If I value transparency, it is a good idea for me to practice it. So, in the interest of transparency and self-disclosure of my perspective (or potential bias), it is important that readers know upfront that I resigned from APA in 2008 over changes APA had been making in its approach to ethics.
The Hoffman Report discusses these changes. I wrote that “I respectfully disagree with these changes; I am skeptical that they will work as intended; and I believe that they may lead to far-reaching unintended consequences.”
Both my letter of resignation online and my articles and chapters (Pope, 2011a, 2011b, 2014; Pope & Gutheil, 2009) present my beliefs along with the evidence and reasoning that in my opinion support them.
In 2014, the American Psychological Association (APA) made a monumental move toward more transparency. The organization took a courageous step unthinkable at any time in its 121 year history: It opened up to a former federal prosecutor, giving him access to all documents and personnel.
APA hired David Hoffman and his colleagues at Sidley Austin LLP to conduct “thorough” and “definitive” investigation to document “what happened and why” (Hoffman et al., 2015, p. 1).
The Hoffman Report set off an ethical earthquake.
The investigation uncovered emails and other documents containing linguistic tricks that mislead and manipulate, logical fallacies in ethical reasoning, biased ethical judgment, hypocrisy and creative cheating that this book’s five chapters focusing on critical thinking in ethics prepare us to recognize and avoid.
These uncovered documents confront us with the challenge of change. The challenge brings questions. What changes, if any, need to occur in ourselves as individuals, in APA as an organization and in the larger professional community?
What internal and external forces, if any, will block, weaken, delay, or divert needed change?
How, if at all, can we respond effectively to forces that resist needed change? How do we assess whether apparent change is real and meaningful?
None of these questions comes with a simple answer we will all agree with. All come wrapped in complex puzzles of practicality, politics and fundamental values. None of the questions allows us easy escape.
How we answer them—or fail to answer them—will determine whether we bring about needed change. This article takes a look at the questions and challenges that the Hoffman Report has brought to our doorstep.
What Does the Hoffman Report Have To Do With Each of Us As An Individual APA Leader, Member, or Outsider?
What does the Report have to do with us? Our shared human tendency when scandal explodes is to blame bad apples: “It’s their fault! Maybe we made some well-intentioned mistakes, which we regret, but if you’re looking for the real cause of this mess, it’s them, not us.”).
Bad apples come in three varieties: personnel, policie, and procedures. We toss the bad apples, find shiny new replacements and think we’ve fixed the problem.
Countless organizations make personnel moves (transfers, terminations, retirements that are forced or induced by hefty payments and so on), vote to amend or replace policies and create committees to cancel some procedures and issue new guidelines, finding only later that they’ve achieved little beyond good public relations and the illusion of needed change.
Or we can head into discrediting mode:
“We chose the person we believed best suited to give us the definitive account of what happened, but he delivered a flawed report that is nowhere near definitive. He uncovered some damaging facts but we must bear in mind that he’s not a psychologist. He did the best he could without understanding our profession, our organization, our history, our culture, or the way we do things. He made questionable assumptions and got some key things wrong. After all, it’s just one outsider’s opinion.”
Answering the question “What does this have to do with us?” requires us to move beyond our human tendency to deny, discredit or dismiss what we do not want to know or be known.
We may find that harder than usual in this case. The Hoffman Report documents years of improper behavior. But it also documents that, for years, APA as an organization and some APA defenders denied, discredited, or dismissed revelations of this improper behavior as they appeared in newspapers, professional journals, books, reports from human rights organizations and other media.
Changing habitual behavior that has settled into a familiar routine is rarely easy for any of us.
Moving beyond our shared tendency to shield ourselves from unwanted information and personal responsibility allows each of us to learn what the report has to do with us as an individual.
If we can summons the courage and resolve to look without squinting or flinching away, the Hoffman Report can serve as an ethical mirror. When we take the time to read it in its entirety and deep detail, the report teaches us something about ourselves and helps us take a personal ethics inventory.
When we take time to read the detailed report, we begin to see the complex relationship between what we did or failed to do and the events that the report documents. When we take time to read the report, it points the way to effective change, in ourselves and in our profession.
If we set it aside unread or settle for second-hand summaries, we turn the ethics mirror to the wall and imagine a more personally flattering picture.