McIntosh’s Machiavellian Mistake

Posted on January 5, 2015 by


McIntosh address to the APA conference  in Melbourne, Aug 2014

 “Young Child & Infant Development – Piloting a New FDR Intervention

[FDR – family dispute resolution]


“Keep your friends close but your enemies closer” is probably the best known of Machiavelli’s many instances of prima facie logic inversions.

Machiavelli’s teachings, that much travelled Renaissance diplomat and envoy, are as relevant in today’s politics as they were in Florence.

However, most scholars and pundits are familiar only with his short essay, The Prince, and not his more profound and comprehensive work The Discourses and so mistakes due to having only a little knowledge are invariably made.

There can be no doubt that academia, like many other seemingly genteel professions, is a world of back-stabbing and a sub-culture of power politics. McIntosh in her dispute with both Bettina Arndt and her professional peers, appears to have called off her attorney attack-dogs. In their place she appears to have chosen the more velvet glove of budding-up with friends and like minded people to support her position within the establishment – which, by the way, seem keen to either expel her as a loose cannon or neutralise her.

So, mistake ‘Numero Uno’ has been made – ‘Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.’ McIntosh has instead pushed her enemies further away. She should have sought rapprochement and failing that should have appeared to be mending her fences by being closer to her persevered ‘enemies.’ But clot-like she has put the cart before the horse.

Wiser counsel tried to put her together with Pruet & Kelly in order for her to redeem herself in the eyes of the profession – and for a moment it looked like it might work – but she has reneged on even that and used it as a platform to legitimate her previous views and then re-launch her campaign. So, mistake ‘Numero Due’ has been made.

This has had the effect of making Pruet & Kelly appear to be reneging on their earlier and much applauded work in favour of shared parenting and overnight stays. Indeed, Kelly took the opportunity in the journal “International Family Law, Policy and Practice” (2014), to restate her true position and negate McIntosh’s insinuations. [1]

The theme of ‘enemies’ is most appropriate since her speech to the AFCC conference (in Melbourne, Aug 2014), is full of references to ‘war’, slights and missile attacks. For instance, even the title of her speech BEYOND THE BABY WARS” was chosen, she confesses, some months earlier, in April 2104, indicating she has taken the controversy surrounding her ‘findings’ rather badly – and very personally.

Her ‘findings’ you may recall centered around how ill-advised it would be to let infants and toddlers under the age of 4 spend overnights [sleepovers] with their fathers. Warshak and Nielsen were the preeminent academics (followed up by Lamb and others of world renowned), who challenged this blanket finding which was based on a tiny unrepresentative sample of less than 30 infants under the age of two and who overnighted more than 3 times a month. [2]

McIntosh confuses genuine academic endeavour (which must be celebrated as it expands our knowledge), for personal assaults and slights. The fame of Socrates and the virtues of ‘Socratic Dialogue’ seems to have escaped this antipodean’s span of knowledge.

She believes that “anyone who has read the Warshak (2014) or Nielsen (2014) papers” would have to agree with her that the word “war” has taken on a very literal meaning. Such a reaction, a common trait among radical feminist ‘thinkers’ (I use that word advisedly), can only serve to stifle healthy discourse and debate. But perhaps she is not a Catharine MacKinnon or Andrea Dworkin but simply narcissistic or paranoid ?

She claims that it was Warshak, not she, McIntosh, who reignited the debate “with his own statement on infants and overnight care” (but one suspects it was her in her 2011 FCR article).

McIntosh accuses Warshak’s paper of merely being a policy statement and that he excludes “parents with major deficits in how they care for their children”. She goes on to say that he qualifies his recommendations as applying only “in normal circumstances” (p.47). Yet she in her Aug address is more than content to exclude ‘parents with major deficits’ by using the term good ‘enough parent’ thereby agreeing with Warshak that “normal circumstances” (and parents) can exist. It has to be added that McIntosh has never presented a balanced review of all 6 baby studies in her papers – and often misrepresents studies, like Pruett’s, to make it appear as if they all reached similar conclusions.

McIntosh accuses Warshak, Nielsen, Cashmore & Parkinson, Ludolph and anyone else who has ever criticised her study of being “gender biased” yet none of them ever have. The litany of perceived hurts goes on and on and to rebut them all would be boring in the extreme.

In her paper regarding ‘Cross-Border Influences in the Modernisation of Family Justice” Joan Kelly is highly critical of McIntosh and those that see only the primary attachment being to mothers. (Kelly clearly conveys (p. 10) that it is McIntosh who is to blame for viciously exacerbating problems and creating the “divisiveness”).

Levers of Power

In a surprising example of public self-flagellation and low self-esteem she continues with the view that the use of the word ‘war’ is no exaggeration, and then for good measure adds a few more adjectives: – dull, unnecessary, divisive and retrograde.

As if snapping out of it, she then describes her new work as “exciting, energizing projects” and representing “cutting edge thinking.” A claim followed up by a humbug of a plea to inspire professionals in their roles to keep the target of our attention firmly in mind – the infant. By firmly targeting attention on the child this implies that both parents could be adversely affected.

Although denying the infant input from both parents at any age is a recipe for disaster, that denial of both parents, (i.e. the infant overnight issue) appears to be her target – and has perhaps always been her aim.

McIntosh further alienates Warshak and Nielsen (and the 100 plus experts lined up behind their position) by maligning, denigrating, and demonizing them; referring to them as having “vested interests” whereas she presumably has no vested commercial interests in it at all (which is far from being the case since she set up “The Family Doors” (see Family Transitions website) purely to sell and promote her packaged findings).

The Family Doors” and the “YCIDS” programmes (Young Child & Infant Development) have been created to sell her services as an advisor who will teach parents and mental health professionals how to decide when the baby or the parents are “ready” to have overnighting – using naturally enough her criteria. The impact of this will be to frustrate any advance by legislation or the courts towards more fatherly involvement by setting up this additional academic hurdle for them to jump.

Time Travel

“What is this war about ?” she openly asks. In her opinion it is about an “important debate concerning potential ill-effects [NB. not actual – RW], for very young children of living between separated parents.” However, since her study was on infants we have yet to find any way to time travel and leap into the future to see how they turned out as individuals.

What we can do, however, is examine children in their teens or early twenties who have already been through a regime of either 1/. no time spent with fathers and/or  2/. being allowed to spend time with fathers. If we examine a study by Fabricius this is effectively “time travel” because we see it shows benefits for 20 year-olds who, as infants and toddlers, had overnighted [i.e. had sleepovers] with their fathers.

Whereas 30 years ago mainstream publicity was mostly given to findings that showed little or no differences, a mountain of evidence has been slowing building pointing to the many shortcomings found in children who have had little or no time spent with fathers.

So McIntosh is asking us to choose between what we know from real life versus what her findings are potentially predicting in limited instances and laboratory circumstances.

She sees this as an issue between two extreme and entrenched camps organised as if an army – her symbolism is worthy of the Western Front bloodbath of 1914. She thinks as the Generals did in that era, not of out-flanking but in blinkered advances and zero-sum thinking.

Damaged credentials

So while she may have apparently called off her attack-dog lawyers, psychologically she is still taking it so personally to heart that she epitomises the mantra of the personal is the political – the rallying cry of the 2nd wave feminism in the late 1960s.

Consequently, McIntosh has surrendered her academics credentials in favour of political expediency, little realising its attendant esthetic poverty, and has thus dropped her disguise and forfeited any pretence of being objective.

All of this runs contrary to Machiavellian wisdom concerning how to win over friends and encourage the influencing of people. Her stab at Machiavellian politicking amounts to two meagre forays – one concerning the doyen of the social science sphere, Michael Lamb, and the other to Robert Emery and his connections to the APA.

In her presentation to her Australian audience she admits that some pressure was put on Michael Lamb (who is the editor of the American Psychological Association (APA) journal), presumably admonishing him or perhaps wishing he would retract Warshak’s article even after it had been published. If so this is a blatant attempt at censorship.

Such a move would, of course, be doomed to failure and one can imagine, given her track record of seeking suppression, that having been frustrated in that attempt another avenue would be actively explored. One can only speculate as to her next actions and one can only wonder ‘why’ or ‘what’ she was hoping to achieve since the paper had already been published.

It would come as no surprise to many observers if she filed a complaint directly with the board of the American Psychological Assoc. seeking some sort of redress – but again the horse had already bolted so what would be the point ? The girl badly needs a crash-course in the diplomatic skills Machiavelli expounds.

Pressurising people and principles is a two-edged weapon; had she never considered that someone might similarly lobby La Trobe University to get her barred, censored and / or de-chaired ? With her current level of ineptitude on display one has to doubt whether that particular boomerang had ever crossed her mine. . It certainly would have crossed Machiavelli’s.

Eminence Gris

For reasons still obscure, Prof. Robert Emery has acted as McIntosh prime if not sole advocate urging Bettina Arndt to “vet” Warshak and Nielsen and writing to her describing Warshak and Nielsen as mere “advocates”. What is important is why and how McIntosh got Emery so closely involved in her imaginary “war” against Warshak and Nielsen.

It gets worse and Emery’s role darkens still further. He is scheduled to present a workshop at AFCC (Association of Family and Conciliation Courts), on the misuse of social science research for “advocacy” purposes (see page 8 of AFCC brochure). In part this is due to his having a substantive role in how the AFCC is run; or to put it in idiomatic terms he has some ‘juice’.

It is not difficult to see that he will use this platform to try to denigrate Warshak’s and Neilsen’s papers as pseudoscience advocacy in order to promote McIntosh.

Countless people, says McIntosh, have shared their concerns about Warshak’s paper – but she puts no number to that assertion. But is her ‘countless’ greater or smaller than the 110 of the world’s leading experts ? She does not say. And then she cites her old chum Prof. Robert Emery who describes the Warshak piece as “shoddy scholarship” and his presentation of the research literature “wrong and misleading” (APA, June 26th & July 8th 2014). Strangely familiar words used by McIntosh herself. If it was ‘shoddy scholarship’ wouldn’t that also be insulting the experts who confirmed his views.

Emery is contemptible of Warshak’s paper calling it “undeserving” of time and attention. Yet in attempting to condemn the Warshak paper Emery is one voice setting himself against 110 of the world’s leading experts. When you run out of proper arguments isn’t it the most natural thing to begin denigrating your opponent with personal innuendo ?

Emery can’t be ignorant of the huge amount of research out there (in academia) on the importance of fathers’ involvement with both infants and toddlers. What could make him want to do that ? Love, money or ideology, perhaps ?

Turning the tables on McIntosh, one has to ask her where is the original, independent and up-to-date empirical data that supports her views ? There is little modern data / evidence that supports a ban or a postponing of the introduction of regular and frequent overnights stay with both parents.

Somewhat bizarrely, trying to keep this dispute secret and keeping discussion (of her work, of advocacy, and pseudoscience), away from public knowledge was the sole purpose of McIntosh hiring her attack-dog lawyers in the first place. Yet here she is articulating them.

And also somewhat bizarrely, in that published programme of events she’s not listed anywhere. So, if she does see this whole episode as a battle or war, then she has lost it both tactically and strategically – and very emphatically.




[1] “Cross-Border Influences in the Modernisation of Family Justice in England and Wales” by Joan Kelly, 2014.

[2] McIntosh’s study had fewer than 30 infants under the age of two who were spending any more than three nights a months with their fathers (in other words normal ‘sole mother custody’ where fathers get 14% of the yearly time). Yet this situation she refers to as “shared care” even though this term as used by social scientists means living with the father at least 35% of the time.

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