Do what I say, not what I do in the world of social science research.

Sarah Goode has put up a piece on the newspaper site The Independent. (How can we prevent child abuse if we don’t understand paedophilia?) In a comment on that site I offered the folowing view.

The approach that Sarah Goode offers which says informed reflection and decision-making is better than ignorance is not a position I would criticise, rather safe positioning in my books. However the issue is, as she points out, a bit more complex than it looks at first. Her position that research done, and this includes methodologies adopted, while on this journey has a green light because it is viewed as part of child protection leaves me a little uncomfortable.

Goode states above “Now is the time to shift our attitudes and begin to explore. The journey is uncomfortable but the goal is better child protection, so any discomfort is worth tolerating”, those words “so any discomfort is worth tolerating are the ones that give me pause to think. John Haidt (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Kindle, March 29, 2012) would argue what Sarah Goode’s text does, the pulling on a cord labelled child protection, is designed to trigger something in the reader deliberately. Sarah Goode is in effect saying let me do what I want and don’t think too much about it. (I acknowledge Sarah Goode has written elsewhere about how ethics committees in academic settings have made life complicated for her, sometimes unreasonably so, “Understanding and Addressing Adult Sexual Attraction to Children: A Study of Paedophiles in Contemporary Society“, Kindle, July 3, 2009).

Research into groups does need ethical guidelines. Those being researched deserve to be protected from researchers who too often are guided by the view, “results is what matters; the subject being researched is fair game”. What I think is needed is research on the researchers. Of the work that is out there, how much of it was done ethically, where the subject being looked at was an adult who has an attraction to the young. Was the subject treated as we would want to be treated ourselves. Sarah Goode has my support, but it is not unqualified support.

When Sarah Goode did her research for the book I refer to above (Goode, 2009) the people she interviewed reported a degree of disquiet regarding her research methodology. As subjects they did not feel they had been ethically managed by her. Hopefully the concerns of those being researched will be allowed to influence how future work is done by social science authors.

  • Ryen, A. (2004). Ethical Issues. In C. Seale, G. Gobo, J. F. Gubrium & D. Silverman (Eds.), Qualitative research practice (pp. 230-247). London ;Thousand Oaks, Calif. :: SAGE.
  • Yuill, R., & Elliot, D. (2012). Researching and Theorizing the “Age Taboo” on Intergenerational Sexualities. Journal of LGBT Youth, Volume 9, 67-71. doi: 10.1080/19361653.2012.627726
  • Rind, B. (2008). The Bailey Affair: Political Correctness and Attacks on Sex Research. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 37, 481–484. doi: 10.1007/s10508-008-9334-0
  • Tolich, M. (2001). Research ethics in Aotearoa New Zealand concepts, practice, critique. Auckland, N.Z.: Longman.
  • Wallis, R. (1977). The Moral Career of a Research Project. In C. N. Bell, Howard (Ed.), Doing Sociological Research (pp. 149-167). London: George Allen & Unwin.
  • Ulrich, H., Randolph, M., & Acheson, S. (Fall/Winter 2005-06). Child Sexual Abuse: A Replication of the Meta-analytic Examination of Child Sexual Abuse by Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman (1998). The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 4(2), 37-51.
  • Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124(1), 22-53.

What unfolds before us in 2013?

mental health green ribbon

Promote mental health

Following on from Jon Henley’s piece in the Guardian the NZ Herald wrote, “Mental orders in for a shake up” on the final version of the DSM V. DSM V is a document on which the B4U-Act group (B4) have been attempting to have an impact. B4 opened in Maryland, USA to address how minor-attracted persons and those in the medical services field inter-connect and impact eachother’s lives. DSM has not changed its text on how pedophilia is defined and managed (i.e., the diagnostic criteria won’t change, and the DSM positions itself as neutral regarding treatment), however what is significant may be that the category ‘pedophilia’ has not been expanded to include situations where the younger party in relationships is older than 12. There was some discussion about expanding the category adding a new one in fact, (further detail offered here on PubMed) so these older children/youths could be seen as involved in settings  medical/psychiatric interest, and here it is the older person who would be in the light and under a medical gaze.

The next issue in the media to catch my eye was the issue of free speech. Al-Jazeera published a piece titled “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on campus”. In America on some university campuses there are struggles between groups such as those who are against anti-Semitism, and those who want to high-light the issue of Palestinian rights and the abuse of their ‘constituents’ in the ongoing problems in the Middle East. Intellectually, what is learned in one area sheds new light in other spaces. Using this principle of the portability of intellectual inquiry the questions can be unpacked as: what are the free speech issues for the minor attracted; how is that unfolding 2013; and, could parallels be drawn between what happens for these free speech struggles in America and the issues that inhabit the lives of those who are minor attracted.

Finally, again with an interest in how we do our thinking, a French philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour has a book being talked about on the website for the Los Angeles Review of Books‘I am what I am attached to’: On Bruno Latour’s ‘Inquiry into the Modes of Existence’. Latour is being called a new Hegel. First off, let me confess that the French philosophical culture has for a long time held a strong interest for me, Michel Foucault be the major author to shape my thinking. Secondly, Latour has an interest in questions such as, what is modernism anyway; what is the relationship between science and culture; and finally, can we speak of the term nature in a way that is different from the past. Again, adopting this principle of portability mentioned above, for the minor-attracted, especially the thoughtful members of that group, how can these questions shed new light on their lives?

As 2013 unfolds, it looks like there is plenty to think about regarding what to write next.

Are Jon Henley and The Guardian prophetic or is it just sound science?

Finally, a word in edgeways at the Guardian!. is a blog entry penned by Tom O’Carroll. He points to a media piece by Jon Henley published in The Guardian in which he shares his overview of the current debate regarding the pedophile. As journalism goes these days on this topic Henley’s piece is well written and balanced.

On my Facebook site this comment was offered: “Matt Wilkinson of the Sun, and where one writes seems to be well worth making note of, attacks Henley for being liberal and left-wing. Clearly for him such labels are harmful to writers! Sadly The Sun newspaper and it’s writers see any reasoned argument as pro-pedophile, and if they are right, then it tells us a lot as to where the Sun believes the debate is going to travel to. The fear here is that reason, in the end, will prevail.”

The response to Jon Henley’s article (a sample listed below) has included some strong messages of criticism about the Guardian newspaper for publishing this item, as well as personal attacks on Tom O’Carroll – viewed in such attacks as unable to speak because he has a profile of a ‘career pedophile’.  Sociologically speaking O’Carroll is probably one of the most consistent contributors one can find to the global debate on pedophilia, for a period spanning decades. (For more see his website: Heretic TOC.)

Reflecting on this article by Henley there is an important question in play here, that of what constitutes scientific and moral authority, how is the truth spoken, what are the rules governing this process, and is it that moral positions, especially driven by emotional aspects, can have little or no empirical basis and still stay in play?

Recently in an article by Zachar and Kendler the question was posed can decisions in the sciences like the classification of Pluto as a planet and is homosexuality a mental disorder help us understand how scientific authority functions for us today? In their paper they show there are situations, at times controversial ones at that, where empirical evidence and theorizing can be very much at odds. Their solution is problematic for some issues however. Zachar and Kendler argue for a form of democratic exchange, they see privilege and the seeding of scientific subcommittees with one-sided experts as unhelpful, and on the face of it such a position is easy to agree with. Where this democratic process can be unhelpful are in issues that are deeply socially contentious, issues like pedophilia. Democracy tends to keep social prejudice rather than overturn it.

What is needed is something both secular culture and religion have come to value – in secular thought it comes under the heading of intellectual insight and critical thought; inside the world of religion it is seen as prophetic speech, visionary leadership. From a secular perspective what you end up with is a better view of the real, and in some cases that includes an emancipated society and culture; in religious groups it is an appreciation of the divine and the human. Both frames of reference see any situation as able to be improved able to get better, science can progress from where it is to a science which is more sound, societies that are more humane. Perhaps that is what unites a person like Tom O’Carroll and the sex abuse industry, there is a belief that things can improve, child abuse can be reduced, individuals can see themselves as being inside a human community and they should not be expelled for being sexually what they feel they cannot change – and why should they.