(The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Department of Psychology)
March 2, 1987
Ms. Dorothy Thomas
Office of Social and Ethical Responsibility
American Psychological Association
1200 Seventeenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Ms. Thomas:
Enclosed please find my review of the Task Force Report you sent to me for my reaction.
I hope that you find my response helpful to you in your deliberations. Please don't fail to contact me if I can be of further help.
Jeffrey D. Fisher, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Review of "Report of the Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect
Techniques of Persuasion and Control"
task force is faced with an extremely difficult task - making
recommendations in an area where no good, hard data exist. Instead,
they are forced to evaluate methodologically inadequate research as
well as anecdotal evidence fraught with problems such as
self-selection. Notwithstanding the difficulty of the task, it is my
opinion that the report does not represent the quality of work one
would expect of an A.P.A. task force. To this reader it seems to be
unscientific in tone, and biased in nature. It draws conclusions, which
in many cases do not mesh well with the evidence presented. At times,
the reasoning seems flawed to the point of being almost ridiculous. In
fact, the report sometimes seems to be characterized by the use of
deceptive, indirect techniques of persuasion and control - the very
thing it is investigating. Finally, while I am not familiar with the
areas of expertise of everyone on the task force, it seems to me that
at least one social psychologist who is an expert on social influence
(e.g., attitude formation and change, etc.), should have been included.
I will detail my specific reactions to the manuscript below.
In the abstract, it is unfair to cluster cults and LGATs together. Overall, the abstract states stronger conclusions than justified by the data presented in the paper.
On Page 3, end of Paragraph 1, the statement should be supported by data.
From Pages 6-8, much of the material under "Historical Background" reads more like hysterical ramblings than a scientific task force report.
On Page 9, the statement on cultic relationships (Line 5) being found in pseudo growth groups, etc. at this point seems to be an unsupported allegation. The type of dependency described could be found also in psychotherapy, doctor-patient relationships, and some parent-child relationships.
On the top of Page 10, there is no evidence that all 3,000 purported cultic groups in the U.S. have the effects ascribed to cultic groups in the paper. In general, the statements in this paragraph are very weakly supported.
On Page 12, Line 7, beginning with "Furthermore," the reasoning becomes absolutely some of the most polemical, ridiculous reasoning I’ve ever seen anywhere, much less in the context of an A.P.A. technical report. Not at all of the scholarly quality befitting A.P.A.
On Page 14, just because the authors define cult (totalist type) in a particular way doesn't make it so in practice. It would have to be determined empirically, in each case, whether a particular group qualifies as a cult.
The statement on Page 17, first full paragraph, is very important and should be stressed much more in drawing conclusions. The same with the final sentence in the paragraph.
On Page 18, the statement on Line 7 about the lawyer investigating Synanon is too silly to befit an A.P.A. task force report. While some of the data on this page is probably due to cults, couldn't some be explained by such factors as S.E.S., rather than cultic teachings?
The newspaper and magazine articles discussed on Page 19 are all anecdotal and self-selected. There is no research to back them up. What gets into the press is probably somewhat atypical.
On the last paragraph, Page 22, the counter cult network is probably somewhat biased.
General comment. In discussing the data, I just don't feel it's stressed enough that all one has to go on is flawed research, and anecdotal evidence.
On page 27, three lines from the bottom, the statement that a significant percentage of cultists is clearly harmed, some terribly so, is based on no data.
The material on the bottom of Page 28 and the top of Page 29 is probably true of psychologists, professors, psychiatrists, student-teacher relationships, etc. as well.
On Page 30, beginning with Line 3, I feel one needs to evaluate each supposed cult on a case by case basis, just like A.P.A. does with psychologists accused of violating ethical principles.
On Pages 32-34, the authors present one case in great detail, and use it to generalize (unfairly) to other alternative therapies. Again on Page 36, they use another anecdote that nobody would argue with.
On Page 40, first paragraph, the material is presented as true of all LGATs, but it is not.
The reasoning beginning with Line 7, (2), is flawed an [sic] unscientific.
On Page 50, it seems to me that the motives of people engaging in social influence are quite difficult to classify. Who's to say what constitutes exploitation?
On Page 53, Line 5, the statement about "horror stories" is not borne out by this report.
On Page 55, Line 2, I can think of many "mainstream" values which I disagree with - who's to say mainstream values are necessarily, correct, as assumed here.
On Page 57, first full paragraph, first sentence, it seems as if the authors are drawing conclusions before any well-done research has been completed.
On Page 60, Discussion, first sentence, based on my reading of the paper, I would not say harm has been demonstrated with any degree of scientific precision.
There is nothing on cults in the recommendation section, even though a good bit of the task force report is devoted to them. Why?
Page 61, first full paragraph, seems to involve a lot of emotional scare tactics, unrelated to the facts, but related to the self-interest of psychologists.
On Page 64, psychological techniques aren't the property of psychologists - the profession doesn't own them.