"The Psychologist", Memory and the Law Group

The Psychologist – a cautionary tale

Peter Harvey writes….

Whilst we hope that this blog will get very wide coverage, we are realistic enough to know that it hasn’t (as yet, at least) the coverage of the BPS house publication (apparently it’s not a journal, it’s a magazine).  In order to alert the wider membership both to both the fact of the BPS’s decision not to rewrite and/or publish new Memory and Law guidelines and the process as to how this decision was made, I submitted my previous post as a letter to the editor of The Psychologist. He decided not to publish it on the following grounds

  1. It was too lengthy;
  2. I had already had a fairly full response to my queries;
  3. The members of the task force are happy with agreed way forward;
  4. The topic has been covered quite a lot over the years;
  5. When the planned journal coverage appears there might be another opportunity to cover this.

My response is below

Dear Jon,

Unsurprisingly, I am extremely disappointed by your decision not to publish my letter particularly on the grounds of length and the fact that I have already had a response.

Am I to understand that the only criticisms of the BPS that you will allow have to be squeezed into an arbitrary 600-word limit? Whilst the social-media savvy might think that you can have a reasoned and sensible debate with a packaged pullquote or 280 characters, I am of the generation that believes that serious issues demand proper space for debate. Such restrictions shut down argument, make point-scoring the aim rather than having to justify a position by evidence and reason.

The whole point of my letter was that the so-called ‘..fairly full response…” raised important issues of which neither I nor the membership were aware. My initial set of questions were simply that – to ascertain what the Society’s position on the matter is so that I was not reliant on hearsay and rumour. Once I had that information then I could comment sensibly and at proper length.

I find Debra’s statement regarding enquiries to the BPS astonishing – the point I make in the letter. It is outrageous that the Society is not being proactive here. These are guidelines that are in wide circulation still (the 2008 version is still the first hit on a Google search) and many professionals will regard them as current as there is nothing to say otherwise. Do you really expect that prior to using a set of BPS Guidelines everyone will phone the office to check on their currency?

You make the statement that you have covered the issue quite a lot over the years – of course you have and rightly, because it is a critically important issue and remains so. Are you seriously suggesting that in your editorial decision-making you are using the longevity of an issue or debate as a reason for not publishing? Does it not occur to you that one of the reasons that issues such as these command coverage on a regular basis is their importance? I find this an entirely uncompelling argument for refusing to publish.

Awaiting the decision on the proposed journal coverage simply adds further delay and uncertainty into the process. It parallels the BPS’s serious error of judgement in regards to the Keira Bell/Tavistock Judicial Review when the Society – rather than telling its members to obey the law as it now stands – has prevaricated on the basis that the decision is being appealed. Waiting on the unknown outcomes of the decisions of others is surely not a tenable position for a learned society.

The fact that this has appeared on the blog is not the issue – The Psychologist is the BPS house publication to which all members have access. The information contained in my letter has relevance to a significant proportion of that membership.  It gives them information they have a right to know and, in an open organisation, the opportunity to contest and debate.

I am unconvinced that The Psychologist actually functions, as you suggest, as the place to question the Society and its actions. One reason for starting the blog was that we have heard too many members’  experiences of the BPS and The Psychologist being unresponsive to their concerns and to healthy conflict and controversy.  And we will continue to act as forum for questioning the society until it is seen to be acting in the open and transparent manner that it claims to do.

I really don’t want to play the Aggrieved Author here but I find it dispiriting that the main forum for members to have an open debate – our house magazine/journal/publication – is so difficult to have access to. Article too long – really? Just over 2000 words in a 70 page publication. Too familiar – really?  Since when did the study of memory stop being of interest? When was it reported that the Guidelines were archived? What did a recent submission on issues around freedom of expression have to do to “make the cut” to appear? This is our publication for the membership – please give us a chance to use it fully.

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