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Aug. 1 2009 - 10:03 am | 7 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

The Open-Source Inkblot Problem

Image via The Guardian newspaper

Image via The Guardian newspaper

Up until a few months ago, if you were interested in learning more about the Rorschach test–that oft-parodied psychiatric test consisting of ten amorphous ink marks on a cue card–you could go to the test’s wikipedia page. There you would read about the founder of the test, one Hermann Rorschach, Swiss born. You could learn that the test aims to articulate the psyche based on a patient’s responses to what they make of the indistinct, but associative shapes on the cards. The page did not, however, provide the curious with images of the cards and the most common answers, which can also be interpreted as the answers that psychiatrists have deemed the “correct answers.” These are the answers they want to hear. The ones that most functioning members of society give. They are the visual interpretations that when uttered will quash any suspicion of the patient being a little loopy, harboring affection for a third grade teacher, or being, let’s say, a homicidal maniac.

These images on the wikipedia page are new, thanks to Canadian doctor James Heilman, who uploaded them. Mr. Heilman posted the images and text on wikipedia in response to a debate already taking place on wikipedia over whether one single Rorschach should be removed from the site. So he went to the extreme and posted them all. As he says in The Guardian newspaper, he “wanted to raise the bar.” Psychiatrists went berserk after they were posted.

The posting of the images raises some interesting questions for open-source, wikipedia types of web pages. Is it possible to overshare? Can it be harmful? Should pages like wikipedia be off limits to certain kinds of knowledge? Psychiatrists who are trying to get the images removed from the page claim that their presence renders the test useless. Patients will memorize the answers, they say. It is ironic that this issue just happened to erupt over a psychiatric method. In their professional life, psychiatrists want their patients to share, to open up, and now they find themselves facing a dilemma over that very generosity.

If one goes to the wikipedia page for the Rorschach test now, it says the following:

This page is currently protected from editing until August 6, 2009 or until disputes have been resolved. This protection is not an endorsement of the current version. See the protection policy and protection log for more details. Please discuss any changes on the talk page; you may use the {{editprotected}} template to ask an administrator to make the edit if it is supported by consensus. You may also request that this page be unprotected.

via Testing times for Wikipedia after doctor posts secrets of the Rorschach inkblots | Science | The Guardian

via Rorschach test – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


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  1. collapse expand

    shouldn’t the psychiatrists be able to deduce false answers and look beyond common attempts to “trick” the therapist? why would “correct” answers even be applicable?

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    I am a Brooklyn-based writer and editor covering arts and culture. I was an editor at Art & Antiques magazine, an editor at Picador USA, and an editor for a magazine about coffee and tea. On the best of days, I get to write about art, or work on fiction. My writing can be found on the Huffington Post, The Rumpus, and in Art & Antiques, Art in America, Tin House, Willamette Week, San Francisco magazine, Food Network Magazine, and Fresh Cup magazine. I also write about and promote the arts for Columbia University in New York.

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