The New York Times ran an opinion editorial, “Capitalists and Other Psychopaths,” on May 13 by author William Deresiewicz wherein, citing a “recent study,” he claimed that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are “clinical psychopaths.”
However, this simply isn’t true and the New York Times was forced to print a correction:
Correction: May 20, 2012
An opinion essay on May 13 about ethics and capitalism misstated the findings of a 2010 study on psychopathy in corporations. The study found that 4 percent of a sample of 203 corporate professionals met a clinical threshold for being described as psychopaths, not that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are clinical psychopaths. In addition, the study, in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, was not based on a representative sample; the authors of the study say that the 4 percent figure cannot be generalized to the larger population of corporate managers and executives.
As you can see, the correction clearly undercuts the entire point of the Deresiewicz article (which is to argue that a large number of wealthy capitalists and Wall Street professionals are “lying, cheating and stealing” psychopaths).
But despite the Times’ mea culpa, Tom Blumer of Newsbusters was not impressed and explains why the op-ed was so wrong.
“The Times appears not to regret publishing an egregiously dishonest item,” Blumer writes, adding that the story falls apart because “its linchpin is a study of ‘corporate professionals,’ not of ‘people who work on Wall Street.’”
“As John Grohol at Psych Central…has noted, Deresiewicz almost definitely failed to take even the most basic steps to verify what…he must have seen as too good to check,” he adds.
Blumer brings up an important point in the study of the 203 “professionals”:
… many journalists and reporters nowadays just rely on professionals to make a claim, and don’t ever challenge or bother to verify the claim. I’m not sure why this is, but it seems to be the new defacto standard.
But this claim — a 1000 percent increase in a specific population — should’ve raised red flags everywhere. Such a huge discrepancy should be easy to verify in the scientific literature, since it screams, “This is an important finding!”
Hare did indeed co-author a paper that examined “corporate psychopathy,” with colleagues Paul Babiak and Craig Neumann (2010). It did not look at the financial services industry specifically. The research used a sample that consisted of 203 corporate professionals from 7 different companies, selected by their companies to participate in management development programs from all areas of industry.
So what he’s saying is that these people weren’t even in charge of anything.
“How in the world do you start with a study showing that 4% of a narrow group of 203 management development trainees might be psychopaths, turn them all into financial services professionals, transform all of them into ‘those who work on Wall Street,’ and increase the psychopathic frequency from 4% to 10%?” an understandably incredulous Blumer asks.
Deresiewicz failed to point out the 203 “professionals” were all trainees who don’t even remotely represent a broad range of professionals. Moreover, the sources he links to do very little to substantiate his claims.
“The bottom line is that Deresiewicz based his screed on nothing of substance while pretending that he was loaded with it,” Blumer writes.
While it’s commendable that the Times owned up to its mistake and corrected the factually inaccurate op-ed, the damage has already been done and the narrative is out there: 10 percent of everyone on Wall Street is a certifiable psychopath.