Published by the MIT News Office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.
'COOKED' DATA The Faults and Frauds of Freud by Eugene F. Mallove Sigmund Freud "cooked" data and launched the pseudo-scientific psychoanalysis movement, contends historian of science Dr. Frank J. Sulloway in a paper that he delivered at the AAAS annual meeting last month. Dr. Sulloway is a visiting scholar at MIT in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society. An expert on Freud, whose book Freud, Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend (Basic, 1979) won the prestigious Pfizer Award of the History of Science Society in 1980, Sulloway has extended his earlier views in light of his more recent historical research. He says, "The supreme irony is that Freud developed concepts like censorship and repression and clinical attempts to overcome their supposedly pathogenic effects through psychotherapy. In fact, the history of Freud's movement illustrates these general distorting tendencies--censorship and repression--with a clarity and tendentiousness that are frankly extraordinary in the history of science." Nor in Dr. Sulloway's view has the distortion been only in Freud's legend. He says, "Freud's case histories are rampant with censorship, distortions, highly dubious 'reconstructions,' and exaggerated claims. Moreover, Freud's choice of cases to publish is highly unusual." According to Dr. Sulloway, of Freud's six principal case histories, one involved a patient who fled therapy in disgust after only three months, two were not actually treated by him, and another involved no real therapy. Of the patients actually treated by Freud, only two involved purported cures, claims Sulloway. "Based on one of these patient's subsequent testimony, his 'cure' was a complete misrepresentation of the facts," he says. It wasn't easy for Sulloway to get to the truth about these cases, because, as he says, "The destruction of history was an essential part of becoming and remaining a great hero in the eyes of posterity. Freud actively cultivated the 'unknowable' about himself in order to set himself apart from the nonheroic component of humanity." Among other deeds to that end, Freud destroyed personal documents. His followers also decreed that some correspondence could not be seen until sometime in the 21st and 22nd centuries. Why did Freud publish seemingly fraudulent case histories? "Not because he considered them the empirical 'pillars' of psychoanalysis, as some analysts have claimed. Rather, the case histories served other crucial functions, including Freud's progressive substitution of rhetoric for evidence and his efforts to induce readers, including patients, to abandon 'resistance' to his theories," says Dr. Sulloway. Sulloway notes that Freud believed that psychoanalysis could never be learned simply from published case histories. As Freud increasingly argued, to learn psychoanalysis required a personal analysis. "Unlike training procedures used in the natural sciences, however, those developed within psychoanalysis were increasingly divorced from the open peer criticism associated with education within universities and medical schools," observes Dr. Sulloway. Psychoanalytic education increasingly took shelter within privately controlled institutes. "Freud's training methods therefore represent a backward step toward the kind of learning based on authority and secrecy that typified scholasticism and alchemy prior to the Scientific Revolution. Ultimately, Freud's decision to privatize and socially construct the analytic training process reflects serious methodological shortcomings inherent in psychoanalysis itself," claims Sulloway. Dr. Sulloway's earlier work on Freud, he says, "emphasized the insufficiently appreciated continuity between Freud's earlier career as a biologist and neurophysiologist." Sulloway has argued that Freud's most essential psychoanalytic concepts were based on erroneous out-of- date assumptions from 19th century biology. "Bad biology spawned bad psychology," he writes. "Freud erected his psychoanalytic edifice on a kind of intellectual quicksand, a circumstance that consequently doomed many of his most important theoretical conclusions from the outset." Dr. Sulloway's recent paper on Freud will be published in the June issue of the journal of the history of science, Isis. Sulloway has also written extensively on the life of Charles Darwin and is engaged in a major study of revolutionary temperament in science. In 1984, he was awarded a five-year MacArthur Fellowship.