David Pilgrim posts…..
Hypocrisy abounds at the centre of the BPS. The recycled names in the oligarchy pride themselves for occupying positions of power for years on end. They reframe this deluded virtue signalling as ‘serving’ the membership, and present awards to one another in celebration. The functional advantages for their CVs and the exclusive opportunities to pursue their particular personal interests, are mentioned little.
Our references to the gender document (see, for example, here) and our analysis of the policy on memory and the law in past pieces reveal this hypocritical gaming. Financial controls by the centre of the periphery and its subsystems, run by honest volunteers with tiny budgets, have been cumbersome and petty. At the same time, we are expected gullibly to accept the write off of thousands and thousands of pounds pocketed by corrupt employees, as a trivial accounting footnote. As the old credit card advertisement used to go appositely, ‘That will do nicely.’
The organisation is now so dysfunctional and depleted of intellectual and moral credibility that it is difficult to know where to start when telling the story to any newcomer, whether it is a curious friend or a journalist. One point of departure is human rights and the Orwellian doublethink of the cabal. They control an organisation that professes to be transparent, when it is actually recurrently secretive. From heavily redacted Board minutes to anonymised kangaroo courts and rigged appeals, the evidence is now clear. They run an organisation that professes to be learned, when actually they hold cherished academic values, such as freedom of expression, in complete contempt. They profess to be democratic but contrive to remove a properly elected President, intent upon holding them to account for current and past misgovernance.
Virtually anything seems to go to protect those in power. The arrogance that comes with the latter allows the cabal to float above normal and reasonable expectations of organisational probity, with blithe indifference.
The continuing relevance of Article 10 of the ECHR
We have posted several pieces tracking the miscarriage of justice against Nigel MacLennan. In the coming months there will be more to report on his case in an unfolding legal context. Whistle blowers are what the Index on Censorship calls ‘the lifeblood of democracy’ (Bright, 2021). The BPS is a textbook case of pernicious anaemia in this regard.
The human rights implications of freedom of expression (including academic freedom) and whistleblowing can be considered together under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Both involve the recognition that, with public interest in mind, individuals should neither be constrained in silence, nor punished for their acts of good faith. In the case of the latter, MacLennan has been punished by the BPS in a manner that befits the worst form of imagined dictatorship. Expelled, publicly disparaged and career ruined, he has paid the price for the survival (for now) of the cabal.
Whistleblowing is a form of morally justified civil disobedience, but academic freedom is not, so their legal and ethical rationales have had different histories. In the UK, the Robbins Report of 1963 devoted a chapter to defending the rights of academics to express and explore ideas (even if others found them objectionable). Margaret Thatcher tried and failed to remove some of these recommendations, with House of Lords objections prevailing. Latterly, our Conservative government has discovered its own libertarian conscience, in the face of the challenges posed by the new and mindless authoritarianism of identity politics. The ‘cancel culture’ is now impacting training and education generally and psychology is not immune from that erosion of the gains of the Enlightenment: a cue for the next section.
My censored article: ‘Rachel’ replies
In a previous post I outlined the story of an article censored by anonymous BPS staff. I discovered that this sort of Stasi style surveillance and editing was not unusual under the regime of the cabal. The irony was that the censored piece was an ethical exploration of freedom of expression and its importance for psychologists today; it was published in full on this blog, at the end of the posting. As the cliché goes, ‘you could not make this up’.
The Complaints Department received objections from me, and I was eventually told that it was not published because of its poor quality. This was not true: the piece had been agreed by the editor and I was told at one point by a ‘Trustee’ that COVID was simply delaying its appearance. Follow up clarifications from me were ignored. Somebody in the BPS, to put it charitably, had been ‘economical with the actualité’. The poor administrative person in the Complaints Department just passes on what a ruling is without comment. We are not told who told them to say it, but it then becomes the view of ‘the BPS’. Eventually, and recently, I made one last attempt to get the cabal to come clean about the censorship.
The other day, I received a reply from Dr Rachel Scudamore (rather disarmingly under the faux-intimate norms of the New Public Management model, signing herself ‘Rachel’). I have not met this person and have no reason to either like or dislike her. I had to go on the website to discover her role, with its suitably Orwellian title, given the disarray in the BPS today. Here is what she said:
Dear Dr Pilgrim,
I have reviewed our correspondence with you and I can see that this matter has been addressed in several emails.
In response to your specific question, the CEO took overall responsibility for the investigation of the matter and drew on colleagues and members as required to come to his conclusions; we would not normally share further details.
I also note that Diane Ashby informed you on 24th March 2021 that “Having fully answered your various concerns and complaints, I do not think that continuing to respond is an appropriate use of the resources of the society and so I have instructed my team not to acknowledge or respond to repeat correspondence unless substantive new points are made”.
There are no substantive new points made, and so there is nothing further to add.
Dr Rachel Scudamore
Head of Quality Assurance & Standards
So that is that. I am still in the dark about who censored my piece and the rationale for the spiking. BPS resources are too precious to establish the simple facts: who really made the decision and why? And why did I receive conflicting messages about first its delay, and then its complete non-appearance? I will never know. The reader’s guess is as good as mine, because secretive regimes leave ordinary citizens in a bemused state of deliberately contrived ignorance.
The good use of BPS resources
The matter of resources is of course important, but its salience seems to shift dramatically from one scenario to another, according to the whims of the cabal. For example, my case study in the violation of academic freedom, within an alleged learned Society, does not warrant resources. Why be bothered with old fashioned academic freedom, when Malcolm Tucker-style information control and impression management is the new name of the game?
In another example, according to its website, the BPS does not investigate complaints against individual members. Well, that is the case unless the member involved happens to be a threat to the ruling cabal. Leaving nothing to chance, it made sure that Nigel MacLennan was investigated following trumped-up charges by members of the Senior Management Team.
And there was more: the latter employed expensive lawyers to seek a justification for his expulsion, with the sensitivities about whistleblowing being a potential and irritating impediment to this goal. The Board (of course minus MacLennan) endorsed this ‘good use’ of members’ money. Then there is the small matter of the unendingly paid CEO on gardening leave, as well as the £6 million change programme (headed up by Diane Ashby). All good use of money maybe – but maybe not, the reader can make up their own mind.
To be fair, in an encouraging act of seeming insight, the cabal did pay money to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) for some consultancy to improve matters. The problem was that the NCVO walked away from what they saw as an unsafe and toxic culture in ‘the BPS’. The membership knew nothing of this at the time, but why would they? Secretive cabals are skilled, for a while, at keeping awkward news under wraps. Eventually journalism did its job and now we all know the bones of the story (see here).
The cabal running the BPS for now holds human rights concerning whistleblowing and academic freedom in contempt. I may be wrong in this broad judgment. However, I would genuinely welcome their comments on this piece, so that they can put the record straight about censorship and whistleblowing to the BPS membership. As with my right to speak out, they have the right to remain silent. My hunch is that silence will prevail.
Bright, M. (2021) Holding the rich and powerful to account: whistle blowers are extraordinary people, but they often pay a terrible personal price. (Editorial) Index on Censorship 50, 2, 1.