Commentary: A Thoughtful Response to the Hoffman Report

A Thoughtful Response to the Hoffman Report

This is reproduced from the APA Division 38 Listserve with permission from the author, Dr. Rosenquist, Ph.D., ABPP.

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It seems to me that moral courage would not be courage at all if it were easy or without fear. Personally, I think that we ought to all eat humble pie and give thanks to those who belonged to Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

How many years since Stanley Milgram? Phil Zimbardo? Tavris and Aaronson? That great plethora of research on cognitive dissonance? Perhaps all psychologists ought to be made to go back and study these greats and take an exam in order to keep the title of psychologist. Sigh. We are psychologists. I don’t think we get to be surprised or indignant. But I do think we need to acknowledge our humanity and take responsibility. I think we ought to apologize extensively and unequivocally without making excuses and without making vain promises that it will never happen again. It will. Milgram, Zimbardo, Tavris and Aaronson and scores of other greats have shown us that. It is sheer hubris to imagine we are exempt from behaving badly just because we know how easy it is for human beings to deceive themselves, because we study how humans are capable of self-deception and can easily be so deceived into doing great evil. We are human beings. We have deceived ourselves and we will do so again.

It seems to me that there were those who were complicit who need to be held accountable. I hope they will do some soul searching on how they managed to deceive themselves. Legal ramifications ought to apply. No excuses, no exceptions, just the full force of the law.

Then there are those who tried to speak up but whose voices were drowned out by the great tide of ridicule. They ought to feel very bittersweet as they have been vindicated. But I don’t think they get to whine. Moral courage costs. If it didn’t it would be cheap. I think we get to admire them, and look up to them, and sincerely applaud them. And I think we ought to study how they did it. How they managed not to deceive themselves. How they managed not to be silenced. How they coped with the scorn and ridicule and marginalizing that went on. We have a lot to learn from them.

Then there are those of us who remained silent. We too ought to do some soul searching. Is there some modicum of self-deception in the thought that discretion is the better part of valor? Was there wisdom and prudence in waiting for the tides to turn before making private opinions public? What peculiar mix of prudence and cowardice, wisdom and apathy contributed to the conspiracy of silence? I imagine the mix is different for different folks.

Finally, I think we ought to take a hard look at the moral dilemmas that are currently emerging. It is becoming quite evident that there has been a large-scale confounding of science and marketing in many, many areas of study. Are we so overwhelmed that we will continue to ignore that there are more financial compromises, more institutional corruptions that we are silently complicit with even today? Will we again turn a blind eye? We who study human behavior know all too well how people deceive themselves. Ought we not to be speaking up in the face of increasing evidence that this confounding of science and marketing has proven and is proving harmful? Is our own house clean? Do we have financial interests informing our science in ways that compromise our integrity? What are we, as a profession, doing to advocate for scientific integrity? Clinical integrity? What marketing influences have we yielded to, are yielding to even now?

The past is unchangeable, but apologies are important. Reparations are important. And institutional remedies are important. But the past still remains unchangeable.

My personal take away from this is that I purpose to be more vocal in face of the evil that I see before me in the present. I purpose to study the coping skills of those who did speak up despite being shouted down. I purpose not to drink Kool-Aide in any flavor. And I purpose to pray for a better future.

Sara Rosenquist, Ph.D., ABPP
Board Certified Clinical Health Psychologist
American Board of Professional Psychology
Fellow, Academy of Clinical Health Psychology