Nudge Unit

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.

The Government’s Campaign of Fear

We’re publishing an original piece today by Dr James Moreton Wakeley, a former Parliamentary researcher, about the Government’s shameful use of behavioural science to terrify people into complying with its draconian lockdown edicts. James is involved in Time For Recovery, the group led by Jon Dobinson, which is launching a new campaign later this week to bring greater attention to the Government’s deliberate use of fear and the campaign’s disastrous consequences. One of these consequences is highlighted in HSJ today – NHS hospitals are unable to cope with the surge in admissions of children with mental health problems. Here’s an extract from James’s piece:

Manufacturing and stoking fear to influence behaviour is recognised as deeply unethical. The Covid campaign of fear flies in the face of the British Psychological Society’s Code of Ethics and Conduct, which is based in part on the values of respecting the patient and being honest with them. In January, 47 health professionals wrote to the British Psychological Society to express their concern at the way in which the Government has manipulated behavioural science to inculcate lockdown compliance. Other scientists and psychologists have written stinging polemics against the Government’s approach, grounded in the most cutting-edge research on the mind.

There is, however, tragically, now ample evidence of the impact of the campaign of fear that shows the concerns aren’t merely theoretical. The campaign of fear has caused nothing short of a wholly-avoidable physical and mental health crisis. In the first lockdown, over 6,000 people died at home from non-Covid diseases, being too scared to go to hospital. Visits to Accident & Emergency departments collapsed. Over 44,000 fewer people started cancer treatment than in the previous year, with 4.4 million fewer diagnostic tests being carried out: figures that cancer specialists like Professor Karol Sikora have linked to undue fear.

Demand for mental health support has sky-rocketed. An additional 27,000 adults sought support last year and it is now understood that one in six of 5-16 year olds have a mental health condition. The continuing and wholly un-justified face mask mandate in schools is likely to compound this, as well as leading to additional physical ailments. Overall, the Centre for Mental Health has warned that 20% of all adults and 15% of all children will need help dealing with conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder over the coming years.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The illustration accompanying this story is a poster Recovery is using to promote its latest campaign, but said poster has been banned by JC Decaux, the world’s largest poster company, because it supposedly contains “political undertones”. Needless to say, JC Decaux hasn’t refused to run any of the Government’s pro-lockdown propaganda. Guido has the story.