Bok, Sessela. Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. New York: Vintage, 1979.
(Originally Pantheon, 1978)
This little book merits inclusion in this bibliography for several reasons: Bok takes account of
frauds and lies in science (deceptions of subjects and the use of psuedopatients to study
psychiatrists are examples). Moreover, it merits inclusion because substantively she is dealing
with a topic very nearly identical with the one treated here. Her major point is this: while she
cannot agree with St. Augustine that all lies are wrong (sinful) she is indeed hard-pressed to
come up with adequate moral principles with which to deal with the potential harm of lies. In
other words, she cannot justify any lying.
Concerning the Rosenhan study, where pseudopatients were used to deceive psychiatrists, she
suggests that such deception of psychiatrists and physicians has been gaining ground (in the
investigation of Medicare and Medicaid fraud), and the striking thing is that these investigators
see no problem with their fraud. Deceiving doctors one way or the other is, to Bok, a very
questionable practice. They do not try to explain their deception because they do not see their
behavior as devious. The investigators who see objections try to justify them in terms of
producing beneficial results, of helping patients.
The question is really, can studies be designed to produce the same results without deception? If
deception is viewed as a legitimate procedure in science, then alternatives will not be sought. If
yes, then why continue deceiving? If no, then we promote a sense of mutual mistrust rather than
valid experiments. Today, professors and students expect to cheat one another. "...manipulation
has become a way of life, to the point that alternatives are not considered." (p. 199)
Chapter 13, (pp. 192-213) "Deception in Social Science Research," ought to be required reading
for methods courses. It certainly focuses on the absurdity of the costs of deception in social