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Tuesday, April 15, 2003
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10 Winter Place, Boston, MA

Junk Science Proliferates in Domestic Violence Research

Subtext: Intellectual corruption of the social sciences


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Junk Science Proliferates in Domestic Violence Research

Subtext: Intellectual corruption of the social sciences

Mark Charalambous, Feb. 2003

The nature and scope of domestic violence has been politicized beyond the point where it is possible to tell fact from fiction. Churchill warned against "lies, damn lies, and statistics;" but the use of junk science, misrepresentation and outright fraud to advance the cause of battered women's advocates and other assorted warriors in the struggle to dismantle the hated "patriarchy" puts all previous disinformation campaigns to shame.

Small wonder then that Steve Basile had to work so hard to complete and publicize his study. Unfortunately, the "behavioral scientists"– as these people fashion themselves – have become so corrupted by political correctness that they are unable to recognize valid scientific methodology when they see it.

Basile’s presentation at the 2002 Family Violence Conference in San Diego was greeted with a smattering of polite applause peppered with heckling and some hostile questioning. In contrast, the presentation immediately following his was greeted warmly. The audience of social science academics was eager to digest the valuable information imparted by Ann Goetting of Western Kentucky University, and validated her presentation with supportive questions.

Basile's study deals with facts and makes use of appropriate scientific methodology. There is no selective sampling that can be used to skew the results. One court. One year. All the dockets. Goetting's presentation is purely subjective, a pattern that pervades domestic violence research in general.

Following are excerpts from Goetting's abstract of her presentation. Note how in her opening sentence she asserts her feminist bias, and how she boasts of flouting the scientific method by describing her research as "creative applied sociology":

"As a feminist sociology professor and a researcher with specializations in family studies and criminology in general and domestic abuse specifically, expert witness work on behalf of battered women has evolved naturally from my research, teaching and community work related to families, crime, and domestic abuse. I was able to read, teach, and research about domestic abuse – the politically motivated terrorism of women and children held hostage by batterers in our patriarchal social order – for only so long before I was compelled to act. I consider my expert witness work on battering and its effects as a form of feminist activism that follows naturally from the expertise I have gained as a researcher, teacher, and author of domestic violence. It is creative applied sociology." (Emphasis added.)

Goetting is not an exception. She is representative of the kind of "academic" claiming authority to educate us all on male-female relations. Her abstract continues:

"As an introduction to this presentation I want to discuss and analyze the personal and professional antecedents (as I recognize them) to my passions and skills for this expert witness work. Partly it is a productive outlet for the rage and sense of injustice I carry with me from my own victimization of child abuse and, later, sexual harassment. I am hoping that professional women in the audience will relate to these experiences and see this expert witness work as a potential outlet for them."

Men need not apply here to benefit from Ms. Goetting's wisdom, accumulated from her experiences as a victim of child abuse and sexual harassment.

Goetting continues:

"Next I want to explain my qualifications and purpose as an expert witness for battered women, and then how I go about doing it. I will emphasize the flexibility and creativity that go into the work."

Apparently, Goetting is employed to some degree as an expert witness, an argument if ever there was one for the prohibition of psychologists and psychiatrists – except, of course, as criminal defendants.

Junk science is far from benign. When publicized in the media, it affects social policy. The Boston Globe is the authority of record in Massachusetts, and they have consistently parroted claims of domestic violence researchers and battered women's advocates while censoring criticism, most recently by publicizing a study recently released out of Wellesley College.

 

Wellesley ‘Speak Out’ study

The Wellesley study, Speak Out: a Human Rights Report on Domestic Violence and Child Custody in the Massachusetts Family Courts, was released in November last year. It purports to show that battered women are being abused by the state's family courts by awarding custody of their children to their "batterer" husbands, thus endangering the children of these parents. It even claims that the human rights of these women are being violated by the courts. According to Lundy Bancroft, one of the authors, "Domestic violence is not being weighed properly in the cases."

In typical junk-science fashion, the research made absolutely no attempt at objectivity. The desired results clearly preceded and guided the development of the study. To achieve the expected results, the "researchers" engineered an appropriate population sample and solicited "expert" testimony from the plethora of feminist, anti-male practitioners employed in family law and domestic relations.

Rather than look at a representative cross-section of all female litigants in custody battles – or of all litigants, male and female, who claimed to be "abused" by their mates – inclusion in the population required that a participant be 1) female, and 2) angry at the outcome of her case. Once a candidate was found, so-called "snowball sampling" was used to find other potential participants. That is, a disgruntled female litigant recommended other disgruntled mothers to the "researchers." According to the Boston Globe article on the study ("Report Assails Family Court," Nov. 26), the researchers "focused only on battered mothers because statistics show women are the overwhelming targets of spousal abuse."

The results of the study are, consequently, not worth mentioning. Basile dismisses the report as "an example of junk science in its purest form." That, however, did not prevent all major media outlets from reporting on the release of this "important research."

 

Debunking the SJC's Gender Bias Study

One of the most repeated "facts" about child custody cases in Massachusetts is attributed to the notorious 1989 Gender Bias Study, also authored out of Wellesley College, and commissioned by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Unless you've been living in a cave for the past decade, you have heard that in Massachusetts the courts are so biased against women that when there is a custody battle, "fathers who actively seek custody obtain either primary or joint physical custody over 70 percent of the time."

This "factoid" has been used many, many times – and not just confined to Massachusetts – to justify various initiatives. Five years ago, as part of a legislative initiative she was sponsoring at the time, Senator Cheryl Jacques claimed that men win custody 70% of the time, "whenever they ask for it." Careful examination of the report shows that this is a very deft misrepresentation of the actual data. Here's what the data actually show:

In 97% of Massachusetts custody decisions, men were not awarded custody. Only 2% of these decisions were contested by men; and 70% of this 2% of contested custody decisions were modified, giving men some type of custody. This means that 70% of 2% of custody cases were re-litigated and resulted in some kind of custody – not just primary physical custody – to the father. For the math-challenged this amounts to 1.4% of the total.

The Gender Bias Study is itself, in fact, Exhibit A of the proof of gender bias favoring women. It took data that revealed an unquestionable bias in favor of women and misrepresented it to conclude that the courts are biased against women. According to Cynthia McNeely ("Lagging behind the times: Parenthood, custody, and gender bias in the Family Court," Florida State University Law Review, 1998), the study, "allegedly implemented ‘to determine the extent, nature, and consequences of gender bias in the judiciary’... is a prime example of a results-oriented study ironically reeking of gender bias."

McNeely's analysis claims that the methodology was entirely subjective, based on interviews rather than hard data from court files. According to McNeely's reading of the report, however, the very same data could have presented the following conclusions:

A leader from The Fathers Group, Inc. provides some insight on the Gender Bias Study:

"I was on the board of a child welfare organization, and one of the board members interviewed the female academic whose research was used as the basis of the 1989 Gender Bias Study. She had given her permission to women's advocates to use her research. However, she said that the women's advocates misrepresented her findings, and even the premise of her research! She was hesitant to make a public statement, because she knew it would affect her academic position."

Cheryl Jacques' GAL report

In March 2001, under the auspices of committee chairman Sen. Cheryl Jacques, the Committee of Post Audit and Oversight released, GUARDING OUR CHILDREN: A Review of Massachusetts' Guardian Ad Litem Program within the Probate and Family Court.

When news that a study of GALs was to be conducted, many naive noncustodial fathers believed that the legislature was finally going to do something about the "GAL problem." Generally speaking, GALs reflect the anti-father bias in the courts and are operationally used by judges to justify awarding primary physical custody to mothers, as they do in 97% of the cases, according to the Gender Bias Study.

Besides claims that GALs conduct their investigations unfairly, such as by sometimes ignoring "collaterals" of the father or spending far more time interviewing mom's, there have been many instances where GALs have effectively held fathers hostage by refusing to produce reports until they are paid. Other fathers have complained that only they are held accountable for paying the GALs. But by far the greatest criticism comes from the substance of the reports and their inevitable recommendations: physical custody to the mother.

Once a GAL has recommended custody for the mother, the judge is relieved of the often unpleasant task of justifying taking children away from a good father. After all, the GAL is the authority who examined all parties, including the children, and their recommendation provides what every family court judge is always looking for: the path of least resistance. With a 209A restraining order, temporary custody to the mother, a usurious, crippling child support order, and now a GAL recommendation, the case – and the father –can be neatly disposed of. The path of least resistance.

Jacques' report is packed with anecdotes showing how the inability of a GAL to see through the ‘deceptive charm’ of an (always male) batterer resulted in a recommendation that was favorable to him. Curiously absent in these anecdotes is any mention of the actual final custody outcomes in these instances; that is, a supposedly flawed GAL recommendation is made, yet there is no statement about the actual custody decision finally rendered by the judge.

From the report:

"In a 1998 custody case before the Norfolk Probate Court, a GAL ordered and administered a psychological evaluation of a mother who was allegedly a victim of domestic violence. According to Dr. Maureen Carnes, expert witness in the case, and the authors of the psychological evaluation, the interpretation of the test's score needs to be adjusted if the person being tested has experienced trauma such as domestic violence. If the trauma is not factored into the interpretation of the score, the results can be skewed. For example, in this case the woman's test claimed she had pathological behavior. However, Dr. Carnes believed that the behavior was a result of the abuse and that the mother was not pathological. The GAL did not factor in the trauma experienced by the mother and used the skewed results of the test against the mother in the final GAL report."

The judge's actual final custody decision is omitted. I wonder why?

The report quotes the aforementioned Lundy Bancroft, one of the authors of the 2002 Wellesley Women's Project Speak Out report. Bancroft is a self-described specialist in dating violence and domestic violence who "trains GALs." He makes the case that GALs are not sufficiently trained in understanding the nature of domestic violence and are making recommendations favorable to the "batterer."

"Lundy Bancroft, an expert in domestic violence issues and a practicing GAL in Massachusetts, recommends extensive training specifically in the area of domestic violence, since it is often a factor in child custody cases. Furthermore, Mr. Bancroft contends that in his experience GALs without specific domestic violence training often act in ways that put the children they are charged with protecting at risk and unwittingly re-traumatize domestic violence victims."

Given the prejudices of the report's authors and the "experts" it used, these conclusions excerpted from the report are predictable:

The Gender Bias Study, the Speak Out study, and Cheryl Jacques report on the state's GALs, are all examples of biased research that has directly harmed fathers in Massachusetts. There are many other phony factoids that are either attributed to bogus or flawed research studies or simply fabricated out of thin air.

Following are some of the more notorious examples.

The figure of one-third has also been highly publicized. According to the Department of Justice report ("Violence-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments," August ‘97) in all hospital emergency visits nationwide in 1994, 0.3% of women's visits were due to domestic violence. The false claim represents an exaggeration of two orders of magnitude, or an inflation of at least 10,000%.

This often-repeated factoid is erroneously attributed to a March of Dimes study that never existed.

After considerable effort, Christina Hoff Sommers was able to track down this factoid to "The Old Dominion Study." The study actually reported that an increase in emergency room admissions was not associated with the occurrence of football games.

This famous factoid is actually attributed to valid scientific research, namely the groundbreaking work of pioneer researchers Murray Straus, Richard Gelles, and Suzanne Steinmetz. What is never reported, however, is that this scientific study also found that a man is assaulted by his female partner every 14 seconds.

The use of garbage science to advance the victim-feminist worldview that men's use of force to control women is inherent in the construction of masculinity, thus necessitating the dismantling of "the patriarchy," serves as one example of how political correctness has been allowed to corrupt the social sciences.

It is easy to cast blame on a liberal media that is quick to promote any sensationalist nonsense to advance its own editorial agenda, but fundamentally it is academia itself that bears the brunt of the blame. Scientific standards have been relaxed if not completely ignored by those that advance what are considered "politically correct" causes. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of our academic institutions to police themselves and rein in these ideologues. Unfortunately, the intellectual corruption in academia shows no signs of abating.


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