Meehl, P.E. (1973). Psychodiagnosis: Selected papers. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

From the author's preface.

One final word. I am quite aware that the questions examined in these papers are not of the sort that "turn on" the majority of our current crop of clinical psychology trainees. This is not the place to discuss the deep social forces that underlie those frequent changes in problem definition (and what would count as an acceptable problem solution) regrettably so characteristic of the inexact sciences. What fledgling clinicians want to talk and hear about today, and why, deserves a whole book in its own right. I shall content myself with saying that the concerns of most of our young clinicians seem to me to reflect their understandable and valid protest against a dominant cultural ethos which is neither rational nor humane, together with personal preoccupations which, so far as I can discern, are not fundamentally different from those which "bugged" us who were in doctoral training programs thirty years ago. We, like them, were as young people intensely concerned with what Hesse (The glass bead game) succinctly conjoins as "the struggle for position and the search for love." I am unable to see any really important differences, of either quality or quantity, between our generation and theirs in this respect. These two regnant motives appeared to me, whether openly expressed or thinly disguised, in the graduate students of 1940-45; and they appear to me the same way in the present crop. Nor can I discern a major qualitative or quantitative difference in the matter of "social awareness" or "rejection of the establishment." It puzzles me when I hear a twenty-three-year-old Ph.D. candidate complain that he doesn't find neuroanatomy "relevant" and can't make himself study it conscientiously because of the mess the world is in. I am willing to defend the proposition that those of us who, in our teens and young adulthood, were confronted with the Great Depression (my father killed himself as a result of it), the rise of world fascism, and the degeneration of the socialist ideal under Stalin's bloody tyranny lived in a world that was in pretty much of a mess; and those of us with any brains and social awareness were, as I retrospect, fully aware of this social fact. I have not as yet seen a psychological or sociological analysis of the "commitment problems" of the present generation that strikes me as persuasive. But graduate students, as a class, are of course "committed" to some minimal degree or they would not be graduate students. The biggest difference I see between my generation of fledgling clinicians and the current group is not a difference in personal motivations, or ambition, or altruism, or awareness of the world outside academia. Rather it is a difference in what kind of subject matter mobilizes their intellectual passions. In this respect I permit myself what may sound like a reactionary comment, but I want to lay my cards on the table. It seems to me that one characteristic of a first-rate intellect is that it demands a complex, difficult, abstract subject matter to grapple with in order to be fully alive. Natural-born mesomorphic athletes seem to "need" vigorous exercise. Creators in the arts report that they "need" to write music or paint pictures or write sonnets, and would do so even if they knew beforehand that their productions would never be appreciated or never even be seen or heard by anybody else. Analogously, I believe that first-class abstract ideator types "need" something complicated to think about, some conceptual food for thought. And I confess that the subjects which seem to interest many clinical students of the present generation are, whatever their ethical or political importance, just not subjects capable of commanding the prolonged and intense focus of an able mind. I shall no doubt be told that I am wrong about this, but I can't help it. It is hard for me to understand how persons with a Ph.D. in psychology can find it intellectually exhilarating to repeat "The patient seems to be relating well to the patients in our therapeutic community" 250 times a year, despite variation in terminology. The conceptual matter with which many of our students (and, unfortunately, some of our faculty) occupy themselves is I submit, a rather dismal intellectual repast of stale bread and flat beer. You may say, "Well, what of it? What social relevance does it have whether or not the dominant themes of clinical psychology are exciting to the first-rate intellects among our students?" My response to this query is somewhat conjectural, but not without historical analogies that are disturbing. As I read the record, it is possible for the cognitive character of a field to degenerate (or merely stagnate) to such an extent that the field no longer attracts able persons. I suppose the most dramatic example of this in Western culture is theology. For many centuries, the ablest minds in our culture were theologians. And this was true, for England at least, even up into the early nineteenth century, witness Sir Francis Galton's finding that a remarkably high proportion of English eminent scholars and scientists were the sons of clergymen. It is a matter of common knowledge that this is no longer true, at least so far as Protestantism is concerned (I do not happen to have any data or impressions with regard to the Roman or Eastern churches). The Protestantism ministry today attracts almost no first-rate brains, and this is so overwhelming a tendency that when a large doctoral training program in psychology - to which a fair number of clergy or ex-clergy are attracted these days - finds a clergyman of high intellectual ability and cognitive zeal, it is a subject for amazed comment among the faculty ("Why, believe e it or not, I actually have a preacher in my course who isn't dumb!"). The differences in average intellectual level in various graduate study fields are too well known to require documentation, and I shall avoid making those invidious comparisons which all informed readers know about as well as I. It is also commonly believed, by students and faculty alike, that a pronounced circular influence operates here, in that the presence of numerous mediocrities tends to render even a potentially interesting subject matter dull to the bright and super-bright. This in turn means that the intellectual level of the rejected field is likely to remain low, or even to sink lower. I am reliably informed that it is a matter of grave concern to socially conscious business executives that the intellectually ablest college majors in economics and business administration are today showing a pronounced disinclination to enter the business world upon graduation; and it goes without saying that in a society like ours, a dearth of incisive and creative minds among the power elite of the business community could have very bad social consequences. Point: Whether the subject matter of clinical psychology includes substantive and methodological content capable of engaging the passionate attention of high-caliber intelligences is not merely a matter of academic interest or personal snobbery. In the long run, it is likely to have a profound effect upon the statistical composition of the discipline's teachers, investigators, and practitioners. If, as I suppose, clinical psychology is (as Einstein once said about physics) "too hard for us," and if, as I think at least plausible, some of the problems considered in this collection of essays will resist solution unless the field experiences some powerful conceptual "breakthroughs," then it is of supreme importance that we present to advanced undergraduate students and beginning graduate students who are making career decisions a subject matter capable of attracting and holding the interest of a least a few persons sufficiently bright, creative, clearheaded, and intellectually passionate to make such conceptual breakthroughs. Furthermore, given the shortage of mental health personnel and the squeeze on the taxpayer's dollar, it is hardly justifiable to put would-be psychological helpers through eight years (and more) of higher education in order to render them capable of propounding such earthshaking truths as "The patient is a person" or "Successful psychotherapy is a growth process." If one really believes that there is no appreciable validity in the existing corpus of psychological knowledge that bears upon mental health problems, as to either substance or method, then the obvious conclusion is that we should liquidate our training programs and turn to making an honest living selling shoes. I record my prediction that this "thin-beer phase" of clinical psychology is a passing fad, and that the kinds of topics to which these collected papers address themselves will again become the focus of serious attention. (pp. xviii-xxi)