Volume 5, Issue 4
The letter-to-the-editor from Bill Emerson brings up a central problem we face in editing PPPJ. How do we evaluate the scientific value of personal, phenomenological reports? If you have been following my discussion of the role of journals in fostering good science, you will recall that I believe good science is grounded upon direct experience what the phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl, called a "return to the things themselves." The all-too-common answer to the question of the relevance of personal experiences in scientific circles has been to exclude personal experience reports as unscientific and "psychologistic."
The bias in logical positivist science has been to "objectify" facts so that anyone can collect them and agree upon their value relative to theories. As a consequence, any approach to psychological knowledge that smacked of "introspectionism" became excluded from most major paradigms in science (see W. Lyons' book, The Disappearance of Introspection, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986). To this day you will find antiintrospectionist ideology repeated like a litany in otherwise valuable books on psychology and consciousness. For example, check out Gerald M. Edelman's excellent book, The Remembered Past: A Biological Theory of Consciousness (New York: Basic Books, 1989, p. 21).
One of the unfortunate repercussions of excluding personal experience from the scientific enterprise has been the production of a biomedical model of human nature that has treated the human body as a machine, rather than as a conscious being (see e.g. Dr. Robbie DavisFloyd's two-part article in the spring and fall, 1990, issues of PPPJ). The task of restoring a balanced perspective on pre- and perinatal life requires that we give as much significance as data to reports of internal experience as we do, say, to experiments on the long-term effects of drugs and the history of midwifery.
But that said, what standards do we apply to editorially evaluating a phenomenological report? What do we tell the author that will allow them to really "tighten up a submitted paper?" If it is a more traditional psychological experimental report, we can always tell them to toe the APA line, but what line does a phenomenologist toe? We can always verify the valid use of a statistical measure, but how do we verify an introspective insight?
Part of the answer must be philosophical. That is because a false conceptual schizm still exists between the supposed esotericism of introspective reports and the supposed exotericism of "real" scientific observations. I will have more to say about this key philosophical problem in future editorials. In fact, next issue's editorial will discuss Ken Wilber's view that phenomenology and science share a process of inquiry involving injunction, apprehension and communal confirmation. If you want to get the jump on me, read Wilber's book, A Sociable God: Toward a New Understanding of Religion.
But let me suggest a few more concrete criteria (in addition to the usual editorial ones like relevance to readership, quality of writing, appropriate APA format, etc.) by which we may evaluate reports of personal experience as scientific data:
1. Reports are genuinely phenomenological. To what extent is the report self-reflexive? Is the author not only describing her experience, but also uncovering something new and interesting about the general structure of experience (i.e., causality, organization, psychological repercussions, universal aspects, etc.)?
2. Reports are of either novel or of a replication of novel experience. The report should either describe some new dimension of human experience, some new aspect of previously described experience, or an attempt (successful or unsuccessful) to replicate another author's novel experience. Previously described experiences may be redescribed to bolster an argument or make some new theoretical point.
3. Reports should relate to the literature in the appropriate field. The author should be explicit about how his report ties in with the rest of the literature in the field. This does not mean the report must contain a complete literature review, but rather should indicate that the author is well versed in the appropriate literature, and should make it possible for the reader to access that literature.
4. Reports should relate experience (as data) to the ongoing process of theory construction. Science is the process of theory-building in relation to observations about the self and world. How does the report relate to relevant theory in the appropriate field? For example, how do the author's experiences during her puerperium relate to current theoretical controversies about mother-infant bonding?
5. Reports should include all relevant conditions that may have combined to produce the experience. The author should report all the conditions (e.g., injunctions, contexts, prior conditions, expectations, etc.) that produced the experience being described. It should be ideally possible for other individuals to replicate the experience by reproducing the conditions given. For example, it might be relevant to a description of a water birth to describe the ambient temperature, as well as the temperature, salinity, etc. of the water, the nature (size, material, source, etc.) of the container, prior training, availability and style of guidance, etc.
These are but a few of the possible guidelines we might use to evaluate reports of personal experiences for a scientific journal. I would be interested in hearing your suggestions for additional guidelines. Or perhaps you disagree with some of the ones I have mentioned, or would like to elaborate upon them. As with the previous discussions of "good science" in these editorials, I invite your comments, and will publish them as letters-to-the-editor.
As an aside, I would like to mention that some of you have sent me notices of events and meetings for publication in PPPJ. You are probably not aware that I am putting this issue of the journal "to bed" seven months or more before you receive your copy. It is perhaps better to use the Sharing Space for more general or long-term announcements, and send more current announcements to our PPPANA newsletter, the Pre- and Peri-Natal Psychology News, at its editorial office, 820 Northfield Road, Colorado Springs, CO 80919, USA.
This issue features the usual full and eclectic range of topics. Susan McKay, R.N., Ph.D. discusses the empowering effect of childbirth upon women, and Michael Trout, Ph.D., the Director of the Infant-Parent Institute in Champaign, IL, presents four case studies of women who both had borderline mothers and suffered perinatal depression. Ervin S. Batchelor, Jr., Ph.D., and his associates then present further data supporting the correlation of various perinatal risk factors with later emotional and behavioral problems in the child and adolescent. Elizabeth Bryan, M.D., reports from London upon techniques used to alleviate bereavement in families that have lost a twin, and Antonio Madrid, Ph.D. and Melissa Schwartz, Ph.D., clinical psychologists in California, discuss the correlation of interruptions in mother-infant bonding with pediatric asthma. Finally, Drs. Ian Zagon and Patricia McLaughlin report on findings pertaining to the perinatal opioid syndrome.