In "soft" sciences like sociology, it's much more difficult to detect manipulation of research, than in "hard" sciences like physics. Soft science researchers who strive for objectivity deserve an extra measure of respect. Sadly, far too many researchers are more concerned with pushing an agenda than with objectivity. These same problems are not unknown in the world of journalism. Since the soft sciences and the media have a powerful influence on social policies in this country, this affects every family and every individual.

Breaking the Science is about the broken "science" that's being used to create law and drive social policy.


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Are Batterer Intervention Programs Being Given Undeserved Credit?

By Mark B. Rosenthal

March 15, 2005

In countless recent news articles, officials being interviewed about domestic violence policies have made a point of touting the successes of batterer intervention programs. For example, in a recent interview Middlesex County (Mass.) District Attorney Martha Coakley cited a 2004 study by the Mass. Department of Probation which found that the percentage of men arraigned for a subsequent offense was below 50% for those who completed the program, but over 80% for those who dropped out. From this they conclude that batterer intervention programs are effective.

But is the evidence sufficient to support their conclusion? The question of whether they're treating the right people needs to be raised. It's quite possible that those who complete the program are people who would not have re-offended in any case. By choosing whether to drop out or complete the program, the individuals in the program have self-selected into two distinct groups. It's likely that those who drop out are those who are inherently more likely to be violent. In that case, the batterer intervention programs are taking credit for a difference they played no part in creating.

It's even possible that many of those who complete the program should never have been assigned to the program. Starting as far back as the early 1980s, I've seen innumerable newsgroup articles from men who claim to have been physically abused by their wives or girlfriends, and then suffered the humiliation of being declared by the police and the courts to have been the abuser rather than the abused, and sentenced to batterer intervention programs.

Of course some of these claims may be false. But the data collected by the second National Family Violence Survey confirms that many of these claims are undoubtedly true. In her Florida State University Law Review article entitled "Disabusing the Definition of Domestic Abuse", law professor Linda Kelly notes that the second National Family Violence Survey collected information on arrests when police responded to domestic violence calls. She notes (p. 831) the following results from the survey's statistics, "... in comparing the actual use of arrest, while in 15.2% of the cases the man was arrested upon the woman's call, no woman was ever arrested when a man called. In fact, it was three times more likely that a man would be arrested if he called as opposed to the female caller being arrested."

It seems pretty clear that some victims are being wrongly arrested simply because they're men, while their abusers get off scott free.

It also seems a reasonable hypothesis that a passive individual who would allow himself to be victimized by his intimate partner would be equally likely to meekly allow himself to be victimized by a batterer's intervention program. Furthermore, author and columnist Cathy Young has reported numerous cases where harmless physical contact like a one-time shove has been sufficient for the authorities to convict an individual of domestic violence and assign him to a batterer's intervention program, even over the objections of that individual's partner. Such an individual is unlikely to re-offend, whether forced into an intervention program or not. For a batterer intervention program to claim the credit is nothing short of fraud!

On the other hand, it makes sense that a truly violent individual would be much more likely to say, "to hell with this batterer's intervention crap" and drop out of the program. So a batterer intervention program's statistics could look good, not because they're effective at treating the difficult cases, but because they manage to avoid having many of the difficult cases counted against them.

For quite a long time, medical researchers have understood that since many illnesses will clear up on their own without any intervention, drugs which claim to cure an illness must not be allowed to take credit for curing something which would have gone away on its own.

Just as in the world of medicine, careers, reputations, and a great deal of money can ride on the effectiveness of a proposed solution to a perceived problem. Isn't it time we started demanding that supposed remedies for society's ills must meet the same standards as remedies for medical ills?

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