July 29, 2009

Rorschach tiff: The answer key is online

Psychologists say the posting of 10 Rorschach inkblot tests in the online U.S. encyclopedia Wikipedia will make the psychological evaluations meaningless.

Just don't pretend you are doing anything other than harming scientific research, a Wikipedia poster named Faustian wrote on the entry's discussion page.

The dispute flared last month when James Heilman, an emergency room doctor from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, posted images of all 10 inkblots at the bottom of the collaborative encyclopedia's Rorschach entry, along with what research had found to be the most popular responses for each.

The entry originally showed a single inkblot.

I just wanted to raise the bar -- whether one should keep a single image on Wikipedia seemed absurd to me, so I put all 10 up, Heilman told The New York Times. The debate has exploded from there.

Psychologists argue on the discussion page that the images and most frequent responses are jeopardizing one of the oldest continuously used psychological assessment tests.

The more test materials are promulgated widely, the more possibility there is to game it, International Society of the Rorschach and Projective Methods President Bruce Smith, who has posted under the user name SPAdoc, told the Times.

Smith told the newspaper the posting could render the results meaningless.

Rendering them meaningless would be particularly painful to psychologists, Smith said, because tens of thousands of papers have been written seeking to link a patient's responses to certain psychological conditions.

New inkblots could be created, but some psychologists argue they would not have the normative data that lets the answers to be put into a larger context.