ⓘ APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control. The APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control forme ..

                                     

ⓘ APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control

The APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control formed at the request of the American Psychological Association in 1983. The APA asked Margaret Singer, one of the leading proponents of theories of coercive persuasion, to chair a task force to:

  • Review the data base in the field.
  • Define the implications of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control for consumers of psychological services.
  • Describe the deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control that may limit freedom and adversely affect individuals, families, and society.
  • Examine the ethical, educational, and social implications of this problem.

Before the task force had submitted its final report, the APA submitted an amicus curiae brief 10 February 1987 in a case pending before the California Supreme Court. The case involved issues of brainwashing and coercive persuasion. The brief stated that Singers hypotheses "were uninformed speculations based on skewed data." The APA subsequently withdrew from the brief, portraying its participation as premature in that DIMPAC had not yet submitted its report. Scholars who had co-signed the brief did not withdraw.

The task force completed its final report in November 1986. In May 1987 the APA Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology BSERP rejected the DIMPAC final report; stating that the report "lack the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur", and also stating that the BSERP did "not believe that we have sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position on this issue". The BSERP board requested that the task-force members not distribute or publicize the report without indicating that the Board found the report unacceptable, and cautioned the members of the task force against using their past appointment to it "to imply BSERP or APA support or approval of the positions advocated in the report".

Singer and her professional associate sociologist Richard Ofshe subsequently sued the APA in 1992 for "defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy" and lost in 1994. Subsequently, judges did not accept Singer as an expert witness in cases alleging brainwashing and mind control.

                                     

1. Members of the task force

The members of the task force were:

  • Michael Langone, American Family Foundation
  • Maurice K. Temerlin, Clinical Psychology Consultants, Inc.
  • Louis Jolyon West, University of California Los Angeles
  • Harold Goldstein, National Institute of Mental Health
  • Jesse S. Miller
  • Margaret Singer, Chair
                                     

2. Reported conclusions of the DIMPAC task force

The draft report of the DIMPAC task force which the BSERP board requested that task-force members not distribute or publicize without indicating that the Board found the report unacceptable included the following abstract:

Cults and large group awareness trainings have generated considerable controversy because of their widespread use of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control. These techniques can compromise individual freedom, and their use has resulted in serious harm to thousands of individuals and families. This report reviews the literature on this subject, proposes a new way of conceptualizing influence techniques, explores the ethical ramifications of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control, and makes recommendations addressing the problems described in the report.

Draft recommendations included:

  • Research: "Psychologists should devote more effort toward understanding the mechanisms of action, effects, and ethical implications of social influence techniques, especially those that are deceptive and indirect. The study of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control should include study of how such techniques can be resisted and neutralized, and how those harmed by such techniques can be provided more appropriate therapy."
  • Public Policy: "Because of the sometimes grave consequences of unethical application of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control, psychologists ought to direct more attention to educating the public about such techniques".
  • Professional Ethics and Education: "The American Psychological Association ought to consider how future versions of APAs ethical code and ethical casebook material should be revised in light of the ethical implications of deceptive and indirect techniques of persuasion and control used in LGATs, innovative psychotherapies, and other settings."
                                     

3. The amicus curiæ brief

Before the task force had submitted its final report, the APA, together with a group of scholars, submitted on February 10, 1987, an amicus curiæ brief in a pending case, Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn for the Unification of World Christianity, before the California Supreme Court, involving issues of brainwashing and coercive persuasion related to the Unification Church. The brief portrayed Singers hypotheses as uninformed speculations based on skewed data.

The brief characterized the theory of brainwashing as not scientifically proven and advanced the position that "this commitment to advancing the appropriate use of psychological testimony in the courts carries with it the concomitant duty to be vigilant against those who would use purportedly expert testimony lacking scientific and methodological rigor".

On March 24, 1987, the APA filed a motion to withdraw its signature from this brief, as it considered the conclusion premature, in view of the ongoing work of the DIMPAC task force. The amicus as such continued because the co-signed scholars did not withdraw their signatures. These included: Jeffrey Hadden, Eileen Barker, David Bromley and J. Gordon Melton, Joseph Bettis, Durwood Foster, William R. Garret, Richard D. Kahone, Timothy Miller, John Young, James T. Richardson, Ray L. Hart, Benton Johnson, Franklin Littell, Newton Malony, Donald E. Miller, Mel Prosen, Thomas Robbins, and Huston Smith.



                                     

4. The APA memorandum: dismissal of the DIMPAC report

On May 11, 1987, the APA Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology BSERP rejected the DIMPAC report because "In general, the report lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur."

Along with the rejection memo came two letters from external advisers to the APA who reviewed the report the APA did not make its internal review public:

  • One of the letters, from Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi of the University of Haifa, stated among other comments that "lacking psychological theory, the report resorts to sensationalism in the style of certain tabloids" and that "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". Beit-Hallahmi recommended not making the report public.
  • The second letter, from Jeffrey D. Fisher, said that the report 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".

The BSERP board also cautioned the members of the task force "against using their past appointment to imply BSERP or APA support or approval of the positions advocated in the report", and stated that they should "not distribute or publicize the report without indicating that the report was unacceptable to the Board."

The memorandum concludes with "Finally, after much consideration, BSERP does not believe that we have sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position on this issue."

                                     

5. Impact of the DIMPAC report dismissal on court cases

In August 1988 the District of Columbia Court of Appeals overturned the Kropinski v. World Plan Executive Council case, based on the lack of scientific support for the theories presented by Margaret Singer, during her testimony as an expert witness.

In 1989 the Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal of California, in the Robin George v. International Society for Krishna Consciousness case, rejected Singers expert testimony on the basis that the brainwashing theory of false imprisonment constituted an attempt to premise tort liability on religious practices that the plaintiff believed to be objectionable, and that such premise appeared inconsistent with the First Amendment.

In 1990 District Court Judge Lowell Jensen excluded Singers testimony in United States v. Fishman, because the Court remained unconvinced that the medical community widely accepted the application of coercive persuasion theory to religious cults and because the Court did not accept the theory of coercive persuasion in the context of cults.

In 1991, in the Patrick Ryan v. Maharishi Yogi case filed in the US District Court in Washington, DC, Judge Oliver Gasch refused to allow Singer to testify, based on the premises that Singer and Ofshes theory did not enjoy substantial scientific approval and was therefore not admissible as the basis of expert opinion.

                                     

6. Margaret Singer, et al. v. APA, et al. RICO lawsuit

When the APAs BSERP declined to accept the DIMPAC findings, Singer sued the APA and other scholars in 1992 for "defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy", under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act RICO, and lost in 1994. The lawsuit alleged that several top executives at the APA and ASA attempted to destroy careers, charging that from 1986 to 1992 they resorted to improper influence of witnesses in state court litigations, filed untrue affidavits, attempted to obstruct justice in federal litigations, deceived federal judges, and committed wire and mail fraud. Ofshe and Singer said that these actions damaged their reputations as forensic experts in the fields of psychology and sociology in the area of coercive persuasion, preventing their testimony against cults, and specified acts of collusion between several of the defendants and cult groups.

The court summons filed by Singer and Ofshes lawyer described the rejection of the DIMPAC report by the APAs BSERP as a "rejection of the scientific validity of the theory of coercive persuasion".

The court dismissed the case on the basis that the claims of defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy constituted a dispute over the application of the First Amendment to a public debate over academic and professional matters. The court stated that one could characterize the parties as the opposing camps in a long-standing debate over certain theories in the field of psychology; and that the plaintiffs could not establish deceit with reference to representations made to other parties in the lawsuit.

In a further ruling, James R. Lamden ordered Ofshe and Singer to pay $80.000 in attorneys fees under Californias SLAPP suit law, which penalizes those who harass others for exercising their First Amendment rights. At that time, Singer and Ofshe declared their intention to sue Michael Flomenhaft, the lawyer who represented them in the case, for malpractice.



                                     

7. PIRI resolution

APA Division 36 then Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues PIRI, subsequently Psychology of Religion) in its 1990 annual convention approved a resolution stating that insufficient consensually accepted research then scientifically supported the assertion that equated the use of "techniques of influence as typically practiced" by religious groups with "coercive persuasion", "mind control", or "brainwashing". The Executive Committee invited researchers to submit proposals to present their work on the topic.

                                     
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