121130WolfeNov. 30, 2012

In 1993 (January-February issue), the journal Child Abuse & Neglect published “Sexual Abuse of Children in Day Care Centers” by Susan J. Kelley, Renee Brant and Jill Waterman. This is from the article’s abstract:

“Sexual abuse of children in day care center settings has received considerable attention in the past decade. The nature and extent of allegations of sexual abuse in day care poses unique challenges to clinicians. Cases of sexual abuse in day care typically involve multiple victims and multiple perpetrators, and use of extreme threats to prevent disclosure….”

The article’s misinformation has spread far beyond its original readership. Google Scholar shows “Sexual Abuse of Children in Day Care Centers” to have been cited in other publications no fewer than 36 times, as recently as this year.

I asked Child Abuse & Neglect to publish a retraction.

I received this response from editor-in-chief David A. Wolfe, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Toronto:

“The journal only retracts papers if there are significant errors or other problems, such as plagiarism, health risks etc. Otherwise, it is up to the scientific community to decide when new knowledge or findings would usurp those previously published. This is the case in many areas of research, whereby older (sometimes well-accepted) findings are no longer given credence due to newer findings. It is not feasible or appropriate to remove the previous findings, as that is how science progresses.

“Unless you are aware of specific errors in the 1993 data, rather than drawing different conclusions, the journal would not take any further action.

“I trust this resolves your concerns.”

Well, no, actually it doesn’t. This is what I wrote back to Dr. Wolfe:

“The problem with ‘Sexual Abuse of Children in Day Care Centers’ is not a matter of ‘different conclusions’ being drawn from the data. The entire concept of the article is false: There was never any ‘multiple victim, multiple offender’ sexual abuse in day cares, any more than there was witchcraft in Salem. As has been thoroughly documented by social scientists such as Stephen J. Ceci and Maggie Bruck, and eventually validated in the legal system, all these ritual-abuse cases resulted from a moral panic.

“This passage is from the Retraction Guidelines of the Committee on Publication Ethics: ‘Retraction is a mechanism for correcting the literature and alerting readers to publications that contain such seriously flawed or erroneous data that their findings and conclusions cannot be relied upon. Unreliable data may result from honest error or from research misconduct.’

“And this is from Tom Reller (vice president of global public relations at publisher Elsevier): ‘Our journals, and academia overall, do better when shining a light on bad actors and bad science.’ ”….

“This is my concern, not yours, but ‘bad science’ fostered numerous convictions in Little Rascals, McMartin and other day care prosecutions of the 1980s and early 1990s. A retraction in a journal such as yours would be a significant step toward obtaining true exoneration for these defendants.”

No response from Dr. Wolfe. Maybe he’s reconsidering?