Steve Basile challenges Harvard's latest domestic violence junk-science ‘study’
Researcher Hides Domestic Violence Study Behind University Lawyers
July 13, 2004
by Mark CharalambousThe two most abused words in the English language are “studies show…” This dictum was recently underscored by Harvard University’s refusal to release the underlying data of a study done under the auspices of their School of Health. The data had been requested by Steve Basile, Research Director of CPF/The Fatherhood Coalition, a statewide non-profit that advocates for father’s rights. The study in question addressed “battered mothers” who ostensibly suffer “human rights abuses” at the hands of the Massachusetts family court system.
Steve Basile, feminist scholar’s worst nightmare, is at it again. This time he’s debunking a second incarnation of the 2002 Wellesley junk-science study, “Battered Mothers Speak Out - A Human Rights Report on Domestic Violence and Child Custody in the Massachusetts Family Courts.”
Dr. Jay Silverman, an assistant professor in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at Harvard, recently dusted off this shabby excuse for scientific research, giving it a new name and a second run up the credibility flagpole. “Child Custody Determinations in Cases Involving Intimate Partner Violence: A Human Rights Analysis,” was published in the American Journal of Public Health in May.
Harvard junk-science researcher Jay Silverman
After scaling the usual barriers and jumping through the typical hoops (details following), Basile received a terse, threatening letter from Diane E. Lopez, of the Office of the General Counsel for Harvard. The letter rejects Basile’s request for supporting data:
“As to all other data supporting Dr. Silverman’s research, Harvard and Dr. Silverman decline your request. Neither Harvard University nor its individual faculty members are obligated to share research data indiscriminately with anyone who requests.”
But Basile is not some “indiscriminate … anyone.” The first phase of his groundbreaking study on domestic violence abuse protection orders (“Comparison of Abuse Alleged by Same- and Opposite-Gender Litigants as Cited in Requests for Abuse Prevention Orders”) was recently published in the February edition of Journal of Family Violence. However, Basile is persona non grata in the domestic violence community because not only has he produced a study that is scientifically speaking beyond reproach (Basile has a Master’s degree in math from UMass Lowell), but he has also assumed the burden of debunking domestic violence junk science.
The Harvard General Counsel letter closes in typical legal bullying fashion:
“This is our final word on this subject. Do not contact Dr. Silverman again. If you wish to pursue this, despite this letter, then have your legal counsel contact me.”
Harvard’s tarnished reputation
Along with the “Gentleman’s C,” a catchphrase for the GPA objective of underachieving undergraduates who slough off their studies, in 2001 the “Harvard A” entered the vernacular to characterize dumbed-down academic grading policies. Harvard received notoriety when whistleblower (and tenured) professor Harvey Mansfield publicized the history of grade inflation over the past three decades at the university. In 2002, over 50 percent of students received grades of A or A-minus at Harvard, while fully 91 percent of graduating students had some kind of honor on their diplomas.
This hiding of research data by Harvard marks yet another black spot for the academic Goliath, this time to its School of Public Health.
Study’s methodology flawed
Letter from Harvard U. General Counsel denying request for data.
The ‘Battered Mothers Speak Out’ Wellesley study on which Silverman’s study is based was released in November, 2002. It purported to show that battered women are being abused by the state's family courts by awarding custody of their children to their “batterer” husbands, thus endangering the children of these parents. It even claims that the human rights of these women are being violated by the courts. According to Lundy Bancroft, one of the authors, “Domestic violence is not being weighed properly in the cases.”
In typical junk-science fashion, the research made absolutely no attempt at objectivity. The desired results clearly preceded and guided the development of the study. To achieve the expected results, the researchers engineered an appropriate population sample and solicited “expert” testimony from the plethora of feminist, anti-male practitioners employed in family law and domestic relations.
Rather than look at a representative cross-section of all female litigants in custody battles – or of all litigants, male and female, who claimed to be “abused” by their mates – inclusion in the population required that a participant be 1) female, and 2) angry at the outcome of her case. Once a candidate was found, so-called “snowball sampling” was used to find other potential participants. That is, a disgruntled female litigant recommended other disgruntled mothers to the researchers.
Story on Basile’s study was in the works
Following publication of the Silverman study, newspaper reports of the alleged “human rights violations” study immediately appeared in the Massachusetts press, including a story by reporter Patricia Norris in the (Springfield) Republican.
Basile had been working with Norris on a story about the recent publication of his research study on 209A restraining orders in Gardner District Court. Despite spoonfeeding the reporter a story rife with controversy and intrigue, it somehow escaped publication. Basile contacted Norris to express his dissatisfaction with the Republican’s apparent squelching of the story, and to voice his objections to the Silverman junk-science study.
“Harvard University may have a multi-million dollar endowment and a brain trust of attorneys but we have something much more powerful on our side. We have our credibility and the truth.”
– Steve Basile
Basile wrote Norris:
“If you recall, the main reasons for doing the research was to combat a tidal wave of junk science painting a distorted view of domestic violence, its perpetrators, and victims. I have spent countless hours chasing sensational claims and factoids that fall apart under scrutiny or even a cursory examination. I am continually frustrated that claims made by certain groups are never fact-checked but are just parroted by the media leading to distortion of public perception.”
Alluding to the obstacles put in his way to do research – including changing the Public Records Law (Mass. version of the Freedom of Information Act) to expressly prevent anyone with a contrary viewpoint from doing research on domestic violence – Basile continues:
“. . . this work is pure propaganda, junk science, with no scientific value whatsoever, yet it has spawned sensational stories in the Boston Herald, Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, and now two recent stories in the Republican. I urge you to obtain a copy of this ‘study’ from the Wellesley Center for Woman and see for yourself. How is it that these groups can say whatever they wish without question from the media and with immunity while other groups such as ourselves are stopped from doing honest research with new laws spawned by these very groups?”
Researcher and Harvard stonewall Basile
Basile then pursued the data with Silverman himself. On June 2, Basile wrote directly to Silverman requesting the data, including transcripts, police reports, restraining orders, child protective service reports, witness affidavits and any other data (but not the identities of the subjects). After receiving no reply, he wrote a second time.
Finally, Basile then received a terse two-sentence reply from Silverman denying the request: “The data in question are protected by a federal certificate of confidentiality. There is no possibility of their release.”
Upon researching Silverman’s excuse for withholding the data, he found that “a Federal Certificate of Confidentiality protects the privacy of individuals who are the subject of such research by withholding from all persons not connected with the conduct of such research the names or other identifying characteristics of such individuals.”
“This work is pure propaganda, total junk science, with no scientific value whatsoever, yet it has spawned sensational stories in the Boston Herald, Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, and now two recent stories in the Republican.”
– Steve Basile
However, the research paper itself claimed that pseudonyms had already been incorporated into the interview transcripts. Thus, the identities of the research subjects had already been disguised. Even if they hadn’t, there is no reason why the identities couldn’t be expunged from the data before turning it over. This is done all the time when sensitive data is requested from the government by interested parties.Besides replying to Silverman with this information and repeating his request, he cc’d the prominent individuals at the American Journal of Public Health, the appropriate people at the Republican, as well as the President of Harvard, Lawrence Summers.
Not expecting any positive response from Silverman, Basile then wrote a detailed account directly to Dr. Summers, questioning the credibility of the university that permits one of its professors to hide data. In the June 10 letter, Basile asks Summers:
“It is clear that Dr. Silverman is in breach of the general APA guidelines that require any researcher who is published to make his data available for the next five years. It is clear that Dr. Silverman wishes that his work not be scrutinized. As president of Harvard University I am sure you are very concerned about the standards you maintain, about your perception in the larger community. What credibility does a university have if it is afraid of challenge?”
The letter from Harvard’s General Counsel is Summers’ response. The corruption of the behavioral social sciences – and now, health sciences – persists unabated.
Basile says: “This is not a legal matter. It is an ethical and academic standards issue. Harvard University and/or its faculty members are absolutely obligated to supply research data required by APA guidelines, which all credible researchers adhere to.”
He warns: “Since this is not a legal issue this battle will not be fought in a courtroom. It will be waged via academic debate and by using public forums to pressure higher standards.”
Agenda-driven feminist research thrives in a closed environment where access to data is restricted to the converted. The “research” is incestuously peer-reviewed – if at all – by others within the sisterhood. But Basile and the Fatherhood Coalition are undeterred.
Basile gets the final word here: “Harvard University may have a multi-million dollar endowment and a brain trust of attorneys but we have something much more powerful on our side. We have our credibility and the truth.”
Interested parties can obtain Basile’s study at: www.kluweronline.com/issn/0885-7482/contents.
Basile can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Silverman study can be found at: www.ajph.org/content/vol94/issue6/index.shtml
Jay Silverman’s web page at the Harvard School of Public Health (www.hsph.harvard.edu) is: www.hsph.harvard.edu/faculty/JaySilverman.html
This is the second installment in the "Lying Liars" series of exposés on feminist social science research by Mark Charalambous. Part 1 can be found at: www.fatherhoodcoalition.org/cpf/newreadings/2003/MC_dv_month.htm
For more by the author on the same subject, read “Junk science proliferates in domestic violence research; Subtext: Intellectual corruption of the social sciences” at: www.fatherhoodcoalition.org/cpf/2003/junk_science.htm.
Mark Charalambous, a resident of Leominster, MA, is a founder of, and the Spokesman for, CPF/The Fatherhood Coalition.