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.
I write this blog as a long-term investigator into psychology and the paranormal. This post concerns a saga of intellectual dishonesty by the late Cambridge University psychologist, Carl Sargent, and his mentor, Professor Hans J Eysenck, of King’s College London. A diary of events weaves a dark story that many wish the world would forget, but the story needs to be told. The parties in this story displayed gullibility, bias and wilful deceit. One of them (CS) was forced to leave his academic post and seek another career. Many years after his death, the other (HJE) stands accused of producing ‘unsafe’ publications on an industrial scale.
“Hans Jürgen Eysenck, was born in Berlin onand died in London on, was a British psychologist of German origin known for his work on personality , heritability of intelligence , behavioral therapies and for his critiques of psychoanalysis. At the time of his death, Eysenck was the most frequently cited living psychologist in English-language scientific journals.”
Hans J Eysenck’s intellectual honesty was recently the focus of renewed controversy after Anthony Pelosi exposed a series of impossible findings published by Eysenck in the field of health psychology (see here, here and here). 26 of Eysenck’s publications were recently considered “unsafe” by an investigation by King’s College London, and many others are also suspected.
Richard Smith (personal communication) astutely remarked as follows: “When forensic accountants detect fraud they assume that everything else from that person may well be fraudulent. Scientists tend to do the opposite–assuming that everything is OK until proved to be fraudulent. But as proving fraud is hard lots of highly questionable material remains untouched.”
Smith continues: “I think of the example of R K Chandra, who was eventually found guilty not only of research fraud but also of financial and business fraud. His first paper established to be fraudulent was in 1989. Why, I ask myself, would you start being honest after you’d practised fraud–yet hundreds of his papers are left unremarked, including unfortunately some that have been shown to be fraudulent.”
A reliable source and long-time colleague of Eysenck’s states: “Eysenck was a mendacious charlatan. I base that not so much on his published fiction but his denial of the link between smoking and cancer was pernicious. His espousal of the beliefs of the John Birch Society was egregious…a grant had to be withdrawn and several researchers dismissed.“
A profile of Hans Eysenck based on his biography by Rod Buchanan and also his books with Carl Sargent provide insights into Eysenck’s intellectual values as a scientist and scholar. There were four books with Sargent, all with Eysenck as first author:
The collaboration between the two authors began in the early 1980s in Sargent’s heyday at Cambridge and continued until 1996.
A Distorted Account of Parapsychology
These four books present a distorted and strongly biased view that psychic powers are scientifically proven. The evidence suggests exactly the opposite (Marks, 2020).
Eysenck’s and Sargent’s ‘ naivety and credulity are everywhere apparent. They present a one-sided view of the scientific evidence on psi and affect the naive stance that fraud and trickery do not need to be considered. David Nias and Geoffrey Dean (1986) summarised their criticisms of the Eysenck/Sargent books thus: “the failure of Eysenck and Sargent’s books to cover trickery and credulity is a serious deficiency” (p.368).
In my opinion, these books are among the most distorted and misleading accounts of parapsychological phenomena ever published by academic psychologists. The four books are a total disgrace and how Eysenck had the gall to put his name to them – perhaps only to build his reputation as the fearless contrarian – is beyond imagination.
In addition to the terrible scholarship, there is convincing evidence of scientific fraud by Sargent. How much Hans Eysenck knew about this, we will never know exactly because Eysenck requested that his papers be destroyed after his death. However, Blackmore’s report on Sargent’s fraud became public knowledge several years into the collaboration and years before the third and fourth books with Eysenck were published.
If Sargent had kept his trickery hidden from Eysenck then Eysenck could have been an innocent party. In a partnership built over 14+ years, surely there would have been a conversation that included a question of the kind, ‘Oh, I hear you left Cambridge, why was that?” If, as seems likely, Sargent ‘fessed up’ by admitting the occurrence of some kind of experimental ‘error’, then Eysenck could have been party to covering up Sargent’s deceit. Did Eysenck imagine nobody would notice? or perhaps he simply did not care. After all, that great Cambridge genius, Isaac Newton, had done the same kind of thing, and Eysenck saw no problem with a bit of data fudging. According to Eysenck, a ‘genius’ does whatever is necessary to prove their theories, as he had stated in one of his many pot-boilers.
“[Sargent’s Ganzfeld] research was providing dramatically positive results for ESP in the GF and mine was not, so the idea was for me to learn from his methods in the hope of achieving similarly good results …. After watching several trials and studying the procedures carefully, I concluded that CS’s experimental protocols were so well designed that the spectacular results I saw must either be evidence for ESP or for fraud. I then took various simple precautions and observed further trials during which it became clear that CS had deliberately violated his own protocols and in one trial had almost certainly cheated. I waited several years for him to respond to my claims and eventually they were published along with his denial. (Harley & Matthews, 1987; Sargent, 1987).”
Sargent’s Career Temporarily Blossoms with Eysenck
In this period, Sargent developed his career in parapsychology at Cambridge with Blackmore’s ‘cheating’ report brushed under the carpet.
1980: Sargent writes a monograph, Exploring Psi in the Ganzfeld. Parapsychological Monographs No 17.
Sargent, C. L., Harley, T. A., Lane, J. and Radcliffe, K. publish: ‘Ganzfeld psi optimization in relation to session duration’, Research in Parapsychology 1980, 82-84.
1981: Sargent and Matthews publish ‘Ganzfeld GESP performance in variable duration testing’. Journal of Parapsychology 1981, 159-160
1982: Eysenck and Sargent (1982) publish their first book together, Explaining the unexplained: mysteries of the paranormal. Weidenfeld and Nicolson; First Edition.
1983: Eysenck and Sargent publish their second book, Know Your Own PSI-Q.
Then the Inevitable Downfall
1984: The Parapsychological Association Council asked Martin Johnson to head a committee to investigate SB’s accusation of fraud by Sargent. My book, Psychology and the Paranormal, describes what happened next;
The Parapsychological Association (PA) invited CS to provide an account of the ‘errors’ that SB had reported, but he declined to offer any explanation. The PA President, Stanley Krippner, wrote to CS at four different addresses, but still received no reply. The PA’s ‘Sargent Case Report’ dated 10 December 1986 found that, in spite of strong reservations about CS’s randomisation technique, there was insufficient evidence that CS had used unethical procedures.
CS was ‘reproved’ for failing to respond to the PA’s request for information. However, CS had allowed his PA membership to lapse through non-payment of dues, but he was informed that, should he wish to renew his membership, his application would be considered with ‘extreme prejudice’, I.e. CS would I likely be re-admitted as a member.
The final report of this committee reprimanded Sargent for failing to respond to their request for information within a reasonable time.
1985: Sargent leaves Cambridge University and the parapsychology field [stated in the 2nd edition of Explaining the unexplained: mysteries of the paranormal, 1993].
At some point, Sargent moves into full-time authoring of game-books.
1987: Susan Blackmore’s 1979 report is finally published: ‘A Report of a Visit to Carl Sargent’s Laboratory’, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 54, 186-198.
1993: Undeterred by the report of cheating, Eysenck and Sargent publish their third book, Explaining the unexplained: mysteries of the paranormal. (2nd ed.)
1996: Eysenck and Sargent publish their fourth book, Are You Psychic?: Tests & Games to Measure Your Powers (1996), a revised version of ‘Know your own Psi-Q’.
The Hidden Truth
Two editions of the book by H. J. Eysenck and Sargent (1982, 1993) raise questions about how much Eysenck knew of the fraud accusations against Sargent in Blackmore’s SPR report of 1979. In the 1982 edition of the first book, the procedural problems with Sargent’s GF research are not even mentioned. In the 1993 edition, the authors refer to ‘spirited exchanges on GF research’ between Blackmore, and Sargent and Harley (p. 189).
However, the Ganzfeld evidence of psi is described by them as ‘very, very powerful indeed’. They do not mention the accusations of fraud, CS’s departure from Cambridge University, and his repeated non-cooperation with the Parapsychology Association enquiry.
I obtained an update from Susan Blackmore on her current thinking about her 30-year-old allegation of fraud by CS and on psi research more generally, which I reproduce below. Here are Susan Blackmore’s answers to a few specific questions:
Do you think, in the light of everything that has come to light, CS committed fraud at Cambridge? (Ideally, a yes or a no).
Yes, at least on one specific trial.
Do you think CS knowingly deceived anybody (including possibly himself) or was he simply a victim of confirmation bias/subjective validation?
Is there anything else you would like to say about research on psi?
In the light of my decades of research on psi, and especially because of my experiences with the GF, I now believe that the possibility of psi existing is vanishingly small, though not zero. I am glad other people continue to study the subject because it would be so important to science if psi did exist. But for myself, I think doing any further psi research would be a complete waste of time. I would not expect to find any phenomena to study, let alone any that could lead us to an explanatory theory. I may yet be proved wrong of course. (Blackmore, personal communication, 1 August 2019)
Summary of facts and conclusions
A consistent pattern of data manipulation in Hans Eysenck’s and at least two collaborators’ research practice is evident over several decades. Yet only recently have journals found it necessary to retract 14 of Hans Eysenck’s papers and to publish 71 expressions of concern. One paper of concern was published by the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1946.
A reliable source accused Eysenck of cheating with his data analyses in the 1960s and other colleagues and PhD students publicly critiqued Eysenck’s laboratory methods.
In the late 1970s/early 1980s, Eysenck formed a long-term collaboration with a Cambridge academic Carl Sargent in spite of the fact that Carl Sargent had been accused of fraud in 1979. Eysenck and Sargent’s joint publications, with Eysenck as senior author, occurred over the period 1982-1993.
In 1992 and 1993, Anthony Pelosi, Louis Appleby and others raised serious questions about publications by Eysenck with R Grossarth-Maticek (Pelosi, AJ, Appleby, L (1992) Psychological influences on cancer and ischaemic heart disease. British Medical Journal 304: 1295–1298.Pelosi, AJ, Appleby, L (1993) Personality and fatal diseases. British Medical Journal 306: 1666–1667.) The authorities failed to respond.
Anthony Pelosi (2019) again voices his concerns. This author’s editorial appealing to Kings College London to open an enquiry finally led to concrete action. 25 publications by H J Eysenck and R Grossarth-Maticek have been deemed by KCL to be unsafe.
As suspicions strengthened over a 75-year period from the mid-1940s, torpor and complacency in the academic system enabled research malpractice to continue, not only Eysenck’s and Sargent’s, but across the board.
The currently available systems for regulating research integrity and malpractice are an abject failure. A totally new approach is required. An independent National Research Integrity Ombudsperson needs to be established to significantly improve the governance of academic research.
The replication crisis in science begins with faked data. I discuss here a well-known recent case, Hans J Eysenck. An enquiry at King’s College London and scientific journals concluded that multiple publications by Hans J Eysenck’s are ‘unsafe’ and must be retracted. These recent events suggest that the entire edifice of Eysenck’s work warrants re-examination. In this post I examine some early experimental research by Eysenck and his students at the Institute of Psychiatry during the 1950s and 60s.
Hans J Eysenck was a chameleon-figure in the science of psychology. Eysenck doctored data from the very beginning of his theorising. Time and again HJE proved that he was a master of camouflage. I examine here some historically significant data that HJE used to promote his biological theory of personality, data that were used by HJE in a misleading way to promote his theories.
The evidence suggests that HJE massaged data to give them more ‘scientific’ appeal. HJE’s biological theory had predicted that introverts would condition more quickly than extraverts. The original data were collected by Cyril M Franks who had worked for his PhD under Eysenck’s supervision at the Institute of Psychiatry, London. Even Franks would later turn upon the master for his misleading methodology and data analysis. However, HJE dismissed and vehemently attacked all of his critics, claiming they were wrong, foolhardy and unreasonable.
HJE used a series of questionable practices (QPRs) that raised many eyebrows including insiders at the Institute of Psychiatry. Eysenck’s theory of personality became the subject of scathing criticism. Chapter 5 of Playing With Fire by Rod Buchanan provides the full details.
My personal skepticism about HJE began as an undergraduate student when a lecturer, Vernon Hamilton, told me that HJE had ‘cheated’ with his data – see Hamilton’s critique here. Other telling criticism was published by Storms and Sigal here and in another article with Franks: see Sigal, Star and Franks here.
In spite of all of the controversy, which he seemed to rather enjoy, HJE became one of the most influential psychologists of all time. His Nature paper has been cited 6331 times.
In light of the recent exposure of Eysenck as a person who carried out serial publication fraud, it is informative to take a close look at Cyril Franks’ PhD research that in HJE’s creative accounting became a foundation stone of HJE’s first theory of personality.
EYSENCK’S DOCTORED CURVES
An almost perfect set of findings, one might assume – too good to be true even. My detailed scrutiny suggests that this was indeed the case. When one examines the data HJE used to generate these two curves, we see anything but smoothly increasing scores.
Franks tested a hypothesis attributed to Pavlov: “Neurotics of the dysthymic type form conditioned reflexes rapidly, and these reflexes are difficult to extinguish; neurotics of the hysteric type form conditioned reflexes slowly, and these reflexes are easy to extinguish”. Franks chose data from 20 dysthymic patients (having rejected data from 8 others), 20 hysteric patients (having rejected data from 7 others), and 20 non-patients …in a specially constructed soundproof conditioning laboratory.” The results for the dysthymic and hysteric groups were as follows:
Not unreasonably, Franks concluded that dysthymics give significantly more CR’s than hysterics. Buoyed by his initial success, Franks carried out another study to examine the factor of extraversion/introversion in the same eye-blink conditioning task. In this instance, Franks hypothesised, following HJE’s theory, that the introverts conditioned more quickly than the extraverts.
Franks’ 1957 data again show the rates of classical conditioning in eye-blink responses in this case for 15 introverts and 15 extraverts. According to Eysenck’s theory, the former group should show more rapid conditioning than the latter. The maximum score was 15.
EYSENCK COMBINED DATA FROM FRANKS’ TWO STUDIES
HJE combined the data from Franks’ two studies in a rather creative and unconventional manner. HJE combined data from groups of introvert non-patients with patients diagnosed with dysthymia and he combine data from a group of extravert non-patients and patients categorised as hysterics. The data from the two Franks studies were a hotchpotch that needs untangling.
1) Eysenck combined the data from the extraverts with the data from the patients classified as hysterics and the data from the introverts with that collected from the dysthymics This rather odd amalgam smoothed out many of the jagged edges in the two data sets.
2) There was no justification for assuming that the CR rates began at zero because all four groups had minimum scores well above zero. This fact was pointed out by Vernon Hamilton. Yet HJE doctored the data look this way by imposing curves that started at a zero origin.
The next figure shows the data after they had been combined, groups D and I together, and groups H and E together. I show the combined data with HJE’s smooth curves and the data points as HJE reported them.
EYSENCK ACHIEVED THE LOOK HE WANTED USING CHILDISHLY SIMPLE METHODS
HJE’s 4-step approach to a successful scientific outcome proceeded as follows:
First, HJE combined data from 4 different groups to create two new groups even though there was no scientific basis for doing so.
Second, although HJE’s and my computations of the combined data points show a fair degree of consistency, HJE appears to have ‘adjusted’ a few data points that didn’t fit the curve.
Third, HJE’s gave his smoothed curves zero starting points, contrary to the actual data, which indicate above-zero baseline scores. HJE attempted to disguise the fact that the groups had radically different, non-zero starting points.
Fourth, HJE ignored the fact that two lines with identical slope fitted the data equally well.
Using these devices, HJE promoted the data as respectable science fit for publication in the most reputable journals. This analysis suggests something rather different – that HJE was an out-and-out charlatan.
The left panel of the diagram below shows HJE’s published curves with his cunningly averaged data-points converted to percentages (small dots), and the same averaged data-points obtained by this author (DFM; o’s and x’s). In most cases, HJE’s and DFM’s data points coincide. In at least 4 instances, however, HJE’s points lie closer to the theoretical curve than the correct figures would suggest.
The right-hand panel shows the fit to the same two data sets using linear plots with identical slope. Neither of the fitted functions look anywhere near perfect, but there is no prima facie case for preferring the curvilinear to the linear fit.
HJE constructed a curvilinear association between eye-blink classical conditioning rates and questionnaire measures of extraversion-introversion. These curves were artificially doctored to suggest that introverts conditioned more quickly than extraverts, as HJE’s theory had predicted. By combining data that did not belong together, HJE was able to smooth the data sets, which when considered separately did not fit the predictions quite so well. HJE avoided a feasible alternative (null) hypothesis that the two groups produced identical rates of conditioning. In so doing, HJE helped to establish his first biological theory of personality. This was not only bad science, it was faked science, the work of a chameleon.
We called for an enquiry (Marks, 2019). H J Eysenck’s ex-employer, the Institute of Psychiatry in Denmark Hill, is now a part of King’s College London (KCL).
The enquiry at KCL concluded that 25 publications were unsafe. However, the enquiry report remains unpublished and incomplete.
KCL reviewed publications written by Eysenck with his collaborator Ronald Grossarth-Maticek. The enquiry failed to investigate 36 other bogus items based on exactly the same data collected by Eysenck’s collaborator.
The KCL enquiry must be properly completed to include the entire set of 61 bogus publications.
The Eysenck affair makes a strong case for a National Research Integrity Ombudsperson.
Eysenck’s research had been conducted with a German sociologist, Ronald Grossarth-Maticek, while claiming affiliation to Eysenck’s employer, the Institute of Psychiatry, now part of King’s College London (KCL). In a survey of Eysenck’s publications about fatal illness and personality, I identified a provisional total of 61 that exceeded any reasonable boundary of scientific credibility. Based on Pelosi’s case and my review of these dubious publications, I called for an investigation by KCL into these publications (Marks, 2019).
On 3rd December 2018 I sent a pre-publication copy of Anthony Pelosi’s review and my editorial to the Principal of KCL, Professor Edward Byrne. On 13th December 2018, I received a reply informing me that a considered response would follow a KCL review.
FOUR MONTH DELAY
On 25th June 2019 I was informed that KCL had completed its enquiry to examine publications authored by Professor Hans Eysenck with Professor Ronald Grossarth-Maticek. Professor Byrne said that KCL had contacted the University of Heidelberg where Professor Grossarth-Maticek is associated. Professor Byrne confirmed that the enquiry had found “a number of papers” to be questionable and that KCL would be writing to the editors of the relevant journals to inform them. I requested a copy of the enquiry report but heard nothing more until October 4th 2019 when I received the enquiry report dated ‘May 2019’.
The reason for the 4-month delay is unclear.
According to the enquiry report, the Principal had asked the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) to set up a committee to examine publications authored by Professor Hans Eysenck with Professor Ronald Grossarth-Maticek.
Why only the publications co-authored with Grossarth-Maticek? The reason for this limitation in the scope of the enquiry is not given.
The enquiry committee expressed its concerns about the Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek papers in the following terms:
“The concerns are based on two issues. First, the validity of the datasets, in terms of recruitment of participants, administration of measures, reliability of outcome ascertainment, biases in data collection, absence of relevant covariates, and selection of cases analysed in each article. Second, the implausibility of the results presented, many of which show effect sizes virtually unknown in medical science. For example, the relative risk of dying of cancer for individuals with ‘cancer-prone’ personality compared with healthy personality was over 100, while the risk of cancer mortality was reduced 80% by bibliotherapy. These findings are incompatible with modern clinical science and the understanding of disease processes.”
“The Committee shared the concerns made by the critics of this body of work. We have come to the conclusion that we consider the published results of studies that included the results of the analyses of data collected as part of the intervention or observational studies to be unsafe and that the editors of the journals should be informed of our decision. We have highlighted 26 papers (Appendix 1) which were published in 11 journals which are still in existence.”
SHIFTING THE BLAME
As noted, the KCL enquiry was based on the publications Eysenck co-authored with Ronald Grossarth-Maticek. Was this a manoeuvre designed to try and shift the blame away from Eysenck towards Grossarth-Maticek?
If so, it failed.
Any implication that Eysenck was a hapless victim of a dishonest act of data manipulation by Grossarth-Maticek is inconsistent with the evidence. After all, a large subset of 36 single-authored publications by the great man himself were based, partly or entirely, on the same body of research data as the co-authored publications.
There are so many publications both with and without his collaborator. Many of these publications cover exactly the same material. Multiple publication of the same material is definitely not part of the normally recognised process of academic publication.
There is indubitable evidence in Eysenck’s multiple publications of the Questionable Writing Practice of self-plagiarism.
OTHER EXAMPLES OF EYSENCK’S FRAUD
The KCL enquiry failed to identify the full extent of Eysenck’s fraud. Its enquiry must be extended to examine the ‘safety’ of Eysenck’s 36 bogus single-authored publications. It should also examine Eysenck’s multiple publications covering the same ground for evidence of self-plagiarism.
On no less than 20 co-authored papers. Grossarth-Maticek was falsely shown as being affiliated to the Institute of Psychiatry This fraud can be laid squarely at Eysenck’s door. Grossarth-Maticek could not have asserted this false affiliation without the deliberate connivance of Eysenck.
Recent personal communications with Ronald Grossarth-Maticek indicate that Grossarth-Maticek does not have even a minimal command of English. It can be reasonably assumed that Grossarth-Maticek was 100% reliant on Eysenck to produce the English language versions of the 25 unsafe papers.
TOTAL BODY OF BOGUS WORK MUST BE CONSIDERED
In total, Eysenck was responsible for no less than 61 publications using the bogus data sets. This total body of 61 publications includes more than 40 peer-reviewed journal articles, 10 book chapters and two books, each in three editions.
The proper thing for editors and publishers is to retract all 61 publications.
To quote James Heathers: “Eysenck would eclipse Diederik Stapel (58) as the most retracted psychologist in history, a scarcely believable legacy for someone who was at one time the most cited psychologist on the planet” (Heathers, 2019).
INABILITY TO PROPERLY INVESTIGATE FRAUD INSIDE ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS
There are strong reasons to doubt the capability of KCL and other academic institutions to properly and fully investigate academic misconduct because of the obvious conflict of interest. In a previous case when I brought a complaint of academic misconduct to KCL, the institution failed to follow its procedures for investigating the complaint. In the Eysenck case, it has investigated less than half of the publications pertaining to the complaint.
All of which leads one to conclude that there is an urgent need to establish a National Research Integrity Ombudsperson to investigate allegations of academic misconduct.
The need for an independent UK body to promote good governance, management and conduct of academic, scientific and medical research could never be stronger than in the present situation. The Eysenck affair requires the full attention of the institutions that govern scientific practice.
The only professional body for psychologists, the British Psychological Society, washed its hands of the problem by passing the entire responsibility to KCL.
This is not an issue about a single individual’s alleged misconduct, or a single institution, it is about the integrity of science. Without a genuine ability to assure governance, quality and integrity, science is a failure unto to itself, to reason and to ethics.
As James Heathers points out:
the question is, does anybody have the will to do anything about it?
We discuss here the chequered history of the claims by Psychologists and others about the links between personality and illness, particularly heart disease and cancer. The research has been marred by dirty money and allegations of fraud.
Speculation about ‘Type A’ and ‘Type B’ personalities and coronary heart disease (CHD) has existed for at least 70 years. The distinction between the two personalities was introduced in the mid-1950s by the cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman (1974) Type A behavior and your heart. Their ideas can be traced to Franz Alexander one of the ‘fathers’ of psychosomatic medicine.
The Type A personality is described this: highly competitive and achievement oriented, not prepared to suffer fools gladly, always in a hurry and unable to bear delays and queues, hostile and aggressive, inclined to read, eat and drive very fast, and constantly thinking what to do next, even when supposedly listening to someone else. Type A was thought to be at greater risk of CHD,
The Type B personality is: relaxed, laid back, lethargic, even- tempered, amiable and philosophical about life, relatively slow in speech and action, and generally has enough time for everyone and everything.
The Type A personality is similar to Galen’s choleric temperament, and Type B with the phlegmatic. It is well known that men are at greater risk of CHD than women.
The key pioneering study of Type A personality and CHD was the Western Collaborative Group Study (WCGS). Over 3,000 Californian men, aged from 39 to 59, were followed up initially over a period of eight-and-a-half years, and later extending to 22 years plus. At the eight-and-a-half-year follow-up, Type As were twice as likely compared with Type Bs to suffer from subsequent CHD. 7% developed some signs of CHD and two-thirds of these were Type As. This increased risk was there even when other risk factors, such as blood pressure and cigarette smoking, were statistically controlled.
Similar results were obtained in another large-scale study in Framingham, Massachusetts. This time the sample contained both men and women. By the early 1980s, it was confidently asserted that Type A characteristics were as much a risk factor for heart disease as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and even smoking.
Failure to Replicate
Later research failed to support these early findings. When Ragland and Brand (1988) conducted a 22-year follow-up of the WCGS, using CHD mortality as the crucially important measure, they failed to find any consistent evidence of an association.
Further research continued up to the late 1980s, yielding few positive findings. Reviewing this evidence, Myrtek (2001) suggests that the modest number of positive findings that did exist were the result of over-reliance on angina as the measure of CHD. Considering studies that adopted hard criteria, including mortality, Myrtek concludes that Type A personality is not a risk factor for CHD.
Enter the Tobacco Industry
With such disappointing results, why did Type A obtain so much publicity over more than 40 years? The reason is in part connected with the involvement of the US tobacco industry.
Mark Petticrew et al. (2012) analysed material lodged at the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. This is a vast collection of documents that the companies were obliged to make public following litigation in 1998. These documents show that, for over 40 years from the 1950s, the industry heavily funded research into links between personality, CHD and cancer. The industry was hoping to demonstrate that personality variables were associated with cigarette smoking.
Any such links would undermine the alleged causal links between smoking and disease. Thus, for example, if it could be shown that Type A personalities were both more likely to smoke than Type Bs, and more likely to develop CHD, then it could be argued that smoking might be just an innocent background variable.
The Philip Morris company funded Meyer Friedman, the originator of Type A research, for the Meyer Friedman Institute. The research aimed to show that Type A personalities could be changed by interventions, thereby presumably reducing proneness to CHD even if they continued to smoke.
Petticrew et al. show that, while most Type A–CHD studies were not funded by the tobacco industry, most of the positive results were tobacco-funded. As has been pointed out in many areas of science, positive findings invariably get a great deal more publicity than negative findings and rebuttals.
Hans J Eysenck
The late H J Eysenck was one of the most controversial psychologists who ever lived. Generations of UK psychology students had to study his books as gospel.
The German-born, British psychologist worked at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London. He did a PhD under Sir Cyril Burt who was proved to have fabricated researchers and data to support his eugenic theory of intelligence. (Kamin, 1974, The science and politics of IQ).
Eysenck used the tobacco industry as a source of funding for his research on psychological theories of personality. According to Pringle (1996), Eysenck received nearly £800,000 to support his research on personality and cancer. Eysenck’s results were a spectacular exception to the general run of negative findings in this field. Eysenck (1988) claimed that personality variables are much more strongly related to death from cancer than even cigarette smoking.
One of my lecturers while I was an undergraduate had worked for Eysenck as a research assistant for a year. It had seemed clear to him that data massaging was required before placing Eysenck’s studies into publication. Data manipulation or even worse, outright fraud, has surfaced in a major re-analysis of Eysenck’s work on tobacco and personality.
Two of Eysenck’s papers, with Ronald Grossarth-Maticek (pictured above), based in Crvenka, Serbia, claimed to have identified personality types that increase the risk of cancer by about 120 times and heart disease by about 25 times (Grossarth-Maticek and Eysenck, 1991; Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek, 1991). They also claimed to have tested a new method of psychological treatment that could reduce the death rate for disease prone personalities over the next 13 years from 80% to 32%. These claims are too good to be true.
These extraordinary claims were not received favourably by others in this field. Fox (1988) dismissed earlier reports by Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek as ‘simply unbelievable’ and the 1991 papers were subjected to devastating critiques by Pelosi and Appleby (1992, 1993) and Amelang, Schmidt-Rathjens and Matthews (1996). The ‘cancer prone personality’ was not clearly described and seems to have been an odd amalgam of emotional distance and excessive dependence.
A Case of Fraud?
After pointing out a large number of errors, omissions, obscurities and implausible data, in a manner reminiscent of Leon Kamin’s analysis of Burt’s twin IQ data, Pelosi and Appleby comment:
It is unfortunate that Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek omit the most basic information that might explain why their findings are so different from all the others in this field. The methods are either not given or are described so generally that they remain obscure on even the most important points . . . Also essential details are missing from the results, and the analyses used are often inappropriate.
(Pelosi and Appleby, 1992: 1297).
They never used the word “fraud”. They didn’t need to. For an update of this story, see this post