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Resolving Ethical Issues: Misuse of Psychologists’ Work

Resolving Ethical Issues: Misuse of Psychologists’ Work

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.

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