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In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld


Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 17.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Thirteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain:

Individual Publication Date: July 1, 2018

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 6,328

ISSN 2369-6885


Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld is a Professor of Psychology at the Emory University. He discusses: family background; pivotal or influential moments of personal background; common misconceptions about memory; Sir Karl Popper and Freud; tasks and responsibilities as a professor at Emory University; tips for the conveyance of a clear message in the communication of science; pseudoscience and core science with students; impediments to understanding and ignorance; early teaching of logic, critical thinking, and science; privileges of religions in society and the Baloney Detection Kit; Carl Sagan and good science communication; psychology as a science; simulation and prediction; and recommended resources or books on skepticism, critical thinking, and psychological science.

Keywords: clinical psychology, Emory University, psychology, Scott O. Lilienfeld.

In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld: Professor, Psychology, Emory University[1],[2],[3],[4]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Where does your family background reside in terms of geography, culture, and language to lay the groundwork?

Scott Lilienfeld: I was born and raised in New York City, born in Manhattan. I grew up in Queens and actually worked for many years a couple of blocks away from a man you may have heard of, he’s been in the news a bit lately. His name is Donald J. Trump.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Scott Lilienfeld: I was born and raised in New York City, born in Manhattan. I grew up in Queens and actually worked for many years a couple of blocks away from a man you may have heard of, he’s been in the news a bit lately. His name is Donald J. Trump.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Lilienfeld: In Jamaican Estates, I grew up there. I spent pretty much my whole childhood in New York City, especially Queens. My parents were second generation so my father’s family was from Austria-Hungary near Germany. My mother’s family was from all over the place, more from Poland, Russia, and those kinds of areas.

And language, I grew up to speak English, that’s about it. I was not raised in a particularly religious home though both my parents were Jewish. I’m not a particularly religious person at all right now although my parents did send me to Sunday school and although I would not say I had a religious upbringing, I valued religious culture and they brought me up culturally Jewish.

So that’s sort of my background. I first ventured out of New York City in college. I want to college in upstate New York in Cornell University. I was in New York pretty much my whole life until I was 21 and then I moved to Minneapolis for graduate school at the University of Minnesota.

For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to cold weather. It’s nice being down here in Atlanta where it’s a little bit warmer. A high of 79 today, so I’m not complaining.

2. Jacobsen: I want to take one step back to the middle of your personal narrative in terms of childhood and adolescence because you skipped to college and graduate school. What are some pivotal moments or influential moments that you can recall from those times that impacted you in terms of your life trajectory?

Lilienfeld: I don’t think I had any pivotal moments. Or if I did, I don’t frame them as pivotal moments. I think for me a lot of the things that really shaped my interests were more or less happenstance and experiences. What seemed to help was my father facilitating my passions rather than anything particular happening to me.

I was a tremendous science lover, science nerd growing up and my parents really allowed that to bloom. My father took me many times to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. I think that really shaped my love of science as it did many other people including one of my intellectual heroes Carl Sagan also fell in love with science there.

So, that really was quite formative and I think they allowed me to do a lot of reading. They bought me science books. They allowed me to go to a science camp when I was growing up. So, those things I think really shaped my passion.

And when I was about 13 or 14, I came upon a book at a fair and it was an old time life book called The Mind. I didn’t know anything about psychology until I opened that book and then I was hooked. I read that book and just was utterly fascinated by what I later came to realize was the field of psychology.

The more I read, the more fascinated I became. That book, although in retrospect was not as scientific as it could have been, it really opened up a whole window to me in terms of science and dreams and the science of memory and the science of mental illness and those things that I’m still fascinated by today.

3. Jacobsen: Were there any common misconceptions that you held yourself at the time that that text or others obliterated or over time whittled down?

Lilienfeld: That’s a good question. Yes, I probably had a lot of misconceptions back then. I was very drawn to psychology and that book probably fuelled it. That book was probably a product of the times. I was very drawn to Freudian thinking initially, psychoanalytic thinking.

I suspect the book in some ways perpetuated some serious misunderstandings. I recall, hopefully this isn’t a false memory on my part, but I recall that book being very naive on the nature of the unconscious. Very naive about hypnosis for example.

Implying that people who are hypnotized can be made to do things against their will or that hypnosis is like a trance state and so on. I think the book also perpetuated a lot of other ideas of the time. The idea that we can somehow retrieve or recover long lost memories of the past which we have not been able to access for a long time.

Those are misconceptions that I’ve held for quite some time I think. I also believed, because I also got very much in Freudian thinking in my high school years, I believed that early childhood experiences have an enormous impact on later adult development, so much so that they are often irreversible. I think it’s also a very misguided idea that has gotten us into trouble as a field but it’s also one that I held for quite some time.

4. Jacobsen: Sir Carl Popper made the criterion of falsifiability explicit in science. Freud has been criticized for not meeting that criteria. Does that criteria seem valid to you?

Lilienfeld: It’s partly valid. Adolf Grünbaum of the University of Pittsburgh wrote a very good book about that. There are aspects of Freudian theory that are indeed very difficult to falsify. They are often so vague they are metaphysical. I think Freud’s idea of the mind consisting of 3 psychic prophecies, ID, ego and superegos is more of a metaphor than anything else.

It’s probably not wrong but it’s probably so vague that it can’t be tested or falsified. There’s some Freudian claims like that that are probably almost unfalsifiable because they are more metaphorical. There are however other Freudian claims that in principle could be falsified. I’m not sure they’re easy to falsify.

There are other parts of Freudian theory that are falsifiable on principle. The claim for example that a lot of neurosis stems from early childhood sexual abuse, which is a view that Freud initially held, is in principle falsifiable.

Grünbaum makes the point astutely that Freud, in fact, changed his mind on that issue. In part because of evidence. It’s not very compelling evidence by today’s standards but he began to realize that the rates of abuse that would needed to induce neuroses seemed implausibly high and a lot of the parents who seemed to be accused of that did not seem like the kinds of people who would have done this.

So his views did in fact change. The claim that early experiences like early toilet training practices can lead to differences in later personalities is also a falsifiable claim in principle. I think Popper had it partly correct but not entirely.

5. Jacobsen: I want to move back to the narrative portion of the interview. So post-graduate school, you are now the Samuel Candler Dobbs professor at the department of psychology at Emery University. So what tasks and responsibilities come with this station?

Lilienfeld: So, a lot. One thing I love about academic life is it’s amazingly diverse. Sometimes that means I don’t get enough sleep but that’s okay. I can live with that. I do lots of things. I teach both undergraduate and graduate courses.

I teach a graduate course in psychological assessment along with a seminar in psychiatric diagnostic interviewing. At the undergraduate level I teach introductory psychology. I’m fortunate enough to sometimes teach a seminar called science and pseudoscience in psychology where I get to talk about controversial claims.

That’s kind of fun. I do a lot of teaching and I do a great deal of research. So most of our research focuses on personality disorders, particularly psychopathic and to some extent narcissistic personality disorders. So we do work into what the potential causes of those conditions are and how to better detect them.

Or what the interpersonal manifestations are. I run a lab. I have 3 terrific grad students along with a bunch of a number of undergraduates at our lab who help us with those things. Then I do a lot of editorial work. That’s an increasing part of my life. That’s probably 30% of my life.

I edit a journal. I’m editor in chief of a journal called Clinical Psychological Science. I’ve been editor-in-chief since July 1st of 2016. It’s a major journal that focuses on how basic science can inform our understanding of mental illness. So, I do that. It’s a lot of work but it’s also very intellectually challenging and fulfilling.

I’m also on a number of editorial boards and those kinds of things. I do that. Then I do a lot of service. I’m the outgoing president of a group called Society the Science of Clinical Psychology, I’m on the board of that group.

It’s a group that tries to better incorporate evidence-based practice, science-based practice into mental health treatment. And that is our big mission to try to make our field more scientific because we don’t think it’s as scientific as it could be. We don’t think people with mental illness are getting the help they need and deserve.

So I do a lot of that as well. I also do the typical things that faculty members do. I do services for the university. I sit on various committees and committees in my department and that kind of thing. And I often do some writing for the general public and public outreach which I really enjoy.

I’m also a textbook author and co-author of an introductory psychology textbook. I do writing for popular magazines sometimes and occasionally give talks for the general public and talk to the media and things like that. I’m often overwhelmed and often rarely bored.

Jacobsen: And under slept.

Lilienfeld: Yes, exactly.

6. Jacobsen: You teach undergraduate psychology, you teach science and pseudoscience, you write an introductory psychology textbook. In addition, you communicate to the public in various ways including writing articles.

With respect to the communication of science and in particular psychological science, what are some tips for those that want to convey clear messages about the relatively complex subject matter in psychological science to the public or to their students?

Lilienfeld: That’s a great question. I wish I had better answers to them. I think I’m still learning and getting better all the time. I wish I had some great tips, I don’t. Other than to say that you really have to put yourself in the minds of a smart person who does not know psychology.

Teaching introductory psychology has helped me a lot in that regard because we have a lot of bright students but they come in not knowing much psychology so in some ways it’s in some ways a theory of mind task. You have to put yourself in the mind of another person. For me, the key thing is a matter of attitude.

Your goal should not be to impress anyone. Your goal should not be to seem smart or learned. Your goal should be to reach people. And to do that, you have to avoid lingo. Sometimes you have to introduce some technical terms but you want to keep those to a minimum. You have to somehow, and this is the part that I find the hardest, to simply without oversimplifying.

That’s the hardest part because we often do deal with complicated issues. What I try to do is if I’m simplifying things, I will simply say, “I am simplifying something here. There is some more complexity but I’m going to leave it at that.” But I do feel compelled to let people know that I am simplifying things.

Because I don’t want to imply that what I’m saying is necessarily the full picture. I think sometimes in academia we’re used to talking a lot and making lots of points with lots of nuance and a lot of people are busy and have a limited attention span.

Often you have to make 2 or 3 points at most and get out. If you try to make too many points, people’s eyes will glaze over. So that’s another thing I’ve learned. You need to really think about what are the key bottom line messages to bring home here? I have 15 seconds, 30 seconds, what is the elevator pitch here? So those are some of the basic things I’ve learned over the years.

7. Jacobsen: In the core science and pseudoscience, you deal with students at Emery University who are more intelligent than average but do not know the psychological science in detail or might have common misconceptions or rare misconceptions about psychological science.

Lilienfeld: I think they’re both what I would call “meta conceptions and misconceptions.” By meta misconceptions I mean misconceptions about how psychological science works to begin with. There’s a lot of those and there’s a range. I think a lot of them differ depending on the student’s background.

So, for example, students coming from the so-called hard sciences like chemistry often come in thinking, “Oh psychology isn’t scientific, it can’t be a science,” because it’s dealing with these fuzzy, murky topics. I see that as a colossal misconception because psychology, although it is fuzzy and doesn’t allow the same degree of precision in terms of predictions, relies on scientific methodology in much the same way physics and chemistry does.

It uses tools to reduce confirmation bias and other kinds of errors in thinking. So that’s a common misconception you get from students in the hard sciences. You also get it from students in engineering and mathematics and so on. I see that in my undergraduate teachings.

Sometimes you have the opposite problem. Students who are in psychology often make the mistake of taking psychological findings as gospel and I think we’ve learned in the last 5 years or so that not all of our findings are replicating and holding up in the way we like.

I think another common misconception is that one can take one isolated finding from a study and then draw very strong conclusions from it and that’s another misconception that is perpetuated by the media. The media loves to get a sexy, hot psychological finding that is surprising and they promote it so people start thinking it’s a true finding.

I think we have learned, myself included, that we have to be more humble and modest about our claims. Those are some common misconceptions I’ve seen about psychological science in general among students. And then students hold lots of specific misconception about specific topics that of course focuses a lot on that.

A lot of students think we use only 10% of our brains. Or that full moons are related to behaviors or that vaccines cause autism, although that’s getting less common I think. Or that the most important determinate of our happiness is what happens to us rather than the way we think about what happens to us. There are a lot of specific misconceptions about specific topics that are also important to address.

8. Jacobsen: What is the greater impediment to a proper understanding of science: the ignorance of a particular fundamental theory, evolutionary theory, continental drift, plate tectonics and so on? Or a wrong but firmly held theory about the universe? For instance, creationism instead of being ignorant about evolution.

Lilienfeld: I would say probably more the latter. But to me the biggest impediment is the belief, the deeply held belief, that common sense is the best way of understanding the world. That’s the biggest impediment. We have a president-elect who frequently uses the term common sense.

Common sense can be a good thing and I’m not opposed to common sense but the problem is that one person’s common sense is another person’s uncommon sense. What may seem commonsensical to me may not seem commonsensical to you.

It seems commonsensical to most people that the Earth is standing still and that the Sun is moving around the Earth when in fact the opposite is true. Of course we’re all moving through space at break-neck speed. But that doesn’t seem like a common sense belief. It seems common sense the earth is flat but we know that the ancients didn’t believe that or some did.

Of course, we know some people still believe that. It seems commonsensical to many people that memory works like a video camera or tape recorder even though it doesn’t. It seems that way. To me, that’s the biggest impediment. The belief that we can rely solely on our intuitions and common sense perceptions to understand the world.

I think for me many of the more specific misconceptions that you mentioned, take creationism, stem from that. It seems wildly un-commonsensical when we look around the natural world. We look at beautiful wild life and trees and so on that these things could have been the product of random mutation and selection of certain mutations. To me, that seems unnatural and not commonsensical. l.

Part of the reason why natural selection has been difficult for people to accept, some of the opposition is religious in nature but some of it also does seem counter-intuitive. I think one thing I worry about is we seem to live in a culture in America in which we increasingly value intuitive thinking above and beyond scientific thinking.

I think we live in a culture where our level impressions are often valued as a way of understanding the world. Again, level impression can be helpful for in some cases. They can be helpful for engaging with people and whether people are good or bad people. Although even there it’s hardly perfect.

But when it comes to understanding nature, I think that level of impression is often quite fallible, sometimes wildly wrong. To me, that’s the greatest obstacle.

9. Jacobsen: Some remedies exist such as teaching logic, critical thinking, scientific methodology and the fundamental theories that come along with it. How early can we teach those effectively?

Lilienfeld: That’s a great question. I don’t know. That’s my answer, I just don’t know. I don’t think we have any data on this but I wrote a piece on this recently for Skeptical Inquirer that is very scandalous and we just don’t know how early you can start. We don’t know.

I think some people would say, following Piaget’s work, that you might have to wait until people are what Piaget calls, “formal operational thinking.” Formal operational thinking typically beginning at age 7 for most kids where you’re capable of abstract thinking. That’s possible but I don’t know.

I think we have to push it. We have to see how early we can start. I think kids are part natural scientists. Kids really want to understand the world, they’re naturally curious. They are intellectually curious. They have a sense of wonder. I think kids are good at some of it but not others.

I think kids are really good at seeing patterns, detecting patterns in the world. I think sometimes they’re better at that than we adults are. I think the problems come in that they’re not as good which patterns are genuine and which ones are not and that’s a lot of what science is about. Trying to sort through and see what relationships are genuine and which ones are not.

10. Jacobsen: You mentioned Trump earlier, president-elect Trump. He also has a vice president-elect, Mike Pence. I did watch the YouTube video of him making a speech. I guess this was in Congress?

Lilienfeld: I think I saw that before too, yes.

Jacobsen: It was an articulate speech but it was ill-informed.

Lilienfeld: Correct. I think he’s really intelligent, I have no doubt he’s an intelligent man, Pence, I don’t doubt that.

Jacobsen: So in a way, his example seems to me to represent some privileges of religion in societies, in all of them which I can tell although that’s a grand claim. For instance, I believe this is not an original point to me, I believe it’s a point Richard Dawkins made some time ago where if you have a child that is labeled a Muslim, Christian or Jewish child, it is labeled as such because the parents have that belief.

Lilienfeld: Yes, I think Dawkins made that point yes.

Jacobsen: Rather than the statement that it’s a child of Christian, Jewish or Muslim parents, which is a more accurate statement.

Lilienfeld: I don’t disagree with him on that point.

Jacobsen: In a way, the privileges of religion in society seem to come out of that. Where they have more time to instantiate their beliefs in children’s minds than formal scientific, logical, statistical education does.

You know this better than me, of course being an educator, you’re dealing with a highly intelligent population coming into Emery University that come into the classroom with preconceptions that generally tend to be supernaturalistic. I think this is well supported by survey data in the United States.

Michael Shermer has documented some of this. As well he has reiterated a proposition from Doctor Carl Sagan, your hero, about the Baloney Detection kit I think it I was, I believe it was a euphemism.

Lilienfeld: Yes, a different word beginning with B that some people might use (laughter).

Jacobsen: That’s right. That seems to me a longer-term impediment and a more systemic one just based in historic inertia.

Lilienfeld: Yes, I think you raise a good point, I think that’s right. I think people are immersed in this way of thinking for in some cases quite early on, from their childhood. And depending on the way they were raised, they may be inculcated from this view by their parents, by their teachers, by their priests and so on.

People, they find that very difficult to break because they have problems. This is what I’ve been hearing for 17, 18 years of my life and, of course, it’s true. I think that’s right. That plays into it as well. I think that the other point to make about someone like Mike Pence is that there is a big difference between intelligence and scientific thinking.

I think one can be a very intelligent person but not know how to think scientifically. I don’t think I knew how to think scientifically when I was a teenager. I think if anything in terms of raw intelligence, I’m probably dumber than I was when I was as a teenager. I think I was able to pick up stuff faster.

My working memory is probably slower than it was back then. But I like to think I’m a little wiser than I was back then because I have scientific thinking skills and I think one can be a very smart person but fall prey to a lot of serious errors in thinking. Evolution and creationism pose particular challenges.

The religious stuff, that’s layered on top of it there. I think there are understandably people who feel threatened by natural selection because they feel. rightly or wrongly, that it threatens some of their cherished religious beliefs.

I think that’s something that those of us who are skeptics communicating with a public, I think we have to be very sensitive to that and realize that we are potentially threatening people’s worldviews. That’s one area that I don’t want to get off topic too much but one area I have disagreements with Dawkins is because I think there is increasing evidence from psychology for what is sometimes called a “worldview backfire effect.”

If you threaten people’s worldviews too strongly, it might not be effective but it might inadvertently produce a boomerang effect where you actually strengthen people’s beliefs inadvertently.

11. Jacobsen: What made Carl Sagan a good science communicator?

Lilienfeld: So many things. I got to meet him a couple of years before he died. One of the thrills of my life was getting to meet him. I got to spend an hour with him with a couple of people. What made him such an effective communicator was a couple things.

First was his remarkable childlike passion for science. I think he just loves science and it oozed out of every pore of his body. It was his childlike enthusiasm. It was utterly contagious. He had such a sense of awe that he was able to communicate more effectively than anyone I have ever seen.

I also think that he was effective because he respected people and he communicated respect. Even when he was disagreeing with people, he always did it, or I think there were a couple exceptions in his career he may have regretted, but as he got older he got better and better at communicating science in a very respectful way even to people who had very different points of view.

I think he understood you have to meet people at their level. And not make people feel stupid. And I think he never had the sense, at least I did and I followed him quite a bit, I saw him speak a number of times in person and on Youtube, and I never had the sense that he was trying to impress you or make himself look smart.

He just wanted to inculcate in you a love of science and a love of nature. And of course, he is also just a damn good speaker and writer. He had a way of putting things poetically so beautiful. I think he also was really good at changing people’s perspectives. I think a great science educator can do that.

Something I try to do as a science educator, I don’t think I’m nearly as successful as Sagan is but maybe I’ll get better at it one day, is someone who can just shift your worldview in a way and make you think about something in a very different way.

So yes I have a little poster on my wall of us being a little pale blue dot and it’s something very simple but just looking at this little dot in space that was taken from millions of miles away and seeing the Earth there, it just puts things at a particular perspective and makes you realize just how fragile, how delicate we are.

And how tiny we really are in the grand scheme of things. Which in some ways some people might find depressing but I actually I find it uplifting? It makes me feel part of the bigger picture, even though I’m not a religious person, it does give me a spiritual feeling in some ways because it makes me feel part of, it makes me understand that we’re all just one tiny little speck in a gigantic cosmos. And also makes me realize we can’t take ourselves for granted which I think we do too often.

12. Jacobsen: What makes psychology science?

Lilienfeld: It’s not all science. It can be a science. I think it depends on how you approach it. I think that’s probably true for anything. I think you can approach biology unscientifically. There are some biologists who are creationists, right.

I think it can be scientific and I think it often is because for me what makes something science is approached. So for me, science is a systematic set of tools that we have developed to minimize confirmation bias and other kinds of biases.

Psychologists, arguably more than some in the hard sciences, understand that point although I think we’re also understanding it better than we used to. So we use research designs, randomized control trials for example in my own field of clinical psychology we used blinding, we use sophisticated data analytical methods.

All of these are partial although admittedly imperfect tools to control for human error and bias and hopefully get us a bit closer to the truth. And the proof is in the pudding I would say. There are some people who will say well nothing in psychology is dependable and replicable and that is of course not true.

Lots of psychological findings can be replicated just fine. Variable ratio schedule like those you see in Las Vegas casinos or Atlantic City casinos. We know those schedules tend to produce the highest rate of responding and findings can be replicable anywhere from humans all the way down to rodents and probably broader than that, pigeons.

There are hundreds of psychological findings that are quite replicable. There are others that once you start getting to things that involve interactions among people, that’s where things get more complicated because you’re dealing with, in physics, they have enough of a problem with the 2 body problem.

In psychology, it’s much more complicated than that. You have people interacting with other people who in turn have lots of different expectations, who in turn influence each other on a moment by moment basis. Of course, human behavior gets much less predictable once you’re dealing with multiple bodies.

Who in turn think about what other bodies are thinking about them who in turn think about what they’re thinking about and so on. So sometimes it amazes me that we can predict anything given how remarkably complex the call systems we work with are.

13. Jacobsen: One question I haven’t thought of before but I think it’s a good one. I mentioned Sir Carl Popper and falsifiability before you mentioned the text as well.

With increasing sophistication in the scanning of the brain and understanding of the central nervous system, is it possible that we can in the future add an additional criterion for psychological science with simulated ability? Where the ability to simulate parts of the brain or aspects of the brain as a whole in the future with (inaudible) power, we could form predictive models and then test those models based on the simulations?

Lilienfeld: Yes I think we will. I think that’s right. I’m not a neuroscientist but I think that’s a great question. I would be very surprised if we could not get close to that. How far we can get, I don’t know but I think that’s right.

Part of the scientific criteria for it to be considered scientific is your ability to get control over a phenomenon. To understand it well enough that you can reproduce it. Simulated ability is probably one way of thinking about that.

If we truly understand the way the mind works, we should be able to come up with the model system that shows some of the same behaviors. How far we can get in that regard, I don’t know. I’m more optimistic than some but I don’t know. We have a long way to go in that regard so we’re going to have to be very patient.

It’s completely safe but the brain is far away the most complex organ in the universe. One thing that impresses me is even with, and again I’m not an expert in artificial intelligence but I read people who are experts, and one thing that really amazes me about the human brain is how that even though they aren’t typically able to play chess as well as the best computers, and they can’t do calculations nearly as well but other remarkably simple things that we take for granted that no computers come close to.

Our ability to infer meaning from sentences is my understanding is that something that computers are quite bad at. You could free them up to look for certain words or things like that but they’re some very simple sentences that a 6 or 7-year-old could understand that even the most advanced computer doesn’t get.

So yes, I think that’s a great question. I wish I had a better answer to it but my answer is I think yes. That’s probably the best I can say.

I think Popper, by the way, his criterion of falsifiability has more or less been falsified. I think it’s a useful criterion in part for distinguishing science from pseudoscience, but I don’t think there’s any single criterion that distinguishes science from pseudoscience.

Jacobsen: A set of principles that form a scaffold for modern science.

Lilienfeld: Yes, I figure it as a family resemblance concept. I don’t think there’s a simple dividing line. Many of the claims of astrology are falsifiable but I wouldn’t call astrology, scientific because it’s falsifiable. Phrenology is falsifiable.

You can falsify it. But I would not call it a science just because you could falsify the claims of phrenology. I think Popper had it partly right. What I do like about Popper, even though I don’t accept his claims that falsifiability is a demarcation criterion, but what I do like is prescriptive implications.

The idea that we should be trying as hard as we can to prove our theories wrong. It’s a good heuristic for scientists to follow in everyday life. I try to follow it but don’t always succeed. It’s a reminder that we should always be working hard to disprove our theories.

That’s probably the best ways of thinking about science. In Richard Feynman’s terms, trying to bend over backward to prove ourselves wrong. There I have a lot of affinity for Popper’s views.

14. Jacobsen: Do you have any recommended resources or books for those with an interest in skepticism, critical thinking, and psychological science?

Lilienfeld: Yes, lots. I don’t know where to start, there are so many good ones. I think you mentioned a lot of the great names. I think Sagan is terrific, Demon-Haunted World is a great book. Michael Shermer, many of his books are excellent. I’m a big fan of Keith Stanovich in Toronto. I think his writings are great.

Tom Gilovich wrote a wonderful book, How I know It Isn’t So, it’s old now, 1991, but it’s still worth reading. And I think even just digging up a lot of copy of Skeptical Inquirer, Skeptic Magazine in almost any issue you can find good ways to think scientifically from any of those.

I think a lot of those would excellent sources. It has really improved a lot. I remember when I first got into the field, there was only a handful of these books and now there’s almost too many of them. It’s a good problem to have.

There’s a lot of wonderful books out there. I thought when I first started maybe I’ll write a book like this but now I don’t need too because I’m not sure I could do any better than any of the books that are out there now.

15. Jacobsen: Thank you very much for your time.

Lilienfeld: I really enjoyed it. We’ll be in touch. Thanks again. Great questions and I really appreciate you taking the time.

Jacobsen: I appreciate your time as well.

Lilienfeld: Thanks again, I really enjoyed it.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1Professor, Psychology, Emory University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: June 22, 2018 at; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018 at

[3] B.A. (1982), Psychology, Cornell University; Ph.D. (1990), Clinical Psychology, University of Minnesota; Clinical Internship (1986-1987), Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld [Online].July 2018; 17(A). Available from:

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, July 1). In Conversation with Professor Scott O. LilienfeldRetrieved from

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld. In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A, July. 2018. <>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A (July 2018).

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘In Conversation with Professor Scott O. LilienfeldIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A. Available from: <>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘In Conversation with Professor Scott O. LilienfeldIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A.,

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 17.A (2018):July. 2018. Web. <>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. In Conversation with Professor Scott O. Lilienfeld [Internet]. (2018, July; 17(A). Available from:

License and Copyright


In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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