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Peer-Review Record

Climate Catastrophe and Stanley Milgram’s Electric Shock “Obedience” Experiments: An Uncanny Analogy

Soc. Sci. 2019, 8(6), 178; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci8060178
Reviewer 1: Anonymous
Reviewer 2: Anonymous
Reviewer 3: Anonymous
Soc. Sci. 2019, 8(6), 178; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci8060178
Received: 19 March 2019 / Revised: 12 May 2019 / Accepted: 23 May 2019 / Published: 10 June 2019

Round 1

Reviewer 1 Report

Dear Editor,

Let me initially say that I really appreciate the topic considered by the manuscript and I really enjoy reading it. The consideration of both the Milgram Experiment and the climate issue is indeed very relevant for the literature and the general public.

That said, I found some critical points that prevent me to warrant publication. I try to list these issues in order to facilitate an eventual revision.

 

·         In general, in my opinion, the article should be shortened and the reader should be guided more clearly along the narrative line of the authors. Perhaps, they should explain more at the beginning the objective of the article itself (however, see the last point and the suggestion to divide the article).

·         Although both are very interesting, it is not clear how the controversial issues behind the experiment (in terms of a crime of obedience, (see Kelman & Hamilton, 1989) relate to the experiment itself. While there may be similarities, it is not clear how they are really connected. That is, while the analogy is quite interesting, I am not sure the article is clear in intertwining these two issues.

·         I really like the reference to bureaucracy as an explanation for the experiment, but this is not new and should be linked to Bauman's (1989) work. In general, I feel that many parts of the manuscript should be better linked to the literature.

·         The explanation of the climate change issue probably, in my opinion, does not need the Milgram issue as an analogy, but could simply be based on the analysis of the distorted use of bureaucracy and the chain behind so-called crimes of obedience, as theorized by by Bauman and Kelman and Hamilton.

·         In general, perhaps I would suggest the authors to divide their article into two possible articles: a single article on the ethical issue of Milgram, and to use this as an example of distorted use of bureaucracy and crime of obedience. A shorter and more focused article on the climate issue and always the issue of bureaucracy and crimes of obedience. In my opinion, it is these two theories that give a theoretical explanation to what is happening, even in terms of the various points that the authors correctly list (from p. 16), rather than the use of another example (very complex among other things) such as that of the story behind the Milgram experiment.

 

Bauman, Z. (1989). Modernity and the Holocaust. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Kelman, H. C., & Hamilton, V. L. (1989). Crimes of obedience. Toward a social psychology of authority and responsibility. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.


Author Response

 

Reviewer 1

Comments and Suggestions for Authors

Dear Editor,

Let me initially say that I really appreciate the topic considered by the manuscript and I really enjoy reading it. The consideration of both the Milgram Experiment and the climate issue is indeed very relevant for the literature and the general public.

That said, I found some critical points that prevent me to warrant publication. I try to list these issues in order to facilitate an eventual revision.

·         In general, in my opinion, the article should be shortened [This is good advice and we’ve been aware of this problem from the start. However, we have done the best we can. It should be remembered that this article is spread across four main sections, three of which necessitate we cover a significant amount of ground. We are confident that we must cover this ground if we are to have any chance of making our case] and the reader should be guided more clearly along the narrative line of the authors. Perhaps, they should explain more at the beginning the objective of the article itself [Again, this is good advice. As a result, we have inserted a new paragraph at the start of the article that outlines what we are trying to achieve. This new paragraph states: As we argue, the common denominator between both the Obedience Studies and climate catastrophe is that both involve powerful figures (Milgram/the carbon-capital elite) utilising manipulative techniques of bureaucratic organisation to push and pull their functionary helpers (the Obedience Study research team and participants /fossil fuel investors, employees and consumers) into contributing to preconceived goal achievement (obtaining a high completion rate/producing and consuming massive quantities of fossil fuels). And in both cases, for all these functionary helpers to achieve the goals of the powerful, all must agree to contribute to the infliction of harm on a powerless group (the “shocked” learner/future victims of climate catastrophe). As we will show, nearly all the functionary helpers do so because they not only stand to personally benefit, they also suspect that—with so many ‘others’ involved in goal achievement—they can probably contribute to harm-infliction with impunity. In making this analogy we hope to provide the reader with a new and potentially powerful lens through which to view the seemingly unstoppable problem of climate catastrophe and then to reflect on their own individual experience and ability to adapt. ] (however, see the last point and the suggestion to divide the article).

·         Although both are very interesting, it is not clear how the controversial issues behind the experiment (in terms of a crime of obedience, (see Kelman & Hamilton, 1989) relate to the experiment itself. [The interpretation of the Obedience studies we use is based on the foundation that the Obedience studies are not really about “obedience”—they are more about how people within a bureaucratic context resolve pressing moral dilemmas. This is why we have chosen not to reference much of the previous “obedience”-centric literature. That said, we should have referenced Bauman (1989) because Reviewer 1 is correct in pointing out that he explores the importance of bureaucracy as an important factor within the Obedience studies (our article now includes a reference for Bauman’s work). Russell (2018) certainly references Bauman, and we also should have. That said, to argue that we (more accurately Russell (2018)), repeats Bauman’s (1989) Obedience Study-Bureaucracy connection would be unfair—Russell makes a much more direct archival-based connections that delves into the Obedience study’s deep multi-layered organizational division of labour.] While there may be similarities, it is not clear how they are really connected [The connection/common denominator is social engineering within the context of bureaucratic organization. We thought we’d made this point quite clearly. But just to make sure we’ve made the following two amendments: 1. We have inserted the following sentence (and removed the old sentence that was here): “Because the “Obedience” experiments are actually about a powerful figure’s utilisation of bureaucratic organisation to socially engineer his harmful desires into a reality, at their root the Obedience Studies are also about the abuse of that power (Russell, 2018: 74, 90, 260-261).”

” And two: “And the main reason we side with Heede’s argument is because, as the following illustrates, these leaders have long known about climate catastrophe and they – like powerful Milgram-esque social engineers – have effectively used their access to enormous organisational resources to manipulate the choices made by their less powerful oil-economy functionaries, investors and consumers.]That is, while the analogy is quite interesting, I am not sure the article is clear in intertwining these two issues.

·         I really like the reference to bureaucracy as an explanation for the experiment, but this is not new and should be linked to Bauman's (1989) work.[This is a good point and, as noted above, we should have referenced Bauman (1989). Again, we have added a reference to Bauman.] In general, I feel that many parts of the manuscript should be better linked to the literature.[We chose not to link our manuscript to much of the previous literature on the Obedience studies because we are persuaded by Russell’s (2018) convincing dismissal of much of it. For example, Russell (2018) presents an argument that the Obedience studies are less about “obedience” and much more about the resolution of a moral dilemma (and nearly all the previous literature is rooted in Milgram’s view that his experiments were centrally about “obedience to authority". And it is the resolution of a moral dilemma—not so-called “obedience to authority”—that is particularly applicable to helping better understand climate catastrophe. For example, how effective would it be if we tried to explain people’s large carbon footprints by arguing that as consumers, they have all just been following the higher orders of the carbon-capital elite and thus they feel they must use oil? This is, we suspect, why nobody has previously been able to effectively link the “Obedience studies” to climate catastrophe. We therefore think the main cause of Reviewer 1’s issues with our paper is largely because Russell’s (2018; 2019) two-volume book has only recently been published and they are not yet familiar with its findings. We would encourage Reviewer 1 to read Chapter 6 (pp. 133-136) in the section titled ““Obedience”—Or Not?” (Russell, 2018). Actually, because this is a very important point, we’ve pasted this section from Russell’s book at the end of this response should Reviewer 1 be interested in reading it. Again, in support of Russell (2018), we are convinced that the Obedience experiments rather ironically have little (perhaps nothing) to do with so-called “obedience to authority.”]

·         The explanation of the climate change issue probably, in my opinion, does not need the Milgram issue as an analogy, but could simply be based on the analysis of the distorted use of bureaucracy and the chain behind so-called crimes of obedience, as theorized by by Bauman and Kelman and Hamilton.[Again, if we take this point to be true, then so-called obedience to authority should be able to explain climate catastrophe. But it obviously cannot: who’s “commands” are the consumers of oil “obeying”? This is why we suspect that any theoretical assertions about the Obedience studies embedded in the framework of “obedience to authority” is very likely to run into problems, especially when applied to climate catastrophe.]

·         In general, perhaps I would suggest the authors to divide their article into two possible articles: a single article on the ethical issue of Milgram, and to use this as an example of distorted use of bureaucracy and crime of obedience[This potential article has already been written by Russell (2018)—see Chapter 5 of his book. Also, as mentioned above, we do not want to make any association between “crimes of obedience” and climate catastrophe because we think it will rather easily be dismissed by critics.]. A shorter and more focused article on the climate issue and always the issue of bureaucracy and crimes of obedience [Perhaps we are wrong, but, again, we believe writing an article on crimes of “obedience” and climate catastrophe would be quickly dismissed by reviewers]. In my opinion, it is these two theories that give a theoretical explanation to what is happening, even in terms of the various points that the authors correctly list (from p. 16), rather than the use of another example (very complex among other things) such as that of the story behind the Milgram experiment.

Bauman, Z. (1989). Modernity and the Holocaust. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Kelman, H. C., & Hamilton, V. L. (1989). Crimes of obedience. Toward a social psychology of authority and responsibility. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

[Here is the section from Russell (2018: 133-136) mentioned above:

Obedience”—Or Not?

If there was one issue that Milgram was confident about, it was that his

experiments were, in some important way, about “obedience.” The word

“obedience” appears in the title of nearly all his articles. He made a film

called Obedience (A Filmed Experiment), he titled his book Obedience to

Authority, and he introduced the theoretical account of his results—the

agentic state—as “The Process of Obedience…”144 So why did Milgram

hold such an unshakable belief that his experiments were an investigation

into “obedience to authority?” The answer is found not in the results but

in the invention of the experiments.

Inspired by Nazi war crimes trials, Milgram set out to invent a social

psychology experiment that would test the ordinary German perpetrators’

defense of “just following orders.” His experiment would determine

if indeed ordinary (in this case American) people would follow

orders to hurt an innocent person. The first pilots were a watershed

moment for Milgram because, to his astonishment, at least part of the

stereotype about the propensity of ordinary Germans to obey authority

figures was confirmed: there indeed appeared to be a proclivity in most

ordinary people to obey. And when Milgram later asked those who

completed his experiment why they did and what they did, they typically

claimed that they were just following orders. Furthermore, according to

Milgram, his “obedient” participants were adamant that they honestly

did not believe they were “responsible for” their “own actions…”145

Instead, they saw themselves as instruments “carrying out the wishes”

of a higher authority.146 For Milgram, his compliant participants and the

Nazi perpetrators seemed to be influenced by the same agentic-like psychological

process! After all, hadn’t Rudolf Höss, the Commandant of

Auschwitz, argued that “The Reich Security Head Office and the concentration

camps were only the tools that were used to carry out the

wishes of Himmler, or the intentions of Adolf Hitler.”147 With this discovery,

the lens through which Milgram viewed his research hardened:

his experiments were, in some important way, about obedience. With

this belief locked firmly in mind, he embarked on the first official experiments

and all their variations.

Others, however, have questioned Milgram’s convictions. Noting

how the experimenter had to urge one participant at least four times

to “please continue” between the 285- and 315-volt switches, Charles

Helm and Mario Morelli observed that “The ‘obedient’ behaviour that

Milgram has analysed seems heavily dependent on cajoling, pleading, and

repetition, set in the context of deception and personal surveillance.”148

At best, the end result of the interaction between participant and experimenter—

the fulfillment of a request—only loosely fits the dictionary

definition of obedience—“compliance with an order, request, or law or

submission to another’s authority.”149 All the cajoling, pleading, and repetition

suggest that something far more nuanced was going on, such as,

“complying with a request, being persuaded by an argument, or capitulating

to pressure and intimidation.”150 These possibilities, however, seldom

crossed Milgram’s mind,151 because the findings from his first pilot

studies had so forcefully confirmed for him what the Nazis had said in

court. But as one prosecutor of German war crimes suggested to journalist

Gitta Sereny, obeying orders was probably a convenient and attractive

excuse152—the so-called obedience alibi.153 Such excuses—what

De Swaan terms “expedient masquerade[s]”154—are frequently used

during war crimes trials by perpetrators keen to evade personal responsibility

for actions actually motivated by factors like greed, careerism,

ambition, racism, hatred, and so on.155 Consider, for example, Dieter

Wisliceny who after the war testified that his superior officer, Adolf

Eichmann, boasted near the end of the war that he would “leap laughing

into the grave with extraordinary satisfaction at the knowledge that

he had helped to exterminate five million Jews.”156 However, once the

state of Israel tracked him down, Eichmann’s tune rather conveniently

changed. He pleaded with his captors, “I was not a responsible leader,”

and that, “There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible

and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands

of the leaders.”157 Blinded by confirmation bias, Milgram failed to consider

that during his post-experimental interrogations, the “obedient”

participants may have employed the same evasive strategy to avoid taking

personal responsibility for their own actions.

Other researchers have questioned Milgram’s use of the term “obedience.”

For example, in the mid-1990s Neil Lutsky argued that Milgram’s

frequent conflation of description and explanation leads to a tautological

in which obedience is explained by obedience.158 More recently, several

researchers have likewise noted that “obedience” offers a weak description

of most participants’ behavior.159 If “obedience” proves at best, a

weak description of many participants’ actions, it would make a flimsy

foundation for a robust theoretical explanation of Milgram’s results.160

Perhaps this is the origin of the theoretical drought that has plagued

Milgram’s research and thus why, as Miller notes, nobody has proven

capable of developing a “conclusive theory to account for destructive

obedience—or defiance, either.”161 But perhaps the most telling criticism

of Milgram’s terminology came out of Burger’s partial replication of

the Obedience studies in 2009. During this replication, Burger, Girgis,

and Manning noted that the fourth standard prod—“You have no other

choice, you must go on”—infuriated participants so much that every single

one of them exposed to it refused to continue.162 Of all the prods,

this one most resembles a demand to obey authority, but in fact, it stimulated

disobedience 100% of the time. Perhaps, then, the experiments

were not about “obedience to authority” at all.

Helm and Morelli write:

The attempt to clarify the legal and philosophic aspects of obedience

involves the establishment of criteria that must “be met before an event or

act can be said to fall within the ambit of a given concept”. In the absence

of a clarification of such criteria, we have no good grounds for contending

that this instance of a belief or behavior is illustrative of obedience to

authority.163

These two researchers compared Milgram’s failure to question his

assumptions to those of King Charles II’s philosophers, who, when asked

by the king why a fish gains weight after dying, eagerly offered a welter

of theories until Charles pointed out that a fish does not gain weight

after death. According to Russell and Gregory,

none of the philosophers in the metaphorical court of “King Stanley” seriously

challenged an assumption that was, because of his pilot studies, so

firmly held by the king himself. Convinced from the outset that his experiments

were somehow about “obedience”, Milgram eventually had to

develop a theory that, metaphorically speaking, explained why a fish gains

weight when it expires. Perhaps this is why he took well over a decade

of deep and often depressing contemplation to develop a theory that so

quickly ended up dead in the water.164

The reason that Milgram believed his “obedient” participants were telling

the truth was:

For a man to feel responsible for his actions, he must sense that the behavior

has flowed from ‘the self.’ In the situation we have studied, subjects

have precisely the opposite view of their actions—namely, they see them

as originating in the motives of some other person. Subjects in the experiment

frequently said, ‘If it were up to me, I would not have administered

shocks to the learner’. (Italics added)165

If Milgram’s participants were telling the truth, then, he concluded, the

Nazi perpetrators must also have been telling the truth when they expressed

the same personal “view.” For many Nazi war criminals during the 1940s

and 1950s, however, their lives and reputations were on the line—being

executed was possible, serving prison time was probable, and the prospect of

being labeled a war criminal was almost certain. For the Nazi perpetrators,

there was obviously a great deal to be gained from denial and evasion.166 It

would seem that Milgram failed to consider the possibility that his “obedient”

participants utilized the same evasive strategy as the Nazi war criminals

to veil what were their own (perhaps shameful) reasons for inflicting harm.

Both during and immediately after the experiments, lies were likely told—

lies that Milgram believed to be the truth. It would therefore seem that the

great deceiver of psychology may ironically have been a victim of his own

participants’ acts of deception.167 Somewhat excitingly, this deception provides

a new lens through which to theoretically view the Obedience studies.”]

 


Author Response File: Author Response.docx

Reviewer 2 Report

A very compelling, and eye opening, comparison between Milgram's obedience studies and global warming. The points of comparison are striking and timely, if not urgent. Not only does this paper shed light on the current climate crisis, the authors offer a renewed understanding of Milgram's studies calling attention to power structure dynamics and social engineering. The parallels to Exxon Mobile are uncanny.

Author Response

Thanks Reviewer 2 for reviewing our article!

Cheers, Nestar and Annette

Reviewer 3 Report

I applaud the authors for a novel idea and for their attempt to apply a psychological phenomenon (participants' behavior in the Milgram paradigm) to a very important real-world problem (Climate Change). However, although the idea has promise, the support for their argument is severely lacking. Throughout the paper there are places where no evidence is given to support the authors logic. Most notably, in the first two sections (where the authors describe Milgram's studies and then offer alternatives to his findings), some information is not accurate. However, more broadly, I am not clear why Milgram's studies in particular were chosen for an analogy to perpetrators of climate change. Based on the authors' logic, nearly any classic psychological study (and to that, nearly any situation at all that is unethical or where people were harmed) could have been used. Even more problematically, it felt at times that the authors twisted what happened in Milgram's studies to their agenda, rather than basing their logic off of evidence. In truth, I stopped taking notes about half-way through as there was quite a lot of inaccuracies and questions I had and had I not stopped, I could potentially spend hours correcting this paper/pointing out inconsistencies and issues.


In short, while I think this is an interesting idea, I would urge the author's to do some more research into exactly what happened in Milgram's studies and to gain a clearer understanding of the various theories that have come out over the past 50 years to explain these. Even if the authors do not agree with these, or do not want to use them to support their argument, I think they at least need to be acknowledged. To get started, I include my comments as I went through the paper below. 


I wish the author's best of luck with their work - I think applying psychology to the 'real world' has a lot of merit; there should be more work that thinks outside of the box in this way! However, it does need to be based on evidence rather than what appears in this instance to be more opinion.


Wording in the abstract could be simpler and more to the point (Line 16 and Line 17)

 

Line 72 – would be good to just briefly name some of these theories….just so that readers can have easier access to them if needed.

 

Line 95 – Description of the fact that the other ‘participant’ was actually a confederate could be clearer.

 

113 – I’m not sure the experimenter was ‘pushy’ – is there evidence of this?

 

In the first section, where the author(s) describe the baseline study, citations are needed. This is particularly true when the author’s quote the experimenter. Also, I think it’s important to mention here that the experimenter as well as the learner followed a script. 

 

139 – the description of the study as being called the Remote Condition needs referencing (page number if from Milgram’s book)

 

150 – I am not familiar with many of these variants the authors mention (particularly the ‘Subject Chooses Shock Level’ condition that is mentioned). It is concerning that, again, there are no references here…

 

156 – describing the condition as ‘particularly unethical’ is unnecessary – I would suggest the authors leave their opinions out of it. 

 

Some paragraphs are quite long while others are very short. For instance, lines 157 – 159, is a paragraph with only one sentence. The structure of the argument within paragraphs should ideally be more uniform, with the point and supporting evidence clear in each one. 

 

Again, the pilot study mentioned in Line 175 needs a reference…

 

Line 202 – There is a reference with a date and a page number but no author…

 

I don’t understand how Milgram’s goal of running a world-famous study is a ‘binding factor.’ From the description of this by the authors, it seems that binding factors refers to tempting others to do something they don’t want to do…

 

277 – I am unclear why the words ‘first type of functionary’ is in italics

 

284 – Typo ‘never be punished’

 

I am not convinced by the idea that the engineer of the shock machine is a ‘first type of functionary’ – if this is the case then absolutely anyone could be in this position as any object could potentially be use for harm. (e.g., if I throw a chair at someone, is the maker of the chair a ‘first type of functionary’?) There is not example given for the ‘second type of functionary’ which makes the argument unconvincing

 

323 – I am not sure that it is accurate that Milgram or his team considered the studies to be ‘dangerous.’ If this is the case, a reference is needed.

 

420 – mysterious inhibition? What makes it mysterious? Is this the authors opinion? What is it based on? 

 

453 – The authors state that the ‘last prod proved extremely tempting to participants’ First, is this their opinion? Second, they have ignored a body of research that helps explain participants behavior in the Milgram’s studies (The Engaged Followership Model of Obedience). In this section, I would urge the authors to look at the following paper: Haslam, Reicher, & Birney, 2014 in the Journal of Social Issues.

 

471 – The authors state that the it is difficult to understand how participants could turn their backs on the learner for such a ‘trivial’ reason. But it wasn’t trivial. There is a body of literature that explains why participants kept going in the Milgram paradigm. This needs to at least be acknowledged.

 

484 – 485 – It is not the case that participants’ common post-experimental justification was that they were ‘just following orders’ – this is not accurate at all. More research needs to be done by the authors. 


Author Response

Reviewer 3

I applaud the authors for a novel idea and for their attempt to apply a psychological phenomenon (participants' behavior in the Milgram paradigm) to a very important real-world problem (Climate Change). However, although the idea has promise, the support for their argument is severely lacking. Throughout the paper there are places where no evidence is given to support the authors logic. Most notably, in the first two sections (where the authors describe Milgram's studies and then offer alternatives to his findings), some information is not accurate. However, more broadly, I am not clear why Milgram's studies in particular were chosen for an analogy to perpetrators of climate change. Based on the authors' logic, nearly any classic psychological study (and to that, nearly any situation at all that is unethical or where people were harmed) could have been used. Even more problematically, it felt at times that the authors twisted what happened in Milgram's studies to their agenda, rather than basing their logic off of evidence. In truth, I stopped taking notes about half-way through as there was quite a lot of inaccuracies and questions I had and had I not stopped, I could potentially spend hours correcting this paper/pointing out inconsistencies and issues

In short, while I think this is an interesting idea, I would urge the author's to do some more research into exactly what happened in Milgram's studies and to gain a clearer understanding of the various theories that have come out over the past 50 years to explain these. Even if the authors do not agree with these, or do not want to use them to support their argument, I think they at least need to be acknowledged. To get started, I include my comments as I went through the paper below. 

I wish the author's best of luck with their work - I think applying psychology to the 'real world' has a lot of merit; there should be more work that thinks outside of the box in this way! However, it does need to be based on evidence rather than what appears in this instance to be more opinion.

 

[We greatly appreciate Reviewer 3’s comments, observations, and criticisms. We have acted on each point made that we feel is valid. These comments/criticisms have certainly caused us to introduce a variety of changes that we believe improves the paper. For this we thank Reviewer 3. However, we dispute Reviewer 3’s implied recommendation that this paper undergo significant revisions (or more accurately that we “do some more research into exactly what happened in Milgram's studies”). This criticism suggests that we do not have a sufficient command of the evidence/literature surrounding the Obedience studies and that “some information is not accurate.” We question the validity of this criticism. For example, the first author wrote his PhD thesis directly on the Obedience studies, spent 10 weeks--full time--in Milgram’s personal archive, and has written numerous peer-reviewed articles and two single author books on these experiments. Our work is certainly not infallible (far from it), but based on our experience and command of the archival and secondary literature, we do not feel our paper requires more research. In fact, we wonder if Reviewer 3 has read the latest literature that in many ways conflicts with earlier research (both in terms of Milgram’s official version of events and much of the secondary literature). We do not think that Reviewer 3 should be allowed to reject an article that is centered around the latest literature that they do not seem to have read (specifically the latest archival and theoretical literature by Perry (2012), Erdos (2013), and Russell (2018; 2019)). Reviewer 3 states that he/she didn’t really understand our paper—even stating that they are “not clear why Milgram's studies in particular were chosen for an analogy to perpetrators of climate change”—but then also goes on to point out that they only read the first part of the manuscript (again, because our apparently weak command of the Obedience Studies frustrated them). We feel that not understanding something that one chooses not to read (and then reject!) is unfair. If Reviewer 3 was not prepared to read our article in full then they should have removed themselves from the review process.]

 

Below is Reviewer 3’s line-by-line comments, followed by our responses (in bold).

 

Wording in the abstract could be simpler and more to the point (Line 16 and Line 17) [This is a very good point. We have simplified the abstract.]

 

Line 72 – would be good to just briefly name some of these theories….just so that readers can have easier access to them if needed. [Our article is already very long. We have cited the names of the authors and we believe this to be sufficient. As stated in our article: “(see Bache, Bartle, Flinders & Marsden, 2015; Bandura, 2007; Friedrichs, 2017; Gardiner, 2004, 2011a, 2011b, 2014, 2017; Gardiner & Weisbach, 2016; Jamieson, 1992, 2010, 2014; Norgaard, 2011; Oreskes & Conway, 2011; Victor, 2011; Weber, 2015; Weintrobe, 2013; and indirectly, Hardin, 1968).” Naming the theories would be nice, but we just don’t have the space. We think a reference is more than sufficient.]

 

Line 95 – Description of the fact that the other ‘participant’ was actually a confederate could be clearer. [Good point. This sentence now states: “The ostensible participant (an actor) was then introduced to a waiting naïve, and actual, participant.”]

 

113 – I’m not sure the experimenter was ‘pushy’ – is there evidence of this? [Yes. See Perry (2012, pp. 134–135). We have added this reference.]

 

In the first section, where the author(s) describe the baseline study, citations are needed. This is particularly true when the author’s quote the experimenter.[Good point. We have done this adding two references to Russell (2018)] Also, I think it’s important to mention here that the experimenter as well as the learner followed a script. [It is true that the experimenter was meant to follow a script. But it is also important to note that he did not always do so. As Perry (2012: 134) put it, the experimenter kept “moving the goalposts” by straying from his experimenter instructions. Russell (2018: 176) makes the same point: the experimenter regularly: “…strayed from his “EXPERIMENTER’S INSTRUCTIONS””. Thus, it is actually debatable whether or not he followed a script and therefore we chose not to discuss this actually murky point which is not technically relevant to the climate catastrophe analogy.] 

 

139 – the description of the study as being called the Remote Condition needs referencing (page number if from Milgram’s book). [In his book Milgram terms this condition the “Remote-Feedback variation” (Milgram, 1974: 32). We have add the word “-Feedback”.]

 

150 – I am not familiar with many of these variants the authors mention (particularly the ‘Subject Chooses Shock Level’ condition that is mentioned). It is concerning that, again, there are no references here…

[Confusion here might be due to what Milgram termed this condition in his 1974 book (“Subject Free to Choose Shock Level”—Milgram, 1974: 70) and what he termed it in the archive (the “Subject Chooses Shock Level” variation). It also needs to be remembered that Milgram (1963, 1965, 1974) chose not to publish all of his baseline variations (for example the Relationship Condition). This may explain why Reviewer 3 did not recognise some of the variations mentioned. We have inserted the term “Subject Free to Choose Shock Level,” as used in the 1974 book.]

 

156 – describing the condition as ‘particularly unethical’ is unnecessary – I would suggest the authors leave their opinions out of it. [Good point. We have removed the words “particularly unethical”.]

 

Some paragraphs are quite long while others are very short. For instance, lines 157 – 159, is a paragraph with only one sentence. The structure of the argument within paragraphs should ideally be more uniform, with the point and supporting evidence clear in each one. [We have fixed this paragraph problem.]

 

Again, the pilot study mentioned in Line 175 needs a reference… [Good point. We have added the following reference: (Russell, 2018: 61-64).]

 

Line 202 – There is a reference with a date and a page number but no author…[Good point. We’ve changed it to: “(Milgram, 1974: 153-164).”]

 

I don’t understand how Milgram’s goal of running a world-famous study is a ‘binding factor.’ From the description of this by the authors, it seems that binding factors refers to tempting others to do something they don’t want to do… [According to our paper Binding Factors are “external bonds that can tempt, coerce, or entrap a person into doing something they would prefer not to do (Milgram 1974: 148).” This definition suggests that it is possible for someone to use a BF on say Milgram (or he could even use one on himself). For, example, Russell (2018: 177) provides evidence that Milgram was aware his experiments were, in his own words, “unethical” (we presume he would have preferred to avoid undertaking unethical research that might hurt innocent people). But is it possible the binding factor of obtaining tenure at a highly competitive Ivy League university tempted Milgram into running an experimental programme he knew to be unethical (see Russell, 2018: 63)? If so, it can therefore be argued that to some degree Yale University’s tenure system was a binding factor that may have helped tempt Milgram into pursuing an experimental programme he sensed to be unethical.]

 

277 – I am unclear why the words ‘first type of functionary’ is in italics [Good point. We’ve fixed this.]

 

284 – Typo ‘never be punished’ [Great spotting. This has been fixed.]

 

I am not convinced by the idea that the engineer of the shock machine is a ‘first type of functionary’ – if this is the case then absolutely anyone could be in this position as any object could potentially be use for harm. (e.g., if I throw a chair at someone, is the maker of the chair a ‘first type of functionary’?) There is not example given for the ‘second type of functionary’ which makes the argument unconvincing. [We have added an example of the second type of functionary (the NSF). Doing so makes the point we are making easier to comprehend.]

 

323 – I am not sure that it is accurate that Milgram or his team considered the studies to be ‘dangerous.’ If this is the case, a reference is needed. [There is evidence that Milgram thought his experiment might hurt participants and this is why he had all of them sign a legal release, which, as he said on one document, was “not used for experimental purposes, but to protect us against legal claims.” (Russell, 2018: 173). We have now included this reference.]

 

420 – mysterious inhibition? What makes it mysterious? Is this the authors opinion? What is it based on? [This is a good point. We’ve removed the word “mysterious”. ]

 

453 – The authors state that the ‘last prod proved extremely tempting to participants’ First, is this their opinion? [This is a good point. Therefore, we have referenced the following section from Russell (2018: 218-219) which discusses how/why the last prod was probably so tempting (using the example of “Fred Prozi”, who was gradually tempted into completing the experiment):

 

“...other participants seemed to seek an explicit assurance from the experimenter that if they continued, they would not be held responsible for the consequences of their actions. One such participant was Fred Prozi (pseudonym). At 180 volts, Prozi both placed a tentative foot outside            his Zone of Indifference and expressed awareness that he was responsible for his contributions: “I’m not going to get that man sick in there. […] I refuse to take the responsibility […] who’s going to take the responsibility if anything happens to that gentleman?” For Prozi to continue, the experimenter had to be willing to accept full responsibility (something Prozi probably suspected          he was unlikely to do). But, instead, the experimenter did just that leaving Prozi more entrapped    than before, unless he was willing to engage in a direct confrontation. “All right […] (Subject    shakes head, pats the table nervously).” He flicked the next switch. Later in the experiment, after     the learner stopped screaming, Prozi stated, “Something’s happened to that man in there.” He then seized the opportunity he had earlier sensed might enable him to both avoid having to engage in a confrontation and evade responsibility for his seemingly harmful actions: “‘You accept all responsibility?’ EXPERIMENTER: ‘The responsibility is mine. Correct. Please go on.’” Prozi again continued. He had been persuaded into completing and then entered what Erdos terms the “after capitulation phase” of the experimental procedure—a full-fledged commitment to side with the experimenter.” (Russell, 2018: 218-219)  

 

Also, when participants don’t have the option to displace responsibility for their harmful actions on to someone/something else, they are much less likely to complete the basic experiment. Meeus and Raaijmakers (1995, pp. 164–165), for example, undertook an Obedience-study variation called “Legal liability” where, before the experiment started, participants were asked to sign a form that stipulated that if the learner was harmed that they (the participant) would be held legally responsible. This variation produced a significantly lower completion rate than their baseline condition (30% versus 91%).]

 

Second, they have ignored a body of research that helps explain participants behavior in the Milgram’s studies (The Engaged Followership Model of Obedience). In this section, I would urge the authors to look at the following paper: Haslam, Reicher, & Birney, 2014 in the Journal of Social Issues.

[Here Reviewer 3 accuses us of not having referenced others who have presented alternative interpretations of the Obedience studies. This is not true. We would refer them to the following section of our article (page 5):  “Although Blass believes Milgram’s (1974) own theory is his book’s “weakest” section (2004: 216), other theoretical contributions have emerged (see Erdos, 2013; Haslam, Reicher, & Birney, 2016; Eckman, 1977; Nissani, 1990; Russell, 2014a; Russell, 2018; Russell & Gregory, 2011; 2015).” Having said that, perhaps Haslam, Reicher and Birney’s 2014 article is a better reference than their 2016 paper. Therefore, we now include the 2014 paper instead.]

 

471 – The authors state that the it is difficult to understand how participants could turn their backs on the learner for such a ‘trivial’ reason. But it wasn’t trivial. There is a body of literature that explains why participants kept going in the Milgram paradigm. This needs to at least be acknowledged.

[Some might argue that Haslam, Reicher and Birney (2014), for example, offer an explanation surrounding why participants turned their backs on the learner for a ‘trivial’ reason. We would mention this, except that we are unable to draw any strong links between this study and climate catastrophe. Therefore, we have chosen to only focused on discussing Russell (2018) at length because, as our article demonstrates, we are able to draw strong links between this study and climate catastrophe. Why do we have to mention a study that cannot be linked to our end goal?]

 

484 – 485 – It is not the case that participants’ common post-experimental justification was that they were ‘just following orders’ – this is not accurate at all. More research needs to be done by the authors.

[We are not suggesting that participants were being honest when they used this justification. But nonetheless, here we rely on Milgram (1974: 7-8) who, as can be seen below, used the word “typical”:

“The most common adjustment of thought in the obedient subject is for him to see himself as not responsible for his own actions. He divests himself of responsibility by attributing all initiative to the experimenter, a legitimate authority. He sees himself not as a person acting in a morally accountable way but as the agent of external authority. In the postexperimental interview, when subjects were asked why they had gone on, a typical reply was: ‘I wouldn’t have done it by myself. I was just doing what I was told.’ Unable to defy the authority of the experimenter, they attribute all responsibility to him. It is the old story of ‘just doing one’s duty’ that was heard time and time again in the defense statements of those accused at Nuremberg. But it would be wrong to think of it as a thin alibi concocted for the occasion. Rather, it is a fundamental mode of thinking for a great many people once they are locked into a subordinate position in a structure of authority. The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.” See also Milgram (1974: 175, 83).]

 

 

 


Round 2

Reviewer 1 Report

Dear Editor,

I think the Author(s) dealt very well with my concerns about the first version of the present manuscript and the revision improved the paper very much.

I still think that the article is a bit long, but I leave this evaluation to the editor, as it relates to the journal itself.

I thank the authors for pointing out Russell's chapter, very interesting, but I remind the authors that the articles must be self-explanatory, because the readers must be able to understand the article regardless of their previous knowledge.

Thanks again for the opportunity to read your work and congratulations for the article!


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