Dr Haslam’s position as sole researcher and author of her ‘Psychological Report on the New Kadampa Tradition’ introduces issues of bias and ethics. Most researchers adopt methodologies to reduce these factors which Dr Haslam chose to ignore. As such we can only look to see what findings have been substantiated to support her views.
Lack of Direct Evidence
When researching an organization that has published in excess of 20 books detailing its religious views you would expect to find numerous direct quotes to support claims made by the author of the study. Dr Haslam fails to do this, instead choosing to focus on unsubstantiated hearsay, facebook posts and Google adverts. Once again this is a red flag.
To ignore a vast body of published works written by the founder of the religious organization you are studying in favor of weaker sources indicates that the researcher is trying to promote evidence that supports their own view. This is commonly attributed to experimenter bias and any peer review prior to publication of the report would have flagged this.
Bold Claims, Weak Evidence
One of the central dramatic claims Dr Haslam makes is in section 1.10 where she accuses the organization of using mind control by hypnotizing people. The method she claims that they use for this is a ten-minute mindfulness of breath meditation that can induce a ‘hypnotic trance state’. She attempts to support this claim by using the following reason ‘According to the Cult Information Centre, hypnosis and trance states are the main method of mind control used by cults.’
Dr Haslam’s assertion is that this organization is a cult which is using hypnotic trances to control peoples’ minds. It is fundamental to Dr Haslam’s claims that the organization is a cult that she proves this. If she can prove they use mind control they must be a cult.
To prove this assertion she quotes one of their teacher training manuals ‘For us meditation is a creative constructive process of changing our thoughts, our feelings, our attitudes; and carrying these changes into our daily life’
She goes on to claim that hypnosis is misunderstood, a very complex psychological tool that bypasses someone’s conscious mind. ‘While many people won’t accept or respond to an up-front, direct suggestion, under hypnosis, suggestions seem to get into the mind—perhaps through the “back door” of consciousness where they often germinate and take root as important behavioral or psychological changes.’
All Dr Haslam offers by way of proof of this claim is that she compares meditation to hypnosis and alludes to it being used to control peoples’ minds without their choice.
As someone who has participated in hour-long mindfulness of breath meditations with the Vipassana Meditation Center I can assure Dr Haslam that mindfulness of breath doesn’t put anyone in a hypnotic trance. Hypnosis is well researched and understood and involves constant positive repetition of instructions to lead an individual into a trance state (e.g. ‘your eyelids are getting heavy, they feel like lead’ etc) Just thinking about your breath is not in any way comparable to hypnosis.
To make such a dramatic and bold claim and simply leave it hanging with absolutely no evidence is pseudo-scientific. Adding a few references of research on cults in no way substantiates this claim. Moreover, if the hypnotic trance was so easy to induce with simple mindfulness of breath techniques why does anyone have to learn how to hypnotize people? Anyone could do it. It is a patently absurd claim.
There’s another aspect of this section of Dr Haslam’s report that will interest readers and gives an indication as to her ethical position, that issue is plagiarization.
Plagiarization is Theft
According to most academic institutions, plagiarization is a serious breach of ethics and grounds for immediate expulsion or termination of your employment contract. Put simply it’s theft, it’s passing off others work as your own and it shows a complete absence of academic integrity.
In the section on mind control Dr Haslam plagiarizes an article from Psychology Today written by Dr Clifford N. Lazarus entitled ‘The Truth About Hypnosis‘. See for yourself how much of the article she copies directly as if it was written by herself:
Hypnosis is, perhaps, one of the most misunderstood and controversial methods of psychological treatment.Dr Michelle Haslam
Hypnosis is, perhaps, one of the most misunderstood and controversial methods of psychological treatment.Dr Clifford N. Lazarus
Hypnosis is a state of highly focused attention or concentration, often associated with relaxation, and heightened suggestibility. While under hypnosis (i.e., in a hypnotic trance), it seems many people are much more open to helpful suggestions than they usually are. The positive suggestions that people are given while hypnotized are referred to as ‘post hypnotic suggestions’ because they are intended to take effect after the person emerges from the trance and is no longer under hypnosis. The suggestions given to people under hypnosis appear to be an important part of the mechanism through which the procedure works. While many people won’t accept or respond to an up-front, direct suggestion, under hypnosis, suggestions seem to get into the mind—perhaps through the “back door” of consciousness where they often germinate and take root as important behavioral or psychological changes.Dr Michelle Haslam
Simply put, hypnosis is a state of highly focused attention or concentration, often associated with relaxation, and heightened suggestibility. While under hypnosis (i.e., in a hypnotic trance), it seems many people are much more open to helpful suggestions than they usually are. The positive suggestions that people are given while hypnotized are referred to as “post hypnotic suggestions” because they are intended to take effect after the person emerges from the trance and is no longer under hypnosis. The suggestions given to people under hypnosis appear to be an important part of the mechanism through which the procedure works. While many people won’t accept or respond to an up-front, direct suggestion, under hypnosis, suggestions seem to get into the mind—perhaps through the “back door” of consciousness where they often germinate and take root as important behavioral or psychological changes.Dr Clifford N. Lazarus
Dr Haslam literally copied and pasted entire sections of Dr Lazarus’ article. She didn’t even bother to change the spelling of words like ‘hypnotized’ from Dr Lazarus’ US spelling into her own UK spelling. She did this to convey to the reader that she is a far more experienced psychologist than she actually is.
She plagiarized many more sections throughout her report. For a detailed list click here.
If she’s lying to the reader about who wrote the text she’s using what does that say about her claims?
Why Stop There?
Indeed, why did Michelle stop at the end of that paragraph and switch immediately to talking about cults? I’ll leave it to readers to see why she didn’t want to plagiarize Dr Lazarus’ next sentence:
Contrary to popular belief, people under hypnosis are in total control of themselves and would never do anything they would normally find highly objectionable.Dr Clifford N. Lazarus
That one sentence would have directly undermined her assertion that the New Kadampa Tradition are using meditation as a form of mind control technique.
Dr Haslam repeatedly plagiarizes other people’s writings throughout her report as if they were her own work and does so highly selectively to promote a specific view. She offers no counter arguments, no alternative views at all.
Why would someone who presents themselves as a highly qualified mental health professional steal other people’s work?
Dr Haslam never intended to conduct any psychological research on the New Kadampa Tradition. She only wanted to write a report on them after she was rejected by her boyfriend, a traumatic experience that may have brought back abandonment trauma from her father’s death when she was 14. This appears to have triggered a psychiatric disorder which she states has the symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder and was integral in her deciding to write a ‘Psychological Report on the New Kadampa Tradition’.
PTSD of abandonment is a psychobiological condition in which earlier separation traumas interfere with current life. An earmark of this interference is intrusive anxiety. Victims of abandonment trauma can have emotional flashbacks that flood us with feelings ranging from mild anxiety to intense panic in response to triggers that we may or may not be conscious of. People with PTSD of abandonment can have heightened emotional responses to abandonment triggers that are often considered insignificant by others.Susan Anderson – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of Abandonment: 36 Characteristics
I was experiencing anxiety because I was sharing a dharma centre with an ex boyfriend with narcissistic traits who was flirting with vulnerable working visitors in front of me, and I had urges to move out. In hindsight, my body was telling me that something was very wrong with this setup being enabled. In the end it told me through panic attacks because I continued to ignore my intuition.Dr Michelle Haslam
Her ex-boyfriend may have considered his flirting with others in front of Dr Haslam to be insignificant but according to Michelle, it was a trigger for her anxiety and panic attacks. If this wasn’t the motivation for her report then we would expect to find a more coherent substantiated report. There would be strong evidence rather than just strong claims. It would be balanced rather than biased. It would be original rather than having entire sections plagiarized. Are there any other indications that Dr Haslam’s motivation is unethical?
I just want to liberate everyone from the New Kadampa Tradition. They betrayed me, hurt me, let me down. They’ve got to get away from them and never come back. Maybe I’m a hero narcissist because I want to rescue everyone from the NKT. I want to take everyone away from them.Dr Michelle Haslam – Courtesy of YouTube
Please spread the report as far and wide as you can. It’s being shared widely throughout the NHS and MPs now and it will get sent to schools by someone other than me because I just need to step out of the game now. I started a bit too early through this process. I read somewhere you’re not meant to do any activism linked to this kind of thing until it’s been a few years ago for you otherwise it’s too triggering.Dr Michelle Haslam – Courtesy of YouTube
Clearly, Dr Haslam views her ‘Psychological Report on the New Kadampa Tradition’ as activism which is alarming. Activists are by nature biased and to be so blatant to refer to a psychology publication you’ve written as any form of activism proves it’s partisan.
Researchers are well aware of the problems of bias which is why their experimental methodology is constructed in a way to try and reduce it.
A new paper in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology by Aiden Gregg and his colleagues at the University of Southampton extends the list of known biases by documenting a new one that combines elements of the better-than-average effect, confirmation bias and the endowment effect. Gregg’s team have shown that simply asking participants to imagine that a theory is their own biases them to believe in the truth of that theory – a phenomenon that the researchers have called the Spontaneous Preference For Own Theories (SPOT) Effect.Christian Jarrett – British Psychological Society
Confirmation bias and SPOT effect are normal factors in psychological research but Dr Haslam goes far beyond that. She clearly has an agenda and has used whatever she can to advance it.