posturing typical of social media ‘tabloid’ commentary.

    It’s why we at Personality and Individual Differences issued an expression of concern over the Grossarth-Maticek work
    .. no evidence of cheating/data fabrication, but definitely extraordinarily high effect sizes and no replication of the results. The senior editorial board approach these issues as thinking-person scientists, not high-priests in Harvey Bains’ Order of the Flaming Sword (those who have watched the BBC TV show “Waiting for God” will know the reference!).

    And read Grossarth-Maticek’s response to the criticisms from Pelosi and Marks.

    It just goes to show just how difficult it is to traverse a reasoned path through such historical data and publications.

    In the early 2000s, I used to get hot under the collar about how so many psychologists could simply ignore Michell and Maraun’s stellar logic and facts .. but came to realize the more productive way forward was to simply to ignore them (as exemplars of Dick Feynman’s pacific island inhabitants in his famous metaphor of cargo-cult science), and start working as a scientist working with phenomena arising from the outputs of a complex, dynamical system – i.e. a human.
    Feynman, R.P. (1974). Cargo Cult Science: some remarks on science, pseudoscience, and learning how not to fool yourself. Engineering and Science, 37, 7, 10-13.
    Michell, J. (1997). Quantitative science and the definition of measurement in Psychology. British Journal of Psychology, 88, 3, 355-383.
    Maraun, M.D. (1998). Measurement as a normative practice: Implications of Wittgenstein’s philosophy for measurement in Psychology. Theory & Psychology, 8, 4, 435-461.

    It’s why I wrote my final paper on the issue in 2018 – summarising the key articles and empirical evidence, showing how one could still undertake investigative causal explanatory theory and useful pragmatic work in psychology, while pointing out the legal consequences to those who would promote psychological test scores in a court of law as “quantities”.

    But, Jan Smedslund has served notice that pursuing ‘statisticism’, the usual-suspect latent-variable codswallop, and a pretence at science’ is not going to cut the mustard anymore:
    Smedslund, J. (2009). The mismatch between current research methods and the nature of psychological phenomena: What researchers must learn from practitioners. Theory and Psychology, 19, 6, 778-794.
    Smedslund, J. (2016). Why psychology cannot be an empirical science. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science (https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-015-9339-x), 50, 2, 185-195.
    as does:
    Sanbonmatsu, D.M., & Johnston, W.A. (2019). Redefining Science: The impact of complexity on theory development in social and behavioral research. Perspectives on Psychological Science (https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691619848688), 14, 4, 672-690.

    But I digress ..

  2. Something seems to be missing here. This is a notice of expression of concern over a paper published in 1943, the “77-year old paper” of the headline, which is not one of the papers listed in the King’s College statement — indeed, that statement appears to be entirely about the joint work between Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek based on work apparently done in the 1960s. But the journal editors give no other reason for publishing their notice: “JRSM and SAGE publish this expression of concern to alert readers to the articles listed above in relation to a review conducted by King’s College London.” Indeed, as the editors note, “the King’s College review did not consider the above-listed articles from JRSM”.

    Furthermore, the KCL statement itself is rather tenuous. It refers to a committee, whose members are not named and whose report and workings are not apparently public. That seems a weak foundation on which to base a retraction of the 25 or 26 papers mentioned in the statement. Why should the committee’s detailed analysis not be made public and submitted, if not to formal peer review, at least to the scrutiny of experts in the field and others? And how can an analysis of work done in or after the 1960s support an expression of concern on a paper on a different subject published twenty years previously?

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