121001SchumacherOct. 1, 2012

“Since 1983, public and professional interest in maltreatment of young children in day care has increased dramatically. It was then that children first began disclosing allegations of sexual and ritual abuse in the McMartin preschool.

“Although accounts of children being terrorized during satanic rituals seemed bizarre and unbelievable, alarmingly similar allegations against child care facilities throughout the United States prompted public officials, educators and parents to more fully examine the phenomenon. The sheer number of reports and amount of information collected (for legal and therapeutic purposes) provided a rich data base for study.

“Children reporting ritual abuse (RA) have described ceremonial animal and human mutilation and sacrifice, live burial, sacrificial participation or witness, ingestion of human blood, feces, urine and semen, and death threats should they disclose the abuse.

“It should be noted that some doubt the existence of RA….  The prevailing literature since the McMartin case, however, demonstrates that researchers find the evidence too compelling to dismiss…. Perhaps the most reasoned yet sensitive approach to validation is neither unquestioned acceptance nor unequivocal denial, but critical judgment….”

– From “Variables and risk factors associated with child abuse in daycare settings” by Ruth B. Schumacher and Rebecca S. Carlson in Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal (September 1999)

Predictably, the references listed by Schumacher and Carlson include an old-school Who’s Who of bad science: e.g., Kathleen Coulborn FallerDavid Finkelhor (misspelled “Finklehor”), and Susan J. Kelley (misspelled “Kelly”).

But the authors also cite skeptics Jeffrey S. Victor (“Satanic Panic”), David Bromley and Lee Coleman.

How can this be? How can Schumacher and Carlson have been exposed to such persuasive debunking, yet conclude that “neither unquestioned acceptance nor unequivocal denial” is called for?

Big Tobacco realized early on that instead of beating back every new attack on smoking’s health risks, it needed only to frame the issue as a continuing “controversy” with “two sides.” But what possible advantage accrues to social scientists who take that approach?