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The APA and the Hoffman Report

Posted by Margaret Donohue on July 15, 2015 at 11:15 AM

This past weekend, The Hoffman Report http://www.apa.org/independent-review/APA-FINAL-Report-7.2.15.pdf was leaked to the New York Times.  The report details the collusion between the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) specifically the CIA and the Bush Administration in collaborating to use enhanced methods of interrogation otherwise known as torture.  This practice was lied about to the general membership of the APA.  Several members of the American Psychological Association, also members of the Society for Social Responsibility, spoke up against the APA in it's dealings with the DoD.  Some resigned their membership.  Others continued to press for disclosure, transparency, and openness with the membrship and the public at large.  Those that spoke up publically were subjected to ridicule, harassment, and questions of ulterior motives.


As the APA attempts to recover from this debacle, more serious issues of ethics arise.  The difficulties took place over a 9 year period. Wholesale changes to the ethics code were made to permit collusion with governmental agencies.  Historically when laws and rules collided with ethics, psychologists were supposed to do their best to uphold ethics and attempt to work to change laws. The events of September 11th and the attack on the World Trade Center changed what people thought.  Getting information at the cost of civil liberties seemed to be a fine trade-off for many. Then Edward Snowden stepped forth and explained how far that "information gathering" had been taken.


Doing the right thing is a complicated process. Standing up for principles is never easy, is often met with harassment, job loss and vilification. Doing the right thing means to be open, to be transparent, to have input from others, to allow questions, and to take a fierce look at what is happening and how it works or doesn't. It's noticing power disparities, and what happens to dissenters.  Our job as professionals is to stand up for those principles in every day life.  To question data, people in power, people who abuse authority, and to provide science to attempt to provide reasoned influence to the law and to legal processses.  Wrongful or eggregious behavior has a hard time standing up in the face of the light.


APA has issued public apologies that indicate they are disheartened to hear of what transpired.  That it was a select group.  That several people are resigning or have been fired.  It's not enough.  People in leadership have known or should have known for almost a decade.  The time is right for contrition, accountability, transparency, inclusiveness, and genuine change.  That new spirit needs to filter down to undergraduate and graduate programs in psychology, to field placement, internships, residencies, and full and part time positions.  All too often, psychologists fearful of rocking the boat are asked by others in positions of authority to do things that are unethical, harmful, or illegal and feel they have little alternative but to comply.  The APA and all state associations need to provide clear direction going forth about the standards of the profession, the requirements of ethical citizenship and return to clearer values for the profession as a whole. 

Categories: Ethics

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