Summary of an Ian Parker Article
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In the article "Obedience", Ian Parker points out that the Milgram Experiment was the most reviled experiment in the history of social psychology. Parker focuses on Milgram's past, as well as some of his work ethics while also focusing on both the immediate and the long-term reaction to Milgram's experiments among both the public, and Milgram's professional colleagues. Parker also has commentary from a couple Professors who commented on the work of Stanley Milgram.
Parker described that Milgram was struggling to place his findings in a proper scientific context. After making sense of the Holocaust, he then always placed his experiments in a scientific context. Milgram was often compared to an Adolf Eichmann. In 1963, Milgram published his first paper on the obedience studies and placed Eichmann's name in the first paragraph, giving the paper a place in a pivotal contemporary debate.
In an interview with Arthur G. Miller, he had this to say to Parker about Milgram: "Once the [Holocaust] connection was in place, then the experiments took on a kind of a larger-than-life quality." The fame of the experiments spread, and as the Sixties acquired their defining spirit. By the time Milgram had published his book and released a short film of the experiment, his findings had spread into the popular culture, and into theological, medical, and legal discussions.
However celebrated the experiments became, Parker stated there was a question they could never shake off. It was an ethical issue: had Milgram mistreated his subjects? One of his subjects stated, "Since taking part in the experiment, I have suffered a mild heart attack. The one thing my doctor tells me that I must avoid is any form of tension." Another subject said, "Right now I'm in group therapy. Would it be OK if I showed this report to the group and the doctors at the clinic?"
Since then, the experiment had been widely attacked from within the profession and from the outside. Milgram never quite won the ethical argument and the controversy was immediately damaging to his career. As the APA pointed out to Parker, modern ethical guidelines would prevent the obedience studies from being repeated today.
For an experiment supposed to involve the undeserved torture of an innocent man, there was a lot of laughter in Yale's Interaction Laboratory. Frequently, Milgram's subjects could barely contain themselves as they moved up the shock board. Behind their one-way mirror, Milgram was tended to at times be highly amused.
In the opinion of Professor Stam, this comes close to defining the problems of social psychology itself. "It is discipline that makes the peculiar claim that if you want to ask questions about the social world, you have to turn them into abstract technical questions." he said.
Parker, Ian "Obedience." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 8th ed. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York; Longman, 2003. 335 - 45.
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