Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Is Wikipedia the worst offender in ruining the Rorschach test?

The New York Times lets us know that the Wikipedia entry for "Rorschach test" includes reproductions of all the ink blots (which aren't copyrighted). And watch out -- the whole thing is really dramatic and exciting, as the Times makes sure you're aware by telling you how angry everyone is:

[I]n the last few months, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia has been engulfed in a furious debate involving psychologists who are angry that the 10 original Rorschach plates are reproduced online, along with common responses for each. For them, the Wikipedia page is the equivalent of posting an answer sheet to next year’s SAT.

They are pitted against the overwhelming majority of Wikipedia’s users, who share the site’s “free culture” ethos, which opposes the suppression of information that it is legal to publish....

“The only winners seem to be those for whom this issue has become personal, and who see this as a game in which victory means having their way,” one Wikipedia poster named Faustian wrote on Monday, adding, “Just don’t pretend you are doing anything other than harming scientific research.”

What had been a simmering dispute over the reproduction of a single plate reached new heights in June when James Heilman, an emergency-room doctor from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, posted images of all 10 plates to the bottom of the article about the test, along with what research had found to be the most popular responses for each.

“I just wanted to raise the bar — whether one should keep a single image on Wikipedia seemed absurd to me, so I put all 10 up,” Dr. Heilman said in an interview. “The debate has exploded from there.”
Wow! OK, I understand the psychologists' point. I do think they should consider seeing a psychiatrist about their explosive anger.

But they shouldn't pretend that this is anything new. I've had a book called Big Secrets, by William Poundstone, since the mid '90s. Now, that book isn't as bad as Wikipedia -- it's worse. See, the Wikipedia page gives extremely sparse descriptions of potential answers, like this:
Plate 2 (two humans)
That's Wikipedia's entire description of Plate 2 (aside from reprinting the plate itself). In contrast, the Big Secrets book says this about the same plate:
It is important to see this blot as two human figures -- usually females or clowns. If you don't, it's seen as a sign that you have trouble relating to people. You may give other responses as well, such as cave entrance (the triangular white space between the two figures) and butterfly (the red "vagina," bottom center).

Should you mention the penis and vagina? Not necessarily.... You may not say that the lower red area looks like a vagina, but psychologists assume that what you do say will show how you feel about women. Nix on "crab"; stick with "butterfly."
The book gives similarly revealing analyses for all the plates.

Oh, but isn't it disingenuous of me to suggest that Big Secrets and Wikipedia are equally important? Come on -- Wikipedia is on the internet, and we all know that's what people read these days, right?

First of all, I wish people would be more explicit about their assumptions. If we're supposed to know that intelligent people are more likely to turn to Wikipedia than books for information, then fine -- let's say that openly. But let's also remember that point when it comes time to debate whether Wikipedia is a second-class or first-class source of knowledge.

But anyway, Big Secrets actually is available on the internet -- on Amazon. You can find it by searching for [rorschach], and it's the first result if you search for [rorschach secrets]. From there, you can read all the salacious details about the ink blots, since Amazon allows you to search the book's full text. So let's see the psychologists channel some of their rage against William Poundstone and Amazon.


Jason (the commenter) said...

Now that we can do our own Rorschach tests at home, there's really no reason to see a psychologists anymore is there? Thank goodness they have all that business from hopping our kids up on pills to fall back on.

zdwyatt said...

Thanks for the Poundstone reference. I was able to self-administer the test to myself and learn that I have problems with authority figures. Sweet!