In 1998, the Psychological Bulletin, one of the most prestigious journals of the American Psychological Association APA, published a meta-analysis about the impact of sexual abuse by Rind, Bauserman and Tromovitch.
What followed is a story of political pressure on science which seems unbelievable for a civilized democracy - with a Congress Resolution which "condemns and denounces all suggestions in the article ... that indicate that sexual relationships between adults and `willing' children are less harmful than believed". In best Soviet tradition, this resolution has passed the House by a vote of 355 to 0. Now, in the US it is no longer scientific truth of an article, but its "potential social, legal, and political implications" which are important for publication - a nice formulation for political censorship of science.
That there has been strong political pressure on science has been openly admitted by the right-wing pressure groups who have promoted the resolution: "Pressure from Dr. Laura Schlessinger, child protection organizations, and many pro-family legislators, along with support from past and present officials of the American Psychiatric Association, forced the APA to take a second look and admit their mistake".
But these pressure groups want even more: FRC's Chief Spokesperson Janet Parshall said "It's a good first step, but now the APA needs to root out the pro-pedophilic academicians who are trying to normalize child abuse."
Under this pressure, the APA has been forced to "admit their mistake". But, for people who value freedom of science and interested to learn the truth about it, their statement remains clear enough. So, the FRC is happy that the APA "acknowledges that the article is 'inflammatory' and includes opinions 'inconsistent' with APA's policy on child protection issues. He admits that APA 'failed' to 'evaluate the article based on its potential for misinforming the public policy process'". It seems, the FRC has no idea about the scientific tradition which stems from Sokrates, Galileo, Bruno and Darwin, if they consider this as acknowledgement of a mistake by a scientist. And if the congress thinks that "the American Psychological Association should be congratulated ... for resolving to evaluate the scientific articles it publishes in light of their potential social, legal, and political implications", I tend to thank them for putting the outcry "science is now censored" in almost plain text into this resolution.
Last not least, it seems useful to clarify if the study itself is junk science or, instead, good science. Of course, in above cases such a condemnation of a scientific study by Congress is political pressure which endangers scientific freedom. Nonetheless, if the study is good science, their condemnation is certainly much more serious.
Now, there is no indication that the study is faulty. "This study passed the journal's rigorous peer review process and has, since the controversy, been reviewed again by an expert in statistical analysis who affirmed that it meets current standards and that the methodology, which is widely used by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop guidelines, is sound." writes APA Chief Executive Officer Raymond D. Fowler. He has also defended the article on national television as "a good study".
It is also important that the study is a meta-analysis. That means, it summarizes the results of a lot of other studies. Thus, all data which have been used by the authors are open for everybody else, they have been obtained by other scientists who can hardly be supposed to be pro-pedophile.
It is also remarkable that the APA has, in the initial version of their statement about sexual abuse, tried to defend the study as wrongly understood. Only in a later version, that means after political pressure, they have included a statement of disagreement with "some of the conclusions expressed by the authors" - but, notably, the difference is a moral, not a scientific one: "it is the position of the Association that children can not consent to sexual activity with adults and that such activity should never be considered harmless or acceptable". This is not a disagreement about the results.
All this suggests that there is no reason to name the study "junk science". It is good science, published as usual after strong peer review, and has survived even a second independent review.
It is hard to judge about the importance of this history for US science. It is reasonable to argue that scientists remain scientists and a Congress resolution will not have much influence. Nonetheless, there is even an advantage: we should no longer rely on guesses about political pressure which forbids to publish results that volitional sex is not harmful - we have a clear and explicit proof of its existence. And this pressure explains why there are almost no published results about volitional pedosexual relations - they show no harm and therefore cannot be published.
Freedom of science is in serious danger in this domain. And not only in the US - pressure on science exists also in Europe, even if it has more subtle form.
The study itself;
A popular lecture about the results given by the authors;
The Congress Resolution 107;
The position of NARTH - the anti-gay organization which has started the criticism of the RBT study.
An article from "Dr. Laura" - the talk show host who has participated in the campaign for the Congress Resolution.
The Family Research Council (FRC) about this story - a right wing organization which participated in the campaign;
An e-mail from Dr. Fowler;
APA statement (at 17 August 1999);
APA statement (at 25 May 1999);
The AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility saw "no reason to second guess the process of peer review."
Associated Press about this story;
Another presentation of the story;
Rauch describes the Congress Resolution as "Washington's Other Sex Scandal";
Tavris sent a "mental salute" to the researchers.
Spiegel argues against RBT.
Ericksen's article about RBT is named "Sexual liberation's last frontier.
Haaken & Lamb discuss the politics of CSA research;
Bullough gives additional context;
Zuriff considers the ideological background of the APA position;