Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Corruption or Bias in the American Psychological Association

This is a follow up on several previous posts including Truth and Education Commission where I argued that we should educate the public much better about the activities the government has been conducting in the past and that we should begin informally before deciding to give immunity to anyone or what circumstances any deals may be considered; The Fundamentals of Psychology where I attempted to present the basics in a way the public can understand and Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect, Stanford Prison Experiment in which I discussed experiments conducted that may have been used to learn how manipulate the public. I have included additional information about these experiments in this post along with some sources. 

After looking at quite a few sources I have come to the conclusion that there appears to be a significant amount of either corruption, or incompetence, or more likely both, in the American Psychology Association. This has been indicated in the way that psychology has been studied and presented differently in the academic world than it is in the general public. It has also been indicated by the way the academics have used their research to make decision on major policy issues that aren’t in the best interest of the vast majority of the public. This corruption or incompetence ranges from studying children to enable marketers to manipulate them to buying products; researching voters to understand how to manipulate them at the polls; studying how to use psychology to indoctrinate recruits for the military; using psychology to help interrogate prisoners in investigations into “terrorist activity;” manipulating the emotion of the public to advance get tough policies on crime when they aren’t in the best interest of the majority of the public; and many other examples, I’m sure. 

This doesn’t mean that all psychologist or members of the American Psychology Association are corrupt or incompetent; quite the contrary it is due to the work of those that do a better job and show the work to indicate how they came to their conclusions that the public has a good chance to understand which is which assuming people are willing to look at the details and use their own judgment. In most cases the good psychologists or other academic sources don’t openly criticize the most in competent or corrupt psychologists; instead they provide good work, present it as an alternative theory; and it is up to the public to look at it recognize that there is a problem with one and decide which to believe. One reason they may do this is that they may want to avoid a situation where they look like two fools arguing and the audience can’t tell which is which. This is why I started with my own assessment of The Fundamentals of Psychology. There should be no reason why you or anyone else should feel the need to trust me when I raise doubts about whether or not there is corruption or incompetence in the American Psychological Association if you’re inclined to check the work you can trust your own judgment instead. Also there are clearly differences of opinion within the psychology community so if you are inclined to trust an authority figure you may have to choose which one it is you’re going to believe.

Also the problem with the American Psychological Association isn’t limited to the American Psychological Association they have to work with other institutions to get their messages across and find funding for their research and to decide which priorities to choose. The most powerful institutions that they have to work with are all influenced by the Capitalist ideology and this isn’t always reviewed as rationally as it should be. Many Psychologist also work with other researchers including researchers on Political Science, that may have included Samuel Huntington author of “Clash of Civilization” who had a major impact on political decisions. Even if they didn’t consult with him they probably should have assuming they were interested in the best policies for the country. A lot of the problem with Huntington’s book has to do with psychology. They also have to rely on publishing companies to publish their books or research. When there are good academics that do work that challenges the Status Quo they often have a much harder time getting their work published and promoted. They also have to deal with the copyright laws that most publishing companies insist on taking advantage of before they agree to provide any publishing or promotional activity. This means that once it is published the distribution of the material is controlled partly by where it is available and who can afford it. This effectively guarantees that the poorest people will have little opportunity to read many of the most important academic work on any given subject including the psychological ways some institutions use to manipulate the public.

Both James Garbarino and Juliet Schor have stated that the American Psychological Association has considered revising thier ethical standards about whether or not members should be allowed to participate in marketing research that is targeting children. They both also provide a case that most reasonable people would not doubt is wrong yet little or nothing has been done except perhaps for more calls for more research. Susan Linn cited the same attempt to study whether or not the American Psychological Association should regulate ads to children and went one step further; she wrote the following:

“The 1992 Ethical Principles of the American Psychological Association include one titled “Social Responsibility,” which stated, among other things, that psychologists should “apply and make public their knowledge of psychology in order to contribute to human welfare.” I was dismayed; however, to discover that in the new version of the principles, effective June 2003, the APA eliminated that sentence-and the entire Social Responsibility Principle from the document. Unfortunately, there are many from the ranks of our profession who help companies market successfully to children by routinely employing the principles and practices of child psychology-from development theory to diagnostic techniques.” (Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.23-4)

The clause she cited is the following:

Principle F: Social responsibility 

Psychologists are aware of their professional and scientific responsibilities to the community and the society in which they work and live. They apply and make public their knowledge of psychology in order to contribute to human welfare. Psychologists are concerned about and work to mitigate the causes of human suffering. When undertaking research, they strive to advance human welfare and the science of psychology. Psychologists try to avoid misuse of their work. Psychologists comply with the law and encourage the development of law and social policy that serve the interests of their patients and clients and the public. They are encouraged to contribute a portion of their professional time for little or no personal advantage.

According to the APA, “The American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives adopted this version of the APA Ethics Code during its meeting on August 21, 2002. The Code became effective on June 1, 2003.” (sources: The 1992 Ethical Principles of the American Psychological Association and The 2003 Ethical Principles of the American Psychological Association)

This means that the new rules, that excluded the social responsibility clause, were made while Philip Zimbardo was president. I don’t know how much he was involved in the decision to remove that clause but considering the ethical questions about his past work in this post as well as the previous one about him, and questions raised by others, it should raise some additional questions about him. What this essentially means is that although they agreed to study whether or not they should regulate advertising to children instead of providing any improvements they may have reduced the already existing rules that could be interpreted to address this. I have added a little more about marketing to children in the post about Studying monkeys and children to manipulate people better; I will cover more about advertising to children, based partly on some of the same sources cited in that post, on a separate post at some point.

Alfred McCoy has also raised questions, in his book, “A Question of Torture,” (relevant excerpts) about the ethical standards of the American Psychological Association in regards to the participation of some psychologist who have been working with the CIA. McCoy has researched psychologist that date back at least to the 50’ and 60’s that he claims have been involved with the CIA and helped them develop tactics initially to fight the cold war, and more recently to fight the “war on Terror.” Some of the researchers he has cited include Irving L. Janis who researched “Groupthink” and Stanley Milgram who has become famous for his research into obedience to authority. McCoy claims they were probably both conducting research that could help develop tactics for interrogation and torture. I have indicated in my previous post about Philip Zimbardo, famous for his work conducting the Stanford Prison Experiment” who I think may have also been involved with some research that was designed to benefit the military and perhaps the CIA as well. A close look at what these research projects could be used for and how they may have affected society in the past as well as how they have presented them to the public could help determine if they were being used for the right purposes or not.

These all could help psychologist understand how to obtain obedience for one thing, which is of course what the Milgram study claims to be for. Milgram and others have claimed that they have conducted these research projects to better understand how and why the Germans blindly obeyed Hitler and the Nazi party. As I indicated in the previous post about Zimbardo and the Stanford Prison Experiment if this was the case they could have and would have done a much better job if they presented their work to a large segment of the public much sooner. Then the public might have been much more inclined to question authority. Unfortunately this isn’t what happened. Although Milgram has received his funding from the National Science Foundation, Zimbardo received his directly from the Office of Naval Research which of course is interested in obtaining obedience from their troops so that they can become a more effective fighting force assuming they obey orders without question. This is the same blind obedience to authority that enabled the Nazi’s to fight for an atrocious cause only it hasn’t been taken to as bad an extreme. A similar argument could be made for Irving Janis’ work on group think and many other research projects. If the public is informed about it then they are much less likely to be manipulated by deceptive tactics based on this research. Furthermore those that are inclined to use this research for the wrong purposes will seek it out and use it anyway even without the approval of the researcher that did the work to begin with.

Not everyone agrees with the conclusions that McCoy came to in his book; Thomas Blass, author of "The man who shocked the world: the life and legacy of Stanley Milgram," has refuted these claims (one page article). I’m not convinced that Blass has done a good job addressing all the details of McCoy’s book; in fact I think he may be the one that has misrepresented the facts. He seems to have ignored facts that don’t seem to support his conclusions and when it suits his purposes he has used what some people have called fallacies or what I have referred to as indoctrination tactics. Blass makes his claims with conviction and he appeals to emotions, authority and ridicule at times although they may be subtle. Not only does he fail to address all of the facts that McCoy has pointed out but he has failed to address additional facts that have appeared elsewhere that I have found. One of the major points of his claim is that the Office of Naval Research wasn’t involved in Milgram’s work; however Philip Zimbardo has also been involved in the Obedience to Authority Experiments as well as his Stanford Prison Experiment which was directly funded by the ONR. Another of his arguments was that he hasn’t found any evidence of this link in his research into the background of Stanley Milgram.

This may be because for one reason or another he may not have wanted to. I admit, I have no hard evidence of this however if he didn’t have some kind of motivation behind his effort to debunk McCoys efforts then I find hard to believe that there would be any need to resort to fallacies to make his case unless perhaps that is typical of the way he makes his case; if that is the case then it raises questions about his judgment. A possible motive worth considering is simply the fact that as a member of the psychology community he may have felt the need to defend his community but that wouldn’t have been adequate to explain the use of fallacies. Although I don’t have evidence and this is purely speculation it is worth considering that if the CIA was involved in this research that they would also have an incentive to refute these claims. If they’re working with additional unnamed psychologists then they could request that they help to refute this. However if the researchers couldn’t do a better job debunking McCoy than Blass has then they should realize that they may be drawing attention to themselves by doing a bad job and using fallacies that many rational people will recognize for what they are. Another thing to consider is the fact that apparently both Zimbardo and Milgram have studied under Janis Irving and other CIA researchers besides McCoy including Victor Marchetti have indicated that the CIA often relies on psychologist they work with in the academic community to seek out additional potential recruits that could be trained to help the CIA. My personal opinion is that McCoy has done a much better job making his case although I’m sure even he has made a few minor mistakes; however if you’re in doubt please review the links cited above particularly the ones directly from McCoy and Blass.

McCoy has indicated that he believes that several presidents of the American Psychological Association were working with the CIA in the fifties and sixties; this practice may be continuing to this day. McCoy wrote in his book, ‘By contrast the American Psychological Association (APA), reflecting its long involvement in military research and CIA behavioral experiments, claimed that its members were not barred from "national security endeavors." In fact, the American Psychological Association's code of ethics has stricter, more specific standards for the treatment of laboratory animals than for human subjects such as the Guantánamo detainees. In response to this crisis of ethics, the American Psychological Association formed a special task force, including military psychologists, which ultimately rejected the Pentagon's proposition that Guantánamo practitioners were ethically exempt, and insisted that "psychologists do not engage in, direct, support, facilitate, or offer training in torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."

But this American Psychological Association conclusion, released June 2005, failed to bar members from military interrogations outright, saying, simply and vaguely, that they should be "mindful of factors unique to these roles . . . that require special ethical consideration."’ (more in the section of excerpts cited above and at the bottom of the page) If as I suspect Philip Zimbardo was also working with the CIA or a related organizations with military ties like the Office of Naval Research then that may add to the evidence that there may be corruption in the American Psychological Association. You would think that they would choose one of their most credible and sincere members for this post which typically seems to last for one year. After taking a look at some of his work in addition to the “Lucifer Effect” I have serious doubts about the credibility and sincerity of Philip Zimbardo although he does provide some credible arguments that stand on their own merits. The biggest problems are the ones I already covered in the previous post about him but there are some additional problems in my opinion with his work earlier that should raise some questions. One of his books that he has written in the past is “Shyness: what it is and what to do about it,” this was first printed in 1977 and reprinted in 1992; consideration of this date is worthwhile since he may have relied on research that was available at the time of publishing and if there were problems he could have revised it based on the new research in the 1992 edition; this is not uncommon in the academic world and a good researcher wouldn’t hesitate to do this.

This is not what I would consider the most well sourced books I have seen and this is especially important since there appear to be at least a couple of major errors in it where he comes to conclusions without adequate back up that are refuted by other sources with better backup and other problems about some material that he mentions in this book but doesn’t apply consistently elsewhere. As far as I can tell this is the only book that he has written on his own, prior to the Lucifer effect, the rest of the books that he has contributed to were coauthored with a variety of other authors. This is not the record that I would expect of a person that deserves to be voted to this post over many other people that surely must be more qualified.

The biggest concern I have with his book is how he addresses the effect of early childhood abuse. He has made several statements that may give different impressions about the subject some of which are good but one in particular is seriously flawed. He downplays the damage that is caused by child abuse in the following excerpt:

“Such a “catastrophe theory” of child development runs contrary to traditional ideas that deprived, abusing environments breed madness and badness. Serene, benign, enriched environments were thought to be the cradles of sanity and adult success. The support for this view came largely from observations that adults who were mentally ill or law breakers came from impoverished or high-stress backgrounds. The thinking behind this is faulty. Only a minority of all those who grew up under adverse circumstances are in our jails and mental hospitals. Those who bend instead of breaking may develop and utilize the self-reliance necessary to carve a significant place for themselves in society.” (Shyness p. 74)

He doesn’t cite any sources for this claim, yet there were many even before the first 1977 printing and much more that could have been used to revise the 1992 printing and the evidence to partially refute this has grown even more since then. It is certainly true that not all children who are abused go on to become criminals but that doesn’t mean that they don’t suffer from other serious emotional problems. Murray Strauss James Garbarino and others have cited many examples of other problems in their books. Also those that have done research into the background of real criminals in prison, unlike the Stanford Prison Experiment, like Dorothy Otnow Lewis and Lonnie Athens have found that the most violent criminals in the prisons including some of the most notorious serial killers have suffered from abuse that is much worse than the abuse of many of the people that are less likely to turn to crime or violence. I have also looked at a large number of cases as they have been reported in various books and news reports about many of the most infamous killers and often found evidence of abuse that is more serious than the majority of people that have suffered from abusive childhoods. In many cases they don’t give this issue the priority it deserves but if you look for it you can often find it even in the work of someone like Ann Rule who tends to appeal to the popular crowd without citing as many sources or assessments from psychologists.

She wrote in her book about Gary Ridgeway about how he was abused by his parents and subject to bullying. This isn’t the main priority of her work; she also describes him as being without conscience in other parts of her book as if the two aren’t related. She doesn’t provide an index or present things in a way that a good researcher might do but there is still evidence of the abuse that presumably led to Ridgeway becoming a serial killer. Zimbardo and many other academics often just ignore the enormous amount of research that doesn’t support their beliefs. His focus is mainly on the situation which is a factor but to believe that it is the only factor is unscientific. In one example he cites a series of fights in a facility for delinquent boys where the fights tend to happen at a particular corner and they found that they could reduce the fights, at least in the short term by improving visibility and possibly supervision. This is also not well sourced but I doubt if it does much to change the long term behavior of these children when they’re no longer supervised.
Zimbardo has indicated that he understands the misuse of stereo types and how labeling can be used to mislead people yet at other times he seems to do this himself. In Shyness he wrote, ‘To be labeled “communist” by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s was to be condemned as an evil tool of Russian totalitarian forces of oppression. It’s the other way around for “bourgeois capitalists” in Moscow.’ (Shyness p.52) In his more recent book he refers to himself as being a “radical” which is a label that was applied to the anti-war protestors during the Vietnam War by the establishment. This wasn’t a label that the protestors generally applied to themselves which could raise even more questions about how opposed to the war he was. He also seems to recognize that there are prejudicial beliefs supporting both the Capitalist ideology and the communist ideology yet there is little or no follow up to address these prejudices.

This may not seem important and perhaps he shouldn’t be obliged to do so; however if he actually is working with the CIA or some other influential groups as I suspect it indicates some knowledge about the fact that the ideology that they’re supporting is flawed. This is worth further consideration within the psychology community, not just Zimbardo since there has to be psychological reasons why they were able to convince the public to go along with an ideology that isn’t in their best interest instead of sorting through the details and finding a more rational ideology that is in the best interest of the majority of the public. This could include a review of the demagoguery that was used to support the Capitalist ideology during the McCarthy era as well as the Palmer Raids in the aftermath of WWI which many people have forgotten about. The psychology community could have done a much better job teaching the public how Authoritarian child rearing tactics are used to teach children to blindly obey what they’re told without scrutiny yet they haven’t. If they had it would have been much tougher for those in power to control the majority and convince them to support policies that are against their own best interests.

This could also include some research into why people believe many advertising claims that won’t stand up to the simplest rational scrutiny. A couple of examples of this include gambling and insurance. In both cases the customer pays into the pot and expenses and profits are taken out what is left is given back to the customer. In the case of gambling there is no need to participate at all so it is a virtually guaranteed loss yet there are millions of people who play lotteries or spend enormous amounts of money on this scam anyway. In the case of insurance there is a legitimate service that could be provided but the free market one clearly isn’t the best way to do this as indicated further In my Blog about Health Care Premiums and where they go. If a large amount of either industry is going to advertising lobbying and profits then the customer can’t get a good deal and there has to be a good psychological reason why so many people believe the Capitalist way of addressing this even when it can’t possibly be true.

If the public understood the psychology behind this as well as the basic principle of how the industries work there is no way they would allow these industries to become so bloated and inefficient at anything but making profit for the corporations. The problem is there is no financial incentive, in a Capitalist system, for psychologist or anyone else to inform the public while there is financial incentive for psychologists to research how to manipulate the public more effectively.

In order to support the Capitalist ideology over the last century it required an understanding of how to conduct foreign policy which has involved fighting many wars, most if not all of which were based on lies. Those in power had to have some understanding of War Propaganda. (additional information on how this has been done) the Mass Media has been heavily involved in this of course and those in power have been forced to change their tactics in order to keep the support of the public as some members of the public learned how to recognize this better, especially during the Vietnam protests. In the early 1940’s Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist and this was used as war propaganda in the period leading up to WWII. At the time psychology was to a large degree dominated by the prejudicial beliefs of society. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the American Psychiatric Association stopped stigmatizing homosexuality as a disease; these prejudicial beliefs have surely affected the beliefs that led to wars in the past and these prejudices have not been eliminated to this day even though many of them have been reduced and some good psychologist have indicated the problems with most of those that still exist. I don’t know how much additional involvement the psychologist community has had in developing this war propaganda but it clearly falls in the realm of psychology and they could have done some study into it for the purpose of warning the public about if nothing else. They didn’t do this which means that they either neglected to do anything or if they did research on it may have been used to implement more effective propaganda to keep the public on board. This requires them to recognize which segment of society is more likely to support war efforts and which are not and it may enable them to recognize that they may want to choose their congressional members involved in committees mainly from segments of society more supportive of war. As indicated, in the post previously cited about War Propaganda and Authoritarianism, people raised in strict disciplinarian manner are more likely to be susceptible to War Propaganda. There is no doubt that existing research supports this; however I have rarely seen it directly applied to War Propaganda in work done by psychologists.

Instead I have learned to recognize the principles and apply them to different situations or I have found other sources that don’t specialize in psychology but do research into the subject for other reasons; these researchers, including Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Chalmers Johnson, Robert McChesney, etc., are usually not as well financed as other academic sources and they may receive less attention than academic sources that support those in power from the Mass media. The current Capitalist system does very little to encourage this type of research and any research that is being done on it is almost certainly kept confidential or it is presented to the public in a manner that is hard to understand what it means. Yet it is clear that one way or another it is being done; the evidence of this is in the final product that comes out in the Media. Research that is used for this purpose may often be funded by the taxpayer yet instead of using it to look out for the best interest of the majority it is used for ideological purposes that benefit primarily the most powerful. The same thing is being done when it comes to studying how to indoctrinate recruits; as I said in the previous post about Phil Zimbardo and the Lucifer Effect his Stanford Prison Experiment seems to be designed to, among other things, enable the military to understand how to run boot camp more effectively. This would explain why the Office of Naval Research would finance it.

In fact he wrote about a letter that was sent to him that indicates that someone who saw his Stanford Prison Experiment Website saw some similarity to his own experiences in boot camp. This individual doesn’t seem to indicate that he suspects that there is a possiblity that boot camp procedures may have been developed partially as a result of the research that was done by Philip Zimbardo but I believe it is worth consideration. The following is an excerpt from his book about the letter in question:

One vivid, very personal consequence of visiting the SPE website can be seen in the following letter to me from a nineteen-year-old psychology student who describes the personal value he got from his exposure to it. It enabled him to better understand a terrible experience he had had during military boot camp:

Not too far into it [watching the Stanford Prison Experiment], I was almost in tears. November 2001, I joined the United States Marine Corps, pursuing a childhood dream. To make a long story short, I had become the victim of repeated illegal physical and mental abuse. An investigation showed I suffered more than 40 unprovoked beatings. Eventually, as much as I fought it, I became suicidal, thus received a discharge from U.S.M.C. boot camp. I was in this base for just about 3 months.

The point I am trying to make is that the manner in which your guards carried about their duties and the way that Military Drill Instructors do is unbelievable. I was amazed at all the parallels of your guards and one particular D.I. that comes to mind. I was treated much the same way and even worse in some cases.

One incident that stands out was an effort to break platoon solidarity. I was forced to sit in the middle of my squad bay [living quarters] and shout to the other recruits "if you guys would have moved faster, we wouldn't be doing this for hours" referencing every single other recruit holding over their heads very heavy foot lockers. The event was very similar to the prisoners saying, " #819 was a bad prisoner." After my incident and after I was home safe some months later, all I could think about was how much I wanted to go back to show the other recruits that as much as the D.I.'s told the platoon that I was a bad recruit, I wasn't. [Just as our prisoner Stew-819 wanted to do.] Other behaviors come to mind like the push-ups for punishment, shaved heads, not having any identity other than being addressed as and referring to other people as "Recruit So-and-so" which replicates your study.

The point of it all is even though your experiment was conducted 31 yrs. ago, my reading the study has helped me gain an understanding I was previously unable to gain before, even after therapy and counseling. What you have demonstrated really gave me insight into something I've been dealing with for almost a year now. Although, it is certainly not an excuse for their behavior, I now can understand the rationale behind the D.I.'s actions as far as being sadistic and power hungry.

In short, Dr. Zimbardo, thank you.

Philip Zimbardo doesn’t make much if any attempt to consider the possibility whether this was why the Office of the Naval Research would want to finance this experiment in the first place or consider the possibility that his work was used to help develop these practices. At one point he does indicate that he considers the possibility that his work may have been used to develop the torture techniques at Abu Ghraib; however he claims that he had no idea that this could have been done ahead of time although he should have suspected; after all he was receiving financing from the Office Of Naval Research which must have had a motive for funding his work.

Zimbardo also cites James Dobson in a positive way which most credible researchers in the psychology community would probably never do. Zimbardo writes, “In our culture where, as James Dobson says, Beauty is the gold coin of human worth and intelligence it silver coin, shyness may be the debit statement.” (Shyness p.52) This may seem trivial and in some ways it is but when an academic cites someone in a credible way it adds to their credentials, if not for the extremes of James Dobson’s work I wouldn’t object. I went into more detail about this on Dobson’s Indoctrination Machine. Most psychologists are relatively silent on this subject, at least as it is presented to the public. There have been a few researchers who have attempted to inform the public about him including Philip Greven, Alice Miller and Barbara Coloroso but for the most part the academic world and the Mass Media are allowing those that use indoctrination techniques to manipulate a large percentage of the public without much comment.

The sincere criticism that is presented is only presented to a small percentage of the public. Another thing to consider is that if Dobson is controlling a large parentage of the public as indicated by numerous sources including Dan Gilgoff who I cited in the blog indicated above then there is a real possibility that some of the business interests that wanted his support could have benefited from the work of the psychology community. If some psychologists are willing to consult about how to get religious leaders like Dobson and others to support their cause then it would be a significant value to industries like the oil companies or political supporters of the oil companies that may benefit from the religious opposition to environmental protection.

There may actually be some indications that Philip Zimbardo and perhaps many other psychologist might be open to a truth and education project under the right circumstances; however there are also reasons to believe that they may not be so inclined unless it is under the right circumstances or at all. What this might mean is that there may be people in power who are willing to disclose the truth and allow reform when and only when it suits their own purposes. If they were trying to expose the truth in the most effective way possible and improve democracy then they would do the best they could to help educate the public in the most effective way possible. This would enable the public to vote in their own best interest based on an accurate set of facts. This clearly isn’t happening; and there is an enormous amount of evidence to indicate that many people in power including psychologists are studying how to manipulate the public instead. If on the other hand they were trying to impose the most effective government that keeps the public in line an doing what is in the best interest of the most powerful then why aren’t they doing a more effective job with their propaganda? Some of their propaganda has worked very well on the least educated but it has become so extreme that only the least educated and the most likely to believe authority figures won’t recognize this for what it is. Many people have gone along with it any way but they’re pushing them too far recently.

A close look at the Lucifer Effect clearly seems satirical at times to many rational people. It isn’t quite as obvious as many of the other current events that are going on but it is easy enough for many people to recognize. Also in an article published in 2004 Zimbardo cited former American Psychological Association president George Miller who recommended that the psychological community “give psychology away to the public,” and he added his recommendation that this be done. If this is sincere and there is adequate follow up then this could be a good sign that many psychologists including Zimbardo would help end the manipulation tactics that have been used by those in power against the public. Psychology can’t of course just be “given away,” though there has to be an effort to teach the public about it; however there are ways that this can be done much more effeciently than it is now including making a large amount of information available to the public free on line for anyone that wants to look at it. They could also provide as much information as they can in libraries as well. And they could give some lectures to audiences around the country. These will have some expenses and except for the information given away on the internet there will probably need to be some way to finance it but it could be done without too much costs if they wanted to.

The problem is that he published the Lucifer Effect after that and he clearly didn’t present a completely accurate description of what they have been researching and why. This indicates that if there is a truth and education commission that there should be thorough scrutiny of many of the things that are disclosed. It is conceivable that if it isn’t done right we could wind up exchanging one set of lies for another. Also there has been very little follow up and if anything the manipulation tactics that have been used against the public are dramatically increasing. In order to have a successful Truth and education Commission or something similar it will be necessary for the public to understand how to sort through facts for themselves; and this should include learning how to recognize manipulation tactics and why many people have been so susceptible to these tactics.

When it comes to psychology, or any other academic field, it would be worth considering whether they are doing work to benefit society or if they’re doing work to benefit only a narrow segment of society including the most powerful at the expense of the majority. When it comes to developing a fiscal ideology to base our governmental policies it may be worth considering whether it is a good idea to finance research that addresses the most important social problems in an open manner. The current Capitalist system clearly doesn’t do this; instead it provides incentives for many people in power to study ways to manipulate the public for the best interest of the elite. This includes research that is done to sell products as well as research that is done to decide how to run political campaigns which often cater to emotions without looking out for the best interest of the public. The current system does provides some incentives to do some good work; for examples there has been a lot of research into child psychology that has been done in mostly middle or upper class America and it has been used to provide good recommendation for some parents about how to raise children. Unfortunately there has also been other research that has been done to support the beliefs of people like James Dobson and this work hasn’t been presented to a large segment of the lower or more conservative class of society. Surely if the public took a closer look at the details starting with the basics they could come up with something better than many of the things that are being done now.

It should also be clear what the purpose of the American Psychological Association is. Presumably it is supposed to have some credibility, it certainly attempts to present itself that way, although I don’t believe a close look at it now indicates that it is completely earned. This is a trade organization essentially run by people within the trade; when ever this happens it is possible that if their decision are made within the association without informed input from the majority of the public that it may reflect the biases of the members. These biases may be affected by the way they’re financed by powerful institutions that influence many of the most important aspects of our lives. Reviewing these incentives can help reform them if they’re going to be implemented in a way that is beneficial to all of society not just the elite. This should be done with more openness and in order to have a successful democracy we need a public that is much better educated about these subjects.

I have also taken a relatively quick look at some of the reviews of the Lucifer Effect and the Stanford Prison Experiment on the internet using Google. For the most part they weren’t very revealing in my opinion. Part of this could be the fact that when books are published they routinely arrange for reviews that are positive so I wouldn’t expect much from these. The fact that there was no good review from his critics available with a relatively quick Google search engine search indicates that there should be a better way for the public to gain access to critical reviews of material like this from the academic community. I have no doubt that there is much more critical reviewing of the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Obedience to Authority experiments but they haven’t been presented to the public in an efficient manner. I decided to do a quick review the only worthwhile critical review of the Experiment and book as well as an attempt to debunk this review. The initial review was from Brian Dunning at Skeptoid.


The alleged debunking is from Sharon Presley who is supposedly a protégé of Stanley Milgram.
Brian Dunning is a skeptic that does a show about many different subjects; I don’t always agree with him and he often doesn’t look into his subject very closely which seems to be typical of the high profile skeptic community. Reasonable skepticism should require more investigation and those that participate in this should spend much more time consulting with other experts in what ever field they’re addressing. In this case he does seem to have raised some criticism from other experts although his sources aren’t available on the internet as easily as the positive reviews about Philip Zimbardo’s work. Only one of his sources is available on the internet and it is a presentation from Philip Zimbardo not his critics. Nor does he address what I consider the most important issues which I attempted to address; however he does raise some legitimate questions. One of his concerns was that Zimbardo participated in his own experiments; which may have enabled him to influence the results of his experiments and impose his own biases to influence the outcome. Dunning also expresses concern that Philip Zimbardo may have also been trying to prove his own preexisting beliefs that the power of the situation is the cause of the behavior of the participants. This is a legitimate concern although as indicated previously I believe it may go much farther than that. He may have had an ulterior motive that is still undisclosed and it may have been an experiment for a total different purpose. He may have been attempting to study manipulation tactics that enable the Military to better implement boot camp indoctrination and obtain obedience to authority.

Dunning also raises some questions about the ethical issues of the experiment although he doesn’t go nearly as far as I would have preferred. He concludes by indicating that “Psychology is complicated, and there will probably never be a perfect theory explaining all human behavior….” This is accurate as far as it goes; however as indicated before aI suspect that Philip Zimbardo was partially right about the situation influencing the behavior but he neglects to take into consideration the upbringing of the participants of the experiment.

Sharon Presley seems to have disagreed with all of Brian Dunnings criticism. One of the respondents on Dunning’s web page has indicated that since she used Facebook to present her work and this can be done by anyone she should not be considered credible. This is a reasonable concern but it isn’t as important as whether or not the principles she presents will stand up to scrutiny; and I doubt if they will. Further more a quick search of the internet indicates that she also has more information available about her including her own web page at Sharon Presley .com and there is a Wikipedia page about he; so I have decided to give her the benefit of the doubt about whether or not she is who she says she is. A potential motive that could indicate a conflict of interest is the fact that she claims she is a protégé of Stanley Milgram who was her mentor in college when studying Social psychology. This may indicate the possibility that she may have been involved in similar experiments, or more likely, follow up study to evaluate older ones.

She begins by indicating that she believes that Dunning doesn’t understand what social psychologist do and the limitations that they have to deal with; and she claims that it is obvious that Dunning hasn’t read the book. I’m not sure it is obvious at all that he hasn’t read her book; as indicated I suspect if he took more time he may have come up with a more detailed review but this doesn’t mean he hasn’t read the book. More importantly if she is concerned about him not understanding how psychology research works why didn’t she spend more time to explain how psychology research works? In fact that is what I did with The Fundamentals of Psychology. If she was more concerned about the fact that he didn’t understand it and she wanted to make a case that the public would understand then surly this would have been a good idea or perhaps she could have cited her sources. Instead she seems to have expected the reader to accept her based on her credentials; which as I indicated may have been biased.

She closes by saying “The Stanford prison experiment is unethical. Is this a cheap attempt at slurring the experiment? If not, why bother to mention it? Zimbardo himself readily admits in retrospect that it was unethical. And so what, in terms of the results? It does in no way speak to the validity of the results. ….”
It is true that Philip Zimbardo has addressed the ethics problem but not nearly as well as he could and should have; and for the most part these concerns still haven’t been presented to the majority of the public. She has indicated correctly that this work has been presented in most if not all college text books about Social Psychology and that the Social Psychologist have discussed the ethics among themselves. Her wording seems to be designed to express self-righteous indignation which should not be considered very scientific. Instead she appears as if she is making an appeal to emotion that may be effective to those that don’t understand fallacies as indicated in a link above.

In short I don’t think Sharon Presley’s concerns should be taken very seriously; quite the contrary it might be worth wondering why she would do so ineffective a job addressing the subject. Nor should the books she has apparently written be considered credible without confirmation, assuming that she is the individual that posted the rebuttal which seems probable. She has provided some links in her rebuttal including this one which does provide some good material. This material will help avoid being manipulated if the public understands it and bases their decisions on the principles that they can understand and trust rather than the source of authority. Sharon Presley is essentially warning the public about blindly obeying authority and presenting herself as an authority figure at the same time. Understanding this and having unbiased peer review would help avoid switching from one authority to another that winds up manipulating the public.

In my own list of manipulation or indoctrination tactics I included the following tactic and educational alternative:

Appear as Benefactor: Cult Leaders often try to obtain your trust by convincing you that they are trying to help you out and look out for your best interest. One of the ways they do this is to Warn you of "danger" from others. They might describe things that others are trying to do to you. When they do this they imply that are not doing the same thing. In Mein Kampf Hitler often described cult tactics when the enemy was using it against them. In some cases he was right but even then he used the same tactics and did it much more effectively. The damage that Hitler did was far worse than any threats or perceived threats Hitler described. Manson, Jones, Koresh and many more also did similar things.

Educational Alternatives: Whenever someone warns you of danger check to make sure it is a legitimate threat and check to see if the leader is using the same tactics. Consider the motives of leaders they are not always what they seem. There have been an enormous number of times where ulterior motives of past leaders have been exposed to assume that it will never happen again or neglect to consider it is foolish.
Other statements on the page indicate that the public should learn to understand the principles more than the source. This doesn’t’ mean that all people that attempt to appear as benefactors are manipulative; there are many sincere people that have good intentions. In most cases these sincere people probably won’t object to a reasonable amount of scrutiny.

Furthermore since turnabout is fair play it may be worth considering whether or not I am doing this. If in doubt check the work and come to your own conclusions; I have no intention of attempting to coerce anyone. However it is worth considering the possibility that those who did the research to understand obedience may have understood what it could be used for and they may have an interest in avoiding culpability. It appears that Philip Zimbardo and Sharon Presley may be warning us about the tactics they’re using simultaneously with some omissions. This is similar to the response George Soros gave to a questions that was asked over ten years ago, perhaps by Diane Sawyer who asked something like, “You’re basically saying stop us before we steal again.” And George Soros replied by saying “yes.” The only difference is that Philip Zimbardo and Sharon Presley both continue to deny that their work may have been used to manipulate the public rather than warn them. If there is a truth and education commission then we need to have peer review and those that may have been involved in wrong doing should not be allowed to control the process.

On another note Sharon Presley also fails to address the affect that child rearing may have had on the willingness of people to obey authority; I went into this on the previous post about “Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect, Stanford Prison Experiment,” where I cited Philip Greven who considered the possibility that this should have been considered during Milgram’s experiment and it could just as easily apply to Zimbardo’s experiment.  

For additional discussion about the ethics at the APA see TOWN HALL MEETING During Mini-Convention on Ethics and Interrogation AUGUST 19, 2007 PDF

Edit: the following are some additional comments that were originally added to the comments section but could just as easily be part of the original article; although they might not be organized as well as they could ahve been and might be editied soon to correct this.

I updated the last section about the review by Sharon Presley based partly on her additional writings which I found through her facebook page and read after the fact. I also sent her a message through facebook; I intended to post it on the open forum but couldn’t figure out how or if it accepted comments so I have decided to present it here. The following is what I sent to her about this page.

HI Sharon, I found you through your message posted on Brian Dunning’s Blog page. I was reviewing his comments while finishing up a follow up review of Zimbardo’s work. I noticed your comments and had a few disagreements with your criticism of Dunning. Although I didn’t agree completely with Dunning I didn’t agree with your rebuttal and decided to include a review of that as well in my review. There are actually two pages that address Zimbarod’s, Milgram’s and now your work which you might be interested in. They can be found at the following web sites:



There is also a link on those pages to my own review of the Fundamentals of Psychology that you might be interested in. I would welcome any constructive criticism you might have either here or there. I didn’t intend to misrepresent you or anyone but I clearly believe that there are some issues that haven’t been addressed properly.

BTW The National Science Foundation which funded Milgram’s study is a government organization.

zacherydtaylor May 14, 2011 12:51 PM

The following are a few excerpts from the APA Town Hall Meeting cited at the end of the post, mainly about the secrecy involved that raises the possibility that more activity is being kept secret. There is plenty of additional worthwhile information and I suspect that many of you may have chosen to highlight different segments given the choice; so the whole thing is recommended for those of you who have time to read it.

p.12-3 DR. MARK COVEY (captain in the Army Reserve): “It prompted me to write an article on Abu Ghraib, taking it more from a psychological perspective, drawing from some different theories; also Zimbardo. And unfortunately, I didn't realize at the time that I was hitting a major landmine because when it went through the review process in order to be approved for publishing, it was denied.”

“And I can say to you that that single event changed my life, and it prompted me ultimately to write a book since the articles that I was attempting to publish I ran into some difficulties. And so I would say Abu Ghraib was the centerpiece and the being denied publishing, that was the main feature of the book.”

p.14-5 MS. GOODMAN: Excuse me, just a point of procedure. We're told that reporters are only allowed to record for ten minutes, and Pamela Willenz of the APA said that she will call Security on us now, because we're going to be recording for more than ten minutes. So, I was wondering if there could be any sense of the meeting, or a rationale, since this is a town hall meeting, for not being allowed to record for more than ten minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: Can we vote to allow recording at the town hall meeting? Can we all vote to allow recording?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: It's our town hall meeting.

It's our town hall meeting, isn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: We want the press to witness this.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3: Yeah, absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3: No more crimes in silent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: No more secrecy.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: Transparency, openness.


MS. CARLENAS: Can everyone who approves of allowing the reporters to record please raise your hand? UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Dr.Haldemann or Dr. Behnke): Okay, folks, the recording will continue through the session.

[Applause.] P. 18-9 DIANE [inaudible], (representative for the clinical psychologists.): “They used psychology techniques to get people polarized, to get us to not listen to what's really going on, and to make us think that 9/11 and Iraq are related. I responded to 9/11 as a Red Cross responder. And everyone knows they're not related, but that premise is brought together again.”

p. 23 DR. Mary Ann Jackson: “Now, of course, there's the additional problem that the population in general doesn't know too much about this, and I'm very glad to see the press is here to record this and get it out because I think it's very important.”

p. 27-8 DR. CARTER MEHL: “Why are we being secretive? I understand why the CIA needs to be secretive. We are a public organization. And I would like someone from APA leadership to explain their rationale, why they thought a town meeting like this should be cut off, that the press should be excluded after ten minutes. I would really like to know. I'm trying to understand. That is my problem, is what is the leadership coming from?” …..

DR. HALDEMAN: “Not very much. I did not know until this session started that there was a ten-minute limit on press coverage of these sessions.”….

DR. HALDEMAN: “And I am sorry, I cannot explain this to you because I don't know why.” …..

p.29 DR. REISNER: “I think it is very important that there are decisions being made and nobody seems to know who made them.”

zacherydtaylor September 16, 2011 10:38 AM

A few things to consider about these excerpts include the fact that after a quick search of the internet I was unable to find out what book Mark Covey was referring to. Presumably what ever information he wanted to report is still not easily and widely available to the public. Also despite Dr. Jackson’s pleasure that the press was there this was not widely reported to the public, the meeting was four years ago and the first I heard about it was a couple of days ago due to a search of the internet that happened to include the right words which most people wouldn’t do.

And the attempt to prevent the meeting from being recorded was so absurd it seems like it was made by bumbling idiots; they surely should have known that it wouldn’t have worked without additional coercion and that it would wind up looking foolish and backfire.

zacherydtaylor September 16, 2011 10:47 AM

The following are a few more excerpts from the APA town hall meeting that I thought were worth highlighting, mainly because I thought that one person was being cut off in an inappropriate manner and because of the lack of input from the board. It is followed by a few of my own comments.

p. 60-4 MR. SHUMAN: My name is Aaron Shuman. I coordinate something called the Prisoners Solidarity Project at Prison Activists Resource Center. And this is a folder of complaints about torture and mistreatment that we've received from one state prison………

(Mr. Shuman spoke for a total of three pages)

….And you have statistics from things like the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons that says a million and a half people -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll make more --

MR. SHUMAN: -- get cycled through the prison and jail --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- friends if you stop when your time is up.

MR. SHUMAN: Well, I'm on my last sentence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're right, but you should stop when everybody else stops.

MR. SHUMAN: Okay. But I'm not interested in being right. I'm interested in changing the situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But we're also interested in hearing other people who are waiting and --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- keeping to the time limit.

p. 65-6 DR. SAWYER: My name is Jack Sawyer. I'm curious about the process here. I wonder how many members of the Board of Directors are here with us. One? You're to be commended for that. There are how many on the board, a dozen or more? Thirteen. I'm curious why the others aren't here. They weren't instructed not to come, I'm sure. Were they invited to come? Do you have any idea? You're here probably 'cause you were conducting a meeting. But -- why aren't your fellow board members here to hear at the town hall?

BOARD MEMBER: President Sharon Brehm was here earlier. Others were here, our president of the APA was here. And I think [inaudible].

DR. SAWYER: Good. The president was here and one other board member was here earlier.

DR. HALDEMAN: President-elect was here.

DR. SAWYER: President-elect, yes, Al Kazdin. Good for Al. Do you have any thoughts as to why so few have interest in this?

DR. HALDEMAN: Well, you are asking me a question I, I know an unanswerable question. But, you're asking me why people who aren't here aren't here. And I have no advance knowledge anyone was not planning to come or planning to come. I didn't poll them to see who was coming. It's not really a board event; it's a town hall meeting for you.

DR. SAWYER: Well, is it for us or is it -- it's not to help the Board get the idea of the opinions of the people?

DR. HALDEMAN: I've gotten a lot of ideas about your opinions. And I will convey them I hope faithfully to my board colleagues. DR. SAWYER: Well, you've got a big job. Good luck.


First of all I thought that even if the Aaron Shuman was going over his time it wasn’t by much more than a couple of the other speakers and even if it was there should have been no need to cut him off in such a rude manner. This seems more inappropriate since he was one of the ones that seemed to be bringing one of the most important and critical points. It is possible that this could have been an attempt to suppress him; however it is also possible that due to the fact that it was getting late the person who interrupted him could have been getting concerned about the shortage of time. Either way it doesn’t seem appropriate to cut him off that way.

A bigger concern seems to be the fact that the board wasn’t there and that there are many other thi9ngs that could have been raised and they could have had additional town hall meetings and recorded them as well. I looked for the transcripts for the original meeting where the Social Responsibility clause was removed and couldn’t find it on the internet. I didn’t look through all the information that they had on their web site but didn’t find it there and suspect that it could have been provided in a location that could be easy to find. What I did find was this comparison between the two from 1992 and 2003 (PDF). In addition to deleting the Social Responsibility Clause they also deleted many other things. These were all at the end even Clause A which could have been listed in the beginning. This could lead some people that don’t take the time to read the whole thing to go without noticing the large amounts of deletions they have provided. When they do get the portions that are deleted they don’t provide any explanation; instead they just write “No corresponding principle.” or “Subsection (or standard) deleted.”

Overall I get the impression that there are many sincere psychologists that are concerned about what is going on but that they may not be in the leadership positions. It appears that they may be as complacent as many members of the public or they may be under pressure to abstain from putting up too much of a fuss against those in power.

zacherydtaylor September 17, 2011 01:28 PM

(For more information on Blog see Blog description and table of context for most older posts.)

The following are the original replies when this was first posted on Open Salon.

My impression with psychologists, as with psychiatrists and other helping professions, is that their class allegiance (to the ruling elite) always comes before the so-called ethics of their profession. The role of the helping professions is to assist the ruling elite by using "soft" methods of population control (brainwashing, psychological manipulation, mind control etc) to minimize the need for violent (police and military) control.

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall May 14, 2011 01:40 AM

Generally speaking I agree; that is a brief summation of what the past several of my posts on psychology and some more to come are about. However the devil is in the details; feel free to check it as I go and let me know if I get any of those details wrong. Constructive criticism would be welcome whether or not anyone agrees with me.

zacherydtaylor May 14, 2011 10:37 AM

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