Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


Deception in Social Psychological Research: A Reply to Johnson
Donald L. Koteskey 
Department of Psychology 
Asbury College Wilmore, Kentucky 40390

From: JASA 32 (March1980): 64.

In the Journal ASA, September 1979, David E. Johnson criticized an earlier article of mine which appeared in the Journal ASA, March 1979. 1 would like to reply to his criticisms. First, I should point out that my original article was directed toward all of psychology, not just toward social psychology. Johnson seemed to be reacting basically toward paragraphs two and three of my article. Now let us consider his six criticisms.

1. Although the original purpose of deception was to produce a "real world" situation, it has not worked. Too large a percentage of the subjects are suspicious in our experiments and we are not that suspicious in real life Although we may not be aware of the motives of persons in she world around us, we do not walk around all she time in the real world suspicious of others if we do, we are soon classified as paranoid and given treatment.

2. I did not characterize anyone as "a devious individual who sits in his laboratory constantly developing techniques to be used in doping unsuspecting subjects." I said, "some authors even discuss ways of improving deception" and that we should do other things "rather than spending our time rationalizing our use of deception and creating more elaborate schemes of deception."

3. Although Johnson accuses me of being outdated, I was the one who pointed out that "most 'counts' of the frequency of deception were made in the late 1960s." I did not make any recent counts myself, but cited Stang, a social psychologist, who said in 1976 that suspicion is becoming more widespread. I hope that deception is becoming less widespread, but even if it is, the damage it has done is still with us.

4. 1 said "Although the evidence is conflicting,..." when introducing the material reacted to in Johnson's fourth criticism. I would hardly characterize that as leaving the reader with incomplete information. I was writing a brief Communication to present a position on an issue, not a complete article to present all the evidence. Such an article would go far beyond a "communication." Thus. I merely mentioned that evidence was conflicting. While Johnson has found no difference between suspicious and unsuspicious subjects, Stocker, Messick and Jackson did find a difference as I said, the evidence is conflicting.

5. My paragraph on "troth" was misread. I was citing Seeman who said that deception was not a means to truth. My position is that deception is not a legitimate means to truth for us as Christians. I believe that this holds for any kind of "troth."

6. I see no ethical problem in doing such things as naturalistic observation. Anyone who appears in public most be aware that others see them and may be watching what they do. I do not believe that you have to get informed consent to observe a person although you would if you manipulate him or her in any way. I watch people all the time and do not believe that I have to inform them that 1 am looking at them that is assumed.

Finally, nowhere did I "totally dismiss the findings of research because deception was used." The thesis of my article was that we should not engage in research which uses deception, not that we should ignore what others have done. Journal ASA readers should read both Johnson's article and my article because he presented my position inaccurately. Although he says that he is "not advocating that Christian psychologists adopt deception I would characterize Johnson's article as one of those written while "rationalizing the use of deception." to use the words of my article. Again, I would say that we need to spend our time developing better methods.