130306OberschallMarch 27, 2013

“Authorities fed… parents and public (in Edenton) a biased reading of the evidence, but few realized it was biased.

“Consider the following: John and David, two friends in the day care, are both questioned. John says he and David were both molested, but David says it didn’t happen. Thus the evidence is 50/50 on John and 50/50 on David. They can’t be both right.

“What now? If David keeps denying, he is dropped from the investigation, and the negative evidence on John exits with David. Meanwhile, John’s parents are not told that David denies, and John’s case goes ahead. From 50/50, the allegation has become 100 percent true.

“For this investigation to inevitably produce more victims of abuse, three things are necessary:

1. Parents are told that their child was named by others as abused, but not told that their child was not abused according to still other children.

2. Parents are told that denial by their child is a sign of abuse and that therefore the child should be questioned by therapists until he admits.

3. In some therapy sessions, the children do disclose even if they were not abused.

“Did the prosecution in the Little Rascals investigate in such a manner? The (North Carolina) Appeals Court certainly was of that opinion. It was the principal reason the convictions of Robert Kelly and Dawn Wilson were overturned.”

– From “Why False Beliefs Prevail: the Little Rascals Child Sex Abuse Prosecutions” by Anthony Oberschall in “Essays in Honor of Raymond Boudon” (2000)

Oberschall doesn’t use the term, but I’m reminded of the widespread and pernicious “file drawer effect” – that is, “the practice of scientific researchers to file away studies with negative outcomes.”