Why have Rind et al. ( 1998) engendered such furor?
First, perhaps, is the way that the presentation of their findings lends itself to implications that conflict with consensual public morality. The public often acutely reads between the lines of social science research, focusing not only on the data but also on the underlying biases or value positions that the authors appear to espouse.
A second possible reason is the mistaken assumption by many that publication in an APA journal implies endorsement by the APA, rather than just the opinion of the authors. The Rind et al. article has at times been mistakenly viewed by the public as more of an official policy statement than a submission to an open, though refereed, forum. It appears that large segments of the public became deeply concerned when they concluded that psychology, as a unified scientific society, was attacking an important and deeply held value-specifically, that when adults engage in sex with children, it is abuse.
Science can never be completely divorced from personal bias and the socio-historical context in which it is conducted. However, scientists as well as journal editors have a responsibility to strive for objectivity. When by omitting appropriate qualifying information or making extra-scientific implications we advocate for our own moral, religious, sexual, or political views, we are held accountable.
The Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (APA. 1992) is clear on this point:
The existence, organization. and fervor of groups seeking to normalize CSA (e.g., NAMBLA) make this latter standard particularly relevant. Like everyone else, scientists should be free to offer their opinions, speculations, and interpretations, and there are many appropriate avenues for doing so. Because data-based research articles may be perceived as uniquely authoritative, it is best to guard carefully against personal interpretations that could potentially cause the data to be misused.
The need for more and better research is clear. Far too much of the current literature regarding CSA is riddled with methodological problems, involves inadequately specified and overly broad definitions, and implies stronger links between CSA and harm than may actually exist.
Further study is needed of the personal, familial, and environmental risk factors that surround CSA, and also of the reliability of adult retrospective recall of CSA (Finkelhor, 1998). We also urge for a focus on resiliency and protective factors, for an emphasis on understanding CSA-related harm rather than on proving that harm, and for more prospective rather than retrospective research (e.g., Egeland, 1997; Heim et al., 2000; Widom, Weiler, & Cottler, 1999).
Researchers and practitioners should take lessons from this controversy before it slips from the public eye. Many of us on all sides of issues such as this have been guilty of editorializing on explosive topics and going beyond the data in scientific articles. When we do so, we offer up science to be co-opted by groups whose main use for research is not to inform but to support pre-determined advocacy positions. Both credibility and progress are jeopardized when scientific efforts are revealed as advocacy rather than a process for refining knowledge. Researchers should be clear-in their own minds as well as in their writing - about where their data end and their values enter in.