"The Psychologist", 'False Memory Syndrome', Academic freedom and censorship, Expulsion of President-Elect, Governance, IAPT, Memory and the Law Group, Prescribing Rights

The British Psychological Society: Failing the Public

Pat Harvey posts….

Because of their acknowledged expertise, Psychologists enjoy professional autonomy; responsibility is an essential element of autonomy. Psychologists must accept appropriate responsibility for what is within their power, control or management. Awareness of responsibility ensures that the trust of others is not abused, the power of influence is properly managed and that duty towards others is always paramount.

Statement of values: Psychologists value their responsibilities to persons and peoples, to the general public, and to the profession and science of Psychology, including the avoidance of harm and the prevention of misuse or abuse of their contribution to society.

BPS Code of Ethics and Conduct, 2018.

A dysfunctional Society

The British Psychological Society’s serious governance dysfunction, the central concern of BPSWatch (1) has important consequences, not only for the way it behaves towards its own membership, but ultimately in how it functions in relation to its responsibilities to the wider community. A Royal Chartered Charity, (2) its formal Objects may not explicitly state that it has that latter duty and responsibility to wider society, but the second Object requires it to have a Code of Ethics and Conduct (3). That Code includes the statement shown above and only a legal weasel or a BPS bureaucrat might, if pushed into a corner, attempt to deny that the Charter does not require a duty to the public at large. 

The growing awareness of the organisational dysfunction and the wilful withholding of information about this brought us together to form BPSWatch and the associated Twitter account @psychsocwatchuk. Whilst we and others have as yet failed to create sufficient pressure to see the ongoing involvement of the Charity Commission with the BPS over its governance problems escalate into a full Statutory Inquiry, we have helped to get information out into the mainstream and other media: The Times, The Telegraph and Third Sector. They will no doubt renew and sharpen their interest as anticipated legal cases become public. Meanwhile the individual concerns initially brought to us about specific policy topics which have been mishandled remain unresolved. It is our contention, and that of the complainants who have contacted us, that each of these is a matter of public concern and public protection.

 Unbalanced Views and Member Complaints

Psychology is, and should always be, alive and comfortable with controversy and debate. Members have a right to expect an open facilitative climate, where the best of psychological research, practice and policy formation would be supported and discussion promoted.  We, and others, think the BPS is failing to do this and efforts to complain about such failures have led to our focus on the actual suppression of viewpoints and the active censorship of controversies including  

Gender

Memory-Based Evidence

Prescribing Rights

IAPT

These impact directly on practitioners and the people and services they work with, but they also impact upon discussion in public life. They are matters of concern to the mental well-being of individuals who are vulnerable and finding themselves in threatening situations in their communities, in a clinic or in court. They are psychological matters still open to alignments of differing viewpoints.  We believe the BPS has a duty to address these, elucidate their conflictual aspects, review and weigh the evidence base and its adequacy, and specify remaining questions. 

Since this has not happened, members have tried to complain. They have often been ignored or met resistance.  A network of disparate, dissatisfied complainants discovered each other by word of mouth and email chains, and we were encouraged by this to set up BPSWatch.  The writer came into this originally due to what I believed to be grossly inadequate and incomplete BPS guidelines on gender for practitioners (4) which I had discovered in connection with a high profile childcare case which went to court.  I considered the guidelines totally unfit for purpose and was minded to complain. I then came across a statement made by a key player in their construction. This person’s formal presentation as an expert psychologist was recorded at an academic forum which was posted in an online video. They made a categoric statement that, based on what they held to be definitive research findings, the question of psychological outcomes of gender reassignment surgery was closed, stating “…the debate is shut. There is not a debate about that anymore…”. This is not a statement that any Chartered Psychologist should be making either in form or in content. It constitutes what will be taken by audience and viewer as authoritative summation of the current evidence base on outcomes of surgery. It misrepresents how psychologists should talk about scientific enquiry, and is actually untrue. It is, therefore, unethical. Furthermore, as a ‘take-away message’ in that forum and online, with the implied weight of the British Psychological Society behind that person’s position and reputation, it is seriously irresponsible. That message had the potential to impact directly, if heard, upon people making life-changing choices.

The BPS complaints team batted the complaint about the statement away. The first response (stage 1), was a blithe and ironic “…we are a broad church…”. I persisted, with references, and this aspect of my complaint, whilst taken more seriously and addressed in more detail, was rejected. They stated “…Although there will always be some dissenting voices, the idea that this represents a real schism in the scientific community [note, this misrepresents my precise concern] … is incorrect…”. In fact, subsequent reputable research publications (5) have strongly supported my contention that the jury was still out on this, and the debate is, and should, remain open. Uncertainty about those outcomes remains, and needs to be the subject of much more adequate data collection, follow-up and methodologically sound research. The psychologist I complained about was peddling certainties, taking a protagonist/activist position in the guise of the science, and the BPS was wrong to continue to support that. Vulnerable people, their families and their rights are ill-served by false certainties coming from supposedly highly authoritative sources, backed by the BPS

Conflict Avoidance

I have cited the above to illustrate not only the tortuous experience of trying to make a complaint to the BPS but also to illustrate how poor is the quality of the Society response. In the case of another of the topics listed above, Memory-Based Evidence, the BPS took a different tack – they dumped the challenge half-way through. The BPS’s previous out-dated guidance on this area was deemed to have been skewed at the time (2008, 2010) by the impact of the false memory/recovered memory lobby (6). The BPS had seemed, over the years and in the pages of The Psychologist, to have had stars in its eyes around a famous and foremost proponent, Elizabeth Loftus (7). She had been made an Honorary Fellow of the Society and lauded for her subsequent awards. Not all members were happy about this (8). For the interest of the reader, an admirable and informative account of the journalistically styled ‘Memory Wars’ can be found outside the pages of academic journals and The Psychologist in the link below (9). Such informed coverage puts the BPS house journal to shame. During the of writing this article, a US jury have shown limited sympathy with the defence case for which Loftus gave her usual form of evidence (10) and Robert Durst has been found guilty of a murder committed 20 years ago.

 A BPS-appointed Task and Finish group was set up to revise their outdated guidance. There was a good deal of demand for this from practitioners who appear in court in connection with many kinds of trauma, particularly in the context of historical child abuse allegations.  Well into its work, the working group was unexpectedly closed down (11). The Psychologist published a statement from the Chair of the Research Board suggesting this was an amicable and consensual decision – we have been directly informed by participants it was not.  As one comment amongst the many to The Psychologist stated “…I am a member of the Memory Based Evidence Group and I would like the right of reply to respond about some of what has happened in this Group, which was tasked on writing a document on Memory and the Law. I am unhappy about the Research Board’s decision to disband the group, and I do not think that there has been a satisfactory answer to why such a decision was made; this decision was made without consultation with the group members, nor with the wider Society….“(11). The announcement in The Psychologist was made with this statement “Unfortunately, the standards of evidence for the report and the need for consensus and a convergence of evidence from experimental work and clinical practice, [my emphasis] as defined within the Terms of Reference for the group, could not be met.”. (11)

Contained within this statement, one which might immediately raise the questions: “Who set those terms of reference?” and “Isn’t the contentiousness the very reason for these guidelines?” is a clue to where some of the underlying and poorly managed tensions may originate. Academic/practitioner conflicts have dogged other psychological associations; for example the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science in the USA (12). As someone from a practitioner background, my view would be that there are serious drawbacks to research which sets out to answer questions arising from the clinical environment using crudely artificial analogues. Memory based evidence is one topic illustrating the drawbacks in using research set up in staged non-personal settings to discredit the opinions (in the legal sense) of practitioners working in non-analogous trauma related circumstances.  If you have any doubts about the dire need for an authoritative dispassionate view on this particular controversy to protect individuals on both sides in an adversarial court environment, consider what the absence of that psychological balance does – it leaves courts wide open to the machinations of the British False Memory Society. How it actually goes about doing its work is described in detail in this video (13).  A balanced view from the BPS could surely weigh the concerns about false positives and false negatives within the context of BFMS strategies, the applicability of academic research to traumatic memory, and social context of the serious underreporting of child sexual abuse (14). This would greatly assist in the court setting which itself attempts, as does a practitioner, a case-by-case assessment of veracity. The BPS Research Board have in effect kicked the revision of the guidelines into the long grass, the old guidelines having been archived.  These, however, are still available to be cited and used on the uninformed if you know where to look online. 

The BPS Working for the BPS?

Further discussion of these topics, and also of the implications of the BPS failings on Prescribing Rights and IAPT, can be found in specific articles on the blog (15, 16, 17). They illustrate a systematic failure to conduct proper consultation over key concerns in service provision models and health service professional practice. Why and how is this happening? 

The BPS, it seems, has an opaque system and uses equally opaque criteria for choosing its preferred advisors and for what policies are to be discussed with government departments and the NHSE. Feedback to members is minimal or non-existent. We have been reliably informed that a BPS CEO felt quite free to negotiate with NHSE without the presence of any psychologist. This leaves the room for a Society with an ever more rapacious in-house business agenda to be sucked into any government ideology where a shared vested interest may appear. The wider views of members working in the field may well be sidelined or completely ignored. The alleged current government agenda on privatising health care/moving to insurance models is open to facilitation by the self-interest of particular voices who manage to gain favour. In that context, note the latest BPS attempts to convince the NHSE and PSA that the Society can regulate an influx of less qualified younger members who will bring in fees and subscriptions to swell the coffers. There is little reason to think this will go well. In contrast to welcoming ever wider groups for membership, senior members seem to be regarded as a nuisance – maybe more trouble than they are literally worth, unless they are securely corralled within the system’s tent and staying ‘on script’ with the assistance of the Society’s Comms team – being one of the ‘cronies’.

Cronyism and Its Ills

We arrived at the term ‘serial office holder’ to describe how some psychologists have made a parallel career from being a BPS ‘apparatchik’. These psychologists move from one office to another over years (sometimes decades), sometimes elected, sometimes appointed. They make a virtue of their extended contributions. They are able to use the BPS logo on their websites and list the many impressive offices they have held on their CVs. Thus their BPS career is likely to enhance their professional reputation. They like to give each other honorary lifetime memberships and even when that is done in an AGM on Zoom in 2021, you may be expected to stamp your feet under your desk in approval.

 It would seem highly likely that a regime where cronyism is a norm will lead to complacency, lack of critical reflection, closing ranks, and resistance to newcomers taking important roles. An extreme example of this was the opposition to, and the action taken against, the President Elect 2020-21, Dr Nigel MacLennan. He was elected on a reforming mandate and then expelled. The expulsion was heralded in a vilifying YouTube video for all to see even before he had chance to appeal. We know many members thought that horrible and immoral, and one can only shudder at the extent to which living in the BPS bubble has distorted the judgement and the personal morality of those implicated in, and complicit with, show trial tactics. The person chosen to conduct his ‘appeal’, far from being independent of the previous proceedings and personnel involved, described himself in an interview with The Psychologist, on assuming his own presidential office, as “…a BPS Junkie since 1984…”. He has been around the corridors, real and virtual, of the BPS for more than 30 years, the BPS and he being ‘in each others’ DNA’ so to speak. 

Not all serial office holders are treated well in the BPS, however, particularly if they start to question how things are being done. They too may be attacked and threatened like MacLennan. We have heard how some become very distressed, visibly so in meetings, but then increasingly conform; others resist but remain peculiarly defensive of some idealised notion of the organisation and its capacity for change despite all evidence of its malign dysfunction. These patterns are reminiscent of what has been called Stockholm Syndrome. It is pertinent to consider how an unhealthy organisational environment where the main focus is self-perpetuation might allow for another form of organisational capture, by activism. Any would-be activist moles would be well-advised to get their feet under the table by not rocking the organisational boat and to volunteer for taking on work others don’t want. Then they just need to wait for their policy agenda to float into view and haul it in.

Psychologists, Psychology and Activism

The writer has been a lifelong political activist and vigorously supports, in her personal life, action on climate change, poverty, inclusivity and world peace. I took to the streets in the 1970s when my town elected National Front/National Party councillors. I was part of the making of a World In Action TV programme on that racist environment. Those passionate views had to be put on mute in my clinical work. I currently hold strong views about many of the contentious topics in psychology, but our focus at BPSWatch is to ensure that no partisan view – including my own – within an area of ongoing scientist/practitioner debate captures the BPS. Some activists had assumed because we criticised BPS bias that we supported their ‘side’ of a particular argument, hence we have revisited and set out our agenda (19) – good governance, not certain ‘causes’.

We argue in BPSWatch that gender, memory-based evidence, prescribing rights and IAPT are amongst the topics that have been captured by a particular viewpoint and its activists. What follows capture is that debate is shut down, information restricted. Certain topics are being precluded from teaching and some psychologists are being maligned. Deeply unfair accusations of transphobia, sexism, racism, classism (the list grows daily) are never challenged by the BPS. This is aided and abetted by The Psychologist which actively fails to give balanced coverage to all legitimate views. Members have told us how their contributions have summarily been spiked in the in-house publications. It is not for the BPS to enter party politics and campaign, for example, on specifics such as Universal Credit. Rather, it should be making available the best research on poverty in relation to child development, adult mental health, crime and suchlike, and vigorously bringing this to the attention of politicians and decision makers. The same applies, as with the topics covered above and numerous others, to public awareness of the best evidenced range of views within which individual people are making the kinds of choices that many face and which will often change the course of their lives. This does not include rushing to be a signatory to a range of worthy campaigns (and how is the decision to sign – or not – made?). These psychological matters are serious.

The Results of Misgovernance are Failing the Public

The well-staffed, wealthy but seriously misgoverned charity that is the current British Psychological Society continues to fail its members and the public on the most crucial of standards, and for this we will continue to hold it to account.  We have hoped to see moves for radical change which would enable open communications with the large membership, bottom-up consultations and an inflow of new actively welcomed volunteers.  We hope to see new healthy structures at the top of the organisation, independent lay people as trustees. We believe it is only then that the BPS will serve the membership and the public as it should. Sadly, it just is not happening and there are no signs, despite the recent talk of ‘crossroads’, change programmes and tinkering with governance, that the change will come from genuine reflection within. Perhaps, therefore, it must come from without.

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Notes and Links

  1. Why the blog and why now? Charity Commission to Blog Author: “We are currently engaging with the society over a number of issues and have found deficiencies in some areas of operation” https://bpswatch.com/2020/11/20/why-the-blog-and-why-now/ 
  2. https://www.bps.org.uk/sites/www.bps.org.uk/files/How%20we%20work/BPS%20Royal%20Charter%20and%20Statues.pdf
  3. https://www.bps.org.uk/sites/www.bps.org.uk/files/Policy/Policy%20-%20Files/BPS%20Code%20of%20Ethics%20and%20Conduct%20%28Updated%20July%202018%29.pdf
  4. https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/guidelines-psychologists-working-gender-sexuality-and-relationship-diversity 
  5. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2020.1778correction 

“The results demonstrated no advantage of surgery in relation to subsequent mood or anxiety disorder-related health care visits or prescriptions or hospitalizations following suicide attempts in that comparison. Given that the study used neither a prospective cohort design nor a randomized controlled trial design, the conclusion that “the longitudinal association between gender-affirming surgery and lower use of mental health treatment lends support to the decision to provide gender-affirming surgeries to transgender individuals who seek them” is too strong”.

  1. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-30/august-2017/positives-negatives-and-empirical-reasoning 
  2. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-26/edition-5/news
  3. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-30/february-2017/no-congratulations-here
  4. https://www.thecut.com/article/false-memory-syndrome-controversy.html 
  5. https://www.courttv.com/title/8-4-21-the-jinx-murder-trial-intense-cross-examination-of-memory-expert/
  6. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-34/april-2021/not-good-look 
  7. https://behavioralscientist.org/long-winding-road-125-years-american-psychological-association/ 
  8. See Dr. Kevin Felstead, Communications Director, British False Memory Society reveal their strategy at I hour 4 minutes in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WsY-AqM4Y8 
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/sep/02/millions-children-religious-groups-vulnerable-abuse-england-and-wales
  10. https://bpswatch.com/category/false-memory-syndrome/
  11. https://bpswatch.com/category/prescribing-rights/
  12. https://bpswatch.com/category/iapt/
  13. https://bpswatch.com/2021/09/07/bps-bullshit/ 
  14. https://bpswatch.com/2021/09/14/what-this-blog-is-about-a-re-statement/ 
Board of Trustees, Expulsion of President-Elect, Governance

BPS Bullshit?

David Pilgrim writes…..

The failure of the BPS to establish a Board of truly independent Trustees in 1988 has had a profoundly adverse impact on its culture of governance. This missed opportunity to ensure transparency and accountability triggered an oligarchy of recycled names.  Their dominance was then disrupted by the incoming professional managers, with their variable understanding of, and commitment to, academic values aligned with a purported learned Society. Between them the oligarchy and the managers created a cabal, and one of its key requirements to retain power and credibility was a norm of concealment. Divided internally, they did agree on a policy of keeping outsiders in the dark, leaving blogs like this, or investigative journalists, to expose the inner workings of the BPS.

Philosophical concerns with concealment

As we are elaborate language-using social animals, reliant on mutual trust, personal credibility is an ongoing requirement for us all. For this reason, deception has been a recurring topic in Western philosophy. Pre-Socratic thinkers described the problem of concealment (of facts and intentions) as ‘lethe’. This referred to deception and forgetting or oblivion. A counter to it, in order to ensure human flourishing, was the pursuit of ‘alethic truth’.

Interest in the topic was re-animated in the 20th century. This was a period of unrelenting war, elaborated political and theocratic propaganda and new mass communication technologies. It prompted particular interest in concealment from key political novelists (e.g., Orwell, 1949; Zamyatin, 1924). ‘Doublethink’ and other Orwellian terms, such as ‘thoughtcrime’, are now a part of a lexicon of critique and cynicism in our recent post-truth culture, dominated by identity politics. Orwell no doubt is spinning in his grave.

This was an ‘age of extremes’ and ‘century of blood’ (Hobsbawm, 1992) and reflective thought about its consequences for honesty and decency abounded. From existential philosophers of the right (Heidegger, 1927) and the left (Sartre, 1943) we find an obsessive concern for authenticity. Sartre’s notion of ‘bad faith’ reminded us that deceit and self-deceit were joined at the hip in us all. To use the Sartrean-influenced phrase of Laing (1968), when discussing experience and communication, ‘we are all murderers and prostitutes’. 

Away from Continental reflection, Anglo-American philosophers also had similar concerns. Williams (2002) argued that the truth has two defining features: accuracy and sincerity. Bhaskar (1993) was more elaborate. For him alethic truth had three aspects: the ontological (objective facticity), the epistemological (knowledge claims) and the axiological (value judgments). To illustrate these three aspects of alethic truth, consider the ‘Burt affair’.

1 Is it true empirically that Burt falsified some of his data and invented names of authors in papers under his own editorial control?

 2 What theories or arguments were put forward to justify these accusations or defend or excuse his conduct?

3 Did the scandal undermine or support the credibility of British psychology and the political project of eugenics and why should these considerations matter to British society and its citizens?

Concealment in the vernacular

Another Anglo-American analytical philosopher of importance for our purposes was Frankfurt (1986/1988) who mapped ‘bullshit’ and its history in the 20th century. With alternative common descriptions (‘bull’ in military contexts and ‘bollocks’ in the British pub) bullshit grew in popularity as a dismissal from below of the rhetoric of those in power. While we are all capable of bullshit, elites (political, theocratic or managerial) have a vested interest in using it routinely to sustain their preferred version of reality, with a disregard for the truth. 

For clarity, bullshit does not refer narrowly to lying (Hardy, 2021). The liar, inveterate or occasional, like the truly honest person, is part of the same game. They both know what the truth is, but for a range of contingent personal or social reasons they opt to adopt a different approach to veracity. In particular, the liar will risk shame or guilt and censure and punishment if exposed, and these may be emotional considerations for them in the act of lying (and ambivalence about it).

By contrast, bullshit is both a personal and social process, whereby those dissimulating or evading the truth are indifferent to it. Their concerns are elsewhere, such as careerism, financial gain or personal survival and acceptance. The truth or otherwise, about this or that matter, is not a primary consideration for them, only egotistical gain. Their verbal or written statements might be truthful sometimes and not at others; this is merely a matter of instrumentality about which works, when. If they are caught out, they will rationalise or be evasive (i.e., they will bullshit more). ‘Damage limitation’ is a key tactic in the game of bullshit. No swords are fallen on or shame expressed; survival is what matters for the individual and homeostasis for their supporting culture.

Bullshitting individuals and bullshitting cultures

At times bullshit becomes a group process, as people with common interests opt to cover one another’s backs or conspire to evade a shared threat from without.  Organizational theorists now recognise it as being quite common (so the BPS cabal is in usual, if not in good, company), as Spicer (2020) outlines here:

Why is bullshit so common in some organizations? Existing explanations focus on the characteristics of bullshitters, the nature of the audience, and social structural factors which encourage bullshitting….I offer an alternative explanation: bullshitting is a social practice that organizational members engage with to become part of a speech community, to get things done in that community, and to reinforce their identity. When the practice of bullshitting works, it can gradually expand from a small group to take over an entire organization and industry. When bullshitting backfires, previously sacred concepts can become seen as empty and misleading talk.

Spicer lays out alternative explanations, with a favoured one, but of course in their own way they might all causally inflect different bullshitting organisations, case by case. Spicer distinguishes between bullshitting and lying (see above) and also emphasises that it is characterised by vacuous and misleading forms of communication. Deception is not necessarily a primary intention, but it is a frequent outcome. The primary intention is to maintain a version of reality that suits the bullshitter as an individual or as part of a group norm. As noted above, if the truth does that job, then that is fine. In the amoral pragmatic mindset of the bullshitter, either truth or lies might come in handy. 

The relevance of Spicer’s point about bullshit as a permeating organisational process, to the crisis in the BPS, is obvious. If a management culture, which wants to take control of the organization (it could be any organization for careerist managers) without reference to its espoused and traditional values, as a putative learned Society, then its credibility will be lost. When those values are discarded and the rhetorical gap, between claims of openness and actual secrecy, or academic freedom and actual censorship, becomes a chasm, then a serious credibility problem emerges. This is now the case in the BPS.

Bullshit of its very own

If the concept is overarching but also now commonplace, then what particular form has it taken in the BPS? What has been in its very own version of ‘empty and misleading talk’? BPS bullshit is generated on an ongoing basis to maintain the following mystifying version of organisational reality. Those inside the cabal probably really believe this bullshit, but increasingly the rest of us do not. Here are some examples of this point.

1 The complaints system is used selectively. Its existence provides a cover story for justice in the BPS. Members or the public are given the impression that it is an orderly and fair opportunity to establish the truth or otherwise of a grievance from the complainant. This is not true. It is a rabbit hole. Some complaints are ignored and those processed rarely lead to the complainant considering that they have been treated fairly. The complaints process is full of bullshit.

2 Unresolved concerns to the cabal, which the complainant keeps pursuing because they are unresolved, are turned into an accusation of them harassing staff. This evasion of accountability is an example of bullshit.

3 The BPS does, and it does not, process complaints against individual members. It all depends on what suits the interests of the cabal. This convenient selective attention is a form of bullshit.

4 The BPS Board is a charade, as it has not contained independent trustees since 1988. Its decisions and strategies are therefore all of dubious legitimacy. They constantly produce bullshit to justify their false and untenable position.

5 The oligarchy this has created over decades has generated a rhetoric of virtuous long service from a slow-moving elite group of psychologists. This has been a cover for their CV building, occasional financial sinecures and pursuit of their particular cognitive or political interests. This is more bullshit.

6 Policy capture, in light of points 4 and 5, has been rife but unacknowledged. Bullshit is used to cover up this process.

7 The Psychologist is not peer reviewed and, when called upon, it acts as a propaganda wing for the BPS Board. It has the semblance of an academically governed magazine, shop fronting the best of British psychology, but this is a charade.  This functions to ward off criticism of the organisational status quo and offers us more bullshit.

8 Financial misgovernance in the BPS has been present for the past 20 years but it has been covered up from the membership and the general public. In the past two years the bullshit generator in the BPS has been in overdrive.

9 The dysfunctional culture of the BPS was observed by consultants from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, who were so anxious about its character that they rejected any further engagement. The membership was not made aware of this scenario, which required exposure by an investigative journalist. The silence of the cabal and a preference of a ‘problem what problem?’ approach to the matter of its toxic culture is form of bullshit (the latter can include what is not said as well as what is said).

10 Anyone attempting to rectify all of this mystification and misgovernance is vilified and scapegoated (see the treatment of the radically reforming and now expelled President Elect).

This is a cue for the next and final section.

Presidential smoothers and shakers

Given the culture of bullshit that has accrued in the BPS since 1988, how have those with Presidential aspirations responded? This seems to have been on a continuum from total complicity to one of explicit challenge. In the middle have been those who have tinkered and left in despair or perplexity, while trying to retain some personal dignity and credibility. Most recently this might be a description that fits David Murphy and Hazel McLaughlin, who bailed out. Others have pushed a little harder while in post and were punished by their peers on the Board. This was the case with Peter Kinderman and James Hacker-Hughes. The sticker on the windscreen of their particular stalled Presidencies still reads, ‘Charity Commission Aware’. We might all benefit from a fuller public account of their experience at some point. Eventually we might all be interested to find out what the Charity Commission rules on misgovernance and legal non-compliance in the BPS. This has been a long time coming, which for now favours the survival of the cabal.

The extreme anchors on the spectrum of complicity have been prominent very recently. Ray Miller was president of the Society in 2006. Apart from this role he has also at various points been Chair of the Division of Clinical Psychology and Chair of the Professional Practice Board. He was Honorary Treasurer of the BPS between 2013-2019 and was a Trustee for thirteen (sic) years. In conversation with the then CEO Tim Cornford in 2006 he described himself very honestly and fairly as being a ‘BPS junkie’ since 1984 (The Psychologist, 2006). He was called upon to Chair the rigged ‘appeal’ by the President-Elect Nigel MacLennan, after his expulsion. 

Note well, this was in the wake of trumped-up charges about MacLennan allegedly bullying a person who he had never named, accused, had any communication with or knowingly met. The truth of this scandal will eventually be heard, but for now we have had to suffer the scurrilous video on YouTube, fronted on behalf of the cabal by Carol McGuinness. This disparaged MacLennan and closed down his professional career. Moreover, it oozed bullshit. It was broadcast very publicly and very deliberately before the appeal against the decision was even heard. It contained the vacuous phrases about it being a ‘challenging year’ (for whom and about what?) and the Society being ‘at a crossroads’ (the direction signs saying what – ‘heaven this way, hell that’ or maybe ‘new honesty in that direction versus more bullshit in the other’)?

Thus, Ray Miller, a stalwart and beneficiary of the BPS culture for over thirty years, was asked to be part of this charade offering the face validity of his ‘independence’. He graciously accepted the role, and the stitch up of MacLennan was completed. In what possible sense (logical or empirical) was he independent of the cabal and the long-standing culture of misgovernance it continued to defend?  Only the wilfully blind could believe that this personal juxtaposition was anything but a stark contrast between one President who was, to use his own words a ‘BPS junkie’, and another who wanted to challenge openly the malfunctioning culture that was so addictive to a self-interested oligarchy. This whole scenario reflected bullshit not justice.  

The coda to this story is that we have a replacement for Nigel MacLennan, Katherine Carpenter. She has a reputation of decency from those who know and like her. However, the early signs are not encouraging. She has issued a Pollyanna statement about the future (pinning our political confidence on the ‘New Strategic Framework’). 

Any politician who wants to ‘draw a line under the past’ (another common bullshit cliché, like ‘wanting to make a difference’) and only look to the future should be held in suspicion. This is particularly the case given that the legacy of cultural failure since 1988 has undermined both public confidence and membership democracy. Given the gravity of the current crisis in the BPS, we have to go back honestly before we can go forwards confidently.  Carpenter’s very existence in the Presidential position emerged because of a clear past cultural failure and its imperviousness to legitimate challenge. Systemic resistance has tended to outwit individual Presidents, who have bothered to tinker and challenge. Why should Carpenter be any different?  

Readers may recall that the cabal decided to restrict who could stand in the Presidential election. From their control-freakery perspective this was a smart move. It pre-empted the risk of another radical reformer being elected.  The tactic worked by declaring that only candidates who had already proven their active or passive complicity could stand (i.e., members of Senate and Trustees). Senate members had self-evidently and consistently failed to challenge or address the misgovernance that MacLennan, as a lone voice, was describing.  Accordingly, anyone ‘elected’ from Senate (notably no Trustee put themselves forward) would already be a safe pair of hands for the cabal. The ‘election’ was not open to nominations from the general membership and the potential risk this might pose to the cabal: so much for democracy.

I will submit a longer version of this piece for consideration by the editor of History and Philosophy of Psychology. If it is accepted, it will probably be spiked by an anonymous apparatchik in the censorship department of the BPS. I have been there before and, as they say, ‘got the T-shirt’. 

Bhaskar, R. (1993) Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom London: Routledge.

Frankfurt, H. (1986) On Bullshit Raritan Quarterly Review. 6, 2, 81–100.

Frankfurt, H. (1988) On Bullshit: The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1988. 

Hardy, N. (2021) Catcher in the lie: resisting bovine ordure in social epistemology Journal of Critical Realism 20, 2, 125-145

Heidegger, M. (1927) Sein und Zeit (trans J. Stanbaugh 1962 as Being and Time) New York: State University of New York Press.

Hobsbawm, E. (1992) The Age of Extremes London: Michael Joseph

Laing, R.D. (1968) The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Orwell, G. (1949) Nineteen Eighty Four London: Secker and Warburg.

Sartre, J-P. (1943) L’Être et le Néant (trans. H. Barnes 1956 as Being and Nothingness)London: Routledge. 

Spicer, A. (2020) Playing the bullshit game: how empty and misleading communication takes over organizations Organization Theory 1, 1-26.

The Psychologist (2006) Double top – Ray Miller in discussion with Tim Cornford: The Society’s new President in discussion with the Chief Executive. How do their roles work together, and where do they see the Society going? April, 19, 20-21.

Williams, B. (2002) Truth and Truthfulness Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Zamyatin Y. (1924) We (trans. G. Zilboorg) New York: E.P. Dutton

Expulsion of President-Elect

What a surprise (not)…

Peter Harvey posts….

The decision to expel the properly elected (now ex-) President Elect, Nigel MacLennan, by a process opaque to the membership, highly dubious in procedural terms and quite contrary to any principles of natural justice was appealed in proper fashion. As with most appeals, grounds are narrowly defined and rest on the appellant finding procedural irregularities strong enough to convince an appeal panel. We believe that Dr MacLennan had more than adequate grounds both to appeal and for the original judgement to be, at the least modified and, at best, overturned. To nobody’s surprise this hasn’t happened and the Appeal Panel, hidden behind a shroud of anonymity, has chosen to reject the appeal in its entirety. This shouldn’t be a shock to us. The cabal responsible has invested far too much, politically, emotionally and financially (your money, people) to simply roll over, hold their hands up and admit that they were wrong. 

We  remain deeply sceptical about the whole process. We have yet to be convinced that there has been any independent oversight either of the initial ‘investigation’ or of the appeal. It is more than likely, going on past experience, that all those involved in making these judgements are stalwart serial office-holders, all with some sort of deeply embedded history within the BPS – hardly neutral. 

Where does that leave us – or, more precisely, you, the wider membership? Our small group of ‘troublemakers’ and malcontents are well distanced from the everyday practice of being ’a psychologist’. Our income does not depend on being employed and having a strong, healthy, honest and decent organisation representing psychology in the UK. The BPS clearly fails on all those four criteria. It is up to you – the membership – to change this.

Expulsion of President-Elect

A challenge to the BPS narrative.

From the BPSWatch Editorial Collective…..

Since the inception of this blog we have had intermittent contact with the now expelled President Elect around matters of concern regarding what we believed were clearly signs of organisational misgovernance, irregularities and toxic culture at the BPS. These had been separately signposted to us individually when we had dealings with senior staff about a range of policy issues. We had become increasingly alarmed by the way we were ignored, brushed off, rebuked, and, as one of the recent threads on @psychsocwatchuk https://twitter.com/psychsocwatchuk/status/1401165572436602884?s=20  demonstrated, we had our correspondence closed down with implications, explicit or veiled, that we were harassing or bullying staff. During our exchanges with Dr. MacLennan over months, he indicated his growing belief that he would never be allowed to become President and that there were moves afoot to prevent that. Latterly he told us he was sure he would be suspended or expelled for persisting with challenging the current governance process and practice. This was, of course, his stated reason for standing to be elected. Members gave him their backing.

His appeal against expulsion remains unheard and there is another legal matter that remains sub judice so he cannot yet speak out in his own defence, despite all that has been said in print and on a Youtube video that he is a “bully”, deserving only expulsion.

We can say, without hesitation, that in the contacts the three of us have separately had with Dr. MacLennan, we have detected no signs in his manner or his expressed attitudes that he is disrespectful, aggressive or demeaning. And despite all the slights and insults he has received, he remains passionate in his commitment to making the BPS a better organisation.  All three of us have had long careers as clinical psychologists, two of us with very significant forensic experience. We do not just take things at face value when there are conflicting views and narratives about individual behaviour.

Taken in that context, and with Dr. MacLennan unable to defend himself publicly at this stage, we are publishing verbatim a communication that we received from a friend and long-term colleague and collaborator of Dr. MacLennan. We have permission of the author who is happy to be named, and of Dr. MacLennan.

Good Morning,

I have recently been following your articles about Dr MacLennan on BPS Watch and feel your concerns.

I am not a member of the BPS and feel it would be inappropriate for me to pass comment on recent events, but I am a close friend of Nigel and have been horrified at his very public vilification because this is not the Nigel I recognise. While I have my own views, I recognise that there are two sides to every story and I only have one side, but I feel that I must tell you about my relationship with him and, in a sense, to defend him.

But first, a little bit about myself. I served for 30 years as a police officer with Surrey Police. Towards the end of my career I was seconded to the National Leadership Academy for Policing at Bramshill as a Programme Director to deliver programmes on the High Potential Development Scheme and the Senior Leadership Development Programme. While I have delivered all types of Leadership programmes and consultancy services across England, Wales and Northern Ireland (and to every public service) my core programmes were Managing Finance and Resources, Media Strategy (I developed the National Police Media Strategy in conjunction with the highly respected journalist Brian Morris), and Strategic Community Relations. I retired in 2005 and was retained as a consultant until 2015.

In 2012 I became the Honorary Secretary of the British Academy of Management Special Interest Group on Corporate Governance with a special interest in ethics and, in 2013, I became an Honorary Visiting Professor at London Metropolitan University Business School. This is when I met Nigel. With him, I have delivered talks to four Advances in Leadership Conferences, been a judge and Chairman of judges at national leadership awards, and have even delivered a talk at the last BPS conference. I have also worked with Nigel on a 9 month Leadership Development Programme for BAME officers in the Metropolitan Police Service. In my opinion, his skills and talents are without doubt.

As a former police officer, I tend to view people with suspicion until I can understand their motivations and I have never doubted Nigel’s motivations. As you are probably aware, he has had a glittering career working for blue chip companies and organisations such as the Chartered Management Institute and I have found his honesty and integrity beyond reproach. What I particularly liked about him was his assertiveness – he was not afraid to tell you how it is – and this is an in-demand skill for effective leaders. I have learnt many things from Nigel and have been quite happy when he has pointed out that I am wrong and, I hasten to add, vice versa.  In my experience he has never strayed into aggressiveness – forceful yes, aggressive no. However, like me, he does struggle with obfuscation, and this can become a barrier to communication with certain people.

In short, I have always found Nigel to be competent, conscientious, a supreme coach and, above all, honest.

Kindest regards.

Graham Buchanan, BSc(Hons), NdipM, PGCE, CMgr FCMI, FRSA

"The Psychologist", Board of Trustees, Expulsion of President-Elect, Governance

The legitimation crisis and a membership denied answers

David Pilgrim posts….

Today, the concept of a ‘legitimation crisis’ can be applied clearly to the BPS. Although explored at length in a book with that title by Habermas (1974), many other social and political scientists have returned to the theme. This is about leadership regimes, which may notionally still retain power, but their strained credibility reflects an imminent or current breakdown in their actual authority. The cabal currently at the centre of the BPS is still in power but its credibility is in rapid decline. It lacks what Eric Fromm, in his book The Sane Society, called ‘rational authority’ and, instead, exercises power on its own terms in order to ward off the stream of criticism warranted. For Fromm this would be an expression of ‘irrational authority’.

On this blog we have been reporting the character and history of this crisis in recent months and each entry, such as this one, is a new take on an unprecedented state of affairs for the Society. The occasional flurry of criticism of rogue celebrity researchers, such as Cyril Burt (Joynson, 1988) or Hans Eysenck (Marks, 2018), barely dented the reputation of the BPS. Similarly, the spat between the Maudsley methodological behaviourists and their scorned psychodynamic colleagues from north of the Thames, in a struggle to control the Medical Section and its journal, led to a temporary closure of its business in 1958 (Pilgrim and Treacher, 1991). These small eruptions of doubt, that all was well in the BPS, pale into insignificance today. We have never seen anything like this, either in living memory or in the literature on the history of British psychology. Those past examples, looked at in the current context, are like comparing a bar room brawl with a military coup. 

In meetings of the Board of Trustees today all of the Presidential triumvirate have gone, so it contains nobody elected from the general membership. Unelected Senior Management Team members now outnumber Trustees from the sub-systems. This trend is now amplified by the Board preventing members electing a replacement for the radically reforming President Elect, after expulsion from the Society, a cue for the next main point.

The public disparagement of Nigel MacLennan

The video released, vilifying the President Elect in advance of his appeal being submitted and heard, is a complete outrage. It offends our normal understanding of natural justice and leaves the Board of Trustees, who planned its production and dissemination on YouTube, open to the charge of unethical and possibly illegal activity. Are the Trustees so determined to crush this man’s reputation that they will simply ‘do anything that it takes’? 

It is officially the position of the BPS (according to its own website for all to read) not to investigate individual members. However, does that claim fail to apply only when it is politically expedient for the interests of the incumbent leadership? Are the members seriously expected to believe that this has been anything but a ‘stitch up’ from start to finish? Was the investigation panel hand-picked by the Board of Trustees or not? How many on that panel were truly independent and without their own vested interest in the current regime of power? Were membership funds used liberally by the Board to hire legal advice in order to justify the scapegoating of a reformer, turned whistle blower? The questions go on and on. Some of them ultimately may be resolved in court but what is clear already is that Nigel MacLennan has not been treated in a fair manner, if we use everyday criteria of common sense and decency.

If the stitch up hypothesis is in doubt, look at how Carol McGuinness, in a follow-up document to that unedifying and ill-advised video, made it quite clear that even if Nigel MacLennan were to be re-instated on appeal, as a member of the Society, he would still not be permitted back to his role as the President Elect. This nothing-left-to-chance approach, reflecting the persecutory intent of the Board, sticks out like a sore thumb in this planned and vindictive attack on a man whose career has now suffered immediate detriment. 

I can find no justification for this pre-emptive strike from McGuinness, on behalf the Board, within the Statutes and Rules. Does she offer no rule-based rationale in the script she is reading because one simply does not exist? This brings us back to Fromm’s notion of ‘irrational authority’. Those in power often do and say things, simply because they can. But do we have to believe this travesty of justice? And given that under Statute 20 of the Society, the Board should have been chaired on an interim basis by MacLennan not McGuinness, is there an Alice in Wonderland feel to this whole scenario? 

We know that such a surreal quality can indeed emerge from group think, especially when it leads to scapegoating in order to create an illusion of homeostasis and harmony (Baron, 2005; Leyens et al. 2000). The warring factions of the SMT and the Trustees could take temporary comfort in a common enemy to be eliminated, but the facts of the crisis are still there, with or without the removal of MacLennan. Facts do not disappear because they are ignored conveniently by displacement activity or an ostrich stance.

Keeping the membership in the dark

If a making-the-rules-up-as-you-go-along approach to governance now characterises the workings of the cabal, then another supportive tactic has been information control. Nowhere has this been more obvious than in the silence in the pages of The Psychologist. An exception has been the printing of the statement about the expulsion of MacLennan from McGuinness (giving the BPS a free noticeboard posting without editorial comment or analysis), as well as the link to her video. No right of reply was offered to MacLennan. If this were a normal magazine it would reflect the normal rules of journalism and both sides of a story would have been offered, or at least taken into account.

However, this is not a normal magazine. For example, the political turbulence in the Society, should have warranted some commentary but none has been evident. Its inside cover reminds us every month that it is ‘…the magazine of the British Psychological Society…’. If this means that it obeys the contingent expectations of those running the BPS, then this is actually a fair and valid description. However, maybe members of the Society have broader expectations (such as it being a forum for free debate about the current legitimation crisis). Such expectations are indeed raised, conveniently, by the subsequent cover description ‘…It provides a forum for communication, discussion and controversy among all members of the Society…’. Has there been any actual sign of the latter, in practice, in the past turbulent year? Why are ordinary members still playing catch up about the financial scandal in the Society, the fat file of complaints being held by the Charity Commission and the expensive legal shenanigans to expel Nigel MacLennan?

During the crisis, the monthly column of the Chief Executive Officer suddenly disappeared without editorial comment, and we slowly became aware that he was ‘not in his office’ and his function was then taken on by his Deputy, Diane Ashby. And before the President, Hazel McLoughlin, also disappeared from the pages because she had resigned, citing family reasons, the content of her column revealed nothing to the membership of the chaos and tensions, which led to the resignation of the Vice President David Murphy. He explained on Twitter that this was because of his concerns about both governance and finance.  

However, the role of this ‘magazine’ has not gone unquestioned. For example, here is a reply to Pat Harvey from the editor (12.12.20) responding to her criticism of The Psychologist failing to provide information of legitimate concern to the BPS membership:

We are not a ‘house journal’, we are a magazine. Our responsibility is not to speak for the Society or to align with any documents it might publish; it is to provide a forum for communication, discussion and controversy among members and beyond.

This restatement of the confusing and contradictory blurb, cited earlier from the inside cover of The Psychologist, does not cease to be confusing and contradictory simply because it is robotically restated. Does the membership deserve a better journalistic service, during the current legitimation crisis of the BPS, than this sort of vacuous rhetorical gambit? The supine post-it-board role offered by The Psychologist on behalf of the current BPS leadership, reminds us of one of many of Orwell’s dire warnings about democracy: ‘Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.’

The exchange between Pat Harvey and the editor of The Psychologist, Jon Sutton, did not end with the above restated confusion. She also wrote to the Chair of the Editorial Advisory Committee, Richard Stephens, starting with a complaint about the narrow and prejudicial role of The Psychologist, when being biddable and posting the offensive video. She made other criticisms of the magazine as well. This was the response she received from Stephens:

Thanks for your letter and for raising these concerns. I plan to table these for discussion at the next meeting of the Psychologist and Digest Editorial Advisory Committee on 24th June. I felt that your first raised point warranted some urgency of response so I discussed it today with our editor, Jon Sutton. Jon’s view was that while the video featuring Professor Carol McGuinness as Interim Chair of the Board of Trustee has been widely disseminated among BPS members, it is unlisted on YouTube. Given that The Psychologist has a much wider audience, Jon reflected that it’s inclusion in the piece “‘The Society is at a crossroads’” was not appropriate. On that basis the video has been removed. I will feedback in due course following our meeting on the 24th

This is a small sign of good sense and fairness from Richard Stephens, although at the time of writing the video is still available on YouTube.  Will this be the start of a period of genuine honest reflection from the Advisory Committee? Would the video have been removed had it not been for these critical questions from Pat Harvey? In my view, it seems as though those below the cabal level in the Society are very slowly waking up to the serious challenges that the legitimation crisis is posing for freedom of expression and balanced and open journalism in the future pages of The Psychologist. Elsewhere on the blog I have addressed the matter of censorship in the Society.

The ethical and legal culpability of the Trustees

The Charity Commission continues to work with the Society to bring it into ‘regulatory compliance’. This raises questions about the role of the Trustees in the recent past. How many of them (other than Nigel MacLennan), out of public interest, took their concerns about poor governance and financial irregularities to the Charity Commission or the press? 

Many resignations have been evident in recent months, including the President and Vice President. Are they now prepared to offer a full and frank account to the membership of what happened in the Board, which went so badly wrong? This could be a starting point for the ‘root and branch’ reform now required, to reverse the demise of the organisation. 

Will they admit that the conflicts of interest inherent to the current definition of a Board (which date back to a lack of specificity in the Royal Charter arrangements in 1988) have been routinely out of sync with current expectations of properly independent trustees in charities today? The current Board of Trustees is a sham because its members all have conflicts of interest and there are no outsiders from the Society to offer impartial oversight. Given the legitimation crisis, should the current Trustees at least own up to this basic fact, resign and insist on a properly constituted Board in line with Charity Commission expectations?  

And if it turns out that the negligence, or worse, of some Trustees has cost the BPS dearly, will they be held liable for these costs, as Charity Commission regulations allow? Will BPS members now seek to hold Trustees liable for the seeming losses incurred to the Society, by their apparent lack of oversight? Will that liability also extend to those who resigned but were in place during that period of apparent lack of oversight (in legal terms this is called ‘legacy liability’)?

This particular legitimation crisis, like all others, never stops posing questions for democracy. We all (not just a few pushy malcontents) need to keep asking them. The passivity in our current zeitgeist about trying to influence events around us does not have to lead to fatalism. We can still challenge the cabal and the current shambles in the BPS, as this blog and Nigel MacLennan have already demonstrated. The more of us taking up this challenge, the less likely that victimisation will be seen and the more likely that the Society will be saved from its own self-inflicted wounds. 

Baron, R. (2005). So right it’s wrong: Groupthink and the ubiquitous nature of polarized group decision making. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. 37: 35.

Habermas, J. (1974) Legitimation Crisis Boston: Beacon Press. 

Joynson, R. B. (1989). The Burt Affair. New York: Routledge

Leyens, J. Ph., Paladino, M. P., Rodriguez, R. T., Vaes, J., Demoulin, S., Rodriguez, A. P., & Gaunt, R. (2000) The emotional side of prejudice: The attribution of secondary emotions to ingroups and outgroups. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 4, 2, 186–97.

Marks,D.F  (2019) The Hans Eysenck affair: time to correct the scientific record Journal of Health Psychology 24, 4, 409–42.

Pilgrim, D. and Treacher, A. (1991) Clinical Psychology Observed London: Routledge.

Expulsion of President-Elect

Questioning the Expulsion – Part 3

Was the evidence sound?

As psychologists, from our very earliest years as bright-eyed, bushy-tailed undergraduates, we are used to dealing with evidence. We learn how to evaluate it, how to contextualise data, how to look in detail at the hypotheses, the method, the analyses. We are used to defining behavioural referents for concepts. Professional researchers carry on and refine this whilst practitioners hone their evidence-gathering skills through the interview rather than controlled trial and have to remain alert to their own biases as well as to the inevitable and understandable one-person perspective of their client. Perhaps we could characterise all these approaches as one of benign scepticism, always open to correction the face of new data.  We are assured the BPS commissioned external investigations (presumably at the expense of member subscriptions – will the total cost of all this appear in the audited accounts?) into the allegations and their findings were a central part of the case against Dr MacLennan. All well and good and superficially follows due process. But it raises an important set of questions. As outlined in Part 2, we suggest that Dr MacLennan’s arrival may have heralded an unwelcome intrusion for some in the organisation. Perhaps they had already formed an opinion of him and his reformist zeal and put the shutters up in advance. They were, perhaps, primed to view him as the ‘enemy’. Perhaps Dr MacLennan’s enthusiasm and energy was seen as ‘over the top’. Perhaps he felt he had to be assertive in the face of what he saw, rightly or wrongly, as intransigence and unhelpfulness – and, of course, assertion is not the same as bullying.  We ourselves have been subject to veiled accusations of harassment and bullying, simply because we refused to stop asking questions when legitimate requests for information or clarification were denied (an experience not unique to us). So we would ask how many respondents in the data-gathering exercise actually used the word ‘bullying’? What overt, identifiable behaviours of ‘bullying’ did Dr MacLennan show? And, most importantly, what was the criterion used by any of those involved into what constituted ‘bullying’, especially as there are well-documented definitions available? These interactions presumably took place during the COVID epidemic and in many cases could not have involved an intimidating physical presence. How did the Panel account for the potentially distorting effects of conversations being mediated by technology?

Was the sanction proportionate?

The BPS is clear on the three sanctions available to the Responsible Person (and note here that in the long and highly detailed justification issued by the BPS it contradicts itself saying that the Panel recommended the sanction in one place and that the Responsible Person made the decision, acting on the evidence provided by the Panel in another passage – which was it BPS?). He chose the most serious of the three – immediate expulsion. We have no information as to how he reached that decision other than that it is stated that he was presented with the Panel’s findings – minus, of course, any input from Dr MacLennan. That last point raises the question as to whether, in the light of the possible consequences, he might have thought it advisable, at the very least, to check with Dr MacLennan that he had nothing to contribute. The relevant paragraph of the BPS statement is this

The member conduct process involved a careful review of sanctions applied in other similar cases and in relation to the conduct that might reasonably be expected of a member of this standing and experience.

We are in uncharted territory here as we, as mere members, don’t have access to any data about the outcome of any disciplinary process (which may or may not exist) since part of it was outsourced to the HCPC. In the days when the BPS did take this responsibility seriously, the outcome of investigations was published in The Psychologist. Looking at the statement above, we have no idea as to how many similar cases there have been and we have no idea of how many members have been expelled – and, of crucial importance, for what offences were they deprived of society membership. We have already noted the ‘proportionality’ of sanctions in the light of previous cases and we really do need to know what offences committed by (now ex-) members resulted in expulsion. We are left with the highly general and completely subjective judgement (made by one person) as to what he might reasonably expect of a member of standing. And as we have already noted, he is the Chair of a Standing Committee of the Board of Trustees.

We would also ask how he judged the possible consequences of his decisions on all those involved – particularly on the person who is most affected – Dr MacLennan. We understand that he runs his own business and is more dependent than many psychologists on being able to attract clients – they do pay his income quite directly. He has not only been deprived of his BPS membership – this action, compounded and magnified by the subsequent barrage of publicity will cause enormous reputational damage and may well cost him his livelihood. Did the RP take this into account at all?

In a final act of this grossly public humiliation, we are told by ‘the BPS’

If Professor MacLennan has his membership reinstated on appeal, he would not automatically reassume his role as trustee and President Elect, although he would be eligible for re-election to the Board in line with its usual procedures. The BPS constitution provides mechanisms for filling vacancies on the board and these must be followed. These procedures do not include an option for the board to choose to reinstate Professor MacLennan (as President or President Elect) if his appeal is successful.

This is saying that the BPS can overturn the democratic process ‘just because it can’ – and we are sure that many members would value a sight of the rules that allow this. Should Dr MacLennan be cleared of all charges, then how can the BPS justify not reinstating him to his democratically elected post? He has been expelled from membership the Society, the consequence of which is the loss of his position. Reinstatement of his membership should, therefore, mean being able to take up the post to which he is entitled. This looks very much like a small group within the BPS doing its absolute utmost to ensure that Dr MacLennan never becomes President.

Was the video absolutely necessary? 

Many of you, like us, will have been shocked by the lengths to which the BPS has gone to justify itself and to ensure the widest possible coverage of this unfortunate affair – before the appeal has even been heard. Five closely typed pages, one video (now on YouTube), all going into the grisly and hurtful accusations of a case that has yet to reach its lawful conclusion. This stands in complete contradistinction to the following; the fact that the CEO is out of his office about which the members have been told nothing (not even the fact of it); the police investigation about which the members have been told nothing (not even the fact of it); that the Charity Commission is engaged with the Society about which it needed a bunch of “malcontents” and the resignation of the Vice-President for the BPS to even acknowledge.  These are critical issues for the membership as a whole and could have easily been communicated to us in a way that did not prejudice any legal investigations. So what’s the difference, BPS? Why go in to the sort of supposed detail that is career-wrecking when a simple holding statement would have sufficed? Looks a lot like the actions of a bully to us.

Where from here?

We hope that our highlighting of the issues that we think to be of importance has, at the least, piqued your interest. Perhaps we could encourage you to look further into the workings of your Society – the minutes of the Board of Trustees is a good place to start as much for what it doesn’t say as to what it does. If you are a member of the Senate (a body, as far as we can tell, without Terms of Reference) or know one of the Trustees, perhaps you could ask some questions – and be prepared to fobbed off or accused of harassment. If you have social media links to other colleagues who care about our Society’s future then get involved by spreading the word.

We will do our best to keep you up to speed as far as we are able. 

Peter Harvey, Pat Harvey and David Pilgrim

BPSWatch Editorial Collective.

Expulsion of President-Elect

Questioning the Expulsion – Part 2

Were both sides heard fairly?

The statements from the BPS make the observation that Dr MacLennan declined to present evidence to support his case despite repeated requests. We are at a loss understand this as it is presented. We could speculate that Dr MacLennan might chose to distance himself from a process that he might believe to be illegitimate and be biased against him and that, by co-operating, he would add spurious validity to it. However, it is a surprise that, in view of the seriousness of the issue for him on a personal and professional level, it is implied that he made no efforts to defend himself robustly. We would ask, therefore, whether he was given due time to collect together all the evidence he might need? Was he able to access all available material that would be necessary, such as privileged communications to which he as an office-holder, would be entitled? What efforts were made by either the Panel or the Responsible Person to find our why he would choose to take this course of action? Was the RP able to satisfy himself that Dr MacLennan did not wish to defend himself in the dock?

Was it a level playing field from the outset?

We can have some idea of how the BPS views complaints from this extract from the Minutes of the Board of Trustees meeting in December 2020

“This year has seen a trend for the potential misuse of the complaints process, where it has been used to express a difference of opinion or dissatisfaction with a consultation outcome.The volume of complaints is a strategic risk for the Society and was considered at the Risk Committee.”

Clearly, complaints about the running of the Society are unwelcoming intrusions rather than a learning experience, a risk to be managed. Whilst is it easy to fob off the ordinary member with tactics such as simply not responding, not answering questions or crudely cutting off debate, when an elected officer, who will be an integral part of the organisation arrives, different tactics will be required.

It was very clear from his election statement that Dr MacLennan was a man on a mission – a mission to overhaul the BPS. His successful election (44% of votes cast) must have given him some confidence that he was doing the right thing. His experience, and that of others who he canvassed and supported him, was enough for him to believe that reform was an absolute necessity. We have no doubt that this energy translated into an enthusiasm and diligence to find out, in greater detail, about the mechanics of how the BPS worked (or, more importantly, how it didn’t work). We have no doubt that for some in the organisation this was a significant threat. We have already noted that the BPS had serious problems well before his election and that many people who were meant to have formal oversight of the organisation had – at the very least – taken their individual and collective eyes off the ball (including the Trustees). To support this assertion we can do no more than to quote part of the resignation tweet of Professor David Murphy, lately Vice-President (and therefore a Trustee during his period as President-Elect and President) which identified 

“…governance oversight, escalating expenditure and lack of openness and transparency…”

as one trigger for his leaving. And that of Past President, Professor Peter Kinderman

“…When I was President, I was routinely excluded from key decisions, was threatened with legal action over ‘fraud’ (I was completely exonerated, of course) and forced to resign (as Vice-President) for advocating for what is now effectively BPS policy…”

So we know, from two very senior past office holders, that there were significant problems well before Dr MacLennan was propelled into the scene. And remember that Professor Kinderman was in post for the two years 2015-2017 (until his forced resignation) and Professor Murphy for the years 2018 – 2021.  We also know, from the minutes of the Board of Trustees meeting in December 2020, that some Trustees themselves were anxious enough about the Society to support

“…a wider discussion in relation to a governance review and stressed the urgency of moving forward with this action…”

Bear in mind also that the Leicestershire police are investigating an allegation of a major financial fraud within the Society.  So we have a picture of an organisation that is clearly dysfunctional and under scrutiny and had been so for some considerable period of time. Is it any wonder that some within the organisation, both staff and volunteers, may have felt more than a twinge of anxiety at the arrival of an avowed new broom? We would suggest that in the light of all this, the BPS bureaucracy was on the defensive. This not only might have influenced the trigger for the investigation, it may have influenced its course.

The third and final post will appear tomorrow, Saturday 22 May 2021.

Peter Harvey, Pat Harvey and David Pilgrim

BPSWatch Editorial Collective.

Expulsion of President-Elect

Questioning the Expulsion – Part 1

This is the first of three posts looking closely at the recent expulsion of the Present-Elect.  We will be asking a series of questions about both the process and outcome, identifying what we see as major deficiencies which highlight, in stark detail, the issues which we have been raising about the sorry state of our organisation. Much of this is speculation and informed guesswork, some generalising from our own experiences because, despite the mass of defensive information coming from the BPS there are many serious omissions and obfuscations.

So, to begin at the beginning.

Can we trust the overall process?

Before we get into the fine detail, let’s step back and cast an eye over the disciplinary process itself.  We would remind you that in the Complaints FAQs on the BPS website there is the following statement

The Society does not have a function to investigate complaints against its members…

This, of course, is in complete contradiction to the various statements in the Member Conduct Rules which do outline such a function. If it were sentient, the complaints process would be in a serious existential crisis. 

We must also remember that we have been told, by the Acting CEO, that the Society is undertaking a root-and-branch review of the whole of the complaints procedure. To put it at its mildest, this suggests that all is not well with the process, whether it actually exists or not.

In addition, we must also ask who actually made the decision to pursue this complaint against the President-Elect. Again, to remind you, the CEO is still ‘out of the office’; there is no CFO; the President has resigned; the Vice-President has also resigned citing failures of governance amongst his reasons for going; we have an “Interim Chair” of the Board of Trustees (presumably this same Board that is accused of the aforementioned governance failures); an acting CEO who is, presumably, involved in the issues raised by the President-Elect. So the question remains, who decided? Was it the full Board of Trustees or some select subgroup of the willing? Was the complete (if depleted, of course, due to resignations) Board given full and unredacted information about the reasons for this course of action and its possible consequences? Who chose the Panel members and the Responsible Person? Did the Board as a whole and unanimously sign all this off?

In view of the serious and unusual nature of this whole business – disciplining the only remaining elected senior officer of the Society must surely rate as out-of-the-ordinary – and the fact that this would be subject to more than the usual degree of scrutiny from the membership and the outside world, one might hope (perhaps, vainly, expect) that the BPS would go to some lengths to show that justice would not only be done, but would be seen to be done.  It should be a shining example of how to do things right. This takes on a particular relevance in the light of the current application to the Professional Standards Authority where matters of monitoring and managing professional standards (the clue is in the name) are paramount.

We argue and will, we hope, show that the whole process, from start to finish, is fatally flawed and itself brings the BPS into disrepute. 

How “independent” is independent?

The various self-exculpatory outpourings of the BPS make great play of the ‘independence’ of the investigation. What does that mean to you? To us it suggests – at the very least – that whoever is carrying out the investigation is as far removed from both the current and past history of the BPS as possible. This is not just a matter of not being a Trustee or a member of the SMT. Many of the problems and issues identified by us and by others pre-date the election of Dr MacLennan by many years. Indeed, as we will see later, at least one past President identified serious problems as did the now-resigned Vice-President who had been in post (President-Elect, President) for two years prior to his abandonment of the sinking ship. So any properly constituted investigatory panel should comprise people untainted by previous appointments as Trustees or as senior post-holders with the BPS. This seems to be particularly important in the light of the fact that this may be, to our knowledge, a unique event in BPS history.  Ideally, the panel should be made up of people from outside of the organisation completely. After all, the allegations against Dr MacLennan were of ‘bullying’ – this is a generic, non-organisation-specific behaviour. You don’t need to know about the arcane intricacies of the BPS to recognise bullying when you see it. Again, given the importance of being seen to do this correctly, it would be sensible to have someone who has considerable HR experience. Was this the case?  No, it was formed of some (number unstated) of ‘…our most senior experienced colleagues…’. The fact is, however worthy and experienced,  they are not independent of the BPS. This failure is also shown by asking the Chair of the Ethics Committee to act as the Responsible Person –  who is accountable to and appointed by the Board. As an officer holder of a Standing Committee of the Board of Trustees, he is neither independent of the Board nor of the BPS. We assume (again, lack of detail makes this suppositional on our part) that he was completely distant from the everyday work of the Panel for otherwise he would be unable evaluate the evidence presented with fresh and neutral eyes.

It is stated by the BPS that 

The process was also conducted throughout with the benefit of independent legal advice to give additional assurance that it was being carried out with propriety and fairness.

This could mean all manner of things. Given that the whole complaints process is muddled and inconsistent and would need an awful lot of (expensive) lawyers’ and consultants’ time to sort through and make sense of, we can only hope that the BPS see this is a good use of your subscriptions. But the point we are making is that even if the letter of law was followed to the last dotted i and crossed t this is not the same as ensuring that the overall process was seen to be just. In our view, it could not be.

We will continue to raise questions in Part 2, to be posted tomorrow (21 May 2021).

Peter Harvey, Pat Harvey and David Pilgrim

BPSWatch Editorial Collective.

Board of Trustees, Expulsion of President-Elect, Governance

The End of Membership Democracy in the BPS?

The campaign in the self-serving bunker at the centre of the BPS continues unabated. Its main character, which we have documented in our posts in the past few months, includes a number of strands. Some reflect the tactics of evasion and secrecy. They include complaints being ignored, as well as concerns (that are not complaints) being turned into complaints and sent into a rabbit hole.  The complicit non-reporting of the crisis in ‘the magazine of the British Psychological Society’ has been a trusted management mechanism to keep members in the dark. Dictates have been sent out by ‘Trustees’ to Senate members to demand their silence in a comical pantomime of control freakery.

Other tactics have involved clear projection: a bullying and high-handed culture of management has accused its critics of being the bullies. The power asymmetry here between the parties is ignored but that acknowledgment would require a capacity for honest reflectiveness. Journalists just doing their job in a democracy have been threatened with legal action. By any standards of common sense and fair judgement, this precarious regime of power has had a probity bypass. 

The most egregious example of this has been the ‘investigation’ and subsequent expulsion of the President Elect. His sin was to be open from the beginning about reforming the governance arrangements in an organisation which, for years, had flouted the normal expectations of charity law and good practice guidelines offered by the Charity Commission.

What price membership democracy?

The literal price of being in the BPS is known to its membership. For now, some of those fees are maintaining the high salary of a CEO who is still ‘out of the office’, so remains unable to fulfil his duties. Those in the bunker have told us nothing, so members are left to speculate. 

In the few days that have elapsed since the expulsion of the President Elect was announced (in a scripted account – crafted by whom?), matters have deteriorated further. The unprecedented video from the ‘Interim Chair’ of the Board of Trustees was a callous public disparagement of the President Elect. Speaking from an office and role that, under Statute 20 of the Society, she still has no right to hold, her personalised career-threatening attack upon him remains on Youtube for the world to see.

This scandal now has worsened.  A rapid election is to be held to replace the summarily deposed President-Elect before his appeal has even been heard. From well before he took office there were overt intentions to obstruct him wherever possible. We believe that there is evidence to support this that will be made public. Like the ‘investigation’ of the allegations against him this is a travesty. History will judge those responsible for deposing him, so this faux process of justice will peter out to its discreditable conclusion.

In case members are getting too excited about choosing someone new and untainted by what has gone before, they need to be prepared for a disappointment. This is the score. Only candidates from the current Board of Trustees or Senate members will be permitted to stand. This is the very group under whose ‘oversight’ the Charity Commission has become involved on an ongoing basis. There is an active police investigation into an alleged major fraud (watch this space next month). The self-same group from which the Vice-President resigned,  citing issues about “…governance oversight, escalating expenditure and lack of openness and transparency…”, which he communicated to the Charity Commission.  Former President, Professor Peter Kinderman, informs us that several years ago “…When I was President, I was routinely excluded from key decisions, was threatened with legal action over ‘fraud’ (I was completely exonerated, of course) and forced to resign (as Vice-President) for advocating for what is now effectively BPS policy…” .

What sort of real choice are members now given?   

The candidate will be drawn from a pool of complicit individuals. They assume that everything in the garden is rosy and the much-vaunted £6 million Change Programme will supercharge the BPS, when the membership to date have been shown no substantive evidence to support this wishful thinking. 

Meanwhile, for now, any vestige of membership democracy has been placed on indefinite hold. We can only hope that needed legal proceedings, active media interest and decisive action from the Charity Commission will, between them, resolve this sinister and shameful demise of the public face of psychology in the UK once and for all. 

BPSWatch – Editorial Collective

Expulsion of President-Elect

A statement from Dr Nigel MacLennan

Following his expulsion from the BPS and hence his removal from the position of President-Elect, Dr MacLennan has issued the following statement:

“I stood for election to address the problems that were of concern to
members. Once elected I sought to exercise my responsibilities, which I took
to be, broadly speaking, the quality of management and governance systems. I
was unable to obtain the necessary information, which I believe I had the
right to, and accordingly sought advice from the Charity Commission. What
has happened to me, I do not think, relieves me of my duty to fulfil my
original mandate, which was to address the issues in the interests of
members. At all times I believe my actions to have been appropriate.”