December 31, 2011

Happy New Year’s – and thanks for your support!

Thanks very much to those of you who responded to my request for help, generously donating money and books or signing up for a paid subscription. I really appreciate your kind assistance. For those of you who meant to chip in but didn’t get around to it yet (I know how busy we all get), click HERE to see a list of ways that you can still contribute. (Or, look in the right column of the blog's website.) Please join in today, to help keep this blog thriving in 2012 and beyond.

Happy New Year’s to all of you!

Updates of leading malingering and Miranda rights tests

As we ring in the new year, here are a couple of updates on tests some of you may be using in your forensic practices.
Miranda instruments revised

When it comes to assessing whether a criminal defendant had the capacity to waive his or her Miranda rights prior to giving a statement to police, there is only one game in town -- the Instruments for Assessing Understanding and Appreciation of Miranda Rights by eminent forensic psychologist Tom Grisso and colleagues. Now, that set of tests has been completely revised and given a new name: the Miranda Rights Comprehension Instruments (MRCI). One of the main problems with the old instruments was that their language was more complex than the actual language used by many police warnings, reducing their real-world validity. That problem has been rectified through simpler language in the new edition. Also, the test developers promise better psychometric properties and updated normative data. But it's kind of a tricky situation, because we are being instructed to use the new instruments when assessing juveniles, but to stick with the old ones for assessing adults until new adult norms are published some time in 2013. More on the new instruments is HERE.

Facelift for gold-standard malingering test

In contrast to Miranda rights, there is no shortage of instruments for assessing malingering. But for assessing malingered psychosis, one instrument is widely recognized as the "gold standard." That test is Richard Rogers and colleagues’ Structured Interview of Reported Symptoms (SIRS). It too was recently revised. The revision was in part due to the discovery that the original SIRS failed to adequately distinguish between some people diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and people who were instructed to deliberately exaggerate symptoms. But critical reception for the revised tool, the SIRS-2, has been less than stellar. Over at the Open Access Journal of Forensic Psychology, forensic psychologist Greg DeClue warns that the SIRS-2 may be vulnerable to admissibility challenges in court. That is due to the publishers' refusal to be transparent by letting independent professionals such as DeClue analyze their data. DeClue challenges the test's developers to submit a comprehensive description of the SIRS-2 validation study for peer-reviewed publication, and to let independent professionals analyze the data without impediment. His interesting critique is HERE.

December 20, 2011

Join the blogger's circle of support

As the year draws to a close, I would like to publicly thank all my loyal readers and subscribers. It’s been gratifying to see subscriptions for this blog grow from a few dozen back in 2007 to today's many hundreds of forensic practitioners, lawyers, educators, criminologists, researchers, authors and policy advocates. It is great to see nearly all of the U.S. states and dozens of nations represented, from Saudi Arabia and Turkey to Scotland and Lithuania.

A snapshot of this morning's blog visitors from around the world
I am especially grateful to the many of you who have lent tangible support through monetary donations, books, and other forms of encouragement. Your generous support has been essential in defraying my costs. Letting me know that the time and energy I devote to blogging is useful in keeping you connected and abreast of developments in the field has also helped me stay motivated.

For those of you who have not yet chipped in, I’ve made it very easy. Here are three ways to join my expanding circle of support, and help keep this blog going:

1. Subscribe. A $3 monthly subscription helps defray my Internet fees and research costs. Just click on the "SUBSCRIBE" button in the upper right column of the blog. Paypal makes it quick and easy. 

2. Donate. Give a one-time donation of any amount you choose. Again, Paypal makes it simple; just click on the “DONATE” button on the blog.

3. Gift. Finally, donating a book from my Amazon wish list is a great way to show your appreciation. The list is HERE; you can also browse through it on the blog page. There's a price range for everyone.

And thanks again to all of you who have given me so much support over the years.

December 18, 2011

Appellate court upholds exclusion of SPECT evidence

Yerba Buena Island, San Francisco Bay
On May 22, 2002, the body of Juliette Williamson was found washed up on Yerba Buena Island in the San Francisco Bay. Williamson and her long-time partner Bruce Brooks were well-known street performers known as the Chicago Brother and Sister Blues Band. For years, they had lived together in a purple school bus parked under a freeway.

Within days of Williamson's disappearance, Brooks gave three confessions to friends. He provided graphic details of how he bludgeoned her to death with a hammer after a drunken quarrel. He even took one friend to the location where he had tossed her body into the Bay; there, police later recovered blood samples that matched Williamson's DNA.

The couple’s 16-year relationship had always been tumultuous, but it was deteriorating in the weeks before the killing. Brooks had resumed smoking crack cocaine and had openly threatened to kill Williamson if she left him, according to trial testimony.

Bruce Brooks. Photo credit: M. Macer, S.F. Chronicle
By the time he went to trial six years later, Brooks's story had changed. He testified that Williamson attacked him and knocked him "silly." He saw a fluorescent number three in his mind; the next thing he knew he was dropping Williamson's body over the bridge to bury her at sea. He had no recollection of killing her, but figured he must have.

A defense-retained neuropsychologist, Myla Young, testified that Brooks had frontal lobe damage that might cause him to begin a repetitive act like hitting and not stop until worn out. The impairment also made him prone to amnesia, she said.

But the jury wasn't buying. After three days of deliberations, jurors convicted Brooks of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 15 years to life.

Appeal: Unfair to exclude SPECT evidence

Brooks appealed, citing the trial judge's exclusion of Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) evidence. He had hoped to introduce the colorful brain scans to convince the jury he had organic brain damage that made it impossible for him to premeditate a murder, or even form a conscious intent to kill. Psychiatrist Daniel Amen was prepared to testify that Brooks' scan, which measures blood flow to certain regions of the brain, looked "very abnormal."

San Francisco trial judge Cindy Lee excluded the SPECT testimony based on concerns about both the method and the messenger.

Daniel Amen promotes his Amen Clinics
Under California's Kelly-Frye standard, for scientific evidence to be admissible in a criminal case, there must be proof that the technique is considered reliable in the scientific community and that the witness is a qualified expert who used correct scientific procedures. The party seeking to introduce the evidence has the burden of proving its admissibility by a preponderance of the evidence.

Regarding the method, the judge ruled that research has not established that SPECT scans can accurately determine cognitive impairment, much less impairment so severe as to preclude the requisite mental states for premeditated murder. While the scans were "pretty glitzy" and "high tech," their colors lacked meaning and had a high potential to confuse the jury, she said.

As to the messenger, the judge had "a 'considerable question' ... as to whether [Amen] is an independent and unbiased expert and truly represents a cross-section of the relevant scientific community," according to a just-issued appellate ruling.

The First District Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge's ruling, endorsing her concerns about both the method and the messenger.

The appellate justices were unable to find any published appellate decision on the issue of whether SPECT evidence is admissible in a criminal trial to support a theory that a defendant's ability to form a specific intent was impaired by organic brain damage. So they conducted their own independent review of the scientific status of SPECT evidence. They were ultimately under-impressed.
[W]e agree with the trial court that defendant failed to establish that SPECT was generally accepted by the scientific community as showing brain injuries that were relevant to the defense theory that he did not form the intent necessary to commit murder. Defendant did not establish a generally accepted correlation between blood flow to a particular part of the brain and any particular behavior…. [A]s the trial court correctly summarized the testimony, "[T]here’s a lack of any testimony that there’s any quantitative percentage of blood flow, specific cognitive functions or other factors that will be impaired or even affected."

Regarding the messenger, the appellate justices said it was within the trial judge's discretion to raise "serious questions about Amen’s qualifications to testify as an expert witness. The court doubted that he could be independent and unbiased in light of his long engagement in significant entrepreneurship activities regarding SPECT via the Amen Clinics and activities as a proponent of the utility of SPECT scan imaging."

Amen's methods questioned

Judge Lee and the appellate panel were not alone in viewing Amen's activities with suspicion.

Amen, a graduate of the now-defunct Oral Roberts University School of Medicine, has said he was "led by God to pursue this work." And the missionary zeal with which he promotes SPECT for everything from depression and anxiety to aggression and drug abuse has raised concerns among other medical professionals.

In 2005, Amen's unconventional treatments had caught the attention of Quackwatch, an international network dedicated to exposing medical "frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct." Three years later, Salon ran a piece by neurologist Robert Burton, criticizing PBS for running Amen's "self-produced infomercial" touting his unproven intervention for Alzheimer's disease:
It’s hard to dismiss the religious undertones of Amen’s work…. And yet Amen’s sense of calling hasn't led him to undertake the high-quality clinical investigations that would lend scientific credence to his claims…. Amen states that he has read more than 40,000 SPECT scans and holds himself up as a world expert. But a brief quote from his TV special quickly reveals a very peculiar method of determining what constitutes a normal SPECT scan…. Using Amen’s figures from his TV program, only 3 percent of those he has studied have been interpreted by himself and his staff as being normal. Put another way, 97 percent of patients who attend Amen’s clinic can expect to be told that their SPECT brain scan is abnormal.

But the controversies surrounding neuroimaging in court go far beyond those swirling around Amen and his SPECT scans. Echoing the trial judge's concerns in the Brooks case, the UK Royal Society just this week warned that jurors may be far too impressed with brain images, not recognizing their limited applicability to real-world legal questions.

POSTSCRIPT: On Feb. 29, 2012, the California Supreme Court denied review of the case. 

December 15, 2011

Study: Lads’ mags sound identical to rapists

As I was driving through America’s Farm Belt on the way to a prison (miles and miles of cows and plowed corn fields as far as the eye could see), it was a bit incongruous to suddenly see --

Photo by Karen Franklin

-- an ADULT SUPERSTORE, perched on the side of the freeway like a giant mousetrap. While sex offenders are chastised for even thinking about pornography, a free-world traveler like me can't escape its dehumanizing specter, whether on the highway or in my hotel room. Novelist Russell Banks was surely on to something when he called sex offenders the canaries in the coal mine, victims of a $10-billion-plus industry that preys on their loneliness and alienation.

With that vision in mind, I was pleased to see that two of my favorite academic scholars are getting a flurry of media attention over their new study finding that most people cannot distinguish between statements about women in British lads' mags and those made by convicted rapists.

In the study, due to be published in the British Journal of Psychology, men identified more with the comments made by rapists than the quotes made in lads' mags. And that's not necessarily a bad thing: On the whole, the statements pulled from Britain's four leading lads' mags (what North Americans would call men's magazines) were actually more denigrating of women than the rape-justifying statements made by rapists.

For example, here are two quotes:
  • "There's a certain way you can tell that a girl wants to have sex . . . The way they dress, they flaunt themselves."
  • "You do not want to be caught red-handed . . . go and smash her on a park bench. That used to be my trick."

The first quote is pulled from the book, The Rapist Files: Interviews With Convicted Rapists. The second is from a lads' mag. (If you want to test your ability to differentiate rapists from lads' mags, Jezebel has obliged with an online quiz containing 16 of the statements used in the study.)

The study authors worry that lads' magazines (which are not categorized as pornographic because they do not show full nudity) are mainstreaming hedonistic, predatory attitudes toward women.

"The apparent normalising effect of lads' mags runs counter to the work that is done with sex offenders both in prison and the community,” lead researcher Miranda Horvath told the Guardian. “Sex offender programmes challenge the men about their sexist, misogynistic and derogatory beliefs about women and seek to reeducate them. Yet it appears that some similar beliefs have been presented in recent lads' mags, which are normalised and accepted in mainstream society."

Said co-researcher Peter Hegarty in a press release, “We are not killjoys or prudes who think that there should be no sexual information and media for young people. But are teenage boys and young men best prepared for fulfilling love and sex when they normalise views about women that are disturbingly close to those mirrored in the language of sexual offenders?”

He added that young men should be given credible sex education and not have to rely on lads' mags as a source of information as they grow up.

Dr. Horvath of Middlesex University is a pioneering researcher into multiple-perpetrator rape and co-organizer of the London conference on sexual violence at which I gave a keynote this summer. Dr. Hegarty at the University of Surrey has just completed a fascinating research project on Lewis Terman of Stanford University; his book, Poison in the Gift: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men is in press by the University of Chicago Press.

The article is: "Lights on at the end of the party: Are lads' mags mainstreaming dangerous sexism?" by Miranda Horvath, Peter Hegarty, Suzannah Tyler and Sophie Mansfield, in the British Journal of Psychology. Author correspondence may be addressed to Dr. Horvath (HERE).

December 13, 2011

Hebephilia hopes hidey-hole will help it slip into DSM-5

Jean Broc: The Death of Hyacinthos
Hebephilia, the controversial faux disorder proposed for the upcoming DSM-5, has been repackaged in the hopes that no one will notice its presence. Unfortunately for its survival, two newly published journal articles may make it harder to hide.

The proposed label of "pedohebephilia” has been quietly discarded. Instead, hebephilia – defined as sexual attraction to young pubescents – has been buried in the text of revamped criteria for pedophilia. Presumably hoping it will go unnoticed, the web page authors do not mention the change.

The questionable diagnosis is the brainchild of a Canadian sex offender clinic with inordinate influence on the Sexual Disorders Workgroup of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 revision committee.

It is the last of three quacky sexual paraphilia proposals still standing. Overwhelming opposition derailed paraphilic coercive disorder (which would have turned rape into a mental disorder) and hypersexuality.

These victories notwithstanding, the developers of the DSM-5, due out in 2013, have been remarkably deaf to an ever-increasing roar of concern from allied professions in the United States and internationally. The revision process steamrollers on despite a mushrooming petition by a coalition of psychology organizations, a scathing critique by the British Psychological Society and, most recently, public statements of concern by the 154,000-member American Psychological Association and the 120,000-strong American Counseling Association

More costly and ineffective civil detentions

Following on the heels of my historical review of hebephilia in Behavioral Sciences and the Law, the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law has just published two new critiques.

In an article focusing on the legal ramifications, forensic psychologist and attorney John Fabian warns that the primary result of adding this scientifically unproven diagnosis to the DSM-5 will be an increase in civil commitments of sex offenders.

Fabian outlines the inconsistent federal case interpretations of hebephilia, including the only federal court of appeals ruling, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First District in the case of Todd Carta (the case I led off with in my review):
The court in Carta focused on the offender's behavior as causing him distress, impairment, and dysfunction in his life. However, the question of whether hebephilia is a type of paraphilia NOS, depends on whether it is considered deviant and abnormal to have a sexual attraction and to engage in subsequent sexual behaviors toward pubescent adolescents and postpubescent minors. To this date, neither the case law nor clinical research on sex offenders has clearly supported classifying hebephilia as an abnormal pathology.

As we can see through this psycholegal analysis, both clinicians and the courts disagree as to whether hebephilia is a pathological sexual deviance disorder. Given the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court recently denied certiorari in hearing McGee, Michael L. v. Bartow, Dir., WI Resource Center, addressing whether a rape paraphilia NOS, nonconsent, meets the constitutional threshold for legal mental abnormality for civil commitment, it is unlikely that the Court will hear such a case addressing hebephilia. More likely, the DSM-5 will provide guidance for clinicians, attorneys, and judges who evaluate and litigate this issue in civil commitment proceedings.
Focus on clinical impairment

In a commentary on Fabian's article, sex offender researchers Robert Prentky and Howard Barbaree try to take a middle road in the contentious debate. At the outset, they acknowledge the questionable nature of diagnosing a condition that is hard-wired in heterosexual men:
Brooke Shields was only 12 years old when she played a child prostitute in Pretty Baby, three years before she modeled Calvin Klein jeans, asking, "Want to know what gets between me and my Calvin's? Nothing." Klein's young teenage models were so provocative that the Justice Department investigated whether the ads violated federal child pornography and child exploitation laws. Penelope Cruz was only 13 years old when she played a child prostitute in the French soap opera Série Rose. Jodie Foster was 14 years old when she played a child prostitute in Taxi Driver. The model Maddison Gabriel, the official "face" of Australia's Gold Coast Fashion Week in 2007, was only 12 years old. Highly sexualized young girls would not be used in advertising, in movies, and on catwalks unless a great many adult males were paying close attention. It appears that heterosexual human males are hard wired to respond sexually to young females with secondary sexual characteristics.
But, they continue, men with an "exclusive sexual preference for young teenagers" (if such men can be found) may indeed be sufficiently impaired so as to meet the mental disorder requirement of "clinically significant deficits in social and interpersonal skills."

This was the approach taken by the appellate court in upholding the civil commitment of Todd Carta, and it is a tactic being used by government experts in sexually violent predator civil commitment proceedings. In a circular rationale, once the pseudo-diagnosis of “Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified-Hebephilia” is assigned, clinically significant impairment can be inferred from the mere fact of an arrest and criminal prosecution.

To their credit, Prentky and Barbaree do admit that the research base for hebephilia is insufficient at the present time:
The bright line in the sand should be the clinical and empirical integrity of the proposed diagnosis…. Examined in isolation, there does not appear to be adequate empirical evidence that sexual arousal in response to young adolescents constitutes a paraphilia…. Clearly, this is an area that warrants further research.
Let's just hope the DSM-5 gods tune in to the controversy in time to pull the plug on yet another half-baked idea that will only bring further embarrassment to the profession.

Both articles are freely available online:
The DSM-5 petition, spearheaded by the Society for Humanistic Psychology, is HERE.

"Invasion of the Hebephile Hunters," my oldie but goodie from 2007 (before all this hoopla got started), is HERE.

December 7, 2011

New critique of APA’s detainee interrogation policies

Interrogation of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, age 15, at Guantanamo
Prominent psychology ethicist Ken Pope, a former chair of the American Psychological Association's Ethics Committee who resigned from the APA in 2008, has authored a new article critiquing the APA's controversial policies on detainee interrogations.

Pope said his purpose is to "highlight key APA policies, procedures, and public statements that seem in urgent need of rethinking and to suggest some questions that may be useful in a serious assessment."

He questions the ethical legitimacy of standing behind policies and practices that can cause harm to individuals -- such as detainees -- based on the stated desire to do "the most good for the most people."

Pope provides a history of the APA’s controversial 2002 decision to reject the so-called "Nuremberg Ethic" by permitting psychologists to forego ethical responsibilities when they conflict with government authority (Ethics Code Section 1.02).

Psychologists came under intense criticism from human rights proponents in the wake of 9/11 for their critical role in detainee interrogations. Unlike organized psychiatry and other medical professions, the American Psychological Association promoted its role in detainee interrogations as contributing to national security in a time of crisis.

"APA promoted support for its interrogation policies in its press releases, its journals, its web site, its Internet lists, its conventions, the APA Monitor on Psychology, and other venues," Pope noted. For example, it "submitted a statement on psychology and interrogations to the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence explaining that 'psychologists have important contributions to make in eliciting information that can be used to prevent violence and protect our nation's security'; that 'conducting an interrogation is inherently a psychological endeavor'; and that 'psychology is central to this process.' "

Accordingly, psychologists under contract with the CIA were given a green light to design aggressive interrogation techniques to break down detainees, while other psychologists on the outside assured the public that techniques such as waterboarding were safe and would not cause lasting mental harm.

The article, "Are the American Psychological Association's Detainee Interrogation Policies Ethical and Effective? Key Claims, Documents, and Results," is slated for publication in the journal Zeitschrift fur Psychologie / Journal of Psychology, the oldest psychology journal in Europe and the second oldest in the world.

Pope's critique is timely. For one thing, the policies authored by the APA's controversial Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS Task Force) remain in place. Additionally, the issues he raises have broader implications for current ethical practice of psychologists in other custodial settings, such as prisons, jails, and mental hospitals.

Pope has made the article available at his website (HERE), which also has many other useful resources on ethics and interrogations.

December 6, 2011

First joint psychology-law program with disability focus

New York Law School and John Jay College of Criminal Justice have announced a new joint degree program in forensic psychology and law that will launch in Fall 2012 and focus on disability law.

New York Law School already offers 13 courses on mental disability law, while John Jay already offers an M.A. in forensic psychology. But this will be the first program of its kind, according to New York Law School professor Michael Perlin, who is also the director of he law school's Mental Disability Law Program.

"I'm very excited about the joint program because it highlights the interdisciplinary nature of what we are trying to do through our mental disability law program," Perlin told the National Law Journal. "We created courses specifically to appeal to both lawyers and mental health professionals. This program helps create a synergy that ensures, as best we can, that graduates will have a deep understanding of the other discipline."

"Our graduates will be well-trained lawyers for people with mental disabilities issues and have the potential to become legal advocates, work on public policy or become law professors in this unique niche," said James Wulach, the director of the M.A. Program in Forensic Mental Health Counseling at John Jay College.

Students must apply and be accepted to both schools separately and will finish with a Master of Arts in forensic psychology from John Jay and a Juris Doctor from New York Law School. Perlin expects an initial enrollment of about 25 students.

The National Law Journal story is HERE.

December 4, 2011

Good tidings: Violence at all-time low

How does this sound for entertainment: Your date asks you out to the theater to watch a live cat slowly lowered into a fire and burned to death, howling with pain as it is singed, roasted, and finally carbonized?

If that isn't your idea of a good time, don't hop into the next time machine heading back to medieval Europe.

In 16th-century Paris, throngs –- including kings and queens -- flocked to watch such gruesome spectacles, shrieking with laughter as cats and other animals were tortured to death on stage.

"The Catherine Wheel"
Torture and violence were woven into the fabric of life, from the sexualized sadism of London, where elaborately designed and decorated torture devices were the pinnacle of artistic creativity, to the widespread practice of hacking off the nose of anyone who disrespected you (the source of the strange idiom, "to cut off your nose to spite your face").

In contrast, whether we know it or not, we are now enjoying the most peaceful period in all of human history. Indeed, the precipitous decline in violence of all types may be “the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species,” argues Steven Pinker, a renowned professor of psychology at Harvard University, in an epic tome, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

"The Judas Cradle"
Given the tenor of the daily news headlines, Pinker knows his claim sounds far-fetched. But in 800 pages of research and analysis, augmented by hundreds of charts and tables, he convincingly establishes that violence is indeed heading in one direction: down.

The decline is drastic across-the-board, in both state-sanctioned and individual violence: International wars, civil wars, terrorism (an obsession far out of proportion to its prevalence), slavery, sexual violence, child abuse, infanticide....

Click HERE to read my full Amazon review of this recommended text. If you appreciate the review, please click on "yes."