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01Oct31a Sexual Intelligence on RBT

APA Embarrasses Itself Again

By Marty Klein, PhD.
issue #16 of the electronic newsletter 'Sexual Intelligence', June 2001
(see http://www.sexed.org/newsletters/issue16.html#three  )

It isn't enough to learn lessons in life; you have to learn the right lessons. Having learned to not stick its hand in the oven, The American Psychological Association (APA) has now put its hand into the fireplace.

In 1999 Temple University's Dr. Bruce Rind and colleagues undertook a comprehensive meta-study of adult-child sexual contact. Analyzing 59 studies containing 37,000 individuals, it was peer-reviewed and published in the APA's Psychological Bulletin. Its conclusion was extraordinarily good news -- that such experiences affect different people very differently. An impressive number of adults reported little or no harm from their childhood experiences. This is cause for celebration, and the re-evaluation of common beliefs about how toxic American childhood can be.

However, because it challenged cherished cultural myths and the livelihood of the recovery industry and anti-porn activists, the report was ferociously attacked -- not on grounds of methodology, but on the unacceptability of its results. Congress denounced the report, and the APA apologized for printing the article. Members resigned from the APA in disgust; more importantly, the public was deprived of valuable information about childhood and adult sexuality.

The APA has apparently not learned its lesson. A recent article by Emory University's Dr. Scott Lilienfeld describing this watershed scientific and political event went through peer review and was slated for APA publication when editor Richard McCarty suddenly decided it needed further review, killing it. Once again, the accusation wasn't inadequate science -- it was simply too embarrassing. The APA again faces questions about its integrity.

This is the kind of abdication of responsibility that has left psychology in the hands of Oprah and Dr. Laura.

The goal of science is not to validate common perception, prejudice, or political need. Science has special methods that make its conclusions valuable. A profession that isn't willing to insist on the significance of its own work when it challenges social perception isn't a profession -- it's a propaganda apparatus. The continuing retreat of the APA from scientific truth bolsters the public's suspicion that psychology is no more than the mystification of common sense.

Politicians, citizens, and clinicians who attack scientific results because they make them uncomfortable are fully implicated in this mess. Just as we get the leaders we deserve, I suppose we get the professions we deserve as well.


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