The Dubious Ethics of ‘Nudging’ the Public to Comply With Covid Restrictions

We’re publishing an original piece today by Dr Gary Sidley, a retired NHS Consultant Clinical Psychologist, about the ethics of ‘nudging’ the public to comply with Covid restrictions. Dr Sidley was the organiser of a letter signed by dozens of psychologists and therapists and sent to the British Psychological Association in January that raised ethical concerns about the Government’s use of covert psychological techniques to secure behavioural change. He has now heard back from the Chair of the Ethics Committee at the BPS and, needless to say, he dismisses all of the concerns. Here is an extract from Dr Sidley’s article:

The British Psychological Society (BPS) is the leading professional body for psychologists in the U.K. According to their website, a central role of the BPS is: “To promote excellence and ethical practice in the science, education and application of the discipline.” In light of this remit, I – together with 46 other psychologists and therapists – wrote a letter to the BPS on January 6th, 2021, expressing our ethical concerns about the use of covert psychological strategies as a means of securing compliance with Covid restrictions. In particular, our alarm centred on three areas: the recommendation of ‘nudges’ that exploit heightened emotional discomfort as a means of securing compliance; implementing potent covert psychological strategies without any effort to gain the informed consent of the British public; and harnessing these interventions for the purpose of achieving adherence to contentious and unevidenced restrictions that infringe basic human rights.

Responses from the BPS to our initial letter were slow and circuitous. However, on July 1st we received an email from Dr. Roger Paxton, the Chair of the Ethics Committee, which clarified the BPS’s position: in the Committee’s view, there is nothing ethically questionable about deploying covert psychological strategies on the British people as a means of increasing compliance with public health restrictions.

An in-depth inspection of Dr. Paxton’s defence of the BPS reveals that it is evasive, disingenuous and wholly unconvincing.

Worth reading in full.

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