Letters

On our convention coverage

THE NOVEMBER issue reported on the talk by Dr. Thomas Coates of the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, who underlined important contributions psychology can make to the war against AIDS. May I add another item to the list? Evidence from across the United States, conducted with a variety of data sources and methods, documents the spread of HIV in a population of special concern to psychologists: people with serious mental illness. Psychologists working with these patients can play a role in identifying and modifying risk behavior, supporting healthy lifestyles, and working to overcome barriers to appropriate medical care and social service support.

In an era when access to highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) can make the difference between life and death, we can increase access to HAART by addressing physician concerns that people with mental illness are incapable of adequate adherence. We need to document evidence of adequate adherence when it exists, explore how it is achieved, and devise psychological interventions needed to improve adherence when it is inadequate. We must also insist that assessment of a person's ability to adhere to HAART must be based on evidence and proper individualized assessment, not on stereotypes of mental illness.

JAMES WALKUP, PHD
Rutgers University

DESPITE THE COVER OF THE November Monitor, which portrays a diverse image of the Annual Convention, I was disappointed to find that there was little representation of diversity in the articles presented. Near the front, on page 15, there is a snapshot of Jesse Jackson Jr. Then on page 52, there is a snap of three or four African-American sailors. On page 54, there is a picture of Norman Anderson, our new chief executive officer. However, of all the articles and items in this issue, there are no people of color included. This is not acceptable.

NORMAN PHILLION, PHD
Purdue University

I HAVE BEEN AN APA MEMBER for more than 50 years and still read APA publications, including the Monitor. Generally, the style, format and readability are great. I do have one concern, though. Some articles have no real support from psychological research. For example, the coverage of Malcolm Gladwell's talk at convention presents some important psychological conclusions about intelligence, measurement and application to personnel selection. He gave no data to support his observations beyond saying that NFL leaders do a terrible job of selecting quarterbacks. What is the evidence for that?

It may well be that the staff writer agreed with his observations, but that should not be the criterion for inclusion in an APA publication. You may respond that the writer was not endorsing Gladwell, but merely reporting on the talk. The tone of the report, its position in the Monitor and the lack of any suggestion that the conclusions are controversial (probably wrong, in my opinion) implies support.

EDMUND T. KLEMMER, PHD
Raleigh, N.C.

IN MAKING HIS CASE FOR the modern denial of human nature ("Dissolving myths about human nature," November Monitor), Steven Pinker singles out behavioral psychology as a purveyor of the blank-slate position and misrepresents its two most notable spokespersons, John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner. For example, [in his book] Pinker writes, "It's not just behaviorists and Stalinists who forgot that a denial of human nature may have costs in freedom and happiness." Elsewhere he refers to Skinner as "ever the Maoist," comparing Skinner's ideas to totalitarianism, fascism and torture.

Pinker also gets some facts wrong. For example, he writes that Skinner's first book, "The Behavior of Organisms," dealt only with rats and pigeons lever-pressing and key-pecking (the book did not report any experiments with pigeons). Pinker seems not to have read Skinner's statement that "In the broadest sense a science of behavior should be concerned with all kinds of organisms, but it is reasonable to limit oneself, at least in the beginning, to a single representative example." Pinker also dredges up clich├ęd caricatures about behaviorists: that they are only interested in overt behavior; that they starve animals to study them; that they discount the role of the brain in behavior. Such characterizations have been rebutted for so long that Pinker's scholarship is indefensible. Although such strategies might sell books, they do not serve objective science or psychology.

HENRY SCHLINGER, PHD
California State University, Northridge

RESPONSE FROM PINKER: As a former colleague of B.F. Skinner and a one-time behaviorist researcher, I believe that my portrayals are accurate. Watson advised mothers not to show affection to their children, a denial of human nature that most definitely had costs in happiness. Skinner asserted that freedom was an obsolete concept (the title of his 1971 bestseller was "Beyond Freedom and Dignity") and thus emphatically dismissed any costs to human freedom in his proposed utopia (he did not, of course, condone torture, but I never claimed he did).

If "The Behavior of Organisms" discussed one organism rather than two, that only strengthens my argument that Skinner ignored species differences; nor did he invoke brain research in any of his work. As for starving animals hungry to control their behavior, I did it myself when I worked in a behaviorist lab: maintaining rats or pigeons at 80 percent of their free-feeding weight was standard methodology.

Finally, I am surprised to hear it denied that behaviorists are "only interested in overt behavior." This is virtually a definition of behaviorism, proudly asserted in quotes such as, "We do not need to try to discover what personalities, states of mind, feelings, traits of character, plans, purposes, intentions or the other perquisites of autonomous man are in order to get on with a scientific analysis of behavior" ("Beyond Freedom and Dignity," pages 12 and 13).

STEVEN PINKER, PHD
Cambridge, Mass.

ACCORDING TO ARTICLES IN the November Monitor, Steven Pinker and Richard Miller raise doubts about "afterlife" and "paranormal occurrences." Perhaps both scholars would be interested in the evidence that is provided by psychologists who are exploring paranormal phenomena. Perhaps there is a middle ground between "science" and "belief": "experience."

References:

  • Radin, D. (1997). The conscious universe: The scientific truth of psychic phenomena. San Francisco: HarperEdge.

  • Schwartz, G.E.R., & Russek, L.G.S. (1999). The living energy universe. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads.

  • Schwartz, G.E.R., (2001). The afterlife experiments. New York: Pocketbooks.

  • Cardona, E., Lynn, S.J., & Krippner, S. (2000). Varieties of anomalous experience: Examining the scientific evidence. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books.

R. LEO SPRINKLE, PHD
Laramie, Wyo.

THE NOVEMBER ARTICLE, "Reducing student belief in the paranormal" triggered one of my greatest dissatisfactions with our profession. The title assumes that a belief in the paranormal must be confronted as scientifically unsupportable. Similar approaches in psychology often exist with other areas such as religion.

It is just this approach that, I believe, allows many to simply discount psychology as insignificant when it constantly confronts what is accepted by a majority of people. Until psychology develops the ability to challenge commonly held viewpoints without appearing elitist or arrogant, it is the belief in psychology that will suffer, not the belief in the paranormal or religion. It is wise to discover why a wall was constructed before it is torn down.

ELIOT (TIM) FARIS, PHD
Memphis, Tenn.

I FOUND THE NOVEMBER ISSUE extremely interesting and informative, particularly the articles on mind-control and cults. I think it is very important that we as psychologists get involved in and study this complex area of human behavior.

I was, however, puzzled by your inclusion of two articles that seemed to me to be disrespecting the whole area of spirituality and the "paranormal." I am not a religious person, in fact probably at least agnostic if not a total nonbeliever, yet I see the great benefit to many people in having spiritual or religious supports. In fact, you also include in this same issue Dean Ornish's article on such benefits and also include other information related to such benefits on your Web site. I have no problem with a presentation or debate on this issue, but training students not to have beliefs because they aren't "logical" or scientific sounds to me like a kind of mind control. At least it is a closed mindedness.

VIVIEN WOLSK, PHD
New York, N.Y.

Stress among American-Muslims

THE OCTOBER MONITOR ARTICLE on outreach services to Muslims and Jews in the Middle East was quite interesting. In addition to the stressors encountered in the Middle East, American-Muslims face new and unique stressors here. Today, American-Muslims often face stereotyping, discrimination, and the antithesis of freedom of religion, speech and assembly. American-Muslims may be the newest mistreated minority.

How can psychologists here provide outreach services? Some American-Muslims find it difficult to access and take advantage of psychological services. Some American-Muslims view mental illness as a weakness of faith. I have found, in developing referral relationships with physicians who happen to be Muslim, that there is a recognized need for these services and some of the physicians are willing to facilitate referrals and relationship building.

Informative, free stress-management presentations and workshops provide opportunities to develop trust and assist this minority. What are psychologists willing, and ethically responsible, to do to assist American-Muslims?

CHRIS L. POULSON, PSYD
Garland, Texas

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