One way or another, Jennifer McIntosh and her colleagues who oppose fathers having overnight care of their children before they reach age five just never quite seem to go away. And when they poke their heads up, they always seem to be saying the same things and those things always seem to be at odds with the truth. Indeed, the more they attempt to “correct the record,” the more the record stays the same.
McIntosh herself seems to have vanished into the mist. My emails to her are either answered by an associate or not at all. So, for example, when I asked her to comment on Penelope Leach’s flagrantly untrue remarks to the effect that overnight contact with fathers “damaged the brains” of young children, McIntosh replied by way of an intermediary who said she couldn’t comment. Just why it took a third party to say that remains a mystery.
But then reliable sources inform me that McIntosh is behaving in ways that are far more alarming than that. For example, at one conference this past May in Toronto, she informed attendees that she’d had to hire bodyguards to protect her (from whom?) and at another in Chicago, she refused to tell people where she was staying or interact with attendees, apparently due to fear of unspecified and seemingly unverified threats against her. Fortunately, nothing has come to pass that would bear out her concerns.
Then there’s the little matter of her status at La Trobe University. Prior to the ABC program that’s the subject of this post, listeners were informed that McIntosh is now “on leave” from her position there. But that itself raises questions. For one thing, McIntosh was never more than an adjunct professor at LaTrobe. Now, she was always happy for those who were unaware to take her title, “Professor,” to mean she held a full-time and perhaps tenured position. That is now and has always been false. She’s an adjunct, which bears roughly the same relationship to “full professor” that a month-to-month lessee bears to a homeowner, i.e. not much. Essentially McIntosh, like every other adjunct professor, is paid to teach a class or two each semester with the understanding that, next semester, she may not be asked back.
So how is it that a person who has no long-term contract of employment and who, at any time, can simply be dropped by the university like a hot rock be “on leave?” It looks to me like an intellectual impossibility, but of course McIntosh is no stranger to intellectual legerdemain. Has La Trobe informed McIntosh that she won’t have even an adjunct position there? No one seems to know, but my inquiries to La Trobe produced a response by a person who told me he has no idea of who McIntosh is but that their records indicate she’s still on their list of adjuncts.
Whatever the case, Australia’s ABC did an interview with several of the players in the field of overnights for kids, the transcript of which can be seen here (ABC, 7/1/14). They invited academics Patrick Parkinson and Judy Cashmore, attorney Tom Reeve, Penelope Leach (of whom they asked but a single question) and apparently Jennifer McIntosh, prompting her claim to be “on leave.” (Exactly why that would prevent her from involving herself by telephone is anyone’s guess.) It fell to the co-author of McIntosh’s scurrilous 2010 paper that started this controversy, Bruce Smyth, to carry on the tradition of utterly misrepresenting both their and other people’s research. Birds of a feather.
Parkinson and Cashmore, being legitimate academic researchers, tended to keep their criticisms of McIntosh’s work low-keyed, but, to his credit, interviewer Damien Carrick, did pretty well at attempting to get Smyth to deal with some of the seamier aspects of their 2010 paper. So, Parkinson and Cashmore confined their remarks to things like this about Richard Warshak’s take-down of the McIntosh/Smyth work:
Judy Cashmore: It was written by Dr Richard Warshak, who’s a US academic at The University of Texas in the department of psychiatry. He’s a very well respected academic who’s been involved in the debates about early childhood development and particularly the debate about overnight stays with fathers since the early 2000s. Why was it written? Because there has been a great deal of concern, I think, about the way in which the research has been misinterpreted and used to support suggestions that it’s dangerous or harmful for children to stay overnights with their father before the age of three. And that conclusion is not well substantiated; it’s not supported by the research evidence
Keep in mind that Cashmore is allowing McIntosh’s claim that their work was misinterpreted to stand. That’s generous of her to say the least. As I’ve reported before, McIntosh, et al are scrambling to save their professional reputations. That’s because their 2010 paper was based on research that would embarrass more scrupulous scientists. Among other things, it was based on sample sizes that were as small as 14 subjects and the data they produced failed to support their thesis—that “frequent” overnights (i.e. one per week or more) were to be avoided. Perhaps worst of all, four of the six measurements they used to gauge children’s stress had never been validated, and one had been validated for children’s progress in acquiring language — hardly the same as children’s stress. If that’s not shoddy “science,” I don’t know what is.
So, with Parkinson and Cashmore being altogether too kind to McIntosh, Smyth, et al, it fell to David Carrick to show listeners just what’s been going on among the anti-dad crowd. Recall that, in order to maintain the pretense that their work has been misinterpreted, McIntosh has had to overlook the fact that, one major Australian organization and one international one have, for the last four years, relied on her paper for the proposition that children become stressed when they spend overnights away from mothers. Not only that, everywhere she’s spoken, organizations in the U.S. and the U.K. have followed suit. This has been going on for four years and only when Warshak and 110 respected scientists around the world published an analysis of existing research one of whose main points was to kill once and for all any notion that McIntosh’s paper had any validity, did she start claiming to have been misunderstood.
As I pointed out just a month ago, that’s in plain violation of the canons of ethics of the Australian Psychological Society that requires members to correct misinterpretations of their work in a timely fashion after they’ve come to their attention. Needless to say, McIntosh, Smyth, et al, did no such thing. Until caught out by Warshak, they were perfectly content to see their paper construed to severely limit fathers’ time with their kids. Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what attorney Reeve said.
Damien Carrick: Jen McIntosh is adamant that she has never, ever said never to overnight care. But why do you think there’s a perception that this is what the research says?
Tom Reeve: Because that’s how it’s used, and if you put your name to something and know that it’s being used in that way, then perhaps you have some responsibility for it.
For his part, Smyth is every bit as disingenuous as McIntosh.
Damien Carrick: Patrick Parkinson, and before him Associate Professor Judy Cashmore. The pair also have concerns about how the McIntosh research has been adopted by bodies such as the Australian Association forInfant Mental Health, which cites the McIntosh report to support the general proposition that infants under the age of two should not be separated overnight from primary carers.
Smyth: We’re surprised by the amount of attention our study’s received, and the extent to which the findings have been mangled and misinterpreted, and I think interpreted in a very black and white manner; they’ve been boiled down to a crude, divisive gender message: any overnights damage children. The truth is, we’re puzzled by this; we’re not sure why they’ve been interpreted this way and why they’ve been boiled down that way.
That’s at best dodging the truth. They’re no more surprised than the man in the moon. They’ve known for four years what people were doing with their work and never said one word about it until Warshak, et al came along. It’s pure, Claude Rains in Casablanca, i.e. the police official who pronounced himself “shocked, shocked” that there’s gambling at the club, a fact he’s known for years.
When Carrick asks him about the Warshak analysis, Smyth actually seems to go “a little funny in the head” pretending that, in some way, those 111 eminent scientists don’t grasp the concept of the scientific method.
I guess the key question for me is, why has the scientific method seemed to have failed in this particular instance? Why, when a piece of research comes out, rather than replicate or have a discussion with the authors or go and collect some data, and see what the findings look like, do you actually write a lit review and then send it off to a of people saying, ‘Do you agree with my lit review and my conclusions?’ It’s a very unusual way; it’s not the way science normally works. A petition approach isn’t science. I’m not quite sure why Dr Warshak didn’t just publish the review and let it stand on its own two feet.
Put simply, those are the words of a man who’s caught in a trap of his own making and is desperately trying to free himself in any way he can. First, the question of the “scientific method,” is nothing but a red herring that he as much as admits by the fact that he dropped the issue entirely in the space of a sentence. He understands, as we all do, that Warshak, et al’s paper was a review of existing science. As such it joins countless others throughout the entire field of science. It’s something scientists do and it’s a valuable exercise to simply summarize what is known at a particular time.
But where Smyth’s desperation becomes clear is his claim to not know why Warshak contacted all those scientists to get their endorsements. Warshak plainly cares about the wrongheadedness of public policy on children seeing their fathers overnight. That destructive policy was based almost entirely on McIntosh’s paper. As such, he was at pains to make clear just how bad that paper was and how at odds with the real science on the issue. He knew that a single scientist doing such an analysis wouldn’t have nearly the likelihood of turning the ship of public policy around, so he hoped to give his work greater heft. My guess is that every single one of those 110 scientists wanted the same thing, which is why they signed on to the Warshak paper. They wanted the death and burial of McIntosh’s influence.
Smyth of course knows this every bit as well as I do and probably better. His claim to mystification is nonsense.
Then Carrick turns to Parkinson’s and Cashmore’s recent paper that’s equally damning of McIntosh, Smyth, et al.
Damien Carrick: It’s, and I think I’ve got the quote but I’m not exactly sure, but, ‘Poorly constructed research, research which is agenda-driven, research which is misrepresented and research that goes beyond the data fails to illuminate the pathway to a decision that will work best for the child; worse, it can lead to detrimental outcomes for children.’ Do you agree with that?
Bruce Smyth: There are several commonalities with people who’ve been critiquing the research. I’d have to say that if there’s innuendo that our research isn’t quality research we’d go back to the scientific method, which is basically why don’t people collect the data or replicate the data with the LSAC data that we used.
Look again at Parkinson’s and Cashmore’s description of McIntosh, Smyth, et al’s work. Any reputable scientist would be embarrassed into silence to have his/her work described that way. Not McIntosh, not Smyth. They’re hell-bent on deflecting attention from their own lousy work and about the only way they can think to do so is to cast aspersions on their betters. It’s sad, it’s weak, it’s entirely unconvincing, but that apparently is just how these folks roll.
But more importantly, it gives the lie (once again) to their claims to have reformed. As I’ve recently reported, McIntosh has recently teamed with two new authors to produce two new papers. The first could easily be read as a mea culpa for her many past transgressions. Now she hymns the praises of fathers and admits that children do better with a dad in their lives. Has Jen McIntosh seen the light?
Don’t bet on it. Her second paper carried a handy “how-to” chart for judges confused about whether to grant dad any time at all with his child under the age of five. As I’ve previously reported, that’s where the bad old McIntosh rears her head. The factors she cites for denying Dad contact are nowhere supported by any science and all too many of them are entirely under Mom’s control. Is there conflict between the parents? That means no overnights for Dad even though it may be entirely Mom who’s causing the conflict.
In short, McIntosh now wants it both ways. She wants to be seen as not overly anti-dad while still denying him the contact he and his child need to bond.
And if Smyth truly understood that children need their fathers, he’d admit his work with McIntosh is flawed and that other work is what we should rely on to make policy on fathers’ and children’s contact. But no, he engages in a shameful exercise in lying, denying and passing the buck. He disgraces himself in the process, but in the end does us a favor. He demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that, wrong as they are, dishonest as they are, the anti-dad crowd intends to keep doing what they’ve always done—trying to convince policy-makers that children are better off without their dads.