Paul E. Meehl

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Paul E. Meehl
Born Paul Everett Meehl
(1920-01-03)3 January 1920
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Died 14 February 2003(2003-02-14) (aged 83)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Citizenship American
Fields Psychology, philosophy of science
Institutions University of Minnesota
Alma mater University of Minnesota
Doctoral advisor Starke R. Hathaway
Doctoral students Harrison G. Gough, William M. Grove, Dante Cicchetti, Donald R. Peterson, George Schlager Welsh
Known for Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, Schizophrenia Genetics, Construct Validity, Clinical vs. Statistical Prediction, Philosophy of Science
Notable awards National Academy of Sciences (1987)
APA Award for Lifetime Contributions to Psychology (1996)
James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award (1998)
Bruno Klopfer Award(1979)

Paul Everett Meehl (3 January 1920 – 14 February 2003) was an American psychology professor. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Meehl as the 74th most cited psychologist of the 20th century, in a tie with Eleanor J. Gibson.[1]


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 chairman of the University of Minnesota Psychology Department at age 31, president of the Midwestern Psychological Association at 34, recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contributor award by the American Psychological Association at 38, and president of that association at age 42. He was promoted to the highest academic position at the University of Minnesota in 1968. He received the Bruno Klopfer Distinguished Contributor Award in personality assessment and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1987.[2]

Meehl was not particularly religious during his upbringing,[2] but collaborated with a group of Lutheran theologians and psychologists to write What, Then, Is Man? (1958).[3] 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 1995, he was a signatory of a collective statement titled Mainstream Science on Intelligence, written by Linda Gottfredson and published in the Wall Street Journal.[4]

In 2005, Donald R. Peterson, a student of Meehl's, published a volume of their correspondence.[5]

Meehl published about 200 articles in his career and was honored with several prestigious awards by his peers.[2]

Philosophy of science[edit]

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).[6]

Meehl with his colleague Lee J. Cronbach introduced the notion of construct validity in psychology, as well as the notion of nomological networks to understand psychological test properties and scientific theorizing and practice.[7]

Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory[edit]

With Starke R. Hathaway, Meehl helped develop the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), including the K scale.[8] Meehl argued that the MMPI could be used to understand personality profiles systematically associated with clinical outcomes, something he termed a statistical (versus a "clinical") approach to predicting behavior.[9][10]

Clinical versus statistical prediction[edit]

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.[11] 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.[12]

Meta-analyses comparing clinical and mechanical prediction efficiency have vindicated Meehl's (1954) claim that mechanical data combination and prediction outperforms clinical combination and prediction.[13][14]


Meehl was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1962. That year, he theorized that schizophrenia had a genetic link.[15]

Applied clinical views and work[edit]

In 1973, Paul Meehl published Why I Do Not Attend Case Conferences.[16] He stated 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, he stated he found case conferences for internal medicine or neurology illuminating, in part because they often contain a pathologist's report about the true disease or cause of disease. In other words, the medical case conference often benefits from having an answer to which the clinical symptoms and signs could be compared and contrasted. Meehl is unsure as to why clinical case conferences do not strive to be at a higher caliber by attempting to include an analogy to the pathologist's report, 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.[16]

Meehl practiced as a clinical psychologist throughout his career. In 1958, Meehl practiced psychoanalysis with Saul Bellow as a patient, while Bellow was an instructor at the University of Minnesota.[17]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ Haggbloom, Steven J.; Warnick, Jason E.; Jones, Vinessa K.; Yarbrough, Gary L.; Russell, Tenea M.; Borecky, Chris M.; McGahhey, Reagan; et al. (2002). "The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century". Review of General Psychology. 6 (2): 139–152. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.139. 
  2. ^ a b c Paul E Meehl (2007). Lindzey G, Runyan WM, ed. A History of Psychology in Autobiography (PDF). 8. American Psychological Association. pp. 337–389. ISBN 978-1-59147-796-9. 
  3. ^ Meehl, Paul E. (1958). What, Then, Is Man?: A Symposium of Theology, Psychology, and Psychiatry. St. Louis (MO): Concordia Publishing House. 
  4. ^ Gottfredson, Linda (December 13, 1994). Mainstream Science on Intelligence. Wall Street Journal, p A18.
  5. ^ Peterson, Donald R. (2005). Twelve Years of Correspondence With Paul Meehl: Tough Notes From a Gentle Genius. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  6. ^ Meehl, Paul E. (1978). "Theoretical risks and tabular asterisks: Sir Karl, Sir Ronald, and the slow progress of soft psychology.". Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 46 (4): 806–834. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.46.4.806. ISSN 0022-006X. 
  7. ^ Cronbach, Lee J.; Meehl, Paul E. (1955). "Construct validity in psychological tests.". Psychological Bulletin. 52 (4): 281–302. doi:10.1037/h0040957. ISSN 0033-2909. 
  8. ^ Meehl, P. E.; Hathaway, S. R. (1946). "The K factor as a suppressor variable in the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.". Journal of Applied Psychology. 30 (5): 525–564. doi:10.1037/h0053634. ISSN 0021-9010. 
  9. ^ Starke Rosecrans Hathaway; Paul Everett Meehl (1951). An atlas for the clinical use of the MMPI. University of Minnesota Press. 
  10. ^ Meehl, Paul E. (1956). "Wanted--a good cook-book.". American Psychologist. 11 (6): 263–272. doi:10.1037/h0044164. ISSN 0003-066X. 
  11. ^ Vrieze, Scott I.; Grove, William M. (2009). "Survey on the use of clinical and mechanical prediction methods in clinical psychology.". Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 40 (5): 525–531. doi:10.1037/a0014693. ISSN 1939-1323. 
  12. ^ Paul Meehl (1 February 2013). Clinical Versus Statistical Prediction: A Theoretical Analysis and a Review of the Evidence. Echo Point Books & Media. ISBN 978-0-9638784-9-6. 
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ White, M. J. (2006). "The Meta-Analysis of Clinical Judgment Project: Fifty-Six Years of Accumulated Research on Clinical Versus Statistical Prediction Stefania Aegisdottir". The Counseling Psychologist. 34 (3): 341–382. doi:10.1177/0011000005285875. ISSN 0011-0000. 
  15. ^ Meehl, Paul E. (1962). "Schizotaxia, schizotypy, schizophrenia.". American Psychologist. 17 (12): 827–838. doi:10.1037/h0041029. ISSN 0003-066X. 
  16. ^ a b Meehl, P.E. (1973). Psychodiagnosis: Selected papers. Minneapolis (MN): University of Minnesota Press, p. 225-302.
  17. ^ Menand, Louis (May 11, 2015). "Young Saul". The New Yorker. New York, NY. Retrieved October 18, 2016. 

External links[edit]

Educational offices
Preceded by
Neal E. Miller
71st President of the American Psychological Association
Succeeded by
Charles E. Osgood