On Jon Krakauer’s Missoula

MISSOULA-3DI am obviously thrilled that Jon Krakauer’s Missoula has been getting so much press.  There are still a wide variety of pernicious misperceptions out there, and Krakauer does an excellent job of addressing them in a very accessible format.  I hope lots of people read his book, and, like Nicholas Kristof, encourage their friends and family to read it too.

Until I read Kristof’s editorial, I intended to write an essay highlighting some of David Lisak’s research; one of the most compelling segments of Missoula is where Krakauer describes these findings and the Montana defense attorneys’ attempts to discredit them ad hominem by portraying Lisak as an effete outsider, not to be trusted.  Plus, the re-enactment video that Krakauer and then Kristof in turn call attention to (sadly it’s known as “the Frank tape,” after the pseudonym of the interviewee) is indeed unsettling.

The DVD is entitled “The Undetected Rapist,” and despite being only seven minutes long, depicting Lisak mock interviewing an actor who mimics the lines and delivery of a prior videotaped research subject (obviously it would be unethical for Lisak to release that actual research footage), it comes on its own disc, in its own case, accompanied by a pamphlet emblazoned with large-font warnings on every page: “[This] is a powerful and disturbing DVD which may be triggering for viewers.  Do not watch it alone, and do not show it without a skilled facilitator.”

I watched it alone.  Sans facilitator.  But that warning wasn’t meant for me.  I’m lucky in that I don’t have these particular horrors lodged in my brain for memory to dredge up.  And I’ve already done so much awful research that whatever misery might be sown by the disc has presumably already taken root.  Yes, it’s powerful to see and hear the actor depicting this type of rapist’s doublethink — things like stressing that he targeted extremely naive, inexperienced women, but when describing the culmination of his “conquest” he justifies his actions by saying she’d probably done this thousands of times before, etc. — but that was something I expected.  These people don’t think of themselves as evil.  There is always some justification, some story they can spin to rationalize what they’ve done, if only to themselves.

b88d3b232eac40c38bf6b132cb51865bGiven that I’ve written several essays about research practices and scientific essays, though, I’d like to draw attention to one quote from the pamphlet that accompanied the DVD.  The pamphlet was prepared by the National Judicial Education Program and includes a question and answer section near the end:

“Q: Did the researcher who conducted the interview tell Frank that he had committed rape?

A: No.  The same federal laws governing the treatment of human subjects in research prohibit a researcher from saying anything to a subject that might significantly change that subject’s view of himself.  In this case, telling Frank that he was a rapist would clearly have been prohibited.”

To me, this is slightly strange.  Not the idea that it’s worth protecting research subjects — that’s vital, and it’s awful, as a scientist, to read about cases where that wasn’t done (one such story you may have heard about is Carl Elliott’s arduous, ongoing struggle to change the University of Minnesota’s research practices, and although Dan Markingson’s death came about due to particularly egregious policies, these problems are definitely not isolated to that university).

Personally, I think the research subject should have been informed.  I can imagine ways that such information could be delivered gently and even therapeutically, with the intent of improving the subject’s future quality of life.  And, to me, it seems like it would be much more devastating for that individual to be shaken of his illusions about his actions by reading a popular press report about that re-enactment video.

Wouldn’t all this press about that re-enactment trigger some recollection for someone who had been interviewed by that David Lisak fellow?  Maybe the doublethink depicted in the video would still prevent the former interviewees from really understanding the ramifications of their actions — there are many new excuses to give, especially excuses involving alcohol, or someone’s mood on one particular night, or an ambiguous relationship with one particular person — but I still think that, if a study’s publicity might convey psychologically unsettling truths, it’s worth the researchers attempting to deliver that information in a therapeutic setting first.

It’s possible that Lisak was unaware that his study would draw so much publicity.  After all, his study was published over a decade now and it wasn’t until I’d read Krakaeur’s book that I walked to the library to borrow that re-enactment DVD.

Which, right, that’s precisely why I’m so thrilled about the existence of Krakaeur’s book and all the press it’s getting.  Because resolving these problems requires so many people’s behavior to change (leaving aside the ideal solution where only one class of people’s behavior changes, i.e. the rapists’): friends, parents, police, district attorneys, juries.  The more people read these books, the more likely we are to have that change.

Honestly, the only complaint I had about Krakaeur’s book was the title.  It seemed to imply that these problems were particular to the named city… but even this complaint was addressed before the end:

“It should be reiterated, moreover, that the deficiencies at the heart of the Missoula imbroglio were not unique to western Montana.  The DOJ investigation identified 350 sexual assaults of women that were reported to the Missoula police during the fifty-two months from January 2008 to May 2012.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that in 2010, the annual rate of sexual assaults of women in cities with populations under 100,000 was 0.27 percent, which for Missoula equates to 90 female victims per year, or 390 over a period of fifty-two months.  This suggests that, rather than being the nation’s rape capital, Missoula had an incidence of sexual assault that was in fact slightly less than the national average.  That’s the real scandal.”

On Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth (until devolving into senseless tangents about cash transfers as medicine, the U.S. criminal justice system, work as exercise, and flawed science).

9780425277973As long as you think feeling angry is fun (does it say awful things about my personality that I do?), Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth is a fun little book.

Unlike Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, Tirado’s main focus isn’t analyzing why people are poor — she states, bluntly and in my opinion correctly, that the issue is simply not enough money.  Wages are low, hours are short (with bonus structural impediments to taking second jobs in order to compensate for short hours), and debt (especially medical debt) is high.

There are a few sections with analysis like what you may have read in Ehrenreich’s work, about the high cost of financial transactions for poor people, for instance, but primarily Tirado’s book is a narrative about her own experiences feeling spiritually and physically oppressed by poverty.  And that’s great.  I’m not sure there’s another book like this written by someone who’s lived in that world (a world shared by ca. 1/3 of the populace of the United States) for as long as she has, which is part of what makes the book so compelling.

I was very appreciative to have a tour guide whom I could trust to have all the little details right.  And, yes, it’s angering.  It’s bleak and off-putting.  But Tirado has a charming sense of humor, which helps her work go down easier… and, honestly, itshouldn’t go down too easy.  I’d like to think that people better off than Tirado should hate themselves a little while reading her book; couldn’t we have done more to fix things, so that her book would’ve never been written?

I know I didn’t do enough.  I spent many years doing biomedical research; my successes might help wealthy people live a little longer.  But, in terms of maximizing well-being, more research findings aren’t what we need.

Like, okay, the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis is something I care a lot about, and my father is an infectious disease doctor who has been researching ways to help for years, and has recently begun another research initiative in Kenya that local doctors and scientists will be participating in… but, still, is it possible that economic initiatives could ameliorate the crisis more readily than biomedical research?  Yes.  Definitely.  AIDS is still a big deal in the United States, for instance, but suffering is decidedly correlated with poverty.  If you’re lucky enough to be related to someone who works in the right clinics, you can hear stories about all sorts of people who’ve come up with a raw deal from life, but the few big news stories I’ve seen lately are set in regions of economic blight (e.g. this one, from my own home state of Indiana).

So, thank you Tirado.  I imagine most people already know what ought to be done to fix the issues she’s writing about — some minimum standard of medical care that people can receive debt free, higher wages, more worker protections (like getting rid of “at-will” employment and requiring schedules to be contracted in advance) — so I think it’s great that she wrote her book the way she did.  Specifically, not focusing on what should be done but rather presenting her own experience — which isn’t even as bad as it gets — in all its horrors.

And then, two minor responses.  I wanted to save these for the end because these sound rather like complaints, to me, but they aren’t meant to be.  Her book was good, and these are just two things I thought about while I was reading it.

She writes that the U.S. doesn’t have debtor’s prison anymore.  Just after that sentence, she does acknowledge that people can be thrown into jail for failure to pay court fees, but… how is that not debtor’s prison? Here’s John Oliver on the subject.

Like, yes, you have to be broke and violate a law before you can be thrown in jail, but it’s not really possible to live in the U.S. without violating any laws.  Which is obviously problematic in and of itself.  It’s insane to have a patchwork of laws on the books that people violate every day and then leave it to police officers’ discretion whether or not people will be charged with crimes.

For instance, when Tirado discusses driving strategies to avoid being stopped by the police, she says she always drives two miles per hour above the speed limit.  Which is illegal.  Driving one mile per hour above the speed limit is illegal.  If you really wanted to avoid breaking any laws, you’d have to drive a couple miles per hour below the speed limit… that way minor deviations wouldn’t result in an illegal speed.

At four miles per hour below the speed limit, though, you’ll get pulled over.  I’ve been stopped numerous times for driving too slowly, even at speeds only one or two miles per hour below posted limits.  And I even drive nice-looking cars!  A dent-free, rain-washed Honda Civic!  Previously a Toyota Avalon that had sufficient internal maladies that I called it “The Torpedo,” but the exterior was fine.  I’ve read that people in decrepit vehicles are pulled over more.

So it’s easy to be stopped by police and charged with something, at which point you’ll have to pay court fees, and if you don’t you’ll go to jail (as is well-documented in The New Jim Crow).  And if you try to avoid going to jail for debt by evading capture (as is depicted in On the Run), you might be executed.

I typically write these essays a few days before they go up.  I’m writing this one on April 9th; yesterday the video was released of another person being murdered without cause by a police officer, this time because he was running away (presumably because he didn’t want to go to jail for unpaid child support, court fees), and… wait, nope.  No “and.”  He was running away, so the police officer shot him, to stop him, then shot him again, and again… then planted a (ineffectual) weapon on the body to justify having murdered the man.  Why, again, would it seem reasonable to trust police officers to use their discretion in choosing which crimes should be punished?

[Note: Tirado has since informed me that the line about the U.S. not having debtor’s prison was meant to be a joke. Which was already pretty clear from her work, i.e. the immediate juxtaposition of that claim with the fact that they’ll lock you up for not paying court fees. But even though it was clear Tirado knows the score, I wrote the preceding paragraphs… how else was I going to work in the horrific idea that dudes are apparently now subject to debtor’s execution?]

The other thing I wanted to mention was, Tirado writes about how poor people generally don’t have time for / feel too exhausted for exercise.  But she also walks a lot, and her work is often physically arduous, much more so than any job I’ve ever held (which, right — I worked in laboratories for a decade, and since then I’ve been writing.  I’ve never had to endure anything worse than a little wrist pain while I was typing a lot and learning to lift a baby many times per day)… so I wanted to toss in a link to Crum and Langer’s study wherein hotel cleaning staff who were told that their day to day work is exercise became healthier.

ModelC5_1912Oops.  Okay, so, minor admission to make on my part.  I’d never read that paper until today — I simply remembered the coverage of it from the popular press — and there might be some, uh, minor problems.  My opinion is that you’d definitely want to conduct a study longer than 30 days to test something like this, especially because there are many wacky treatments that can result in short term weight loss and apparent health gains.  Indeed, another research group attempted to replicate their findings, and also continued the study for a slightly longer period of time — still not long enough if they were reporting a positive result, in my opinion, but they weren’t.  They reported seeing no change in health outcome.  Although they did see a change.  Measured blood pressure went down in their treatment group.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but reading scientific papers can be frustrating.  Normally, I don’t do it.  In general, the way I’ve been trained to engage with scientific papers is to look at the pictures and read the figure legends, then read the abstract, then jot down my own impression next to the abstract.

But I was trained to do that for a small range of fields — nothing much harder than quantum mechanics (“hard” here doesn’t mean “difficult,” btw; my preferred synonym is “intransigent”), nothing much squishier than cellular biology.  Whereas my recent research has covered a wider swath, which means I have to actually read papers, especially a review or two before I look at research results.

And it’s maddening sometimes, looking at a figure and thinking, “Oh, they’ve found this,” but then reading the text and seeing that they’ve stated “We found that.”  I’ve definitely posted a link to this previously, but Emily Willingham has written a very fun guided tour through this type of doublethink.  Or, if you’d prefer your meander through the vagaries of data interpretation be mega-bleak (i.e. about child abuse) instead of rather bleak (i.e. about sexism in academia), one of my own previous posts touches upon this idea as well.

Anyway, my apologies for the digression.  Definitely didn’t mean to go so far off topic!  It’s just that Tirado wrote about walking a lot and also said she doesn’t exercise.  Which reminded me of that study.  But how could I have expected that a high-profile psychology study might have flaws??


p.s. This essay was a bit of a downer, so I scrolled through the archives for an old “Dave vs. Dave” about economic injustice.  Here ya go!


On video games, addiction and Infinite Jest: The Movie.

CaptureI tend not to read many novels set in the dystopian future (I’m rather more fond of stories set in our dystopian present), but I was recently lent Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.  And it reminded me of an essay I’d been meaning to write, something with the thesis “Infinite Jest: The Movie seems far less dangerous than Infinite Jest: The Game.”

CaptureBecause it was nice, in Cline’s novel, that the protagonist gave up his games (at least temporarily) once he realized that relationships in the real world are more important.  But that’s hard.  Obviously Cline wasn’t aiming for absolute realism in his work, but his ending did inspire me to comb through some modern research on video game addiction.

Obviously video games aren’t addictive the way heroin is addictive.  The way alcohol is addictive.  You won’t go into physiological withdrawal, you won’t experience delirium tremens.  But video games can be addicting the way marijuana is addicting (are there still people who disagree that marijuana is addicting?  I think the clearest studies indicating that it is are things like this from Volkow et al.  Marijuana boosts dopamine, which makes pleasurable activities more pleasurable.  Habitual use leads results in a compensatory lowering of basal levels, however.  If someone smokes a lot of marijuana, everything feels muted and bland unless they’ve smoked, which engenders a strong compulsion to smoke again.  No, potheads doesn’t have to smoke more — they won’t get sick or die if cut off — but they’ll feel irritable and life will feel pleasureless if they don’t).

CaptureAnd there have been a handful of cases of “death by video game” already, often eerily reminiscent of descriptions given in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (the book).  Which, in case you haven’t read it, the premise is this: imagine a movie so compelling that, once you had seen it, you would never want to do anything except watch that movie again.  As in, wouldn’t want to sleep.  Wouldn’t want to eat.  Wouldn’t want to stand up to use the bathroom.  You would, of course, die; presumably from thrombosis (when you’re immobile too long, your blood can clump — well, blood can clump all the time, but activity helps flush everything through your body so that no one aggregate gets dangerously large.  But prolonged sitting can result in a sizeable clump forming, which can then plug shut a blood vessel.  That’s thrombosis; it isn’t good), but if you’re particularly hardy you might die from dehydration instead.  And, right, that movie was titled Infinite Jest.

There are several neurological explanations for why Infinite Jest: The Game will be even more dangerous than the film.  Active participation in video games enhances the potential pleasure that can be experienced; with a movie, a predetermined outcome will be reached, but a player’s sense of control while gaming allows for dopamine release, i.e. blasts of pleasure, in response to in-game success (I believe Koepp et al.’s 1998 Nature paper was the first to monitor dopamine in gamers, although you could’ve asked any kid in an arcade back in 1978 and learned that, hey, shooting the aliens is fun).

And there’s the idea of replay.  As in, starting another round of that exact same game to play again.  There are some films that people watch over and over again, but usually not multiple times at a single sitting.  Even if you do watch a movie repeatedly, it won’t grow with you; you’ll begin to anticipate each event, which diminishes the flash of pleasure when it comes. Consider this quote from Hull et al.’s review article about the interplay between video game design and its addictive potential: “a game player derives intense enjoyment by being immersed in the gaming experience, the challenges of the game are matched by the player’s skills, and the player’s sense of time is distorted so that time passes without being noticed.”  I think good films do reward repeated viewings, which in a sense represents the “challenge” of a movie growing in tandem with your understanding of the work, but only up to a point.  I think that it’s possible to reach a point where you’re not going to learn anything new from a film, at which point the challenge disappears.

And I definitely don’t mean to imply that video games have more stored meaning to offer an audience; honestly, I imagine that most players learn little or nothing with each repetition of some of the most addictive games.

teemochineseConsider League of Legends, which was the game being played by one of the individuals profiled in that “video game deaths” article, and which numerous individuals have played for nearly ten-thousand hours.  Each game is approximately forty minutes long, the games are quite similar from one to the next, and, as far as I can tell (and I put in some hundred hours of my own trying to find out, before their system requirements outgrew my duct-taped space-heater of a laptop) reveal little or nothing about the human condition.

But people play.  Over and over again, they play.  Because each game is short, it’s easy to loose track of aggregate time spent playing, and because you’re playing against other humans, paired via a fancy matchmaking system, the game should always approximately match your skill.  Two of the features that Hull et al. remarked as key for addictiveness right there — inability to track time and constant challenge.

And there are a few more features we can add: for instance, when you do something “good” in the context of a game, you’re rewarded right away.  Big flashes of color, satisfying sounds, and, of course, a new flush of dopamine.  That immediacy is important.  If you’re watching a film and have a good idea, that’s gratifying — but part of your gratification is delayed as you have to think through your idea, figure out whether or not it makes any sense, and every moment of delay results in a discounting of your brain’s sense of reward.

Because game playing is active, and players often sit much closer to their computer screens than movie viewers do to their televisions, video games should result in a more significant disruption of sleep cycle; it’s much harder to fall asleep while playing a game than while watching a movie.  And although some people enjoy violent movies, the most addictive video games allow the player to perpetrate acts of violence on other characters; speculating about the evolutionary rationale for this might make this already-long essay too long, but suffice it to say that in many mammals aggressive behavior in itself feels rewarding, i.e., yeah, you guessed it, more dopamine!

And the problem is, once you have an activity in your life that triggers the release of buckets and buckets of dopamine, you’ll be beset by the urge to do that same thing again.  Other activities, if they trigger the release of less dopamine, won’t feel worthwhile.  And, video game design is iterative.  Consider League of Legends again; they’re still making it better.

Anyone designing a new game can draw upon everything we’ve learned from past entertainments to make the next one even more pleasurable than anything that’s come before.  Eventually, who knows, maybe an intrepid designer really will stumble across Infinite Jest: The Game and it’ll be just like those old scare stories about pot: try it once and you’re hooked!

With luck, that game designer will be too enthralled by his creation to ever get around to releasing it to the public.

(I wanted that to be the last sentence of this essay.  But I can’t help but point out: this seems exceedingly unlikely.  A key feature of the world’s most addictive games is human opponents, meaning Infinite Jest: The Game wouldn’t seem that bad until it was in fact released to the public.  Because solitaire games tend to devolve into predictability; like the description given above for movies, a player might reach a point when there was nothing new to experience.  But with a population of gamers all growing in skill together, ostensibly there is always a new challenge.)

On child abuse and drawing conclusions from data.

If you’re looking for a good strategy for having a bad weekend, I’ve got one: you could go to your local library and borrow Ross Cheit’s book The Witch-Hunt Narrative.

Cheit ruined my weekend.  And his work is out there, ready to ruin yours too!

Not that his book isn’t good.  It is.  I’d write that I’m glad he wrote it, except that I wish he hadn’t needed to.  But he did.  And, sadly, because I am working on a project that involves many sad occurrences, I needed to read it.

So, his book?  He (and a huge team of helper monkeys) went to considerable trouble to investigate several large child abuse trials that were described as “witch hunts” in the media.  He makes a personal statement revealing his bias going into the work right from the beginning, and then presents the evidence he found as clearly and exhaustively as possible.  I found his reasoning to be extremely cogent, his writing lucid, and his conclusions persuasive.  I think he makes a compelling case that many children were failed by our criminal justice system – the children who were deemed dishonest, the children who were denied compensation for harm wrought upon them, and those who were later harmed by perpetrators who perhaps could have been stopped in a less hostile legal environment.

For me, reading this book, one of the main things I took away was that the same individuals were often serving as expert witnesses for the defense, testifying against the children’s claims.  And in his research, Cheit identified some highly suspicious potential motives for these people – several seem to have believed sexual contact between adults and children to be reasonable.  But one of the major adversaries discussed in the book is Dr. Maggie Bruck, whom Chiet at one point accuses with the statement: “Bruck’s position in these cases is not based on science alone.”

That sounded like the kind of statement I could write an essay about.  For one thing, my own project concerns academic science, the difference between how objective it is and how objective the population at large often believes it to be.  And I was interested in why Bruck would make the claims quoted in the book.  For instance, there is this compelling passage from Chiet:

“The remarkable blind spot in Bruck’s position is how it failed to apply her vast knowledge and concern about coercion to the most likely and powerful source in the case: the man who used a baseball bat to make his points.  In Bruck’s view, the interview of July 14, 1994, was completely tainted because in the preceding months David had had contact only with adults who believed Ardolino was guilty.  Bruck never explains why this is so objectionable, while an interview conducted immediately after years under the control of the defendant doesn’t rate any similar concern–even when the allegation, backed up with medical evidence, is that the defendant slowly beat his brother to death.  Apparently, even a witness to such horror is suspect in Bruck’s view if he does not disclose the abuse immediately, on the first interview, and all in one piece.

“There is, of course, a hidden value choice in the position–one that deems the coercive effects of the police interview as a far greater concern than the coercive effects of living with Robert Ardolino for years.  In that respect, Bruck’s position is de facto pro-defense.  This is the only explanation that makes this position consistent with the Rouse case, where Bruck readily accepted recantations that occurred only after the children moved back into a residence where the adults did not believe the original claims–the mirror image of the reason she used to reject David Ardolino’s testimony.  So Bruck does not see the Rouse adults as tainting the recantation in that case, yet she sees David’s foster mother as tainting his testimony, which was, in effect, a recantation of his earlier denials.  These positions are logically incompatible, except to the extent that they both favor defendants.  This “pro-defense orientation” is precisely how Ceci described the design of his research studies when testifying in the Foeller case in Michigan.  Why so many psychologists have aligned themselves with the defense, to the point of demonstrating and even admitting bias in that direction, is a puzzle for another time.  What matters for this book is that these politics exist and work to diminish the credibility, and ultimately the safety, of children.”

Yeah, there are a lot of names in that passage.  I didn’t fill in the background for them – Cheit explains them all clearly in his book, and, honestly, I’m not sure they matter so much to understand the point he’s making here.  There is a clear bias against children, and clearly illogical, inconsistent reasoning going on.  So how does that square with the claim that these people, such as Dr. Bruck, are scientists?

I have only read one paper authored by Bruck – I chose the most recent publication listed on her faculty page at Johns Hopkins, a review of the way children disclose abuse.  She cites a number of other studies and presents some of their data to argue that although children clearly do wait long periods of time before disclosing abuse, she feels that other behaviors described as comprising “childhood sexual abuse accommodation syndrome,” such as possible waffling in a story about what happened once a disclosure is made, do not occur.  And the impression I got from Cheit’s book is that she has testified as such on the behalf of the defense in several cases – testified that children who behave that way are probably not real victims and might be imagining or fabricating their stories of abuse.

I could go through her article bit by bit and explain why I think her interpretations are unreasonable, but that would belie my main point – just because something is “science,” and just because there are numbers attached to it, does not mean there is only a single conclusion that can be drawn.  In my opinion, the closer one gets to mathematics, the more agreement there will be that a certain result implies a certain underlying truth.  But by the time you’re dealing with physics, or chemistry, or biology, or psychology, or economics (which I see as being roughly scalar jumps from one to the next, in terms of what objects are under study), a single experimental result can be interpreted in various ways.  Because most experimental set-ups use model systems.  You always have to accept that there will be some underlying assumptions made about what features of your system will and will not affect your interpretation.

Let’s say you’re replicating some biological process in a test tube.  You have to assume that the tube itself won’t matter – and for some experiments, this is known to be false, and researchers doing those studies might take a few aliquots of purified protein and incubate them in their test tube before even starting the experiment, hoping to block off potential sites along the wall of a tube where the protein might stick.  And then, if that researcher, someone who’d realized the tube was a problem and was doing those pre-incubations, later read a study that involved their model system from someone who did not pre-incubate protein in the test tubes, obviously the latter results would seem suspect.  But it’s possible that no one else would realize that there would be problems with the data.

For a study in psychology, this problem seems even bigger.  Some researchers have argued that the specific wording for questions on psychology surveys can result in different results (and, sure, you might worry about results that are so exquisitely sensitive to seemingly-extraneous details.  I do) – so there are possibly many, many nearly-imperceptible details of a model system that might affect a study’s results, and that you might therefore consider relevant when analyzing someone else’s work.

So, instead of going through Bruck’s paper bit by bit, I’ll point out only what I see as the largest difference between the studies she cites and the real-world situations she has tried to extrapolate those findings to: timing of interviews to identify abuse.  If a case involving many children is going to be prosecuted, the trial happens all at once, and so data collection has to happen all at once – there isn’t time to wait 4 years for one child to be ready to say what happened, 5 months for another, 7 years for another.  Every interview might be conducted within that first year.  And her review cited a study reporting that only 43% of “young” girls (oft older than those involved in the trials described in Cheit’s book) disclosed abuse after STD evidence known to the girls and the interviewer was found that demonstrated that they had been abused.  So, given that many children won’t report abuse right away even when there is already proof known to the person they’re talking to, trying to extrapolate to the way disclosures are made by children who are younger, who do not have proof, and who are reporting what happened perhaps long before they are psychologically ready to do so… to me, seems foolish.

Not that her analysis doesn’t qualify as “science.”  Bruck has made some assumptions, and she has looked over some data, and she’s made some conclusions.  Her methodology is consistent with the practice of science.  Her conclusions may be wrong, but that’s most likely a problem with her underlying assumptions.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that.  I had originally thought I’d work in some clever references to other anti-child science (here is one of the more horrifying examples I was considering – which is even salient because you could argue that the children’s susceptibility to suggestion goes along with Bruck’s pro-defense stance), or work in a passage comparing the ways in which children’s testimony was discounted to the way that women’s testimony was (and often still is) discounted in violative assault cases, or a passage contrasting all the attacks on child reliability with people’s acceptance of adult witness testimony, even though there have been many studies showing that adults aren’t very good witnesses and some showing that children might not be much worse.  But, you know, putting all that in would make this much longer and sadder, and it’s pretty long already.