The Journal of Health Psychology has published a new paper on “Research misconduct complaints and institutional logics: The case of Hans Eysenck and the British Psychological Society” [October 28, 2020].
The paper provides an analysis of the reasons Hans J Eysenck’s misconduct has not been fully investigated by the BPS.
The authors, Russell Craig, Anthony Pelosi, Dennis Tourish, urge the BPS to investigate this complaint afresh. They also support calls for the establishment of an independent National Research Integrity Ombudsperson to deal more effectively with allegations of research misconduct.
This paper is on Open Access and should be widely read.
The Abstract and key words are copied below followed by the authors’ Press Release.
A formal complaint was lodged with the British Psychological Society in 1995 that
alleged serious scientific misconduct by Hans J Eysenck. The complaint referred
to research into the links between personality traits and the causes, prevention
and treatment of cancer and heart disease. Using a framework of institutional logics,
we criticise the Society’s decision not to hear this complaint at a full disciplinary
hearing. We urge the BPS to investigate this complaint afresh. We also support
calls for the establishment of an independent National Research Integrity
Ombudsperson to deal more effectively with allegations of research misconduct.
Cancer and personality
The British Psychological Society should stop dodging research misconduct claims
against Hans Eysenck. Professor Hans Eysenck was a giant in the world of psychology –
the most frequently cited living psychologist at the time of his death in 1997.
But in 2019, a King’s College London inquiry concluded that 26 of Eysenck’s research
papers with Ronald Grossarth-Maticek were ‘unsafe.’
Now, a new paper in the Journal of Health Psychology urges the BPS to properly
investigate a 1995 complaint it received from Glasgow psychiatrist, Tony Pelosi.
This drew attention to Eysenck’s research into the links between personality and
the causes, prevention and treatment of cancer and heart disease. The paper’s
authors, Russell Craig, Tony Pelosi and Dennis Tourish, criticise the BPS’s decision
not to refer the complaint to a full disciplinary hearing. In examining how the
BPS handled the complaint, they highlight how professional societies can be
caught in a bind between preserving the reputation of their field and its
integrity. They say image-management prevailed in 1995, but now urge the
BPS to restore integrity and discharge its duty to the public by agreeing to
a full investigation.
Pelosi drew attention to numerous concerns in peer-reviewed articles
about Eysenck’s work, including claims of some data manipulation. He cited
statements by Bernard Fox, the [then] leading authority in biopsychosocial
cancer epidemiology, that the reported results were “simply unbelievable.”
This view was prompted by a conclusion that people with a “cancer-
prone” personality type were 121 times more likely to die from a cancer
than people with a healthy personality. Pelosi’s complaint also mentioned
deficiencies in a clinical experiment in which 41 people with malignant
hypertension, and described as “stressed but healthy,” were included in a
randomised trial. However, the reported clinical features of these
subjects clearly indicated they were far from healthy, and at imminent risk
of stroke, heart failure and kidney failure
The BPS’s investigation
The authors of the Journal of Health Psychology paper use archival
records to explore how the BPS processed the complaint at meetings
of its Investigatory Committee in July and August, 1995. They note the
predicament that professional societies, such as the BPS, face in striving
simultaneously to be “a members’ association” and “an advocate for the public.”
They argue that the complaint’s processing suggests the BPS had abandoned its
“obligation to the public.”
The BPS did not give Pelosi an opportunity to respond to Eysenck’s reply
to his complaint. Nor has the content of Eysenck’s reply been made available.
The BPS’s decision to not fully investigate the complaint was not explained.
Given the public health implications of the disputed research findings, the BPS
should have been highly transparent in its processing
and exercised caution by recommending closer investigation.
There have been several recent calls for the BPS to formally investigate
Eysenck’s wider publications. Although the BPS reaffirms the importance of
ensuring research integrity, it nonetheless seems to consider itself absolved
of any remedial responsibility. It has “passed the buck” by derogating
responsibility for remediation of research misconduct to
“the academic institution which oversees the work carried out by its academics …”
Professional associations should thoroughly and transparently
investigate complaints they receive alleging research misconduct against
members. They should do so in a way that prioritises integrity over reputation.
The research propriety and reliability of Eysenck’s research on the links
between personality and fatal diseases should be thoroughly investigated.
Specifically, the BPS should reconsider the substance of Pelosi’s 1995 complaint in a way
that accords with best ethical practice.
Tony Pelosi. E-mail: email@example.com Phone: 07711497617
Dennis Tourish. E-mail: D.J.Tourish@sussex.ac.uk Phone: 07969422365