U regents’ psychology proffessor beckoned bright minds

by Lee Billings

Paul Everett Meehl, a retired University regents’ professor of psychology, died last Friday at his Minneapolis home after battling chronic myelomonocytic leukemia. He was 83.

Meehl’s colleagues said his strong influence beckoned bright minds to study with him at the University.

“He was clearly one of the stellar minds in psychology – he was one of the reasons I came to the University of Minnesota when I did,” University psychology professor Tom Bouchard said. “The chance to be next door to somebody that brilliant is something you can’t turn down.”

The native Minnesotan received his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from the University.

Described by colleagues as a Renaissance man with a phenomenal memory, Meehl published papers in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, law, political science and religious studies.

Throughout his long career, Meehl wasn’t afraid to challenge convention, colleagues said.

“He had a knack for being right even when it wasn’t popular,” said University psychology professor William Grove, a former student of Meehl’s. Grove also said he came to the University largely because of Meehl.

In 1954, Meehl published his treatise “Clinical and Statistical Prediction: A Theoretical Analysis and Review of the Evidence,” which he later called “my disturbing little book.” The book showed that clinicians’ diagnoses were inferior to, or at best equivalent with, predictions made by statistical formulas. Meehl’s conclusion that formulas were superior sparked a nationwide scandal among his psychologist peers.

Meehl’s genetic theory of schizophrenia shook established ideas in 1962. “This was when environmentalism and blaming mom was all the rage,” Grove said. “He said (schizophrenia) was genetic when it was a very unpopular viewpoint in America.”

Both works are still highly regarded and cited today.

As a graduate student, Meehl began work on the early stages of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory – a personality test – and eventually authored one of its principle measuring scales.

Later in life, he developed new methods of statistical analysis such as cliometric metatheory and taxometrics, used for rigorously testing scientific theories.

Among his many appointments, Meehl was the former chairman of the psychology department, former president of the American Psychological Association and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His collection of honors includes fellowships, honorary degrees and lifetime achievement awards from multiple national organizations.

Meehl retired in 1990, but continued teaching with Grove until December 2002.

Meehl is survived by his wife Leslie Jane Yonce, a daughter, a son, and three grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife Alyce Roworth Meehl.

No funeral or memorial service is planned. Meehl’s family requests no flowers, cards, calls or visitors.