"The Psychologist", Board of Trustees, Charity Commission, Ethics, Governance

On the ghostly contributions of Carroll, Orwell, Idle and Pirandello

David Pilgrim posts…..

Quite soon students in management schools will be offered on a plate a perfect example of a dysfunctional organisation (Pilgrim, 2023a). After two years of our campaign to expose poor governance and corruption in the BPS, telling the world what its leaders have preferred to keep under wraps, what have we experienced and concluded? 

A short answer is that it feels like moving constantly between Alice in Wonderland and 1984. The vertigo this creates is partly because of the complexity of what we are dealing with. That is a legitimation crisis (Jost and Major, 2001; Habermas, 1975), with its roots in both history and a reproduced leadership legacy culture which survives, albeit precariously, by routinely evading transparency and denying pervasive conflicts of interest. 

A sketch of the legitimation crisis

Those members who engage with what is wrong with the Society now distrust its managers and for very good reason. Most others either do not bother being critical, leave in despair, or they are kept in the dark. Accordingly, we have a largely docile membership, which is reflected in the poor turn out for Presidential elections. 

The CV advantages of passive membership is a collusive factor, which has given a free pass to the old oligarchy and the newer management class controlling the BPS. The rise of this class, between capital and labour, is not new. However, its power has been amplified by neoliberalism and the norm of the New Public Management (NPM) approach to organisational leadership for now (Smith, 2014; Gruening, 2001; cf. Ehrenreich and Ehrenreich, 1979).

The oligarchical norm, post-1965, merging uncomfortably with NPM, post-2000, intensified rather than solved the legitimation crisis. Over the past few years there has been Charity Commission ‘engagement’, which has triggered some small reforms in the Board of Trustees, though even they are regressive (see below).  

The BPS managers do announce their decisions, post hoc, on the website, which is labyrinthine. The members have few direct mailings about important headline matters and the The Psychologist is light touch. The President and CEO get to portray their view of the world but ordinary or extraordinary events in Leicester are simply not reported. As the editor has told us for emphasis in the most recent edition, it is proudly, ‘the magazine of the British Psychological Society’. Always loyal to the SMT and BoT, it does a version of that job very well indeed. 

The local press fills in this complicit silence from ‘the magazine of the British Psychological Society’. The Psychologist offers a nearly bare noticeboard and only good news is permitted. Compare that stance with these reports in the Leicester Mercury: (https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/leicester-news/arson-investigation-launched-after-blaze-2490769; https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/leicester-news/trusted-worker-blew-70k-charitys-6618893

Killer joke or suicide note?

In all honesty, the BPS is basically a joke: it is neither a learned nor learning organisation. In fact the organisational state of the Society is so laughable that it recalls the Monty Python sketch from 1969 about the funniest joke in the world. It was so hilarious that one might die laughing on hearing it, as Eric Idle’s mother and the constables did, first on the scene. Eric Scribbler died laughing writing it, which might be prescient for the authors of their own demise in Leicester.  

If the enormity of the tragi-comedy which the BPS has become was grasped in its entirety, we risk the same mortal inevitability. Here though we have no single authorial source like Eric Scribbler, merely several key players and in turn this recalls Pirandello’s absurdist Six Characters In Search of An Author. These could include its surviving CEO and his partner in Pollyanna optimism, turning our attention away instrumentally from a corrupt past (Carpenter and Bajwa, 2021). 

They could include its oligarchs who, with no insight, have confused hanging around for longer than is healthy, for either membership democracy or the public good, with ‘serving’ the Society. See for example Professor Ann Colley, who was unique as both a CEO for a while and also BPS President. On her retirement another oligarch Professor Carole Allan (President and appointed Honorary General Secretary for while) said this of Colley in The Psychologist 2017, without a hint of irony or insight:

Ann served twice as Honorary General Secretary. The first time was for three years from 1989, when membership of the Society stood at 13,000. The second time was from 2003 to 2008. In between she was elected to serve as President, which office she held in 1993/94. Ann was circumspect about what Presidents can achieve in their short term of office when she was interviewed for The Psychologist, pointing out that initiatives usually only bear fruit after two or three years.

Colley’s modest ambitions for Presidents made sense as a survival strategy in an incorrigibly dysfunctional organisation.  Other self-confessed ‘BPS junkies’ (see Miller and Cornford, 2006) offer us no real evidence what to ‘serve’ actually means: serving whom, about what and to what end? 

The re-purposed Pirandello play could include the Society’s bombastic leaders from the past, who confused the ego-inflation that came with becoming a professional regulator with organisational probity, while failing to spot that they had created a faux ‘Board of Trustees’. This was not even vaguely independent but was instead awash with conflicts of interest (Newman, 1988).  

Maybe it could also include the renegade leaders, who went off on their own to form the Associations of Educational Psychologists, Business Psychologists and Clinical Psychologists in 1963, 2000 and 2017 respectively. They were tired of an arcane self-serving oligarchy that held membership democracy in contempt. And then there are the authors of BPS policies who have betrayed victims of child sexual abuse (Conway and Pilgrim, 2022).  Or how about the twice President Cyril Burt, with his mixed posthumous reviews? How about his student, Hans Eysenck, in the eugenic UCL tradition, who is still subject to an unresolved investigation (Burt, 1912; Craig, Pelosi and Tourish, 2021; Galton, 1881; Marks, 2019; Pearson, 1904; Pelosi, 2019; Pilgrim, 2008 and 2023b)? 

To be fair Eysenck was not a BPS oligarch, though he was a character of both notoriety and adoration. For anyone missing this one, the first to blow the whistle to the BPS was the psychiatrist Anthony Pelosi in 1995, but his request for an inquiry was ignored. This inaction was also evident from Kings College London (Eysenck’s legacy employer) but eventually they got their act together to set up an independently chaired review of the dubious research. Spin forwards to 2019, when KCL eventually acted. The BPS was still silent. The CEO was asked to deal with the Eysenck ‘problem’ by the editor of the Journal of Health Psychology, David Marks, who had successfully pricked the conscience or at least the utilitarian wisdom of KCL. Bajwa did not even bother replying to Marks, which was a common stance of wilful blindness at the time (we have a record of other, multi-signed letters he simply ignored from members).  

Some of us now know the context of this weird obliviousness of the CEO, as he had other fish to fry at the time. Without detective effort, the membership were simply left bemused by the absence of common courtesy from the CEO. Three years later, yes three years later, Dr Rachel Scudamore, his subordinate, issued an apology to the complainant for the non-reply but no explanation was offered. Marks has now resigned from the BPS after being a member for over fifty years and has just launched an excoriating attack of the organisation in print (Marks, 2023).

A final Pirandello-style inclusion might be the ex-President, David Murphy, who with two others leaving over a two month period in 2021 felt moved to put his resignation letter on Twitter. Here it is for those who missed it:

This lengthy account from Murphy speaks for itself. However, given that he was arguably an insider in the oligarchy (note his allusion to his 35 year involvement and continuous roles for over 20 years), it is significant that he resigned so publicly and was so critical of his colleagues on the BoT. Damning the organisation with faint praise, while simultaneously washing its dirty linen in public in one defining public performance, reveals the legitimation crisis that leaders in the BPS were denying existed. ‘Problem what problem?’ was the norm, though we were told tantalisingly, with no detail attached, that it had been a ‘challenging year’ (McGuinness, 2021).

At the time of Murphy’s resignation the BoT were adopting a ‘damage limitation exercise’, with its ‘Comms Team’ in overdrive. Managers resort to this particular version of bullshit when the going gets tough, as it does fairly regularly in the BPS. In early 2021, they had to deal with the fraud and so the The Psychologist was dutifully silent. There was at the time an ongoing police inquiry, a suspended CEO and a Chief Finance Officer who had hastily departed, while under investigation. He now works for the National Lottery Community Fund. 

The public and ordinary members at the time were oblivious to all of these machinations, until the local, and then eventually the national, press reported and commented. As noted above, the Chair of the BoT pleaded for sympathy, understandably, about a ‘challenging year’ in The Psychologist (McGuinness, 2021). The details of why it had been challenging were, of course, glossed over though MacLennan’s public trashing on Youtube – before his appeal was even heard – was pompously retained, so we all got the message. Whistle blowers tend not to fare well after doing their public duty, so the BoT of the time may look now to their consciences about this intervention, which they approved knowingly (Morgan, 2014).

Unlike the Pirandello play, maybe the dramatis personae for the sad tale of the BPS need to be more than half a dozen, as there are quite a few contenders. The oligarchical culture that keeps reproducing itself seems to be beyond the awareness or defiance of particular actors. It really is not easy to identify those who have been singularly or disproportionately responsible for the legitimation crisis today. However, one thing that is absolutely certain is that Orwell’s ‘doublethink’ applies in buckets in the culture of the BPS. 

Indeed the level of hypocrisy is so bizarre that, unwittingly, the rhetoric of official BPS policies becomes a checklist of interest to prospective whistle blowers and to students of dysfunctional organisations. The bullshit culture now running through the BPS, like Blackpool rock, beggars belief. Three illustrative examples will be given in relation to its policies on conflicts of interest, values and the investigation of complaints. All of these worthy documents, when tested out for their actual practice, demonstrate that the leaders in the BPS say one thing and do another with consummate ease.

Conflicts of interest and the good sense of the NCVO

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations  (NCVO) withdrew from offering advice on future strategy for fear that its own consultants might be at risk of harm from the toxic culture in the BPS (Farrow and Potkins, 2020).  Again few members will be aware of this damning verdict. However, the NCVO does give us all free advice on its website on how a Board of Trustees (bearing in mind that this is still a misnomer in the BPS) should deal with conflicts of interest.


“Identifying, dealing with and recording conflicts of interest/loyalty

  1. The board understands how real and perceived conflicts of interests and conflicts of loyalty can affect a charity’s performance and reputation.
  2. Trustees disclose any actual or potential conflicts to the board and deal with these in line with the charity’s governing document and a regularly reviewed conflicts of interest policy.
  3. Registers of interests, hospitality and gifts are kept and made available to stakeholders in line with the charity’s agreed policy on disclosure.
  4. Trustees keep their independence and tell the board if they feel influenced by any interest or may be perceived as being influenced or to having a conflict.”

The Society’s own conflict of interest policy is aligned with these broad aspirations but here is the rub. The conflicts of interest that are embedded in the appointment norm since 1965 mean that the BoT is rife with them and yet no one on the Board seems to be aware of that fact or is wilfully blind to it. Moreover, despite news of the recent appointment of an independent chair, old habits die hard. 

Recently the advertisements for Chairs Board, with short periods of notice for applicants allotted, still include the assurance they will be appointed automatically onto the BoT. The appointment norm and its implicit celebration of a conflicts of interest is so ingrained in the culture of the BPS that the beneficiaries will tend to experience pride not angst or guilt about their role. This lack of insight means membership democracy and public accountability are given barely a glance.

After pressure for reform from the Charity Commission, the BoT, being the wounded dinosaur structure it is, began to realise slowly that the game was up on the old model, with its total lack of independent oversight. Bajwa (November 2022) made this emollient announcement to accommodate the problem, tucked away on the BPS website:

Traditionally, our Board of Trustees has almost exclusively been made up of members, who bring the in-depth knowledge of the organisation and psychology that is needed to make big decisions about the society’s future.

Unlike many similar organisations, however, we have not recruited externally for trustees, and we haven’t specifically looked for people with expertise in areas which are crucial to the organisation’s success but not necessarily directly related to psychology.

Bullshit is about all that is said and not said to disguise the reality of what those in power are up to (Frankfurt, 2005). Note how Bajwa acknowledges (so does not query) the dysfunctional, and at times catastrophic, lack of independent oversight from the past. Instead this is turned into a sort of traditional wisdom, not a confessed foolhardiness. 

The old regime of power allegedly entailed ‘in-depth knowledge’, not the vested interests of oligarchs and their fellow travellers. They made ‘big decisions’ (wow!). This Trump-like phrasing signals gravitas (heavy is the head that bears the crown) but it is conveniently short on detail. In truth these ‘big decisions’, included keeping the legitimation crisis under wraps and using a kangaroo court to expel an internal critic. They included the norm of persecuting any incoming President who attempted to change what was rotten in the state of Leicester (MacLennan was not a one-off case). The comparison with other third sector organisations by Bajwa implies some sort of respectable or unremarkable option appraisal, rather than a total failure to comply with charity law expectations of good governance. The BPS have been out of step and out of order in the third sector landscape for decades.

So, Bajwa tells us, three new independent Trustees are to come in but the majority will still be appointees from within the BPS. And it gets worse. The one and only part of the BoT that traditionally has been elected not appointed, the Presidential triumvirate, is now to be removed; again most of the membership will become aware of this after the eventThe President will now only provide an ‘ambassadorial’, not a leadership, role on the BoT. This means a regressive not progressive reform to embed, not break up, the cabal.

On this note, remember that after the expulsion of Nigel MacLennan, the BoT simply invented a new rule that excluded candidature from the general membership. This ensured a safe pair of hands (Carpenter) because only BoT members or Senate members were now eligible. This pre-empted a new version emerging of a turbulent President like MacLennan, who might, heaven forbid, ‘say “no” to power’ (Fromm, 2010).

Another example of the bullshit character of the Society’s conflicts of interest policy in practice relates to the CEO himself. If anyone, member or public, wants to complain about him to the BoT they encounter the invented rule that all communications to the BoT are received and dealt with by……the CEO. Bear in mind that a CEO should be accountable to a BoT, not be an arbitrating gatekeeper deciding the relevance of business presented to it. At this point maybe Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 should be added to our list of literary resonances. 

Espoused values

Part of the killer joke of the BPS is its capacity to posture about organisational values. Here is the virtue-signalling posing, on the record, which was applicable at the time of the fraud, its cover up and the deafening silence about organisational learning since then:

“Our values are central to the way we work to achieve our core purposes. We aim to work in a culture of: 

• rigour and fairness; 

• honesty and integrity

• transparency; 

• respect for a diversity of viewpoints; 

• the highest standards of professionalism and ethical behaviour, attitudes and judgements, as laid out in our Code of Ethics and Conduct.”

There is nothing wrong with this Kantian checklist at all. The problem is that the BPS culture in practice is at total odds with its spirit and detail. The best hoodwinks are the ones that brazenly claim the very opposite of reality, which is a hallmark of our ‘post-truth’ era (Porpora, 2020).

Would rigour and fairness describe the selective investigation of Nigel MacLennan, while members of the public contacting the BPS were told that it does not investigate complaints against individual members? 

Would honesty and integrity apply to the fact that not a single person at the top of the organisation has been held responsible for appointing a serial fraudster, who is now in jail after being appointed to be the PA of the CEO? 

Would transparency cover the complicit silence of The Psychologist about both routine BPS business and the scandals that abound in the recent and distant past? 

Would respect for a diversity of views cover the policy capture by some groups, at the expense of others, in relation to the controversial gender document and that covering memory and law? 

Would the ‘highest standards’ claim extend to the BoT and SMT? In what sense have they behaved honourably in this regard? When answering that, just look at the beans spilt by Murphy in his resignation letter. This checklist is fine in theory but in practice it is simply bovine ordure extraordinaire (Hardy, 2021).

The vagaries of trying and failing to make a complaint

Recently this matter has gone backwards (rather like the BoT membership one) not forwards. Here is what Dr Rachel Scudamore (‘Head of Quality Assurance and Standards’) has just told us about the new, allegedly improved, complaints procedure, which states in Section B.3 that:

            “ 3. The policy is not appropriate for addressing the following issues:

a. disagreement with the content of a Society publication;

b. disagreement with a Society policy position;

c. disagreement with a Society decision to take, or not take, a particular course of action.” 

So, if a BPS publication contains material against the public interest or at odds with academic probity, then members cannot complain formally. If a policy endangers vulnerable people or is at odds with ethical practice, then members cannot complain formally. If those leading the organisation make questionable or unwise decisions (such as employing someone with a publicly known history of fraud), then members cannot complain formally. The new document is another cabal stitch up in order to block transparency and accountability. It is one of innumerable current examples of organisational bullshit, which permeates the BPS (Spicer, 2020; Christensen, Kärreman and Rasche, 2019).

Members will not be able to make a complaint about BPS policy, as they did in the past, even if it was then typically ignored. The CEO was a master non-reply role model but that wilful blindness will no longer be even required, because some complaints will simply will not be investigated in principle. 

Indeed one wonders what anyone can now complain about formally, given the self-serving exclusion clauses. The members were never well served by the old policy on complaints (this was a central concern of the Charity Commission) but now the cabal are being boastfully unaccountable. Elements of the killer joke just keep emerging to threaten our wellbeing and the diminishing prospect of a learning organisation and democracy in the BPS.

We wait to see how the BPS will partition off its new and proud recapture of its regulatory powers. This is now about to be extended to a tranche of mental health workers, who may not even be psychology graduates. This will require the BPS doing something it did prior to ceding its disciplinary powers to the HCPC after 2003: it must reconstruct a credible investigatory and disciplinary infrastructure. That must be rule-bound, truly transparent and credible to the Professional Services Authority, who I believe have unwisely blessed the new regulatory powers of an incompetent and dysfunctional organisation. 

If this happens, as surely it has to, will that infrastructure now be applicable to all of the BPS membership? Will those complaining, say against academic psychologists, no longer be batted away with the advice to contact the employing university? Will all those self-employed practitioners confecting ways of working around HCPC registration now come under a new investigatory process? 

As they say, “don’t hold your breath”. My hunch is that the managers will think selectively and instrumentally, which they do with great ease. There will probably be one rule for the new tranche to tick the box for the PSA and the rest will be left alone but under the straight-jacket of the new complaints procedure, with its exclusion clauses. And how about complaints against BPS managers themselves? (I have already rehearsed the Joseph Heller and Lewis Carroll rule about the CEO receiving complaints about himself.) 

The bullshit checklist of the values noted above finishes on an ambiguous note. Its focus is actually about members but do the staff have another code of practice and can we see it please? Is it the same as the final values point or a different one? How about the conflicted role of the editor of The Psychologist and his understandable selective attention to scandals in the BPS and his routine noticeboard of Pollyanna news about the future from the BPS leadership? He is employed by the BPS, which explains much. Anyone trying to complain about his editorial policies, favouring BPS propaganda, is faced with an uphill task (Harvey, 2023).

Concluding advice

Watch this space, as the absurdist play unfolds. Keep reading the Leicester Mercury.

References

Burt, C.L. (1912) The inheritance of mental characters. Eugenic Review IV, 1-33.

Carpenter, K. and Bajwa, S. (2022) From the President and Chief Executive. The Psychologist January 4-5.

Christensen, L.T., Kärreman, D. and Rasche, A. (2019) Bullshit and organization studies. Organization Studies. 40(10):1587-1600; 

Conway, A. and Pilgrim, D. (2022) The policy alignment of the British False Memory Society and the British Psychological Society, Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 23:2, 165-176

Craig, R., Pelosi, A. and Tourish, D. (2021) Research misconduct complaints and institutional logics: the case of Hans Eysenck and the British Psychological Society. Journal of Health Psychology, 26, 2, 296-3

Ehrenreich, B. and Ehrenreich, J. (1979) The Professional Managerial Class. In P. Walker (ed) Between Labor and Capital, South End Press, Boston.

Farrow, A. and Potkins, J. (2020) British Psychological Society: Strategy Consultancy Set Up Phase Report November 2020 London: NCVO 

Frankfurt, H. (2005) On Bullshit Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 

Fromm, E. (2010) On Disobedience: Why Freedom Means Saying ‘No’ To Power London: Harper

Galton, F. (1881) Natural Inheritance London: Macmillan

Gruening, G, (2001) Origin and theoretical basis of new public management, International Public Management Journal 4, 1, 1-25,

Jost, J. and Major, B. (2001) (eds). The Psychology of Legitimacy: Emerging Perspectives on Ideology, Justice, and Intergroup Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Habermas, J. (1975) Legitimation Crisis Boston: Beacon Press.

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

Harvey, P. (2023) Resisting the silence of the cabal:  resorting to social and alternative media. In Pilgrim, D. (ed) British Psychology in Crisis: A Case Study in Organisational Dysfunction Oxford: Phoenix Books.

Marks, D. F. (2023). A catalogue of shame: the British Psychological Society as a dysfunctional organisation. Journal of Educational and Psychological Research 5,, 1, 575-587.

Marks, D.F. (2019). The Hans Eysenck affair: time to correct the scientific record Journal of Health Psychology, 24, 4: 409-20.

McGuinness, C. (2021) The Society is at a Crossroads The Psychologist June 34, 4-5. 

Miller, R. and Cornford, T.  (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? The Psychologist April, 19, 20-21.

Morgan, J. (2014) Life after whistleblowing. Times Higher Education Supplement July 31st

Newman, C. (1988) Evolution and Revolution Charter guide, occasional paper. Leicester: British Psychological Society

Pearson, K. (1904) On the inheritance of mental and moral characteristics in man. Biometrika IV, 265-303.

Pelosi, A.J. (2019). Personality and fatal diseases: revisiting a scientific scandal. Journal of Health Psychology, 24(4), 421-439 

Pilgrim, D. (2023a) (ed) British Psychology in Crisis: A Case Study in Organisational Dysfunction Oxford: Phoenix Books.

Pilgrim, D. (2023b) Verdicts on Hans Eysenck and the fluxing context of British psychology History of the Human Sciences Online January 5th.

Pilgrim, D. (2008) The eugenic legacy in psychology and psychiatry. International Journal of Social Psychiatry 54, 3, 272-84.

Porpora, D.V. (2020) Populism, citizenship, and post-truth politics, Journal of Critical Realism, 19, 4 329-340.

Smith, D. (2014). Under New Public Management: Institutional Ethnographies of Changing Front-line Work. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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

'False Memory Syndrome', Board of Trustees, Change Programme, Expulsion of President-Elect, Governance

Resigning from the BPS

­­­ One of our contributors (Ashley Conway) has agreed that his recent letter of resignation can be made public and it identifies many of the concerns that we, at BPSWatch, have referred to in this blog.

Why I am resigning from the British Psychological Society after more than 30 years of membership.

My first ever publication was in 1978 – in The Bulletin of the British Psychological Society – ­­the forerunner of The Psychologist, the house journal of the Society. I have published professional papers, chapters and books in every one of the decades since the 1970’s. I have spent my whole working life as a psychologist, and as member of the BPS. And now I am resigning from the Society that I have been a member of for so many decades.

I have three principal reasons:

1. The fact that the BPS has allowed policy takeover by advocates of the non-scientific False Memory Syndrome (see Sinason & Conway, 2022) for the last 25 years has directly and indirectly colluded with British psychology failing survivors of child abuse and adult sexual assault for a generation.  It has acted in a way that is detrimental to genuine victims, and has been advantageous to abusers of various kinds, including paedophiles and rapists (see e.g. Conway & Pilgrim, 2022 and Conway, 2023).  Its collusion with the deniers of the realities of those reporting abuse becomes a child protection issue, in which I consider the BPS is failing badly.

2. The vile and very public bullying by the BPS of our elected President, Professor Nigel MacLennan.  In so doing, the Society has betrayed members’ wishes and destroyed trust in the electoral system of our Society.  The members wanted a reforming president, the BPS didn’t.  So they quickly got rid of him in the most unpleasant and unique way. 

3.   These appalling things could only happen in an environment completely failing in transparency of good governance.  This failure leaves a Society that not just actively bullies, and facilitates policy capture by minority groups favoured by the BPS hierarchy, but has enabled corruption and fraud as well (see bpswatch.com for further revelations – including commentary on the NCVO and Korn Ferry reports on BPS dysfunctionality).

The BPS, a registered charity, has been operating without much regard for Charity Commission guidelines, with many Trustees in dual and conflicting roles, who cannot, in any meaningful sense, be construed as independent. In recent times there has been at least one massive fraud, the loss of which was not fully covered by their insurers – meaning that members’ subs were used to cover the additional money lost to theft, which resulted from, at best, incompetent oversight. Presumably members will be paying again for what will probably be very significant legal fees (but the BPS won’t tell us about that) and, if justice is done, huge costs in compensation to Professor MacLennan, at some point in the not too distant future, when the legal wheels finally begin to turn.

Unless it is happy to demonstrate its own gross hypocrisy, if it is keen to expel bullies, the BPS should have immediately expelled the person who made the YouTube speech and every Trustee that approved that awful bullying footage defaming our elected president. But we all know that won’t happen. The Society will protect its own, and to hell with the annoying members.

Of course we will get – “this is all in the past” etc. and probably not be reminded that six million pounds of members money has been spent on a “change programme”, which has achieved … what exactly? They don’t want to let us see the reports that we paid for, so we don’t know. Who has benefitted from the money spent on the programme?  What was the procurement process?  Were any of the consultants known to the elite group in the BPS, deciding who should get rich from the £6 million? 

For me, any changes promised now are too little and too late. And quite frankly I have little faith that anything useful would emerge for members, and more importantly vulnerable individuals in need of skilled psychological help.

I say all this with much genuine sadness. I have been proud to be a psychologist, hoping to make a positive contribution to life, but the BPS has now become an organisation of which I am ashamed to be a member.

Ashley Conway PhD, January 2023

References

Sinason,V. & Conway,A. (Eds) (2022) Trauma and Memory – The Science and the Silenced. London: Routledge. 

Conway,A. & Pilgrim,D. (2022). The policy alignment of the British False Memory Society and the British Psychological Society. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, 165- 176. https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/HADJSG9IEXN8F5CKU4BX/full?target=10.1080/15299732.2022.2028222

Conway, A.  (2023 / In press)  Policy capture at the BPS: the memory and law controversy.  In: Pilgrim,D (Ed) British Psychology in Crisis. A Case Study in Organisational Dysfunction.

Gender, Governance, Identity Politics

‘Conversion Therapy’ and the BPS

David Pilgrim posts…

A dozen private detectives, working 24/7, would struggle to fathom everything that is happening and not happening inside the BPS. A case in point is the remarkable persistence of the role of transgender activism inside the Society. In the book emerging from our amateur sleuthing, coming out in the New Year (Pilgrim, 2023a), we devote chapters to two symptoms of the underlying malaise of misgovernance, both of which implicate child protection. One deals with the distortions of risk appraisal in the extant official BPS advice on memory and the law and the other is the flawed, and in my view dangerous, Guidelines for Psychologists Working with Gender, Sexuality and Relationships (BPS, 2019)(GSRD).

We have campaigned, without success, to have this removed it its entirety, in the interests of child protection and to minimise the reputational damage to psychological practitioners. It is a scandal that the guidelines have not been withdrawn. Those purportedly revising the document seem to be more or less the same working group, but now minus several people who refused to be part of the review, some of whom – after complaining – have had their names removed from the 2019 document – Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

While the UK health policy world is moving on apace in the wake of the Cass Review on paediatric transition and the closure of the Tavistock GIDS Clinic, with its ‘affirmative’ service ideology, it feels for now as though the BPS is simply carrying on regardless, with its old ‘trans-captured’ ways (cf. NHS England, 2022). The advice it has given recently to the Scottish government is a case in point. 

Another indication of business as usual about a trans-captured organisation has related to the Society’s ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ manager (‘Equality’ has been disappeared as a prefix by ‘the BPS’, in its unending virtue signalling on steroids (cf. Ben Michaels, 2006).). That newly appointed manager operated in an ultra vires role in 2021, as the secretary for the ‘MOU Coalition Against Conversion Therapy’. So we have had a full time Society employee, paid from membership fees, at the centre of a transgender activist political campaign. 

This raises a fundamental question about the probity and legitimacy of an organisation still registered, precariously, as a charity and claiming, more and more implausibly, to be a learned body. In the rush to curry favour with an imagined customer base, many organisations are happy to accept, unthinkingly, the challengeable rhetorical claims of transgender activism. The BPS is not alone in this regard; indeed it is probably typical today, as many universities and medical colleges go down the same self-righteous route. However, where there is power there is resistance, and a fight back by gender critical professionals is also underway. More on this now after a brief historical and sociological note for context.

‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’ (Hartley, 1953: first line)

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, some British psychologists and psychiatrists worked together to deploy aversive conditioning techniques (‘anticipatory avoidance’) to try to alter the conduct of gay people. Electrical or less often, chemical, aversive stimuli were used within the broader orthodoxy of applied methodological behaviourism of the time. This was led by the clinical psychologist Hans Eysenck and the psychiatrist Isaac Marks from the Institute of Psychiatry in London, both doyens of the behaviour therapy movement. They encountered angry criticism at the time from an increasingly confident New Social Movement of gay activists (Pilgrim 2023b).

In parallel to the Eysenck-Marks defence of enforcing heteronormativity for the good of the patient, another and more researched and published project occurred between Birmingham and Manchester, led by a clinical psychologist Maurice Feldman and a psychiatrist Malcolm McCulloch. Their work is on the record in reputable journals and books for all to read (e.g. Feldman and McCulloch, 1968, 1971). 

By the end of the 1970s aversion therapy for homosexuals petered out and its own early advocates recanted their position. Gay Liberation was in its heyday and homosexuality had been dropped from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. In any case, aversion therapy simply created distressed homosexual patients, who remained same-sex attracted. Aversion therapy for homosexuality failed on empirical grounds. Moreover, it was now at odds with a successful de-medicalisation shift in societal norms in North America and Western Europe though, note, by no means globally. This controversy was emphatically about aversion therapy (not ‘conversion therapy’) and it was targeted on gay people. Transgender patients were missing from the picture. 

However, after 1980, the postmodern turn (everything was now to be about narratives and discourses, not material reality), Queer Theory and third wave feminism began to coalesce to afford a celebration of diverse identities (Butler, 1999; cf. Oakley, 1972; Watkins, 2018). How people saw themselves (subjectively) and wanted others to recognise them (inter-subjectively) now was to become as important as their transgressive actions, as was homosexual activity in past times. By the turn of this century, the grounds for particular forms of special pleading, within expansive identity politics, were becoming slippery to the grasp for many. What about paedosexuality or incels or those ‘into’ BDSM or kink? Should they be embraced in a spirit of unending inclusiveness? That question is pertinent for any reader of the current BPS Guidelines.

Mirroring those changes, ‘sex’ was displaced by ‘gender’ in social, though not biological, research (Haig, 2004). Neologisms like ‘cis’ and ‘misgendering’ created much head-scratching in ordinary people, who were losing confidence in being able to express their common sense perception of others. This culture shock and perplexity about transgender politics is explored at some length in the ten episode series from ‘Nolan Investigates’ (BBC Northern Ireland, October 2021, available on BBC Sounds). This series challenges the legitimacy of public bodies, including the BBC itself, of being coached and appraised by Stonewall about their take on transgender politics.

In the past few years, ‘gay’ and ‘transgender’ became, for many organisations such as Stonewall and those it coached and appraised, the same amalgam target of oppressive norms in society. Hetero-activism, homophobia and transphobia were alloyed as one. The personal bigotry of ‘cis’ and heterosexual people, not the reversal of structural inequalities, became the salient priority to attack. This was reflected in the campaigning of the ever-elastic LGBTQ+ ideological formation, which hid a major contradiction. If we bracket the connecting glue of gender non-conformity, then we find that sexuality and gender identity are orthogonal; they are not the same either conceptually or in practice. Unfortunately, they have been lumped together in the BPS GSRD Guidelines.

Gay people are sexually attracted to those of their own biological sex; this is about sexual desire and preferred forms of intimacy and sometimes sub-cultural habits. By contrast, transgender people may see themselves as straight, gay, bisexual or even a-sexual.  Moreover, even the connecting glue of gender non-conformity is open to question. For example, many transgender people do not challenge gender conformity at all; they actually affirm and reinforce conservative gender stereotypes as they alter their bodies and clothing in line with the latter. Also, some gay men and lesbians are not manifestly gender non-conforming in their dress and demeanour. The glue eventually became weak and hence the split from Stonewall of the LGB Alliance; the transgender contention was the catalyst but the lack of clear grounds for ally-ship had been around since the 1970s. 

And then there has been the tricky problem for that ally-ship of the ontological, not epistemological or normative, aspect of sex itself (Hull, 2008). Within the transgender activism world, boys and girls with respective immutable XY and XX chromosomes are no longer described validly at birth but, instead, their identity is only provisionally ‘assigned’. Our gender identity has now been reified as a purely subjective matter of choice and a newly sacralised human right, as part of the norms of recent identity politics. The ontology of sex has been ignored or scorned as a political irrelevance.

The objective over-determination of being a man or a woman by materiality (i.e. our chromosomes and being raised in a supra-personal socio-economic regime of patriarchy) have been backgrounded, or simply denied with contempt, and replaced by a kaleidoscope of self-identifications (Pilgrim, 2022). Many gay men and lesbians today know that as children, they could have been shepherded, under the pressure of recent transgender activist demands, into a different and problematic bodily state. Some of them knowing this are concerned for the fate of gay children today. The LGB Alliance now make this point very clearly.

The red herring of intersex is invoked sometimes by transgender activists to demonstrate that ‘sex is a spectrum’. Apart from the fact the 99.99% of us, like all mammals, are sexually dimorphic, even those people who are born intersex still have fixed genetic material. Our genes are immutable. We are not born in the ‘wrong body’, just one that we may or may not come to like. ‘Wrong’ is a human judgement not a biological fact.

The University of Birmingham Report on ‘Conversion Therapy’

What has all the above to do with the BPS? The answer lies in the opening to the recent report (June 2022, available online) conducted by staff members of the University of Birmingham, on behalf of their employers. The title of it is pertinent as a headline message: Conversion Therapy’ and the University of Birmingham, c.1966-1983. This is what it says, in the first paragraph of the executive summary quoted in full:

“The University of Birmingham agrees wholeheartedly with the British Psychological Society and the Royal College of Psychiatry (sic) and numerous other organisations and professional bodies, which state that there is no moral or ethical support for activities aimed at changing sexual orientation or gender identity (often called ‘conversion therapy’). The Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the United Kingdom is endorsed by 26 prominent health and therapy organisations, including NHS England and NHS Scotland. Crucially, there is no robust scientific evidence to support the use of ‘conversion therapy’. This report places that term in inverted commas, precisely because these interventions have no form of therapeutic value. Efforts to suppress same-sex desire or enforce conformity to social expectations of gender do not ‘work’ as intended; in fact there is substantial evidence that shows how harmful it is.”

As with so much going on in the diversionary world of identity politics, this statement has more than a kernel of validity. However, at no point is there any self-reflection from Birmingham on the historical context of current controversies, which leads to a partial (in both senses of the word) account. 

This accusation here may seem odd about a report, which is explicitly about history and for the most part is a very good summary of what happened in the 1970s. However, turning what could have been a relatively simple look back at the work of an ex-staff member (Feldman) from fifty years ago, into a political platform for current rhetoric about transgender politics, suggests a virtue signalling exercise with instrumental value for the university ‘brand’. The facts of the central role of a single staff member were known forty years ago. A critical review of his work could have been carried out there and then. So why now and why in this form? 

It is not a journal submission or commissioned piece of work by outside historians of British psychology. Instead, it has emerged from within the identity politics zeitgeist now shaping the academy and its public statements (such as UCL’s recent decisions about Galton and Pearson, or Sheffield’s about Darwin). The report is driven by current political decision-making and posturing from university managers in response to consumer pressure from below. The sequencing of sections of the document confirms this point. 

First, there is a dramatic health warning about people who might be currently affected by the content of the report (see point 3 below). Second, there is a mea culpa statement from the university’s Vice Chancellor. Third, the report itself is offered, which ipso facto is not about current anxieties but the fifty year-old research of Feldman and McCulloch. In light of this character of the report’s own historical context, the following points are relevant to compensate for that lack of self-reflection, from those producing it and endorsing it uncritically: 

Past scandals and current risks. The current term of ‘conversion therapy’ is projected backwards onto history. The behaviour therapists used the term aversion therapy and they were focused explicitly on homosexual orientation, not transgender people and their existential confusion. All mental health interventions, inter alia, are about rule enforcement according to the contemporary ’emotion rules’ of a situated culture in time and space, whether that is done with voluntary or coerced patients (Thoits, 1985; Bean, 1986). The behaviour therapists were enforcing rules of heteronormativity in the genuine belief that this was in the patient’s interests in order to ease their social acceptance and personal angst or guilt about being gay. At that time, with male homosexuality only recently legalised (and even then with a lack of equality about age of consent), being gay was still seen as problematic by many people, including some gay people themselves. Cultural norms typically lag behind legal changes; look today at the presence of casual racism, despite the existence of the Race Relations Act.

Professional therapy and religious fundamentalism. Conversion practices (not therapy in any reasonable sense) in relation to gay people have remained associated with some conservative Christian groups, not with professional psychological therapy. The paragraph cited from the executive summary quite correctly identifies that professional therapy and counselling organisations today have no truck with aversion therapy. It has been dead in the water since 1980. Given this fact, where is the evidence today in the UK that, outside of a few fundamentalist religious organisations, there is any such thing as ‘conversion therapy’? The truth is that there is none. However, there is evidence that many mental health workers defend exploratory psychological therapy with clients and the need for revisable co-constructed formulations that develop over time.

Those insisting on ‘affirmative’ clinical practice, conveniently reframe this orthodox stance, of supportive cautious waiting and personal exploration, darkly as ‘conversion therapy’. We now find that purported prevalent risk of ‘conversion therapy’ as being weaponised against a cautious wait-and-see approach to existential confusion in unhappy young people. For the transgender activist, the exploratory therapist of today, with their ‘first do no harm’ caution, becomes the very same demon as the aversion therapist, circa 1970. 

Instrumental vagueness.  What exactly was this report trying to achieve? A reader of it is not at first clear or, if they have a critical imagination, they realise that it is open to different interpretations. Despite the fact that aversion therapy from the past no longer exists, which is confirmed by the substance of the report itself, suddenly the ominous term ‘conversion therapy’ crops up, as if it is a grave and immediate danger to many people right now. No evidence provided of this implication or assumption. It is implied strongly in the report because of the yoking of sexual orientation and gender identity (see point 4 below). Indeed, it is considered to be so important that the report’s first page has this dramatic warning sticker, from the outset intimating the grave conclusion of a report which remember has, as its alleged focus, the past not the present. Note the blurring of the past and present, from point 1 above, and the unwarranted privileging of gender identity below, given the time period supposedly under focus:

“ Note: this report deals with activities aimed at changing gender identity and sexual orientation. It discusses psychological ‘treatments’ used in the past in sometimes graphic detail. Readers affected by this material may wish to make use of this dedicated resource: National Conversion Therapy Helpline If you are currently experiencing abuse aimed at changing, altering, or ‘curing’ your LGBT+ identity, or think this will happen to you if you come out, Galop’s Conversion Therapy Helpline is here for you. So-called conversion therapy can have a long-term impact on LGBT+ people. If this has happened to you in the past and you are still struggling with it, you can reach out to Galop’s support services. The helpline can provide a safe, confidential listening and information service to any LGBT+ person aged 13+. There are different ways to contact us. All of them are free: Phone 0800 1303335 Email CThelp@galop.org.uk The helpline is open: Monday to Friday 10am – 4pm Calls will last 40 minutes.”

Instrumental vagueness characterises the report in a range of ways cuing the next point about terminology.

The semantic trickery of eliding sexual orientation and gender identity. The compound phrase of ‘gender identity and/or sexual orientation’ is now de rigueur in public documents, when and if sex, gender and sexuality are being considered. In this report, we have the example in the warning sticker of: “changing gender identity or sexual orientation (often called ‘conversion therapy’)”. What used to be about sexual orientation, specifically, has now become an amalgam that routinely includes gender identity. This change came with the revision of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) about ‘conversion therapy’ after 2015 by transgender activists from the BPS, Pink Therapy and other therapy organisations. In 2015, the MoU only alluded to sexual orientation but three years later the document was modified, with the repeated and insistent addition of ‘gender identity’ at every opportunity. Dissenters supporting the older focused defence on gay rights, left the working group, when their cautions were rejected out of hand. Accordingly, groups like Thoughtful Therapists and Gender Critical Clinicians have emerged in response to transgender activist capture in their field of interest. In large part, these gender critical campaigning groups are responding to that capture, cueing the next point.

Transgender activist entryism. Transgender activists have been assiduous and very effective in entering policy making groups to ensure that sexual orientation is no longer the sole focus of sinister therapeutic intent, even though it is a ghost from the past. The linking of past empirically discredited practices about sexual minorities, who are now tolerated or celebrated (depending on one’s value system), with transgender phenomena, mixes apples and oranges. Homosexual orientation is about same sex desire, whereas transgender phenomena are very wide ranging. They include a minority who, like gay people after 1970, now want to completely de-medicalise their existential state and others, who want free and ready access to biomedical transition (drugs and surgery) with many steps in between. They include children and adults. They include a-sexual individuals, ‘trans-lesbians’, ‘a woman with a penis’ and autogynephiles, in various states of medically-induced body modification. Even the defining notion of ‘gender dysphoria’ moves in and out of relevance, for this mix of people with their varying demands. The ‘trans community’ is not of one voice, even if transgender activists tend to pursue a narrow policy of bio-medicalisation on demand. They decry anyone questioning that, quite reasonably, as being automatically a ‘transphobe’, or a ‘TERF’, or more modestly ‘anti-trans’ in academic discourse. The distinction between legitimate ethical debate or evidence consideration about transgender healthcare and hostility or bigotry against transgender individuals is collapsed. Moreover, the remaining and unresolved tension between second and third wave feminism is simply ignored, when it remains an important point of historical reference.

LGBTQ+ or LGB? Gay people in the 1970s recognised that they were objectively men and women, simply described, whereas Queer Theory since then has made it all about language and subjectivity. Gay people in the 1970s, as today, just wanted to be left alone to be full citizens, whereas the demands from such a variegated transgender community now are difficult at times to pin down. Some of it is about being left alone. Some of it is socially performative. Some of it is about intruding into women-only spaces, like prisons and shelters, as well as female sports, with impunity. Within this contestation about transgender politics, which should be opened up to full democratic debate, we find that orthodox exploratory psychological therapy has now been given precisely the same ethically-unworthy status, by activists, as aversion therapy was in the 1970s. This is a deliberate strategic mystification, which has shaped the position of many managers and academics alike in recent times (who may or may not have insight into transgender activist strategizing and tactics). The half-baked report from the University of Birmingham is an example of this point.

What’s in a word?

What then exactly is ‘conversion therapy’ as currently used? The definitional approach of mixing aversion therapy from the past and religious conversion practices since the 1970s, along with the discursive elision of sexuality and gender identity, is reflected in the Wikipedia entry on the topic, which is described as ‘pseudoscientific’. To confuse matters, searching ‘medical views’, linked to this entry, leads to a very strong focus on homosexuality, not gender identity. An outlier was the emergence of the National Association for Research & Therapy for Homosexuality in the USA, which contained socially conservative therapists with religious affiliations, promoting what has also been called ‘reparative therapy’. 

Whereas the behaviour therapists were rule enforcers of heteronormativity, some psychoanalysts continued to contend that homosexuality represented a perversion of psychosexual development, even if their therapeutic stance was not prescriptive. It is true then that psychological models do indeed reflect social norms and norms are open to legitimate challenge, as Gay Liberation demonstrated successfully. The question now is whether the vaguer expectations of such a diverse ‘trans community’ can be considered in the same way, logically or politically. 

Gay people being left alone to get on with their lives is not the same as the campaigns to have hormones and surgeries on demand, including for children, with wise clinical caution being confused with oppression and bigotry. One indicates a preference for de-medicalisation (the rejection of aversion therapy and a diagnosis of morbidity) and the other the very opposite (demands for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria as an immediate gateway into life-long bio-medicalisation). The expressed need for the first group focuses on citizenship, whereas for the second it is about patient-hood on demand, in the absence of physical pathology. These scenarios are like chalk and cheese.

The warning sticker on the Birmingham report above exemplifies the semantic problem of not dealing with actual or perceived threats from psychological therapists, as in the use of this type of phrase: ‘…..often called “conversion therapy”’. But who is doing the calling and on what grounds? This important question is not explored; ‘conversion therapy’ is simply taken for granted as a ‘bad thing’. However, neither its conceptual validity nor its empirical validity are considered properly. Like the words ‘transphobe’ or ‘TERF’, ‘conversion therapy’ is now a slur requiring no justification. This matters ethically and politically, if aversion therapy and exploratory psychological therapy, promoted by most formulation-based models within professional orthodoxy today, are being casually conflated. 

That casual conflation is then a tactical position adopted by transgender captured groups, such as those producing the BPS GSRD Guidelines ; it is all about challenging and defeating those who problematize the bio-medicalisation of unhappy children. The BPS affiliated and staffed MOU Coalition Against Conversion Therapy is a practical expression of the document’s campaigning intent. Moreover, the celebration in the document of BDSM and calling women ‘sluts’ just adds to the heart-sink of reading this prescriptive libertine manifesto, dressed up as professional guidance. For anyone new to this document, they will find no proper literature review and no rehearsal of contention or debate in the field, but instead a long ‘thou shalt’ approach to ‘affirmation’ throughout. The ‘no debate’ position of campaigning is replicated dutifully in the document. This then is not professional guidance from a position of equipoise and careful deliberation, but a manifesto from a group of political activists. 

The focus on children by those activists (not on adult transsexuals pursuing biomedical transition) is the very reason that we have identified a serious child protection concern inside the BPS, and we will continue to do so. Yoking aversion therapy from the past, with legitimate and ethically defensible practices in exploratory psychological therapy today, is wrong-headed if it is an honest mistake, and unconscionable, if it being done deliberately by some people in authority. To explore is not to convert. Some who have tried to defend this ethically defensible wait-and-see position in practice, such as the Canadian clinical psychologist Ken Zucker, have been punished. His service was closed down by his employers as a result of transgender activist lobbying and he is now held up as their bête noire, despite his mainstream opinions in the therapy world about best practice (Zucker et al. 2012). He was eventually completely vindicated, via the courts, and his ex-employers had to settle financially in reparation for his wrongful dismissal. However, he remains a target of transgender activist hostility for what he symbolised.

Moreover, arguably the real conversion therapy is to take healthy young bodies and sterilise them with hormones and surgeries (Butler and Hutchinson 2020; Brunskell-Evans and Moore, 2018). This accruing iatrogenic harm means that patients will be angry and feel betrayed by service providers from their past. This reminds us of the serious ethical questions surrounding paediatric transitioning, encouraged by the affirmative approach – note still endorsed by the BPS (Steensma et al., 2017). Here, for example, is an account from a FtM de-transitioner, now in chronic distress in 2019 in a conference in Manchester on the topic:

“It doesn’t make any sense to me why this is called ‘transition’ or a ‘sex change’ because it’s not, it’s castration. And now that I am trying to care for my health as much as possible I spend a lot of time on hysterectomy support sites and message boards for women. For women, because only women get hysterectomies and only women deal with the consequences of a hysterectomy. So, excuse me but what the hell are surgeons doing calling this ‘gender reassignment’ or ‘gender affirming health care’? ( ‘Livia’. Detransition: The Elephant in the Room. Make More Noise (Available from: https://08e98b5f-7b7a-40c9-a93b-8195d9b9a854.filesusr.com/ugd/305c8f_34b673d3097c4df88bf9b9e8f6ed1006.pdf?index=true)”

These sorts of accounts from distressed patients, in the wake of an ‘affirmative’ service ideology which is proposed by the BPS still as a progressive alternative to ‘conversion therapy’, graphically expose why we need to reflect on what we mean, exactly, by the term. These angry victims of bio-medicalisation are queuing up at the doors of medical negligence lawyers today.  An irony, which will be recorded historically, is that such a medical scandal has been led not by medical practitioners but by psychologists. 

If counselling or clinical psychologists are caught up in this legal reckoning, because of their compliance with an affirmative service ideology, what advice was given to them in the recent past by the BPS and what will it give now? After complaints about the gender guidelines were made, the BPS did not withdraw them (the wise option, for a period of deliberation). Instead the BPS indicated that they were not intended to apply to those under the age of 18. However, the document (which remains on the BPS website) on page 12 still says this, contradicting that claim (and note its heavy biomedical emphasis):

“Psychologists working with GSRD youth should be aware that reproductive options and considerations may be more complex than with their heterosexual or cisgender peers. Assistive reproductive options may be needed and should be discussed openly and frankly, perhaps especially in the case of trans youth who are seeking treatments which will remove reproductive options at an age below that which people commonly consider becoming a parent”

This is a clear indication that the transgender activists driving the production of the BPS Guidelines had a view about an age cohort which cannot consent to sex or a piercing or buy alcohol. Those children are still being encouraged to enter a bio-medicalised lifelong process in the name of social justice and presumed mental health gain. Their wellbeing is being jeopardised and in some cases egregiously sacrificed at an altar of ideology. 

Conclusion

Our political action to expose the secretive world of the BPS has quite properly focused on poor governance in general. It did not start with single issue politics in civil society, such as the many now linked to identity politics. However, child protection has come up for us in the two ways I noted at the outset. 

In this piece, I have drawn out the contradictions inherent to the politics of gender identity. The Cass Review confirmed that we were correct to open up for scrutiny those mental health professionals, who defend exploratory psychological therapy for the good reason to protect children, on the one hand, and, on the other, the libertine transgender activists, who have captured the policy process for now, in the BPS and elsewhere.. 

The gaps of understanding between the Cass Review and the one cited from the University of Birmingham are worth exploring. Both reports should be read by anyone new to the topic who wants to demystify some of what has been going on inside the BPS. To finish on a repetition: the contention about the GSRD guidelines is a symptom of a deeper problem of poor governance in the Society. As a consequence the welfare of children continues to be put at risk from what is purported to be professional guidance.

References

Bean, P. (1986) Mental Disorder and Legal Control Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Benn Michaels, W. (2006) The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality New York: Holt.

British Psychological Society (2019) Guidelines for Psychologists Working with Gender, Sexuality and Relationship Diversity Leicester: British Psychological Society.

Brunskell-Evans, H. and Moore, M. (Eds.) (2018) Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own BodyNewcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Butler, C. and Hutchinson, A. (2020), Debate: The pressing need for research and services for gender desisters/detransitioners. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 25: 45-47.

Butler, J. (1999) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge

Feldman, M.P. and MacCulloch, M.J. (1967) Aversion therapy in the management of 43 homosexuals British Medical Journal, 2, 3 June 1967, 594-597; 

Feldman, M.P. and MacCulloch, M.J. (1971) Homosexual Behaviour: Therapy and Assessment Oxford: Pergamon Press. 

Haig, D. (2004) The inexorable rise of gender and the decline of sex: social change in academic titles, 1945–2001. Archives of Sexual Behavior 33:87-96.

Hartley, L.P. (1953) The Go-Between London: Hamish Hamilton.

Hull, C. (2008) The Ontology of Sex: A Critical Inquiry into the Construction and Reconstruction of Categories. London: Routledge

NHS England (2022) Interim Review of Gender Identity Services for Young People (Interim Report Chaired by Hilary Cass) London: NHS England.

Oakley, A. (1972) Sex, Gender and Society. Aldershot: Arena.

Pilgrim, D. (ed) (2023a) British Psychology in Crisis: A Case Study in Organisational Dysfunction Oxford: Phoenix Books.

Pilgrim, D. (2023b) Verdicts on Hans Eysenck and the fluxing context of British psychology History of the Human Sciences (in press).

Pilgrim, D. (2022) Identity Politics: Where Did It All Go Wrong? Oxford: Phoenix Books.

Steensma, T.D., Wensing-Kruger, A. and Klink, D.T. (2017) How should physicians help gender-transitioning adolescents consider potential iatrogenic harms of hormone therapy?  American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, 19, 8, 762-770.

Thoits, P.A. (1985) Self-labeling processes in mental illness: the role of emotional deviance. American Journal of Sociology, 91: 221–49.

Watkins, S. (2018) Which feminisms? New Left Review 109, 2, 5-76.

Zucker, K.J. Wood, H., Singh, D. and Bradley, S. (2012) A developmental, biopsychosocial model for the treatment of children with Gender Identity Disorder. Journal of Homosexuality 59:3, 369-397

Board of Trustees, Charity Commission, Gender, Governance

What is the point of the Charity Commission?

David Pilgrim posts….

A couple of years ago, we sent a dossier of case studies to the Charity Commission, enumerating our concerns about governance failures in the BPS. At that time they noted that they were ‘engaged’ with the Society, which was clearly not compliant with charity law. It did not have, and still does not have, a truly independent Board of Trustees and it repeatedly denies relevant information to its members. Our list of postings on this blog has made these points over and over again, with evidence.

Little or nothing has happened since then. We now have one bureaucracy (the BPS) ostensibly under the legal jurisdiction of another one (the Charity Commission) showing the same problem: neither can be trusted to assure the public about probity. As far as governance and accountability are concerned they are both about as much use as a chocolate frying pan. This is not to say that individuals in both organisations, who deal with concerns put to them are not pleasant and well meaning, but the upshot for anyone trying to complain about problems is that inaction is the name of the game. 

The norms and culture of both organisations are at odds with reasonable expectations of democratic accountability. It might be better if the Commission did not exist at all – at least then complainants would seek other forms of redress. But it does exist and so we are left with a double problem: the BPS is still poorly governed and the body responsible for rectifying that state of affairs has been ineffectual. I am making strong claims here which might be thought of as nihilistic. However, below I lay out why that is not the case.

This empirical summary of the fix we are all in about reforming the dysfunction in the BPS, with its toothless regulator becoming a ‘passive bystander’ in the face of wrongdoing (Cohen, 2001), is fair comment. We have tried and failed to go through the proper channels. The use of the broken complaints procedure in the BPS failed because it persistently fails all of its members and the general public.

Our campaign for visible and credible reform has run into the sands as well because of the gap between the rhetoric of the Charity Commission and its lack of regulatory potency in practice. My understanding is that it is not even going through the motions any longer of ‘being engaged’ with governance failures in the BPS. It could be that the tinkering on the margins by the BPS (i.e. the laughable sop of a couple of independent Trustees now to be appointed) was enough for the Commission to declare ‘mission accomplished’. Who knows in this mysterious world of public bodies claiming to value transparency but actually offering us bullshit in practice (Spicer, 2020)?

Accordingly, both BPS members and the general public expecting a regulator of charities to, well, regulate charities, are now betrayed twice over. Moreover the relationship between the BPS and the Charity Commission bears scrutiny for two particular reasons, beyond the general failures of each one. I now explain those two points.

‘Engaging’ with Mermaids

The reader may have seen some important recent news, in the wake of the interim Cass Report and the closure of the Tavistock GIDS clinic. That closure remains important because of its ambiguity. Gender critics have invested it with the hope that the castration of children, in the name of medicine, will now come to a halt and exploratory psychological therapy will not be criminalised. However, those promoting the ‘affirmative model’, despite its lack of empirical evidence (Biggs, 2022), look to diverse service providers carrying on with the aspirations of transgender activist organisations. One of these is Mermaids. 

News broke recently that the Charity Commission is to investigate its role in providing girls with breast binders. The timing is important. The fact of the supplying of the paraphernalia for young people to deny their immutable natal biological state is not new. Mermaids have not suddenly leapt into action, but have encouraged this and other related practices for years. Thus, the Commission may be blowing with the political wind, for now, post-Cass. 

My point here is that this ‘engagement’ initiative raises the prospects for those welcoming the news that this will lead to a dramatic regulatory intervention. Given the track record of the Charity Commission to prefer ‘engagement’ and to rarely close a charity, or take it over as its new statutory managers, the gender critics would be wise not to hold their breath. This intervention from the Charity Commission may work in disrupting the breast binding supply chain, but it may not. 

Mermaids may well defend what they consider to be good practice – what will the Charity Commission do then? Analogously, the BPS ignored the advice and directives of the Commission for years with no detrimental consequences for the cabal running the Society. If a regulator is toothless or is perceived to be (which is as important in this case) then the public purse paying for it is being depleted for no plausible reason. 

The ubiquity of conflicts of interest

One of the complaints we have made to, and about, the BPS is that it is riven with conflicts of interest at the top. Charity law, amongst other things, intends to minimise or eliminate such a tendency. As I noted, the Commission has failed to put the BPS house in order in this regard and now seems to have given up the effort completely. However, there is a particular twist in the tail of this failure, which neither the BPS membership, nor the general public, are likely to be aware of; being kept in the dark is par for the course in BPS-land. 

When the fraud in the BPS came to the attention of its ‘leaders’, the Board of Trustees, there was probably wailing and gnashing of teeth, as threats to personal interests were dawning and scary legal liability might auger a grim future. Some probably favoured keeping the scandal under wraps, whereas others knew the cat would soon be out of the bag and maybe amongst the pigeons. 

The fraudster, now in prison, was the PA to the CEO. Multiple sign offs of fraudulent claims (coming from the coffers supplied by members’ fees) were made by her managers. The CEO and the Finance Director were duly suspended, pending the internal and police inquiries. The former is for now ‘back in his office’ but the latter disappeared within a month of his suspension. He found immediate employment elsewhere in the National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF). Yes this is absolutely true folks. 

That story deserves more scrutiny elsewhere by critical historians of the Society. However, my concern here is more about a different point about a particular conflict of interest, which demonstrates that the BPS is not the only public body that resists public accountability. As a member of the public and a critical observer of the machinations in the BPS in recent years, I tried to make some inquiries about how this rapid and effortless ‘moonlight flit’, implicating a very senior financial operative occurred. Did the BPS provide him with a reference and, if so, did it mention the investigation and his suspension? Was there due process of checks by the NLCF?

These are pertinent questions in their own right but another aspect of the story emerged while pursuing them. I attempted to contact Helen Stephenson, who has been the CEO of the Charity Commission since 2017. In 2022 she was also appointed as a Trustee of the NLCF, raising an immediate question about a potential conflict of interest. I wrote to her pointing out that prima facie conflict of interest.  Her office refused to engage with me about the inquiry (Stephenson was on holiday they said). They also said this was a matter for the NLCF and not the Charity Commission. The buck was being passed. 

Accordingly, I sent an email to the Customer Services of the NLCF (the only contact point available), who refused point blank to pass on the concern to the CEO or Chair, as I had requested. Nor would they deal with the concern directly. Basically, I was told to go away in a firm British manner, in which those in power are used to dealing with the public when under threat.  I have now written to my MP telling the sorry tale, but am still travelling more in hope than expectation.

So there we have it. Not one, not two but three public bodies are indifferent to the rights of the general public and are happy to swat away or ignore public interest inquiries. Those at the top of all three organisations should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, though this is not a likely scenario. In the meantime, the mystery of the ex-Finance Director of the BPS and his equivalent role in the NLCF may encourage journalistic interest, as might the clear conflict of interest implicating Helen Stephenson. Please write to your MP about this. Any update from mine will be posted on this blog. 

References

Biggs, M. (2022) The Dutch Protocol for juvenile transsexuals: Origins and Evidence. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy (online 19th September).

Cohen, S. (2001) States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering. Cambridge: Polity. 

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

"The Psychologist", Board of Trustees, Governance

Getting away with it…

Peter Harvey posts…..

Viola Sander, languishes at Her Majesty’s pleasure. The BPS Board of Trustees (BoT) languishes in a complacent and denialist miasma of self-indulgence whilst the organisation for which it is accountable slips further and further into an abyss. As yet another crisis hits an already tottering and failing society (see here) the membership – to which the BoT is accountable – is left bewildered and confused at yet another resignation from the Presidential team. As David Murphy (ex-President who resigned as Vice-President) notes, only one of the past six Presidents had completed their full 3-year term. As Oscar Wilde didn’t say “To lose one President, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness, but to lose any more is sheer incompetence…”. And now another one has gone – in record time.

But to return to the fate of the ex-Executive Assistant to the CEO whose fraudulent use of a BPS credit card landed her a custodial sentence (full details here). Clearly she had broken the law (again) but are there others who should shoulder some of the responsibility if not the blame? The Charity Commission states

As a trustee you must take steps to make sure that your charity’s money is safe, properly used and accounted for. Every trustee has to do this. Even if your charity has an expert to manage its finances, you are still responsible for overseeing your charity’s money.

Further

Make sure that money is only spent on what is allowed by the charity’s governing document and policies. If it is not, you and the other trustees need to put it right.

It could not be clearer – trustees have a responsibility and they are accountable. So how has the BPS BoT taken these edicts? They have not. No Trustee has resigned about this critical failure (I do not include David Murphy of Hazel McCloughlin here as they had many other reasons) and, as far as we know (see later for a view on information blackouts) no member of the Senior Management Team has been disciplined. Whilst the CEO was suspended for a year whilst this was subject an investigation (again no details about how this was done), the then CFO was allowed to resign and immediately took up a post with the National Lottery Community Fund.

In an attempt to clarify matters, I wrote to the then President (Katherine Carpenter) prior to this year’s AGM as follows

Dear Dr Carpenter,

I was pleased to see your statement about the encouragement of debate, as I was to read of your commitment to openness and transparency when the CEO was re-instated. In the light of this I hope that you will take the opportunity at the AGM to give the membership a fuller account of the recent fraud than has been given up to this point – it is appalling that we have more information from the local media than we do from the Society or its own house journal. 

In particular, I hope that you will be able to clarify the following:

1.  Why has no-one from the Board of Trustees resigned? It is a clear (and statutory) responsibility for Trustees to be accountable for the financial health and probity of an organisation. Why has no-one taken their responsibility seriously?

2.   Why has no-one on the SMT been (as far as we know) disciplined or held accountable?

3.   How was the then CFO able to resign whilst still (as far as we know) suspended pending the outcome of the internal investigation and gain another senior post with another charity?

Members are entitled to answers to these questions – you and your colleagues are accountable to them. And we need more than bland clichés that “lessons have been learned” and that “systems are now in place”. Financial mismanagement is not new to the BPS and it is clearly a significant failure of systems and accountability that the fraud went undetected for so long.

I  look forward to your reply.

To this I got no reply, not even an acknowledgement.

And these are not the only outstanding questions surrounding this scandal. Viola Sander’s appointment was handled by an external agency. Why? Despite the fact that members pay a significant amount of money to service a bureaucracy which cost nearly £7 million in 2021 (which presumably includes HR), why wasn’t this done in-house? The BPS has a significant membership of occupational, business and other applied psychologists who are likely to have considerable expertise in selection procedures. Perhaps some of them actually run businesses which specialise in selection. Why not use this expertise? And what recompense has the BPS sought for this gross and crass incompetence on the  part of the “external agency”. I would have thought that the BPS has a prima facie case for not only asking for their (i.e.members’) money back but a considerable sum in reputational damages. 

I referred earlier to the information blackout. Whilst accepting that some material may be confidential, there is nothing to stop the BPS issuing a carefully worded statement to the membership – isn’t that what the Comms Team is there for? And perhaps a statement to be printed in The Psychologist – but that is an extremely unlikely event considering that such basic information about the Society doesn’t fit its virtue-signalling, identity-politics, activist-placating agenda.

So we are none the wiser, the same old faces sit on the BoT in their self-satisfied smugness whilst the Society for which they are responsible crumbles around them.


"The Psychologist", 'False Memory Syndrome', Academic freedom and censorship, Board of Trustees, Expulsion of President-Elect, Gender, Governance, Identity Politics, Memory and the Law Group, Prescribing Rights

Legal storm clouds over the BPS

David Pilgrim posts….

For those new to the chaos in the BPS, its organisational vulnerability today is multi-layered. The Charity Commission has, until very recently, been ‘engaged’ with the Society about lack of compliance concerning governance arrangements. Slowly, maybe resentfully, the leadership in Leicester has tinkered around the edges. 

The Society’s ‘Board of Trustees’ has been a phoney structure since the 1960s, but now a few public invites are to be issued, to appoint nominally independent members. All trustees in a charity should have no conflicts of interest, not just a couple of tokens. As with other matters, the BPS leadership seems to lack insight about even the most basic principles of organisational probity (see below).

But compliance with charity law is the least of the problems for the current BPS leadership or, note, past leaders with their ongoing legacy liability. We were told via YouTube, when Nigel MacLennan was expelled kangaroo-court-style, that this has been a ‘challenging year’. This of course was special pleading from those running the Society. The wider membership had been kept completely in the dark about the corruption and misgovernance, so they experienced the lock down, oblivious to any personal pain suffered by the leadership, with its ‘challenges’.  

This glib ‘challenging year’ trope in BPS propaganda has persisted, both vague in its detail and directed at sympathy from anyone taking it seriously. Covid-19 had been a safe cover story of collective bad luck and victimhood. Whichever way the challenges in Leicester are spun to the outside world, the reality is that the BPS is in serious legal trouble.

Three imminent legal threats to the reputation of the BPS

Here are three points to consider seriously:

Nigel MacLennan’s Employment Tribunal will require that the BPS must now take the dirty washing it has stuffed in a bin bag and put in a cupboard somewhere, and empty it out on to the floor of the courtroom for all the world to see. The evasions and snail-pace adjustments, which might have worked in response to the Charity Commission, will not be tolerated in a court (which is the formal status of an Employment Tribunal). Much more could be said on this, but a sub judice caution comes into play here, so I am just reporting the material fact of what is about to happen in 2023.

Post-Cass Review and Post-GIDS closure, the BPS guidance on gender has now been withdrawn. The leadership are not responding, in a timely manner, to a dilemma shockingly new to them. In the autumn of 2019 criticisms I made of Tavistock Clinic GIDS were censored by the BPS. In the summer of 2020, representations from many BPS members about the serious inadequacies of the 2019 guidelines on gender were simply ignored. In the autumn of 2020, a detailed formal complaint concerning the form, content and context of 2019 revision of the gender guidelines was made but not upheld. Also in autumn 2020, further representations about the risks of extending prescribing rights to psychologists (which would have included hormones) were ignored by BPS leaders. In the spring of 2022, yet another multi-signed letter to BPS leaders about the risks posed to the public by the gender guidelines was simply ignored. This did not even receive an acknowledgment, let alone a considered response.

Only when the world outside was telling Leicester in stereo, and at full volume, that the game was up on the ‘affirmative model’, was action triggered. Over the recent years, its own members had been treated with total contempt, when lobbying for the withdrawal of the trans-captured gender document. The wise have kept a copy of the policy document now removed. It cannot be deleted from history, no matter how convenient that would be for all of those, from the Board of Trustees and the Practice Board to the ‘Comms Team’ and The Psychologist, who were complicit actors in a flawed policy.  

The credibility of their group-think will now fracture in the full public glare of legal scrutiny. Recently The Times reported an incipient class action, involving up to a thousand ex-patients of the Tavistock Clinic (in truth that figure may be larger or smaller). Whatever their number, the legal bill will be picked up by the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA). Its work is supported by top-sliced money from constituent local Trusts, so it is supplied ultimately by the tax payer. 

The Tavistock Clinic will survive, albeit embarrassed. It will be rid of a capricious historical deviation, which held the proven tradition of cautious exploratory psychological therapy in complete contempt, confusing a passing and modish social trend with a genuine ‘social revolution’. The medical sterilisation of healthy children is shaping up to be yet another ‘great and desperate cure’ in the murky biomedical history of psychiatry (and now, more importantly, psychology) (Valenstein, 1986). These children, who cannot vote, give consent to sex, buy alcohol or even have a piercing or tattoo at their own request, has been put forward by adult identity politics activists as a harbinger of social progress. 

In the censored exchange in 2019 and noted above, between me and Dr Bernadette Wren, that assumption of political and ethical worthiness was debated. As a champion of the now discredited GIDS, Wren actually described the explosion in referrals as reflecting a ‘social revolution’ (sic). I am sure she believed that, but history will surely not vindicate her position, given that her claim is already unravelling and there is a service policy push back, here and in other countries, about the ‘affirmative model’. Social contagion, yes. Social revolution, very doubtful. A passing postmodern phase of anti-realist madness, most probable.

Many liberal and left leaning people (this is not just a Daily Mail editorial frothing at the mouth) simply never bought the GIDS progressive claims. Nor did they fail to spot the trans-capture in the BPS and elsewhere, including in the Royal medical colleges, which should have known better. For example, a group have just written to The Observernoting how the leadership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists had fended off representations, similar to our own in the BPS (see under heading Trans Concerns) https://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/commentisfree/2022/aug/14/why-surprise-when-wealthy-capitalist-makes-large-donation-to-oxford-college

This span of dissenting voices has now been vindicated.  Complex existential challenges, each with their unique biographical context, cannot be cured by crass interference with the body, but it seems that mental health professionals are still slow learners. Their organisational leaders, fawning for popular support in an age of identity politics, have for now often lost their rational capacity to assess evidence or accept material realities that are immutable (Pilgrim, 2022). 

Faced with this historical moment of reckoning, the BPS does not have the luxury of a legal fund, like the NHSLA, to fall back on. The grateful medical negligence lawyers, who are now welcoming ‘regretters and detransitioners’ through their shiny doors, will inevitably take an interest in the professional advice that supported the ‘affirmative model’, now defunct at the Tavistock. The cabal in Leicester would be wise to take their own legal advice about what is in the pipeline.  It will of course be paid for by members’ fees. It may well entail very large amounts of money.

3 And then there is the contentious memory and law group, which has been the other main arena of policy capture, afforded by weak governance. The enmeshment of the BPS and the British False Memory Society is now clear (Conway and Pilgrim, 2022). However, in 2014, the editor of The Psychologist made this definitive and untenable statement: “Neither The Psychologist nor The British Psychological Society has links with the British False Memory Society.” 

This denial was at odds with the fact that the Chair (now deceased) of the BPS Memory and the Law Group was on the Advisory Board of the British False Memory Society, during the time that Elizabeth Loftus was on the International Panel of Associate Editors of The Psychologist.  She was also an advisor to the US and British False Memory Societies (The first was closed down after the Jeffrey Epstein case.) Loftus testified in defence of both Ghislaine Maxwell in 2021 and Harvey Weinstein in 2020. In the first case she asserted, with no evidence, that the prospect of financial gain could distort the memories of complainants. This line of speculation in legal settings is not peculiar to Loftus. It has been used by convicted individual abusers, as well as those claiming that child sexual abuse is a moral panic.

In this context of the serious legal considerations of sexual abuse, the biases in the BPS policy to date are very important, as is the supportive role of The Psychologist.  In May 2014, its editor provided a short hagiographic account of his interview with Loftus (he met at a conference dinner), who had ‘been voted the most influential female psychologist of all time’. It goes on, ‘Her wit and creativity shone through as she rattled through real-life stories, wrongful convictions and ingenious research that all illuminate the faulty nature of memory…. One thing seems undeniable: whatever the future brings for memory research and practice, Professor Loftus will be at the forefront of it for many years to come.’  

Because the BPS is an organisation without a memory, others have to recall the origins of its partisan policy focus. The BPS line, from their highly biased report, considering only the matter of false positive decision making, has fed defence teams hired by those accused of sexual abuse. It has offered absolutely no balancing advice about false negatives, in order to support prosecution teams. Those in the BPS, who have been concerned to expand the policy on memory, to include evidence of the social epidemiology of child sexual abuse and its proven mental health impacts (e.g. Cutajar et al. 2010) have been systematically excluded from a new working group looking at the topic. 

This scandal of biased policy formation then is ongoing. It is not just a part of BPS history, now regretted. The group recently appointed to update the document remains shadowy and has only included (unnamed) so called ‘memory experts’, from the closed system world of experimental psychology. All attempts by those BPS members interested in the clinical and epidemiological evidence (an open system feature of the world outside of the laboratory) to join the group have been blocked repeatedly. Moreover, all attempts to ascertain who exactly is on this group have been met with refusals on grounds of data privacy. It seems that the older biases to consider false positive decision making may well remain. The implausible claim that the BPS is guided by the organisational principle of transparency is also obvious here. 

Meanwhile, the BPS, as with now withdrawn gender document, seems to have no capacity to reflect on the child protection implications entailed in a lop-sided and partisan, form of policy formation.  The only sop that excluded critics have been offered is to submit papers to a minor journal, which is under the editorial control of FMS supporters. As with the case of the gender document, the temporary capture of a weakly governed Society, by a particular interest group, has to await external scrutiny to expose its bias and the dangers this poses to the public. Once again, internal dissent has been quashed at the expense of both membership democracy and academic integrity.

As the evidence now accumulates from historical inquiries into child sexual abuse, both in the UK and Australia, the BPS policy is a new potential target for angry survivors, seeking personal justice. Their lawyers will have spotted that line of attack. The current BPS position, to date, has colluded with the idea that child sexual abuse has been a trivial moral panic. The truth of the matter is that its scale has been strongly under-estimated, as is now becoming clear, in both the statutory inquiries and clinical research (Pilgrim, 2018; Children’s Commissioner’s Report, 2016).

Conclusion

The BPS leaders are in for another ‘challenging year’. Hiding in the dark, under the security blanket of group-think, will not make the lawyers disappear by magic. They will still be there, rubbing their hands, when the blanket it whisked away. Critics of all the three forms of BPS failing, noted above, may have been easy to ignore by the cabal. The rule of law is a different matter. If those in Leicester are not worried by now about imminent legal threats to the reputation of the Society, then they clearly do not understand what is going on.

References 

Children’s Commissioner’s Report (2016) Barnahus: Improving The Response to Child Sex Abuse in EnglandLondon: UK Children’s Commissioner’s Office 

Conway, A. and Pilgrim, D. (2022) The policy alignment of the British False Memory Society and the British Psychological Society Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 23:2, 165-176, 

Cutajar, M. C., Mullen, P. E., Ogloff, J. R. P., Thomas, S. D., Wells, D. L., and Spataro, J. (2010). Psychopathology in a large cohort of sexually abused children followed up to 43 years. Child Abuse and Neglect 34(11), 813–22.

Pilgrim, D. (2022) Identity Politics: Where Did It All Go Wrong? Bicester: Phoenix Books.

Pilgrim, D. (2018) Child Sexual Abuse: Moral Panic or State of Denial? London: Routledge.

Sutton, J. (2014). BPS – obsessed with the false memory syndrome? Editor’s reply. The Psychologist 27, 5, 303.

Valenstein, E. (1986) Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery and Other Radical Treatments for Mental Illness New York: Basic Books.

Administrator’s note

All of these topics have been subject to comments on the blog. By clicking on the category immediately above the title you will find the relevant posts.

"The Psychologist", Board of Trustees, Governance

In the name of God, go!

David Pilgrim posts….

The BPS surely has reached a point where Cromwell’s advice applies. The leadership needs to go and a new regime installed. Many people in recent times have been perplexed and angry, in equal measure, when trying to hold power to account in the BPS.  Harry Truman may have had a notice on his desk saying ‘The buck stops here’, but that stricture went long ago in modern leadership. We are now in neoliberal narcissistic times. What does ‘taking full responsibility’ actually mean any more in public life? Boris Johnson and Sarb Bajwa seem to me to be peas from the same pod.

Many in Bajwa’s position might have been sacked on the very day that the large fraud under their watch was first exposed, but he was not. The Board of ‘Trustees’ suspended him (along with the Finance Director who smartly jumped ship in a month to be the Finance Director of the National Lottery Community Fund).  But those ‘Trustees’ were culpable in the mismanagement of the fraud and so the survival of Bajwa is only one matter to reflect upon. In the future they may well be subject to legacy liability.

The Board knew of the fraud in January 2020 but the two at the top were not suspended until November. What were the Board doing in all those months? What were the toing and froing Presidents (Murphy and McLaughlin) doing in relation to the material fact of the fraud in that interim period? Whatever it was, the membership was certainly not kept informed. The ever biddable Psychologist retained its complicit silence. A few close onlookers, realising what was happening, were torn between George Orwell and Lewis Carroll for apposite literary allusions.  

Bajwa, with the full confidence of the Board, returned after paid leave for a year.  He defaulted to his old confident ways, aided and abetted now by the ‘election’ of an illegitimate President, who replaced the stitched up and spat out Nigel MacLennan.  The latter being of personal integrity, and seeking proper transparency for members, would not be tolerated for too long, which proved to be the case. The cabal conspired successfully to expel him and this was not the suspended CEO’s responsibility, even if much else was and still is.

More bullshit from the top in 2022

Bajwa’s joint statement with Katherine Carpenter looked to a shiny future, turning their faces in personal convenience away from a dismal past. Truth and reconciliation were clearly not going to be on the cards for them, as that would require a thorough and open historical appraisal of organisational failure.  At this point, once more take your pick between the sense making of Orwell or Carroll. 

The bullshit of their joint piece in (you guessed it) The Psychologist (January 2022: 4-5) is extraordinary even by recent standards in the BPS. They remind us of ‘the importance of placing listening and sharing at the heart of everything we do.’ Really? Keywords recur in management rhetoric today including: ‘challenges’; ‘beating heart’; ‘rainbow spectrum’; ‘broad church’; ‘united mission’; ‘culture of togetherness’ (the clichés just keep on coming and they are all there in this piece ). Somebody actually sits down and writes this drivel – is there a handbook for managers they crib from? But the best is kept till last, given recent events. This appears in print and for the historical record on page 5:

We can commit from the outset, however, always to do our best to communicate openly and transparently, and to be the sharer of good news and bad. This will take courage, but we both believe that by pledging our full accountability to our members, we can only strengthen the trust between us. This is our commitment-please join us!

During the past two years, the public and BPS members have been kept well and truly in the dark or offered YouTube propaganda about the outcome of a show trial. Are we really supposed to believe a single word of that paragraph? Having said this, the word ‘outset’ might signal that this is a new commitment (like a New Year’s resolution). But, if so, are they implying that they have indeed been doing the very opposite until January 1st 2022?

Carpenter is a senior manager in the NHS. If a scandal, of the scale we are facing surrounding the fraud, were to have occurred in her NHS Trust, there would have been a critical incident report made and a look back exercise announced. The BPS though plays by its own rules and these are made up as it goes along by the cabal. They act, not in the interests of members with the long term reputation of the Society in mind, but in their own. This will become clear with a proper historical reckoning, but until then we are all lumbered with self-interested short-termism.

Never mind that a woman with 17 offences and two prison terms behind her was appointed or that her bosses signed off one after another fraudulent claims. The cabal will just carry on and pretend that nothing of importance has happened. No heads need to roll and no statement required. The vague cliché of ‘lessons learned’ will suffice along with a ‘poor me’ plea that this has been a ‘challenging year’. Well, indeed, it has been extremely challenging for members of the BPS and the general public to find out what has gone on  and who has been personally responsible. So ‘challenging for whom and about what?’, we might all well ask. 

Bajwa as a role model of accountability

Talking of past form, Bajwa has been a poor role model for claimed transparency. His modus operandi has been deceptively simple: when people contact him about a matter that is not to his taste, then he simply does not reply to them. We have, on record, several examples of how mails from both individuals and in multi-signed versions have been simply ignored by Bajwa. Before his suspension, David Marks wrote to him about opening up a proper scrutiny of the Eysenck scandal. (This was twenty five years after the BPS were first contacted about the matter by Anthony Pelosi.) Marks was blanked by Bajwa. Three (sic) years later, after the latter had returned to his role, he still did not reply or apologise. He left it to a subordinate, Rachel Scudamore (Orwellian title, ‘Head of Quality Assurance and Standards’) to offer a viewpoint on the matter, using the first person plural in her token apology. Why did Bajwa not personally apologise in the first person singular? The answer seems to be, ‘because he could’.  

What is the point of being the CEO of any organisation if you are not the final resting place of accountability? In my view, Bajwa has brought more shame on an already shameful organisation. These dilettante managers with no respect for academic values are bringing British psychology into disrepute. In a separate blog piece, we will soon revisit how this standard setting of obfuscation and disrespect for members from the top then affects the staff culture in Leicester and will continue to do so unless there is regime change.

What is to be done?

We have been coy on this blog about making concrete suggestions about what should now happen, given that the cabal and its surrounding dysfunctional regime have survived. With an ex-employee in prison after her recent episode of serial offending, and an expelled malcontent President safely dispatched, the dysfunctional system can roll on uninterrupted. It might survive for a while, even though it is in a form of weak special measures from the Charity Commission. However, nothing lasts and the truth of the shameful recent history of the BPS will be told. 

My personal view is this. Bajwa and the Board of Trustees should now resign and the Charity Commission should appoint an administrator to ensure a democratic charity in full legal and regulatory compliance. True, not faux, Trustees would then be present to work at turning around a discredited shambles of an organisation. New managers could then give due respect to the skills and talents of the membership and ensure true not rhetorical transparency. 

To cite it in full, ‘You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.’ Cromwell’s advice remains sound but the shower running the BPS today will probably cling on to power until the Charity Commission or another legal lever will prise them from their bunker.

Board of Trustees, Financial issues, Governance

“A kid in a candy shop” or scapegoat.

Peter Harvey posts…

The above quote is how Viola Sander, until 2020 Executive Assistant to the CEO of the BPS, described her behaviour when she defrauded the BPS of around £70000. So, if a child runs amok in a tempting sweetshop because the fare is “too tempting”, what is the responsibility of the caregiver or the staff? None at all?

Now that (at least some of) the details of the major fraud have emerged (see Leicester Mercury, 8 February 2022), we can be more open about questioning just what has been going on at the BPS. We plan to disclose even more disturbing information about just how dysfunctional the BPS actually is. Amongst the multitude of questions to be raised in this particular instance, I want to focus on three main areas (1) how Ms Sander was selected and appointed; (2) why the oversight of her activities was so defective; (3) the accountability of her managers.

Just to remind you, Viola Sander had form, as the following extract from the Leicester Mercury makes clear

In 1984 she was prosecuted for a dishonesty offence and using ‘a false instrument’ and in 1998 she was given a 12 month suspended sentence for theft from an employer, the court heard.

That sentence was activated the following year, when she committed further thefts as an employee, and was jailed for a total of 15 months.

In 2006 she was given a community order for stealing from an employer.

In July 2014 she was jailed for two years for defrauding Leicester University out of £30,000.

She has 17 previous crimes to her name.

Selection

The post was Executive Assistant to the CEO – an important post, no doubt – but did its filling actually need to be outsourced to an external agency? The bland statement from the President to The Senate (7 February 2022) tells us that

“…the BPS used an external agency to perform reference checks for new employees…”

I can understand why the most senior posts within the BPS might benefit from being able to access a wider range of potential candidates than standard advertising might do, but this is not at that level. Surely, within the BPS administrative structure, there are able and competent managers part of whose job is to select and appoint staff? In addition, it is hard to comprehend why a psychological society with access to many specialists in organisational and occupational psychology as well as to many senior professionals who have extensive experience of selection, failed to use what expertise it has so readily available. Not only will this catastrophic failure have cost a good deal of money (from members’ subscriptions, of course) and caused serious damage the BPS’s reputation, it was quite unnecessary. Who authorised and approved the use of an external agency? Who chose the agency? What tendering and evaluation of the various bids took place? Who oversaw the process and was responsible for signing off the short-list? Did anyone actually check whether admission of previous criminal activity was included in the selection criteria (she is quoted as saying that she never told anyone because no-one asked)? What redress has been sought by the BPS from the agency? And who in the BPS hierarchy has been disciplined for gross negligence? And who, of those clearly accountable within the BPS, is still in post?

Oversight

This heading should be seen as ironical. Again, from the Leicester Mercury

The criminal activity began in August 2018 and continued until it was discovered in January 2020.

and

…a 17-month crime spree, which involved more than 900 fraudulent transactions.

There is reason to believe that the total amount may be higher than £70000 as there are a number of unaccounted for transactions.

From the Leicester Mercury again

Viola Sander’s underhand activity included spending £26,000 on Amazon purchases as well as £1,470 on hairdos at a Nicky Clarke salon and £450 on a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes.

Her taste for the high life also saw her spend £1,981 on taxis, £1,369 at an opticians, £600 on lingerie while also treating herself to trips to Paris and Frankfurt, a cruise, watches, a sofa and other indulgences

Was there no upper limit to expenditure that needed approval from a senior member of staff? Didn’t procedures within the BPS require that any expenditure over £1000 needed prior authorisation? Was there a level within the BPS at which non-compliance with procedures was routine? To say that there was a failure of oversight is something of an understatement. Were full and detailed receipts submitted? Were they elegant forgeries, crude alterations or simply non-existent? And if they were, who at Director level signed them off?  Did no-one smell a rat? Did any junior staff become suspicious? If so, did they feel safe to raise them with those above them? Or did they raise them and they were ignored? Who was Ms Sander ultimately accountable to? Has anyone else within the organisation been disciplined for incompetence?

Accountability

Someone in the BPS was managerially responsible for this employee – she reported to someone. Someone in the BPS was responsible for scrutinising receipts and expenses claims. Someone in the BPS was responsible for the day-to-day monitoring of finances. Someone in the BPS has the responsibility to ensure the financial probity of the organisation.  Who set up and monitored the financial controls and procedures? We understand that there had been a previous recent (unconnected) fraud following which strict financial controls were put in place. Were these followed or was there a culture of non-compliance? Would it be too much to suggest that the ultimate financial management the organisation starts with the Director of Finance (DoF)? The CEO and DoF were suspended after the discovery of the fraud. However, the DoF left soon after that as reported by the Third Sector 

“…it was revealed that the charity’s chief executive, Sarb Bajwa, was on “extended leave”, according to the charity, and its director of finance and resources, Harnish Hadani, resigned in December 2020 to start a new role.

Note that the resignation of the DoF took place whilst he was suspended. So one of the key individuals who would be able to throw some light onto this murky affair is not available for comment. This is particularly important as his Linkedin page records that, during his time as Executive Director of Finance and Resources at the BPS, he was responsible for  

“…finance, human resources, facilities and procurement.”

We believe that he is currently CFO/Finance Director of the National Lottery Community Fund.

But others must take their share of responsibility too. These are the Trustees. One of the key tasks of Trustees of a charity is 

As a trustee you must take steps to make sure that your charity’s money is safe, properly used and accounted for. Every trustee has to do this. Even if your charity has an expert to manage its finances, you are still responsible for overseeing your charity’s money

So however much they might want to distance themselves, each and every one of the Trustees in post during the time of the fraud bears some responsibility.

We have identified in other posts (see here and here) the significant failure of the BPS to ensure the true independence of Trustees. The Board, as currently constituted, is simply made up of members with multiple roles in the BPS and long-serving BPS junkies. I would suggest that a truly independent Board with expertise and insights into the actual management of a large organisation and with nothing to lose by rocking the boat, might have avoided this scandalAnd note that the proposal for three new trustees outlined in the Charter changes goes nowhere near far enough to remedy this problem.

This is a shameful and sorry reflection on the British Psychological Society.  And we need to remember that the Vice-President (President during the time of fraud), in his resignation letter, stated that he had 

“… repeatedly raised concerns about aspects of the management of the Society and inadequacies in the oversight the Board has provided.”

and, further

“I believe this has also been evidenced in the failure to communicate openly with members or staff about the issue of irregular expenses payments made to a former member of staff and the serious inadequacies of financial controls that were identified in the subsequent external investigation…”

The President-Elect (who could not possibly have been involved in this), who set out his stall to change and reform matters, was cruelly hounded out of his elected position and publicly vilified. This dysfunctional and misgoverned Society needs radical reform which won’t happen either by glossing over past problems or by aspirational Pollyanna statements (see here). In their joint statement to the membership, the President and the recently returned CEO stated

“…we will need to be open, flexible, and reflective to meet these challenges. We can commit from the outset, however, always to do our best to communicate openly and transparently, and to be the sharer of good news and bad.”

If we are to take this seriously then they can start by being open and transparent about all of what has gone on with this case. And despite the continued references to the “…last twelve months..” we would remind you that many of the problems identified here have existed for years and remain unexamined and unacknowledged. Perhaps now would be good time to put these claims of openness to the test.

Board of Trustees, Governance

THE ONGOING CONFLICTS OF INTEREST AT THE CENTRE OF THE BRITISH PSYCHOLOGICAL SOCIETY – AN OPEN LETTER 

David Pilgrim has sent this letter to the President, the SMT, the editor of The Psychologist and to various journalists who have an interest in what is going on in the BPS. He has also sent it to the Charity Commission.

To whom it may concern

The incipient reform (in January 2022) of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the British Psychological Society (BPS), to now include three properly independent members, is welcomed. It is a reactive signal that all is not well with the structure at the centre of a putative learned body and registered charity. 

Sadly it does not go far enough, if the BPS is to regain and retain public trust and that of its members. Many have been trying, and failing, to make this point about the needed radical root and branch reform of the governance of the Society in recent times. They have been ignored or dismissed as malcontents.  A large fraud now subject to sentencing in the Crown Court, and the disappearance of three Presidents (one expelled and two resigned over a two month period in 2021) are symptomatic of the most recent crisis in a long troubled organisation.

The culture of misgovernance, which has enabled both financial wrongdoing and policy capture, has been afforded by a blatant structural problem, dating back to the Royal Charter of 1965. At that time a BoT was required, but its precise membership not defined a priori. In 1987 a second bite of the cherry was offered but not taken, when the Royal Charter was revised. This has meant that for over fifty years the Society has been run by a BoT with no public involvement and where conflicts of interest have been inherent: we have had faux-Trustees not the real thing. To date the BoT has been constituted wholly from within the BPS, with external scrutiny being missing completely.

Any good charity knows that they should appoint Trustees, who are fully independent of the workings of the organisation (and the people involved as employees or volunteers). A Trustee should be defined by their ability to walk away from the role, with no personal disadvantage (of money, status, personal goals or cognitive/political interests). Given that under current arrangements all of the Trustees have conflicts of interest, then this criterion of independence has failed continually. The incumbents, as appointees from Boards and other sub-systems, should be accountable to Trustees not be Trustees themselves. The Presidential triumvirate is an important democratic counter-balance, but note that even this is from the membership not the general public.

Until the BoT is reformed fully in line with this point of best practice about Trustee independence, recommended by the Charity Commission, then the cultural legacy of poor governance and its adverse consequences are likely to persist. This and related points will be discussed at length in a book soon to appear, which I am editing: The Crisis of British Psychology: A Case Study in Organisational Dysfunction (Phoenix Press). 

Sincerely

Dr David Pilgrim 

"The Psychologist", Academic freedom and censorship, Board of Trustees, Ethics, Governance

Is an authentic history of the BPS possible?

This post has been modified to include an addendum (shown after the references) to include feedback received since the original posting = Blog Administrator (8 January 2022).

David Pilgrim posts….

During 2021 the large fraud in the BPS was dismissed as a minor footnote in the Society’s accounts. Three elected Presidents disappeared over a two month period. Two resigned and another was expelled after a kangaroo court and a rigged appeal. In the interim period between the latter two events, he was publicly disparaged in a YouTube video. 

For most of the year the CEO was suspended in the wake of the fraud. A temporary President was drafted in, with the help of a contrived illegitimate election, to bolster the diminishing credibility of the Board of Trustees. The Psychologist played its faithful role, as ‘the magazine of the British Psychological Society’, in what it reported and, more importantly, what it did not.

In the midst of these political events, poorly explored in public, there was another that went under the radar.  An over-worked and under-paid part time archivist, in the History of Psychology Centre (HoPC) resigned, leaving it with no academic director or archiving staff and an uncertain future. Although the HoPC is not the singular route to build up a history of British psychology, it is fairly important. Accordingly, its sustainability, as a vaunted part of the BPS, is crucial for scholarly activity both inside and outside the Society. 

The SMT have done little or nothing to protect it in recent years. Their mind has probably been elsewhere, managing the crisis they both inherited and amplified. One tactical option they seem to have chosen is to suppress history and to be evasive about their own detailed accountability. If that interpretation is correct then their motivation to support a proper history, especially recent history, will be weak or absent.

Whatever else we might say about the BPS, it is not a learning organisation. That aspiration would entail organisational norms, which celebrated transparency and honest reflection about current problems and their antecedents. Many of the postings on this blog have explored failures of probity and the evasion of learning from them on the part of the SMT and Board of Trustees. Here I want to just focus on the possibility of a history of the BPS.

Celebratory and critical histories

Until the middle of the 20th century, British psychology was expanding slowly and loosening itself from the constraints of both medicine and philosophy. Early historical accounts, such as that of my old teacher, Lesley Hearnshaw, paid little critical attention to the Society and focused mainly on epistemological tensions (Hearnshaw, 1964). His task was empirical: map out what could be discerned to date about theory and findings, within the strengths and weaknesses of the British empiricist tradition. A critical take on that history awaited (cf. Pilgrim and Patel, 2015).

At that juncture, some early signs of malaise had to be acknowledged during historical uncovering. Hearnshaw was a friend of Cyril Burt and began to write a celebratory history of his work after his death in 1971. As the proofs were being prepared, accusations were emerging of Burt falsifying data and people. Hearnshaw had, as an old fashioned honest scholar, to re-write his ending. Hagiography had to be replaced with Burt being damned with faint praise. He had been President of the BPS (1941-1943). He was the trusty servant of the eugenic tradition developed by Pearson and Spearman at University College London. He was the main man in the mid-20th century.. He was a public intellectual promoting an elitist eugenic view of human nature and he was not challenged by his peers of the time (Chamarette, 2019). At that time he was Mr British Psychology.

Burt succeeded Spearman as Professor of Psychology at University College in 1932. He always maintained the Spearman-Pearson position on ‘innate general cognitive ability’, which could be ‘objectively determined and measured’ (Burt, 1909). After the Second World War, he shaped the structure of British schooling and his advice to policy makers was well received in his Eugenics Society lecture (Burt, 1946).

Hearnshaw sadly had to record Burt’s fall from grace for the first time, leaving others to squabble over the best post-mortem (Hearnshaw, 1979; cf. Mackintosh, 1995).  These efforts reflected efforts to respect the Popperian hope that science is self-correcting, via falsification and open contestation about findings and interpretation. In recent years, psychology in Britain and elsewhere has faced two challenges in this regard. The first is the replication crisis and the second relates to cheating; at times in psychology and other disciplines these have overlapped. 

The Burt scandal reflected badly not only on British eugenics and British psychology but also on the BPS itself, given his past Presidential role. The force of eugenic psychology meant that ideology preceded findings; Hearnshaw used the phrase accurately from logical philosophy of Burt ‘begging the question’ (Pilgrim, 2008). Findings were co-opted selectively and then massaged (or invented) to maintain a pre-existing ideological position. This drama has repeated recently in the critique of Burt’s student, Hans Eysenck. 

At the time of writing I understand that this matter is being reviewed by a group in the Society.  Eysenck’s implausible findings about cancer and personality were reviewed by King’s College (KCL). Eysenck successfully courted funding from the tobacco companies. In exchange he offered them the comforting theory that cancer-proneness and addictive tendencies were inherited. The narrative of these coming together to account for lung cancer incidence could then displace the idea that big business was encouraging addiction for profit and was the source of a major public health problem. Favourable research might augment cigarette marketing.

In 2019 the KCL review* of Eysenck’s work concluded that it was ‘unsafe’ and incompatible with expectations of good clinical research. Criticisms of this work had been known since the 1990s and eventually lobbying from those like Anthony Pelosi prompted the KCL review and the incipient look back from the BPS (Pelosi, 2019).  

An organisation without a memory?

Will the BPS be forced to deal (eventually) with the Eysenck question, as they had in days gone by to deal with Burt and his dubious findings? The jury is out for now, but the following might be relevant to note. The editor of the Journal of Health Psychology, David Marks, wrote to Sarb Bajwa in November 2018 asking for the BPS to take its responsibilities seriously about Eysenck, and received no reply. 

Three years of radio silence later and after a prompt, Marks still had no reply from the CEO but he did get a response from Rachel Scudamore (‘Head of Quality Assurance and Standards’) apologising for Bajwa’s inaction. She opted to use the first person plural to avoid a third person accusation of her manager. 

Why Bajwa did not reply apologetically himself is not known. However, it was a time when those at the centre of the BPS would quite often fail to reply to concerns. (We have reported this norm of contempt from the centre in previous postings, often about very serious matters.) One manifestation of secrecy at the centre of the BPS has been a casual indifference to membership inquiries and concerns. 

As is often the case with scenarios like this, when trying to communicate with the powers that be in the BPS, we enter an Alice in Wonderland World, while being asked to take those leading the Society seriously. Credulousness is demanded in the face of the incredible material facts. The BPS until proved otherwise, is a self-deceiving and secretive bureaucracy. For now, with its governance unreformed and a cabal culture normalised, it is an organisation without a memory (cf. Donaldson, 2002).

This much we can say

In light of the above we can see a pattern of a rhetoric of history being taken seriously, alongside evasiveness in practice about any meaningful historical reflection. The HoPC has great rhetorical value for the BPS: just go onto the website and see it there as a key advertising feature for an alleged learned body. For now, like with much that is claimed from the cabal, this is bullshit. 

The casual use of censorship by the cabal and the biddable role of The Psychologist reflect a disdain for academic freedom. Even if the HoPC were to be rescued from its near oblivion, what chance it developing and defending a critical, rather than a sycophantic and celebratory, history of the BPS? Will the SMT bother to finance such an academically independent Centre? Alternatively, will they continue to let it wither on the vine, while retaining its vacuous image cynically on the website? The BPS has huge reserves, some of which are being squandered on a poorly justified ‘Change Programme’ to the tune of (at least) £6 million. ‘Spare some change for the HoPC, governor?’ ‘Sorry mate, busy spending it elsewhere.’

As for the Eysenck review, we are all curious to watch its development. Though never given a Fellowship of the BPS, his leading role in British psychology has to be acknowledged by friend and foe alike. After his death in 1997 an annual memorial lecture was set up in his honour in the Society. It sits proudly in celebration of the British eugenic tradition, alongside the Spearman Medal. 

Some have already queried the point of mulling over Eysenck’s flawed work (maybe like digging up Cromwell’s body and chopping off his head during The Restoration in 1661) (Hall and Scarnà, 2019). However, if the BPS cannot pronounce on the integrity of Eysenck’s work then who else can? Maybe the review of these alleged sins of the past is a convenient diversion from those of the present. Either way, his own words might be an ethical guide:

I always felt that a scientist owes the world only one thing, and that is the truth as he (sic) sees it. If the truth contradicts deeply held beliefs, that is too bad. Tact and diplomacy are fine in international relations, in politics, perhaps even in business; in science only one thing matters, and that is the facts. (Eysenck, 1990: 229)

The KCL reviewers were unimpressed by the facts he favoured. At the time of writing, fourteen retractions from journals have been recorded of Eysenck’s work. His critics trace problems going back to just after the Second World War. Their vulnerability lies in Eysenck’s eugenic thought, repeating the problem of his mentor. A contradiction of his approach was that he was both a methodological behaviourist and a biogenetic ideologue. His cancer work reflected that: heredity accounted for causes but the treatment of patients warranted CBT (behaviour therapy was its ‘first wave’.) 

How the BPS review of Eysenck’s work exactly came into being, and who was chosen to be part of it, remains a mystery. As with much that goes on in the BPS we will never know. Groups emerge by grace and favour and a tap on the shoulder to candidates who will not rock the boat.  Given the preference of the CEO and the illegitimate President to look forwards, Pollyanna fashion, and never backwards, the prospect of an honest history of the BPS in the recent past looks slim indeed (https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-35/january-2022/president-and-chief-executive).

Conclusion

The Burt and Eysenck examples show that historical clarifications, guided by Popperian criteria of scientific correction and probity, are not easy, but they are at least possible in an open democratic society. Sadly it looks as though currently the BPS does not have the intellectual culture to deliver the same expectation. Toxic managerialism and a lack of independent trustees (a structural fault traceable to 1965 and not rectified when the opportunity arose in 1988) have suppressed, rather than celebrated, the obligation to learn from experience in the public interest. 

Anti-intellectualism, censorship, secrecy, PR, spin, impression management and rigged expulsions and elections, for now dominate the decision-making priorities of the leadership. As a consequence, bullshit constantly displaces implausible claims of transparency. Maybe we will have to look outside for an authentic historical reckoning. It may have to come from the courts and investigative journalists. 

References

Burt, C.L. (1946) Intelligence and fertility. Eugenics Society Occasional Papers Number 2.

Burt, C.L. (1909) Experimental tests of general intelligence. British Journal of Psychology III 94-107.

Chamarette, M. (2019) Psychologists as public intellectuals: Cyril Burt at the BBC in the 1930s. Stories of Psychology Meeting organised by the History of Psychology Centre, November 7th.

Donaldson, L. (2002) An organisation with a memory. Clinical Medicine 2, 5, 524-7.

Eysenck, H.J. (1990) Rebel With A Cause London: Transaction

Hall, J. and Scarnà, A. (2019) An aggravating controversialist or ahead of his time? The Psychologist November, 32, 5.

Hearnshaw, L.S. (1979) Cyril Burt: Psychologist Icatha NY: Cornell University Press.

Hearnshaw, L.S. (1964) A Short History of British Psychology London: Methuen.

Pelosi, A.J. (2019). Personality and fatal diseases: revisiting a scientific scandal. Journal of Health Psychology, 24(4), 421-439

Pilgrim, D. (2008) The eugenic legacy in psychology and psychiatry. International Journal of Social Psychiatry 54, 3, 272-284.

Pilgrim, D. and Patel, N. (2015) The emergence of clinical psychology in the British post-war context. In J. Hall, D. Pilgrim and G. Turpin (eds) Clinical Psychology in Britain: Historical Perspectives HoPC Monograph No 2. Leicester: BPS.

Mackintosh, N.J. (ed) (1995) Cyril Burt: Fraud or Framed? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

* The Institute of Psychiatry, where Eysenck worked, was subsumed into KCL in 1997, hence that College of the University of London now being the academic ‘owner’ of his legacy. 

Addendum

This post has prompted email feedback from colleagues. I am grateful to them for the following minor corrections and their invited clarifications.

1. The archivist who resigned in 2021 was now, I understand, full-time not part-time. She left behind an assistant to work on her own in Leicester. To date the review group, set up three years ago to reinvigorate the HoPC still has had no formal commitment from the CEO or SMT to support an academic director, who would be guaranteed full autonomy in their role. To my knowledge no meeting has taken place in the interim between the Chair of the review group and the CEO. I understand from anonymous sources that a consultant may be imported temporarily to advise on archiving. However, I have been unable to confirm this possibility and its source, if any, in SMT decision making. (A theme on this blog is the arcane nature of decision making at the centre of the BPS.) We would of course welcome a full and clear update from the CEO or the ‘Director of Knowledge and Insight’ about their intentions about the ailing HoPC. I would put a very low probability of this happening, as the SMT have opted for a wilful and consistent policy of non-engagement with us. I have also sent a letter about my concerns about the HoPC to the ‘Director of Knowledge and Insight’ (copying to the CEO). Based on past trends, there is little likelihood that I will receive a reply. Currently I am Honorary General Secretary of the History and Philosophy Section but I sent my letter in a personal capacity. The Section will of course be taking all of the above matters seriously in relation to the vulnerability of the HoPC now and its future prospects.

2. The Spearman Medal has now been abandoned by the BPS in the face of criticisms about its eugenic roots. It was awarded finally in 2020 but, note, was only set up in 1962. The latter date reflects a mainstream commitment to the eugenic tradition in British psychology well after the Second World War. The British Eugenics Society changed its name to the Galton Institute in 1989. This euphemistic naming and the current rationale for the Institute can be found on its website. In 2020 University College London, removed the names of Galton and Pearson from its rooms and buildings.