Psychologists try to salvage the reputation of their profession

When governments engage in atrocities like torture, they invariably need the assistance of people in health care professions, such as doctors and nurses, to collaborate in these practices since they have the necessary expertise to both monitor them and develop even more methods of torture. Unfortunately they usually have enough of such people to help them, either because those medical professionals are willing to overlook the appalling ethics of what they are doing or because their jobs depend upon them going along or they actually profit from it.

A new report by human rights activists alleges that the American Psychological Association, not just a few of its members, helped the US government develop and carry out torture by providing them with ethical and legal rationales for it.

The three lead authors of the report are longtime and outspoken critics of the association: Stephen Soldz, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis; Steven Reisner, a clinical psychologist and founding member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology; and Nathaniel Raymond, the director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and the former director of the campaign against torture at Physicians for Human Rights.

“In 2004 and 2005 the C.I.A. torture program was threatened from within and outside the Bush administration,” Mr. Soldz said by email. “Like clockwork, the A.P.A. directly addressed legal threats at every critical juncture facing the senior intelligence officials at the heart of the program. In some cases the A.P.A. even allowed these same Bush officials to actually help write the association’s policies.”

The APA has gone into full damage control mode. It has initiated what it calls an ‘independent review’ of what happened. This morning while listening to NPR, one of the underwriting credits was from the APA where they spoke about their valuable contributions to science. I had never heard the APA advertise on NPR before, suggesting that they recognize that their image has been seriously damaged and are trying to repair it.

It will be interesting to see if this is just another episode of professionals saying they are sorry for what they did in the past and then doing it again in the future.


  1. Ichthyic says

    Psychologists try to salvage the reputation of their profession

    this is a misleading phrasing.

    In fact, it’s the APA that is trying to salvage its reputation, not psychologists in general.

    would you judge science in general based on the decisions made by AAAS?

    I hope not.

  2. Chiroptera says

    Marcus Ranum, #1:

    I think that the DSM is from the American Psychiatric Association, not the American Psychological Association.

    I’ve read that many psychologists don’t believe in the DSM but use it when they bill the insurance companies because that is what the insurance companies require. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of that, though.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    I was listening to the news on NPR (Morning Edition?) and noticed some underwriting by the APA, all about how it is working for the good of society. The cause & effect is just too obvious.

  4. moarscienceplz says

    Yep, I heard that on NPR as well. I almost spit toothpaste all over the place.
    Maybe the APA, BP and Koch Industries will band together in one giant, “We’re NOT evil! No, really!” campaign. That would be hilarious.

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