Subscribe via RSS Feed

People Skills

[ 60 ] February 17, 2013 |

Yale has a very exciting new deal with the Department of Defense:

As early as this April, Yale plans to welcome a training center for interrogators to its campus.

The center’s primary goal would be to coach U.S. Special Forces on interviewing tactics designed to detect lies. Charles Morgan III, a professor of psychiatry who will head the project, calls these tactics “people skills.” These techniques would be honed using New Haven’s immigrant community as subjects. Morgan hopes that by having soldiers practice their newly acquired techniques on “someone they can’t necessarily identify with” (read: someone who is not white), they’ll be better prepared to do ‘the real thing’ abroad.

Now we learn of Yale’s plans to train soldiers in “people skills” on our campus only two months before the center is scheduled to open. There was no conversation with the city about how this might impact its immigrant community. There was no conversation with students and faculty about how it might impact campus culture. And there was no conversation at all about the ethics of a project like this. It’s hard to understand where this project came from; the university’s motivations are wholly opaque.

Finally, Morgan’s research and, by extension, this proposed center target people of color — brown people exclusively. According to a Yale Herald article, Morgan listed “Moroccans, Columbians, Nepalese, Ecuadorians and others.” Is there an assumption in Morgan’s desire to use more ‘authentic,’ brown interviewees as test subjects, that brown people lie differently from whites — and even more insidiously, that all brown people must belong to the same “category” of liar?

How might training on lie detection be perceived if it targeted blacks, or if it aimed to answer the question, “How do Jews lie?” That Morgan’s test subjects are compensated does not resolve the ethical questions his project raises. In fact, their participation highlights the structural inequality that this research capitalizes on and that the center would ultimately exploit.

I’m real interested in knowing more about how “consent” for the subjects will be procured.

More general description of the program here.

Share with Sociable

Comments (60)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. efgoldman says:

    Where’s Kingman Brewster when we need him?

  2. Bill Murray says:

    the university’s motivations are wholly opaque.

    are the motivations likely to be too much more than money?

  3. Kal says:

    Would this center be a legitimate military target under the conventional interpretation of the laws of war? Training facilities generally are, no?

  4. isaiah says:

    I’m betting that the professor who is leading this research is sincere in his stated reason for using non-whites. It’s a reach to claim that the project implies that non-whites lie more, or differently, or whatever.

    Having said that, I don’t like the idea of this project at all, because I am not happy with the increased integration of academia and the military.

    • Jordan says:

      You are right, the project does not merely imply that. The project explicitly claims to investigate how brown people lie differently than white people do. So it does not merely imply anything: it is quite up front about it.

      • Slocum says:

        This was supposed to go here:

        First of all, its entirely possible that people from different cultures have different “tells” when lying (as well as ones common to all persons). Second, part of the idea is that the largely white and all American soldiers will not have a pre-existing cultural bond with the subjects, so they will learn not to rely on what they “know” (that is, what they think they know) about how people lie.

        Of course, universities should just tell the military to fucking shove off.

      • Jon Hendry says:

        “The project explicitly claims to investigate how brown people lie differently than white people do”

        Er, no. The point is that the white soldiers might interpret the responses (true of false) of the non-white people differently than they would interpret responses from white people.

        Like when Forrest Whitaker was falsely accused of shoplifting on the Upper West Side the other day, and frisked by a deli employee. The deli workers might have interpreted his responses and behavior differently had Whitaker not been a black man. They may have taken a white person’s responses at face value, but assumed a black man was not telling the truth.

    • DocAmazing says:

      I am not happy with the increased integration of academia and the military.

      This is not a New Thing. Yale in particular has been a hotbed of CIA recruitment and research since the founding of that agency. All through the Cold War, the military and intelligence services were funding research at a number of universities–Ramparts exposed a big case of that at University of Michigan, if I recall correctly–as well as funding a number of anthropological studies in Southeast Asia (Charles Murray of Bell Curve fame got his start at one such program). If the integration of the military (and intelligence) and academis waned at all, it was probably during the Carter years, and maybe a bit under Clinton–otherwise, soldiers and spooks have been right at home ‘midst the ivy.

      • DocAmazing says:

        And of course Lurker says what I meant to say, but sooner and more succinctly…

      • wjts says:

        Anthropology (at least in the U.S.) has had a long and checkered relationship with the military and intelligence communities. Sylvanus Morley is maybe the earliest example, using his archaeological work in Latin America as a cover for both sniffing out hypothesized German submarine bases and providing information on “anti-American” sentiments in the region that might threaten the interests of U.S. corporations (United Fruit, I’m looking in your direction). During World War II, ethnographers of various stripes provided the Army with information about local populations in the Pacific, North Africa, and Europe. (Several anthropologists, most notably Carleton Coon, were also recruited by the O.S.S. on the strength of their past experiences in parts of the world where the U.S. was then waging war.) You mentioned the work done by anthropologists in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, but something similar is still going on: the Human Terrain System program run by the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and Iraq (with an eye to expanding its operations to Africa and Latin America). The American Anthropological Association has condemned the project as an unethical use of anthropological knowledge, but according to Wikipedia, it currently operates 31 teams of 5-6 people with an annual budget of ~$150 million a year.

  5. Stag Party Palin says:

    Sounds like the first group through this process should be the administration.

  6. tt says:

    I think this is pretty weak. For one, 5 minutes on google scholar tells me that, contrary the editorial, most of Morgan’s studies are conducted on US soldiers, not immigrant communities. It is a very common critique of psychological studies that they tend to be done on easily accessible groups (undergrads mostly) which are not representative and their conclusions are therefore not generalizable; from a scientific perspective it’s commendable that Morgan has expanded his research to diverse groups.

    Second, the editorial objects to Yale working for the “US political elite”. But almost all academics are supported in one way or another by the US political elite, many much more directly in the service of violent aims. If we’re going to object to this, this seems a strange place to start.

    • arguingwithsignposts says:

      from a scientific perspective it’s commendable that Morgan has expanded his research to diverse groups.

      You know who else expanded their research to diverse groups?

    • tt says:

      If you’re going to attack someone’s research you really should read their published work, not try to interpret third-party press releases.

    • Slocum says:

      First of all, its entirely possible that people from different cultures have different “tells” when lying (as well as ones common to all persons). Second, part of the idea is that the largely white and all American soldiers will not have a pre-existing cultural bond with the subjects, so they will learn not to rely on what they “know” (that is, what they think they know) about how people lie.

      Of course, universities should just tell the military to fucking shove off.

    • Kal says:

      There’s a difference between research and actual training of soldiers. There’s also a difference between working with the military in general, and working with a notoriously torture-prone interrogation program instead. (If you think that training at this center will be mutual exclusive with torture, I have a bridge to sell you.)

      I think the US military ought to be disbanded, so, y’know, of course I’m opposed to a lot more than this. But I also think this in particular is an escalation from research grants, and arguably even ROTC.

      • tt says:

        If there’s reason to believe that Morgan’s work would be used in support of torture, that would, to me, cross a moral line, and I think it would be inappropriate for a university to be associated with it. But no one has established this. Morgan’s work seems to be focused on non-coercive techniques.

      • Jon Hendry says:

        “There’s also a difference between working with the military in general, and working with a notoriously torture-prone interrogation program instead. (If you think that training at this center will be mutual exclusive with torture, I have a bridge to sell you.)”

        It sounds like this training might be useful for keeping soldiers *from* feeling they need to resort to a rifle butt to the face of a person being questioned. Or worse.

        If you’re a soldier in Afghanistan, and you’ve come to distrust Afghans, and there’s a language barrier, and maybe a non-verbal communication barrier, I could see it becoming hard to believe anything an Afghan says if you didn’t beat it out of them.

  7. Lurker says:

    This is not really so unprecented. The US academic community has prospered by accepting DoD research grants since the start of the Cold War. The most famously left-wing Research 1 universities, e.g. UC Berkeley, have also been very intimately involved in national security research. For example, the national laboratories, which are the key factor in nuclear weapons development, are run by esteemed universities.

    When Yale welcomes such a center to its campus, it simply follows the time-honoured academic tradition of accepting military funding without thinking what the results are used for.

    And I’m talking seriously here, not with tongue in cheek. The motto of my old research group, which also did some military research, was: “It ain’t worth studying if no one pays for it.”

    • Jordan says:

      Sure. And it is still wrong. Probably less wrong than what you did. But still wrong.

      • spencer says:

        How do you know anything about the specifics of what he did?

      • tt says:

        The military is going to spend its money somewhere. Better that they spend it on something which has a chance of providing side benefits to society in the future (e.g., the internet, one nice result of military/university collaboration.)

        • Lurker says:

          This is indeed the case. Especially in applied sciences, a successful researcher must, by necessity, adopt a mercenary attitude: as far as you get a grant to do something, you take it. Otherwise, the grant goes to a competing group whose standing is thereby strengthened. With enough grant money for applied projects, you can always divert some resources to basic research. And of course, good basic research gets grants also. Ethics is considered only if the project is truly horrendous, e.g. WMD development, which would be beyond pale for me.

          On the other hand, the principle of doing only funded projects is a very good tool of self-discipline. If a “pure research” project is good enough to produce serious publications, it will get funding from somewhere. If an applied project is economically useful, some company or funding agency will pay for it. If it doesn’t generate publications or economically useful applications, it is not worth doing at all, as it would only satisfy personal interest, not some greater societal need.

    • swearyanthony says:

      Yup. And US college researchers conducted foul and unethical research involving isolation chambers and psychological torture. That doesn’t justify continuing it.

    • Bill Murray says:

      Most National Labs are not really run by Universities anymore. Most are now run by public-private LLCs

      • Jon Hendry says:

        The universities are still involved. Four organizations manage Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, one of which is the University of California.

        I assume they handle the academic science stuff, while the other organizations handle the industrial stuff and management/HR/security/etc.

  8. Fake Irishman says:

    I don’t want to overreact here, but I do hope the local IRB looked long and hard at this proposal.

    But really though, it’s not like anything has ever gone wrong with psychology research at Yale focused on working class and minority subjects that would need oversight. Stop overrea–

    Oh right:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

  9. Wimpy says:

    This is just a wild guess, but maybe “consent” for the subjects will be procured by asking them if they want to participate?

  10. [...] Show Up Sunday for Keystone XL Pipeline Protest in San Francisco (via Daily Kos) People Skills (via Lawyers, Guns, and Money) Now we learn of Yale’s plans to train soldiers in “people skills” on our campus only two [...]

  11. rea says:

    Teaching interrogators to interrogate without torture strikes me as a worthy cause, but YMMV.

  12. c u n d gulag says:

    Look on the plus said, folks – he could be teaching a course about “Humility,” but someone beat him to it.

  13. Greco says:

    “Columbians” are people from DC, right? /petpeeve

  14. Everythings Jake says:

    This site has consistently cheerled the brown skinned man the elite hired to make the routine act of killing non-white people around the world palatable for at least another few years, a brillant, amoral PR move only Bernays could have loved. Somehow, it’s shocked to discover gambling is going on…at one of the elite’s favorite institutions.

  15. CaptBackslap says:

    If you want to increase minority participation in the political process, a program that teaches immigrants they can get paid to lie is a good place to start.

  16. Manta says:

    So, they don’t teach how to waterboard? Wimps!

  17. elm says:

    Like rea above, I don’t know what the big deal is here. If the concern is about academia being too connected to government, then everyone with NIH and NSF grants are in trouble. If the concern is being too tightly connected just to the military, that’s still problematic because DoD and DoE (and CIA and NSA and other sources) also fund a lot of research, including into such wonderful things as the internet.

    Personally, I think researchers (and observers of researchers) need to make decisions on the basis of individual research projects and not as part of a sweeping rule against taking government or military money. The questions I would ask myself are: would taking the money give the funder a (negative) say over my research (this question is true regardless of the source of money)? would the research I conduct be used for evil purposes? (this question is also true whether or not I took money to conduct the research.)

    In this particular case, I’m unsure what the issue is. I would think it would be a good thing to develop interrogation techniques that did not involve force or the threat of force.

  18. thebewilderness says:

    It’s Customs that wrote the book on this stuff, that the FBI and the military have adapted to their specific needs. So why would the military interrogation application be their choice?

    This is not perhaps the most important question regarding this research, but it is surely a significant one.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.