I just saw on Philos-l the announcement of an event to discuss the scientific status of psychoanalysis. It seems to be organized by the "Institute of Psychoanalysis", so I have no idea how impartial the discussion will be (I am not familiar with the work of any of the speakers either). It is of course an old Popperian question, but given that Popper's conception of science is no longer particularly endorsed, I was wondering if people have thoughts on the scientific status of psychoanalysis given current conceptions of science. I tend to think that the answer is simply NO, but it is worth debating.
As it turns out, psychoanalysis and Freudian views are still widely influential, so it is important, I think, to establish the extent to which they satisfy current standards of scientific rigor. I have in mind in particular debates on how long it is 'healthy' to be breastfeeding a child. The conception that, after a certain point (when, actually? In my experience, claims go from 6 months to, say, 2 years-old), it is no longer healthy to breastfeed a child is very widespread. The claim is that it will cause developmental and emotional problems in the child, and that it is a sign that there is something 'wrong' with the mother, i.e. that she has issues with 'letting go'. These views still permeate much of the (popular) debates on the ideal length for breastfeeding, but to this day I have never seen real evidence showing that it will indeed cause problems in the child, and that it does reveal psychic problems in the mother (always, systematically). All I've seen is anecdotal evidence, and appeals to Freudian authority (or the authority of some of his distinguished followers). To be sure, I certainly won't deny that, at least in some cases, it may cause problems for the child and it does reveal something about the mother's psychic health, but my general take is that, in such cases, breastfeeding for an 'excessively' long time would just be one aspect of a much more complex situation of emotional imbalance. It is not long-term breastfeeding as such that would be the sole cause of problems for the child; rather, the relation of causation seems to be the inversed one. But it remains of course highly contentious to claim that every case of long-term breastfeeding would reveal emotional problems; what about populations where (traditionally at least) long-term breastfeeding is common practice, also for nutritional reasons?
Anyway, my point here is not about breastfeeding in particular, and I am also not defending long-term breastfeeding as such (personally, I think it can become too much of physical burden for some women after a certain point, but that's a different issue). I am just saying that the usual Freudian arguments against it, still highly influential, simply do not appear to be properly substantiated. And yet they have a real impact in people's lives, so it would be important to be clear on the scientific status and warrant of many of the influential Freudian conceptions still around.
Does anyone have thoughts they would like to share?