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News ::
Science versus orthodoxy: Anatomy of the Congressional condemnation
01 May 2002
Science versus orthodoxy: Anatomy of the congressional condemnation of a scientific article and reflections on remedies for future ideological attacks; A chronology of the attacks; The science behind our meta-analysis; Our study was not flawed as claimed; Independent review; Methodological critisisms; Our study; Conceptual criticisms; Internal validity; Precision; Objectivity; Summary; Why the attacks? Science versus orthodoxy; Historical Perspective Needed on Science versus Morality and Politics; (...)
A side of the truth that you are NOT ALLOWED to know:


In July 1999, the U.S. Congress passed a formal resolution condemning our article on child sexual abuse (CSA), an article in which we concluded, based on 59 meta-analytically reviewed studies using college samples, that the assumed harmfulness of CSA had been overstated (Rind, Tromovitch, & Bauserman, 1998). The condemnation followed months of attacks by social conservatives and by mental health professionals specializing either in curing homosexuality or in treating patients by inducing them to recover memories of CSA.

In this article, we detail the chronology behind the attacks. Then we discuss the science behind our meta-analysis, showing that the attacks were specious and that our study employed sound science, advancing the field considerably by close attention to issues of external, internal, and construct validity, as well as precision and objectivity.

Next, we discuss orthodoxies and moral panics more generally, arguing that our article was attacked as vehemently as it was because it collided with a powerful, but socially constructed orthodoxy that has evolved over the last quarter century.

Finally, we offer reflections and recommendations for fellow researchers, lest this kind of event recur. We focus on the need for greater cognizance of historical attacks on science to anticipate and deflate future attacks. We argue that our research should stand as another reminder among many that sacred-cow issues do not belong in science. We discuss nonscientific advocacy in the social sciences and the need to recognize and counter it. We discuss the failure of psychology to adequately deal with the study of human sexuality, a problem that enabled the faulty attacks on our article, and we suggest directions for becoming more scientific in this area. And last, we raise the issue of how professional organizations might deal more effectively with such attacks in the future.

Key words:
Child sexual abuse, Meta-analysis, Congressional condemnation, Science, Orthodoxy

Send correspondence and reprint requests to:
Bruce Rind, Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122.
E-mail: rind (at)



In November 1997, two of us (Rind & Tromovitch, 1997) published a meta-analysis of the psychological correlates of child sexual abuse (CSA) in The Journal of Sex Research. In short, we argued that most previous literature reviews on this topic had narrowly focused on clinical samples of mostly female subjects, yet generalized to the general population, including males. We noted that these reviews were usually qualitative, leaving them vulnerable to imprecision and confirmation bias. In response to these problems, we focused on national probability samples (i.e., those selected to be representative of entire national populations) that included large numbers of both female and male subjects, and we analyzed the data quantitatively (i.e., meta-analytically).

Our basic conclusion was that most previous reviews had overstated the scientific evidence of CSA's negative potential. In particular, we concluded that:

(a) the causal role of CSA in producing harm was unclear because of consistent confounding with other variables;

(b) the intensity of negative correlates was [page 212] weak on average;

(c) negative reactions and effects were far from pervasive, and

(d) the experience of CSA was not equivalent for males and females (only a minority of males reacted negatively, whereas a majority of females did).

On giving final approval to our manuscript, one anonymous reviewer commented, noting the extent to which our findings conflicted with well-entrenched opinion, "let the sparks fly." The heated controversy foreseen by this reviewer never materialized, however.

Eight months later we published a replication and extension of this study using college samples in Psychological Bulletin. one of the American Psychological Association's (APA) premiere journals (Rind, Tromovitch, & Bauserman, 1998). The rationale, logic, methodology, and results of this meta-analysis were basically the same as the previous one. Because of this consistency, as well as the tame response to the first meta-analysis, we were not expecting a dramatic reaction. But the reaction was dramatic -- extraordinarily so. After months of attacks by social conservatives and certain mental health professionals, the U.S. Congress formally condemned our study in July 1999.

Congressional condemnation of a thoroughly peer-re-viewed scientific article published in a prestigious journal represents a threat to the integrity of science, inasmuch as science is expressly charged with describing and explaining nature as it is rather than as it should be. As Rauch (1999, p. 2270) asked in a critique of Congress' actions, now that "Kulturkampf conservatives" know they can successfully smear research with which they disagree, "Would you be surprised if this happened again? And again?" We hope not, and in the current article we discuss what might be done to deal with this kind of problem in the future.

To help readers understand the nature of the attacks on our article, we start with a brief chronology. It is also important to establish that, far from being "junk science," as our critics liked to call our study, our research was in fact good science, advancing the field considerably beyond its previous state. After establishing this point, we discuss why the attacks occurred --because our findings challenged an orthodoxy with strongly vested interests in self-maintenance. We conclude by discussing what might be done to shield psychological science from further political and ideological heavy-handedness.

(Continues at: )
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