British Psychological Society Investigating Historical Malpractice

The British Psychological Society is conducting an investigation of historical malpractice by Society members. The investigation is being held in secret, behind closed doors, and without any independent checks and balances. The Society does not want the public to know about this investigation. Even the Society’s own members do not know the details of the investigation.

How can this self-investigation possibly be viewed as anything other than a cosmetic exercise? If the issues involved were not so serious, the investigation would be nothing but a joke.

Previous posts here, here and here outlined my concerns that the Society is operating in an unethical, incompetent and systemically racist manner. Another post details specific concerns about one of the Society’s most highly lauded Presidents, Charles Spearman.

Here I summarise a list of historical examples of racist malpractice that fly in the face of the Society’s published ethical codes and which have yet to receive any correction or apology.

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The BPS website states:

the British Psychological Society …is responsible for the promotion of excellence and ethical practice in the science, education, and application of the discipline…

We strive to:

  • be the learned society and professional body for the discipline 
  • embrace equity, diversity and inclusion in everything we do 
  • promote and advance the discipline 
  • be the authoritative and public voice of psychology 
  • determine and ensure the highest standards in all we do.  

1. Introduction

Consider the following :

The first BPS President, also an Editor of the British Journal of Psychology, is a white supremacist advocate of eugenics who writes about the ‘mental differences between the higher and lower races’. The Society names a special annual lecture after him.

An ex-officer in the British Army and BPS President – Charles Spearman, another white supremacist – writes about the inferiority of working class people and questions their right to have children but, until very recently, has a prestigious medal awarded to up-and-coming psychology researchers.

A leading psychology professor writes in the British Journal of Psychology that large families are breeding grounds of the feeble-minded. After his death, this person is found guilty of faking the existence co-workers, authors, data and correlations to bolster his claim that intelligence is genetically determined.

A 1990 paper in The Psychologist claims that racial group differences in intelligence occur worldwide and these IQ differences are “paralleled by more than 50 other variables including brain size, maturation rate, personality and temperament, sexuality, and social organisation”.[7] This disgusting, unscholarly piece of work is supported by Britain’s most famous psychologist and by the BPS President.

A 2006 paper in the British Journal of Health Psychology proposes that black, sub-Saharan African people have problems living in the modern world because they are less intelligent than people living in richer, more egalitarian countries.[8]   In a well-known Psychology magazine, the same writer later claims that black women are objectively less attractive than women of other races.

At a BPS webinar on ‘How to implement anti-racist practice’ on 12 October 2021, the President of the Society, Katherine Carpenter, also Chair of the Division of Neuropsychology, stated that she was “absolutely aghast to discover that other psychologists think that neuropsychologists think that – uhm – black people may be less intelligent…”  

At a BPS clinical psychology conference in 2019, a live portrayal of the slave trade is presented as ‘entertainment’. The organisers fail to warn participants, obtain their informed consent or to stop the performance to prevent audience members becoming upset.

In 2020, a BPS Division of Clinical Psychology annual conference delegate displays a poster describing her research on forensic services. Another participant writes a sordid racial slur onto the poster, which is left on display for all participants to see.

On multiple occasions, a clinical psychology professor sexually abuses a vulnerable 20-year old patient. Claiming drink problems, the professor is permitted by the Society to continue as a member.

Britain’s most famous Psychology professor secretly obtains tobacco industry funding and uses fraudulent data to claim that tobacco is less harmful than the smokers’ own personalities and that behaviour therapy can be used to lower smokers’ risk of fatal diseases. An investigation at the professor’s university concludes that the professor’s publications are ‘unsafe’ and many papers are retracted by journals. However the professor’s fraud is never investigated by the Society, which continued to have a special lecture after him.

According to the Chair of the Society’s Ethics Committee, alleged ethical breaches and misconduct by the Society’s employees are not dealt with by the Society’s Ethics Committee but by a Complaints Procedure.

You are not dreaming – this is not dystopian fiction. All of the above actually happened inside the BPS.

How can a Society profess “excellence, ethical practices and highest standards” and yet be responsible for the above list of unmitigated disasters?   

How can the BPS believe that public trust in the organisation can be restored following the Society’s investigation of its own historical malpractice?

Published by dfmarks

Author

2 thoughts on “British Psychological Society Investigating Historical Malpractice

  1. Writing as someone who has been a member of the BPS since the early 1970s, I believe that all of these cases, plus a few more that I am aware of, need to be thoroughly investigated in an open and accountable way if the BPS, which after all is a membership organization, is to maintain its credibility in the modern world.

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