Calls for British Psychological Society to conduct full investigation into Hans Eysenck research misconduct claims

Professor Hans Eysenck was a giant in the world of psychology - the most frequently cited living psychologist at the time of his death in 1997. But in 2019, a King’s College London inquiry concluded that 26 of Eysenck’s research papers with Ronald Grossarth-Maticek were ‘unsafe.’

Now, a new paper in the Journal of Health Psychology urges the British Psychological Society (BPS) to reinvestigate the 1995 complaint it received from Glasgow psychiatrist, Tony Pelosi. This drew attention to Eysenck’s research into the links between personality and the causes, prevention and treatment of cancer and heart disease.

The paper’s authors, Russell Craig, Tony Pelosi and Dennis Tourish , criticise the BPS’s decision not to refer the complaint to a full disciplinary hearing.

In examining how the BPS handled the complaint using archival records of its Investigatory Committee in July and August, 1995, they highlight how professional societies can be caught in a bind between preserving the reputation of their field and its integrity.

The paper argues that image-management concerns prevailed in 1995 and calls on the BPS to carry out a full and fresh investigation to remove any doubts as to its integrity and discharge its duty to the public.

The authors also back calls for the establishment of an independent National Research Integrity Ombudsperson to deal more effectively with allegations of research misconduct.

The complaint

Pelosi drew attention to numerous concerns in peer-reviewed articles about Eysenck’s work, including claims of some data manipulation. He cited statements by Bernard Fox, the [then] leading authority in biopsychosocial cancer epidemiology, that the reported results were “simply unbelievable.’ This view was prompted by a conclusion that people with a “cancer-prone? personality type were 121 times more likely to die from a cancer than people with a healthy personality.

Pelosi’s complaint also mentioned deficiencies in a clinical experiment in which 41 people with malignant hypertension, and described as “stressed but healthy,’ were included in a randomised trial. However, the reported clinical features of these subjects clearly indicated they were far from healthy, and at imminent risk of stroke, heart failure and kidney failure.

Dennis Tourish, Professor of Leadership and Organisation Studies at the University of Sussex Business School , said: “Professional associations should thoroughly and transparently investigate complaints they receive alleging research misconduct against members. They should do so in a way that prioritises integrity over reputation.

“The research propriety and reliability of Eysenck’s research on the links between personality and fatal diseases should be thoroughly investigated.

“Specifically, the BPS should reconsider the substance of Pelosi’s 1995 complaint in a way that accords with best ethical practice.’

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By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Friday, 13 November 2020

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