Paul E. Meehl
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|Paul E. Meehl|
|Born||Paul Everett Meehl
3 January 1920
|Died||14 February 2003(aged 83)|
|Fields||Psychology, Philosophy of science|
|Institutions||University of Minnesota|
|Alma mater||University of Minnesota|
|Known for||Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory|
Paul Everett Meehl (3 January 1920—14 February 2003) was an American psychology professor.
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Meehl attended University of Minnesota, earning his bachelor's degree in 1941 and his doctorate in 1945. He went on to teach there throughout his career, with faculty appointments in psychology, law, psychiatry, neurology and philosophy.
Meehl was a leading philosopher of science. He was a follower of Sir Karl Popper's Falsificationism and a strident opponent of using statistical null hypothesis testing for the evaluation of scientific theory. He believed that null hypothesis testing was partly responsible for the lack of progress in many of the "scientifically soft" areas of psychology (e.g. clinical, counseling, social, personality, and community).
Meehl helped develop the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), specifically the "k" scale.
His 1954 book Clinical vs. Statistical Prediction: A Theoretical Analysis and a Review of the Evidence, analyzed the claim that mechanical (formal, algorithmic) methods of data combination outperformed clinical (e.g., subjective, informal, "in the head") methods when such combinations are used to arrive at a prediction of behavior. The analysis favored mechanical modes of combination and caused a considerable stir amongst clinicians. Meehl (1954) argued that mechanical methods of prediction would, used correctly, make more efficient decisions about patients' prognosis and treatment. Still today, however, clinicians make such decisions based on their professional judgment, that is, they combine all kinds of information "in their head" and arrive at a conclusion/prediction about a patient. Meehl (1954) theorized that clinicians would make more mistakes than a mechanical prediction tool created for a similar decision purpose. Mechanical prediction methods are simply a mode of combination of data to arrive at a decision/prediction concerning the emission of behavior. Mechanical prediction does not exclude any type of data from being combined. Indeed, mechanical prediction tools often incorporate clinical judgments, properly coded, in their predictions. The defining characteristic is that, once the data to be combined is given, the mechanical tool will make a prediction that is 100% reliable. That is, it will make exactly the same prediction for exactly the same data every time. Clinical prediction, on the other hand, does not guarantee this.
A meta-analysis comparing clinical and mechanical prediction efficiency vindicates Meehl's (1954) claim that mechanical data combination and prediction outperforms clinical combination and prediction.
Meehl was also a devout Lutheran in his early life, and collaborated with a group of Lutheran theologians and psychologists to write What, Then, Is Man? (1958). This project was commissioned by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod through Concordia Seminary. The project explored both orthodox theology, psychological science, and how Christians (Lutherans, in particular) could responsibly function as both Christians and psychologists without betraying orthodoxy or sound science and practice.
In 1973, Paul Meehl published Why I Do Not Attend Case Conferences. He states that his main reason for not attending case conferences is that he feels that they are intellectually unstimulating and boring, sometimes to the point of being offensive. In contrast, case conferences for internal medicine or neurology he finds illuminating. Meehl is unsure as to why clinical case conferences do not strive to be at a higher caliber, and feels that this is a promising area of research. He uses this paper as a platform to air his grievances and provide some recommendations to make the process more useful to those attending conferences. In the first part of the paper, Meehl directly identified problems and fallacies that he noticed in the case conference setting, with catchy names for easy reference. In the second part of the paper he proposes a format for case conferences that includes data provided for discussion, and a subset of data revealed at the end to show whether inferences about the patient's diagnosis through the dialogue were in fact correct. Why I Do Not Attend Case Conferences brings up the issue of clinical versus actuarial judgment, and the fact that clinical decision making, in case conferences and other environments, is often not very accurate. More generally, Meehl's paper encourages clinicians to be humble when it comes to skills used in decision making, and pushes for a higher scientific standard for clinical case conferences.
Meehl published about 200 articles in his career and was honored with several prestigious awards by his peers.
Selected works 
- Paul E. Meehl (1978) Theoretical Risks and Tabular Asterisks: Sir Karl, Sir Ronald, and the Slow Progress of Soft Psychology Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 46, pp. 806–834.
- Kenneth MacCorquodale, Paul E. Meehl (1948) ON A DISTINCTION BETWEEN HYPOTHETICAL CONSTRUCTS AND INTERVENING VARIABLES Classics in the History of Psychology, retr. 22 Aug 2011.
- Paul E. Meehl (1956) Wanted—A good cookbook. American Psychologist, 11, 263-272
- Grove, W.M., Zald, D.H., Hallberg, A.M., Lebow, B., Snitz, E., & Nelson, C. (2000). Clinical versus mechanical prediction: A meta-analysis. Psychological Assessment, 12, 19–30.
- Meehl, Paul E. (1958). What, Then, Is Man?: A Symposium of Theology, Psychology, and Psychiatry. St. Louis (MO): Concordia Publishing House.
- Meehl, P.E. (1973). Psychodiagnosis: Selected papers. Minneapolis (MN): University of Minnesota Press, p. 225-302.
- Gottfredson, Linda (December 13, 1994). Mainstream Science on Intelligence. Wall Street Journal, p A18.
- Peterson, Donald R. (2005). Twelve Years of Correspondence With Paul Meehl: Tough Notes From a Gentle Genius. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.