I think a fun fact about me is that the first time I ever contemplated being a psychologist (of any type, too) was when I started getting into serial killers. God, I was such a nerd about serial killer facts. I could tell you all about Ted Bundy’s upbringing, John Wayne Gacy’s crimes, Jeffrey Dahmer’s near miss with the police. I wanted to be a criminal psychologist. I wanted to be a profiler.
Now, I see what John Douglas does as a whole bunch of Freudian guesswork on par with dream interpretations and his id/ego/superego.
Aka, a whole bunch of bunk.
I literally just listened to a book by Malcolm Gladwell where he included a piece on Douglas that talked about the issues of profiling. (Link here.) I was impressed with how he covered why profiling is so cool and captures our minds — look at the popularity of shows like Criminal Minds and Mindhunter, the latter based off of Douglas’ life and work — and why it’s just wrong.
Profiling takes highly unstable factors and pretends that their stable. It also makes highly variable statements that contradict one another so that if one’s right, holy shit, this is amazing!!
I took a class where we talked about psychopathy. We spent no time talking about profiling. We just talked about stable factors that have been found and verified through studies. Why? Because it’s not verifiable. Douglas even mentioned that you can’t take profiling and look at it to create an algorithm. Since he was reading it, he sounded almost proud that a human beat a machine. However, if you can’t create some sort of algorithm to help make predictions, doesn’t it mean that the predictions are likely, well, unpredictable and made up?
The most I can say for this book is that if I had read it a few years ago, I would have found it amazing. Now, I know that profiling is impressive but that’s just because it’s someone playing psychic but with a cloak of legitimacy surrounding it.