Book's revelations about CIA's use of Penn professor's work intensify debate over how social scientists should help (and not help) interrogations

Historians in the News

Many anthropologists were horrified in 2006, when Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker explored how the work of the late cultural anthropologist Raphael Patai — in particular The Arab Mind — was used by the military officials who set up Abu Ghraib and the humiliations that took place there. By reading about sexual taboos that Patai studied, some in the military were able to come up with what they viewed as ideal ways to dehumanize prisoners. The article was much discussed among anthropologists who ever since have pushed for tighter ethics rules on scholars who work with the military or intelligence agencies.

Two years later, another New Yorker writer, Jane Mayer, has a book out that is shaking up another social science discipline. This time the researcher whose work may have been used (without his permission) to help with torture is very much alive and very prominent in his field — Martin E.P. Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania. In The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War of Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, just published by Doubleday, Mayer writes that key planners of the American interrogation approaches many view as torture were based in part on Seligman’s theories. In addition, Mayer relates the adaption of these theories in part to a talk Seligman gave in 2002 to a Navy group that was organized in part by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Seligman notes that the book also makes clear that his talk was not about how to interrogate prisoners, and he says he never helped the CIA or anyone engage in torture. But in an e-mail interview, Seligman also defended his participation in the 2002 event, and rejected the idea that social scientists need to keep an arm’s length from certain government agencies at a time that they are being linked to torture. “All Americans must be prepared to help our nation in time of need. Scientists need to be vigilant for illegal misuse of their work. I was vigilant then and would be vigilant now,” he said....
Read entire article at Scott Jaschik at the website of Inside Higher Ed

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