Stereotyping the enemy?

THE LETTERS BY Drs. Ward and Siegel ("The politics of terror," October Monitor) are chillingly ironic. In their critique of Dr. Staub's and Dr. Halpern's views on causes of prisoner abuse by Americans (July/August Monitor), Ward and Siegel wind up providing unfortunate examples of the very processes Staub and Halpern described. Among other things, Staub described the processes of stereotyping and overgeneralization in the formation of our attitudes about those imprisoned during wartime operations. Presumably without realizing it, Ward illustrates this process by equating the prisoners at Abu Ghraib with "the Arab terrorists who have repeatedly murdered...men, women and children."

In a similar way, Siegel conflates the prisoners with the terrorists responsible for "innocent people having their heads slowly cut off" and for trapping "people in the World Trade Center as flaming aviation fuel" burned them. However, the prisoners at Abu Ghraib (and Guantanamo) are not the same people who committed these horrific acts. A cursory reading of the reports of how prisoners were taken into custody reveals a process involving mass-arrests, presumed guilt-by-association and vengeance-taking by local rivals. Many of the detainees turn out to be either innocent altogether or guilty of minor crimes. That these people should be so easily confused with the terrorists who committed the atrocities described by Ward and Siegel, and treated accordingly by American captors, winds up humiliating not only them but us Americans as well.

Northbrook, Ill.

Clarification of clinical trial standards

WE APPLAUD THE APA Publications and Communications Board's recently announced (September Monitor) adoption of the Consolidated Standards of Reporting of Clinical Trials (CONSORT).While reduction in bias and overall improvement in the reporting of clinical trials have been shown to be effects of acceptance of CONSORT, a more immediate effect is that clinical trials become more transparent: open to critical analysis and independent evaluation of the quality of their data.

Undoubtedly, many researchers in psychology are still unfamiliar with CONSORT: There is bound to be confusion as to when and how these standards should be applied, as well as what it means to "meet the basic standards and principles" set forth by CONSORT. We are concerned that the statement in the Monitor may add to the confusion. Namely, it states that authors who call their clinical trial a "randomized clinical trial" (RCT) will be required to adhere to CONSORT. We hope that the inference is neither intended nor drawn by prospective authors that a lower standard will be applied to work that is not labeled as an RCT if the study is indeed a clinical trial.

If a title or abstract of a paper reporting a RCT does not explicitly state "randomized clinical trial," there is risk it will be lost in any initial search of the literature. We propose that if editors and reviewers recognize that a study reports a randomized clinical trial, they will require that authors label it as such and that they respond to the CONSORT checklist.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Desegregation in context

ANNE GALLETTA MIGHT SEEM by her attention to the negative responses of a few black students in advanced placement courses to endorse the view of "internal segregation" as the pervasive conduct of the high schools at Shaker Heights, Ohio ("Psychologist claims academic placement perpetuates racial segregation," September Monitor). She arrived at this conclusion based on interviews with 20 current (black) students at Shaker Heights High School. Although one can raise questions about the size of the sample on which the inferences were made, and, in general, the absence of a random sample of both black and white students who allegedly treated a few black students unfairly, there are much more disquieting concerns--a failure to consider the historical context.

In other words, what was most disconcerting in her study was her indifference to the culture of a community that modeled one of the first experimental programs of integrated education in the state. The concern for psychologists should not be to identify (just) the negative but to understand the community as a whole: the Shaker Heights culture--its ethos. In the absence of no referrals to psychological services from teachers or parents concerning atypical behavior, is it possible that the few complaints that Galletta noted may simply be byproducts of adolescents' (self) defensive behavior to a new socio-educational environment, during a critical period of their development and in the given spirit of the times--i.e., the zeitgeist associated with the new movement of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.?

Western Carolina University

An added point of emphasis

OUR CEO'S AGENDA FOR APA IS challenging and visionary, but there is an essential "point of emphasis" that Norman B. Anderson failed to include in his otherwise bold and sweeping blueprint for APA's journey into the future--a "point of emphasis" that is absolutely essential for his otherwise creative and dauntless navigation of APA in the years ahead. Dr. Anderson fails to consider explicitly the indispensable quest for membership satisfaction, benefits, aspirations and concurrence with the direction in which he is navigating the good ship APA. To what avail is the effort to deliver on his "points of emphasis," e.g., "increasing the influence of psychology in the world," "working to ensure that APA and psychology can meet the science and practice needs of a multicultural nation and world," and "helping psychology expand its role and capitalize on new opportunities," without a deep and wide-ranging effort to make members more satisfied with their organization, to forge an organization responsive to the lapses and grievances that members attribute to APA, to encourage members to be active in the affairs of the organization, and to discourage members from resigning from APA?

We fear that our energetic and creative CEO is succumbing to the politically correct urge to do good, while overlooking the politically incorrect compass of being attentive to members' self-interests. Unless the membership's self-interests are attended to, the CEO's well-intentioned altruistic sentiments will go over like a lead balloon. Help the members first and then, only then, help the rest of the world, and that applies as well to Dr. Anderson's fifth "point of emphasis," "Making APA an even better place to work." It's infinitely more important to make APA an association whose members are happy than to shape APA's employees into a gaggle of warm and fuzzy happy warriors.

It is with this backdrop, then, that the undersigned mafia of nettlesome gadflies importunes our CEO to add a sixth "point of emphasis" to his vision for improving and expanding APA's influence in the world and for broadening the job satisfaction for its employees: Making APA a better place for its members and molding APA into a responsive ear for member interests, suggestions, complaints and grievances. Without this sixth "point of emphasis" Dr. Anderson's five "points of emphasis" will--and should--die aborning.


Editors' note: Due to a system error, the publication of the above letter was delayed. It should have been published in the September issue.