Preserving Scientific Integrity While Helping Other Social Psychologists Without Partisanship
17.05.2018, by Tina Keil in opinion
by Masi Noor, Keele University and Yasemin Gülsüm Acar, Özyeğin University
Repression of academics currently pervades across several countries in the world. One recent example is Turkey. Its government has been filing lawsuits against its scholars for signing a peace petition1 to seek a peaceful end to the violent conflict in the Kurdish region. As a result, many have lost their academic positions, while others have quit their jobs because the situation has become unbearably oppressive2. Of course, there are many other contexts in which academics are facing similar oppression and danger, and consequently are prevented from professing what they have been trained for and love—namely, pursuing scientific research. The situation raises the question of how scientific societies and associations, such as the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP), ought to respond to these challenging situations.
Clearly, as an association, we cannot look away from the tragedies our fellow colleagues are enduring elsewhere. Beyond the individual and collective motivation that compels us to offer moral and material support, we have to recognise that it is the diverse voices in Europe and beyond that contribute to the growth of social psychology. We must consider that it is through this kind of support that they are able to continue their contributions.
On the other hand, as EASP members we all have a duty to uphold the Association’s high principles for non-partisanship and non-bias, be they political or otherwise. Therefore, it is possible that supporting scholars in contexts of oppression can be viewed as potentially threatening or at least as compromising these principles. Such views must not be dismissed and ought to be taken very seriously, as they contain important concerns with implications for us as social psychologists and our Association in general. At the heart of these concerns is the perceived incompatibility of two goals, namely: between the urgent need to support scholars in contexts of political oppression on the one hand and the scientific association’s prized principles of impartiality and non-partisanship on the other hand. But are these goals inherently irreconcilable?
According to EASP’s constitution, two of its overarching objects are to promote and develop empirical and theoretical Social Psychology. To meet these objects, annually the EASP provides junior and senior scholars from around the world with support and funds to enable them to organise and attend conferences and summer schools, to visit labs to strike new research collaboration, etc. Such support structures facilitate scientific activities and are crucial for ensuring the maintenance and growth of the science of social psychology. In light of the current debate, such support poses no threat to the scientific integrity of the Association, because it consolidates its very core by supporting the pursuit of scientific research in social psychology.
Given this, we propose that extending support to scholars who have been prevented from working and producing invaluable research due to regional political oppression is also consistent with the Association’s objects of promoting and developing scholarships. If anything, our support to enable these scholars to continue with their research careers, in the face of threat and adversity, must be intensified. Other societies (e.g., the International Society of Political Psychology) have already begun to realise this and have set up a fund to support, for example, scholars in Turkey.
But the hard truth is that the adverse conditions for the scholars in Turkey will remain for quite some time and therefore require sustained and increased attention and support from many more associations. Equally true is the fact that scholars in Turkey are not the only ones who are prevented from making their scientific contributions to social psychology because of geo-political instability. Many other scholars across the globe are facing a very similar hardship of not being able to conduct their scholarly research and therefore being deprived of the very professional identity that connects them to the EASP.
Thus we hope that the EASP might soon join other societies by supporting academics trapped in contexts of political volatility so that they are enabled to continue to contribute to social psychological theory and research. Such support does not constitute partisanship. Rather, we think it would be a very timely move for the Association to set up an international hardship fund that enables scholars in Turkey and beyond, which in fact would be consistent with the EASP’s scientific and compassionate mission.