Harman/Lorandos Demonstrate Meier’s Bias

December 30, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality, while making it easier for them to part with them.
     ~Vaclav Havel

The battle is joined; the long knives have come out.  With the publication of Harman and Lorandos’ paper entitled “Allegations of Family Violence in Court: How Parental Alienation Affects Judicial Outcomes,” the scientists who promote understanding of and combatting parental alienation have officially had enough.  They’ve had enough of the specious, anti-science mutterings of those who would have us believe that parental alienation is nothing but a clever scheme concocted by abusive fathers to wrest child custody from “protective” mothers.  Led by the likes of Joan Meier, Joyanna Silberg, Robert Geffner and their fellow travelers in the news media, those forces have little-to-nothing with which to answer the growing body of science that finds parental alienation to be relatively common and psychologically damaging to kids.  Finding themselves empty-handed, the ideologically-driven, rather than accepting the scrupulous findings of scientists around the world, instead confect their own “reality” and then repeat it ad infinitum as true.

Harman/Lorandos are having none of it.  Their paper is a thoroughgoing takedown of Meier’s 2019 piece that sought to create controversy where there is none.  It’s a shot right between the eyes.  Harman/Lorandos pull no punches.

The paper begins (and ends) by revealing Meier’s work as that of an ideologue, bent simply on producing a study that can then be cited as evidence for the above-mentioned claims of the “protective” mothers crowd.  Meier’s study stands revealed as entirely without merit, so shoddily done as to embarrass a more scrupulous academic.  I’ve criticized Meier’s work many times, but never in such devastating terms.

So, for example, she seems to not mind frankly lying.

An underlying assumption that is repeatedly cited throughout the report is the premise that the concept of PA “was created specifically as a rationale for rejecting child sexual abuse claims.”

That of course is simply untrue.  It’s merely part of the ideologue’s worldview and therefore repeated even though it’s known to be false.  As Harman/Lorandos point out,

Gardner never recommended applying the PAS term if there was bona fide child abuse by the rejected parent (Gardner, 1985, 1987), and evidence-based assessments continue to require that child abuse be ruled out as a cause for the child’s rejection of a parent for PA to be diagnosed (Baker et al., 2014; Freeman, 2020).

But those simple, well-known facts conflict with the Meier narrative and so she not only ignored them, but lied about the reality.  Plus,

Without citing evidence to support their claim that the concept of PA was created to reject child abuse claims, Meier et al. (2019) implied that Gardner and other scholars who pioneered the concept had malignant motives, which is tantamount to an ad hominem attack.

In what looks like a classic case of projection, Meier attributes bad motives to Gardner who is conveniently dead and therefore unable to defend himself or bring libel charges.  Meanwhile, as I’ve said many times, those who cast doubt on the existence of PA in fact go to bat for child abuse.  PA is a form of child abuse and, to the extent that a person succeeds in convincing others that it doesn’t occur, that person encourages judges to ignore PA and therefore leave children in abusive circumstances.

But Harman/Lorandos are far from done knocking the props out from under Meier’s work.

The way Meier and colleagues (2019) discuss the “crediting” of abuse claims throughout the report reflects an alignment with critics that all claims of abuse made by children or “protective parents” should be believed (p. 11). The authors fail to acknowledge studies that indicate parents, regardless of gender, often make false claims of abuse to gain a custody advantage (Clawar & Rivlin, 2013; Dunne & Hedrick, 1994; Harman et al., 2018; Harman & Matthewson, 2020; Hines & Douglas, 2016). For example, a thorough analysis of 7,672 child maltreatment investigation cases found that one third of the investigations were unsubstantiated, and the proportion of allegations shown to be fabricated was 12% in cases where a contact or residence dispute had occurred (Trocmé, & Bala, 2005). Ceci and Bruck (1995) also reported around half of abuse allegations in divorce are probably false. Despite this research, Meier and colleagues cited a paper where child sexual abuse claims made in custody litigation are likely valid more than half the time (p. 10; see Faller, 1998, but see Bielaska v. Orley, 1996). Nevertheless, this data document that a large proportion of allegations are still false. Meier et al. never addressed the fact that the parents in her data set may have been lying about abuse, which is a parental alienating behavior (Baker& Darnall, 2006; Harman & Matthewson, 2020).

That’s precisely the point I’ve made before about Meier’s work.  It’s critically defective because it makes no effort to discriminate among abuse claims.  Some may be true, some may be false and others may be impossible to identify as either.  So if a judge decided an abuse claim was false, then he/she can hardly be faulted for not acting on it, but to Meier, all allegations of abuse levelled by mothers against fathers must be true.  No serious observer of family courts believes that, but Meier uses the concept anyway.  Why?  Because it suits her ends.

Now, as I wrote last year, Meier does use events like the issuance of restraining orders to tag abuse allegations as “founded.”  But of course nothing could be further from the truth.  It takes little or nothing beyond an allegation and a five-minute “hearing” in court at which the target of the order isn’t even present, to produce a restraining order, hardly sufficient to conclude that abuse actually occurred.

Meier’s ideology-driven work goes on:

To further matters, Meier et al. (2019) reported that guardians ad litem (GALs) and custody evaluators were not likely to credit mothers abuse claims (pp. 20 –21) and need to be educated to “deconstruct misconceptions” about the use of PA claims when child abuse is alleged by mothers (p. 26).

The irony of course being that it’s Meier who’s bent on creating and peddling misconceptions about PA.  Still, the point is clear: this is ideology, not science.

This position implies that all claims of abuse made by mothers should be taken at face value and fails to acknowledge that these third parties have had access to considerably more information than what is reported in the judicial reports the research team reviewed. These third parties may have concluded that allegations made by the accusing parent were not substantiated and were, instead, strategies used to obtain a custody advantage. When GALs or custody evaluators reject an abuse claim, this is not necessarily an indication they are untrained or biased. The data presented by Meier et al. does not support such a conclusion.

It’s a point I’ve made before.  GALs, mental health professionals, custody evaluators, etc. have access to families and children that judges don’t.  That means their conclusions often have a great deal of merit, but to Meier, if such a person reaches the “wrong” conclusion, i.e. one that doesn’t conform to Meier’s own agenda, then their recommendations must be smeared.  Again, that’s the point of view of an ideologue, not a scientist, and certainly not someone concerned with getting custody and parenting time orders right.

Finally, Meier simply makes stuff up.

[T]he authors stated that protective parents and their attorneys have claimed that GALs and custody evaluators fail to recognize abuse, yet no references were cited to support this statement. The portrayal that “consensus” and “many experts” believe something based on anecdotal evidence makes it appear to the reader that there is general agreement on a topic when there is not (Nielsen, 2015, p. 599).

Anyone can make generalized claims about anything.  Without empirical support for those claims, that’s all they are – claims.  Of course there are people who say that GALs and custody evaluators sometimes fail to recognize abuse.  With 900,000 divorces in the U.S. every year, how could all of them get all matters regarding children right every time?  But is there any evidence to support the notion that GALs and custody evaluators are generally wrong in their conclusions or recommendations?  Meier cites none and, in the absence of same, her assertion lacks any merit.

And with Meier’s ideologically-based bias revealed for all to see, Harman/Lorandos move on to destroy her study.

More on that next time.

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