There are tests that have right answers, which are returned with a number on top in a red circle, and there are tests with open-ended questions, which provide insight into the test taker’s mind.
The Rorschach test, a series of 10 inkblot plates created by the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach for his book “Psychodiagnostik,” published in 1921, is clearly in the second category.
Yet in the last few months, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia has been engulfed in a furious debate involving psychologists who are angry that the 10 original Rorschach plates are reproduced online, along with common responses for each. For them, the Wikipedia page is the equivalent of posting an answer sheet to next year’s SAT.
They are pitted against the overwhelming majority of Wikipedia’s users, who share the site’s “free culture” ethos, which opposes the suppression of information that it is legal to publish. (Because the Rorschach plates were created nearly 90 years ago, they have lost their copyright protection in the United States.)
“The only winners seem to be those for whom this issue has become personal, and who see this as a game in which victory means having their way,” one Wikipedia poster named Faustian wrote on Monday, adding, “Just don’t pretend you are doing anything other than harming scientific research.”
What had been a simmering dispute over the reproduction of a single plate reached new heights in June when James Heilman, an emergency-room doctor from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, posted images of all 10 plates to the bottom of the article about the test, along with what research had found to be the most popular responses for each.
“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,” Dr. Heilman said in an interview. “The debate has exploded from there.”
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Psychologists have registered with Wikipedia to argue that the site is jeopardizing one of the oldest continuously used psychological assessment tests.
While the plates have appeared on other Web sites, it was not until they showed up on the popular Wikipedia site that psychologists became concerned.
“The more test materials are promulgated widely, the more possibility there is to game it,” said Bruce L. Smith, a psychologist and president of the International Society of the Rorschach and Projective Methods, who has posted under the user name SPAdoc. He quickly added that he did not mean that a coached subject could fool the person giving the test into making the wrong diagnosis, but rather “render the results meaningless.”