Institutional Logics, the British Psychological Society and Hans Eysenck

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.

https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105320963542Article information

The Abstract and key words are copied below followed by the authors’ Press Release.

Abstract

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.

Keywords

British Psychological Society, personality and fatal diseases, personality and cancer,

personality and ischaemic heart disease, research misconduct, research policy

PRESS RELEASE PREPARED BY THE AUTHORS: Russell Craig, Anthony Pelosi, Dennis Tourish

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.

The complaint
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 …”

Actions
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.

Media enquiries
Tony Pelosi. E-mail: anthony.pelosi@nhs.net Phone: 07711497617
Dennis Tourish. E-mail: D.J.Tourish@sussex.ac.uk Phone: 07969422365

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