Considered by some to be one of the worst scientific scandals of all time (a crowded field of contenders, that!),
The scandal in question is one I had never heard of before, but the facts are jaw-dropping. Beginning in 1980,
a DrRonald Grossarth-Maticek reported that he had discovered a cancer-prone ’emotionally repressed’ personality. Someone with this personality type was, he claimed, at very high risk of later developing cancer. A second personality type predicted ‘internal diseases’, such as stroke and hypertension. Even more remarkably, Grossarth-Maticek said, a brief course of psychotherapy was enough to virtually eliminate the excess risks. Neuroskeptic, “The Cancer Personality Scandal (Part 1)” at Discover
Some of us remember the spate of sciencey articles that appeared in women’s mags on the cancer-prone personality. It sounded wrong at the time. Many of us knew so many people who had died of cancer who didn’t fit the type at all. Science problems emerged; statistically, the results were just too good to be true:
It might be said that this is all ancient history now, and there is no need for an investigation after so long, but I think this is entirely the wrong attitude. If anything, the fact that these frankly bizarre results are still in the literature (and, as Pelosi points out, still being cited) 30 years later makes the scandal even worse. Neuroskeptic, “The Cancer Personality Scandal (Part 1)” at Discover
Yes, it’s almost on a level with schoolbook Darwinism. Haeckel’s embryos, the most famous fakes in biology, may still be in textbooks somewhere.
Although that instance was debunked, the idea lives. Consider, for example, “Is There a Cancer-Prone Personality?
How you think and act may put you at risk” (Psychology Today, 2014) In 2017, the idea was discredited by a number of studies. Of course, behavior doesaffect cancer. Personality issues may lead a person to smoke but it’s the smoke that matters.
See also: A study of the causes of science skepticism sails right by the most obvious cause of skepticism: Repeated untrustworthiness
That Didn’t Take Long: Darwin’s Man Jerry Coyne Defends Zombie Science
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