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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Friday, March 25, 2022

Bishop Wilberforce Rides Again; or, Parental Alienation Advocates Admit a Problem


If you look at, you will find a lengthy document entitled “Statement of the Global Action for Research Integrity in Parental Alienation”, by Alejandro Mendoza Amaro and William Bernet—the latter, of course, a major figure among advocates of the parental alienation belief system in the United States and elsewhere. The Statement appears to be a cri de coeur conveying the authors’ distress that parental alienation principles and practices have been roundly criticized by organizations like the American Professional Society on Abuse of Children (APSAC). To the further discomfort of Mendoza and Bernet, many individual authors have also critiqued parental alienation (PA) publications and have concluded that there is only a small amount of empirical research on this subject, and that small amount is poorly designed and implemented.

A fruitful response to these critical remarks about PA would have been to carry out new and properly designed research (and, no, the recent efforts of Jennifer Harman to test outcomes for a reunification therapy are not properly designed). But this is not what has been done by PA advocates. Instead, in this Statement, they label materials published by opponents to PA as fraudulent and defamatory. They demand retractions of commentaries discussing the problems of PA research and offering alternative hypotheses for cases in which children resist or refuse contact with one of their divorced parents. But they do not state exactly which publications they mean, or where their faults lie.

The Statement contends that opposing publications have “severe errors such as falsification of data, adulteration of original sources, and defamation “ (p. 17). These would indeed be reasons for complaint to academic or medical institutions with which authors were affiliated, as well as to journals that published the papers. Investigations showing that these things had occurred would lead to serious professional discipline and retraction of papers. But the Statement says this did not happen—they were ignored.

Notably, however, the authors of the Statement do not say to whom they complained or what they complained about, except that in one case they complained to the American Psychological Association about a passage they considered defamatory, and the passage was deleted. By failing to state the particular papers they find problematic, of course, Mendoza and Bernet themselves avoid complaints of defamation. With respect to the claimed falsification of data, they manage to convey to some readers which authors they are accusing, because only three or four articles opposing PA actually present new data. The authors of those articles may want to think about whether this circuitous communication succeeds in defaming them; it is certainly no joke to be accused of falsifying data.

What I find especially engaging about the Statement is that by making it, Mendoza and Bernet have shown that PA does not meet the Frye standards for admissibility of scientific evidence. The Frye standard, and one part of the Daubert standards, require that a concept be generally accepted in the relevant scientific community. If so many professionals, including journal editors, reviewers, and even the American Psychological Association, have acted to reject PA ideas and methods, this is a clear indication that these concepts are not generally accepted by those who form the relevant scientific community.

What does it all have to do with Bishop Wilberforce? Well, in 1860, T.H. Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce participated in a debate about evolution, Huxley supporting Darwin’s views and Wilberforce contradicting them. Wilberforce asked a very silly question, and Huxley turned to a companion and said, “The Lord hath delivered him into mine hands.” Huxley and the other supporters of Darwin won that debate. I don’t think I need to say more.


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