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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Journalistic Misrepresentation at Slate's New Woman-Oriented Publication "Double X"

By Mark B. Rosenthal

November 7, 2009

On Thursday, November 5, 2009, Slate.com's new woman-oriented publication "Double X" published Kathryn Joyce's article "'Men's Rights' Groups Have Become Frighteningly Effective," based in large part on her interview with me.

When Ms. Joyce first contacted me, she clearly stated that she considers herself a feminist. But the label "feminist" means different things to different people. There are many people I respect who sincerely believe that calling themselves "feminist" means they support equal treatment for men as well as for women. Unfortunately there are also many people who publicly proclaim that "feminist" means equal treatment, but accept as an article of faith that all women are oppressed and all men are oppressors.

I've found that conversations that rely heavily on labels tend to close minds, whereas conversations that avoid labels and instead discuss real human experience can often be far more productive in opening minds. I chose to speak to Ms. Joyce fully aware that her friendly demeanor might be nothing more than play-acting to mask an "all men are oppressors" attitude, but hopeful that she might truly believe in equal treatment for all and might be capable of ordinary human compassion. On occasion I've had some success informing "equal treatment for all" type feminists about injustices they've previously been unaware of, and building bridges to people like that is one of the most effective steps one can take toward healing the injustices and suffering in the world. So I felt it worthwhile to make the effort with Ms. Joyce. Although I was disappointed, I was not surprised to find that when the mask was removed, she turned out to be an "all men are oppressors" type feminist.

According to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp), journalistic ethics require that journalists:

seek truth and report it,
that journalists:
Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
and that journalists:
Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

Ms. Joyce's article is so larded with falsehoods and misrepresentations that it would take a month to refute all of them. For the moment I'll limit myself to two in particular:

  1. The writer misrepresented what I said and placed it in a context that makes it sound like I'm defending mass murderers!

    Throughout the interview and in her article, Kathryn Joyce completely ignored my explanation to her that both RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting – http://www.mediaradar.org) and I personally advocate as zealously on behalf of women victimized by the system as we do on behalf of men. She instead insisted on characterizing RADAR as a men's rights organization and me personally as a men's rights activist. Years ago at http://www.breakingthescience.org/Why.php, I explained why I don't accept that label.

    Then at the end of the interview, she asked me if I was concerned about people she called "extremists" in the men's rights movement. I told her that it was unreasonable for her to demand that I defend the statements or actions of others who speak for themselves and not for me. "Extremists" was her word, not mine. I asked her, since she considers herself to be a feminist, if she felt obliged to defend the behavior of extremists in the feminist movement. Ms. Joyce initially had great difficulty imagining such a thing as a feminist extremist. Eventually she asked me if I had in mind someone like Valerie Solanas. Solanas is the woman who wrote the "SCUM Manifesto" calling for the gendercide of men, and whose brutal attempted murder of Andy Warhol left him in excruciating pain for the rest of his life. I said that Solanas would be one example. Ms. Joyce then refused to discuss it, even as she demanded that I defend people she called "extremists" whom I know little or nothing about, and who certainly don't speak for me.

    When Ms. Joyce refused to accept that I wouldn't comment, I told her what she was doing was as illegitimate as a reporter demanding that Martin Luther King, Jr. justify the actions of Malcolm X. I then gave the example that the gay rights movement didn't make much progress until Act Up! came along, and explained that history demonstrates that no social ills ever get rectified unless you have both reasonable groups and more radical groups working on the issue.

    In the 1960s, college professors pleaded with students to engage in "rational discourse". But the Viet Nam War didn't end because people engaged in "rational discourse", but rather because an entire generation marched on Washington. The Women's Liberation movement didn't gain traction because people sat around and held deep intellectual discussions, but rather because Women's Libbers, who at the time were considered "extremists", held "consciousness raising" groups designed to portray men as monstrous oppressors in order to radicalize the women who attended.

    A few days before the publication of the article, Ms. Joyce called me to verify that she'd quoted me accurately. When I found that she intended to quote me as saying, "no movement is going to get anywhere without extremists," I objected that she'd grossly misrepresented my viewpoint. I told her that it would be accurate to quote me as saying "no movement is going to get anywhere without both." By "both" I meant both a reasonable component and a radical component.

    It's bad enough that Ms. Joyce ignored my objection and misrepresented my opinion. She was fully aware that the example I had in mind of a more radical element was a group like Act Up!, which stages noisy protests and political theater, but to the best of my knowledge has never been accused of murder. It's unconscionable, bordering on libelous, that Ms. Joyce portrays me as defending "extremists" (her word) shortly after planting the idea in the reader's mind that the word "extremist" refers to people who've gone ballistic and committed mass murder!

  2. The writer quotes a false claim that Dr. Murray Straus distributed RADAR literature at an APA conference, apparently without making any effort to verify the truth of the claim.

    It is not uncommon for those with an agenda to throw mud at scientists whose research results they dislike. In a transparent attempt to cast doubt on Dr. Murray Straus' academic integrity, Ms. Joyce quoted a false assertion that Dr. Straus distributed RADAR literature at a conference. She failed to follow the standard practice of reputable journalists, which is to contact the subject of an accusation and give him the opportunity to respond. In her article she wrote, "Most notable are the studies conducted by sociologist Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire, who has written extensively on female violence (and who Dawson saw distributing RADAR flyers at an APA conference)."

    The characterization of Straus as someone who has written extensively on female violence is like characterizing Susan B. Anthony as someone who wrote extensively on temperance -- true but misleading because of what it leaves out. Straus has devoted his professional career to the study of all forms of family violence -- parent-to-child, child-to-parent, sibling-to-sibling, as well as partner violence in all its configurations -- male-to-female, female-to-male, and mutual. He has never focused exclusively on female violence.

    But more important than the misleading characterization of Straus' work is the attempt to disparage his academic integrity by claiming he distributed RADAR flyers at an APA conference. Knowing Dr. Straus' high academic standards, it struck me as thoroughly out of character for him to distribute non-academic literature, ours or anyone else's, at a professional conference.

    Straus' phone number and email address can be easily found on the Univ. of New Hampshire website. A reputable journalist would have contacted Dr. Straus and allowed him to respond to the accusation. However Ms. Joyce's article gives no indication that she made any effort to verify her facts before publishing this accusation. So, after I read her article, I contacted him. Dr. Straus stated unequivocally, "I have never distributed a RADAR flyer at any conference, or anywhere else."

Finally, the SPJ Code of Ethics mentioned above also states:

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.

Journalists should:

  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
  • ... shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
  • Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

During our conversation, Ms. Joyce revealed that in addition to writing for Slate.com's Double X, she's also employed by a non-profit organization, although she didn't specify which one. The public has a right to know whether Ms. Joyce is employed by or affiliated with any organization that has a stake in perpetuating our nation's badly flawed domestic violence policies. If so, her failure to disclose that to her readers represents a serious breach of journalistic ethics.

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