Emery calls a Crisis Committee

Posted on May 3, 2016 by

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Emery’s RESEARCHERS’ ROUNDTABLE

BENDING EVIDENCE FOR A CAUSE: SCHOLAR-ADVOCACY BIAS IN FAMILY LAW

by Robert E. Emery, Amy Holtzworth-Munroe, Janet R. Johnston, JoAnne L. Pedro-Carroll, Marsha Kline Pruett, Michael Saini, and Irwin Sandler

Behind the seemingly tranquil scenes of academic life an undeclared internecine war has been declared along the corridors of influence and prestige. This is not a ‘town and gown’ conflict but limited to one specialised university. A not very good article by McIntosh has led to ‘guerrilla’ warfare with her pals forming a coterie and the rest of the profession more or less opposed to them. This then is the backdrop to the present situation and it offers a fascinating insight of how power brokerage works and how an old guard exercises it (for a short summary version go to ‘Caught red handed’ https://mensaid.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/22/.

emerySo isolated have McIntosh and her staunch supporter Emery become that Emery (and their acolytes) have felt compelled to rally their chums to create a committee which they have dubbed a Roundtable – but these would-be knights have no shining armour, nowhere to ride, no maiden in distress to rescue (except McIntosh), and nowhere to hide. For ‘Roundtable’ read ‘Crisis Committee’, for ‘Bending Evidence for a Cause’ read old guard being found with their hand in the cookie jar out and with no dignified exit avenue in sight.

Above: Robert Emery

They have burnt their bridges and insulted their opponents so that a kiss and make up option is now out of the question. It will probably now be a pruettfight to the death. We learn from the footnotes contained within the Researchers’ Roundtable paper itself that it is a group of self-selecting “colleagues” who were ‘troubled’ to see the conflict emanating from the single issue, i.e. overnight time-sharing for infants and toddlers, undermining (as they saw it), the integrity of the field.

Right: Marsha Kline Pruett

As a coterie, they came together under the auspices of AFCC with which they are closely affiliated.  Two of them, Pruett & Saini, are on its Board of Directors and Pruett is President Elect. Emery is the Social Sciences Editor of their journal  and all seven are on the journal’s editorial board. It appears to be their ambition label and define the problem of ‘scholar-advocacy bias’ (which they blithely commit all the time themselves and never give it a second thought), and in the process they became aware (very observant folks) of the lack of easily understandable standards for evaluating research studies (isn’t this claim offensive and certainly disingenuous to other social scientists ?).

 The schism has developed as Warshak’s paper – which united the profession against the excesses of the McIntosh technique of superficial sampling also forced McIntosh, Emery and their pals to also unify. Messers McIntosh, Emery & Co have had the advantage of better access to the editorial boards of professional journals and so have been able for a long time past to ‘head off trouble at the pass’. That mechanism is now under fire, and as one UK newsprint newspaper “New Day”  this week ceases to trade, one wonders whether a similar fate awaits them – especially if the willingness to submit articles for publication to an increasingly reactionary journal shows signs of drying up.

The Emery-Pruett Axis (with McIntosh ever in the background), have set themselves the task of designing a set of collaborative guidelines for evaluating research (as if there were none at present, and never had been ?). Because, make no mistake, McIntosh seems bent on vengeance and silencing Warshak who’s paper (endorsed by many doyens), crucified her attempts at science. This puts the celebrated and distinguished Michael Lamb, who edits ‘Psychology, Public Policy and Law’ (PPPL), above the immediate fray. Psychology, Public Policy and Law’ (PPPL) is the journal of the APA (American Psychological Association), and as such is seen as having much greater status than the FCR. It was the PPPL that published Warshak’s ‘consensus’; Nielsen’s ‘Woozle’ paper and a whole host of other papers critical of McIntosh’s work and techniques.

The ambition of the Axis group is to design some tools to help distinguish between scholarship and advocacy bias (one suspects they are probably better placed than most to define it since they are well practiced in the latter). Their intent is to turn by-standers into critical consumers of research (yes, we parents it would appear, are mere by-standers and yes, we have been ignored and are very critical of what they have so far failed to achieve).

The Researchers’ Roundtable, together with ‘by-standers’ (their terminology), will help prevent and break cycles of bias (but don’t expect to receive an invitation from them just yet), that they see as inevitably erupting in this and other fields of nascent science in which the policy stakes are high and actively being drawn. It is way too late, my friends, to wish for that – it has already happened because they would not listen. The perennial intransigence of groups of ‘old guard’ academics in various countries have effectively sealed their own fate. One can quite see that Researchers’ Roundtable (all pro-McIntosh supporters), will prove to be “a day late and a dollar short.” Whilst the mists of relative obscurity ill-defines the roles of Sandler, Saini, Holzworth, Johnston, and Pedro-Carroll, we can be far more certain of Emery and Pruett – they praised McIntosh for her ‘bravery’ in making a half-hearted retreat from her anti-overnights stance, only to deny ever having opposed overnights.

Are they now running in fear of “Falò delle vanità” (the Bonfire of the Vanities), occasioned by their sins and omissions ? One suspects they are. Do they themselves even see the parallels to Girolamo Savonarola, who’s ‘divine’ mandate was finally questioned, and when popular opinion turned against him he was toppled and publicly burned alive in Florence’s main square ? On this one suspects they haven’t got a clue.

There now follows a Critique of a thoroughly disreputable paper, principally authored by Robert E. Emery and Marsha Kline Pruett, entitled “Bending” Evidence for a Cause: Scholar-Advocacy Bias in Family Law” which takes their Embitterment Index to new levels. The names of the authors are given in alphabetical order – as if they know they are about to stand trial in the court of public opinion – but given their pedigree one can suppose, or its open to speculative conjecture, that Emery and Pruett are the main contributors. One indication of this being a reasonable conclusion is their exertions at the AFCC workshop in 2014 pushing the very same arguments found below, and so one can assume they are the driving force behind today’s overall effort. The wrinkle here is that while Warshak’s paper criticised Emery’s research it more or less exonerated Pruett’s work, yet here is Pruett casting her lot with McIntosh & Emery.

The paper, “Bending Evidence for a Cause: Scholar-Advocacy Bias in Family Law‘ is a defence of McIntosh’s work and it will be often referred to throughout this critique (targeting whenever it’s convenient the excellent work of Warshak to bring this festering sore to a head). The Emery & Pruett paper is here shown in full with comments inserted marked to assist the reader with the prefix “Editor  – point” which will point out many (but not all) of the absurdities and incongruities. {If you fall asleep half way through no one will think any the worse of you – it is pretty boring}

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RESEARCHERS’ ROUNDTABLE

“Bending Evidence for a Cause: Scholar-Advocacy Bias in Family Law”

by Robert E. Emery, Amy Holtzworth-Munroe, Janet R. Johnston, JoAnne L. Pedro-Carroll, Marsha Kline Pruett, Michael Saini, and Irwin Sandler [*]

There are a number of salient public policy issues in the family law field that have invoked impassioned policy debates on a recurrent basis. In the absence of a body of research to address these critical concerns, advocates under the guise of social science scholarship have exacerbated the confusion and controversy by construing the scant available research evidence to justify their own ends, without regard to the relevance, quality, utility, and limitations of the studies.

{Editor – Point 1. What ‘absence of a body of research’  Don’t over  40 studies on JPC equate to an “absence” ? And are the decades of research cited in Warshak’s paper not in themselves a body of research ?

{Editor –Point 2 And what ‘own ends’ are those ? Unlike one researcher who’s name springs to mind, none have a franchised commercial brand or patented teaching technique associated with child care. Science has, in any event, always depended on disagreeing over the research data but when did it become ‘the norm’ to be been condemned in these terms ?} .

This is one of two articles on this problem that we have named “scholar-advocacy bias.” In this article, we discuss the difference between ‘truth in social science’ and ‘truth in law’. We identify common ways in which social science researchers and reviewers of research – wittingly or unwittingly – can become advocates for ideological positions and social policies at the expense of being balanced reporters of research evidence as illustrated by recent debates about overnight parenting of infants and toddlers. We also consider how adherence to established scientific principles and methods prevents the misuse of research in this way.

{Editor – Point 3. If they were honest researchers they would uphold the same values of truth be it in law or social sciences. To ask the question means they used to operating on two levels.

{Editor – Point 4. Why did they only choose this overnight parenting as the topic ? Is it because their real goal is to attack Warshaks’ consensus paper ? }

Key Points for the Family Court Community:

  • Scholar-advocacy bias, the intentional or unintentional use of social science research to legitimize advocacy claims, is a problem that practitioners and policy makers must recognize and guard against in family law.
  • Because of different methods of pursuing and establishing truth in science and the law, ironically, the less rhetorically convincing argument often represents science most faithfully.

{Editor – Point 5. So they’re saying that the Warshak consensus paper is more convincing but shouldn’t be trusted ? }

  • Practitioners—and scientists—must guard against using various rhetorical tactics that bend research evidence, for example, the rules of science dictate that we must prove our hypotheses; others need not disprove them.

Keywords: Advocacy Research; Scholar-Advocacy Bias; and Social Science Research.

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Thomas Huxley famously pointed toThe great tragedy of Science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.” Huxley’s “tragedy” is tongue-in-cheek. He delighted in empirical science’s triumph of evidence over ideas. Our present concern is the opposite of Huxley’s: facts murdered, or merely maimed, in the name of a cause, even a worthy one. The name of this enterprise is not Science, but “Scholar-Advocacy Bias” masquerading in the name of Research.

{Editor – Point 6. Do they mean slaughtering the facts in the same way Emery & McIntosh could be accused of doing in regard to their own baby studies and in their manipulating process have raised it to a fine art form for over half a decade ? The greater proportion of us have had to live in a world created by these authors (and their ilk) could not face up to the fact that their beloved beautiful hypothesis was in fact ugly and destructive of families}

We define scholar-advocacy bias as the intentional or unintentional use of the language, methods, and approaches of social science research, as well as one’s status as an expert, for the purpose and/or outcome of legitimizing advocacy claims at the cost of misrepresenting research findings. We argue that scholar-advocacy bias goes largely unacknowledged in family law.

{Editor – Point 7. This is asking us to believe that Emery and McIntosh don’t constantly do the same, i.e. indulge in scholar-advocacy, and never repeatedly highlight the positions they hold – why McIntosh even lists herself as on the faculty of two universities as a “professor’ when it is not at all clear she has such status. If anyone is stretching credulity and the public’s credibility it its Messer Emery and McIntosh}.

Advocacy and research in family matters are terms that embody an essential tension between the pursuit of truth in law and science. Truth in the law is about persuasion, using the legal rules of evidence to advocate for your side and ultimately to convince a judge or jury of the truth of your case. Truth in science is about public demonstration, designing research procedures that others can use  objectively to replicate your findings. Both pursuits of truth serve very worthy purposes. Establishing what is social science evidence is complicated within an adversarial legal system where the legal approach to reaching truth is zealous advocacy to make the best case for opposing sides. The scientific approach is to adhere to scientific principles and methods that guard against bias. When the legal advocacy approach to fact-finding is applied to scientific evidence, then one-sided presentations of data and polarization of controversial positions become more likely.

{Editor – Point 8. Since when in the non-Soviet world did arguing the two sides of an issue become condemned as divisive and an act of unhelpful polarisation ? Disagreements and contrary opinions, when genuinely held, only advance science as they give birth to a better understanding and, heaven forfend, might even overturn old concepts.}

Combining the terms advocacy and research produces an oxymoron—advocacy research. [1]  Research involves seeking knowledge about, or solutions to, problems that can be objectively demonstrated to others; advocacy implies one already knows the solution and the task is convincing others to mobilize resources accordingly. Although researchers can advocate for the use of their findings to affect policy and practice, they still are bound by the rules of science. Scientists know they may be wrong. They acknowledge the limitations of their research, while disputing specious challenges to their methods. Scientists must also recognize the difficulties in translating limited research findings into real world solutions.

Cautions about scientific integrity, caveats, and limitations may not be terribly persuasive to non-scientists, especially in contrast to the certainty of advocacy. Advocates marshal unambiguous arguments, often with emotional appeal, in pursuit of persuading others of the truth and moral rectitude of their side, including arguments about what “research shows.” Thus, ironically, a key to distinguishing science from advocacy researcher bias is that the scientist is likely to be rhetorically less convincing than the researcher working from a position of advocacy bias. As psychologist Daniel Kahneman (2011) has shown, our brains are wired to accept emotionally charged arguments over rational ones.

{Editor – Point 9. If McIntosh and Emery are trying to make a point about the frequent use anecdotes and not empirical evidence then they should first desist from using anecdotes evidence themselves on such a scale. Such tactics appears to be the hallmark of avowedly ‘feminist’ research who are happy to rest entire theories on the anecdotes (or what is often termed qualitative research). McIntosh and Robert Emery need reminding that they frequently use anecdotes in their presentations & writing, whereas Warshak & Nielsen, whom that are trying to attack, definitely do not.}

Our brains respond quickly and unquestioningly to powerful emotions, which may signal that our very survival is at stake, in comparison to rational arguments, which are less emotionally appealing and require time and effort to sort through.

SCHOLAR-ADVOCACY BIAS IN FAMILY LAW

Scholar-advocacy bias is not a new concern in family law. A decade ago, the AFCC sponsored a plenary session at its annual conference on the politics of research entitled “The Use, Abuse and Misuse of Social Science Research.” The presenters at this conference, along with others before and since, emphasized the need to develop effective cross-disciplinary communication, common standards, and ethical principles for the use of research findings to provide accurate court testimony and to build an evidence-informed knowledge base of effective programs and policies (Cashmore & Parkinson, 2014; Cherlin, 1999; Gelles, 2007; Johnston, 2007; Kelly & Ramsey, 2007; Kelly & Ramsey, 2009; Pruett, 2007; Ramsey & Kelly, 2004; Ramsey & Kelly, 2006).

Although there have been important contributions of science in politically sensitive areas of family law, [2] during the past decade, unfortunately public investment in civil court matters has remained a low priority. Consequently, research that directly addresses critical family court questions is limited or absent, leaving the door wide open for scholar-advocates to promote false or misleading claims within impassioned debates about what “research says” with regard to a range of family law issues, such as liberal divorce laws and effects on children, sex abuse allegations in custody disputes, same-sex marriage and parenting, artificial procreation and single parenthood, relocation, father involvement, and child support enforcement. More recently, parenting time policies for infants and young children, parental alienation, and intimate partner violence in family court have been at the centre of controversy.

Where does the truth lie?

For advocates, truth emerges from judgements based on competing arguments that reach beyond the available social science evidence and focus on moral and ethical arguments, personal experiences, consideration of related laws and legal procedures, calls for the protection of civil rights, and appeals to social values and morals.

{Editor – Point 10. That’s a bit rich ! ! McIntosh and Robert Emery (but especially McIntosh) are past masters of reaching beyond the available social science evidence and projecting findings from tiny samples onto the population as a whole (and have been often accused of such). What is overlooked here is that social science can’t always determine a “truth” since data can be interpreted differently by different people. All that social science can do is present the findings and make sure it is not an unrepresentative sample size}.

By contrast, the role played by science is more circumspect and in some ways less compelling. Given the broad reach of family law, the rare use of random assignment studies (the “gold standard” of scientific research), and the relatively small number of studies (and researchers) in the field, the ultimate empirical truth regarding many family law controversies often is “more research is needed.”

{Editor – Point 11. Is the suggestion that we freeze all endeavour until such time as a definitive, universal solution that stretches into eternity is found ? Even if one were available one suspects that with the movement of time and social values, it too might become in need of overhaul. The hackneyed “more research is needed” is a phrase one stumbles over time and again in many (UK) government Green Papers when uncertainty exists – and even where the data is certain such authors use it as a delaying tactic. If messers Emery and McIntosh are in any doubts they could always double check their findings with “outcomes” of teenagers and young adults – but of course, that would cut the ground from underneath them}.

Of course, this answer can frustrate both advocates and neutral legal professionals, like judges, who must make the best possible evidence based decisions now. Scholar-advocates too often fill the frustrating void of “more research is needed” with certain answers. They espouse that all of the research points in one direction, supporting the advocate’s position.

{Editor – Point 12. Emery and McIntosh should know that there is no “void.” It is rather reminiscent of the world renown sociologist David Popenoe’s telling remark concerning the mountain of evidence and those opposed to the benefits of the two parent family; “. . . . In my many years as a sociologist, I have found few other bodies of evidence that lean so much in one direction as this one . . . [two parents – a father and a mother”]. But that aside, nobody who now stands accused by this coterie of being ‘scholar-advocates’ and who have written about Joint Physical Custody have ever espoused that position. So Emery & Co need to get their facts – not their fiction – into gear}.

Not unlike distraught family members desperate for answers about pressing problems like cancer or autism, legal professionals can be susceptible to claims that purport to have answers that, for them, cannot wait for “more research.” Moreover, legal professionals may feel unprepared to evaluate scientific evidence, and more basically, may not be motivated to question the legitimacy of advocacy research. Why question the cure you have been searching for? What is more emotionally convincing: “The evidence is inconclusive.” or “I have the answer!”?

An overarching goal of this paper is to urge readers to work toward reversing our human, emotional tendency to be persuaded by certainty, particularly certainty about new or controversial topics. Scientific facts take time to establish.

{Editor – Point 13. And in the meantime we the people the subject of your experiment with our human emotions, human miseries, heartbreak and tendency for suicide, count for nothing while you sort out the proper response to your broken machinery of child allocation after separation ? How aloof you must imagine yourselves to be. The regime you advocate 1/. does not work, 2/. has never worked, and 3/. cannot be made to work. In the meantime custody decisions have to be made so let’s attenuate and ameliorate the situation as best we can by moving forward with the data that does exist}.

Once established, most scientists readily agree that an established fact is true, even if there are occasional dissenters. The warning we already raised bears repeating: an excellent way of screening out scholar-advocate bias from scientific evidence often is by contrasting their degree of certainty about new or controversial topics. Following the lead of experts who offer only limited answers does not provide the certain direction that many professionals want. But clinging to the hope offered by research biased by advocacy is, in the end, false hope.

The potential for scholar-advocacy bias in scholarly reporting is not unique to the family law field. It plagues many fields fraught with public policy controversies such as climate change, evolution, vaccinations, environmental hazards, drugs, crime, and gun control. In fact, National Geographic magazine ran a cover story titled “The War on Science” in the March 2015 issue, as we were writing this paper. As the article discusses, on some issues, such as evolution or climate change, scholar-advocates vehemently claim that there is scientific controversy when virtually none exists.

In this paper, we explore the relationship between principles and methods of scholarship and advocacy, particularly the distortion of research for the purpose of advocacy. We then detail different rhetorical strategies and tactics that scholar-advocates use to appear convincing scientifically but which are, in fact, antiscientific. Next, we briefly consider these tactics and scholar-advocacy bias more generally in the context of a specific example, the contemporary controversy about frequent infant overnights. Finally, we outline a few essential steps for helping to ensure that research is used to inform evidence-based policy rather than distorted in the service of a cause.

PRINCIPLES AND METHODS OF SCIENTIFIC SCHOLARSHIP VERSUS ADVOCACY

Social science scholarship requires a systematic approach that aims to further existing knowledge without pursuing pre-conceived outcomes or ultimate ends. In this quest, the scholar’s purpose is to be, insofar as possible, self-aware and critical about prior assumptions, personal values, and biases, willing to subject hypotheses to rigorous inquiry and falsifiable tests, and prepared to consider alternative interpretations of the data. Because scientific knowledge builds on itself, comprehensive and relevant literature reviews are foundational to the research enterprise.

{Editor – Point 13. There seems something of a breakdown here between what is claimed and what is preached. If a ‘systematic approach’ is the self-imposed criteria and ‘insofar as possible, self-aware and critical’ of one’s own personal values, and biases, then why has Emery & McIntosh only presented 7 of the 40 studies in their new chapter “review of research” in their Drozd chapter (N.B. Drozd is the editor of the 2nd edition of a book called “Parenting plan evaluations: applied research for the family court”, in it Emery & McIntosh wrongly accuse others, e.g. Nielsen, of citing Bjarnason’s (2012) study “. . . despite the lack of evidence for this [advantages of shared parenting] from the original study.”}

Scholars are expected to uphold the standards and follow the disciplined procedure of the scientific method by using logical and replicable research methodologies to test their predictions. The findings from empirical tests may be either consistent or inconsistent with predictions. Thus, research findings either strengthen or modify the state of knowledge about a phenomenon of interest, allowing  public discussion of its implications for policy and practice. Methodology of the study is expected to be transparent and implemented with fidelity, and results are to be reported fully and accurately.

{Editor – Point 14. “ . . . . and results are to be reported fully and accurately” .which is extraordinary hypocrisy given that Emery & McIntosh fail to do precisely that themselves}.

Most importantly, limitations imposed by the research design, along with deviations or flaws in implementing it, are inevitable in the real world. These need to be fully disclosed and discussed in terms of how they may have affected the nature and generalizability of the findings. As social scientists, we have been trained to value objectivity. In this role, we acknowledge that there is room for interpretation with respect to many empirical findings. In our quest for knowledge, we welcome alternative interpretations.

{Editor – Point 15. “As social scientists . . . .” are the authors trying to infer that their opponents, e.g. Warshak, Nielsen, Lamb etc. are somehow not world renown social scientists ? And if they “welcome alternative interpretations” why then are they so hostile to Warshak, Nielsen, Lamb and others who do not share their world view ? Is not the action of Emery & Co the polarizing factor they claim that are regret ?}.

Criticisms often lead to good questions, and good questions often lead to new and improved research. Conversely, inquiry is closed off when evidence is misinterpreted or prematurely claimed to be conclusive. More basically, making strong claims that go beyond the empirical evidence is a violation of perhaps the most basic rule of science: making consistent efforts to maintain objectivity.

{Editor – Point 16. Re: going ‘beyond the empirical evidence’, this is exactly what Emery & McIntosh did with their baby studies}.

We find much that is right and nothing that is inherently wrong with either science or advocacy. We are deeply concerned however, when science is misrepresented by advocates or advocacy is misrepresented as research, because either can damage both science and policy.

{Editor – Point 17. But haven’t they already implied that there is something inherently wrong with an ‘advocacy’ approach rather than a ‘scientific’ one ? And where this leads to ‘deep concerns’ over findings being misrepresented, aren’t Emery & McIntosh pointing a finger at themselves ? }.

As social scientists, we value the advocate’s commitment to, and passion for, a cause. Moreover, we acknowledge that, unlike scientists, advocates can rightly base their claims on philosophical or moral grounds. Our concern is when advocates make false claims about science, either by asserting the truth of facts that are not yet and may never be established as scientific facts or by launching spurious, rhetorical attacks on legitimate scientific ideas (“No one will ever convince me that I’m descended from a monkey!”).

In short, social science and advocacy are fundamentally different enterprises in terms of goals and strategies. Social science researchers in applied fields like family law are often pressed to opine on policy, and many believe it is their responsibility to do so. They may also choose to advocate or to work in close collaboration with advocates and in this capacity, they can and do have a constructive  role to play in helping prepare the discourse for the advocate’s agenda. However, if working in dual roles, they may have to struggle with inherent tensions between the strategies, goals, and values of both social science and advocacy. The bottom line is that, regardless of their philosophical position or personal opinion, researchers are expected to retain their methodological discipline, honesty and integrity with respect to the development, reporting, and usage of research findings as they ponder implications for policy.

In the following section we identify five general rhetorical strategies and eight specific biasing tactics that are used by scholar-advocates when they press to “bend” research evidence for a cause. Our goal is to help decision makers use social science research effectively by adhering to established principles and methods of science that can help prevent bias and distortion.

{Editor – Point 18. Let us hope that the next section has something original to say as up till now it was all pretty boring, pedestrian, with nothing new, which failed to break new ground, and could be summed up in one paragraph. In short, there’s nothing new in what they’re saying}.

SCHOLAR  ADVOCACY  STRATEGIES  AND  TACTICS  THAT  BIAS  RESEARCH  EVIDENCE

STRATEGY #1: SETTING UP AN ADVOCACY AGENDA

The foremost strategy used by advocates is to shift the agenda of the enterprise from research to advocacy by using tactics like Shifting the Burden of Proof and Claiming the Null Hypothesis. These tactics violate the principles of deductive logic that are basic to the scientific method.

Shifting the Burden of Proof is a common tactic of scholar-advocates. Rather than claiming the much more difficult ground of “Research supports my position!”, the clever scholar-advocate instead proclaims “No research supports the opposing position!”

{Editor – Point 19. The beginning of this new section is also disappointing. As noted earlier the authors and their coterie are past masters of what they now accuse others of attempting. Rarely has anyone seen a self-confessional on so grand a scale as this (e.g. Shifting the Burden of Proof to achieve one’s ends) which usefully highlighting some of the tricks of their tradecraft. The difficulty these scholars face is that their opposite numbers are exactly those who use Research evidence to supports their position rather than advocacy. The fact that they feel compelled to devise not one but several “strategies” reveals how vulnerable they feel and the pressure they now feel under}.

Shifting the burden of proof in this way is a familiar tactic among legal professionals. Juries may need to be reminded that the prosecution needs to prove that a defendant has committed a crime; the defence does not need to prove the defendant’s innocence. Yet, this essential procedural protection in the law can be overlooked in debates about the policy implications of empirical evidence. As such, shifting the burden of proof can be an effective rhetorical tactic, particularly if evidence is thin and the advocate also offers philosophical or moral arguments.

Claiming the Null Hypothesis:

Alternatively, in the absence of scientific evidence of support for a hypothesis (null findings), the advocate may claim “There is no evidence that I am wrong!” or substitute a social value in support of their position: “There is no evidence our proposal harms anyone.” Consider, for example, a tobacco company defending smoking to a trade group in 1959. “There is absolutely no sound, scientific evidence that smoking causes cancer!” There may not have been any sound scientific evidence that there was a causal relationship, but there was growing correlational evidence that was cause for concern. There also was no sound, scientific evidence that smoking does not cause cancer. The tobacco company advocate shifted attention away from the possible link and instead made a scientific-sounding argument by subtly shifting the burden of proof. A basic tenet of science is that the burden of proof lies with the proponent of any hypothesis. You must prove your new miracle drug is effective.

{Editor – Point 20. This is faintly ridiculous. How can an analogy be drawn from a new drug being tested – which may prove lethal – to the applications of social science data which can provide relief without inducing lethality ? Instead of being insulated in any proverbial ivory tower, the authors ought to get down to some work in the real word and learn what is meant by the Japanese creed of Kai-Zan (continuous and incremental improvement) and Kan-Doh (where expectations are slightly exceeded)}.

It is not possible to conclude anything from findings that the drug has neither positive nor negative effects – because it would logically take an infinite number of tests to prove that. However, one can undertake tests to bring evidence to support the hypotheses that the drug is, in fact, effective in curing X and/or the drug has negative side effects Y and Z. Scientists know that they are obliged to support their own hypotheses, as well as to acknowledge the limits of existing evidence on their side of a debate. Advocates pound the table while proclaiming, “There is no evidence that I am wrong.”

{Editor – Point 21. “Advocates pound the table while proclaiming, “There is no evidence that I am wrong,” Oh come on now. Aren’t we now being just a tad too testy and just a little carried away with our emotions ?}

Even if advocates are right in asserting that the evidence against them is weak, they are wrong because the burden lies with them to provide empirical support for their own ideas.

{Editor – Point 22. No, they don’t – and that really doesn’t make sense, does it ? If the evidence against the position of, say, Lamb and Warshak is weak, then it is up to the incumbents to make the evidence against them stronger. In the alternative, it is left open to the fair-minded to re-evaluate for themselves in the light of fresh and more modern evidence which side they favour}.

Interested professionals need to evaluate evidence supporting a claim, not just the absence of evidence undermining it. Clearly, the absence of evidence supporting the opposing position cannot be misinterpreted as providing scientific support for one’s preferred position.

A problem arises in family law (and many other disciplines) when empirical evidence does not point clearly in one direction or another in relation to some pressing, real world circumstance. What should be our default assumption while we await the verdict of research? For example, until we establish that 50/50 shared custody either hurts or benefits children (and under what circumstances), what should we do? Science cannot yet answer such questions. In the meantime, the default assumption is a matter of values.

{Editor – Point 23. With regards, “For example, until we establish that 50/50 shared custody either hurts or benefits children” aren’t they conveniently overlooking the 40 studies itemised and analysed by Prof Nielsen ? Isn’t her work science ? Aren’t the 40 studies Nielsen itemises science ? Aren’t the findings of Prof. Hildegund Sünderhauf, namely that that most past papers are pro-shared parenting, scientific enough ? Isn’t Stockholm based psychologist and researcher Malin Bergström, at the Centre for Health Equity Studies (CHESS), also not scientific enough ? Incidentally, Sünderhauf paper lists 48 studies from 1977 to the present day and found only 2 (one of them by McIntosh, of course, in 2008) unfavourable to shared parenting}.

Through the adoption of laws, rules, and philosophies, society can assume that 50/50 is best (or not) until proven otherwise. But a scientist who makes such an assumption in the absence of a substantial body of evidence is acting as an advocate, and is not acting as a scientist.

STRATEGY #2: SELECTIVE USE OF RESEARCH

A group of scholar-advocate tactics involve the biased selection of research evidence that support advocacy goals, while suppressing research that does not support those goals. We name these tactics Cherry Picking, Stacking the Deck, and Net Widening.

These tactics all violate scientific principles that review and critique of the evidence needs to be comprehensive, relevant, and balanced. Cherry picking involves selecting specific studies or parts of studies to review, based on the advocate’s position. It is not necessarily done with malice, but is a result of premature closure, not doing a full search, or not looking for disconfirmation of a bias. Cherry picking can result in a short-circuited view of the evidence that merely proves prior assumptions rather than disproving less favourable evidence. For example, searching the Internet can find evidence to support just about any theory, but requires concerted effort to ascertain various points of view and distinguish the quality of the information.

{Editor – Point 24. This really is an unwise, reckless and a naive move by the authors to make for in so doing – like being asked one’s choice in music – it lets us into the inner working of their minds; their mental processes, their Modus operandi and literally rather than conventionally their Modus vivendi (on which point one wishes they could reach an adult Modus vivendi with their opponents e.g. Warshak, Lamb and others}.

Researchers adhering to professional standards ensure that a comprehensive review of the evidence pertaining to policy has been conducted and is available, for example, as an appendix to a policy proposal. Authors who seek to undertake fair and balanced reviews report a detailed strategy used to search for, identify, retrieve, include and exclude research studies in the review. They also will provide a set of standard criteria by which each study is described and evaluated, usually in table form. Sufficient information within each category is provided so that the reader can compare studies directly with one another. Strengths and limitations of the studies are duly catalogued along with each study’s findings. Standard methods for systematic reviews of evidence such as meta-analysis are well known (Petticrew & Roberts, 2006).

Responsible researchers ensure that written summaries describing the study’s sample, research design, methods, data analysis, limitations, and location of the full report accompany presentations of findings. Any policy recommendations logically flow from the weight of evidence presented in the report, and should be endorsed with the caveat that the weight of evidence may change as new research findings using different or better methodologies become available.

Stacking the Deck occurs when the majority of references in a review are advocates for a favoured position or when studies that support a particular view are intentionally included, while studies that raise questions about that position are either underrepresented or omitted. Typically, research findings consistent with an advocate’s views are truncated endorsements, with positive findings highlighted and limitations of the study ignored or rationalized away. When the deck of research is stacked in this manner, it is important to check further to see if the authors acknowledge and provide a convincing rationale for the lop-sided references and make explicit their theoretical or ideological viewpoint. A common, particularly subtle occurrence is to give full credence to the findings they favour and to discuss only a few of the more benign limitations, thereby making the analysis appear more objective or balanced. [3] In other situations, scholar advocates completely dismiss valid research findings that do not support their preferred hypothesis on the basis of common, unavoidable, or minor limitations. In this case, the proverbial baby is thrown out with the bathwater.

{Editor – Point 25. Oh, that a bit naughty – and reminiscent of the pot calling the kettle black. If anyone is more likely to stand accused of giving “full credence to the findings they favour and to discuss only a few of the more benign limitations” it is radical feminist researchers and those sympathetic to the skewing of small quantities of evidence. Radical feminist have made no secret of their skewing since 2001 (Regent’s Parks conference). A trade mark of such authors is the very one pointed out here, namely, they cite no authors holding contrary opinions and quote only from their little coterie thus increasing the citation count of their friends and colleagues. In this paper alone there are over half a dozen citations for McIntosh’s work but only one for Warshak and one for Nielsen, who are allegedly the authors main protagonists – funny that}.

Some scholars publish their research in peer-reviewed journals where they carefully acknowledge the limitations of their findings, but they abandon caution when presenting at conferences, offering testimony, or speaking to the media. [4]

{Editor – Point 26. Yes, this can be true but the inherent drawback with peer reviewing is the politics of the process and its application as a veto on challenging new concepts. For example, Liz Kelly as peer reviewer for the Home Office side-lining DV reports not conducive to her position or reputation, or polymath Ivor Catt’s long battle with the establishment regarding physics and electro-magnetic theory}.

Researchers need to be consistent in the messaging of their findings across platforms, including published articles, presentations, expert testimony, media interviews, and other forms of dissemination activities.

Net Widening involves over-incorporating irrelevant research in claiming empirical support for one’s position. Net widening may occur when scholar advocates push to broaden the application of their agenda to new domains, populations or phenomena with little or no research to support this translation. Alternatively, a net cast too wide may resist or ignore efforts to identify subgroups who  are disadvantaged by a favoured policy.

{Editor – Point 26. This is best seen in action in relation to domestic violence adherents. It is now expanded to not just physical abuse but the threat of abuse and even the threat of withholding money. So those who have been trying to make the point of net widening to fulfil funding shortfalls are, in this case, grateful to these authors for highlighting the perverse anomaly and legitimising the concerns}.

Scholar-advocates use net widening to expand the review of research findings from a circumscribed topic into a broader domain without a well-argued theoretical or empirical rationale. In the process, important concepts may be redefined, loosely argued associations may be presented as established truths and correlational data may be portrayed as causal. Net widening is evident in the introduction of non-peer reviewed reports, testimonies, and other literature that has not passed the scrutiny of the peer review process, for purposes of listing more examples of evidence for a position, and including irrelevant studies that are counted as “evidence” for the cause. In order to decide if a particular case of net widening can be justified, the task of the researcher is to review the research evidence to see if the advocate’s assumptions are defensible and whether there is a case for theoretical and programmatic integration. This kind of review pays careful attention to different programs of research, delineation of conceptual similarities and differences, examination of the empirical relationships between concepts, and reconciliation of competing formulations in the service of a holistic integrative model of the problem that then needs to be reconsidered in terms of policy implications.  [5]

STRATEGY #3: SPINNING RESEARCH FINDINGS

Several scholar-advocacy tactics violate valued scientific principles of accuracy, transparency, and logic when, in the pursuit of advocacy goals, they over-simplify reports of research, make conclusions that overreach data favourable to their viewpoint, and use straw-man arguments to diminish research that is unfavourable.

Oversimplifying and Overreaching. As often happens with news stories, scholar advocates often put a spin on the story they tell about a research study by oversimplifying, slanting, or distorting the findings or reporting them out of context. Reputable social science research reports are subject to some degree of simplification. Authors summarize in order to help the reader discriminate the overall pattern of findings and distinguish the main arguments and findings from background issues, such as methodological details. Scholar-advocates simplify results to the point where the information may be misleading or factually incorrect.  [6]

Sound bites about “what the research says” are typically employed to reduce complex information into a format that is more easily communicated and has greater capacity to be influential. Activists shrink sound bites further to one-line political slogans without reference to context or limitations. It is not surprising that oversimplification and distortion of the data occur to the point that the scholaradvocate reaches exaggerated conclusions about the significance, certainty, or importance of the study and the implications of its findings. This problem is unlikely to be resolved soon for the “twittering” generation. Because many professionals only read the abstracts of scientific papers, researchers need to ensure that their abstracts are detailed and consistent with the body of the manuscript to minimize oversimplification and over-reaching conclusions. This will assist readers who skim the paper, attending only to the overview or summary, so they are not oblivious to being misled.

Straw-Man Arguments set up extreme or weak representations of opposing positions in order to “knock down” those arguments or research findings. Straw man arguments are, in part, the end result of oversimplification and distortion of data. They also reflect a dominant goal of advocacy: to demarcate polarized policy alternatives such that a favoured choice is obviously the right one. [7] In turn, this can provoke competing advocacy efforts to “put the record straight” by stacking up the research evidence for the opposite point of view. For example, scholar advocacy debates have in the past resulted in a dichotomy of mutually exclusive policy solutions framed in absolutist terms—either shared parenting or primary maternal care is optimal for infants and toddlers; either an alienating parent or an abusive one is germane to the problem of children who reject a parent.

The actual data produced from scholarship seldom supports extreme positions because there are too many complex variables involved to limit the results or conclusions to any sound bite across diverse family situations. Rather than presenting absolute truths about the data, researchers need to report on the multiple factors both controlled, and not controlled, that could influence the direction and magnitude of the association among variables.

{Editor – Point 27. And so we reach this milestone and still nothing of scientific significance has been forthcoming. All we have had sight of so far is the manual of techniques used against those of us who want to see reform}.

STRATEGY #4: AD HOMININE ARGUMENTS

Rather than deal with the scientific merits of a research study and its findings, some scholar-advocates resort to ad hominine arguments, with Appeal to Authority or proclamations that leading researchers endorse their viewpoint about the status of the research evidence.

{Editor – Point 28. This is a blatant and very unsubtle attack on Warshak – and if they had hoped to smear him in some way then it has well and truly back-fired, as they paint themselves as very mean-spirited. In trying to decry Appeal to Authority they identify themselves as being out of step with modern developments. When the experience, titles of authors and their research findings all coincide with Warshak paper one has to wonder what these decriers are up to}.

Alternatively, they may seek to defame the integrity and competence of researchers whose studies challenge their views in a negative campaign of Character Assassination. Ethical standards for professional scientific behaviour are clearly violated in these latter cases.

Appeal to Authority. Advocate researchers may use important sounding titles, affiliations with venerable institutions, declarations of prestige and authority, or claims of the allegiance of prominent figures, living or dead, to lend credibility to their arguments. In an adversarial legal system, it is not unusual for factual evidence to be established by citing the opinions of and endorsements by such credible sources, especially expert witnesses. This is not the way truth is established in social science research. Pronouncements about the qualifications, experience and titles of authors of research findings do not constitute evidence of the validity of scientific work.

When social scientists support their knowledge claims with the signatories of leading authorities, it is a clear signal that they have shifted their primary role from science to advocacy. Unless defensible social survey methods are used, gathering signatures of support for a viewpoint or knowledge claim amounts to little more than a petition or plebiscite – an advocate strategy for garnering support for a cause.

{Editor – Point 29. Or is it a clear signal that when normal channels of discourse are blocked by a coterie and their ideology, social scientists are forced to support their knowledge claims by creating a list of signatories from leading authorities (and that the list is from leading authorities is doubly damaging). By attacking Warshak’s paper, yet again, one has to ask how is this ‘garnering’ any different from the AFCC listing the names of the 30 people at their think tank ?}.

Research evidence is established by adhering to scientific methods that help guard against bias. The credentials of a speaker or author do not in and of themselves constitute evidence nor enhance the status of research evidence. When acclamation by appeal to leading authorities is done for the purpose of legitimating a knowledge claim, it should raise a red flag that the author may be unduly emphasizing an advocate viewpoint. For example, it is not uncommon for research studies to be named after their institutional sponsor or referenced in a quick-hand manner such as the “Yale Study” or the “Berkeley Study.” [8] This appeal to the authority of an academic institution is no guarantee that the research evidence has been reported or interpreted accurately by the writer.

Character Assassination. Defamation of the character and integrity of the researcher is an advocacy tactic designed to question any work done by a given researcher instead of carefully evaluating the findings of specific studies. Scholar-advocacy discourse may suggest that the researcher has dubious motivation, harbours bias or prejudice, or engages in careless or corrupt research practices. These kinds of remarks are made at professional meetings or on the Internet, where they are easily promulgated widely and repeated by others. Defamation can escalate into an ugly campaign, a witch hunt designed to frame a researcher as inherently untrustworthy. Fringe groups of disgruntled extremists can join the fray, circulating hate mail, “hit lists” and other ominous threats to messengers with disagreeable data. Researchers need to remain professional and respectful of differences when discussing the strengths and limitations of research studies. Character assassinations distract from a richer discussion of the implications of research findings.

{Editor – Point 30. It’s no guarantee but  remarks are made at professional meetings are significantly better endorsement than a mere Op-ed article in the FCR or a press realise by the AFCC. One ignores such acclimations and ripostes by recognised authors at one’s peril. But at the heart of the matter is the minority view that the judgment of 110 leading researchers (with decades of experience) doesn’t matter quite as much as a cabal of 7 self-appointed experts (most with limited experience less expertise). Is the student now to be ranked with the master ? Hold hard just one moment, cowboy. Aren’t the authors of this article forgetting that it is they, not those they now accuse of being unprofessional, who actually started and monopolised the hates mail, the letters of disrespect, the back stabbing and the character assassinations ?  Don’t coming running to us crying “foul” now that you’ve been found out. The destructive nature of their many and previous ‘assassination’ attempts have not gone unremarked. Before this “push back” campaign was ever begun it should have been worked out by someone in their camp that the outcome of personally attacking researcher would be detrimental to the whole profession – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work that out ! ! }.

The use of standard rating tools for assessing methodological quality can help researchers use common metrics for assessing the strengths and limitations across research studies and help to depersonalize these assessments. The destructive nature of such assassinations hurts not only the attacked researcher, but the field as a whole, as trust in the science associated with the field erodes, along with the ability of professionals who differ with each other to respectfully collaborate.

STRATEGY #5: SCHOLARLY RUMORS

Disseminating scholarly rumours and myths involves a cohort of scholar-advocates who misquote research, and then quote and cite one another, without checking back to the original source. Peers share viewpoints about the state of the evidence, cite others who agree with them and are influenced by the opinions of their peers, especially when making sense of complex and ambiguous information.

To the extent a group is a closed network with few dissenting voices, there is potential for biased views and misconceptions to multiply. This process becomes more salient between groups with competing advocacy agendas. In accord with scientific principles of accuracy, and self-critical reflection, scholarly authors are expected to investigate their knowledge claims carefully, using the full range of credible sources, including those who hold opposing positions. To avoid disseminating scholarly rumors, it is essential for literature reviewers to read the original paper: synopses and secondary reviews of primary sources can be misleading. Alternatively, all works that have not been directly read by the author/reviewer should be acknowledged in the text in the conventional manner required by APA style, that is “source author names (date) as cited in reviewer names (date)” to alert the reader that the information is derived from a secondary source.

EXAMPLE: THE ROLE OF SCHOLAR-ADVOCACY BIAS IN THE INFANT

OVERNIGHT AND SHARED PARENTING DEBATE

{Editor – Point 31. Why, one is forced to wonder, has this singular topic of ‘Infant Overnight and Shared Parenting Debate’ been chosen ? Is it because they want another chance to attack Warshak and thereby downplay the importance of the 110 people who endorsed the paper ?}.

Parenting plans for children under the age of four, after parental separation and divorce, have been a salient public policy issue and the subject of smouldering debates for decades as the thrust to legislate shared parenting statutes gathers momentum. The most recent controversy, flamed in response to research on overnight time-sharing schedules for infants and toddlers, prompted researchers and reviewers of the research to accuse each other of advocacy bias—that is, the misuse of social science evidence to support their partisan cause.

{Editor – Point 32. For those who have not been privy to all the academic to-ing and fro-ing, neither Warshak nor Nielsen have ever accused anybody of advocacy bias. They have maintained a dignified silence even when blatant advocacy bias has been used against them. What it is true to say is that the studies by these authors (i.e. not Warshak or Nielsen but Emery & Co), have been used by others to advocate against infant overnighting. However, such is the tightness of the coterie with their ideological friends that the distinction is over their heads}.

The purpose of this case illustration is not to opine on the issue itself, but rather to evaluate how these accusations of bias are or are not substantiated by published research and commentary on the subject, and to illustrate how they escalate through a cycle of advocacy. [9] We also seek to illustrate what makes research studies vulnerable to misuse for advocacy purposes.

STATE OF THE EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE

Our data for this case study are the original four empirical studies of overnights that included children four years and younger (McIntosh, Smyth, & Kelaher, 2010; McIntosh, Smyth, & Kelaher, 2013; Pruett et al., 2004; Solomon & George, 1999a, 1999b; Tornello et al., 2013), along with 26 papers published within the past five years that included 12 reviews Cashmore & Parkinson, 2014; Kline Pruett, McIntosh, & Kelly, 2014; Lamb, 2012a; McIntosh, 2011; McIntosh, 2012; McIntosh, Kline, Pruett, & Kelly, 2015; McIntosh & Smyth, 2012; Nielsen, 2014a, 2014b; Smith, Caffino, Van Horn, & Lieberman, 2012; Solomon, 2013; Warshak, 2014), 9 critiques or commentaries (Garber, 2012; Hynan, 2012; Lamb, 2012a, 2012b; Ludolph & Dale, 2012; Ludolph, 2012; Millar & Kruk, 2014; Smyth, McIntosh, & Kelaher, 2011), and 5 replies to critiques (Tornello et al., 2013; McIntosh, 2011; McIntosh, 2012; McIntosh, Smyth, & Kelaher, 2015; Parkinson & Cashmore, 2011) on these studies and on the subject more broadly.

{Editor – Point 33. Now to claim only 4 empirical studies is being a bit more than just naughty. It is verging on the dishonest. In case the reader missed it in all the date listings there are in fact ‘26 papers alone published within the past five years that included 12 reviews’, plus 9 critiques or commentaries and 5 replies to critiques. The authors seem to have been selective or at fault in their literature search because Prof Linda Nielsen alone has found 40 and Prof. Hildegund Sünderhauf (see Point 23) has found 48. Why have the authors omitted so many ? What is their motive for being so economical with the truth ?}.

Each of the four single studies tested specific hypotheses about the association between overnight stays and indicators of young children’s security of attachment, proxies for emotional regulation and/or emotional-behavioural functioning.

{Editor – Point 34. Actually, no, that not quite true. Marsha Pruett’s study had no measures of attachment security or emotion regulation. With regards the reference to “proxies” this is McIntosh’s scale of 3 questions. A proxy is not a valid measure – and they’ve just warned, in black and white above, about doing that}.

In aggregate, the studies found few statistically significant results; there were some negative associations across different outcomes among children under the age of four. There was more variability than similarity across the studies and outcome measures assessed. The samples, each drawn from a different source and spanning different age groups (in months), were described clearly. The research methodology and data analysis were transparent in each study. The findings were accurately reported, and study limitations were disclosed.

{Editor – Point 35. So it is claimed but many others opposed to McIntosh findings (they see them as being unscientific), would dispute it}.

Relative to the inordinate amount of attention, scrutiny, and repudiation or acclamation they have garnered, there are few studies and they lack common variables and measures, precluding any systematic comparison of data across studies or aggregation of the evidence.

POLICY CONTROVERSY

One of the four empirical studies in particular became the lightning rod for subsequent public and professional controversy when the researchers explained their findings. Based upon the assumption that infants’ and toddlers’ development of self-regulation depends upon a secure or organized attachment to at least one parent, the researchers proposed that substantial overnights spent with the other parent may constitute a significant stressor during a critical period of the younger child’s brain development, with possible negative longer term consequences.

{Editor – Point 36. What patent piffle this is. The idea that a grandchild might feel stressed because of spending a few nights with their grandparents for instance is too absurd to even consider – and ditto, one imagines, for a father. Is this the best argument that can be made ? The only reason why McIntosh’s proved to be such a lightening conductor (and which Emery and the other authors don’t mention) was because it lacked first year student rigour and yet was promoted as new and novel. No wonder having created such an uproar, the rest of the profession came down on it like a ton of bricks. In effect this whole paper is a defence of McIntosh and her work, yet at no point do they actually name her, her paper, or as the cause of the chasm that has opened up inside the profession}.

This interpretation of the pattern of empirical findings was made in terms of the attachment paradigm of developmental psychology without considering alternative perspectives that had previously justified overnight stays with the non-residential parent (e.g., Lamb & Kelly, 2001). Notably missing were the perspectives of theorists who had written about the importance of multiple attachments, and those who researched young children’s risk and resilience. From these perspectives, the same research findings, limited in number and scope, might have been framed or interpreted differently.

Although no explicit policy recommendations were made in the original four studies, none of the four studies cautioned against premature policy conclusions. Scientific protocols do not require researchers to do so.

{Editor – Point 37. The claim of ‘no explicit policy recommendations’ by McIntosh is a lie, a complete invention, I think you will find. She most certainly did make policy statements – and Robert Emery has been quoted in several media sources as being against overnighting, etc. Just last week he was quoted by Gina Presson (‘Sun Sentinel’, April 13, 2016), in an article criticising Senator Lee, who was promoting shared parenting, saying that the disadvantages of JPC (shared parenting), outweigh the benefits}.

In the void, implications for policy were generally assumed from the interpretations given by the researchers of the target study; they were perceived to be advocating that separating fathers in secondary parenting roles with very young children should stand aside and allow mothers, who are usually the primary parent for very young children, to assume primary childrearing until the child is four. This assumption of advocacy reignited the battle between extant powerful political interests (representing mothers’ or fathers’ interests) and resulted in media attention and public concern.

The aforementioned report also ignited a fiery cycle of allegations of scholar advocacy bias. Within the next couple of years, findings from the study, and interpretation of those findings, were widely presented within national and international forums (e.g., papers published in Family Court Review and at national conferences of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, family law meetings, professional trainings, and legislative hearings). Rumours began circulating that they were influencing legislation in several locales to recommend against shared parenting for infants and toddlers.

{Editor – Point 38.  The authors can’t have it both ways. Either they write for their own academic amusement or they write in the hope of influencing policy. So why criticise others who do the same ? – – McIntosh herself told an interviewer about “being McIntoshed” in court}.

The subsequent wave of published critiques and reviews of the research that followed widespread dissemination of the few empirical findings substantiate the gulf between the limited empirical research evidence and the much larger policy issues at stake. The majority of reviews and critiques are incisive and constructive, especially clarifying methodological issues and study limitations.  [10]  From a social policy viewpoint, the reviews also call attention to the potential chilling effects of the research upon father involvement with their very young children and the likelihood of it increasing father dropout.  [11]

Scholar-Advocacy Bias in Response: Proponents of shared parenting viewed this state of affairs as illustrating the problems of scholar-advocacy bias that we describe in this paper: (1) selecting research literature that favours a specific position without citing contrary research that suggests alternative perspectives and interpretations, (2) using leading authority declarations to support their position, and (3) widely disseminating their position to influence policy without giving sufficient attention to the limitations of their findings. Some critics also allege that the researchers’ conclusions have overreached their data in pursuit of advocacy goals.

This perception of scholar advocacy led some proponents of shared parenting to “put the record straight” in subsequent reviews. However, in arguing that the authors of the target study engaged in what we are calling scholar-advocacy bias, several of the reviews demonstrated multiple examples of many of the tactics identified in this paper, escalating a cycle of advocacy bias that sheds more smoke than light on the state of scientific evidence and potential implications for policy. One or more of these reviews:

  1. Attempted to claim the null hypothesis and shift the burden of proof by falsely accusing researchers (with unfavourable empirical data to their position) for asserting, “infant overnights should be assumed harmful until proven otherwise.” Simultaneously, these same critics asserted (based on favourable theory but no direct evidence), “research shows that overnights [i.e. sleeovers] benefit children.”
  1. Greatly widened the net by reviewing literature about the benefits of shared parenting and father involvement to children of all ages, largely without distinguishing what is known specifically about infants and toddlers who were the age group at the focus of the debate.
  1. Used specious reasoning and straw man arguments about outdated theories of infants’ exclusive preference for the mother as primary caregiver to characterize the target research report as gender biased and as favouring mother care over father involvement, whereas, in fact, the study did not address any gender hypothesis.
  1. Sought to refute and discredit studies with findings inconsistent with their views aboutinfant overnight by subjecting them to a higher level of critical scrutiny and evaluative standards compared to those that favoured their policy views.
  1. Misrepresented prior research findings, thus contributing to scholarly rumors that supported their bias, for example, erroneously reporting that a large study of divorcing parents resulted in data on young children’s emotional and behavioral adjustment, which supported the benefits of shared parenting.
  1. Overly simplified the findings by concluding unconditionally that there were no grounds for concern about young children – including infants and toddlers – in shared parenting arrangements of any kind, rather than noting that there is some evidence that gives reason for concern and noting the limitations of that evidence.
  1. Gathered the endorsements of authorities in support of their position regarding the state of the evidence without disclosing any methodology of recruitment of the signatories, criteria for exclusion, what the signatories were told, if anything, about the controversy, and what they understood they were agreeing to when they signed.

COMMENTARY

In response to the research they were denouncing, some of the reviewers clearly crossed an advocacy bias line. Most salient, none of them followed standards for completing systematic reviews. In the absence of clear criteria for inclusion and exclusion of studies, reviews and critiques vary in coverage of relevant populations. Variables measured in different ways across studies are at times mutated and merged into broader concepts more consistent with advocacy positions (e.g., attachment security = good or strong relationship; # of overnights = # of access days; emotional regulation = well-being).

The fact that the reviews are mostly qualitative interpretations about a small number of empirical studies, and do not follow standard guidelines in the field for systematic quantitative reviews of the literature, opens the door to advocacy-biased interpretation from all perspectives. In essence, reviewers decide which factors they want to highlight, and which results and factors remain silent in the background. Hypothetical  statements are made about the kinds of factors that may be influencing outcomes (theory-driven versus statistically driven), but clear methods for testing these hypotheses are not delineated. As a result, interdisciplinary scholars and practitioners continue to conjecture about the conditions under which overnights are stressful for infants and toddlers to a degree that affects healthy development, and conjectures are often difficult to distinguish from evidence in the manner they are presented and discussed.

As we have described, research at risk for advocacy bias are those preliminary studies that directly address salient policy issues. Scholar-advocacy bias is generated in situations where there is steadfast pressure upon social scientists to answer critically important policy questions before adequate, consistent, reliable, replicated findings exist. In the case example, the controversy about overnights for infants is reflected in the ratio of number of research studies to number of reviews (1:6). Four studies constitute an inadequate body of research upon which to speculate about policy implications.

{Editor – Point 39. Four ? We all would agree with that position if that were indeed true, but there are not just 4 studies. If there were just 4 there would be nothing to argue about. The reality is that there are dozens – at least over 40 (see Appendix). Why are these not mentioned ?}

By contrast, this ratio is likely to be of reverse magnitude in reputable journals that specialize in reviews of social science evidence such as Psychological Bulletin. At the very least, research studies are expected to exceed research reviews in quantity on any topic. We conclude that with seemingly little awareness, scholars on both sides of the debate crossed to the dark side . . . .

{Editor – Point 40. Oh, really now. The “the dark side” ? Is that the level to which a scholarly debate has now fallen, namely down to pop culture level ? Are mind-sets like this the first green shoots (the consequences) portrayed in the Deliberate Dumbing Down of America (by Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt), or are they the end result of a previous generational shift – the gift to literature by Allan Bloom, “The Closing of the American Mind” ? His 1987 book which describes “how higher education fails democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students.” Were this to be accurate, it would account for the situation we now find ourselves facing with intolerance towards free thinking being exhibited by institutions and cliques. Bloom’s book argues that proclaimed “openness”, “relativism” and absolute understanding in contemporary American university, actually undermines critical thinking and eliminates differing “points of view” that defines cultures and spurs on their advancement. Are we now paying the price ?}.

Are these the first green shoots the consequences of the closing of the American mind of contributing to an escalating cycle of advocacy bias, albeit to different degrees. In a companion paper (Sandler et al., 2016), we describe and illustrate how to avoid and prevent scholar-advocacy bias, ways of remedying the damage, and getting back on track. Similar to the case of the overnights for infants debate, a discussion of intimate partner violence is used to illustrate how some scholars on both sides of the debate have begun to contribute to a productive collaboration.

CONCLUSION

MORE  RESEARCH  IS  NEEDED:  MORE THAN  THE  USUAL  PLATITUDE

The standard conclusion at this point in many papers is “more research is needed.” This statement is so commonplace that the platitude is often ridiculed, particularly by practitioners and policy makers who want clear guidance now, not more muddy studies in a few years. As researchers concerned with policy, we have sympathy both with the standard “more research is needed” conclusion and with those who are frustrated by it. So, we would like to offer a different stronger version of that conclusion here: the dearth of quality research on family courts, on the issues and conflicts that bring families to court, is a national disgrace in the United States.

Divorce, non-marital childbearing, and the breakup of cohabitations are major disruptions in the life of close to half of all families in North America today (Kreider, 2005; Statistics Canada, 2013).  Family conflicts that arise from these transitions can manifest as child custody disputes. In dealing with these disputes, family court judges are expected to, and do, reach decisions that intrude greatly into the private lives of parents and children. Yet, family law gives judges wide discretion in reaching their conclusions. This means that judges can be, and are, influenced by ideas that are little more than political agendas of the moment—fads. Some of the political fads that have affected our courts include arguments about the benefits or lack thereof of sole versus joint legal and physical custody, and few or many overnights for very young children. Our courts weigh allegations of abuse that arise for the first time in a custody hearing, as well as competing allegations of parental alienation and intimate partner violence. Judges may award sole or joint custody, or limit or forbid parents’ contact with their children, not based on hard evidence, but on the conclusion of experts whose opinions and tests often are based on grounds that are scientifically dubious, at best.

In making these observations, we are not condemning judges and other professionals who are grappling with doing what is best for children in the absence of a clear legal or empirical definition of “best.” What we condemn is our national failure to attempt to define “best.” Until and unless our legislatures enact clear legal and philosophical guidelines about what our society assumes is best for children, the definition of “best” is an empirical question. More research is needed. Yet, no federal agency is dedicated to funding research on family courts and the conflicts that bring families to court.

Many agencies, such as the National Institute of Mental Health, explicitly rule out such funding. Moreover, no private foundation has attempted to fill the gap by making family courts and family conflicts a priority for funding research grants, despite the calls to consider family conflict and its sequelae as a public health issue (Salem, Sandler, & Wolchik, 2013). We as researchers have funded our research in creative ways, and not conducted research we would like to complete, because we could not secure the necessary resources.

More research is needed, but the needed research will not be forthcoming until some agency, public or private, steps up and funds sound empirical research on family courts and the conflicts that bring families to court. Until this occurs, judges and others will have to rely on scant research  conducted by investigators who do not have the resources to conduct definitive studies such as randomized clinical trials. And the present  circumstance, where studies are few and subject to differing interpretations, is fertile ground for scholar-advocacy bias. Until we have sufficient research to make clear, evidence-based conclusions, claims will be made about what “research says” when research really says nothing of that sort. . .and the costs to individual families and society will continue to accrue.

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Footnotes:-

[*] See Appendix 2 for alphabetic listing of authors.

[1] There are social scientists that pursue advocacy research responsibly from ideological convictions using protocols that are systematic and transparent (e.g., social deconstructionists and feminists). They are expected by training to be self-critical about their own subjectivity and forthright about the limitations of their methods.

[2] For example, Parenting Plan Evaluations. Applied Research for the Family Court. 2nd Edition by Drozd, Saini and Olesen (2016). This edited volume, includes chapters from prominent scholars in the field of family law each of which contains a table of studies that make up the review, each of which, in turn, examines the strengths and limitations of the body of evidence in the selected area.

[3] Examples include: (1) reporting statistical significance but not noting the effect size, (2) making comments about the size of the sample without doing power analysis to determine the actual sample size to minimize the risk of type II error, (3) reporting biased and unrepresentative samples, (4) not controlling for other extraneous variable, and (5) implying causation from correlational data.

[4] An example of this is the research on parental move-aways and its subsequent misrepresentation in the amicus briefs on both sides of the question that were submitted in LaMusga, a relocation case. Kelly and Ramsey (2007) provide an incisive critique of the problems with these briefs and propose ethical standards for submission of these documents to the court.

[5] Examples of good theoretical integration of diverse research literatures may include reviews produced by disputing social scientists collaborating on joint papers about the merits and implications of special topics. This has occurred in both areas of intimate partner violence and overnights for young children (Jaffe, Johnston, Crooks, & Bala 2008; Pruett, McIntosh, & Kelly (2014).

[6] For example, meta-analytic reviews may report small effect sizes (below .20) as a relationship between variables, but the summaries of the results simply report that there is an effect without comments about the lack of strength of that relationship. Future summaries then repeat the over simplification of the results with no mention of the limited strength of the effect size found in the primary source of data. More sophisticated approaches present the practical implications of the effect sizes or their clinical relevance rather than solely whether or not they are statistically significant. This is also an example of scholarly rumours.

[7] See Cherlin (1999) on the nature of extremism in national debates about the extent of harm, if any, inflicted on children by liberal divorce laws as argued by advocates for and opponents of these policies. Cherlin observed that on one pole of the spectrum, divorce is viewed as seriously disruptive to children’s development with significant negative long-term consequences because essential parenting functions are compromised for an extended period. On the other end of the ideological spectrum, divorce was depicted as a life transition, a relatively short-term event for children in which biological contributions were determinative. Cherlin reasons that the research evidence lies somewhere in between these two extremes.

[8] For instance, the “Stanford Study” (Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992) has been cited as finding that very young children benefit from joint physical custody. As a matter of fact, children’s adjustment was not measured during this longitudinal study and the authors’ social policy recommendations did not favour shared parenting presumptions. A 10-year follow-up by Buchanan, Maccoby, and Dornbusch (1996) who interviewed the teenage children found some relatively small positive correlations of their adjustment with shared custody at this later time. Similarly, the “Yale Study” by Pruett, Ebling, and Insabella (2004) is cited in courts both as favouring overnights and as being explicitly against them. In fact, the study explores overnights in a wider context (gender differences, schedule consistency) for young children 0–6, the majority of whom are toddlers and pre-schoolers – and nothing is deduced by the researchers from the findings to support particular social policies or practices.

[9] The purpose of this paper is not to engage in the debate on the issues themselves, nor to impute blame. For these reasons, in this case illustration, individual authors are not identified by name in the text and citations to all participants in the published literature on the debates are grouped together in footnotes.

[10] Reviews and critiques challenge the more speculative knowledge claims made by the original researchers, (e.g., the level of clinical disturbance in young children, if any, as a result of overnights; the lack of evidence distinguishing between enduring negative effects of overnights versus relatively mild threats to attachment security; and the questionable predictive validity of attachment security measured during the upheaval of parental separation). Critics also question whether the neuroscience of emotion regulation and infant’s attachment relations can be directly linked to the time-sharing schedule of overnights. Other variables that might differentiate for whom overnights are more stressful were raised for consideration (e.g., temperament of the child). The nature of the prior relationship of separated parents of infants and toddlers was identified as an

important consideration missing from the debate, although it was a central issue identified in all four of the original research papers. Some of the critiques proposed alternative, more benign interpretations of the toddlers’ symptomatic behaviors, for further investigation.

[11] More specifically, the reviews serve as reminders that the risks of attenuating the often fragile, nascent infant–father relationship in the separated family, and the associated opportunity costs, cannot be estimated from present research evidence. This policy concern is in addition to the threat posed to fathers’ civil rights and lawful personal interests. It raises the spectre of realities posed by the old adage “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” and child support considerations, that in part motivate men’s push for early shared care. In sum, the critiques and reviews play an important function, calling attention to the fact that research has not weighed the relative importance of developmental stage of the child with many of the other factors, including quality of father involvement, believed to influence children’s outcomes in separated families.

Appendix 1

Part 1 of 2 (circa 2014)

Hilda_1Part 2 of 2

Hilda_2

Appendix 2

  1. Alphabetical listing of authors: Robert E. Emery, Amy Holtzworth-Munroe, Janet R. Johnston, JoAnne L. Pedro-Carroll,

Robert Emery, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and director of the Centre for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia. He has authored over 150 scientific publications and several books, including the forthcoming Two Homes, One Childhood: A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime (Avery, August 2016).
Amy Holtzworth-Munroe (1988 Ph.D., clinical psychology) is a professor in Indiana University’s (IU) Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. She has researched intimate partner violence (IPV) for over 30 years, including examining the social skills deficits of violent husbands and identifying subtypes of male batterers. More recently, she has conducted research on family law, including developing and testing the best methods of IPV screening in family mediation and conducting randomized controlled trials testing the effectiveness of family law interventions (e.g., different mediation approaches, online parent programs). Her research is currently conducted in the IU Law School Mediation Centre, courts around Indiana, and the Washington, DC Superior Court Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Centre. She is a principal investigator on a National Institute of Justice–funded research project comparing outcomes of shuttle mediation, videoconferencing mediation, and return to court (without mediation) for parties with a history of high levels of IPV.
Janet R. Johnston, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the Department of Justice Studies, San Jose State University, was formerly consulting associate professor at Stanford University and research director of the Judith Wallerstein Centre for the Family in Transition, California. For three decades, she has specialized in counselling, mediation, and research with high-conflict, litigating divorcing couples and their children with special attention to domestic violence, child abduction, and alienated children.
JoAnne Pedro-Carroll is a clinical psychologist, researcher, and consultant with over 30 years of experience. She is the author of over 100 publications, including her award-winning book, Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce (Avery, 2010). She serves as an international consultant on the mental health and wellness of children and families. An advisor to Sesame Street, she helped to develop materials to foster children’s resilience and understanding of divorce-related family changes. She is the founder of the Children of Divorce Intervention Program, an award-winning series of prevention programs for kindergarten through eighth-grade children in the United States and internationally. She developed and co-founded A.C.T.—For the Children (Assisting Children through Transition), a parent education program that serves as a model throughout New York state and nationally. Her programs have earned widespread acclaim, including a Program Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Lela Rowland Award from the National Mental Health Association, and citation as an exemplary program for children from several national and international organizations. As a senior researcher at the Children’s Institute and a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, her areas of research included the effects of marital adjustment on children and the  development, implementation, and evaluation of preventive interventions for children and families experiencing stressful life transitions. She is the recipient of the American Psychological Association’s 2001 Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public Service and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts award for Outstanding Research.
Marsha Kline Pruett is the Maconda Brown O’Connor Professor at Smith College School for Social Work. She has been in practice for 20 years, specializing in couples counselling and co-parenting consultation, as well as intervention design and evaluation. She has published numerous articles, books, and curricula on topics pertaining to couple relationships before and after divorce, father involvement, young children and overnights, and child outcomes. Her books include Your Divorce Advisor: A Psychologist and Attorney Lead You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Fireside) and Partnership Parenting (Perseus). She consults nationally and internationally on various family law issues. She is currently the president-elect of AFCC.
Michael A. Saini, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto and holds the endowed Factor-Inwentash Chair of Law and Social Work. He is the co-director of the Combined J.D. and M.S.W. program with the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and the course director of the 40-hour Foundations to Custody Evaluations with the Continuing Education Program at the University of Toronto. For the past 15 years, he has been conducting custody evaluations and assisting children’s counsel for the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, Ministry of the Attorney General in Ontario.
Irwin Sandler, Ph.D., University of Rochester, is the director of the Prevention Research Centre and the Programme for Prevention Research and is the principal investigator on the Family Bereavement Program. He has been conducting research on children and families in high-stress situations for over 20 years. His current interests focus on understanding the role of coping and its efficacy in promoting health adaptation to stress, the assessment of stress events and ongoing chronic difficulties, and preventive interventions for children of divorce and bereaved children. His most recent books are the Handbook of Children’s Coping (Plenum Press, co-edited with Sharlene Wolchik) and the forthcoming The Promotion of Wellness in Children and Adolescents (Sage, co-edited with Cichetti, Rappaport, and Weissberg).

REFERENCES:

Emphasis has been added to notable names contributing to the debate – be it pro-shared parenting, e.g. Linda Nielsen, or anti-shared parenting, e.g. McIntosh. Note how Warshak is cited here only once.

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  3. Cherlin, A. J. (1999). Going to extremes: Family structure, children’s well-being, and social science. Demography, 36, 421–428.
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  33. Nielsen, L. (2014b). Woozles: Their role in custody law reform, parenting plans, and family court. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 20, 164–180.
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  37. Pruett, M. K., Ebling, R., & Insabella, G. (2004). Critical aspects of parenting plans for young children: Interjecting data into the debate about overnights. Family Court Review, 42, 39–59.
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