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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Goldwater Rule: Red Line or Guideline?

Scott O. Lilienfeld, , Joshua D. Miller, Donald R. Lynam
Perspectives on Psychological Science 
Vol 13, Issue 1, pp. 33 - 35
First Published October 13, 2017

The decades following Miller’s (1969) call for psychological scientists to “give psychology away” have witnessed a growing recognition that we need to do more to communicate our knowledge to the general public (Kaslow, 2015; Lilienfeld, 2012). But should there be limits on the nature of this communication? The Goldwater Rule, which expressly forbids psychiatrists from commenting on the mental health of public figures whom they have not directly examined, answers this query in the affirmative; as we observed in our article (Lilienfeld, Miller, & Lynam, 2017), this rule has been de facto adopted by psychology.

We appreciate the opportunity to respond to two commentators who raise thoughtful qualifications and objections to our thesis, which holds that the Goldwater Rule is antiquated and premised on dubious scientific assumptions.  We are pleased that both scholars concur with us that the direct interview assumption—the principal empirical linchpin of the Goldwater Rule—is contradicted by large bodies of psychological research.

(cut to the conclusion)

Psychologists should typically refrain from proffering diagnostic judgments regarding public figures. Such judgments boost the risk of inaccurate ‘arm chair' diagnoses and of damaging the reputation of public figures and the profession at large.  At the same time, there is scant justification for a categorical ban on this practice, especially because psychologists can at times offer diagnostic information that bears to some degree on the question of individuals’ suitability for high public office.  We therefore recommend reformulating the 'Goldwater Rule” as the 'Goldwater Guideline.’  Such a change would underscore the wisdom of discretion with respect to statements concerning the diagnostic status of public figures but remind psychologists that such statements can be useful and even advisable within limits.

The article is here.