Chances are you, like us, have been following the fall out from the American Psychological Association’s Hoffman Report, which details how the organization colluded with the United States government to ensure psychologists remained part of its torture program. While there are a ton of opinion pieces floating around in the wake of the report, we thought we’d highlight a few pieces that take a particularly historical view on the current situation.
Over on the Hidden Persuaders blog, part of a project on Cold War era brainwashing efforts, Marcia Holmes has written “What we’re reading now: The APA report.” Holmes details the events leading up to the Hoffman Report and situates psychology’s involvement in torture in relation to the emergence of “operational psychology.” The fundamental tension between “operational psychology” and ethics, Holmes argues, may never be resolved. Read the full piece online here.
BBC Radio program Witness has produced an episode on “CIA Mind Control Experiments” in the 1950s. While this piece is not directly about the Hoffman Report, it documents the long history of relations between psychology and the CIA:
In the 1950s the CIA started attempting to brainwash psychiatric patients. They wanted to develop methods which could be used against enemies in the Cold War. Hear from one man whose father was experimented on in a Canadian psychiatric hospital.
The full 10-minute episode can be heard online here.
The APA’s current ethics mess is a problem inherent to its method of setting professional ethics policy and a problem that faces professional organizations more broadly. Professions’ codes of ethics are made to seem anonymous, dropped into the world by some higher moral authority. But ethics codes have authors. In the long term, the APA’s problems will not be solved by repeating the same process that empowers a select elite to write ethics policy, then removes their connection to it.
All ethics codes have authors who work to erase the appearance of their influence. Personal interests are inevitable, if not unmanageable, and it may be best for the APA — and other professional groups — to keep the link between an ethics policy and its authors. Take a new lesson from the Hippocratic oath by observing its name. The APA should make its ethics policies like most other papers that scientists write: give the code of ethics a byline.
“The American Psychological Association’s Committee on Women in Psychology: 40 Years of Contributions to the Transformation of Psychology,” by Joan C. Chrisler, Cynthia de las Fuentes, Ramani S. Durvasula, Edna M. Esnil, Maureen C. McHugh, Shari E. Miles-Cohen, Julie L. Williams, and Jennifer P. Wisdom. The abstract reads,
The Committee on Women in Psychology (CWP) of the American Psychological Association was founded in 1973 in response to the report of the Task Force on the Status of Women in Psychology. In this article, we set the context for the founding of the task force and committee and briefly describe the history of feminist critique of, and activism within, organized psychology in the United States. From its inception to the present day, CWP has been known as an activist group. We review some of the major contributions CWP has made over four decades in service of the feminist transformation of psychology. We also review the committee’s major contributions to psychology in the public interest, especially to the physical and mental health and well-being of women.
Thoughts on having read (half of) Stanley Fish’s 2011 book, How to Write a Sentence:
Long ago, in order to seem more “scientific,” the discipline of psychology decided to adopt (and rigorously enforce) a staccato, just-the-facts writing style. We drill it into our students in nearly every course, using a multi-hundred-page writing manual that everyone is expected to own and use. Indeed, in some courses, knowledge of APA style seems to loom more important even than knowledge of the psychological topic (cognition, personality, social, etc.) that is supposedly being taught.
It was originally intended, I suspect, to be a kind of anti-style in which “things” would be the only persuasive factors at work, all rhetorical techniques having been banished to the not-entirely-trusted realm of “words,” so that the reader would not be confused by the eloquent flourishes of crafty belle-lettrists of times past (or of the humanities present). This justification is, of course, ridiculous. A spare, telegraphic writing style is every bit as much a style as an elaborately ornamented one; giving the appearance of reporting “just the facts” is every bit as much a rhetorical technique — viz., one intended to be persuasive beyond the mere quality of the content — as is one that displays erudition through the most startling verbal gymnastics.
My question, then, is what important insights has psychology, the discipline, made it difficult or impossible to express by cleaving so strictly to this particular style, rather than allowing a wider range of writing styles to exist side-by-side in the discipline?
Linda Beebe, the senior director of PsycINFO (the psychology search engine), has written a brief history describing the evolution of the world’s premiere resource for psychological literature. [Update: the original link is no longer accessible; see a cached version here.] It provides a fascinating look at a part of the discipline that we often take for granted.
PsycINFO began in 1967 with the first electronic publication of the bibliographic records included in that year’s print Psychological Abstracts. The ability to produce an electronic product so early in the computing revolution came about as a result of grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a Scientific Information Exchange Project.
In 1965 the APA Publications Board approved an experimental study of the feasibility of producing Psychological Abstracts by the Photon process, which would yield magnetic tapes that could be used for information retrieval.
The production process was crude by today’s standards, as the electronic output was the result of a long paper-and-pencil creation process. However, when implemented in 1966, it greatly changed nearly everything about the production of Psychological Abstracts….
With a monthly, rather than a bimonthly, publication schedule, lag times were cut dramatically from as much as 3 years to as little as 3 months. The quantity of abstracts published also increased, moving from 8,381 in 1963 to 13,622 in 1966; and by the end of the decade the annual output had risen to 18,068….
In 1980 PsycINFO published 31,764 abstracts in electronic form…. By 1989, the annual total had grown to 52,442 abstracts….
A digital archive of material related to an American Psychological Association questionnaire on research ethics issued between 1968 and 1970 has been launched online. This resource, the Wesleyan Digital Archive of Psychology has been put together under the leadership of Jill Morawski and Laura Stark, both of Wesleyan University. Although the material for the digital archive is still under development, several sample surveys are currently available on the site, both as transcriptions and as digital images (as pictured at left). The Wesleyan Digital Archive of Psychology is described as follows:
Between 1968 and 1970, more than 3,000 psychologists wrote to leaders of the American Psychological Association and described instances of ethically questionable research. The psychologists were responding to a questionnaire that the APA mailed to two-thirds of its members—19,000 psychologists in all. The organization used psychologists’ stories to update its ethics code in 1973.
The stories offer a vivid, panoramic view of American psychology in the decades after World War II from the perspectives of students, practitioners, and human subjects of research. The Wesleyan Digital Archive of Psychology is creating an electronic repository of the responses in two formats: as transcribed text documents, and as digital images. As of October 2010, transcription of the first wave of the questionnaire responses (comprising 1,000 responses) is complete. Continue reading Wesleyan Digital Archive of Psychology→
I think this counts as an event worthy of breaking AHP’s summer silence.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has come out in favor of stripping James Mitchell of his license to practice. Mitchell (pictured right) is one of the psychologists who worked for the CIA developing and applying controversial “enhanced” interrogation techniques that were used against terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay prison and other “black sites” that the CIA maintains around the world. An Associated Press article about the APA’s actions can be found here.
The is move surprising because the APA has been heavily criticized both from within its membership and without for being evasive in efforts to forbid its members from participating in such activities. First it issued directives with ambiguous wording. When the membership voted overwhelmingly in favor of a more direct statement against torture, the APA Board came under fire for dragging its feet in implementing the resolution.
According to a blog post by psychologist and anti-torture activist Jeff Kaye, the APA may have been altering and deleting articles from on-line versions of its own publications that documented its participation in torture workshops co-mounted with the CIA and the Rand Corporation.
Kaye cites articles from the APA’s Science Policy Insider News website and from APA’s Spin that have been previously cited in major publications such as Vanity Fair, but whose URL’s now only bring up a “page is not available” message. He says that the originals can now be found only through “a web archive search engine.”
Kaye concedes that “the scrubbing of the page describing truth drugs and sensory overload could be attributed to some normal archiving decision, or the victim of a web do-over” but insists that “the excision of the text and link to the site on the referring page cannot be an accident.” (Indeed, the APA launched a major overhaul of its web site in the past year.) Kaye continues:
APA has a history of bad faith on such issues. Recently, they rewrote a problematic section of their ethical code, dubbed the Nuremberg loophole by some, which allowed psychologists to violate their ethical rules if done to comply with “law, regulations, or other governing legal authority.”
Kaye’s blog item item has been picked up by the website of Harper’s magazine.
In a meeting of the Council of Representatives of the American Psychological Association, held in Washington over the weekend, the Association’s funding of the Archive for the History of American Psychology (AHAP) for 2010 was restored to previous levels. The change to APA’s funding of AHAP came as the result of a friendly amendment to the 2010 APA budget proposed by James Pate, Council Representative of the Society of the History of Psychology, Division 26 of the APA.
AHP previously covered the APA’s decision to reduce its funding of AHAP from $60,000 to $20,000 a year, as well as the resultant fallout from this decision, which included the resignation of prominent APA member Ludy Benjamin Jr. from the association. This weekend’s budget vote reversed the drop in funding to AHAP, but only for 2010. Efforts to ensure a long term restoration of APA funding for AHAP continue.
In response to news of APA’s increase in 2010 funding for AHAP, David Baker, Director of the Archives of the History of American Psychology, informs AHP that, “We are very pleased that our colleagues on the APA Council of Representatives would rally to the cause of the history of psychology.”
The APA’s decision to cut funding to AHAP, and the resultant fallout, was previously discussed on AHP here, here, and here.
Previously on AHP: during the American Psychological Association’s (APA) annual convention, held earlier this month in Toronto, the APA Council approved a drastic cut in funding to Archives of the History of American Psychology (AHAP). AHP’s previous coverage of APA’s funding cuts to AHAP, and the fall out thereof, can be found here and here.
Now, Christopher Green, President of the Society for the History of Psychology, Division 26 of the APA, has voiced his opinion on the recent decision to cut funding to AHAP. Green, in a recent letter to APA President James Bray, voiced his disappointment at APA’s decision with respect to AHAP. Both Green’s letter to Bray and Bray’s response follow.
In his letter to President Bray, Green wrote:
I am compelled to register my extreme disappointment with the shabby treatment that the APA has accorded the Archives for the History of American Psychology (AHAP) at the University of Akron. Although the APA’s normal annual contribution to AHAP had already been approved by APA Council earlier in the year, an unelected APA administrator took it upon himself to unilaterally cut the contribution in half, exposing this important research institution — an affiliate of the Smithsonian — to serious operational difficulties in the middle of the year with no advance warning. Continue reading SHP Pres’s letter; APA Pres. Bray’s Response→