The Guardian: Intentionally Wrong on Parental Alienation

This continues from my previous piece on The Guardian’s treatment of parental alienation.

No attempt to disparage the concept of parental alienation would be complete without disparaging Richard Gardner who coined the term “Parental Alienation Syndrome.”  Literally every such article does so and literally every one casts aside basic honesty in the process.  Proudman’s is no exception.

Dr Richard Gardner, an American child psychiatrist, created the concept and produced a series of self-published books on parental alienation syndrome in the 1980s.

No, actually the concept dates back to the 1940s in the scientific literature and has been described in legal opinions as far back as 1804.  Gardner just gave it a name.  Hundreds of researchers have contributed to the science of parental alienation.  Even a casual Google search would have told Proudman that.

As to “self-published books,” Proudman plainly wants readers to believe that Gardner’s ideas were so marginal that no one else would publish them.  Utterly untrue.  In fact, Gardner was a well-educated and highly regarded psychologist, professor and researcher.  He published 21 books and authored over 200 papers and book chapters.  He held prestigious positions at Columbia University’s Medical School and professorships at universities in Belgium and Russia.  That the DV industry attempts to denigrate his many achievements owes mostly to his no longer being alive.  In law, it’s impossible to slander, libel or defame a dead person, so the industry goes all-in on Gardner, secure in the knowledge that it can do so with legal, if not moral, impunity.

Undaunted by her own mendacity, Proudman plunges on:

He believed that 90% of mothers alleging child sexual abuse were liars who brainwashed their children…

Again, no, he didn’t.  Here’s what he actually said:

I believe that the vast majority of incestuous sex-abuse accusations are true. There are other categories of sex-abuse accusations, e.g., accusations against babysitters, clergy, scout masters, teachers, strangers, and accusations in the context of child-custody disputes. Each category has its own likelihood of being true or false. It is in the category of child-custody disputes that I believe that the vast majority of accusations are false, and there is support for this belief in the scientific literature. This category represents only one of many, and although false accusations in child-custody disputes is common practice, this category represents only a small fraction of all groups combined. When one combines all groups, I hold that the vast majority of sex-abuse accusations are true.

This too is a common claim of the anti-Gardner crowd:

Gardner and the “syndrome” were discredited by the late 1990s.

Again, this is far from the truth.  Here’s what Gardner himself pointed out all the way back in 2002:

Those who promulgate this myth do not state who has discredited the PAS and by what authority. The facts are just the opposite. An ever-increasing number of legal and mental health professionals are writing articles on the PAS and citing it in courts of law. The aforementioned lists of PAS peer-reviewed articles and legal citations are testament to the fact that PAS is not a theory, nor has it been discredited.

As Gardner said 19 years before Proudman’s article appeared, those who claim his construction of PAS has been “discredited” never say who has done so.  Proudman follows suit.  More importantly, since Gardner’s 2002 statement, the scientific literature on PA and PAS has only grown in volume and authority.  By now, it is vast.  The literature comes from 30 countries and the Parental Alienation Database contains over 1,300 citations.  The Parental Alienation Study Group has members in over 50 different countries.  Did Proudman take the simple step of accessing the Database?  Apparently not.  After all, the facts get in the way of her ideological slant on alienation.

Having entirely misrepresented the person and work of Richard Gardner, Proudman moves on to misrepresenting the status of PA in the law and among psychological societies.

A US judicial guide states that the supreme court ruled the syndrome was based on “soft sciences” and is thus inadmissible. It is not recognised as a legitimate clinical term by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.  

The first assertion is not only misleading, but absurdly so.  A survey of U.S. trial and appellate cases from 1985 – 2018 found over 1,100 cases in which evidence of PA was not only admitted by the court, but found to be “material, probative, relevant, admissible and discussed” by the court’s opinion.  To the extent that Proudman wants her readers to believe that the concept of PA is so dubious that courts won’t even hear evidence about it, she’s just flat wrong.  Court after court, applying either the Frye or Daubert standards have admitted evidence on parental alienation.

As to which mental health professional organizations recognize PA, both the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual - V and the International Classifications of Diseases - 11, do so, albeit under different names.  So does the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children and a variety of European professional mental health organizations.  The American Bar Association, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers also recognize the existence and seriousness of PA.  Citations to all the various medical encyclopedias and textbooks that discuss parental alienation are far too numerous to mention in any comprehensive way.  The number of papers discussing research into PA runs to over 1,000.

The simple truth is that Proudman isn’t honest about any aspect of parental alienation.  She places her ideological bent before the well-established facts.  If she had principled arguments to make against PA, surely she’d have made them, but she didn’t. 

Severe parental alienation is a form of child abuse.  To the extent that Proudman and her ilk seek to convince readers that parental alienation either doesn’t exist or is so rare as to be unimportant, they go to bat in favor of continuing that abuse.  They might want to think about that.  Scrupulous commentators would avoid promoting child abuse, which is why we can expect people like Proudman to continue doing so.

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