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Welcome to, rationally speaking, the podcast, where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense. I'm your host, Julia Galef, and my guest today is Thibeault the Taxi. He is an associate researcher at the University of Nese in France, studying the history of ideas. And our topic today is something you've probably heard about if you've taken an intro to psychology class in the last few decades or just read any media in the last few decades. It's a very famous experiment called the Stanford Prison Experiment.
And the basic story of the Stanford prison experiment goes like this. Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo in 1971 recruited students for this simulation of a prison experience, so he randomly assigned half of them to be guards and half of them to be prisoners, and ran the simulated prison in the basement of the psychology department. Very sketchy and very quickly, the students assigned to be guards became abusive and cruel, humiliating the prisoners. The prisoners became depressed and demoralized, and the experiment had to be cut short after less than a week because it was total chaos.
And the take away you've probably heard is people easily conform to the rules that they're put in, even if that means doing horrible things to their fellow man. So that's the story, as it's been told for decades. And then in the last few years, the Stanford prison experiment has come under increasing scrutiny and increasing criticism and not the normal kind of replication crisis criticism where it's like, oh, didn't replicate. That's too bad. No, the prison experiment has been called an outright lie and a fraud.
And Thibeault, our guest, has been central to this recent wave of scrutiny. He's published a book on the prison experiments last year called History of a Lie, which is unfortunately just in French. But he's also just published a journal article in English about a month ago titled Debunking the Stanford Prison Experiment. And that is what we're going to be doing today. So, Thibeault, welcome to rationally speaking.
Hi, thanks for having me.
Thibeault, I mentioned your book, but you were also originally working on a film about the prison experiment, is that right? Yes.
At first I get interested in the experiment. When I discovered that it had been filmed, there was a hidden camera in the wall in the basement of the Department of Psychology, and I was interested in working on making a documentary film only from these archival material. So I. I gathered some money to go to Stanford too, because I wanted to to see the material and to discover new material and tapes and and things recorded on the paper and to build a movie from this material.
And that's how I discovered all the evidence that I presented in my book and paper.
And is the film still in the works or if not, why not?
I know I tried for three years to set up the financing, but we didn't make it. So I decided to turn the movie into a book which got it, which is more fortunate because there's a lot of material. And in the movie we couldn't have put so much material. Got it.
OK, great. So when you approach this topic to start out, were you approaching it with the idea of skepticism that you were going to use the footage for sort of an exposé or did you have some other motivation?
No, I really believed that the official narrative, the one you you summarized it at the beginning, was true. And I heard about critiques about on the experiment. I knew that some people were skeptics, but I had no personal reason to to doubt that it was a setup up. So it took me some time to realize that how flawed it was. And I start to discover some some papers, some archival material that was a bit different from what I knew about the experiment.
And it took me some time to realize it and to face the fact that it was a setup.
I suppose before we go further, we should clarify the extent to which the prison experiment was not actually an experiment in the normal sense. Right?
Yeah. So actually, Zimbardo himself say sometimes that it's more a demonstration than an experiment and that it's it's it's like the difference between an experiment and a demonstration is that in a demonstration, you do know from the beginning what you want to prove and you have a kind of theatrical setup to to demonstrate your idea, to make it more graphic, more more catchy. And in an experiment, you don't really know what you're going to end up with. And you run a lot of experiments.
The replications, and then you analyze the data and you try to sort out what you found out and did it say is that when he's accused of having run the experiment only once. So it can't really be said to be an experiment because it happened only once. And but most of the time he's talking about it as an experiment. And the expression the Stanford prison experiment has been coined by Zimbardo himself. It's right in a press release that he that he broadcast on the second day of the experiment, he coined it a Christian, the name of the experiment.
You know, so this is definitely something I've noticed in some bardos public statements and his responses and interviews, that he seems to kind of equivocate between these different descriptions of the Stanford prison experiment, where sometimes he calls it an experiment and other times he kind of falls back on this. Well, it's just a demonstration. But even so, I thought that when he called it a demonstration, he meant something more than like a theatrical production. I thought that he was even when he called it a demonstration, he was claiming that it it.
Showed something like, if he literally was clear from the beginning that he was just setting out to kind of put on a theatrical demonstration of something he already believed. I don't think there's no way that would have gotten the amount of attention and influence that it had. I think he was portraying it as, you know, I didn't know what was going to happen when I got these students together and assigned them the roles of prisoners and guards. And it wasn't as rigorous or carefully controlled as something you would call an experiment.
But still, I wasn't you know, the outcome was all due to the students. It wasn't just me telling them what to do. Right? Isn't that what he said? Yes.
Zimbardo, as always, repeated that he was taken aback during the experiment that he didn't expect. Yeah. Such reactions that himself, he became immersed in his role as a director of the prison and that he lost a lot of weight, that he didn't sleep for 48 hours, that he was himself taken by the situation. And he was completely surprised to see how extreme it had been that this actually.
Sorry to interrupt, but it's probably important to tell listeners who aren't familiar with this that this is another way in which it was very much not an experiment, that Zimbardo himself, the experimenter, was like participating, as was he like the prison superintendent or what was his role?
Yeah, it was the director and he had two students who were his lieutenant and he had an undergraduate student who was the warden was the chief of the guard of the guards. Right.
So so he was very involved, not like an objective of, you know, outside observer.
He was completely involved. And one of the things I discovered is that he knew exactly the results he wanted to achieve and he knew exactly how to achieve it. And if, in fact, the experiment was written as kind of a theater play or as a movie, there was a script and the character was following the script. Can you maybe give an example or two of the kind of thing that went down during the Stanford prison experiment, I kind of gestured at it, but there's some.
Plenty of details to be had, the kind of abuses that were witnessed to experiment. Yeah, sure. For instance, the the and the prisoners that were brought to the prison, they were deloused. They were they were being put naked and the other chain at one of their ankle, there were no underwear. And they were waking up at night at two o'clock and they had to line up against the wall and to recite. They are there. No, because they all were wearing a number on their outfit and they had to do push ups.
They had to clean the toilets with their bare hands. They had to make stupid games and like jumping jacks, things like this. And they couldn't see they couldn't take any shower during a week. They couldn't see the the they couldn't they didn't have the fresh air and they had no window on the outside at all. And that's the that's the situation there to live in. So when you say that Zimbardo had a script, how literally do you mean that?
I mean, that all the things I just described were written and there was first of all, there was a schedule and so do the fact that the prisoners were waking up in the night. They were something they had the guards had to wake up the prisoners because they had to follow a schedule. And the fact that they had to make them do pushups, it was an instruction given by the warden who was a student of Zimbardo. They had a set of rules that were written by the experimenters and they in more generally to the guards to follow a training, a training day, which was called Orient Orientation Day.
But it was rather a training day where they were explain what the results the experimenter expected to achieve, and they will explain the kind of punishments they could give to them, to the prisoners. And they were explained that all this was very important for science and for prison reform. So they had the script and they had also the motivation to follow the script. And besides the fact that they were paid and they were paid at the end of the experiment, usually in an experiment you pay the people at the beginning and you explain them that whatever happened, it will just keep them happy and not to induce certain behavior from them.
But in this case, they were paid at the end. So there was an incentive to stay in the experiment and to behave in the way that was expected by the experimenters.
Right. There was an interview in Vox, I guess, last year. Brian Resnick did this interview with Zimbardo. And he so he he quoted a few lines from one of the recordings in which the I guess it was the student warden whose name was Jaffey. I think the guy who the student of Zimbardo who was talking to one of the guards who I guess was having second thoughts or he was feeling reluctant to be as brutal as he was supposed to be.
So the warden was was telling him, you know, every guard is supposed to be what we call a tough guard. And I forget the rest of the line. But I remember the phrase, you know, the guards have to be tougher. We want everyone to be a tough guard. And and so Brian Reznik in this interview quoted that and then also quoted Zimbardo saying, as he has many times, quote, We did not give any formal or detailed instructions about how to be an effective guard and asked Zimbardo like, you know, how do you explain this seeming contradiction?
And Zimbardo replied, Well, the point is, telling a guard to be tough doesn't mean telling a guard to be mean, to be cruel, to be sadistic, which many of the guards became of their own volition playing the role of what they thought was a prison guard. And he concluded, So I reject your assumption entirely. So what do you think of them? Bardos defense is that, you know, we just gave the guards kind of an outline of what we wanted from the guards and then they filled in the blanks themselves.
Well, what happened actually last year is that I published my book and then an American journalist called Ben Bloom contacted me, actually contacted me a bit before my publishing of my book with you. I gave the gave them some some elements from the book and he put it in the paper that was widely circulated on Milhem, right? Yes, on Medium. And then Zimbardo wrote a reply and saying, OK, there's been a book about the experiment in French and there's been an article on Medium.
Now I'm going to reply to all the criticisms and he published that paper on the official website of the Stanford Prison Experiment. But actually in the paper it only replies to Ben Bloom. It is in reply at all to my critics, but it looks like he's replying to everybody.
But your book hadn't come out yet, right? Or how to. No, it hadn't. And I see.
But he just made it sound like he was replying to everything that was out there.
Yes. And actually, that's not true. So I think now that the debate is about to start, because the paper you talked about is about to be published on print and it's going to be published in America and Psychology's, which is the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association. So it's going to be hard for Zimbardo to deny these critiques or to to pretend that they don't exist. And now we're going to see what he has to reply. But to me, there's nothing to reply because the evidence is overwhelming.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I just. I read quote after quote from. You know, the the lieutenant or the warden saying, like you alluded a few minutes ago, to the orientation in which the guards were told that this was important for prison reform. That to me, that's just especially damning because it means that if the guards conform, it could just be out of the motive of wanting to show how terrible it is when guards are sadistic.
Right. Like. Exactly.
Most of the guards at the time didn't want to be guards because they they were it was the spirit of the time. They were anti institutions, anti cops, anti-war. And so they hated pigs and these kind of things. And so for them, Zimbardo told them, that's great. Now you have an occasion to demonstrate that pigs are wrong and that cops are bad and that prisons are bad. Just have to behave. You would picture the pigs would react and just dimino you will be the better it will be for the experiment and for prison reform.
So if you want to be a good citizen or if you want to be in if you want to help science, you have to be mean. We know you are not mean that you have to pretend. And anyway, what do you say to the guards is that we are not testing you, we are just testing the reactions of the prisoners.
Also, the guards thought, oh, they thought they were like Confederate or not. Yeah.
Yes, exactly. You say you're part of the scientist. You're like scientists. You we are not studying you. And Zimbardo said all of this.
It wasn't one of my theories for how it could possibly be that Zimbardo was, you know, arguing in good faith was that it was just the warden and the lieutenant and other people who got carried away and started, you know, putting their thumb on the scale. But Zimbardo himself wasn't aware of that. But you're saying that all of this explicit, you know, laying out what was expected, this came from Zimbardo. Yes, very it's very it's obvious from the archive.
There's there's a tons of evidences of that and and Zimbardo lied about this. We never say that the guards were deceived, because when you do a scientific experiment, you can deceive the participants and make them believe this things and things. But when you when you publish your results, you have to say you have to say we deceived the participants. And because it's part of the results, it can explain many things in the results. And Zimbardo just has always hidden this fact is never said that the guards were deceived.
So here's what I don't understand. The archives, like Zimbardo, knew that material was in the archives, right? He knew about the camera. He knew the material was all going to be there. What did he think was going to.
I don't think he knows really what's inside the archive. I don't know if he went through the archive since the experiment took place. He wrote a book about the Stanford experiment and about Abu Ghraib in 2007. And but I found in the Abu Ghraib the abuses.
Yes, in the Iraqi prison. But I found in the archives that the book was mainly underwritten by two students of him who went into the archive and took notes about the archives all himself. I'm not sure he really knows what's inside the archive. And for me, my explanation, because many people told me if the experiment is a lie, why did Zimbardo gave all his archive to the to the stand for the library? You should have destroyed all these pieces of evidences.
But my explanation is that he doesn't really know what's inside the archive.
Man, I don't know if that's if that is a more exonerating or more damning explanation. I really can't decide.
I mean, what happened is that, in a way, Zimbardo get trapped into his own narrative. He started to to spread the official narrative before he had time to analyze this data. He start to talk to the press. He starts to to speak to the American Congress before we analyze these data. And you start to circulate this official narrative. And then six, seven, eight months later, when he has analyzed the data and he could see that the narrative is not so clear cut, it's too late that people are expecting from him the official narrative.
It's hard for him to deny what he has been circulating for six or eight months. So he's just keep on repeating the official narrative and that's what he's been doing for four forty nine years. But I mean, he was there, he didn't I don't understand why he would need to analyze the data in order to realize that, gee, this this experiment doesn't really prove anything. He was there.
He told the guards he was not there all the time because he was running 24 hours a day. So they had to sleep. He had to buy food. Yeah. To yeah.
But he you said he was the one during orientation who told the guards what was expected of them. Yeah.
He knew that, he knew that. But for him he couldn't see the extent to which each of the participants, each of the scientists pushed in the same direction. So he thought that maybe he pushed the door, the guards to behave in a certain way, but he didn't know how much is is the students and the warden, how much they pushed in the same direction. And he thought, OK, that's just one just one kind of influence. So it maybe it's not so I can hide this and it's not.
So it's not so detrimental to science. He was not acting much of the time as a scientist, but much more as an activist. He wanted to prove that prisons are bad for prisoners, that we should reform the prison system. And he keeps on repeating this at the time.
Right. But so I have a quote here from Zimbardo a couple months after the experiment when he was speaking to Congress and said that the guards were simply told that they were going to go into a situation that could be serious and have perhaps some danger, they made up their own rules for maintaining law, order and respect. That's the kind of thing where I don't understand how you could have two months earlier told the guards what was expected of them. And then you go to Congress and say that.
Yeah, it was it was obviously lying then, yeah, OK, I guess I can't get what I really wanted, though, is a lie though, but I guess you can't really give me that.
What I wanted to do more. He was hiding his own participation in the experiment. And the more striking were the results. You know you know about the Milgram experiments, I guess, and where you have a scientist pushing a participant to to to send electric shock to another participant, which is in fact, a Confederate. And Zimbardo said we went further because we didn't even need the scientists. We just have people inflicting pain on other people just by them.
The magic of the situation. We remove the experimenter from the Milgram experiments or we are. It's like a Milgram 2.0. It's a it's it it's we are going further than Milgram. So we really wanted to hide as much as possible. Is participation in the experiment. He was not fully aware of the role that that one of the participants played in the experiment, which is David Jaffe, who was the warden and who happened to organize a prison experiment in a dormitory three months prior to the Stanford prison experiment.
And that that's when I discovered about this dormitory experiment that I really understood that the Stanford prison experiment was a lie because I had never really heard about it. I had heard about it very briefly here and there, but I had never read any description about it. And Zimbardo barely talks about it in the scientific papers that he published about the Stanford prison experiment. And in fact, this dormitory experiment provided a blueprint for the Stanford prison experiment. The rules, the schedules that the whole setting came from these experiments and he recruited David Jaffe is express explicitly to reproduce the striking results that you get when you organize this dormitory experiment.
Well, charitably, couldn't that just be like a replication, like you wanted to replicate that those results, but in a more kind of official setting? Yes, exactly.
They didn't want to leave anything to chance. So we said it's all damage. Here are the results I want to achieve and just make sure we get the same results. And so David Japhet took a very central position in the Stanford prison experiment because he was at the interface. He was just between the guards and Zimbardo and he was in direct, direct touch with the guards. And he really pushed them to be harsh and to be to behave as as bad cops.
And he took a central part in during the orientation day to end. Zimbardo might not have been aware at the time how much Jaffe pushed for these results. I wanted to ask you, I don't know if this came up during your research, but when I was reading articles about the case. One of the more bizarre aspects of the story that I didn't see covered as widely as I would expect is it has to do with an ex convict like an actual ex-con, not a student playing a convict named Carlo Prescott, who's Zimbardo hired as a consultant on the experiment.
And and then about 12, 13 years ago, Prescott wrote an op ed saying the experiment was a lie and that a lot of the guard's behavior was suggested by him. And then the weird part is Zimbardo claims that the op ed wasn't even written by Prescott, that it was secretly written by one of Zimbardo enemies, like a producer who lost the movie rights to the prison experiment. And he's angry at Zimbardo. And so according to Zimbardo, he this guy, Ghost, wrote the op ed and got Prescott to put his own name on it.
Are you familiar with this wrinkle in the story?
Yes, I've talked to Carol Prescott, actually, and I have. And before this came out, I talked to him about five years ago and now three years ago, and we discussed this issue together of what did what was his input in the Stanford prison experiment. And it's we I don't know how far because his memory is not perfect, but I don't know how far he he gave advices to Zimbardo as to the, for instance, buckets in the cells to for the prisoners and as to the buckets in the cells.
Yes, they were. They were. Do I even want to add nights and put some blindfold on their heads? And and but what is sure is that Zimbardo knew nothing about prison and that he picked up a lot of ideas from David Jaffe, who had done some research about prison for his dormitory experiment, for his own dormitory experiment. And to me, and it's not a real issue to know how much press got put into the experiment, because in a way, Zimbardo didn't want to reproduce a real prison.
He was not interested in having something as realistic as possible. He devised when you look at the experiment, it's it's super realistic in the sense that it's like absurd that the prisoners wearing a gown, they have no underwear. They are they are wearing panties on their head. And it's really a very strange situation. And Zimbardo himself said that in order to produce results in two weeks, he had to produce an extreme environment. He had to prove something that went further than the original prison.
So in usually in prisons, you don't have one guard for three prisoners. You don't have this level of harassment. And most of the time the time is boring in prison. You don't get interrupted as a prisoner by the guards all the time. And so Zimbardo was not interested in making a prison as realistic as possible. He was just trying to produce very, very distressing situation on the prisoners in order to to get them to to have nervous breakdowns or to to to to have them be very annoyed and distressed by the situation.
Yeah, I agree that the the extent to which the conditions in the Stanford prison experiment actually mirror a real prison isn't all that relevant to how we should update from it. I just found the question of Prescott's involvement interesting because because it seems so weird that Zimbardo was claiming the op ed was secretly ghostwritten. And also I there was this quote from Zimbardo back in 2007 when he was making this claim, which it's not directly related to the fraud claim, but it's just kind of a disturbing side note for Carla Prescott as black.
And when Zimbardo was saying that the op ed wasn't actually written by Prescott, his actual quote was, it's white boys language. It's not the language of the ghetto like referring to the op ed.
So that's that was the part of the explanation for why it couldn't have been written by Prescott, which is disturbing in Zimbardo in the discussion, it tried to focus on this detail to say, OK, this detail is wrong, then the rest of the critique is wrong. And that's very shrewd of him. It doesn't have to reply to all the critiques. It's just focusing on one critique and showing that it's not that strong. So it doesn't have to reply to all the other critiques.
So he's focusing on one weak element in the critique. And he focused on the Ben Bloom critique because Ben Bloom's critique is mainly based on interviews with the participants 50 years after the fact, and it's very easy to debunk testimonies 50 years after the fact that people in America have not such a good memory of the events that the people can be willing to give their own appreciation, which is different from what they lived 50 years earlier. So it's very easy to debunk Ben spume paper.
So that's why Zimbardo is focusing on it. And it doesn't say anything about my book because my book is based on the archive, what is written. So what was written at the time, what was recorded from the guards and the prisoners at the time? And for instance, when when I quote from the archive that the prisoners and the guards themselves found the prison to be unrealistic and they didn't believe in and they knew it was a setup. And this is much more annoying for Zimbardo than the guards and the prisoners saying the same thing 50 years later.
Do you. Is it true that you were the first researcher to go into the archives and go through this footage? And if so, why? Like for such a widely cited and impactful study, why would no one have gone in and looked at the footage up till now? I don't know, it's very surprising to me there's a failure of the scientific community in this because it's a very widely circulated and quoted experiment. And no one bothered to have a look at the archives, so maybe Zimbardo refrained people from from looking into the archive.
He gave the archive to the Stanford Library in 2011. But prior to 2011, I don't know how accessible where the archive may be. The was difficult to get and access to. And as far as I'm concerned, I'm I'm the first person to publish all this material. For instance, the dormitory experiment, you had one or two researchers. We talked about it in 50 years without knowing what took what took place in this experiment. They just knew that an experiment took place before the Stanford prison experiment.
And I'm the first person to to publish the a summary of what happened during this experiment and to show the extent to which it served. It was used as a blueprint for the Stanford prison experiment. So this is very surprising that no one cared to have a look at this archive so far.
But there there were critics of the prison experiment almost from the beginning. Right. What were some of the prominent criticisms? Well, as the most prominent critic was about the ethics of the experiment then, right? That's the one I heard saying that it was unethical because the students suffer then. And that's why the experiment wasn't replicated since then, because it's it puts participants in such a hard situation that it's impossible to reproduce the experiment and add another set of critique was saying that that all the guards did and became rude and abusive.
Actually, about a third of the guards became so. So the experiment would tend to prove that people do not spontaneously become abusive if they are told to or if they don't just don't need to wear a uniform and to be put into a prison to become abusive guards. So the experiment would demonstrate the contrary, that people can resist to the to power. They can resist to the to their environment. That was another critic and a third set of critics.
Focused on what is called demon characteristics, which is how much the participants in an experiment can guess what the experimenter is trying to prove.
Oh, so they were sort of the closest to the core criticism. They got close.
Yes. So they took five, for instance, to two researchers, took a set of students and they gave them the rules of the prison experiment, they explained, and how it was organized. And then they asked them, according to you, what do the researchers want to prove? And about 80 percent of the students guessed right. So these researchers show that the demand characteristics in the Stanford prison experiment were very strong.
You're saying demand, right? Demand characteristics. Yeah. And that's where the main critiques against the the Stanford prison experience. Since then, you have another critique which was quite strong, which showed that there was a self selection bias, which means that when you advertise an experiment lasting two weeks about prison, you develop a certain kind of participants which will show up and. Right. And so that's it's not like you random pick, you pick randomly and participants.
There's a certain set, a certain psychological profile of people who will answer to these kind of ads. Right.
Right. I mean, those are all good criticisms, although they all seem pretty beside the point when you find out how the experiment was actually run. But I mean, I was interested in the extent of the criticism that was made before the footage was revealed, in part because I want to figure out how. How this information, you know, the whole travesty of the Stanford prison experiment, how it should change my opinion of psychology as a field, you know, like I mean, they still put the Stanford prison experiment in their textbooks, right?
It's like in all the intro to psych textbooks, which, yes, a lot of textbooks consulted about 100 textbooks and psychology and sociology and a majority of them and discussed the Stanford experiment without quoting any of the critiques against the experiment. So that's a major failure for me from this. The community of people writing textbooks is that they are not taking into account the many criticisms against the experiment. And I guess that my paper won't change much about it. I think that while the experiment is so attractive, is so striking that when you're teaching psychology or when you want to to make people be sensitive about the powers of psychology, it's it's very tentative to use this experiment to show how powerful are the forces of psychology.
And so are you also show how useful are psychologists, because we could all become Nazi guards and the power of the situation. So we need psychologists to protect us from ourselves and from others because the you know, that we are we are all potentially evil. So we need psychology to protect us from this evil. You know, it's as demoralising as it is to realize that no one, you know, checked this this data that was sitting in the archive for so many years, even though the experiment was so important, it's more it's been more demoralizing for me to read the reactions from not all, but some psychologists who it's not so much that they're outright denying what happened, but they're kind of dismissing it and saying, just as you were kind of alluding to a second ago, they're sort of saying, well, you know, it's the story at the heart of the Stanford prison experiment that matters.
Here it is. I have a quote from an author of the textbook Learned Psychology. His name is Kenneth Carter. He's a professor of psychology at Emory. And he said even if the science was quirky, that word quirky really rolled my eyes. Even if the science was quirky or there was something that was wrong about the way that it was put together. I think at the end of the day, I still want students to be mindful that they may find themselves in powerful situations that could override how they might behave as an individual.
That's the story that's bigger than the science that really I just kind of sank into my chair when I read that, that just. Like, what's the point of doing science if it's all about the story anyway? And last year I came across a paper in The New York Times about this debate on the Stanford prison experiment. And the journalist was saying, well, maybe the Stanford prison experiment is not as scientific as we should expect, but it feels true.
So we should just accept it like this, because we know deep inside us that what that that yes, we could be evil yet. Yes, we could be this this terrifying God in this kind of situation. So even though it's not scientific, which is just save it, because deep inside us we have the feeling that it could be true. And that's The New York Times. What's.
I really, really hope you're exaggerating. What do you remember the name of the journalist?
This is Benedict Carey and it's the title of the paper. The article is Psychology Itself is under scrutiny. Oh, man.
The heading the heading of the paper is many famous studies of human behavior cannot be reproduced. Even so, they revealed aspects of our inner lives that feel true. Cadart.
OK, my last hope dashed to pieces. Thank you.
Oh man. And in the paper it says the public's judgments matter to the field, meaning to the field of psychology too. So it's like it's as if we should have some pause about experiments to ask people, do you think we should take this experiment as true or false, or if we should make pause to know if an experiment is scientific or not? And if it feels true to a lot of people, then let's say it's true and it's scientific.
That's the kind of things you can read in major newspapers like The New York Times. So for me as a scientist, it was very depressing to discover that most people don't care about the truth. Actually, even among scientists, they care. They read books or they they do science to reinforce their beliefs. And people are not looking for truth. They are really looking for four things that make them feel better. And they are looking for things that comfort their opinions.
And that's why did the Stanford prison experiment will live forever, because it's very convenient for a lot of people. And they don't care if it's not it's not scientific or if it's scientific or not, that's not the point.
Not to depress you even further, but there is an interview with Zimbardo where they asked him about you and your book and his response was. People can say whatever they want about it, about the experiment, it's the most famous study in the history of psychology at this point, there's no study that people talk about 50 years later. Ordinary people know about it. If he you Thibeault, if he wants to say it was all a hoax, that's up to him.
I'm not going to defend it anymore. The defense is its longevity. The defense is its longevity that. That phrase really drew me up short. Yeah, right away, but in a way, I agree with them in the way that the Stanford prison experiment will never die and that it will live live on because it's beyond the realm of science now. It belongs to popular culture. You have a rock band called the Stanford Prison Experiment.
You know, really, you had you had two Hollywood movies about the experiment. So now it's part of the popular culture. So even if all the scientists claim that it's it's a setup, the most of the people won't care about it and they would just keep on discussing it. You can type Stanford Prison experiment in Twitter and see how people discuss about it today.
Do you happen to know if there were any policies that were passed, you know, as a result of Zambada testimony or any like did it have any influence, concrete influence beyond just, you know? Infecting public discourse. Well, one of the lieutenant of Zimbardo in the experiment became a criminologist is his name is Craig Haney, and he wrote a paper with Zimbardo about penal reform in the U.S. and the reform of the prison system. And they both say that the Stanford prison experiment had no effect whatsoever on the prison system.
And actually in the early 70s when the experiment took place, it was a time when the the prison LOEs and the prison system was quite more benign than today. And since then, it just became worse and worse. And they are more and more people in prison and the way they are treated is more and more individualistic. And the Stanford prison experiment try to show that what is important is the situation is not the individuals, that the way people are treated within the prison system is more and more individualistic.
We try to show with the DNA, with with studies of character that people are inherently evil or bad and that it's not a matter of situation. It's not a question whether you're born in a poor neighborhood or a rich neighborhood. It's your true nature that decides whether you will be a criminal or not. So according to Zimbardo himself, it had no effect on the prison system. Hmm.
What about court cases? Because I know Zimbardo was called as a witness or like an expert witness or maybe his research was cited. Do you happen to know of it?
I mean, I don't know if it would be possible to quantify when he testified for one of the guards in the Abu Ghraib scandal and the guard was nonetheless severely punished.
Also, Zimbardo was arguing that the guard didn't deserve to be punished because it was all about the environmental influence. Yes, exactly.
He was recruited by and by the guard lawyer explicitly for this to say that it's not his fault. That is the situation that produced this misbehavior and that no personal responsibilities were involved.
Is it just me or does this seem like pretty far from his original mission of being a social activist out to take down oppressive systems?
Actually, the prosecutor in the Abu Ghraib scandal wrote a book afterwards, and you wrote that Zimbardo play loose. And I don't remember the exact quote, but that that Zimbardo is using the Abu Ghraib case to promote the Stanford experiment. And he's playing with reality just to promote his own experiment while.
Do you happen to remember the title of that book and the author is Christopher Graveline and the title is The Secrets of Abu Ghraib Revealed. And the quote is page 179. Oh, you're so organized. Great. Thank you.
Did this whole experience change your thinking in any ways other than causing you to be depressed about the true sickness of science? No, that's the main the main thing, that's a big one, because I was really believing that that most people in the field of science were seeking the truth as I was. And I've been very disappointed to see that that it's not the case. And since the publication of my book, I've been very surprised to see that no one cares about what's in the book and what's the truth about the experiment is there's been a lot of noise around the bend.
Bloom's paper he's been into could be an English versus French thing.
Sorry. Yes, maybe. But as the book is based on an English material in English, so do any American journalist can assume that I'm able to speak English and that I can write a quick summary of my main findings? That's true. That's true. You're maybe the the third journalist contacting me about this. And since a year and a half, it's just looks like just people don't care about this and they just they have a good story with the Stanford prison experiment and they just don't give it up.
Well, if it if it's any consolation, by far the most kind of righteous outrage that I saw in among scientists in response to these revelations was in the open science community on Twitter and their, you know, their younger scientists. For the most part, they're growing. So, you know, maybe 20 years from now, that kind of sentiment will be more the norm than it is today. Well, I hope so.
I hate to close on that note, but that is a bit pessimistic. But I don't think the paper is about to be published. And so I guess that the debate is now it's starting for real. So maybe the people will start reacting from now. So I shouldn't be this pessimistic about this, didn't Rutger?
I forgot his last name, the guy who made waves by speaking out at the billionaires conference last year.
Rutger Bregman, thank you.
Thank you. Not Rutger Hauer, but you're Bregman. He linked to your paper, I think. I think that might be how I found it. And he was properly outraged. So that's there's something. OK, well, before we wrap up, as I mentioned, I like to close the episode with by asking my guest for a not necessarily a recommendation, but just to to bring up some book or other resource that influenced their thinking or their life in some way.
Were you able to think of a an influential book?
Yes, it's a book by a philosopher, an English philosopher called Michael Blackshirts. And it's a book called On Human Conduct. And it's a book of philosophy published in nineteen seventy five. And it's really it's not a very, very widely read book and it's not a very widely read philosopher either, but is for me, it's one of the great thinkers of the 20th century, and he has a very subtle and and profound understanding of the functioning of society and politics.
And I recommend this book to everyone.
Would it be easy for you to bring up a highlight or like a topic that he covers in the book?
Well, basically, he sees human societies as organized around two main forms. One equals Universitas and one equals societies. And the Universitas is like a managerial society where everything is organized, that people are all under control. And and the and the behaviours are controlled by main authority. And in the societies it's more like the societies is ruled by law. And you have like it's like you are drawing white lines on the floor. People cannot cross these lines. But within these these lines, they can they are free to do whatever they want.
And he explains that in the whole societies, there's a conflict between these two ways of organising life, and that sometimes we leave more in Universitas and sometimes more in societies. And it's it's very stimulating way of thinking.
Oh, interesting. Remind me the name of the title again.
It's Michael Blackshirts on Human Conduct. Great.
OK, excellent. Well, we'll link to that on the podcast website as well as to your recent paper and to your book. Or any of our French speaking, rationally speaking listeners out there. I'll put in a few links to some other parts of the debate as well. Like so so maybe our listeners can get a feel for Zimbardo response and how he has addressed some of the allegations in other interviews, although not necessarily your allegations. Yeah, I think that'll that'll kind of give a fuller picture of what's happened in the reaction to it.
Let's hope that debate will unfold.
Now, here's hoping. It's wonderful talking to you. And I'm I'm grateful for the the work that you did. It's very important, even if not everyone realizes that. Well, thank you, Julia.
Thank you so much for coming on. Rationally speaking, and this concludes another episode. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nothing.