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Evasion as a management strategy

David Pilgrim posts….

At the time of writing, the Charity Commission is taking an active interest in the governance of the BPS. This is happening because it has received many complaints from BPS members about a range of topics, some of which we have reported on this blog. The Charity Commission is likely to find this process somewhat difficult. The complexities of the misgovernance that we have done our best to expose are one part of the challenge and the other is a culture of managerial evasiveness. 

At the time of writing, the Charity Commission is taking an active interest in the governance of the BPS. This is happening because it has received many complaints from BPS members about a range of topics, some of which we have reported on this blog. The Charity Commission is likely to find this process somewhat difficult. The complexities of the misgovernance that we have done our best to expose are one part of the challenge and the other is a culture of managerial evasiveness.

This always leads back, at some point, to the common malaise of governance failure. For all we know, things may be worse than we have uncovered, given our limited powers of investigation. What is clear though is that dark clouds are building slowly over the Board of Trustees, which at some point must be held responsible for the mess we are in. The Vice President may well have been wise to jump ship. Other Trustees have resigned, the Finance Director left after less than two years in post. Who would wish to seek election for President this year – will they want to shore up the old regime or face the task of managing a reckoning about misgovernance?

This not only reflects a current crisis but also a long-standing cultural norm, such as the lack of independence of the Trustees and their common conflicts of interest. Some is more recent and can be located in the culture of the New Public Management Model (NPM) that is common now in public bodies. As a charity the BPS is legally ambiguous in this regard; its responsibilities towards the public mean that it acts like a public body in much the same way as say the NHS. The long-term cultural inadequacies seem to have combined with the new management broom of the past couple of years as a tipping point to create manifest organisational dysfunction.

The NPM, augmented by new forms of digital governance (‘computer says “no”’), is commonly experienced by us all as citizens. Those working in higher education have suffered its consequences and enjoyed its advantages for a while now. This has been the case in the NHS for even longer. We have enough case studies now to know how and when it works well and when it does not. A particular problem in the case of the BPS is that the Senior Management Team (SMT) is dominated by individuals who are not psychologists and have no practical appreciation of academic cultural norms or the ethics of psychological practice. 

Accordingly, the BPS as a recent expression of this new managerialism, is a case of ‘could do very much better’. But that is our judgment and not those of those currently on the Board. From them, the message is very clear and repeated: ‘problem what problem?’. That is the guiding message or ‘party line’ we find when any matter is raised of concern with them. It is the reason this blog was established. It is the reason we contacted the Charity Commission with our dossier. It is the reason the latter now are taking action. It is also the reason why the Board at some point must be held to account for the mess we are in.

Dealing with those at the top of the BPS is like meeting a client for the first time in a therapy session who sees absolutely no point in being there because they have no problems in their life. That is, other than you, who, to their irritation, has other ideas. You are wasting their time. You have the problem not them. This is exactly how we are now experiencing the BPS and, empirically, their evasiveness takes on many forms. Whether Board members subjectively really believe that there is no fundamental problem in the way the Society is currently governed is unknown for now.

Malcontents and the faux system of complaints

Encountering the mysteries of the BPS complaints process for the first time is not for people of a nervous disposition or lack of determination. The current complaints procedure in the BPS is highly dysfunctional. Indeed, the Society itself acknowledges as much, when it has a stated commitment to ‘…undertaking a full root and branch review of the complaints process and the member code of conduct rules and procedures…” (email from SMT to Peter Harvey, 17 February 2021). However, to date there has been no sign that this intention will be put into practice.  A lack of trust in rhetorically-stated intentions is evidenced by the many examples that we have accumulated of the evasive tactics deployed by Board members, when challenged about any matter of concern (whether or not this is explicitly framed as a complaint). 

Sometimes complaints receive no reply at all, others are acknowledged but nothing further is heard, and yet others receive no more than a cryptic reference to a Society document, which fails to engage properly with the substance of the complaint. We have several email trails of this ‘no reply’ evasion and its variants. Sometimes when members express a concern about a problem, and they are requesting a needed respectful dialogue about it with a relevant responsible person in the BPS, the contact is converted into a complaint. We can evidence when this has happened on several occasions, even when the member is explicitly requesting that it is not a complaint.

Complaints might not be investigated, dismissed vacuously or merely viewed as an organisational irritant. A minute of the Board of Trustees Meeting of December 2020 states, “This year has seen a trend for the potential misuse (sic) of the complaints process, where it has been used to express a difference of opinion or dissatisfaction with a consultation outcome.”. The minute also states, “The volume of complaints is a strategic risk for the Society and was considered at the Risk Committee.”. 

Thus complaints are seen as a risk to the Society rather than matters to be addressed in their own right or as opportunities for organisational learning. Currently, the BPS is the opposite of what in the literature is called a ‘learning organization’. The minute reflects an explicit antagonism to the latter prospect. Complainants are merely malcontents to be batted away. This leaves us with an important sub-text: the BPS would work just fine if its members simply paid their subscriptions and remained silent or only offered praise not criticism.

When and if complaints are dealt with, it is common for the complaints team not to record who the investigating officer was or who within the BPS has provided a form of words being passed on by an administrative operative. The complaints team is at times being used inappropriately as a foil to evade managerial accountability. This is not fair on BPS employees operating below Board level, especially when they are being asked to investigate complaints against their own managers. 

We have not a single record of an occasion in which a member felt that the process and outcome of their complaint were satisfactory. To use a standard set by the Professional Standards Authority, the BPS complaints process currently is not characterised by ‘…sound decisions that are fair, transparent, consistent and explained clearly…’.

Cancellation as the ultimate evasion

Some members of the SMT at times refuse adamantly to discuss matters any more with those ordinary members who continue to be assertive about their concerns . Here are some very recent examples from March 2021.

I have been in communication with the BPS for the past year, at first with the CEO (not then ‘away from his office’). I have mainly complained about a lack of academic freedom, especially the creeping culture of censorship in the BPS. Recently I offered to follow up, on behalf of colleagues, the lack of a satisfactory response about the prescribing rights ‘consultation’. The Deputy CEO, Diane Ashby, replied by not addressing the content (about prescribing) but by using ad hominem logic.  She complained of my ‘…excessive level of correspondence…’ in recent times. Also, she complained that my mails were ‘…duplicates…’ because previous responses were not satisfactory. These responses according to Ms Ashby were ‘…fully answered…’. Of course, if that had been the case then I would have had no need to write again. She concluded that any more communication from her to me would be a waste of BPS resources and that she had instructed all staff not to reply to my mails. Given that this personal dismissal of me then completely side-stepped the content of the mail (the mystification about the consultation on extending prescribing rights to psychologists), this left us all none the wiser.

Accordingly, the evasion was picked up immediately by Pat Harvey. She too attempted to get a straight answer from Ms Ashby about the implausible account of the management of the prescribing rights consultation. Remember that over a hundred psychologists had written complaining about this matter, with zero response. A follow-up letter of concern about that situation was also then ignored. It was completely legitimate for us to continue to press for clarification. Pat Harvey’s request for clarification received no such clarification. Ms Ashby made it clear instead that she had nothing more to say on the prescribing matter to any member. This is hardly a shining example of the ‘openness and transparency’ boasted of rhetorically by the BPS Board.

A parallel process of blocking as the ultimate evasion of accountability was encountered by Peter Harvey when he tried to inquire about the continuing serious concerns about the peremptory closure of the memory and law group. A member of the SMT told him, after the commonly needed prompt, that his views were ‘…noted…’, and they would have to ‘…agree to disagree…’. Peter replied pointing out this was not a trivial difference of opinion but a grave matter implicating public protection. He received back a dismissal in style the same as above. The SMT member insisted that Peter’s concerns had been addressed and that the correspondence was now ‘…closed…’.

This cancellation scenario suggests a threadbare claim to be a learned organisation and certainly the antithesis of a learning organisation. The BPS now has a management culture which is rigid, defensive and high handed, closing down discussions that do not suit it and treating its members as irritants, obstructing a modernising ‘change programme’.  Change is certainly needed in the BPS. However, what we are arguing for and what is envisaged by these recently imported NPM advocates, with no wise appreciation of pure and applied psychology, are quite clearly different.

The rabbit hole of the complaints process

The focus from the SMT entailed in this blocking is on how unresolved concerns, followed up by needed multiple prompts from dissatisfied complainants, are simply an irritant and a tiresome opportunity cost. Accordingly, they are framed by the SMT as the complainants harassing BPS employees, rather than them being ongoing attempts, in good faith, to ensure accountability about unresolved concerns. The examples just given are the tip of the iceberg. Many colleagues have had similar experiences of being ignored or receiving responses full of blandishments that do not address the concern being raised. Many give up in confusion and some resign from the Society in despair. 

This mystification seems to be at its worst over the matter of whether the BPS does or does not investigate complaints against members alleged to have transgressed the code of conduct. The poor state of the complaints’ infrastructure in the BPS at present allows the SMT and other Board members to make arbitrary judgments about what or who is investigated. This has a slight Alice in Wonderland feel when an ordinary member (or a member of the public) tries to make a complaint. 

Some will simply not get off first base with this stock answer from the BPS websites FAQs, where we find this blunt admission: ‘…the Society does not have a function to investigate complaints against its members…’.  However, we do have some clear evidence that when the Board is minded, occasionally and selectively, it will investigate members. This is mystifying: does the BPS, or does it not, to use its own statement cited, ‘…have a function to investigate complaints….’?   And what criteria are being invoked, or interests at play, when this case is being investigated but another is ignored?

The arbitrariness at play here is striking and reveals a very particular symptom of the general problem of misgovernance. Either there is a complaints process that exists, with a properly resourced infrastructure of investigation and discipline or there is not. If it does exist, then why are all complaints not dealt with equally and thoroughly, with due process ensured? If it does not exist (as the FAQ citation claims), then why does the Board agree for some complaints to be investigated and not others? This means that it has arbitrary power, but it does not have credible authority (in its ethical sense).

Conclusion

Those of us producing BPSWatch.com hope that these grave shortcomings about members raising concerns in the Society, will be addressed thoroughly by the Charity Commission. We also hope that the upcoming assessment by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) of the application by the BPS to have an accredited register, will take into serious consideration the governance chaos and the structural shortcomings evident. We have no information as to whether or not the BPS has admitted to its own internal difficulties when making the application. 

What is clear to us is that, for now at least, the cultural norms of the Society could not offer confidence to the public about its complaints policy, which is a complete mess. We will continue to make our views about the ongoing problems in the BPS clear to both the Charity Commission and the PSA.

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David Pilgrim’s ‘disappearing’ article

This is the article referred to in David’s previous post which was agreed for publication in DCP Forum (March 2020) but spiked by BPS office. We would also point you to a post also addressing issues of freedom of expression which did ‘not make the cut’, in that case, for The Psychologist.

GIVING AND TAKING OFFENCE

David Pilgrim

Recently clinical psychologists have reported their views on giving and receiving offence and how they might be managed within the profession. This topic reflects a wider historical ethical debate about freedom of expression in speech and writing. The traditional liberal guidance of J.S. Mill is outlined, followed by a discussion of fresh norms about diversity within identity politics, since the ‘postmodern turn’ in the 1980s. It is argued that the wisdom of the first position is being undermined by the latter and that newer well-meant libertarian intentions have culminated at times in authoritarian outcomes.

Over the past year, two seemingly unrelated controversies within British clinical psychology have emerged. The first I was part of (about transgender) and the second I was not (the slavery presentation in Liverpool at the group of trainers’ conference). Both encouraged substantial and illuminating correspondence in these pages. The topics were seemingly unrelated but what linked them was the matter of personal offence and how it could, or should, be managed in the profession. 

In my original piece on sex and gender (Clinical Psychology Forum 319) I was not only pleased that the editor published the piece but also that he then welcomed correspondence, whether it was supportive or critical. I was less pleased by efforts on the part of some to explore the threat of litigation in an effort to constrain serious debate about an important public policy matter and the BPS played its role in this regard. For example, material was deliberately delayed for publication and the editor was instructed to print a letter of complaint sent to the BPS and he was found lacking for not making clear that my view in the original piece was not that of either the Society or the DCP. (Please take the same clichéd disclaimer into account for this piece as well.)

Arguably this was a storm in a teacup: eventually people said what they wanted to say. For now freedom of expression was preserved. It was though under threat, raising the question of why we are bothered about it at all. After all, in the era of social media everyone is free to say anything they want apparently. However, the counter to the latter view is that de facto censorship in a new guise has emerged with the ‘post-truth’ society, where asserted personal opinion, fantasy and jettisoned cautions surrounding academic knowledge all mix in the same social media porridge.  Now, more than ever, the matter of freedom of expression is important for the sake of both academic integrity and social justice in any society claiming to be democratic.

Liberalism and democracy

John Stuart Mill in his essay On Liberty (Mill, 1859/1974) argued that we must be free to express ourselves and we must be tolerant of views and those expressing them, even if we find both disagreeable. His advice was not absolute though; he offered two caveats. First, with freedom comes responsibility. This means that we might do our best to be considerate about the impact of our expressed views. If we are reckless, then it might be gratuitously hurtful and so this should be weighed in the balance by any responsible speaker or writer. 

That weighing up process is context-bound and so neat strictures to guide its success are hard to come by, but it does bring into play the question of intention. On the one hand there might be the regrettable mistake and the complexities of its conscious and unconscious elements; hence the discussion of the need to consider ‘whiteness’ by well-meaning white people in the contention I noted above at the trainers’ meeting. On the other hand there can be the deliberate expression of hateful or disparaging spite for others. The Nazis cast the Jews at every opportunity as being ‘vermin’ and we now know that if people are depicted as being sub-human, then that readily warrants their physical violation (Vicki et al.  2013). This large gap between an error of judgment and knowing hatred and all stops in between is what makes the definition of ‘hate speech’ so difficult. It might be defined as anything that causes offence and so the criterion of ‘hurt’ is relevant but not definitive. For those in the Abrahamic traditions any expressed contempt for God is blasphemy (and so is experienced as hurtful and might evoke reactive anger) but for the convinced atheist it is just fair comment, whether or not it is intended to offend others.   

Mill’s second caveat about restraint is therefore more certain: freedom of expression may encourage or legitimises actual violence against others. He was alluding to the difference between hard and soft power. The rhyme learned in childhood that, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is flawed because Mill in his first caution conceded that words can be indeed be hurtful. The question today is whether that outcome is the necessary and sufficient condition for suppressing or punishing freedom of expression. A much stronger claim for restraint applies under his second caveat about the encouragement of violence. When violence actually occurs, his point is proven.

Well over a hundred years after Mill’s defence of freedom of expression with its caveats, we are in the midst of a paradox: newer currents of political philosophy have emphasised a form of libertarianism, which is somewhat different from his classic liberalism. Below I argue that this has culminated not in protected freedom but dogmatic intolerance. Like the well-meaning white person not reflecting on their whiteness, the well-meaning new libertarian defending diversity may end up failing in their good intentions to such a degree that an opposite or different outcome accrues. 

Distinctions and dilemmas 

When we come to reflect on the tension between Mill’s liberalism and more recent arguments, we can start with two distinctions. These may mingle confusingly at times in both serious academic debates and in daily puerile social media exchanges. When this blurring occurs, more heat than light might be generated, as protagonists on all sides are caught up in the common experience of swelling righteous indignation, despite holding completely opposing views.  For clarity then we can note:

1 the distinction between an offensive view and the person expressing it: the challenge of ad hominem logic and; 

2 the distinction between identifying offensive views and identifying effective ways of reducing or eliminating those views: the challenge of the pragmatics of the social control of offence to others.

The first of these once was very clear cut and it guided all academic discourse; we learned that we should always ‘play the ball and not the man’ (apologies for the legacy of sexism here). The adage seems to have now been abandoned, with the rise of a different ethical orientation since the ‘postmodern turn’ of the 1980s. That emerged from, and was underpinned by, the cross-currents of post-structuralism, Third Wave feminism and Queer Theory, as well as their direct political expression in our now taken for granted identity politics. This constellation reflected the ‘perspectivism’ of the idealist philosophical tradition, traceable in modern times to Nietzsche, and the rejection of a realist stance on ontology, with its focus on truths and facts. 

Today the distinction between a view (offensive or otherwise) and the speaker or writer holding that view no longer exists in the minds of many. More than that, it is one’s social group membership or social position that might be taken to singularly determine the legitimacy or illegitimacy of one’s view. It is not the virtue, cogency or empirical validity of what is being expressed. If a speaker or writer is deemed to be in a state of privilege, then this may then warrant dismissing anything they are saying. The postmodern turn has installed a new version of political and ethical legitimacy, epistemological privilege, which emerges from the ‘lived experience’ of some people and not others. 

For example, in the contention about transgender, a ‘cis person’ arguing that sex is not socially constructed, or that the obligation to affirm a child’s self-definition of their gender could expose them to iatrogenic risk, might be dismissed immediately as being transphobic and illegitimate, not because of the quality of their arguments and the evidence offered but because they are not themselves transgender. The neologism of ‘cis’ was only made possible because of this new postmodern logic (Sigush, 1998) and in turn this has led in academic research to a confusing conflation of sex and gender, when describing subjects or participants (Haig, 2004). ‘Cis’ is only meaningful to those who invented it (and those who are now accepting of its validity). This may cause offence to those (natal women in particular) who resent being cast as less worthy in their view about being a woman than the view of a transwoman.  For now the NHS has retained an ambivalent policy, with both biological sex and self-identified gender being noted, making record keeping challenging (Dahlen, 2020; https://medium.com/@anneharperwright/sex-gender). Some forms of pathology are unambiguously sex-linked (e.g. cervical and prostate cancer) and so this is important to recognise as a material reality informing decisions about prevention, diagnosis and disease management in health services. 

Turning to attempts to socially control offensive views, this has included appeals to legalism and codes of practice to ensure the prevention of hurt, not just violence, rendering Mill’s views on liberty precarious. There has been a ‘cancel culture’ in which those in the public eye expressing unpopular views are attacked and their reputation discarded. There has been direct action from protesters on our campuses (‘no platforming’). There have been acts of violence or potential violence from trans activists, such as bomb threats to women’s meetings discussing sex and gender. There have been gender critical views on social media being deemed as hate speech, warranting police investigation. There has been professional guidance issued that implies that gender critical arguments, or those respecting traditional scientific assumptions about mammalian sexual dimorphism, reflect a form of ethical deficit on the part of any psychologist holding such views. 

If this point is in doubt then the reader can consult the relevant guidance issued last year on ‘gender, sexuality and relationship diversity’ (BPS, 2019). The guilt or fear from a psychologist about their views on sex and gender, which to date have been ‘off message’, according to the guidance, invite new forms of compliance or anxious restraint in speaking out about their concerns.  The document focuses on the habitual obligation to affirm gender self-identification, in accordance with the ideological roots of the postmodern turn I noted above. Counter-views or scepticism from those not under its sway, whether they are philosophical realists, concerned clinicians working with children or gender critical feminists, are rendered ethically suspect and, not surprisingly, their views are absent from the document. 

The effective social control of experienced offence is not easy to achieve. In this case, the core stricture in the document, is about the intersubjective subtleties of respect for and belief in what others say about themselves. But why in social interactions should we always uncritically trust the self-statements of others? For example, we might consider the person to be mistaken, lying or even deluded. These options are the bread and butter of our daily social contract with others. 

Even when less ambiguous blanket moralisations have been raised to well-intentioned legal powers, their effectiveness has been in doubt. For example, the expression of Nazi ideology is proscribed in Germany. Holocaust deniers have been imprisoned and Nazi symbols are banned but the far right has not only survived with a swagger, it once again is on the rise. Thus legal measures do not eliminate prejudice and the hatred of others, even if they may have a contributory role in raising awareness about them. Even the latter is difficult to determine empirically in open social systems, with so many other processes at play. 

The use of the law is not only a blunt instrument for the social control of offence, it can also lead to precarious outcomes. For example, Deborah Lipstadt accused the ultra-right wing historian, David Irving, of holocaust denial in her widely read book (Lipstadt, 1994). Irving then sued her for libel but he was unsuccessful. However, as Warburton (2009) notes, Lipstadt needed the principled support and substantial financing of her international publisher, Penguin, to rebut Irving, whereas others may have been less fortuitous in having such resources. What secured the truth about the holocaust was not the law (in this case of libel) but freedom of expression (n.b Lipstadt’s, not Irving’s). For Lipstadt, the systematic murder of six million European Jews was not just another ‘perspective’ but simply the truth (n.b. no speech marks) that deserved a clear verification. That truth had to be (re)established by the free pursuit of unfettered intellectual inquiry, including viewpoints being expressed along the way from Lipstadt.  

If legal means of social control of hateful bigotry are not failsafe, then non-legalistic forms of influence may have some impact, without compromising the principle of freedom of expression. Satire and other forms of humour against bigotry actively use that principle in order to make the point. Also, the primary socialisation that encourages sensitivity about respect for all human beings and their diverse viewpoints might be altered within families and schools. All this being said, at all times freedom of expression will still be at risk. It is a fragile principle, no more so than when one party in a field of contention seeks to enforce their own particular version of expression and to suppress others. 

My own view is that the BPS Guidance document I note above has been captured by that newly emergent tendency to enforce a principle of singularity of viewpoint. This trend has deliberately discarded older traditions, about the rehearsal of competing viewpoints, which eschewed ad hominem reasoning. Now to simply discuss a sceptical position about trans-affirmative ideology and more importantly to defend the right to discuss it renders the dissenter ethically inferior (which is possible but is not a given) and their view as requiring no logical or empirical rebuttal (which is absurd because it is required). Within this new norm, open-ended diversity is liberally encouraged and celebrated as being virtuous except in cases where views are disapproved of by those promoting that diversity (Benn Michaels, 2006). 

These new libertarians have thereby become authoritarians at the blink of an eye. Their lack of ethical plausibility is not just that they are authoritarian wolves in libertarian sheep’s clothing but also they expose the ultimate failure of identity politics to provide us with clear guidance on the meaning of social justice. Once diversity displaces or trumps equality it becomes a zero sum game, when the experientially-derived rights of transgender people are asserted against those of natal women who are their gender critical opponents, objecting to the second class citizen connotation of the term ‘cis’. How does anyone decide which epistemological privilege is superior to the other in this stand off?

For those less familiar with academic discussions of healthcare ethics, other relevant case studies can be noted. Some topics have been actively and freely debated (e.g. abortion and the de-pathologisation of homosexuality), whereas others temporarily have taken on a taboo status. One was the consideration on medical grounds for infanticide by Giubilini and Minerva (2013).  This led to some ethicists defending not the arguments made by these authors but their right to make those arguments, returning us to Mill’s axiom (Shackel, 2013).  

Conclusion

I think we are now at a cross-roads. The ethical questions about transgender and healthcare may be suppressed because for now the topic has been afforded a taboo status by the new libertarians I have discussed. Alternatively, we can insist on our right to explore those questions fully and responsibly and without fear of recriminations. That would mean permitting freely expressed views that do not disparage individuals, whatever their perspective and whether they are ‘trans’ or ‘cis, but which instead attends carefully to logic and the evidence available about the topic in contention. Ultimately blanket moralisations in human affairs, whether or not they are codified in laws or ethical strictures will fail to work in practice, so we may as well concede this point and agree instead on the defence of a frank, respectful and, of most importance, non-violent exchange.  

Finally, we can note that the conflation of views and those holding them has a double and limiting significance, because it restricts the topic under discussion to the personal alone. The person giving the offence and those receiving it are certainly part of the socio-ethical picture here, but they are not the whole picture. The content of their claims should also be open to respectful democratic scrutiny and debate.  That can only happen if first we all understand why freedom of expression must be defended in principle, provided its caveats and their impact fully considered. We may then be moved to uphold that defence in practice, in the face of likely criticism and censorious pressures.

References  

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

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

Dahlen, S. (2020): De-sexing the medical record? An examination of sex versus gender identity in the General Medical Council’s trans healthcare ethical advice, The New Bioethics DOI: 10.1080/20502877.2020.1720429

Giubilini, A. and Minerva,  F. (2013) After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? Journal of Medical Ethics 39:261–3

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.

Lipstadt, D. (1994) Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory Harmondsworth: Penguin

Mill, J.S. (1859) On Liberty (Published in Penguin edition, 1974) Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Vicki, G.T., Osgood, D. and Phillips, S. (2013) Dehumanization and self-reported proclivity to torture prisoners of war. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 49, 3, 325-332. 

Shackel, N. (2013) The fragility of freedom of speech. Journal of Medical Ethics 39: 5.

Sigush, V. (1998). The neosexual revolution. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 27, 4, 331-359

Warburton, N. (2009) Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Vexatious?

David Pilgrim posted

The problematic use of the term ‘vexatious’ by Heather Wood in her comment on my post (26 November), was made prior to the judicial review announcement (December, 1st 2020). Surely the ‘no debate’ position of those supporting the use of puberty blockers for children, with the trajectory that sets for later biomedical interventions, is no longer tenable. It is that notion of ‘no debate’ which reflects a vexatious position. Now psychologists, like others, should be debating this matter publicly and according to standard academic conventions of respect (i.e. avoiding ad hominem reasoning and weighing up evidential and ethical considerations in the round). 

Unfortunately, the parlous state of BPS governance in the past few years has not ensured this needed scenario. Instead the poor consultations about the revised Memorandum of Understanding on conversion therapy (NB the 2017 version, not the original in 2015), the now contested policy on gender and the incipient attempt by some to extend prescribing rights to psychologists (which might include hormones) have left us without a full and democratically deliberated set of policies from the Society. This leaves the acting CEO of the BPS in a difficult position when responding, for example, to the Judicial Review’s announcement. My hope is that people will contribute to this blog with their views on where this leaves us all now in relation to child protection and our work in the NHS. 

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Why the blog and why now?

Charity Commission to Blog Author: “We are currently engaging with the society over a number of issues and have found deficiencies in some areas of operation”

The editors of this new blog, who are identified in the About Section above intend to try to inform members of the BPS about the issues of concern and generate a forum for discussion and disagreement. It is our contention that in this culture of a failing bureaucracy and resistance to scrutiny, the British Psychological Society had been subject to institutional capture by psychologists who are activists within frameworks of identity politics and by the cronyism of an in-group of psychologists. 

The results of this are serious and betray the Royal Charter and the fundamental purpose for which the Society was founded.

The current President Elect’s  election statement began with proposing that whilst the comment “For far too long it appears that the BPS has been run by paid staff for paid staff at the expense of members”…is  “…not the case, but it feels true because members’ and volunteers’ experience is that the service they pay for is not as it should be”. It is believed by the editors of this blog that the President Elect has received specific resistance from staff and trustees of the Society in the process of his taking up elected office.

Psychologists who complain to the Society find their communications are at worst repeatedly ignored or, if they get a response, their complaints are not properly investigated. A recent complainant who identified what they considered to be a serious breach of the Society’s Code of Conduct was merely told “we are a broad church”. The Society’s own complaints procedure is patently not followed by the anonymous “Complaints Team”. There have been instances where the mechanism for investigating a complaint against the CEO or senior staff has seemingly been for their juniors to deal with the complaint!

Psychologists with recognised professional and academic standing who have attempted to debate controversial areas of applied psychological practice have been censored and there has been interference with editorial decisions.

A recent letter signed by over 100 practicing psychologists disputing the conduct of a consultation process supposedly advising the NHS about prescribing rights has been completely ignored.

Guidelines relating to practice in complex and controversial areas have been produced which are totally unfit for purpose in that they are a polemic for one assessment and treatment approach and ignore serious ethical considerations. A clarification has been issued, not via a revision of the guidelines but by an unattributed BPS statement in The Psychologist. A group which had been reconvened to revisit another controversial issue has been wound up by the BPS on the grounds that “due to the high level of debate…. It hasn’t been possible to reach the consensus needed… after careful consideration the BPS Research Board has made the difficult decision to bring the work of the Memory Based Evidence Task and Finish Group to a close”. We believe shutting down is the opposite of what the members, the courts and the public have a right to expect from a Learned Society.

There will follow a series of posts looking in detail at serious problems surrounding the functioning of the British Psychological Society.

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Pat Harvey (Guinan)

BPS member No. 4810