The McMaster Model: A Clinical Rating Scale for Insects, Bees, and Termites
The Instrumentalization of the Psy by Science
In 1931, the celebrated mathematician Emile Borel warned of one of the greatest dangers Science poses to humanity:
” The danger would be that of increasingly perfected techniques resulting from the progress of science would fall into the hands of men incapable of understanding them completely, who would use them only as a routine. Perhaps this is what happens to insects, bees, or termites.” [1931; p.768]
E. Borel’s warning is not prophecy, but a descriptive statement of a decline of civilization that is today realized in many fields in the human sciences.
We call this routine use of science that is not interested in – or incapable of accounting for – the effects of its theory and practice, an instrumentalization.
A particularly glaring example can be found under the name of the McMaster Clinical Rating Scale: a hodge-podge of technical phrases and psycho-slogans, MCRS is a popular psychological method of statistical evaluation that follows along the lines of the psycho-bible DSM-IV. Both claim to be a scientifically based descriptive and statistical method, but the McMaster Clinical Rating Scale wants to go further in providing procedures for the implementation of its theory onto people and groups. Its aim is to provide not only psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists, but minors counselors, supervisors, and grad students the ‘psycho-metric’ means – questionnaires, programs, and training – to evaluate the individual and family according to the McMaster scale assessing their fitness to function as parents and productive human beings.
There has been a lot of talk these days on the inadequacies of the DSM in all its versions, but what has not been identified are the ill effects of those modes of practical intervention – testing, evaluation forms, and clinical procedures – that are actually being invented to carry out its mode of psychiatric and psychological profiling.
A critique of these methods and sciences could begin in numerous and obvious ways: one way, is to reject the scientificity of the clinical scales and statistics of these psy-systems. Though we believe there may be a good deal of merit to such a whole sale rejection of such methods, such a rejection does not take into account that there would still be whole legions of professionals who, for whatever reason, would continue to believe in the scientificity of such methods and their effectiveness as an ‘instrument’ for treating the individual.
For this reason, our aim in this article is not to proceed with an epistemological investigation of the DSM or MCRS, but to refocus our attention on how such theories, even if their claims are supported by science, are nonetheless productive of the very dangers they were made to treat once their science is generalized to the population and routinely carried out by professionals who themselves have little understanding of the mathematical and scientific concepts being used.
Our entry is, however, not a sociological critique of the digression of science into technological programs: it is not simply that a science would be pure in theory, but its technological applications and practice at fault. Rather what we will put into focus is how the real question of Science is being avoided both by its instrumental programs and their critique, whether they be epistemological or sociological.
Our intervention is, therefore, not a mere critique of scientific foundations (epistemology) or applications (sociology/ecology), but an investigation into the dangers involved when a critical moment of Science is only approached by such measures. For every instrumental use of psychology, there is a moment of critique: in our modern societies this moment results practically in an ethical committee whose field and point of application comes to bear on the ruptures of an instrumental use of science.
Our position is that such ethical committees, as good intentioned they may be, are inadequate: they are nothing other than sanitary and prophylactic measures – law suits, professional and ethical guidelines, etc. – that come to bear on a professional obligation, while avoiding what is at stake in assuming a theory and practice.
To support our argument, we will focus on one system of evaluation among many, the McMaster Clinical Rating Scale, and show how its effectiveness, if there is any, resides not so much in Science, but in its avoidance and the reliance on the power of an underlying system of elite groups of professionals who have little concern to demonstrate the rigor of a theory or practice. Instead, such instituted uses of Science result in operational routines that no one can take responsibility for, except with regards to a professional and legal obligation that does not directly address the theory and practice of the Science itself. In short, such short sighted approaches to Science confuses its role in progressing a civilization of men and women with the domestication of insects, bees, and termites.
With regard to the instrumentalzation of science warned about by E. Borel, Lacan was explicit with regard to the field of the ‘psy’: “psychology has discovered ways of outliving itself by providing services to technocracy“. (Science and Truth, p.859)
Bright Winter 2013
Santa Monica, CA
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