Re Nichols: Times the Experts were Wrong

In preparation for our review of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, I wanted to make list of “times the experts were wrong.” Professor Nichols, if you ever happen to read this, I hope it gives you some insight into where we, the common people, are coming from. If you don’t happen to read it, it still gives me a baseline before reading your book.

Nichols devotes a chapter to the subject–expert failures are, he claims, “rare but spectacular when they do happen, like plane crashes.” (I may be paraphrasing slightly.)

How often are the experts wrong? (And how would we measure that?)

For starters, we have to define what “experts” are. Nichols might define experts as, “anyone who has a PhD in a thing or has worked in that field for 10 years,” but the general layman is probably much laxer in his definitions.

Now, Nichols’s argument that “experts” are correct most of the time probably is correct, at least if we use a conservative definition of “expert”. We live in a society that is completely dependent on the collective expertise of thousands if not millions of people, and yet that society keeps running. For example, I do not know how to build a road, but road-building experts do, and our society has thousands of miles of functional roads. They’re not perfect, but they’re a huge improvement over dirt paths. I don’t know how to build a car, but car-building experts do, and so society is full of cars. From houses to skyscrapers, smartphones to weather satellites, electricity to plumbing: most of the time, these complicated systems get built and function perfectly well. Even airplanes, incredibly, don’t fall out of the sky most of the time (and according to Steven Pinker, they’re getting even better at it.)

But these seem like the kind of experts that most people don’t second-guess too often (“I think you should only put three wheels on the car–and make them titanium,”) nor is this the sort of questioning that I think Nichols is really concerned about. Rather, I think Nichols is concerned about people second-guessing experts like himself whose opinions bear not on easily observed, physical objects like cars and roads but on abstract policies like “What should our interest rates be?” or “Should we bomb Syria?”

We might distinguish here between practical experts employed by corporations, whose expertise must be “proven” via production of actual products that people actually use, and academic experts whose products are primarily ideas that people can’t touch, test, or interact with.

For ordinary people, though, we must include another form of experts: writers–of newspapers, magazines, TV programs, textbooks, even some well-respected bloggers. Most people don’t read academic journals nor policy papers. They read Cosmo and watch daytime talk shows, not because they “hate experts” but because this is the level of information they can understand.

In other words, most people probably think Cosmo’s “style expert” and Donald Trump are as much “experts” as Tom Nichols. Trump is a “business expert” who is so expert he not only has a big tower with his name on it, they even let him hire and fire people on TV! Has anyone ever trusted Nichols’s expertise enough to give him a TV show about it?

Trump Tower is something people can touch–the kind of expertise that people trust. Nichols’s expertise is the Soviet Union (now Russia) and how the US should approach the threat of nuclear war and deterrence–not things you can easily build, touch, and test.

Nichols’s idea of “experts” is probably different from the normal person’s idea of “experts.” Nichols probably uses metrics like “How long has this guy been in the field?” and “Which journals has he been published in?” while normal people use metrics like “Did CNN call him an expert?” and “Did I read it in a magazine?” (I have actually witnessed people citing margarine advertizements as “nutrition advice.”)

If anything, I suspect the difference between “normal people’s idea of expert” and “Nichols’s idea of experts” is part of the tension Nichols is feeling, as for the first time, ordinary people like me who would in the past have been limited largely to discussing the latest newspaper headlines with friends can now pull up any academic’s CV and critique it online. “The people,” having been trained on daytime TV and butter ads, can now critique foreign policy advisers…

Let’s sort “people who distrust experts” into three main categories:

  1. Informed dissenters: People who have read a lot on a particular topic and have good reason to believe the expert consensus is wrong, eg, someone involved in nutrition research who began sounding warning bells about the dangers of partially hydrogenated fats in the ’80s.
  2. General contrarians: Other people are wrong. Music has been downhill ever since the Beatles. The schools are failing because teachers are dumb. Evolution isn’t real. Contrarians like to disagree with others and sometimes they’re correct.
  3. Tinfoil hatters: CHEMTRAILS POISON YOU. The Tinfoil hatters don’t think other people are dumb; they think others are actively conspiring against them.

People can fall into more than one category–in fact, being a General Contrarian by nature probably makes it much easier to be an Informed Dissenter. Gregory Cochran, for example, probably falls into both categories. (Scott Alexander, by contrast, is an informed dissenter but not contrarian.)

Tinfoil hatters are deprecated, but even they are sometimes correct. If a Jew in 1930’s Germany had said, “Gee, I think those Germans have it out for us,” they’d have been correct. A white South African today who thinks the black South Africans have it out for them is probably also correct.

So the first question is whether more people actually distrust experts, or if the spread of the internet has caused Nichols to interact with more people who distrust experts. For example, far more people in the 80s were vocally opposed to the entire concept of “evolution” than are today, but they didn’t have the internet to post on. Nichols, a professor at the US Naval War College and the Harvard Extension School, probably doesn’t interact in real life with nearly as many people who are actively hostile to the entire edifice of modern science as the Kansas City School Board does, and thus he may have been surprised to finally encounter these people online.

But let’s get on with our point: a few cases where “the experts” have failed:

Part 1: Medicine and Doctors

Trans Fats

Artificially created trans (or partially hydrogenated) fats entered the American diet in large quantities in the 1950s. Soon nutrition experts, dieticians, healthcare philanthropists, and the federal government itself were all touting the trans fat mantra: trans fats like margarine or crisco were healthier and better for you than the animal fats like butter or lard traditionally used in cooking.

Unfortunately, the nutrition experts were wrong. Trans fats are deadly. According to a study published in 1993 by the Harvard School of Public Health, trans fats are probably responsible for about 100,000 deaths a year–or a million every decade. (And that’s not counting the people who had heart attacks and survived because of modern medical care.)

The first people to question the nutritional orthodoxy on trans fats (in any quantity) were probably the General Contrarians: “My grandparents ate lard and my parents ate lard and I grew up eating lard and we turned out just fine! We didn’t have ‘heart attacks’ back in the ’30s.” After a few informed dissenters started publishing studies questioning the nutritional orthodoxy, nutrition’s near-endless well of tinfoil hatters began promoting their findings (if any field is perfect for paranoia about poisons and contaminants, well, it’s food.)

And in this case, the tinfoil hatters were correct: corporations really were promoting the consumption of something they by then knew was killing people just because it made them money

Tobacco

If you’re old enough, you remember not only the days of Joe Camel, but also Camel’s ads heavily implying that doctors endorsed smoking. Dentists recommended Viceroys, the filtered cigarettes. Camels were supposed to “calm the nerves” and “aid the digestion.” Physicians recommended “mell-o-wells,” the “health cigar.” Some brands were even supposed to cure coughs and asthma.

Now, these weren’t endorsements from actual doctors–if anything, the desire to give cigarettes a healthy sheen was probably driven by the accumulating evidence that they weren’t healthy–but when my grandmother took up smoking, do you think she was reading medical journals? No, she trusted that nice doctor in that Camel ad.

Chesterfield, though, claimed that actual doctors had confirmed that their cigarettes had no adverse health effects:

In the 70s, the tobacco companies found doctors willing to testify not that tobacco was healthy, but that there was no proof–or not enough data–to accuse it of being unhealthy.

Even when called before Congress in the 90s, tobacco companies kept insisting their products weren’t damaging. If the CEO of Philip Morris isn’t an expert on cigarettes, I don’t know who is.

The CDC estimates that 480,000 Americans die due to cigarettes per year, making them one of our leading killers.

Freudianism, recovered memories, multiple personality disorder, and Satanic Daycares

In retrospect, Freudian Psychoanalysis is so absurd, it’s amazing it ever became a widely-believed, mainstream idea. And yet it was.

For example:

In the early 1890s, Freud used a form of treatment based on the one that Breuer had described to him, modified by what he called his “pressure technique” and his newly developed analytic technique of interpretation and reconstruction. According to Freud’s later accounts of this period, as a result of his use of this procedure most of his patients in the mid-1890s reported early childhood sexual abuse. He believed these stories, which he used as the basis for his seduction theory, but then he came to believe that they were fantasies. He explained these at first as having the function of “fending off” memories of infantile masturbation, but in later years he wrote that they represented Oedipal fantasies, stemming from innate drives that are sexual and destructive in nature.[121]

Another version of events focuses on Freud’s proposing that unconscious memories of infantile sexual abuse were at the root of the psychoneuroses in letters to Fliess in October 1895, before he reported that he had actually discovered such abuse among his patients.[122] In the first half of 1896, Freud published three papers, which led to his seduction theory, stating that he had uncovered, in all of his current patients, deeply repressed memories of sexual abuse in early childhood.[123] In these papers, Freud recorded that his patients were not consciously aware of these memories, and must therefore be present as unconscious memories if they were to result in hysterical symptoms or obsessional neurosis. The patients were subjected to considerable pressure to “reproduce” infantile sexual abuse “scenes” that Freud was convinced had been repressed into the unconscious.[124] Patients were generally unconvinced that their experiences of Freud’s clinical procedure indicated actual sexual abuse. He reported that even after a supposed “reproduction” of sexual scenes the patients assured him emphatically of their disbelief.[125]

To sum: Freud became convinced that patients had suffered sexual abuse.

The patients replied emphatically that they had not.

Freud made up a bunch of sexual abuse scenarios.

The patients insisted they remembered nothing of the sort.

Freud decided the memories must just be repressed.

Later, Freud decided the sexual abuse never actually happened, but that the repressed, inverted memories were of children masturbating to the thought of having sex with their parents.

So not only was Freud’s theory derived from nothing–directly contradicted by the patients he supposedly based it on–he took it a step further and actually denied the stories of patients who had been sexually abused as children.

Freud’s techniques may have been kinder than the psychology of the 1800s, which AFAIK involved locking insane people in asylums and stomping them to death, but there remains a cruel perversity to insisting that people have memories of horrible experiences they swear they don’t, and then turning around and saying that horrible things they clearly remember never happened.

Eventually Freudian psychoanalysis and its promise of “recovering repressed memories” morphed into the recovered traumatic memory movement of the 1980s, in which psychologists used hypnosis to convince patients they had been the victims of a vast world-wide Satanic conspiracy and that they had multiple, independent personalities that could only be accessed via hypnosis.

The satanic Daycare conspiracy hysteria resulted in the actual conviction and imprisonment of real people for crimes like riding broomsticks and sacrificing elephants, despite a total lack of local dead elephants. Judges, lawyers, juries, and prosecutors found the testimony of “expert” doctors and psychologists (and children) convincing enough to put people in prison for running an underground, global network of “Satanic Daycares” that were supposedly raping and killing children. Eventually the hysteria got so bad that the FBI got involved, investigated, and found a big fat nothing. No sacrificial altars. No secret basements full of Satanic paraphernalia and torture devices. No dead elephants or giraffes. No magic brooms. No dead infants.

Insurance companies began investigating the extremely expensive claims of psychologists treating women with “multiple personality disorder” (many of whom had so degenerated while in the psychologists care that they had gone from employed, competent people to hospitalized mental patients.) Amazingly, immediately after insurance companies decided the whole business was a scam and stopped paying for the treatment, the patients got better. Several doctors were sued for malpractice and MPD was removed from the official list of psychological conditions, the DSM-V. (It has been replaced with DID, or dissasociative disorder.)

I wrote about the whole sordid business at length in Satanic Daycares: the scandal that should have never been, Part Two, and Part Three.

(Ironically, people attack psychiatry’s use of medications like Prozac, but if anything, these are the most evidence-based parts of mental care. At least you can collect data on things like “Does Prozac work better than placebo for making people feel better?” unlike Freudian psychoanalysis, which contained so many levels of “repression” and “transference” that there was always a ready excuse for why it wasn’t working–or for why “the patient got worse” was actually exactly what was supposed to happen.)

All Doctors pre-1900

One of West Hunter’s frequent themes is just how bad pre-modern medicine was:

Between 1839 and 1847, the First Clinic at the Vienna General Hospital had 20,204 births and 1,989 maternal deaths. The Second Clinic, attended by midwives, had 17,791 birth and 691 maternal deaths. An MD’s care conferred an extra 6% chance of death. Births at home were even safer, with maternal mortality averaging about 0.5%

In that period, MDs caused about 1200 extra deaths. …

We know that wounded men in the Civil War had a better chance of surviving when they managed to hide from Army surgeons. Think how many people succumbed to bloodletting, over the centuries.

Ever wondered why Christian Scientists, who are otherwise quite pro-science, avoid doctors? It’s because their founder, Mary Baker Eddy (born in 1821) was often sick as a child. Her concerned parents dragged her to every doctor they could find, but poor Mary found that she got better when she stopped going to the doctors.

West Hunt gives a relevant description of pre-modern medicine:

Back in the good old days, Charles II, age 53, had a fit one Sunday evening, while fondling two of his mistresses.

Monday they bled him (cupping and scarifying) of eight ounces of blood. Followed by an antimony emetic, vitriol in peony water, purgative pills, and a clyster. Followed by another clyster after two hours. Then syrup of blackthorn, more antimony, and rock salt. Next, more laxatives, white hellebore root up the nostrils. Powdered cowslip flowers. More purgatives. Then Spanish Fly. They shaved his head and stuck blistering plasters all over it, plastered the soles of his feet with tar and pigeon-dung, then said good-night.

Tuesday. ten more ounces of blood, a gargle of elm in syrup of mallow, and a julep of black cherry, peony, crushed pearls, and white sugar candy.

Wednesday. Things looked good:: only senna pods infused in spring water, along with white wine and nutmeg.

Thursday. More fits. They gave him a spirituous draft made from the skull of a man who had died a violent death. Peruvian bark, repeatedly, interspersed with more human skull. Didn’t work.

Friday. The king was worse. He tells them not to let poor Nelly starve. They try the Oriental Bezoar Stone, and more bleeding. Dies at noon.

Homeopathy has a similar history: old medicines were so often poisonous that even if some of them worked, on average, you were probably better off eating sugar pills (which did nothing) than taking “real” medicines. But since people can’t market “pills with nothing in them,” homeopathy’s strange logic of “diluting medicine makes it stronger” was used to give the pills a veneer of doing something. (Freudian psychotherapy, the extent that it “helped” anyone, was probably similar. Not that the practitioner himself brought anything to the table, but the idea of “I am having treatment so I will get better” plus the opportunity to talk about your problems probably helped some people.)

Today, “alternative” medical treatments like homeopathy and “faith healing” are less effective than conventional medicine, but for most of the past 2,000 years or so, you’d have been better off distrusting the “experts” (ie doctors) than trusting them.

It was only in the 20th century that doctors (or researchers) developed enough technology like vaccines, antibiotics, the germ theory of disease, nutrition, insulin, traumatic care, etc., that doctors began saving more lives than they cost, but the business was still fraught:

Source (PDF)

Disclaimer: I have had the whole birth trifecta: natural birth without medication, vaginal birth with medication, and c-section. Natural birth was horrifically painful and left me traumatized. The c-section, while medically necessary, was almost as terrible. Recovery from natural (and medicated) birth was almost instant–within minutes I felt better; within days I was back on my feet and regaining mobility. The c-section left me in pain for a month, trying to nurse a new baby and care for my other children while on pain killers that made me feel awful and put me to sleep. Without the pain killers, I could barely sit up and get out of bed.

Medically necessary c-sections save lives, perhaps mine. I support them, but I do NOT support medically unnecessary c-sections.

The “international healthcare community” recommends a c-section rate of 10-15% (maybe 19%.) The US rate is over 30%. Half of our c-sections are unnecessary traumas inflicted on women.

In cases where c-sections are not medically necessary (low-risk pregnancies), c-sections carry more than triple the risk of maternal death (13 per 100,000 for c sections and 3.5 per 100,000 for vaginal births.) Medically necessary c-sections, of course, save more lives than they take.

Given: 1,258,581 c-sections in the US in 2016, if half of those were unnecessary, then I estimate 60 women per year died from unnecessary c-sections. Not the kind of death rate Semmelweis was fighting against when he tried to convince doctors they needed to wash their hands between dissecting corpses and delivering babies, (for his efforts he was branded “a guy who didn’t believe the wisdom of experts,” “crazy,” and was eventually put in an insane asylum and literally stomped to death by the guards. (Freudianism looks really good by comparison.)

C-sections have other effects besides just death: they are more expensive, can get infected, and delay recovery. (I’ve also seen data linking them to an increased chance of post-partum depression.) For women who want to have more children, a c-section increases the chances of problems during subsequent pregnancies and deliveries.

Why do we do so many c-sections? Because in the event of misfortune, a doctor is more likely to get sued if he didn’t do a c-section (“He could have done more to save the baby’s life but chose to ignore the signs of fetal distress!”) than if he does do one (“We tried everything we could to save mother and baby.”) Note that this is not what’s in the mother’s best interests, but in the doctor’s.

Although I am obviously not a fan of natural childbirth, (I favor epidurals,) I am sympathetic to the movement’s principle logic: avoiding unnecessary c-sections by avoiding the doctors who give them. These women are anti-experts, and I can’t exactly blame them.

At the intersection of the “natural food” and “natural birth” communities we find the anti-vaxers.

Now, I am unabashedly pro-vaccine (though I reserve the right to criticize any particular vaccine,) but I still understand where the anti-vax crew is coming from. If doctors were wrong about blood-letting, are wrong about many c-sections (or pushing them on unsuspecting women to protect their own bottom lines) and doctors were just plain wrong for decades about dangerous but lucrative artificial fats that they actively pushed people to eat, who’s to say they’re right about everything else? Maybe some of the other chemicals we’re being injected with are actually harmful.

We can point to (and I do) massive improvements in public health and life expectancies as a result of vaccinations, but (anti-vaxers counter) how do we know these outcomes weren’t caused by other things, like the development of water treatment systems and sewers that ensured people weren’t drinking fecal-contaminated water anymore?

(I am also pro-not drinking contaminated water.)

Like concerns about impurities in one’s food, concerns about vaccinations make a certain instinctual sense: it is kind of creepy to inject people (mostly infants) with a serum composed of, apparently, dead germs and “chemicals.” The idea that exposing yourself to germs will somehow make you healthier is counter-intuitive, and hypodermic needles are a well-publicized disease vector.

So even though I think anti-vaxers are wrong, I don’t think they’re completely irrational.

 

This is the end of Part 1. We’ll continue with Part 2 on Wed.

Satanic Daycares, Pt. 3

So many people began reporting allegations that they or their children had been raped by a massive, underground Satanic conspiracy that the FBI got involved, investigated, and found a big fat nothing:

Kenneth Lanning, an FBI expert in the investigation of child sexual abuse,[151] has stated that pseudo-satanism may exist but there is “little or no evidence for … large-scale baby breeding, human sacrifice, and organized satanic conspiracies”.[46]

Lanning produced a monograph in 1994 on SRA aimed at child protection authorities, which contained his opinion that despite hundreds of investigations no corroboration of SRA had been found. Following this report, several convictions based on SRA allegations were overturned and the defendants released.[54]

Satanists, rapists, pedophiles, murderers, and even people who claim that Satan told them to murder people all do, indeed, exist. But an organized conspiracy lurking under the local daycare does not.

Scale

In all, Wikipedia lists 19 major Satanic Daycare Scandals and mentions “over 100” cases total in the US; and 18 Ritual Satanic Abuse allegations, plus the “West Memphis Three” case.* In 1987, Geraldo Rivera claimed on national TV that, “Estimates are that there are over one million Satanists in [the United States and they are] linked in a highly organized, secretive network.”[37]

A 1996 survey investigating 12,000 cases of alleged SRA found that most of the victims were diagnosed with MPD (or the new acronym, DID) and/or PTSD. Also:

In a 1994 survey of more than 11,000 psychiatric and police workers throughout the US, conducted for the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, researchers investigated approximately 12,000 accusations of group cult sexual abuse [note: I bet these two surveys used the same database] based on satanic ritual. The survey found no substantiated reports of well-organized satanic rings of people who sexually abuse children, but did find incidents in which the ritualistic aspects were secondary to the abuse and were used to intimidate victims.[92] (bold mine) (Wikipedia)

Another study found that:

“Of a sample of 29 patients who presented with SRA, 22 were diagnosed with dissociative disorders including DID. The authors noted that 58% of the SRA claims appeared in the years following the Geraldo Rivera special on SRA and a further 34% following a workshop on SRA presented in the area; in only two patients were the memories elicited without the use of “questionable therapeutic practices for memory retrieval.”[114]

Many of these cases started with genuine accusations of abuse or molestation–the “West Memphis Three” case began with the discovery of the bodies of three murdered children, and I do not know whether the three teens convicted of the murder were innocent or not. What all of these cases have in common is that after the initial, perhaps true accusation was brought by or on behalf of the children, the adults–relatives, police, social workers, etc.–inflicted their own agendas on the cases, creating a massive, non-existent Satanic conspiracy. It was this misconduct by the police and social workers that resulted in so many convictions (including the West Memphis Three) to be overturned.

It is better to convict genuine criminals of the crimes they actually committed than to concoct a web of lies and then have the conviction overturned.

Prominent people involved:

Janet Reno, Country Walk Babysitting Service case: Janet Reno was promoted to Attorney General of the United States.

Fells Acre Day Care Center Preschool Trial: “Current Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the chief prosecutor of both of the Amirault cases, responded to the articles with statements that “the children testified to being photographed and molested by acts that included penetration by objects” and “the implication … that the children’s allegations of abuse were tainted by improper interviewing is groundless and not true.”[19]”

From the Wall Street Journal, 2010: “Attorney General Martha Coakley—who had proven so dedicated a representative of the system that had brought the Amirault family to ruin, and who had fought so relentlessly to preserve their case—has recently expressed her view of this episode. Questioned about the Amiraults in the course of her current race for the U.S. Senate, she told reporters of her firm belief that the evidence against the Amiraults was “formidable” and that she was entirely convinced “those children were abused at day care center by the three defendants.”  ”

One of the accusations brought in this case was that a 4 year old had been anally raped with a butcher knife which left no traces and did no damage.

Susan J. Kelly, Fells Acre. “As a pediatric nurse in the 1980s, Kelley interviewed many of the children involved in the Fells Acres Day Care Center sexual abuse case in Malden, Massachusetts.[6] Kelley’s interview techniques in that case later came under criticism from members of the media [6] and were called “improper” and “biased” by a Massachusetts appellate judge[7] after video tapes of her questioning of the children were played in court during the appeal of one of the defendants.[8][9]

“Kelley has specialized in the field of child abuse, since 1979 and has appeared as a featured expert on child abuse on national programs including the Today Show, NBC Evening News and CBS Morning News.[1]

The entire MA Supreme Judicial Court in 1993 and 1995.

Prosecutor Daniel Ford, Bernard Baran case: “Just a few years after Baran’s conviction, Ford was appointed to the Massachusetts Superior Court, where he presides over criminal cases. He has also served on a committee that determines state rules for criminal procedure. As Silverglate points out, not only has Ford never been disciplined, he has never been publicly investigated, nor has the state considered the reforms that could cut down on future wrongful convictions.”

DA Gerard Downing: “former Berkshire County district attorney Gerard Downing, had a heart attack and died while shoveling snow. For years, Baran’s appellate attorneys had been asking Downing to turn over the interview tapes. He said he couldn’t find them. (He isn’t the only prosecutor who has had problems locating tapes of interviews with children that produced abuse charges, but later proved exculpatory.) After Downing died, Capeless found and turned over the tapes in a matter of months. Had Downing not had a heart attack, Baran could well have died in prison.” (source)

I did not find the names of the folks involved in the Wee Care Nursery School trial, but you can read the transcripts of the police’s awful, unethical interviews with the children here.

Prosecutor H.P. Williams, Little Rascals day care sexual abuse trial, 1989: Lost a primary election in 1994, then joined Twiford Law Firm, where he appears to be still employed.

Faith Chapel Church ritual abuse case: “Dale Akiki was born with Noonan syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which left him with a concave chest, club feet, drooping eyelids and ears.[1] … The campaign against him was initiated by Jack and Mary Goodall, the former being the CEO of Jack in the Box, who stated that they found his physical appearance, coupled with his working contact with the children of the church in his capacity as a volunteer, “disturbing”. … The cases against him included no physical evidence, but allegations of satanic ritual abuse including testimony that he killed a giraffe and an elephant in front of the children, drank human blood in satanic rituals, and had abducted the children away from the church despite being unable to drive.[6]” …

“Prosecutor Mary Avery was the founder of the San Diego Child Abuse Prevention Foundation, to which Goodall was the largest financial contributor. She was brought in to prosecute at the Goodall’s insistence after experienced child abuse prosecutors Harry Elias and Sally Penso found no grounds to charge Akiki with any crimes due to the coercive investigation and suggestivity used by parents and therapists in the case.”

In other words, Goodall bought himself a prosecutor to put a deformed man in prison because he thought the guy looked icky. In this case, though, the jury didn’t buy it, perhaps because this was late in the game and the public was beginning to wise up.

Avery resigned from law in 1999. “A few months after the verdict, … Avery was re-assigned to less responsible duties. She subsequently resigned from the California State Bar.” (source)

Jack Goodall continued working for Jack in the Box until 2001, and is (was?) owner of the San Diego Padres.

Wenatchee child abuse prosecutions: “In 1995, forty-three adults were arrested on 29,726 charges of child sex abuse, involving 60 children … Eighteen went to prison. Child witnesses in the investigation, mostly from 9 to 13 years old, were often taken from their families and placed in foster care. Many later claimed that they were subjected to hours of frightening grilling and told that if they didn’t believe they had been sexually abused, then they were either “in denial”, lying, or had suppressed the memory of the abuse. … While several children recanted their testimony prior to trial, these recantations were ignored: “It’s well known that children are telling the truth when they say they’ve been abused. But [they] are usually lying when they deny it.” Wenatchee Child Protective Services (CPS) supervisor Tim Abbey stated.[8]

As of 2013, a Timothy Abbey was still listed as working for the Spokane, WA, DCFS. [PDF]

But the main player in the Wenatchee case was Lieutenant Robert Perez, who, frankly, sounds unhinged. Perez retired from police work in 1998 and is now deceased.

I’m going to stop here; you can read more over at Wikipedia.

As the Washington Post notes about the Satanic Daycare Scandal, “Most of those convictions have since been overturned, but for the most part, the law enforcement officials responsible for them were not only never disciplined, many were reelected or moved on to higher office, sometimes because of the notoriety they gained from those cases, which tended to be high-profile affairs.”

A prosecutor who wins cases gets promoted or at least keeps their job. A prosecutor who loses cases loses their job. An honest prosecutor, therefore, is more likely to get fired than one who suppresses evidence of the defendant’s guilt or is otherwise willing to act unethically. (The Wikipedia notes that the prosecutors in these cases learned pretty quickly to destroy the evidence–notes, recordings–of how they’d coerced the children into making accusations.)

Even if most prosecutors are truly well-intentioned, such a system rewards the unethical and punishes the honest.

There are many cases where a well-meaning person might make an honest mistake. The police failure to properly gather forensic evidence in the “West Memphis Three” murders, for example, may have been a mistake.

The Ritual Satanic Daycare scandals, however, involves cases of such mind-bogglingly absurd proportions that no such benefit of the doubt can be extended. If these people genuinely did not realize they were coercing children into lying in order to put innocent people in prison, then they are not mentally fit to manage their own affairs and should have been put into an institution for the intellectually disabled. If they are not mentally unfit, then they are monsters.

Some of them have been sued; none, as far as I know, has been imprisoned. The majority, however, faced no consequences at all for all of the lives they destroyed.

Back on the mental health front

In 1984, Connie, the psychotherapist behind Sybil, founded the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation.

By the time of the ISSMP&D’s annual conference in 1987, speakers were lecturing about the, “Treatment of victims of ritual abuse,” and “The Satanic Cult in Rural Mid-America.” The ISSMP&D’s big new idea, that cults were breaking children’s minds into pieces, was invoked by people who had joined Connie in founding the organization and the multiple personality movement. More than six hundred therapists were attending ISSMP&D’s conferences to learn how to ferret ritual abuse memories from their patients. (source)

(Hypnotize them and inject them with massive quantities of drugs. Then when they start hallucinating and screaming, claim you’ve recovered their “memories.”)

The 1980 DSM described Multiple Personality (the “disorder” would be appended later) as “extremely rare”:

Before Sybil, fewer then 200 people over the past two centuries had been identified in Western medical literature with conditions resembling MPD. By 1984, only 4 years after the condition had been listed in the DSM, an ISSMP&D leader was suggesting that 25,000 Americans suffered from it. Another leader estimated that 3 percent of the population had MPD–over seven million people.

The massive increase in cases due in part to relaxed standards for diagnosis–alters were no longer required to be “complex”–and in part due to obvious idiocy:

It became common for MPD sufferers to possess scores, even hundreds, of alters (one was reputed to have 4,500.) Not all were human; some weren’t even alive. Patients reported gorillas and lobsters, as well as unicorns, angels, and–if the alters were immobile and voiceless–trees. Supernatural-sounding claim sprang up. A person with MPD, it was said, could have one alter with blue eyes and another with brown eyes. Such a person could be diabetic but have a personality whose insulin levels were normal. Even blood type could change. …

Gloria Steinem publishd an inspirational book for women, Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, which lauded multiple personalities as a gift. MPD women, Steinem wrote, could learn many foreign languages. Not only that, they could “have two or even three menstrual cycles in the same body.”

OW. That feeling you are having is like an ice cream headache, only due to stupidity instead of cold.

(How the fuck does anyone respect this woman? Or take any of this shit seriously?)

MPD is no longer in the DSM (though a new diagnosis, Dissociative Identity Disorder, is) due to the profession deciding to strategically distance itself from the diagnosis after a bunch of shrinks got sued for malpractice:

In 1996, a church in Missouri agreed to pay $1 million to a woman who said that under the guidance of a church counselor, she came to believe that her father had raped her, got her pregnant and performed a coat-hanger abortion — when in fact, she was still a virgin and her father had had a vasectomy. And in August, a jury awarded $5.8 million to a woman in Houston who said her psychotherapist had implanted memories of murder, satanism and cannibalism.

The Schwiderskis sued two dozen people for $35 million after Kathryn Schwiderski, seeking help for depression, was accused by her therapist of being a member of a Satanic cult who had participated in cannibalism, human sacrifice, kidnapping, murder, torture, etc. Child Protective Services investigated charges Kathryn had harmed her children (and found nothing,) and she was institutionalized in a ward full of other people her shrink had also diagnosed with MPD due to Satanism. The state later closed that institution for abusing the patients, censoring their communication with the outside world, and refusing to discharge patients. (source)

Also about this time, insurance companies got wise and stopped paying for multi-year (or multi-decade) hospitalizations for depressed people, which really yanked the plug on the whole thing.

A few people (and fictional characters) still claim to have DID. Obviously this is bullshit; aside from a very few truly psychotic people, MPD (and DID) have never existed. The ISSMP&D is still in business (though it changed its name to ISSTD,) diagnosing patients and willfully ignoring the fact that all available evidence points to MPD and recovered memories being an enormous crock of shit inflicted upon patients by unethical shrinks.

In a sane world, the Satanic Daycare Scandal would have never happened.

Scandal that should have never been: Satanic Daycares

Hey, readers in their 30s or above, remember the 80s? And the Satanic Daycare Scare?

It all started with a bunch of bad therapy, The Exorcist, and rumors of West African secret societies. (And probably drugs.) It ended with thousands of people being accused of ritually abusing, murdering, and eating children–50,000 a year–as part of a million-member multi-generational secret Satanic cult. Many of the accused went to prison; some are still in prison.

I think most of us would like to pretend that never happened, but it did.

The worst of it is not that gullible housewives of the out-party gobbled up this blather from Geraldo Rivera, Oprah, or evangelical preachers. Ignorant people have always believed ignorant things. The worst of it is that Janet Reno–and many other supposedly intelligent people in positions of actual authority–believed this bullshit, and yet is still allowed to have a job making decisions that affect the lives of other people.

(And we expect people not to fall for bullshit that sounds halfway decent?)

Background

People believed a lot of dubious things in the 70s and 80s. They believed in “pyramid power,” UFOs, and telekinesis. Enough LSD, and you can probably believe all sorts of things.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have the internet or Wikipedia or even Snopes, so it was a lot harder to figure out when someone was putting one over you. If you’re living in Oklahoma in 1980, chances are you’re not exactly sure what’s going on over in California, but you’re pretty sure it has something to do with godless heathens and demons, because for goodness’s sakes, it’s California, they had that Manson guy. And when someone starts repeating rumors about ritually sacrificed chickens in Toronto or human sacrifice cults in Uganda, or actual Satanists* practicing openly in California (again with the California!) then it’s time to freak out because the agents of Satan are clearly on the march.

*While there exists an actual “Church of Satan” founded by Anton LaVey in 1966, none of the members of the CoS were ever charged with ritual Satanic abuse or murder, and according to Wikipedia, they don’t even worship Satan, they just call themselves that to stick up a middle finger to society. But the mere fact that these people existed was enough to send a good number of respectable housewives into pearl-clutching tizzies.

If we want to be especially thorough, the widespread conviction that witches and devils were conspiring together long predates the 1980s; James R. Lewis’s “The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements” has an excellent chapter (#10) that traces the development of the Christian witchcraft myth through the occultism of the late 1800s, feminist propaganda, the emergence of the Neopagan movement, H. P. Lovecraft, etc. But for the sake of time, we’re starting with the recovered memory movement.

Back in the 70s, when feminists weren’t busy proclaiming that the Christian Patriarchy had murdered millions of Medieval witches in order to stamp out a once-universal Matriarchal religion and therefore all women should abandon Christianity and become Neopagans, (not only is this factually untrue, but I was actually assigned readings on the subject in my totally respectable university course on Feminism 101,) they were promoting the idea that America was a seething hotbed of violence–rape and abuse–directed primarily at women and children.

Of course, unlike Medieval witches, rape and abuse are real, but often difficult to prove sufficiently in a court of law to get a conviction–once two people are behind closed doors, what happened next often becomes a matter of he-said-she-said, and you are not actually supposed to convict based on “story sounded convincing” in the absence of any actual evidence a crime took place.

And for good reason–otherwise, anyone could put their personal enemies or rivals in prison for life simply by make up a story.

The feminists’ response to this was a push for all claims of rape and abuse to be accepted without question. To question even the most outrageous story was treated as an act of violence against already victimized women.

At about the same time, psychiatrists discovered that you can get people to say all manner of crazy things while under hypnosis, and promptly used their new-found powers to convince mentally ill women in their care that they had been victims of ritual Satanic abuse.

You can use hypnosis to convince people that the number “3” does not exist, then watch them attempt to count their fingers–“One, two, four, five, six.” You can convince them that they are warm enough to shed their jackets while sitting in an ice hotel. You can get them to act like a chicken.

The fact that people will do and think absurd things while under hypnosis is why people find it entertaining. (And a little frightening.) That’s also why it’s commonly part of magic shows–but normally, people don’t believe that there are actually a bunch of rabbits in that hat.

That memories are unreliable has been extensively documented by police (and psychiatry) departments, which have to deal with conflicting and changing witness testimony all the time. Yu’ve probably also experienced this if you’ve ever gotten into a fight with your parents or spouse over something you supposedly did several years before.

It is quite easy to change people’s memories under normal conditions. EG:

Studies by Elizabeth Loftus and others have concluded that it is possible to produce false memories of childhood incidents.[24] The experiments involved manipulating subjects into believing that they had some fictitious experience in childhood, such as being lost in a shopping mall at age 6. This involved using a suggestive technique called “familial informant false narrative procedure,” in which the experimenter claims the validity of the false event is supported by a family member of the subject. (source)

So just saying to someone, “Oh yeah, I was talking to your Aunt Susie yesterday, and we were laughing about that time you got lost at the mall when you were six and we found you hiding under a table in the furniture department,” can make them “remember” this.

(Please only use your new-found powers for good.)

To convince someone they were the victim of ritual Satanic abuse:

  1. Get a patient, preferably suffering some mental illness like schizophrenia or depression, but insomnia or headaches will suffice.
  2. Put them under hypnosis and suggest that their troubles are due to “repressed” memories of childhood trauma.
  3. Helpfully suggest various Satanic rituals they may have endured
  4. Encourage them to imagine a scenario in which they were abused.
  5. Un-hypnotize them and celebrate having “uncovered” their repressed memory of infant cannibalism.

If you’re really lucky, you can even get the patient to believe they have uncovered alternative personalities that they switch to under hypnosis (much like a stage magician getting a hypnotized volunteer to cluck like a chicken.)

Afterwards:

  1. Call the police and accuse their parents of cannibalism, rape, torture, kidnapping, etc.
  2. Get taken seriously by the police!
  3. Make lots of money treating the patient for the trauma incurred by “remembering” being abused and treating their ever-expanding suite of personalities.
  4. Make even more money consulting with police across the country about Ritual Satanic Abuse, now that you’re an “expert” on the subject.

Yes, this is terribly unethical.

In 1980, a Canadian Psychiatrist named Lawrence Pazder published Michelle Remembers, a “biography” purporting to document the childhood Satanic abuse his patient endured in the 50s:

Isn't that a face you can trust?
Isn’t that a face you can trust?

Interestingly, Pazder lived and worked in Nigeria in the 60s, a part of the world that actually does have legit, child-sacrificing cults. As recently as 2001, the ritually-dismembered, headless torso of “Adam,” a Nigerian child about 5 or 6 years old, was found floating in the Thames. An autopsy revealed, via stomach contents and pollen found in his lungs, that he’d only been in Britain for a few days and had drunk a potion used in West African ritual magic. (There are approximately 180,000 Nigerians living in the UK.)

Nigerian Joyce Osiagede, the only person to be arrested in Britain as part of the inquiry, has claimed that the victim’s real name is Ikpomwosa. In an interview with ITV’s London Tonight, Mrs Osiagede said she looked after the boy in Germany for a year before travelling to Britain without him in 2001. She claimed she handed the boy over to a man known as Bawa who later told her that he was dead and threatened to kill her unless she kept silent. ..

Asked who killed him, she said a ‘group of people’. She added: “They used him for a ritual in the water.” Claiming the boy was six years old, she said: ‘He was a lively boy. A very nice boy, he was also intelligent.’ Detailed analysis of a substance in the boy’s stomach was identified as a ‘black magic’ potion. It included tiny clay pellets containing small particles of pure gold, an indication that Adam was the victim of a Muti ritual killing in which it is believed that the body parts of children are sacred. Bodies are often disposed of in flowing water. (source)

These cases more normally happen in Africa, but then we tend to lack official police investigations, autopsies, and BBC articles, but there’s plenty of documentation if you look:

The Leopard Society was a West African secret society active in the early- to mid-20th century that practiced cannibalism.[1] They were centred in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria.

Members would dress in leopard skins, waylaying travelers with sharp claw-like weapons in the form of leopards’ claws and teeth. The victims’ flesh would be cut from their bodies and distributed to members of the secret society. According to their beliefs, the ritual cannibalism would strengthen both members of the secret society as well as their entire tribe. (source)

The “Refworld” (Refugee World) article on human sacrifice in Nigeria (from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada) claims that,

According to various sources, ritual killings in Nigeria are performed to obtain human body parts for use in rituals, potions, and charms. The Lagos-based newspaper This Day explains that “ritualists, also known as headhunters, … go in search of human parts at the request of herbalists, who require them for sacrifices or for the preparation of various magical potions”. …

According to This Day, ritual murders are “a common practice” in Nigeria. … Similarly, a 2012 Daily Independent article states that “in recent times, the number of … brutal murders, mostly for ritual purposes and other circumstances, involving couples and their partners has been on a steady progression.” …

This Day reported that a confidential memo from the Nigerian police to registered security service providers indicated that ritual killings were particularly prevalent in the states of Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Abia, Kwara, Abuja, Rivers, and Kogi. … In 2010, one newspaper reported that dead bodies with missing organs were being discovered on a daily basis on a road close to Lagos State University that was described as a “hot spot for ritual killers.” A second newspaper reported in February 2011 that, in the same area, ten people had been killed in suspected ritual murders in the preceding two months. A 2009 article published by Agence France-Presse reported that, according to a state government official, the kidnapping of children for ritual murder was on the rise in Kano.

(I have removed the in-line citations because they make the article unreadable; check the original if you want their sources.)

Native Nigerian religion is basically Voodoo, aka Vodun, aka Santeria and whatever else you want to call it to confuse your audience. These are not “organized” religions, but a widespread set of common beliefs about magic and the supernatural, including, of course, the idea that ritually sacrificed bits of humans or animals have magic powers.

In other words, if you thought Boko Haram was Nigeria’s worst problem, I’m sorry.

Also, if you used to live in Nigeria, you may be forgiven for believing that ritual sacrifice and child murder are happening all over the place (though the fact that Canada doesn’t have a lot of fetish markets where you can buy animal parts for your ritual magic ought to be a tip-off that it’s a lot less common outside of Africa.)

In 1973, Pazder was back in Canada and treating Michelle, who apparently became depressed following a miscarriage. Pazder decided this must actually be a sign of repressed memories of childhood abuse (an idea that comes straight out of Freud, even though Freud himself later repudiated this train of thought and all Freudianism had been discredited and generally abandoned by the psychiatric community by the 70s, due to being psuedo-scientific nonsense.)

Uninterested in the recommended best practices in his industry, psychiatric developments of the previous 50 years, or general ethics, Pazder spent over 600 hours (over 14 months) encouraging Michelle, under hypnosis, to “remember” being ritually abused by her mother, a member of the world-wide, pre-Christian “Church of Satan” based in Victoria, Canada. According to Wikipedia,

The first alleged ritual attended by [Michelle] Smith took place in 1954 when she was five years old, and the final one documented in the book was an 81-day ritual in 1955 that summoned the devil himself and involved the intervention of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Michael the Archangel, who removed the scars received by Smith throughout the year of abuse and removed memories of the events “until the time was right”. During the rites, Smith was allegedly tortured, locked in cages, sexually assaulted, forced to take part in various rituals, witnessed several murders and was rubbed with the blood and body parts of various murdered babies and adults. …

Former neighbors, teachers and friends were interviewed and yearbooks from Smith’s elementary school were reviewed and found no indication of Smith being absent from school or missing for lengthy periods of time, including the alleged 81-day non-stop ceremony. Ultimately the book’s authors were unable to find anyone who knew Smith in the 1950s who could corroborate any of the details in her allegations.

… Among other things, Cuhulain noted that it seemed unlikely that a sophisticated cult that had secretly existed for generations could be outwitted by a five-year-old; that the cult could hold rituals in the Ross Bay Cemetery unnoticed given that Smith claimed she was screaming and given that the Ross Bay Cemetery is surrounded on three sides by residential neighborhoods; that an 81-day non-stop ceremony involving hundreds of participants and a massive round room could have gone on in Victoria unnoticed; and that none of Smith’s tormentors (other than her mother) have ever been identified, especially given that some of them had cut off one of their middle fingers at the Black Mass. He also notes that during the alleged 81-day ritual, Michelle was confirmed to be attending school, with no remarkable absences and no apparent signs that she was being abused. Like other authors,[6][7][8] Cuhulain also noted that many of Smith’s recovered memories appear to have reflected elements in popular culture at the time (e.g.: the movie The Exorcist)

In 1979, Michelle and Pazder (both supposedly Catholics) divorced their own spouses (Pazder already had 4 children,) to marry each other. Having romantic (or just sexual) relationships with your patients is a major no-no in psychiatry because it is generally considered super-unethical to take advantage of mentally ill people in your care.

Pazder became so concerned that he went to the Vatican to inform the Pope that he’d uncovered a massive, ancient, organized, Satanic cult operating in secret throughout Canada, the US, and Europe, that incredibly, no one had ever noticed before!

The Catholic Church quietly distanced itself from Pazder.

Despite this, “Michelle Remembers” earned Pazder and Michelle $342,000, plus royalties. Pazder became a kind of celebrity expert on Satanic Ritual Abuse, appearing on TV, taking part in police seminars on ritual abuse, and eventually being consulted in over 1,000 cases of alleged Satanic Abuse. (source)

All of this played into another horrible trend in psychiatry at the time (also involving hypnosis!) Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD).

Back in 1973, just as Michelle was beginning treatment, Sybil: The True Story of a Woman Possessed by 18 Personalities was published. Sybill was originally being treated for anxiety and memory loss, but after copious quantities of drugs and hypnosis (it was the 70s, after all,) she went really crazy and began “manifesting” 18 different personalities, including two men and a French girl (despite Sybil herself having been raised in Minnesota.

Long story short, the book was nonsense and Sybil was merely an unfortunate, mentally unwell woman (possibly due to anemia,) taken advantage of by an unscrupulous psychiatrist and writer, whose book sold over 400,000 copies, launched a small industry of Sybil-related merchandise, and was made into two movies. (Michelle Remembers never got made into a movie because everyone involved would have gotten their pants sued off for libel.) He also, of course, got paid for years of psychotherapy.

Effects

Now, you might think that people would be cautious about accepting absurd claims coming from actually diagnosed, mentally-ill people receiving psychiatric treatment, but personal experience suggests that they don’t. Combine this with the feminist claim that you must always believe and support the victim and never question their claims, and you have the ingredients for thousands of destroyed lives.

But that is a story we will have to continue tomorrow.