In "soft" sciences like sociology, it's much more difficult to detect manipulation of research, than in "hard" sciences like physics. Soft science researchers who strive for objectivity deserve an extra measure of respect. Sadly, far too many researchers are more concerned with pushing an agenda than with objectivity. These same problems are not unknown in the world of journalism. Since the soft sciences and the media have a powerful influence on social policies in this country, this affects every family and every individual.

Breaking the Science is about the broken "science" that's being used to create law and drive social policy.


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Critical Analysis Of The Evidence Presented in "Breaking the Silence - Children's Stories"

By Edward Dunning and Mark B. Rosenthal

October 11, 2005

At an October 6 pre-screening of the documentary, "Breaking the Silence, Children's Stories", to be aired on PBS stations nationwide during October, the editors' introduction from the August 2005 edition of the journal of Violence Against Women was distributed as evidence in support of claims made in the film.

Overall, the information, language and claims made in the editors introduction reflect the dominant discourse. Those who are familiar with the decades-old debate over domestic violence and related issues might recognize some of the standard tactics used to "avoid, minimize and deny" empirical evidence as well as common knowledge, e.g. the Wonderland caterpillar effect: "words mean what I say the mean." Note that key terms such as "battering" lack definition, artificially inflating the statistical significance of authentic intimate terrorism. Custody is also a key word. Note how the term "sole custody" appears only three times, in instances where it suits the authors' purpose. In about twenty other instances, the word is unqualified, leaving the reader to infer an epidemic of children removed from their mothers' care, e.g.

...provisions that direct courts to give custody to the parent who encourages a better relationship between the child and the other parent, provisions that greatly disadvantage mothers and silence battered women who seek to protect themselves or their children

Is there something wrong with courts granting custodial rights for the parent "who encourages a better relationship"? In fact, the overwhelming majority of these cases involve "joint" custody arrangement in which the mother is most often granted "primary," "residential" or "physical" custody. Thus, the implication that anything less than a sole custody "award" to the mother is not merely unacceptable, but harmful to women and children, clarifies the advocacy agenda - giving mothers near-absolute "power and control" over the father-child relationship.

More tactics overdue for retirement

Calling anything one does not agree with a “myth.” In this case, “the myth that the pressure of divorce makes good people behave badly” is common knowledge - almost everybody knows somebody who has experienced an acrimonious divorce. Further, advocates are quick to accuse fathers of "behaving badly" in these situations, implying their belief in this "myth" when it applies to males. Not to mention the implication that fathers who pursue a post-dissolution parental relationship with their kids are not "good people" in the first place.

The use of de facto scare tactics - targeting the "fathers' rights movement [which] has pushed many states to adopt joint or shared parenting presumptions." Unfortunately there is no shortage of "male rights advocates" willing to provide examples of the "angry man" in action - there are indeed individuals and orgs that proffer positions accurately described as "male backlash." That in no way justifies utilization of tactics reminiscient of political propaganda – "gender-feminists" do not represent the totality of feminism, any more than "masculinists" speak for all involved in the struggle for equality.

The tradition of denigrating "Family systems professionals." For example, labeling Dr. Richard Gardner, who developed Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), a "surrogate professional" falsely implies a lack of expertise in the field. When in fact, from 1963 until his death in 2003, Gardner was a clinical professor of psychiatry in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University. Repeated name-calling and misrepresenting the views of respectable professionals reveals both the weakness and political nature of the ideology. For example, the inference that "family systems professionals [who] perceive the violence as a break down in communication and not as a crime deliberately perpetrated by one individual” are "colluding" in domestic violence. In fact, overwhelming empirical evidence demonstrates that the “family systems” perspective was correct all along: in the "vast majority" of cases violence is not deliberate, not unilateral and communication breakdown is an important factor – as confirmed by over twenty years of research.

"The studies reported"

"This issue reports the results of four studies-all funded by the National Institute of Justice-that, for the first time, present systematically collected empirical evidence on the custody crisis facing battered women in America."

Due to time constraints it was not possible to locate and carefully assess all four studies. Of the studies mentioned, one conducted in San Diego "found that revealing information about domestic violence could potentially backfire against a victim." This appears to be the same study cited in a news article. The reporter was able to provide only one source, published in National Institute of Justice Journal 251. A discussion of this study asserts that "women who informed custody mediators that they were victims of domestic violence often received less favorable custody awards." The paper makes no distinctions between allegation and evidence and suggests that mediators should do likewise. The paper contains no operational definitions, the reader and perhaps the mediators are left to infer that "domestic violence" is whatever the "victims" says it is. The assumption that there is no relationship between the behavior of " a crazy woman " and a "less than favorable" custody award evokes the perception of systemic bias against "pure victims" who are female. Perhaps it does not occur to the authors to account for the false allegations variable because, due to the limitations of the paradigm, such "phenomena... are often not seen at all."

Repeated references to the American Psychological Association (APA), in this paper and in several news articles, give the impression that the APA has officially denounced PAS as "a junk science that has no scientific basis (American Psychological Association, 1996)." Such inferences are at best, misleading. The term "junk science" appeared in a news article, it was not found in the cited APA paper. It appears to be based on a premise that requires specialized knowledge for accurate interpretation – the fact that PAS did not meet the criteria for inclusion in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM). The actual comments in the APA paper are references to PAS in the context of misapplication: "Terms such as "parental alienation" may be used to blame the women for the children's reasonable fear of or anger toward their violent father (APA, 1996, p.100)." Thus, while there may indeed be cases in which PAS was misused by a violent and controlling father, such terms may also be used properly in accounting for a child's unreasonable fear and anger toward a parent who is not violent.

False allegations

The over-broad assertion that "PAS turned the table on the victim, making her the aggressor" draws attention to the fact that in authentic cases of parental alienation, the "victim" actually is the "aggressor," in the sense that the word aggression applies to deliberate and unwarranted sabotage of a child's relationship with the "enemy" parent.

Parental alienation is by no means a gender-specific phenomenon. But as the dominant discourse flatly denies both female aggression and the possibility that "women exaggerate or falsely raise domestic violence allegations for tactical gain," advocates avoid thinking about these problems by dismissing PAS as a "myth," another of the tools "batterers" use to oppress women; like the "myth" of false allegations:

"Even when PAS is not explicitly used, the belief that victims fabricate abuse allegations may still underlie decisions to give custody to the batterer, particularly when incest is alleged (Myers, 1997; Rosen & Etlin, 1996)."

Mainstream ideology, as uncritically accepted in this paper, simple refuses to recognize the phenomenon of false allegations is no myth:

The most strident expression of this is the false accusation of sexual abuse.(4) It has been well studied that the incident of false allegations of sexual abuse account for over half of those reported, when the parents are divorcing or are in conflict over some post dissolution issue. (5)

For cases in which objective analysis finds no basis for allegations of incest, it seems prudent to be skeptical of allegations that dad is also a “batterer.” Any parent who concocts or acts as a validator for allegations of this kind, whether actual or virtual, poses a danger to the welfare of the child. As well do advocates who persist in promoting the irrational belief that allegations brought by women are invariably true, and allegations brought by men are invariably false.

Out here in the fields it is rather common for accounts of domestic violence, or worse, to arise suddenly in the context of a custody dispute. Exaggerations and false allegations are observed by professionals and are evident in self-reports of women who admit to making such claims for the expressed purpose of "tactical gain." Battered womens' advocates have had a considerable influence on the development of this phenomenon. A significant number of male and female callers to a domestic abuse helpline alleged that local agencies which receive VAWA funding function as validators, educating women on the utility of using exaggerated or fabricated allegations for tactical advantage. Perhaps the "...attorneys who...advised their clients not to tell the mediator about domestic abuse" did so because the volume of VAWA positioning allegations has finally reached the tipping point – a natural consequence of the "cry wolf syndrome" that makes it much more difficult to protect women who really are "pure victims" of intimate terrorism.


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