Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Suppression of dissent - the British Psychological Society turns off the lights

British Psychological Society in troubleWhat exactly is the role of the British Psychological Society (the representative body for psychology and psychologists in the UK)? Bloggers have been writing about the apparent attempt by the BPS to discredit the respected psychologist Lisa Blakemore-Brown and to have her officially pronounced "mentally disturbed" and "unfit to practice" (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, 9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18).

Blakemore Brown has unpopular views about autism, drug use, some powerful paediatricians, accusations of parental child abuse, some paediatric research, vaccines and the manipulation of patient "support" groups by the pharmaceutical industry. The BPS are attempting to declare her "paranoid" for believing things which are quite evidently believable to all of us who have examined the evidence in her case. Blakemore Brown appears as sane as the next person working in this controversial area.

For an example of her "controversial" writing see here: [Link].

The BPS have also allowed the nature of the "charges" to be misrepresented in public while refusing to allow her to i) discuss her own case, ii) present her case at an international meeting, or iii) publish the transcripts of her trial. The BPS have threatened legal proceedings if Blakemore Brown breaks their "copyright" on what they have done to her.

If Blakemore-Brown did do anything seriously wrong in terms of patient care, then charges should be examined in detail, and criticism should be transparent - but we have seen no evidence of this in the charges she faces. Nor has Blakemore Brown been allowed to address the misrepresentation of the charges in the only way possible - by discussing what they are.

These procedures have been likened to a 21st Century Salem Witch Trial and threaten to shut down all debate. I don't have to agree with her in order to be repelled by what is happening. This is not how debates about policy or science should work.

The BPS have reportedly spent a half a million pounds of members money and public funds on Blakemore Brown. Given our reading of the transcripts it is hard to work out how they perceive this to be in the interests of the public, their members, or scientific discussion.

Other complaints about the BPS are surfacing. The BPS have a strangely selective approach to integrity. While psychology and psychiatry are convulsed with problems of a very serious nature (see AHRP Blog, Furious Seasons, Clinical Psychology blog) the BPS has nothing at all to say about them - from the hiding of documents about the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa [Link Link] to the ongoing concerns about manipulation of information about suicide risk with SSRI antidepressants [Link]. However when Blakemore Brown asserts that that a certain pharmaceutical company is influencing a patient support group the BPS take this as diagnostic of "paranoia". Some education seems in order.

In the meantime an interesting letter appeared in the February 2007 issue of the Psychologist. I reproduce the writer's E-mailed version of it:
The BPS - value for money in the public service?
The Psychologist, February 2007


The BPS regularly refers to its duty to the public when defending itself against i) accusations of failure to support its members, ii) ostentatious advertising of members under a cloud and iii) being over-expensive.

I no longer subscribe to such a defence. Three times, spread over some years, I have sought either support or guidance on ethical matters. On none of these occasions was I offered any.

In the last instance, when I told officials that I was being repeatedly and overtly pressurised to falsify research findings for a public project, I was told that 'we don't give legal advice' and that I should consult the Code of Ethics. Apart from the fact that there is little in the Code of Ethics about corruption, other than an urging of the practitioner to behave professionally, I don't see why some guidance was not forthcoming. I was in touch with members of the BPS with responsibility for regulations and ethics; if all that is necessary is already on the web site, then I think there is a certain amount of redundancy in the organisation.

In short, I don't think members' subscriptions are benefiting the public and I think reorganisation, rethinking and refunds are in order.

Yours Sincerely

Cole Davis
Chartered Occupational Psychologist, London NW2

Now this is an organisation which spends vast amounts of money pursing bizarre charges of paranoia against Blakemore Brown yet fails to engage with serious problems that are widely discussed or presented to them.

The BPS is not the only professional body that has a problem with integrity. The General Medical Council is an interesting organisation which takes selective action against some (often Asian) doctors for doing silly things, while very serious "indiscretions" of senior members of the old-boys club are quietly ignored by powerful colleagues through a process of deceit, delay and secrecy (see my own complaint here, and further discussion here and here)

The actions of the British Psychological Society are especially reprehensible given the many mothers Blakemore Brown has helped, and that they were fully aware of the tragedies in her personal life. I end with three quotations as tribute to the courage of Lisa Blakemore Brown.

"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers."
(Pynchon T, 1995 Gravity's Rainbow. ISBN 140188592)

""It's hard to get someone to believe something when their job is dependent on not believing it"
(Al Gore, An inconvenient Truth)

"The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid 'dens of crime' that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern."
(Preface to The Screw Tape Letters, C. S. Lewis)

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Anonymous said...

I too have seen no statement of concern or anger, from from the General Medical Council about scientific fraud or the participation of senior academics in that.

Anonymous said...

The title of your post ("turns out the lights") is most apt - given the logo on the British Psychological Society (take a look). Congratulations on an excellent blog.