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Robert Emery and Marsha Kline Pruett

Robert Emery and Marsha Kline Pruett might as well run up the white flag now for all the good they are doing for the social sciences and children. Not content with labelling others who oppose their mono-theocratic world view as ‘scholar advocates’ (meant in a most derisory fashion), they are in fact describing themselves and their own actions over many years.

What amounts to an internecine war has all but been declared by them against their fellow academics. Their latest contribution to the advancement of mankind – if that is what you can call It  – is entitled “Researchers’ RoundTable “Bending” Evidence for a Cause:  Scholar-Advocacy Bias in Family Law.”

If anyone in the social sciences has a track record and an unimpeachable pedigree of ‘bending evidence’ then one of its possible candidates would have to be Messer’s  Emery and/or Kline Pruett. And it makes one wonder why the other 5 co-authors (Amy Holtzworth-Munroe; Janet R. Johnston; JoAnne L. Pedro-Carroll; Michael Saini; and Irwin Sandler) allowed their names to be included and how much actual contribution they made to the final product ? And before you ask yourself, yes, I have never heard of them either !

Here then is a quick résumé of them (see Appendix 1 for more detail):

  • Amy Holtzworth-Munroe is the author of numerous male batterers and violent-husband papers.
  • Janet R. Johnston appears to be engaged in alienated child and on-going post-divorce conflict etc.
  • JoAnne L. Pedro-Carroll is a clinical psychologist, a mother of 7 children, an author and advisor to various US committees.
  • Michael Saini is an Associate Professor at University of Toronto, his résumé of research interests includes: children and families involved with the courts; High conflict custody disputes; child emotional abuse and maltreatment; and supervised ‘access.’
  • Irwin Sandler is a Department of Clinical Psychology professor and for 20 years has been interested in children and families facing stressful situations. Currently he is looking into the difficulties and preventive interventions for children of divorce and bereaved children.

With no well-known authors such as Lamb, Warshak, Kelly, or Nielsen (or several others) with awesome reputations in sight, there is an unspoken question left dangling over any and all of their deliberations.

One can easily imagine that faced with declining sales and falling circulation, Emery as the social science editor for the journal “Family Court Review”, together with Pruett (as the president of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) felt they had to devise an alternative strategy to counter the loosening of their grip on the profession.

To deal with the rising tide before them the duo, who work in close harmony with each other, are not surprisingly seeking a life raft in the form of more and better articles. However, better and more appealing article come with a cost. Are they willing to pay the price of having quality articles exhibiting views with which they fundamentally disagree – ones that do not tow their commissariat party line ? Can they, like the soviet apparatchiks before them, fight a rear-guard action and trash every new concept and original thought they come across even when change is staring them in the face.

Their present articles attract an ever decreasing number of niche readers; a decreasing number of advocates in sympathy with their editorial and those editorials themselves become more out dated with each year that passes. So what to do ?

One obvious answer is to belittle or deride ones opposition and that is now apparently what Emery and Pruet are aiming to do with this latest paper of theirs. They appear to be insinuating or smearing their opponents rather than dialoguing with them in a wholesome and rigorous manner.

Without a hint of irony, idiocy or their place in history Emery and Kline Pruett draw strength from a sayings of Thomas Huxley that:

  • “The great tragedy of Science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”

It has yet to dawn on Emery and Kline Pruett that they are the very embodiment of that saying. For 30 years, or more, their ‘beautiful hypothesis’ (their wrongheaded ideas about the supposed dangers of infant overnighting and shared care) have refused to face the ugly fact that the science they propagate does not support it. Their doctrine doesn’t work and shared parenting does.

That is not just a great tragedy for science but is relegated to a mere detail in such matters where  the tragedy is of biblical proportions for millions of children who have had to suffer their interminable regime of doctrinal dogma. Academics might argue that we have no concrete evidence that their views about child custody actually hurt children – but I think we can all agree that fathers (and all honest parents) know, that after processing through the courts the child is rarely the same again.

So lacking in the milk of human kindness are they that they ascribe tragedy to only science and never quantify or mention the far greater misery they and their teaching have caused millions of families worldwide. This is the impression the subtext conveys. This misery is on the scale of a war crime – a holocaust – but what do they care for their fellow-man ?

They are detached; they are academics and scholars. They are Eichmann (“only following orders”), following only where they say their evidence takes them. In reality, they want to obliterate and “silence” others scholars who disagree with them and will not swallow their version of the world, hook line and sinker.

Passing over the heads and intellect of Messrs Emery and Kline Pruett is a truism we are all familiar with, namely that, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Messrs Emery and Kline Pruett are in that category, believing, as they do, that one day in court their religious conviction about child custody will be exonerated and that a judge will one day get it right. Sadly, the truth bears no relations to their rose-tinted views, as anyone who has been through the family court system in any country knows.

For too many years and in too many scholarly journals their ‘world view’ has been advertised, marketed, promoted, publicised, and presented as the only true and viable option. Having had the monopoly (i.e. the stranglehold) over the content of social science journals they are now being challenged as better and more accurate evidence become available and the old data is treated with less reverence.

This is a confidence sapping experience for them. They are accustomed to routinely using the pages of the AFCC and FCR to promote their own views to shame and silence others. Their overconfidence has brought them to the precipice. In attempting to silence by insulting Warshak’s paper (very unscholarly) and the 110 people who agreed with him they have taken a step too far. The fact is their two articles had that sole aim in mind. As a result they have shown themselves for what they are and are as naked as a sniper without camouflage.

Those academics who had temerity, in the view of Emery and Kline Pruett, to criticise the Emery and McIntosh’s baby studies of a few years ago, should be metaphorically subdued into submission or failing that into silence.

This is a very important point. Western values and that of science itself rest on the free exchange of ideas, the free challenging of the old conventions and the pioneering of new frontiers. Without this the West would stagnate, economies would falter and a new Dark Age comparable to all the loss of medical knowledge (accrued by the ancient Greeks and Romans) and lost to Europe in the Middle Ages. [1]

In their paper (“Researchers’ RoundTable “Bending” Evidence for a Cause: Scholar-Advocacy Bias in Family Law”), they actually state: “We argue that scholar-advocacy bias goes largely unacknowledged in family law” – when what they really mean is that their own scholar-advocacy bias and bigotry had largely been unacknowledged for years and so had previously been unchallenged. Now it is being challenged – and that makes them feel uncomfortable.

When you find yourself in a hole Common sense tells you its time to stop digging – but this worldly advise is unknown to Emery & Co. Happily for us they even define their own ‘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.”

What a confessional ! !  You couldn’t make it up ! !



NB Telling that no one can command acknowledgement of their gravitas merely by the use of their name, e.g. Warshak, Lamb or Nielsen.

Robert Emery, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and director of the Center 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 Center, courts around Indiana, and the Washington, DC Superior Court Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Center. 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 Center for the Family in Transition, California. For three decades, she has specialized in counseling, 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 counseling 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. (Is it more than just a coincidence that Canada’s shared parenting reform legislation has been blocked for more than 10 years ?).

Irwin Sandler, Ph.D., University of Rochester, is the director of the Prevention Research Center and the Program 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).


[1] Quick ref.

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