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James Heilman, a emergency room doctor in Moose Jaw, defends his online posting of the Rorschach test images because he considers them to be in the public domain. ((CBC))

An emergency room doctor from Saskatchewan has angered psychologists by posting images of the Rorschach ink blots used for psychological testing on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

Dr. James Heilman, who works in Moose Jaw, posted the 10 symmetrical images under the Wikipedia entry for "Rorschach test" in June.

The five black-and-white and five colour images are used by psychologists to help diagnose personality and emotional disorders. They show them to patients and ask them what they see and then analyze the answers.

The test is also used to assess the psychological functions of criminals.

Heilman, who is not a psychologist, posted the images on June 16, and within a few hours, they were removed by another Wikipedia contributor.

The images were soon restored, and last week, another Wikipedia contributor added the most common interpretations patients provide for each image. As of Friday, the article had been locked by Wikipedia, with the images and interpretations left intact.

Battle of the blobs

Debate online and offline about the images has ensued, with some psychologists claiming the test has now been compromised, because with access to the images and interpretations, people may interpret them based on the most common responses rather than their own analysis.

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Karen Cohen, executive director of the Canadian Psychological Association, says publishing the ink blots and their most common interpretations could compromise the usefulness of the Rorschach test. ((CBC))

Some say revealing the images may also have legal ramifications.

"Lawyers will very quickly become aware that this information is out there and invalidate the test — either coach their clients on how to respond or just simply question the results," said Keith Dobson, a clinical psychologist, at the University of Calgary.

The group that represents Canadian psychologists has also raised concerns about the Wikipedia entry.

"The overriding concern is that once any test shown to be reliable is released to the public, it really does compromise its usefulness," said Karen Cohen, executive director of the Canadian Psychological Association.

Cohen added that posting the interpretations and images of the Rorschach test could open the door to compromising other psychological tests.

Doctor defends actions

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One of the 10 ink blots created by Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach posted to Wikipedia. The most common interpretation of the image is two humans. ((Public Domain))

Heilman has defended his posting of the images, saying they are in the public domain.

"They teach them routinely in every Psychology 110 class, which probably tens of thousands of people take every year," Heilman told CBC News Thursday.

Heilman, who has been an editor with Wikipedia for one year, said he has been flooded with messages from psychologists around the world who are upset he published the images.

"I think they feel insecure about their profession," Heilman said.

'I think they feel insecure about their profession.'—Dr. James Heilman, emergency doctor in Moose Jaw

The Rorschach test was created in 1921 by Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach. The images and interpretations have been published before in books, and a German publisher of the images has threatened to sue Wikipedia for posting them.

Some psychologists, however, say the test has already lost its popularity and usefulness.

"Many students do not learn the Rorschach," said University of Regina psychology professor Thomas Hadjistavropoulos.