The Journal of Comparative Psychology (JCP): A Network Analysis of the Status of Comparative Psychology
Lahham, Daniel Elias
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Abstract Comparative psychology‟s relationship to various other sub-disciplines and scientific “movements” has been discussed by many scholars throughout its history. The majority of these analyses took the form of frequency counts of the different subject species used within scientific periodicals (Schneirla, 1946; Beach, 1950; Dukes, 1960; Lockard, 1971) and presented similar conclusions: rats were the most commonly researched organism and the study of learning was the key to understanding behavior. The most popular of these critiques was Frank Ambrose Beach‟s “The Snark was a Boojum” (1950). Beach argued that comparative psychology, with the advent of behaviorism, slowly became a discipline focused only on rat learning in mazes. Donald Dewsbury (1984) responded to these discussions claiming that frequency counts alone could not depict the success and failures of the comparative discipline. Instead, he argued that comparative psychology maintained a historically continuous tradition of excellence off the efforts of a small group of prominent comparative psychologists. In this study, I attempted to “bridge” the gap between these two competing views of the comparative discipline in order to view the legitimacy of both claims. Using network analysis, a tool common to digital history, I investigated metadata (organism studied, scientist, institution) from the Journal of Comparative Psychology during the period of 1911 to 1950. I found that both arguments were partially correct in their assertions. Comparative research was being conducted by a small group of prominent scientists throughout the entire four-decade period on many more species other than the rat; however, the broader comparative discipline was heavily impacted by the influx of research on learning in rats. In both cases, the authors inadvertently focused solely on their own claims, and failed to recognize the validity of the other.