[Editorial Note: This document is part of a collection of documents on brainwashing and related controversies. For a history of these controversies, and a discussion of the relevance of this document, see the paper by Massimo Introvigne "Liar, Liar": Brainwashing, CESNUR and APA. This Memorandum contained five paragraphs plus enclosures, the latter including reviews of the DIMPAC report (a draft report on mind control techniques as allegedly used by "cults" and others submitted by a task force led by Dr. Margaret Singer) by two BSERP members and two external experts. The present version of the APA BSERP Memorandum was filed in different court cases, and was so widely circulated that, according to Dr. Singer herself, it could be regarded as having been publicly distributed (Margaret Singer and Richard Ofshe, Summons in the case against American Psychological Association and others before the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Alameda, January 31, 1994, n. 110, p. 31). This version includes the two external reviews. The two internal reviews were not part of the document as publicly distributed although one, by Dr. Catherine Grady, was later quoted in a court case. We reproduce here the "publicly distributed" version.]
May 11, 1987
TO : Members of the Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC)
FROM : Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP)
SUBJECT : Final Report of the Task Force
BSERP thanks the Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control for its service but is unable to accept the report of the Task Force. In general, the report lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur.
The report was carefully reviewed by two external experts and two members of the Board. They independently agreed on the significant deficiencies in the report. The reviews are enclosed for your information.
The Board cautions the Task Force members against using their past appointment to imply BSERP or APA support or approval of the positions advocated in the report. BSERP requests that Task Force members not distribute or publicize the report without indicating that the report was unacceptable to the Board.
Finally, after much consideration, BSERP does not believe that we have sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position on this issue.
The Board appreciates the diffulty in producing a report in this complex and controversial area, and again thanks the members of the Task Force for their efforts.
1200 Seventeenth St. N.W.
Washington D.C. 20036
UNIVERSITY OF HAIFA
Reply to: 205 W 15th St. (4n)
New York NY 10011
February 18, 1987
Dear Dr. Thomas,
Thank you for sending me the draft report of the Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques.
While reading it, I found myself constantly puzzled and dissatisfied. It seems that the report reflects two kinds of ambiguity, one conceptual and the other moral.
The basic problem is the inability to define what the Task Force had to investigate. What exactly are deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control? I don't think that psychologists know much about techniques of persuasion and control, either direct or indirect, either deceptive or honest. We just don't know, and we should admit it. Lacking psychological theory, the report resorts to sensationalism in the style of certain tabloids. The collection of stories on p. 19, with references to "Satanic cults", reminded me of the National Enquirer. Most of these stories are unfounded allegations, and even if founded in fact, have no place in a report on persuasion techniques.
The term "brainwashing" is not a recognized theoretical concept, and is just a sensationalist "explanation" more suitable to "cultists" and revival preachers. It should not be used by psychologists, since it does not explain anything.
The Task Force seems to think that various gurus, and religious leaders are dishonest cracks. I tend to accept this moral judgement, but I am not sure that it can be supported by psychological theory at this stage.
The second part of the report, dealing with psychotherapy, is more interesting and on firmer conceptual and moral ground. It deals with issues that are closer to home.
Indeed, LGAT's are a form of psychotherapy, and indeed, psychotherapy as it is practised most of the time (private practice) is likely to lead the immoral behavior. So, maybe the report should be focused on the abuses by legitimate professionals, and the question of LGAT's.
I have no sympathy for Rev. Moon, Rajneesh, or Scientology, but I think that psychologists will be doing the public a greater favour by cleaning their own act, before they pick on various strange religions. And the difference between science and religion, it seems to me, is in the readiness to admit that we don't know, and we don't have explanations for everything.
In its present form, I think that the report should not be made public.
(The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Department of Psychology)
March 2, 1987
Ms. Dorothy Thomas
Office of Social and Ehical Responsibility
American Psychological Association
1200 Seventeenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Ms. Thomas:
Enclosed please find my review of the Task Force Report you sent to me for my reaction.
I hope that you find my response helpful to you in your deliberations. Please don't fail to contact me if I can be of further help.
Jeffrey D. Fisher, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Review of "Report of the Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect
Techniques of Persuasion and Control"
This task force is faced with an extremely difficult task - making recommendations in an area where no good, hard data exist. Instead, they are forced to evaluate methodologically inadequate research as well as anecdotal evidence fraught with problems such as self-selection. Notwithstanding the difficulty of the task, it is my opinion that the report does not represent the quality of work one would expect of an A.P.A. task force. To this reader it seems to be unscientific in tone, and biased in nature. It draws conclusions, which in many cases do not mesh well with the evidence presented. At times, the reasoning seems flawed to the point of being almost ridiculous. In fact, the report sometimes seems to be characterized by the use of deceptive, indirect techniques of persuasion and control - the very thing it is investigating. Finally, while I am not familiar with the areas of expertise of everyone on the task force, it seems to me that at least one social psychologist who is an expert on social influence (e.g., attitude formation and change, etc.), should have been included.
I will detail my specific reactions to the manuscript below.
In the abstract, it is unfair to cluster cults and LGATs together. Overall, the abstract states stronger conclusions than justified by the data presented in the paper.
On Page 3, end of Paragraph 1, the statement should be supported by data.
From Pages 6-8, much of the material under "Historical Background" reads more like hysterical ramblings than a scientific task force report.
On Page 9, the statement on cultic relationships (Line 5) being found in pseudo growth groups, etc. at this point seems to be an unsupported allegation. The type of dependency described could be found also in psychotherapy, doctor-patient relationships, and some parent-child relationships.
On the top of Page 10, there is no evidence that all 3,000 purported cultic groups in the U.S. have the effects ascribed to cultic groups in the paper. In general, the statements in this paragraph are very weakly supported.
On Page 12, Line 7, beginning with "Furthermore," the reasoning becomes absolutely some of the most polemical, ridiculous reasoning Ive ever seen anywhere, much less in the context of an A.P.A. technical report. Not at all of the scholarly quality befitting A.P.A.
On Page 14, just because the authors define cult (totalist type) in a particular way doesn't make it so in practice. It would have to be determined empirically, in each case, whether a particular group qualifies as a cult.
The statement on Page 17, first full paragraph, is very important and should be stressed much more in drawing conclusions. The same with the final sentence in the paragraph.
On Page 18, the statement on Line 7 about the lawyer investigating Synanon is too silly to befit an A.P.A. task force report. While some of the data on this page is probably due to cults, couldn't some be explained by such factors as S.E.S., rather than cultic teachings?
The newspaper and magazine articles discussed on Page 19 are all anecdotal and self-selected. There is no research to back them up. What gets into the press is probably somewhat atypical.
On the last paragraph, Page 22, the counter cult network is probably somewhat biased.
General comment. In discussing the data, I just don't feel it's stressed enough that all one has to go on is flawed research, and anecdotal evidence.
On page 27, three lines from the bottom, the statement that a significant percentage of cultists is clearly harmed, some terribly so, is based on no data.
The material on the bottom of Page 28 and the top of Page 29 is probably true of psychologists, professors, psychiatrists, student-teacher relationships, etc. as well.
On Page 30, beginning with Line 3, I feel one needs to evaluate each supposed cult on a case by case basis, just like A.P.A. does with psychologists accused of violating ethical principles.
On Pages 32-34, the authors present one case in great detail, and use it to generalize (unfairly) to other alternative therapies. Again on Page 36, they use another anecdote that nobody would argue with.
On Page 40, first paragraph, the material is presented as true of all LGATs, but it is not.
The reasoning beginning with Line 7, (2), is flawed an [sic] unscientific.
On Page 50, it seems to me that the motives of people engaging in social influence are quite difficult to classify. Who's to say what constitutes exploitation?
On Page 53, Line 5, the statement about "horror stories" is not borne out by this report.
On Page 55, Line 2, I can think of many "mainstream" values which I disagree with - who's to say mainstream values are necessarily, correct, as assumed here.
On Page 57, first full paragraph, first sentence, it seems as if the authors are drawing conclusions before any well-done research has been completed.
On Page 60, Discussion, first sentence, based on my reading of the paper, I would not say harm has been demonstrated with any degree of scientific precision.
There is nothing on cults in the recommendation section, even though a good bit of the task force report is devoted to them. Why?
Page 61, first full paragraph, seems to involve a lot of emotional scare tactics, unrelated to the facts, but related to the self-interest of psychologists.
On Page 64, psychological techniques aren't the property of psychologists - the profession doesn't own them.
Back to "Liar, Liar": Brainwashing, CESNUR and APA, our general discussion of the brainwashing controversy.
Back to the list of available documents on the APA brainwashing controversy.
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