Breaking: DWP unit STOLE Seligman’s test

This will be brief, as I’m just making a quick stop on the motorway. The saga of the fake psychometric ‘test’, which the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forcing jobseekers to take under threat of losing their benefits, has just taken a very interesting turn.

Apparently, the US creators of the original test of 150 or so questions, from which the 48 questions for the DWP’s bogus test were taken, have read my blog and the Guardian article that spun off from it, and are going ballistic.

Because the DWP’s ‘nudge unit’ that devised the test as a means of cynically manipulating jobseekers, did not bother to get permission to use the questions in their ‘randomised control trial’ of its effects on hapless jobseekers.

They stole it. And the owners are livid about that, and about how they’ve used the ‘test’ without any of the usual ethical safeguards.

Complaints are being made from the US to the British Psychological Society (BPS) – and others on this side of the Atlantic will be making some too. Including me – and you, if you like.

I wrote the other day about how the test itself is probably illegal in a variety of ways. But that’s not the limit of the government’s criminality. They indulge in a bit of theft, plagiarism and copyright-breaking too.

Please spread the word so the government, especially the DWP, is as shamed and exposed as it deserves to be.

Update: apparently the extent of the government’s nefarious behaviour goes even further. This from the ‘Bad Science‘ discussion forum, by a user called ‘sTeamTraen’:

Update on this: a friend of mine has contacted the people in the US who run the “real” version of this psychometric. Apparently the person behind this bollocksed-up short version ran it past them a few months ago and was told not to do it. So s/he then went ahead anyway. The US people have asked for it to be taken down, as it’s scientifically invalid and getting them a bad name.

So not only is the DWP using the questions without permission (or presumably payment, even though the ‘nudge unit’ is charging hefty fees to the taxpayer for its ‘work’), but it’s deliberately ignoring an express instruction by the test’s owner not to do so.

Is there a limit to how far this lot will go and how low they’ll sink?


  1. Fantastic. This is just brilliant. Well done you for bringing it to everyone’s attention. I’m so glad the G published you stuff on it, and I hope your next article(s) get on the front page too.
    BTW – sent a message to you on Twitter (having forgotten how to retweet) on the news that the Nursing Times awards this year are being sponsored by Atos. I feel a bit sick (being SRN/RGN, if retired)

    1. Yes, I saw the Twitter message – thanks for letting me know. It’s on a par for perversity with Atos sponsoring last year’s Paralympics!

      1. Tweeted Shiv re. this post last night – he replied that he’s on it already. This is fantastic work, Steve – thank you.

  2. Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    Criminality rears its head in the heart of the Coalition government YET AGAIN! Not only did the DWP break both UK and EU law by running (fake) psychometric tests on jobseekers without getting informed consent, but the so-called ‘Nudge Unit’ that devised the project has STOLEN the test from its US creators. These people didn’t get permission to use the questions and are now facing legal action from abroad. One wonders if the government will be able to squash that kind of litigation, in the same way some of us fear it does with home-grown cases!

  3. Wow… is IDS going to retroactively change international law to make his department’s theft legal, I wonder? I’m sure this complete fiasco will do the DWP’s reputation wonders in international circles. Oh, apparently it isn’t true Atos are sponsoring the Nursing Time awards. It’s too soon to say what’s gone on there but there’s conflicting information flying around.

    1. If it is not true tell me why atos have a big splash across the page and furthermore why is Unison sponsoring it too knowing the trouble ATOS has caused

  4. (Also commented on Mike Sivier’s blog):

    Legal action? Serves ‘em bloody well right! However, fed up paying for their myriad mistakes. Whoever stole it, pay the settlement out of your own damn pocket for once!

  5. IDS will now be required to enact retrospective legislation so that all the people whose benefits have been stopped because of this are not allowed to claim their money back.

  6. Love your blog. Such a tonic and voice of reason in this vile and corrupt political climate. Without vigilant people like you they would get away with it. It gives a voice to those that often go ignored or are just too angry/terrified/involved to express themselves so eloquently when faced with such devious and vile machinations from people that are supposed to be genuinely helping them. Hope you get a regular slot on “Comment is Free’. Good work, thank you.

  7. Brilliant: What can be said, cold-hearted, immoral, lying deceivers, cheats or something darker. The malign use of misappropriated psychology in an unfeeling way to trap, abuse and coerce, in many cases, ill and infirm claimants for what! to trick them out of a few pennies and force them down an endless road to nowhere. This money its not the DWP’s its oors: not the property of some jumped up toadying educational failure to use as he pleases – to gloatingly lay it at the feet of his boss – ‘please sir, for you, ain’t I a good toad……’ When are we going to stand up and say enough!!!!! of this b….sht, and demand a vote on this governments lack of fitness to govern? Support the call for a ‘true people’s assembly, Now.

  8. Excellent work here and am now following.My partner and I are members of the British Psychological Society. We have emailed their Policy Advisor, Science and Research requesting urgent action by the BPS. Have also shared with the psychologist friends on Facebook. Keep on at this and similar nasties.

  9. Harassment, intimidation, chicanery, mendacity. Now it’s plagiarism and copyright theft by the DWP!

    It’s about time these hitherto unchecked crimes at the DWP were brought to book!

  10. Excellent work! Wow, what a shameless lot they are. They probably think ethics is an English county.

  11. US company should sue IDS personally. His wife will pay and tell him to stop being a naughty boy in future.

  12. Here are some first, 1/2 baked, comments: Maybe the Positive Psychology is well-meant, even by Seligman, as a scientific version of humanistic psychology. But even so, it makes all sorts of assumptions, or just leaves empty, notions about normality, good and bad, and positive and negative emotions. In what I heard, Seligman doesn’t explain these well, and what he does do (as I read in a Wiki) biases these notions towards American norms

  13. Yes, who says Bin Laden was more cynical than our governments or more destructive to public health and safety?

    I agree with Malcolm Naylor (#MalcolmNaylor) in his letter to the London Metro on p12 on Tue 30 Apr ’13 that all political parties are a big part of the problem and a more fundamental democratic settlement is overdue, without which public safety & security will collapse, threatened not just by terrorists but by our own lying governments (eg http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/may/05/crime-statistics-attacked-by-criminologist), big corporations etc.

    Thanks partially to your blog posts, we see they’re all self-serving kakistocratic PR elites nudge nudging & running rings round the consumer/voter, kowtowing to pressure groups, large companies, money, money, money.

    To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, in relation just to global corporations – could equally apply to government or any self-regulated powerful group – their totally cynical view of the public (those they avoid paying tax to) & their treatment of employees, victims & directly attributed deaths (random examples below*):

    Global Corps.
    by Oscar Riled

    Yet each Corp. kills to whom it sells
    Their reach must grow & grow
    Some do it like a bitter crook
    Some use a PR pro
    Chairmen lie while smiling wide
    Yet brave men whistleblow!
    Some kill their staff when they are young
    And some when they are old;
    Some poison after tempts of Lust
    Most with the tempt of Gold
    Their adverts tempt the wives, b’cos
    The Dads so soon feel old
    Some tempt the littl’uns, some with song
    Some sell and others buy
    Some do the deed by spreading fears,
    And some let mothers cry:
    For each Corp. kills to whom it sells
    Yet the Chairmen do not die.

    #OscarRiled (from Ballad of Reading Gaol)

    * random examples of corporate cynicism:

    Bhopal 25,000 deaths, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-18254334

    Rana plaza >500 dead, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/04/bangladesh-factory-collapse-owners-gun

    British Sugar, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/feb/09/british-sugar-giant-tax-scandal

    GMO safety test ban, http://www.globalresearch.ca/gmo-scandal-the-long-term-effects-of-genetically-modified-food-on-humans/14570

    1. Small point; these people are not elites, they’re at best predators and at worst parasites, but they’re NOT elites.

      1. Quite right..! Well, they always see themselves as elites, judging by their cavalier attitude to expenses. The Govt. must do too, given the license they give themselves to lie to us: Labour re Iraq war, LibDems re student fees & Tories re stats & much else. Important consequences for public health, safety & security derive from this self-describing (non-?)elite elitist attitude though. See most of SKW’s blog posts!

  14. When is a quango not a quango. What do you call a privatised quango with an anonymous primary shareholder ? A nudge-nudge wink-wink say no more unit ! This country IS turning into Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil and I don’t like it. Solidarity/solidarnosc.

    1. Yes, and what do you call a Health Minister who ‘says’ he deprecates NHS secrecy yet allows its #clim8oFear to grow, lets gagging clauses still proliferate & doesn’t challenge the GMC when it discourages rather than encourages anonymous use of social media, particularly needed by bullied whistleblowers: a hollow man in a hollow party in a hollow self-describing elitest milieu in a hollow political system?..!

  15. Here is a polemical article about Seligman’s school of thought. Stolen or not, if this is accurate the test’s aims reflect tendencies that I bet won’t go down well with many who are critical of government and corporate influence. Mr Hedges is a brave American journalist. This agrees with my too-quick remarks in these blog posts; exactly the dangerous intellectual environment I thought I had escaped from when I left
    the USA in 72: http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389×6160525 .

  16. Hi Steve, just wanted to say have been following this like a hawk and find the whole idea behind these tests, the Nudge Unit and the Positive Psychology thinking behind them insidious and bordering on the fascist (bugger ‘Godwin’s Law’) and want to thank you for your investigations. You’ve probably been pointed towards this elsewhere but a good book that I’m reading at the mo’ “Smile or Die” by Barbara Ehrenreich which deals with the doctrine and delusions and influence on culture of Positive Psychology and positive thinking has a chapter specifically dealing with Seligman.

    Also Barry Schwartz back in 2000 wrote a critique about Positive Psychology which can be read online here – “Pitfalls on the Road to a Positive Psychology of Hope” – http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bschwar1/pitfalls.pdf

    On a dodgier note – I don’t know if you’ve seen this letter in the Guardian from the 15th of May (I think this letter is highly suspicious and doesn’t deal with any of the issues that you have risen) – http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/may/15/strengths-test-does-work

    Anyway I want to say thank you for what you’re doing keep up the good work

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