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Milgram's Subjects Were Right

The scientist could be trusted after all. Read More

Blindly Trusting Science

That's rather disappointing to me. To say that "you can trust science over your own lying eyes" suggests that people should blindly trust science. That's an ironic statement because science is supposed to encourage people to question their observations. If I suspect someone is being harmed, then I would question my actions, and test my hypothesis to determine whether or not there's a connection. It's also ironic because science relies on observations, so scientists often rely on what they see with their (potentially lying) eyes.

I'm wary of the statement: "This limited purpose assures that, in science’s name, intentional harm to other people is rare." The problem I have is not with science, but with so-called "scientists" because anybody can claim to be a scientist. Furthermore, there are probably unscrupulous people who claim to perform experiments "in the name of science," but covertly more so for their personal gain. Blindly trusting them because they claim to be doing something in the name of science is dangerous.

Regarding the last comment: "If outsiders...are to be treated badly...you know you are dealing with a tribal system...designed to empower one group of people over others." Interestingly enough, there are some strong supporters of science who do like to treat "outsiders" badly. Their strong stance in the so-called power of evidence, logic, and reason is (in some ways) "designed to empower one group of people (i.e. scientists) over others". Does that make science tribal?

Quote From the Article

When someone who is clearly a bona fide scientist assures you that no harm will come from a procedure, you can trust science over your own lying eyes. The great, often overlooked fact about Milgram’s experiment is that, indeed, no harm came to the apparently suffering person in the next room—the scientist could be trusted after all. In other words, the belief that scientists know better than the individual remains true after the experiment in which, as advertised, no one was hurt.

1) There was no such assurance given in the experiment

2) The trust in authority was without the assurance that no one would be hurt

3) That no one was actually hurt is not relevant


The assurance was the white coat, which I believe subjects relied on. The scientist in the experiment was not wearing a military uniform, for example. And of course I think that the fact that no one was hurt was very relevant, since that what the blog post is about.


Even if the white coat was a factor, it has its limits because, apparently, some participants reported that they believed it was a hoax. So instead of seeing a guy in the white coat as a professional, "bona fide scientist," some participants saw him as a run-of-the-mill prankster. As I implied in my comment, anyone can acquire a white coat (with a clipboard and fake glasses), and call themselves a "scientist" working "in the name of science." Using the white coat, alone, as justification that no harm will be done is too simplistic.

It also helps to remember that Milgram's experiment came at a time before the ethics of research became the issue it is today. Those participants had less reason to believe that the experiment will "cause no harm," as compared to participants of similar experiments that may be conducted today. Yet, even today, I have no reason to believe that every person wearing a white coat will be equally, and 100% ethical in their work.

How about the discomfort?

Your argument rests on the premise that the subjects did not believe that anyone would actually be hurt. Their discomfort while administering the "punishment" denies that that premise.


They felt discomfort because they did not fully trust the scientist to protect the other person. They proceeded to administer shocks because they did defer responsibility to the scientist. My overarching point is that people criticize the deference but in actuality, it was well placed.

No matter how you frame it this comes out to obedience trumping conscience

Dr. Karson wrote: They felt discomfort because they did not fully trust the scientist to protect the other person. They proceeded to administer shocks because they did defer responsibility to the scientist. My overarching point is that people criticize the deference but in actuality, it was well placed.

The fact that no one was hurt is not relevant because the undeniable distress felt by the subjects was caused by their balking consciences. They chose to obey the instructions of the people in the white lab coats and ignored their consciences. Those consciences would not have been bothered if the subjects felt there was no risk of causing harm.

No one was hurt?

I got as far as reading '...no one was hurt.' and then skipped to the comments. If you truly believe that no one was hurt in this experiment then it tells me that your understanding of consciousness is inadequate. I can state for a fact that deliberate manipulation of the conscience, which places it into conflict with the core of your being, is highly damaging. In order to cope with their inner conflict the participants would have found it necessary to dissociate what they felt was the 'right thing to do' from what they were being told was the 'right thing to do'. This experiment actually created mental dissociation for its participants and this is highly harmful. It is entirely irrelevant whether or not the 'scientist' knew that the recepients of the shock where not being harmed.
The experiment did however prove the blind faith that people have for 'men in white coats' as some sort of scientismic cult saviour.
The easiest way to understand why others behave in the ways they do is to 'know yourself' discounting the requirement for any unethical psychological experiments.

No one was hurt

My point, of course, was that the stooges were not hurt. Ironically, the subjects also would not have been harmed if they had completely trusted the scientists in this study.

So that would mean, the

So that would mean, the subjects have been harmed by "their own fault", because they couldn't administer enough trust in the researchers, a kind of personal failing. Isn't that somewhat cynical?
On what basis should they have trusted the researchers and defered responsibility to them, like a little child looking up to its benevolent parents? A "general knowledge" of the integrity of researchers? What made those scientists "bona fide"?

And then, how does that go together with your own critical article - that seems to me somewhat "mistrustful" - about the motivation of researchers and their capability to want and generate the best for others in connection to psychotherapy, as you described in your article:
"Why I Don’t Read Empirical Studies About Psychotherapy
The analogy between anxiety and scurvy does not stand up to scrutiny.
Published on June 2, 2014 by Michael Karson, Ph.D., J.D. in Feeling Our Way"?
That would mean that you yourself are about to come to harm in your psychological practice, because you dare to question the overall integrity of the researchers and their "knowing it better than the individual". And if you do come to harm in your career as a psychologist,then it would be all your own fault and failing, because you didn't trust in the researchers and didn't defer the responsibility of acting and deciding for yourself to them.

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Michael Karson, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Denver.


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