121119DoughertyNov. 19, 2012

Crucial to the moral panic was a wave of ill-conceived academic and professional literature.
I asked Molly C. Dougherty, editor of Nursing Research, whether her journal had ever published a retraction of “Parental Stress Response to Sexual Abuse and Ritualistic Abuse of Children in Day-Care Centers” (January/February 1990). As is obvious in the title, Susan J. Kelley’s article embraces and promotes the existence of ritual abuse in day cares.

Dr. Dougherty told me that no retraction had appeared in the past or would appear in the future: “The authors of the article were careful to provide a thorough sample description without including information that linked participants to any specific location or case. Conditions that would lead to a retraction are not present.”

This is from my reply to her:

“Of course you are correct that Susan J. Kelley didn’t say which day-care cases were the basis for ‘Parental Stress Response to Sexual Abuse and Ritualistic Abuse of Children in Day-Care Centers.’ (Fells Acres seems a likely candidate, since it was Kelley’s own improper interviewing of child-witnesses that led to the overturning of convictions in that case.)

“But the problem here is not specific to Fells Acres, McMartin or Little Rascals. The entire article was founded on a false belief: that satanic ritual abuse occurred at even one day care. No such ‘multiple victim, multiple offender’ allegations were ever validated. In case after bizarre case, charges were eventually dropped and guilty verdicts overturned.

“The decade-long moral panic finally collapsed in the early 1990s. Today you will not find a single respected academic or professional willing to give credence to the claims of the ritual abuse era.

“By contrast, this excerpt from Kelley’s abstract demonstrated her unquestioning advocacy:

“ ‘The purpose of this study was to examine the stress responses of parents to the sexual and ritualistic abuse of their children in day-care centers…. Parents of sexually abused children reported significantly more psychological distress than parents of nonabused children, with parents of ritually abused children displaying the most severe psychological distress.’

“Plainly, this article was guilty of what you lament in your (unrelated) September 11 blog post:
“failure to address legitimate alternative views and evidence.” And what better example of the “pseudo-science in the guise of science” criticized by Eileen Gambrill?

“I will leave you with a final question: Does Nursing Research really want to leave this article as its last word on the subject?”

So far, Dr. Dougherty’s answer seems to be yes.