How Swedes were fooled by one of the biggest scientific bluffs of our time.
Dan Katz, licensed psychologist and psychotherapist, explains why Thomas Erikson’s success with his book Surrounded by Idiots is one of the biggest pseudoscience scandals in recent history. This version was translated in to English and edited by David Sumpter, professor of mathematics at Uppsala University.
Over the last few years, hundreds of thousands of Swedes have spent an estimated total of more than ten million euros on a book which many of them believed contained a scientific account of human psychology, written by an expert in the area. The book’s success has led many companies and other organizations to order personality tests, from a growing number of suppliers eager to exploit the new market, and apply them on their employees. Surrounded by Idiots has had a major impact on how Swedish people talk to each other about psychology and discuss the behaviour of those around them. Indeed, Thomas Erikson has undoubtedly had the greatest influence on the public’s interest in psychology in a generation.
Unfortunately, the theory behind this book, and the various follow-ups, is no more than pseudoscientific nonsense. And Erikson appears to lack even basic knowledge of psychology or behavioural science. This is why we at VoF (Vetenskap och Folkbildning — the Swedish Skeptics Society) named Thomas Erikson fraudster of the year in 2018.
Accusing an individual of being a fraud should never be done lightly. We need to be very sure of where we stand. Here I lay out the case as to how and why Thomas Erikson books have misled so many people…
Suddenly you saw it everywhere. Large posters, hanging behind piled up books at the entrance to book shops, showed images of four people, shaded red, blue, green and yellow. You couldn’t miss them. They were especially prominent in airports, and as you boarded the plane it wasn’t unusual to walk past rows of seated passengers, already engrossed in the book with those four colourful figures on the front cover.
Around the same time, qualified psychologists began reporting how clients were considering leaving their partners because, “I can’t possibly live with a yellow person”.