Ninth Edition CoverGraziano & Raulin
Research Methods (9th edition)

For What Is a Scientist Remembered

Sigmund Freud and E. L. Witmer provide a contrast for students interested in studying the sociology of science. Freud and Witmer were contemporaries in the early 1900s. Both emphasized and developed case-study methods applied to people with psychological problems. Both pushed their colleagues to seek new directions and applications in their professions. 

They also contrasted sharply. Whereas Freud worked with adults and never directly studied or worked with children, Witmer focused his clinical work almost exclusively on children. Freud based his inferences on his clients' verbal self-reports; Witmer included self-reports, but also used more objective medical and psychological testing approaches. Freud never went beyond the clients' self-reports for any corroborating evidence; Witmer sought information from parents, teachers, and others to provide some degree of external validation for his inferences. Freud worked with individual adults, virtually all of whom were economically well-to-do; Witmer worked with individual children across all social classes. 

Both men emphasized case-study methods, but Witmer was more scientifically sophisticated than Freud. Given the apparent superiority of Witmer's approach, the final comparison leaves us with a puzzle. Freud's influence on anthropology, drama, literature, psychiatry, psychology, social work, sociology, and on popular culture generally has been enormous and sustained; Witmer is ordinarily accorded a footnote here and there. It was Freud's enormous contribution to theory, and not his prowess in validating that theory with sophisticated research, that made him such a powerful figure. Some of Freud's inferences were clearly wrong, and he routinely went far beyond the data while developing his theory; but his ideas were stimulating, relevant, and often scientifically testable (see Masling & Bornstein, 1994), even if they were not always right.