HHS: Special Section on the Hoffman Report, Boas, Work Stress, and More

The December 2022 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. This issue includes a special section on “The Hoffman Report in historical context,” as well as a number of other articles. Full details below.

“Introduction: The Hoffman Report in historical context,” Nadine Weidman. Abstract:

This brief introduction explains the historical background of the Hoffman Report, the 2015 independent counsel’s investigation into the American Psychological Association’s role in aiding ‘enhanced interrogations’ of detainees in the Bush Administration’s Global War on Terror. It also outlines the articles in this special section of History of the Human Sciences on the Hoffman Report in Historical Context.

“Beyond torture: Knowledge and power at the nexus of social science and national security,” Joy Rohde. Abstract:

In the wake of revelations about the American Psychological Association’s complicity in the military’s enhanced interrogation program, some psychologists have called upon the association to sever its ties to national security agencies. But psychology’s relationship to the military is no short-term fling born of the War on Terror. This article demonstrates that psychology’s close relationship to national security agencies and interests has long been a visible and consequential feature of the discipline. Drawing on social scientific debates about the relationship between national security agencies and the social sciences in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this article also provides cautionary lessons for psychologists confronting the torture controversy. It concludes that an ethically robust response to this controversy requires that psychologists engage in a sustained reckoning with the powerful institutional, epistemological, and financial incentives that have bound the discipline to the military and intelligence communities since World War I.

“The Hoffman Report in historical context: A study in denial,” Dan Aalbers. Abstract:

Using the concept of social denial, this article puts the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) pattern of willful blindness, identified by independent reviewer David Hoffman, in historical context by examining the contributions of Cold War social scientists to the CIA’s KUBARK torture manual, and discusses the implications of this history for the reform of the APA’s ethics policies. David Hoffman found that the leadership of the APA colluded with Department of Defense (DoD) to ensure that the APA’s ethical policies were no stronger than those issued by the DoD. While the independent reviewer did not find evidence of collaboration between the CIA and the APA, this was not due to a lack of effort on the part of the APA, which was anxious to establish good relations and so promote the use of psychology in the national security arena. While Hoffman did not find that the APA knew that its collaborations would facilitate the development of abusive interrogation techniques, it showed a marked, motivated lack of interest in whether or not the DoD or CIA was abusing prisoners. The APA maintained its strategic ignorance even while engaging in a public relations campaign designed to give the impression that it was deeply concerned about multiple reports of psychologist involvement in a system of torture. This willful ignorance was not unprecedented and follows a predictable pattern of knowing and not-knowing to which all psychologists should attend.

“A military/intelligence operational perspective on the American Psychological Association’s weaponization of psychology post-9/11,” Jean Maria Arrigo, Lawrence P. Rockwood, Jack O’Brien, Dutch Franz, David DeBatto, and John Kiriakou. Abstract:

We examine the role of the American Psychological Association (APA) in the weaponization of American psychology post-9/11. In 2004, psychologists’ involvement in the detention and interrogation of terrorist suspects generated controversy over psychological ethics in national security (PENS). Two signal events inflamed the controversy. The 2005 APA PENS Report legitimized clinical psychology consultation in support of military/intelligence operations with detained terrorist suspects. An independent review, the 2015 Hoffman Report, found APA collusion with the US Department of Defense in producing the APA PENS Report and subsequent policies. Ongoing activities within APA to weaponize psychology sharpened the controversy. The authors—two psychologists and four former military/intelligence professionals—bring a military/intelligence operational perspective to detail two neglected areas of collateral damage. The first is the toll on psychology as a scientific enterprise. The second is covert influence on professional associations for incompatible security-sector objectives. We establish epistemic, historical, institutional, legal, and operational foundations for evaluation of these damages, as well as implications for APA and related professional associations in the ongoing Global War on Terror.

“Beyond following rules: Teaching research ethics in the age of the Hoffman Report,” Elissa N. Rodkey, Michael Buttrey, and Krista L. Rodkey. Abstract:

The Hoffman Report scandal demonstrates that ethics is not objective and ahistorical, contradicting the comforting progressive story about ethics many students receive. This modern-day ethical failure illustrates some of the weaknesses of the current ethics code: it is rule-based, emphasizes punishments for noncompliance, and assumes a rational actor who can make tricky ethical decisions using a cost–benefit analysis. This rational emphasis translates into pedagogy: the cure for unethical behavior is more education. Yet such an approach seems unlikely to foster ethical behavior in the real world, either for students or for mature scientists. This article argues for an alternative ethical system and a different way of teaching ethical behavior. Virtue ethics emphasizes the development of ethical habits and traits through regular practice and reflection. We show how virtue ethics complements a feminist approach to science, in which scientists are encouraged to reflect on their own biases, rather than attempting to achieve an impossible objectivity. Our article concludes with pedagogical suggestions for teaching ethical behavior as a practical and intelligent skill.

“Quentin Skinner, contextual method and Machiavelli’s understanding of liberty,” Nikola Regent. Abstract:

The article examines Quentin Skinner’s influential interpretation of Machiavelli’s views on liberty, and the sharp divergence between his methodological ideas and his actual practice. The paper explores how Skinner’s political ideals directed his interpretation against his own methodological precepts, to offer a basis for a ‘revival’ of republican theory. Skinner’s reinterpretation of Machiavelli as a theorist of negative liberty is examined, and refuted. The article analyses Skinner’s claim about liberty as the key political value for Machiavelli, and demonstrates that liberty is secondary to empire on the list of Machiavelli’s priorities. Skinner’s vocabulary and efforts to tone down or ignore Machiavelli’s more aggressive ideas are closely examined. The analysis offered in the article, it is suggested, has wider implications, showing the difficulty of applying contextualism in practice, by the very founder of this approach in the history of ideas.

“Confronting the field: Tylor’s Anahuac and Victorian thought on human diversity,” Chiara Lacroix. Open access. Abstract:

Victorian anthropologists have been nicknamed ‘armchair anthropologists’. Yet some of them did set foot in the field. Edward Burnett Tylor’s first published work, Anahuac, or Mexico and the Mexicans, Ancient and Modern, described his youthful travels in Mexico. Tylor’s confrontation with the ‘field’ revealed significant tensions between the different beliefs and attitudes that Tylor held towards Mexican society. Contrasts between the evidence of Mexico’s history (prior to European contact) and the present-day society of the 1850s led Tylor to see both progress and degeneration in Mexico, both ‘authentic’ culture and deep cultural mixture. In order to show that he was capable of uncovering the ‘authentic’ Mexican society, Tylor portrayed himself as a professional traveller-ethnographer, even though he was an anthropological novice. The embodied confrontation with the physical field also created tensions in Tylor’s relationship to Mexico. Despite Tylor’s mainly ethnocentric vision of foreign societies, his experiences of physically navigating the Mexican land and environment led him towards an empathetic relativism with respect to material culture and social practice. At the same time, his role as a traveller encouraged him to see the field as a fluid entity with no clear boundaries, even as he searched for a bounded and untouched Mexican society amidst cultural mixture. Drawing out the tensions resulting from a Victorian traveller’s confrontation with the foreign field allows for a more balanced engagement with the works of these Victorian scholars of human diversity, which have often been portrayed as naively ethnocentric.

“Mind and knowledge in the early thought of Franz Boas, 1887–1904,” Valentina Mann. Abstract:

Franz Boas’ articulation of a new historicist and relativistic framework for anthropology stands as the founding moment of the discipline. Accordingly, scholars have sought to trace its source and inspirations, often concluding that Boas’ thought was shaped almost exclusively by his German background and characterized by a foundational methodological tension. Here, I instead show that Boas’ most creative early work benefitted from close interaction with debates in psychology and that his methodological reflections were part of the much wider series of discussions in North America engendered by the importation of the German Geistes-/Naturwissenschaft debate. Central to such debates, as well as to anthropological ones in these years, were the contested definitions of the human mind and of knowledge. Recovering this shared focus reveals the importance of such questions to Boas’ early writings, allowing us to better reconstruct his views on anthropology and to appreciate how he approached the question of how to justify the bounding of human knowledge into specific disciplines.

“Stressing the ‘body electric’: History and psychology of the techno-ecologies of work stress,”
Jessica Pykett and Mark Paterson. Open access. Abstract:

This article explores histories of the science of stress and its measurement from the mid 19th century, and brings these into dialogue with critical sociological analysis of emerging responses to work stress in policy and practice. In particular, it shows how the contemporary development of biomedical and consumer devices for stress self-monitoring is based on selectively rediscovering the biological determinants and biomarkers of stress, human functioning in terms of evolutionary ecology, and the physical health impacts of stress. It considers how the placement of the individual body and its environment within particular spatio-temporal configurations renders it subject to experimental investigation through standardized apparatus, electricity, and statistical normalization. Examining key themes and processes such as homeostasis, metricization, datafication, and emotional governance, we conclude that the figure of the ‘body electric’ plays a central limiting role in current technology-supported approaches to managing work stress, and that an historical account can usefully open these to collective scrutiny.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.