Pay to Play

I’m writing this post after having recently received a solicitation from an attorney group asking for speakers for a big annual event. The “invitation” included a price list of what they expected speakers to pay. Despite the fact the audience would be perfect for us, marketing wise, Melissa immediately rejected the idea as something prohibited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Who knows when the pay to play issue heated up in the academic world, but it was in the last 25 years or so that it seemed to grow when university professors were paying to publish academic papers in hopes of improving their careers, especially related to tenure. In other scenarios, we’re probably all aware of pay to play, or more accurately, “pay to accept my student to your prestigious university,” wherein lots of rich people/rich celebrities were caught stacking the deck in favor of their children. Melissa has given hundreds of speeches, none of which we paid to have her present (a few even paid her). But, while I understand that legal organizations need to raise money, doing so in a pay to play model sends a message that “the speakers you will hear are those willing to pay us.” It doesn’t mean they are the best speakers they could get or the best on the topic. That should be a disclaimer, because pay to play means the speakers are essentially presenting “commercials” or “advertising.” APA’s prohibitions are intended to prevent resumé padding. But one doesn’t have to think very hard to realize that pay to play speaking engagements raises many ethical questions, ones that should be easy to comprehend.

Psychologists are expressly prohibited from paying anyone to publish their research, lecture to any audience, or endorse their services.  Although attorneys and other professionals have different codes of conduct than psychologists, as a psychologist who works with attorneys, I am bound only by my profession’s ethical code of conduct.  It is abhorrent to me to consider lowering my professional standards to the point that I have to pay someone for the “privilege” to write an article for their journal, speak to their organization, or do anything else that places me in a position contrary to the ethical standards that govern my professional conduct.  In addition, it is personally insulting!  Why, oh why, would I ever have to pay someone to educate them about psychological phenomena?  My hourly rate has increased over the almost 40 years since I earned my Ph. D., to the point that it is many times more than most people could ever dream of earning.  In my view, I am worth every penny, if not more, than my current hourly rate.  I will go as far as saying that I prefer to sit around and do nothing than to be uncompensated for my time.  (This is not to say I am unwilling to donate my time to worthy causes, such as helping clients on pro bono matters.) I am more than happy to pay people for their expertise but I will never, I repeat never, violate my ethical standards by paying anyone to benefit from my expertise.  It’s backwards, it makes no sense, and it’s not happening!  The end.

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