If psychologists learn of misuse or misrepresentation of their work, they take reasonable steps to
correct or minimize the misuse or misrepresentation.
Psychologists have professional and scientific responsibilities to society and to
the specific individuals, organizations, and communities with whom they work to
ensure that their work products are not misused or misrepresented. Psychologists
cannot reasonably be expected to anticipate all the ways in which their work can
be wrongly used. Thus, Standard 1.01 of the APA Ethics Code (APA, 2010c)
focuses on corrective action that must be taken when psychologists learn that
others have misused or misrepresented their work. To remedy misuse, psychologists
can write letters to or speak with interested parties, request retraction of
misrepresentations, or discuss with appropriate persons the corrective measures
to be taken.
A school psychologist completed a report summarizing her assessment of a child
whose test results did not meet diagnostic criteria for serious emotional disturbance.
Several days later, she learned that the principal of her school had forwarded to the
superintendent of schools only those parts of the assessment report that supported
the principal’s desire to fill a special education quota by classifying the student as
having a serious emotional disturbance. The psychologist asked the principal to send
the entire report, explaining the ethical issues involved (Standard 1.03, Conflict
Between Ethics and Organizational Demands).
The phrase “reasonable steps” in Standard 1.01 recognizes that despite their
best efforts in some instances, psychologists may not be in a position to ensure
that their requests to correct misuse are followed. For example, if the research
psychologist whose work had been misrepresented did not have access to the
listserv and if the group refused requests for retraction, short of a civil suit, the
psychologist would have few corrective options. In other instances, it may not be
possible or appropriate to actively seek a correction. For example, during a trial,
attorneys may phrase questions that, by their nature, distort or otherwise lead to
misrepresentation of a psychologist’s testimony. In such instances, it is ethically
appropriate for psychologists at the time of their testimony to (a) rely on existing
corrective mechanisms (i.e., asking the judge to permit the psychologist to provide
clarification; responding as fully as possible to a related question during
cross-examination) or (b) refrain from corrective actions when an attempt to
remedy the misrepresentation would violate the rules of the court or the legal
rights of a complainant or defendant (see Standard 2.01f, Boundaries of
Competence). Psychologists should always document the corrective efforts made
to remedy known misuse or misrepresentations.
A research psychologist learned that a special interest group had sent a listserv mailing
for financial contributions that misquoted and misrepresented the psychologist’s
writings as supporting the group’s cause. The psychologist contacted the group and
asked it to cease sending this e-mail to other potential contributors and to e-mail a
correction to the listserv recipients.
A health psychologist who had developed a commercially marketed instrument for
assessing environmental and psychosocial risks for children diagnosed with asthma
discovered that the company responsible for test scoring had miskeyed some of the
items. The psychologist contacted the company and requested that it (a) immediately
correct the error for future use, (b) rescore tests that had been subject to the miskeying,
and (c) send practitioners who had used the scoring service the rescored test
results with a letter of explanation.