Letters

Including working with adjacent fields, Rorschach, evil, and obituaries.

Adjacent fields:
I found Bensley’s article (‘Can you learn to think more like a psychologist?) and the ‘One-on-one’ feature with Steven Pinker in the February issue of interest, especially given Pinker’s ‘One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists’: ‘…learn to think like a linguist, or a neuroscientist, or a philosopher, or an evolutionary biologist’. Bensley’s piece focuses on critical thinking dispositions readers should have and makes general suggestions to improve critical thinking skills. All seven of the suggestions put forward are important for psychologists, but Pinker goes further and recommends we ‘become proficient in the relevant adjacent fields’ too.

A closer look at Bensley’s suggestions implies he agrees with Pinker, especially when he recommends psychologists to ‘examine alternative viewpoints fairly’ and ‘draw conclusions consistent with the best available evidence’.

I wonder whether psychology needs to acknowledge this more directly and actively encourage links with other fields. Indeed, research by Barabási and colleagues (e.g. Barabási & Bonabeau, 2003) suggests science could be more effective and address matters facing society with a greater reciprocity among adjacent fields. As current debates associated with statutory regulation and psychology’s place(ment) in the Research Excellence Framework unfold, I hope The Psychologist continues to publish articles addressing this issue.

David Lavallee
University of Wales, Aberystwyth

Reference
Barabási, A-L. & Bonabeau, E. (2003, May). Scale-free networks. Scientific American, 288, pp.50–59.

Drawing conclusions
I was delighted to see my recent book (Just War: Psychology and Terrorism) reviewed by Andrew Silke in February’s edition of The Psychologist. On reading it, however, my joy was short-lived, tempered only by the reassurance that there is no such thing as bad publicity! Andrew takes issue with the emphasis in the book on state as opposed to non-state terrorism. Save for the fact that Andrew’s own work is principally concerned with non-state terrorism, this is odd – especially given the uncomfortable truth that the overwhelming majority of terrorist victims have been produced by state actions.

I would further take issue with the claim that I argue a conspiracy exists in the BPS. There is a world of difference between the notions of complicity and conspiracy. As we note in the book, labelling someone a conspiracy theorist is a rhetorical device which avoids dealing with the content of someone’s argument. I point out that the Ministry of Defence produced a full-page advertisement in The Psychologist to recruit psychologists, one week after commencement of the war in Iraq.  In the four years since – no similar ads have appeared. Quite a coincidence. I invite readers to draw their own conclusion.

The chapter referred to is actually about the application of Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model of the media to the contents of The Psychologist during the first 21 months of the war. The argument rests on the provision and interpretation of empirical data. It is not merely polemic. Again, readers can draw their own conclusions – they do not have to agree with mine, but there is a serious argument to be had, and Andrew’s review in no way fairly represents the content or the purpose of the said chapter. One of the strong points of the volume is David Harper’s analysis of the history of complicity between psychology and the security state. There is plenty of evidence here that should give psychologists cause to reflect on the relationship between their profession and state and corporate interests, and not just psychologists on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s certainly not my job to review the book, but I think it fair to point out that the APA review managed to find much in it that was positive – quite an admission given the harsh critique in it of US actions. Readers here should at least know what the arguments are and read it for themselves.

Ron Roberts
Department of Psychology, Kingston University

Editor’s comment: I don’t know what Dr Roberts is hinting at over the advertisement, but I feel I should correct an inaccuracy. Since publishing the ad referred to, and following discussion of the issue by the Psychologist Policy Committee, the Society has published several recruitment advertisements from the MoD (recently in January 2008, and also in this issue).

Assistants need assistance

I am currently employed as an assistant psychologist, and am (arduously) pursuing a career in clinical psychology.

I have been a member of the BPS for the past three years, and have been fortunate to benefit from postgraduate concession rates during this time. From February however, I was expected to pay the full subscription rate to the Society of £105, a £59 rise on my concessionary rate of £46 in 2007.

I have worked hard to achieve my assistant status, yet similarly to other assistants, my annual salary does not permit much in terms of disposable income after my mortgage and other living expenses have been paid. Accordingly, I am contemplating ending my subscription to the Society, and am aware that other assistant psychologists in similar predicaments are being forced to consider the same. I feel it is a great shame that the Society has not considered the financial barriers that face a large proportion of  its target audience before setting its subscription rates. I feel it is particularly regrettable that prospective psychologists, such as myself, are becoming increasingly excluded from benefiting from the wealth of information that the Society and its subsystems have to offer. In light of this, I propose that the BPS reconsider its subscription fees for assistant psychologists in 2009, or at the very least, introduce a scheme whereby fees can be paid in instalments throughout
the year.

L. Green
Brighton

Russell Hobbs, Finance Director, replies: Subscriptions have risen to ensure that the Society is able to fund all of its activities for the benefit of all members, but our fee structure and member services are constantly under review (particularly in light of statutory regulation) and we will take your comments into consideration. I should, however, point out that there is already an instalment scheme in operation, which has proved popular with members. Details are available from the Leicester office.

Can evil ever be banal?

Yet another article or deployment of this deficient term perhaps adds to the damage it may already have done. The frisson evoked by the phrase may emerge from the contradiction in our minds and experience between two notions: one is that evil – the word and the ‘thing’ itself is bad and potent – loaded highly on two of the three great dimensions of meaning; banal on the other hand is neither evaluatively nor potently extreme. So how can evil be banal?
The solution to the conundrum is that Hannah Arendt might better have written a phrase to convey that the source or perpetrator of evil may be banal – rather than the evil itself being so. There are some engaging features of prejudice in her perception – for example, that a small, soft-spoken man might not contain or inflict evil – but not all perpetrators must be large (ugly) bellowing ogres.

Haslam and Reicher (January 2008) do, however, in the substance of their article effectively dismiss the apparent paradox – ‘the true horror of Eichmann and his like is not that their actions were blind...they saw clearly what they did, and believed it to be the right thing to do’. They may have been ‘blind’ to evil itself, or unable to realise its essence in their actions. Evil never was, is or will be banal; Hannah Arendt was very misleading in coining such a term; and the evidence by which we can empirically (as well as semiologically) reject the notion has very helpfully been shown to us.

J. Mallory Wober
London NW3

The shock of the new

When thinking of the new improved Psychologist the song of craggy Rex Harrison came to mind: ‘I’ve grown accustomed to her face’. Although I previously complained, I now think it works well, is not a shock to the system, and seems to flow better. Now the complaint is there is too much good-quality material to read!
Erica Brostoff
London

I have been receiving The Psychologist for over 10 years and I just wanted to say that it is better than it has ever been. The last two issues have been riveting to the extent that I have spent at least an hour reading it – I’ve never spent more than 10 minutes flicking through in the previous decade. So thank you and well done!
Tig Calvert
St Mary’s College, Twickenham

I am surprised that you have had positive feedback about the new layout for The Psychologist. I much prefer the old layout. The new layout has a lot of illegible material, with small grey print on a grey background. What is the point of publishing material that can hardly be read?
It is also hard to find the few interesting articles, because of all the intervening advertisements. The magazine is now twice as  bulky and takes up more space. Previously I could throw out the appointments booklet and keep the magazine – now I shall have to throw out the whole thing more quickly.Clarity and interesting content are much more important than a superficial stylish appearance.

Helen Ross
University of Stirling

Editor’s reply: We have indeed had praise, but also plenty of comments about legibility. Many readers have offered constructive and detailed feedback, and we have acted on that in this issue.
We felt that spacing the ads out would be better than having a second big section of ads (rest assured you’re still getting more actual ‘copy’ than ever before). Hopefully, most people find the colour tabs and contents page help them navigate to the articles.
The magazine is actually less than 50 per cent more bulky: over a year this will equate to only around 2cm of thickness on a shelf, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem for most. Indeed, when given the options for the future of the jobs section a couple of years ago, making it an integral part of The Psychologist was the preferred option with our readers.

Obituaries
Steven John Cooper (1946–2007)

Steve Cooper, who died of motor neuron disease on 21 December 2007, was one of the finest British psychopharmacologists of his generation. He was probably most well known for his work on eating behaviour, particularly his demonstration that the widely used benzodiazepine agonists (librium, valium, etc.) enhance appetite and food intake by potentiating palatability, and that benzodiazepine inverse agonists reduce intake. This was the culmination of a lifetime of research on the pharmacological mechanisms underlying many different aspects of behaviour, including learning, emotions and reward mechanisms, as well as appetite control.
After an undergraduate degree in psychology at Manchester, his particular interest in psychopharmacology began with a PhD under Arthur Summerfield at Birkbeck.
After five years as a lecturer at the University of Belfast, where he made many longstanding friends, he moved to Birmingham University where his contribution over 15 years culminated in 1991 in his appointment to a personal chair in behavioural neuroscience and pharmacology. In 1994 he moved to Durham University where he was the head of department and was closely involved in the establishment of applied psychology on Durham University’s Stockton Campus.
I first got to know Steve when he was appointed to a chair in psychology at Liverpool University in 1998. He took over from me as head of department, which is
always a bittersweet moment, particularly in my case when the university was newly committed to the expansion of psychology after the 15 relatively lean years during which I had been in charge. We need not have worried. He came with a reputation for an extraordinary and energetic commitment to his research, evidenced by a steady and substantial stream of original publications and edited books, and this energy was immediately applied to running the Liverpool Department. We also benefited from his time at Durham, which had taught him a great deal, not only about the running of a department but also, most importantly, about the strategy for dealing successfully with central university management.
His philosophy was simply to spend money on what he thought, usually rightly, were genuine needs and then negotiate about it later. Although the budget took some time to recover, the department benefited enormously from his legacy in the form of a series of excellent appointments and important new research groups in language development, social and health psychology and, of course, eating behaviour. This growth was accommodated by a substantial expansion and refurbishment of the department’s accommodation, including a series of impressive new laboratories for the study of, among others, electrophysiology, eating behaviour, and visual and auditory perception. As with everything he did, his attention to detail ensured success in what was a major restructuring exercise. He retired from the headship in 2004 and from his chair in 2006.
In parallel with his academic research and administration, he was active in a number of learned societies including the BPS where he served on, among others, the Graduate Qualifications Committee, the Ethics Committee, the Research Board and the Board of Trustees. He was always full of good ideas and suggestions, and a number of these live on in the Society today, most notably the College of Fellows.
He leaves a wife Margaret and two daughters, Tamsin and Jessica, to whom our sympathy and best wishes go.
Richard Latto
School of Psychology
University of Liverpool

Phil Richardson (1950–2007)

Life with Phil was never dull. Whether he was in Lausanne, starting to write his talk at 5am for a presentation, in French at 11, or being dropped off full pelt at the airport, because he thought his watch was on ‘French time’ and he was an hour late, he never lost his sense of fun and wonder at the world.
He was bright, he was witty, he was a great entertainer, and he talked to absolutely everyone. Trying to get from A to B with Phil, I realised very early on, was about embracing ‘the process’ and not the end place. 
All these things will be familiar to anyone who knew him, and in terms of his career achievements others are much more qualified and keen to write about his early days at St Thomas’, UCL and the like. His career was long and successful and included being head of clinical psychology at the Tavistock, and Director of the Depression study at the Belsize centre. He was an analyst, an editor for PAPTRAP and a leading figure at St Thomas’ Pain clinic. I got to know him when he was at Essex University, where he cared deeply about getting the clinical psychology training course off the ground and spent much time and effort after moving to France ensuring it received BPS accreditation. We spoke, as one does in these circumstances, about his life’s achievements near the end, and I remember asking him what he thought his greatest achievement was out of all of it. Without any hesitation, he said having his children.
It is indisputable that he was well liked by many, and loved by some, not for his abilities or achievements, but for his unassuming, seemingly unstoppable, desire to help. Whether for his gain or theirs, he got people to believe they were good.
He made them feel valued and important. When you got to know him very well, you couldn’t help seeing that his most important ability, to deal with life and all that it threw at him, was so tied in with being important to those he was with and feeling good through them.
When he became ill, when one grasps at anything that detracts from knowing that you will lose each other soon, we joked what a relief it was that he would never get to be old. Somehow I doubt that he ever would have.
Jo Wilson
Consultant Clinical Psychologist
North Essex Partnership Foundation Trust

Rorschach allegations unfounded?
It has come to my attention that an article in The Psychologist (‘When therapy causes harm’, January 2008) includes some erroneous statements about the Rorschach inkblot method. Chief among these is the allegation attributed to Jim Wood ‘that its norms and decision rules grossly pathologise normal, healthy people’. Oft-repeated by Rorschach critics, this allegation has long since been discredited. Most recent and definitive in this regard are the results of an international collaborative study in which 4704 Rorschach protocols were obtained from 21 different samples of adult non-patients in 17 different countries. In this large multinational sample, just two per cent of respondents showed significant elevations on a Rorschach index of perceptual and thinking disorder; just 12 per cent were significantly elevated on indices of depression and hypervigilance; and just 13 per cent on an index of persistent stress overload – hardly indications of over-pathologising, given the usually expected frequency of adjustment difficulties among nonpatient populations (Meyer et al., 2007).
As quoted, moreover, Wood misrepresents the Psychological Assessment Work Group (PAWG) as being ‘just packed with Rorschachers’. PAWG was appointed by the Board of Professional Affairs of the American Psychological Association to review available evidence concerning the validity of psychological testing; its report indicated that many scales on a broad range of measures, including the Rorschach and the Thematic Apperception Test, are dependable and useful predictors of behaviour (Meyer et al., 2001).

With respect to the facts of its composition, however, only two of the nine psychologists who authored the PAWG report are known for their contributions to the Rorschach literature, and the other seven are not even members of the Society for Personality Assessment.In the United States even the harshest critics of Rorschach assessment have come to acknowledge its utility in helping to identify features of serious psychological disorder (e.g. thought disturbance) and certain core personality traits (e.g. dependency). There are no systematic empirical data demonstrating that Rorschach assessments conducted by competent examiners can cause harm. Finally, to suggest as Wood does that an evaluation of procedures by the APA ‘would be a whitewash’ is without foundation and an affront to the APA leadership.

Irving B. Weiner, President, Society of Clinical Psychology (APA Division 12) Past President, Society for Personality Assessment
Tampa, FL


References
Meyer, G.J., Erdberg, P. & Shaffer, T.W. (2007). Toward international normative reference data for the Comprehensive System. Journal of Personality Assessment, 89(S1), S201–S216.

Meyer, G.J., Finn, S., Eyde, L. et al. (2001). Psychological testing and psychological assessment: A review of evidence and issues. American Psychologist, 56, 128–165.

Community noticeboard

I am a final-year trainee clinical psychologist currently undertaking research as part of my doctoral qualification. I am interested in hearing from qualified clinical psychologists in the North West Strategic Health Authority area who have experienced the suicide of a client within the last five years. The research study will use qualitative methods and has received ethical and R&D approval. Participants will be asked to take part in a face-to-face discussion lasting approximately 60–90 minutes. This will take place in March 2008 at a time and place to suit participants.

Clare Cassells [email protected]

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