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In the Societies: Professional Ethics Report Summer 2015

APA Resolution to Ban Members from National Security Interrogations
by Carson Martinez

The American Psychological Association (APA) voted in favor of a resolution on August 7 at its 2015 annual meeting that bars its members from partaking in national security interrogations. For the past decade, critics have alleged that the APA was involved in national security interrogations following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Until recently, these accusations had been either repeatedly denied or ignored by the APA.

The 2015 annual meeting marked the first meeting since some of APA’s leaders were confirmed to have colluded with the Pentagon in enabling psychologists to participate in interrogations [1]. The corroborating report released in July 2015 by David H. Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor contracted by the APA, found that the APA had worked with the Bush administration to rationalize techniques such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other brutal interrogation practices [2]. Although the APA repeatedly stressed the strictness of its interrogation guidelines and thorough investigations of unethical interrogation accusations, behind closed doors, Hoffman found that the Ethics Office rationalized vague standards and limited its investigations into complaints.

Specifically, Hoffman’s report revealed that some APA senior officials allied the association’s ethics guidelines with the Defense Department’s interrogation program to allow psychologists to participate in interrogations with less restrictive standards. Hoffman also noted that the APA’s Ethics Office routinely chose to take limited steps to investigate ethics complaints, which led to the interpretation of guidelines in a manner most favorable to accused psychologists [2]. Since the unveiling of the collusion, four top APA officials have left the organization [4].

APA’s mission is “to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.” Yet, for many years the APA permitted psychological and physical harm of hundreds of individuals by abetting torture through the use of psychological expertise and silencing whistleblowers [5]. The unwillingness of the Ethics Office to conduct meaningful investigations resulted in the APA giving priority to the protection of psychologists over the protection of the public, thereby contradicting its “do no harm” principle, so integral to its mission. The resolution passed at the annual meeting aims to better protect individual human rights through its professional members and to reconcile past organizational faults [3].

The resolution clearly stands as a prohibition preventing psychologists from participating in interrogations at black sites like Guantanamo Bay and any other facilities in violation of international law. “Psychologists shall not conduct, supervise, be in the presence of, or otherwise assist any national security interrogations for any military or intelligence entities, including private contractors working on their behalf, nor advise on conditions of confinement insofar as these might facilitate such an interrogation” [3, p. 8]. Under the resolution, psychologists are allowed access to black sites only if they are offering consultation such as conducting psychological assessments or offering treatment to soldiers not related to specific national security interrogations. The resolution does not extend to interrogations by domestic law enforcement, whose prisoners are protected by the Constitution.

In addition to the reforms outlined in the resolution, the APA’s council has voted to convene a panel of outside ethics experts to make recommendations on how to improve the APA’s procedures and future actions. In doing so, they hope to align the APA’s strategies with best practices in the field. Although the resolution sets new standards for APA policy, there has been no change in the APA’s official code of ethics. The APA hopes that the resolution will increase transparency within the organization and strengthen its focus on human rights [1; 2].


AAAS Acquires New Service to Promote Transparency and Public Trust in Scientific Journals
by Ellen Platts

On June 30, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) acquired the web-based service “Peer Review Evaluation” (PRE). The service provides increased transparency of the review process for original research. Later this year, AAAS plans to make the technology available for the entire Science family of journals, including Science, Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, and Science Advances.

As a response to the heightened mistrust in science that occurs as a result of the varied nature of peer-review for different journals, PRE shows users every step of the peer-review process. Each step is identified by a visual indicator, that “will make it easier for everyone to identify articles from legitimate scientific journals and to understand the peer-review history in more detail,” said Science publisher Kent Anderson [1]. 

PRE follows and supports the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing that lay out in detail the need for transparency in peer-review. These principles were developed by the Committee on Publication Ethics, the World Association of Medical Editors, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, and the Directory of Open Access Journals, and form part of the criteria by which members of these associations are evaluated [2].

To this end, PRE is integrated with a publisher’s manuscript submission system and publishing platform, and can display increasing levels of detail about paper handling, from dates of submission and acceptance to reviewers’ comments. Launched originally in 2014 by the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc., PRE will be further developed by AAAS to refine its capability, including developing the technology so it can confirm data deposition by paper authors. This process is crucial to ensure the reproducibility of scientific studies. Other AAAS goals include the use of PRE to support open science practices, and the use of the technology for the training and certification of peer reviewers and publishers.



Joel Ericsen

Program Associate