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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Martha Coakley's Chappaquiddick

By Mark B. Rosenthal

January 7, 2010

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Democratic nominee to replace Senator Ted Kennedy, ought to have a lock on the January 19th special election, considering that Massachusetts is a state that nearly always votes for a Democrat and that the Boston Herald reports that the RNC has decided to let her opponent fend for himself. Yet the latest polling shows Coakley only 9 points ahead, with a margin of error exactly equal to the spread between the two candidates. Perhaps the short attention span of the electorate is simply an over-hyped myth, and voters who remember Coakley's actions in the case of Gerald Amirault feel that they call into question her fitness for the job. The Amirault name may well be Coakley's albatross much as Chappaquiddick was Kennedy's. But Coakley's albatross and Kennedy's are hardly birds of a feather.

The Chappaquiddick accident that took Mary Jo Kopechne's life was just that – a tragic accident. In contrast, Attorney General Martha Coakley's campaign to keep a falsely convicted man behind bars was intentional and politically motivated.

In the late 1970s, people uncomfortable with the increasing number of women in the workforce tried to guilt them into staying home by planting doubt about the safety of daycare centers. By the 1980s, this had turned into full-blown hysteria, with accusations of toddlers subjected to sexual abuse and satanic rituals. Prosecutors and supposed child experts nationwide fanned the hysteria, seeking to build their careers on the backs of the innocent. McMartin in L.A., Wee Care in N.J., Little Rascals in N.C., and Fells Acres in Mass. are the most notorious cases. Where prosecutors told jurors "believe the children," the child abuse "experts" they brought in to interview the children refused to believe the children unless they made outrageous accusations.

Scott Harshbarger who prosecuted the Amiraults, owners of Fells Acres, parlayed the resulting fame into a successful run for the office of Massachusetts Attorney General.

Pediatric nurse Susan Kelley's never-take-no-for-an-answer interview techniques elicited claims from Fells Acres children that:

  1. a four year old boy was anally raped with a butcher knife that miraculously left no injury,
  2. a young girl was bitten by a green and yellow and silver "Star Wars" robot,
  3. a young boy was tied naked to a tree in the schoolyard, in front of all the teachers and children and in full view of passing traffic, while Cheryl cut the leg off a squirrel.

Even though the prosecution produced no physical evidence that the children's stories were anything more than fantasies created under pressure from a sex-abuse obsessed interviewer, Gerald Amirault was sentenced to a 30 to 40 year prison term. His sister Cheryl and their mother Violet were sentenced to 8 to 20 years.

In a subsequent appeal, Judge Isaac Borenstein commented on Susan Kelley's ceaseless badgering of the children: "This interviewer was so biased that she engaged in an investigation not to learn what really happened, but to make sure that the Amiraults were convicted." Nevertheless, Kelley used the case as her Ph.D. thesis topic and went on to a successful career at Georgia State University where she now serves as Dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences.

Justice Charles Fried of the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court, whose understanding of the U.S. Constitution is so flawed that he rejected the Amiraults' appeal on the basis that the most important thing for the court is "finality" of the decision, now holds the exalted post of Harvard Law School professor where he teaches, of all things, constitutional law!

After 8 years of appeals, Judge Robert A. Barton overturned the women's conviction, but Gerald having been convicted in a separate trial remained in prison.

It seems the convictions were a win-win for everyone, except of course the Amiraults. Massachusetts' abominable treatment of the Amirault family was chronicled by Dorothy Rabinowitz in her Pulitzer-prize winning series of Wall Street Journal articles "A Darkness In Massachusetts". Unfortunately, Rabinowitz' chronicle ends in July 2001, when the Massachusetts Governor's Advisory Board, one of the toughest parole boards in the country, voted unanimously to commute Gerald Amirault's sentence, stating that "real and substantial doubt exists concerning petitioner's conviction."

And that's where ambition-driven District Attorney Martha Coakley enters the picture. By 2001, no person with two brain cells to rub together believed that the prosecution of the Amiraults was anything other than a travesty of justice. But Coakley, placing more value on defending the infallibility of her office and on appearing tough on crime than on seeing that injustice be rectified, embarked on a public-relations crusade to keep Gerald Amirault behind bars. As a result, Gerald languished in prison for another three years.

It wasn't until 2004 that Gerald Amirault was finally paroled. If Coakley truly believed Gerald Amirault was guilty of sexually abusing children, then her decision not to have him classified as a sexually dangerous person shows absolute disregard for the welfare of the community. More likely, she chose not to have him classified as sexually dangerous because that would have required a hearing which would have been an embarrassment for the D.A.'s office. Revisiting the original accusations in a less hysterical era would have brought unwelcome media attention to the fact that her office was guilty of causing the imprisonment of a plainly innocent man for nearly two decades!

The citizens of Mass. saw fit to forgive Teddy Kennedy for a tragic accident, and he repaid them by zealously fighting for the average citizen throughout his career. In the upcoming election, the citizens of Massachusetts need to send a message loud and clear that Martha Coakley may well be heir to the legacy of Mike Nifong, but she's no Teddy Kennedy!

On election day, many dyed-in-the-wool Democrats who can't stomach the idea of elevating someone with Coakley's lack of scruples to the U.S. Senate may feel there is no way for them to make their opinions heard and instead choose not to vote at all. That would be a mistake because there is a way for voters to express their distaste for the D.A.'s behavior. Massachusetts ballots allow write-in candidates. Even a small number of write-in votes for "Gerald Amirault" will send a powerful message – that the voters will neither forget nor forgive a prosecutor who campaigned to keep an innocent man in jail in order to further her own political career.

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