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The Woozle Effect (McIntosh et al's grossly flawed study(sic) goes viral)

Wikipedia said
The Woozle effect, also known as evidence by citation, or a woozle, occurs when frequent citation of previous publications that lack evidence misleads individuals, groups and the public into thinking or believing there is evidence, and nonfacts become urban myths and factoids,

Wikipedia said
A Woozle is an imaginary character in the A.A. Milne book, Winnie-the-Pooh, published 1926. In chapter three, "In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle", Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet start following tracks left in snow believing they are the tracks of a Woozle. The tracks keep multiplying. Christopher Robin then explains that they have been following their own tracks around a tree.

The following are some articles from the National Parents Organization (US) that discuss how the McIntosh study(sic) has gone viral.

A Short Treatise on Woozles and Woozling - National Parents Organization said
 A Short Treatise on Woozles and Woozling

May 14, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

The excitement in the family law world occasioned by two papers  one by Dr. Richard Warshak that was endorsed by 110 eminent social scientists around the world, and one by Dr. Linda Nielsen  has died down a bit with no blood actually having been shed. Whew, that was a close call. Warshak, et al and Nielsen thoroughly skewered work done by Dr. Jennifer McIntosh and colleagues that was widely used by various Australian organizations involved in parenting post-divorce to marginalize fathers, particularly regarding children under the age of three. McIntoshs work was cited time and again for the proposition that fathers having their very young children overnight was a bad idea. Australian courts embraced the notion as did custody evaluators, lawyers and the like.

About that, Warshak, et al said this:

    Advocates are promoting a report issued by an Australian government agency (McIntosh, Smyth, & Kelaher, 2010) as a basis for decisions regarding parenting plans for children of preschool age and younger. Accounts of the report appearing in the media, in professional seminars, in legislative briefs, and in court directly contradict the actual data, overlook results that support opposite conclusions, and mislead their audience.

    A background paper describing the Australian report, posted on the Internet (McIntosh & the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health, 2011), illustrates all three characteristics.

In short, according to 111 prominent scientists, both McIntosh and fellow authors, and advocates that use their work to marginalize fathers in the lives of their children, make claims that contradict the actual data, overlook results that support opposite conclusions, and mislead their audience.

If youre a researcher in the field of children and their well-being under various parenting arrangements, as McIntosh is, thats a blow to your reputation that could conceivably be fatal. Face it, when 111 scientists around the world combine to condemn your work and attempt to set straight the scientific record on overnights for kids, Houston, you have a problem.

But that wasnt all. Certain Australian organizations began publicly proclaiming their intention to stop using McIntoshs work as a guide to their decisions about parenting and to heed the extensive literature review by Warshak, et al. People and organizations have begun to run away from McIntosh and her views on the subject of parenting plans for very young children. Academic researchers rely on grants to do their work. A bad reputation, particularly a biased bad reputation is not the stuff of funding for future research.

Not only that, but, shortly before Warshak, et al published their review of the science, Dr. Linda Nielsen published her own take on McIntoshs work. It wasnt flattering. Entitled Woozles: Their Role in Custody Law Reform, Parenting Plans and Family Court, it was nominally a cautionary tale about the uses and misuses of social science, but its main targets were McIntosh and her colleagues and the uses of their work to further marginalize fathers in childrens lives.

Whats a Woozle? The term is taken from the delightful Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. Recall that, at one point, Winnie and friends had gotten the idea that a sinister beast  a Woozle - was following them. Around and around a tree they went, and with each revolution, they discovered more and more evidence of same in the form of footprints. And the more footprints they found, the more certain they became that there was a Woozle on the loose. Of course there was no Woozle; their proof of its existence was their own footprints.

The woozle effect in the social sciences has been known for a long time. Woozling involves a number of behaviors that, all taken together, serve to promote at best dubious and at worst downright false conclusions. Therefore, things like cherry picking of data, confirmation bias and ignoring contradictory data are parts of the woozling process. So are evidence by citation in which one or two studies cited again and again attain an authority far beyond their actual scientific value. White Hat bias enters the picture too. That occurs when getting the right conclusion, the one thats presumed to be beneficial to society, becomes more important than drawing only the conclusions merited by the data.

The press and other researchers contribute to woozling too. Journalists are seldom equipped to rigorously analyze scientific papers and, always on the lookout for a scintillating story, often promote certain scientific points of view that are far less nuanced than they ought to be and ignore conflicting data. And then there are always scientists who are either too lazy to look at what studies actually are able to conclude or who have their own bias they want to promote, so they consciously or unconsciously contribute to the woozling of data.

That brought Nielsen to the science on overnights for children of separated parents. Should very young children, i.e. those under five, spend some nights with each parent or every night with one? If some with each is the correct answer, then how much with each? Some 31 studies have delved into the issue of shared versus sole or primary parenting when children have some overnight visits with Dad. Of those, eight have dealt with children under six, among them one by McIntosh, Smyth, Kelaher and Wells published in 2010.

As Nielsen makes clear, the first six of those studies offer essentially nothing to back up the claim  the woozle - that even very young children should not spend overnights with their fathers. Indeed, children whose parents had previously been married and who frequently spent overnights with their fathers did better than those who didnt. There were no differences in social or behavior adjustment and frequent overnighters had better relationships with their fathers and were better adjusted emotionally.

Three other studies examined the children of parents who may not have ever been married. As such, some of the children had not been able to form secure attachments to their fathers and so, their responses to spending overnights away from Mom could be seen as more problematical. But, overall the frequent overnighters had marginally better outcomes, even after accounting for parents levels of violence, conflict, and education. More important, violence between the parents had no worse impact on the frequent overnighters than on the other children.

That leaves two studies, McIntosh, et al previously mentioned and another by Tornello, Emery, et al. The Tornello study was astonishingly flawed in at least two respects. First, it relied exclusively on data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing data that have been gathered by McLanahan and her colleagues since 1998. The people making up McLanahans cohort are utterly unrepresentative of the population of Americans and certainly not of Australians. Nielsen describes the cohort thus:

    65% had no high school degree; 85% were African or Hispanic American; and 60% were below the poverty level. Slightly more than 85% were not married when their children were born. Of these, 30% were not living together and 20% no longer had a relationship with each other when their child was born. Before their childrens fifth birthday, 50% of these fathers and 10% of these mothers have served time in jail.

So whatever else may be said about the Tornello study, its clear that extrapolating it to the population at large is intellectually impossible.

Worse, Tornello and colleagues chose to measure the childrens behavior using a method that had been shown to be invalid. The Toddler Attachment Q Sort has validity only if the data is gathered by trained observers who gather information from observing the interactions of mothers and their children over a period of hours. The idea is to rate the level of attachment by the child and any disorganization of same. But when mothers are allowed to self-report, the TAQ loses validity. So which method of gathering observations did Tornello, et al use? Thats right, they allowed mothers to tell scientists what they experienced. Given the choice between the valid and invalid ways of observing, they chose the invalid method.

Even so, their findings revealed no reason why children should not spend overnights with their fathers.

    Consistent with the seven studies already described, there were virtually no differences between the overnighters and nonovernighters. On 14 regression analyses for the seven measures of well-being, only one statistically significant difference emerged: The children who frequently overnighted at age 3 years displayed more positive behavior at age 5 years than the rare or no overnights groups.

That brings us to McIntosh, et al, about whose work Ill say more next time.

Her Woozle Revealed, McIntosh Responds - National Parents Organization said
 Her Woozle Revealed, McIntosh Responds

May 15, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

With Warshaks and Nielsens articles and their massive backing from reputable social scientists around the world came an article in the Australian newspaper The Age by Bettina Arndt that I wrote about here. It did little but point out the obvious  that McIntoshs work and the conclusions drawn by her and others about overnight care of very young children had little-to-no support in the literature, and that various organizations in Australia were reevaluating their positions on the matter in light of Warshak, Nielsen, et al.

Still, that was too much for McIntosh who penned this hasty and altogether too glib reply:

    My extensive clinical and academic work in family law and early childhood development, and my research with Bruce Smyth and Margaret Kelaher, are evidence-based and consistent: our findings have never said ''never'' to overnight care of young children in divorce, nor anything about children needing mothers more than fathers. Infants need consistency of care, and the ongoing, warm involvement of both parents. Our research cautions against high-frequency, shared overnight care for young infants. This is the consensus with other studies on this question. Bettina Arndt relies on the petition of US psychologist Richard Warshak to argue otherwise, even though Dr Warshak himself reports that his hand-picked signatories ''may not agree with every detail'' of what they signed up to. While there are opinions to the contrary, and the circumstances of individual cases differ, there is no developmental evidence to support claims that equal or near-equal overnight care is the optimal starting point for co-parenting infants after separation. That is the science we have to date. The rights and needs of children must not be allowed to give way to gender politics.

To say the least, thats a weak and all-but-irrelevant reply both to Arndts article and the work of Warshak, et al and Nielsen. For the most part, McIntosh simply lines up straw men and knocks them down in the hopes that readers will conclude that shes actually responding to something someone said at some time about something McIntosh said at some time. Shes not.

So, no one  neither scientist nor journalist  has ever said McIntosh has ever said never to overnight care of young children or that shes said children need mothers more than fathers. Her faux indignation on the subject may convince people who havent read her work or the responses to it, but no one else. Straw-man arguments are among the weakest in the pantheon of debate tactics, and so they are here. That McIntosh uses them almost exclusively in her comment says a lot about the validity of same.

McIntoshs characterization of Warshaks work is more scurrilous still. She calls it a petition, which is just downright weird. As a social scientist, McIntosh well knows what his paper is; its a thorough-going review of the existing science on parenting and overnight care of young children post-divorce or separation. To call it a petition is intellectual dishonesty at its most blatant.

But to say that the 110 scientists who endorsed his review were hand-picked by him is even worse. In fact, he didnt pick them, they picked themselves. As the paper says right there on page one, they received drafts of the paper, made comments and suggestions some of which were incorporated into the document and, when the whole thing was finalized, gave their good names and support to it. As such, they were, as reputable social scientists with personal integrity, free to opt into the project or opt out. Those decisions were theirs, not Warshaks.

And of course McIntosh is free to come up with a list of scientists who are willing to go on record opposing Warshaks conclusions, if she can find them. To date, she hasnt done so. Nor has she announced her intention to try.

Her point that not all the scientists agree with every detail of Warshaks analysis is of course true, and Warshak makes the point himself early on in his work. But McIntosh wants readers to believe that that fact in some way renders the paper itself questionable. It doesnt. The 110 scientists signed on to the whole work. That means they agree with its main points and it as a whole. It means that any points of disagreement they have with it are too trivial to prevent them from lending their names and reputations to the work. Again, McIntosh knows this.

Finally, her claim that, in some way, the work of 111 reputable social scientists around the world constitutes gender politics, Id almost conclude borders on the delusional. But it doesnt. We know this because in fact its carefully made to deflect readers attention away from whos really been playing the gender card all these years.

Here are some simple facts, well known to all who pay attention to issues relating to divorce and child care. In Australia and throughout the English-speaking world, the overwhelming amount of parenting time ordered by courts is given to mothers. In Great Britain and Canada, its about 90%. In the U.S. its about 83%. In Australia it was about 90% until recently, but, with the various changes to Australian family law over the last eight years, Im frankly not sure what the numbers there are now. But whatever the precise figures, one thing is clear  when we talk about custodial parents, were talking about mothers in all but exceptional cases, and when we talk about non-custodial parents, were talking about fathers. Thats Fact Number One.

Fact Number Two is that social scientists working in the field of parenting and divorce know Fact Number One. Just because theyre not lawyers or judges, doesnt mean they dont know what goes on in family courts.

Fact Number Three is that those same social scientists - Warshak, Nielsen and McIntosh included  understand that their work has the potential to be used in those very family courts. It may affect the course of family law and parenting policies. When anyone studies and publishes his/her findings about parenting post-divorce, that person understands that their work exists partly in the context of family courts and family laws. Its a necessary part of the process. The science they do does not remain in the ivory tower of academia. Its meant to enlighten those who decide which parent will get custody, how much time each parent will legally spend with the child, etc. Indeed, many of the papers on overnight parenting for young children acknowledge this in so many words.

Finally, Fact Number Four is that those same social scientists want their work to have an impact on public policies relating to parenting. It is beyond belief that a scientist would do scrupulous work on whats best for kids but not care if that work enlightened public policy or judicial decisions regarding children. My guess is thats one reason Warshak went to the trouble of dealing with 110 other scientists in the publication of his paper. It would have been a lot easier to simply write and publish the thing by himself. So I suspect the man wanted the paper to have a greater impact on public policies than it would have if it had appeared under just his name, so he involved others.

In short, social scientists working in this area are well aware of the highly gendered political and legal context in which they do their research and publish their findings. Therefore, anyone who says, as McIntosh does, that our research cautions against high-frequency, shared overnight care for young infants, is aware of what the statement means in practice. In the overwhelming percentage of cases, it means our research cautions against fathers having frequent overnights with their young infants.

Of course McIntosh would doubtless claim that her statement doesnt necessarily mean that, and of course shes right. In some few cases, it might mean that its Mom whos holding the short end of the parenting time stick. But again, such a response is too facile by half. McIntosh and everyone else involved in the field know that its mothers who have the lions share of parenting time and so, when we ask if its a good thing for one parent to have overnights, the parent in question is a father, not a mother. In the real world in which this question arises, it is fathers and not mothers whose parenting time with their children is up for debate.

Parenting time is among the most gendered phenomena in all of society. Therefore, to pretend that in some way, Warshak or Nielsen or Bettina Arndt or someone is, out of the blue, bringing gender politics into an otherwise pristine scientific and legal landscape is absurd.

But, bad as her comment on Arndts article is, McIntoshs behavior prior to that has been far worse. Ill get to that in my next couple of pieces and Ill do so in the context of the gender politics shes all of a sudden so keen to condemn.

The Foundation of a Woozle - National Parents Organization said
 The Foundation of a Woozle

May 16, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Of the eight studies done to date on the effects of overnight care by non-resident parents on very young children, seven of them show either no adverse effects or that overnights are associated with improved outcomes. That leaves the 2010 study by McIntosh, Smyth, Kelaher and Wells. To say that its a seriously flawed piece of work is to put it mildly. That its become the touchstone for the anti-dad crowd to continue their efforts to marginalize fathers in the lives of their children comes as no surprise first because the study can easily be read to do just that and second because the anti-dad crowds never much cared for intellectual scruples.

The study, that many call the pre-schooler study, was conducted for the office of the Australian Attorney General, and was based on data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Now, the LSAC has a good bit of heft to it, comprised as it is of data gathered from some 10,000 children. But McIntosh, et al didnt use all those kids or all that data. Indeed, constructing their study as they did, some samples they used had as few as 14 children in them. Most tellingly, the negative data on which the woozle (that children experience problems with attachment to a parent if they have too many overnights with the other parent) is based came from some of the smallest samples in the study.

And, speaking of the studys samples, they turn out to bear no relationship to the general population. As Dr. Linda Nielsen points out, Most of these parents had never been married to one another (90% for infants and 60% for toddlers) and 30% of the infants parents had never even lived together. This means the findings should not be generalized to the general population of divorced parents. So, in addition to everything else, the findings of the McIntosh study, even if they had validity, turn out to be useless in any but the narrowest of situations. They cant be applied parents generally or to divorced parents or to those whove lived together for long.

Worse, despite the large population of children in the LSAC, McIntosh, et al simply failed to compare certain groups. For example, as Nielsen points out, this study never compared the children who never overnighted to the children who only occasionally overnighted. That is, the study never addressed the question: Is occasional overnighting better or worse than never overnighting? For that proposition, the study is entirely worthless, and it gets close to that status for others.

For example, the study takes as a given that infants form a primary attachment to only one parent and later form a secondary attachment to their other parent. To say the least, thats a very doubtful assertion. Its contradicted by considerable social science on the issue that Warshak, et al detail in his paper, but McIntosh and colleagues went ahead and assumed it anyway.

Still worse, McIntosh, et al decided to define shared care completely differently than do the rest of social scientists who study this issue. For most such scientists, shared care means a minimum of 35% to 40% parenting time for each parent. But inexplicably, for McIntosh and her fellow researchers, it meant as little as five nights per month with the non-resident parent, or about 16.5% of parenting time. Why they changed the definition so many social scientists work with as a matter of course remains a mystery.

Worst of all, the authors used six measures to determine whether a child was being adversely affected by overnights with dad, and four of them have never been validated as actually reflecting adverse consequences. Really, thats what they did. So McIntosh, et al looked at irritability, persistence (at a particular task), wheezing, and wariness/watchfulness about the mothers where-abouts to measure whether or not a child was stressed by overnighting with its father. The problem is that, no one else had ever used those to measure what McIntosh, et al sought to measure. Theyd been validated for other purposes, but not for that. The researchers simply made them up for the purpose of evaluating the stress, or lack thereof, on children of overnights.

That alone renders the study essentially meritless. No one can say a particular type of behavior evidences stress in an infant unless the behavior has been independently shown to indicate that. But on at least one of the McIntosh groups measures, their conclusions may in fact be the exact opposite of what they ought to be.

The idea that a childs watchfulness, i.e. its tendency to keep an eye on its mother, indicates stress on the childs part was invented out of whole cloth by McIntosh, et al. But watchfulness has been validated as an indicator of another type of behavior  readiness to begin talking. As Nielsen points out, watchfulness by a pre-verbal child has been shown to indicate that the infant has more highly developed ways of communicating and is readier to begin talking.

So, in McIntoshs study, children with frequent overnights exhibited greater watchful behavior and to the researchers, that indicated heightened stress even though the test had never been validated for that. What that behavior did indicate was that the children with frequent overnights were in fact more advanced in their communication skills than were the children with fewer overnights. In other words, contrary to McIntosh et als claims, overnights, at least on that measure were beneficial to the kids. Needless to say, the researchers didnt mention the fact and instead claimed the opposite.

Not content with claiming a single measure indicated childrens stress when it doesnt, the researchers moved on to others. For example, wheezing. Mothers were asked a single question about whether their child wheezed more than four times a week. The LSAC researchers had used this question as part of a scale to assess health or sleep problems, but McIntosh, et al decided, quite without foundation that wheezing meant stress and that stress came from overnights. Indeed, at least one study, characteristically unmentioned by McIntosh, found the opposite to be true.

The same held true for two other measures  irritability and persistence at a task  the researchers used to claim that children with frequent overnights experienced greater stress than those with fewer or none.

    In short, the irritability and persistence scales were not validated measures for assessing infant stress, or developmental problems, or emotional regulation difficulties.

As Nielsen points out, irritability can result from virtually anything and lack of persistence from ADHD. But none of that prevented McIntosh, et al from claiming that heightened irritability and lower persistence were indicators of stress and that stress came from overnights with dad.

By now it should be clear that the pre-schooler study is essentially useless as a guide to anything, much less establishing policy on parenting time following divorce or separation. As many social scientists have pointed out since its publication, its simply too flawed and its data too ambiguous to make it worth much in any context. But in the three plus years since its publication, its been anything but the doorstop it qualifies to be. Unlike its more scrupulous fellows in the field of overnights for young children, the pre-schooler study swept the world of family law and became the Bible on the subject for judges, lawyers, custody evaluators, mediators and the like. It shouldnt have, but it did.

And thats a story for my next post.

A Woozle Goes Viral - National Parents Organization said
 A Woozle Goes Viral

May 18, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Despite its serious flaws that led many social scientists aware of the literature on shared parenting and overnights for very young children to dismiss McIntosh et als pre-schooler study as relatively insignificant due to the insignificance and ambiguity of its data, the thing took on a life of its own. Particularly in light of the fact that it purported to contradict existing studies that found little or no downsides to overnights with fathers, McIntosh et als study had, and continues to have, an impact on parenting policies far, far beyond anything warranted by what the study actually is  a work so methodologically flawed as to render it useless for much of anything save possibly a spur to future, better efforts.

But a woozle would not be a woozle if its import werent expanded beyond recognition in exactly that way, and the pre-schooler study in 2010 did so. Unlike the seven other studies that largely contradicted it and received little public recognition outside of academia, McIntosh, et als work went viral. Like everything else that goes viral, it had a lot of help from a wide range of people, not all of whom were the authors of the study. But, despite what McIntosh would now have us believe, she was an ardent proponent of claims that went far beyond what her study actually stands for.

As an aside, it would be interesting to learn the precise process by which this study went viral. How was it that a study that is utterly incompetent to guide anyone making public policy on parenting time came to do exactly that? My guess is that, because its message is to marginalize fathers in childrens lives and because thats a message that plays well with the family law establishment, feminists and politicians eager to stay on the good side of women voters, the pre-schooler study was a seed that found fertile ground. The other seven studies were dismissed by those same interests because they contradicted their preferred narrative of the primacy of motherhood.

But whatever the exact process was, there is no doubt that the study has had an impact on public discourse, public policy and the policies of private entities that is utterly unwarranted. This came about thanks to the efforts of many disparate forces in government, academia and the mainstream news media. And among the lead proponents of the woozle - that overnights for children in the home of their secondary parent (all but invariably their father) are to be undertaken with caution, if at all  was Jennifer McIntosh, lead author of the pre-school study that, ever since its publication has been rightly criticized for its many flaws.

Therefore, shortly after its publication, Australian news outlets relayed its purports, or at least what they understood them to be based on their interviews with McIntosh. So the Sydney Morning Herald informed readers under the headline Trouble Ahead for Babies of Divorce, that The majority of babies who live alternately with their divorced parents develop long-lasting psychological problems, new research has found. Such arrangements cause enduring disorganised attachment in 60% of infants under 18 months, says clinical psychologist and family therapist, Jennifer McIntosh. Other journalists wrote, after interviewing McIntosh, that shared care is a developmental disaster, and toddlers in shared care engaged in violent behavior.

Of course the study said no such thing and no such conclusions were in any way warranted. And Id be surprised if McIntosh ever told anyone that shared care leads to violence in toddlers. Still, the woozles footprints were beginning to appear in the mainstream news media.

They appeared elsewhere and, like the footprints Pooh and friends were following, they all looked remarkably alike. So the international organization of family court professionals, the Association of Family and Conciliatory Courts (AFCC) engaged McIntosh produce a special edition of its publication devoted to shared care and overnights for the very young. What she produced was immediately derided as less a scientific inquiry than a polemic opposing fathers and their access to their children. Indeed, McIntosh solicited articles for the publication from a variety of researchers, but didnt manage to do so from anyone who opposed her findings. In short, she hand-picked her experts and then made the brazen and false claim that they, in some way, represented a consensus of researchers in the field.

    Anyone in the know about attachment will agree: this is a stellar, comprehensive lineup of experts.

It was anything but and of course the edition they produced was a one-sided effort to channel the debate on shared parenting and overnights against non-primary parents who just happen to be fathers in the vast majority of cases. In addition to only including like-minded researchers, the edition ignored research that contradicted the anti-shared overnights narrative. McIntosh concluded,

    Overnight stays away from the primary caregiver in early infancy are generally best avoided, unless of benefit to the primary caregiver.

But McIntosh was nowhere near finished. In an address to 1,000 members of the AFCC, she frankly misrepresented a 2004 study by Pruett as support for her pre-schooler work. But, as Nielsen explains,

Pruett did not find significant differences between the overnighting and the nonovernighting two to three year-olds.

At the same conference, she strongly suggested that her work was based on the whole of the 10,000-person cohort of the LSAC when in fact, some of her data came from as a few as 14 individuals.

By this time, McIntosh was travelling the globe, sometimes electronically, bringing her message on overnights to the world far beyond academia. She spoke to the Massachusetts Association of Guardians ad Litem, the Minnesota Bar Association, the Nuffield Foundation in London, the New Zealand Psychological Society and of course many journalists along the way. And at each step of her journey, the seeds of anti-shared parenting and anti-overnights for fathers were planted and flourished. McIntosh, et als pre-schooler study had its effect far and wide.

In Australia, it was used to roll back gains made by fathers in the 2006 family law reforms. It was cited as strong evidence for the rollback by none other than the Attorney General of the country. Nielsen described some of McIntoshs far-reaching effects.

    The study also had an impact on three influential organizations in Australia: the Australian Psychological Society, the Association for Infant Mental Health, and the National Council for Children Post Separation (2013). All three recommended or warned against overnighting for infants and shared care for other children under the age of four, citing only two empirical studies: the preschooler study and the study by Solomon and George (1999). McIntosh was the lead author of the infant overnight care paper (McIntosh, 2011c) which was the background paper for the AAIMH guidelines (AAIMH, 2011) and was lead author of the position statement paper for the Australian Psychological Society (McIntosh et al., 2009). Many of the statements in these documents were similar to statements that McIntosh made one year later in the special issue of Family Court Review  statements that other scholars criticized for misrepresenting and overreaching the research, as previously discussed (McIntosh, 2011a). The Infant Mental Health guidelines were disseminated by the Australian media (Griffin, 2011; Overington, 2011), as well as by law firms web sites that warned against overnighting and shared care (Magee, 2010; OLoughlin,2011).

The pre-schooler study was used in the United Kingdom to oppose fathers rights to their children post-divorce and shared parenting generally. In the United States it was used to bolster opposition to shared parenting by the Maryland and Minnesota state bar associations. An Oregon legislative advisory committee used the study to oppose shared parenting. Most recently, the same was done by the committee that looked into child custody results in Nebraska. And of course numerous advocacy organizations have cited the study as opposing not only overnights for fathers, but any sort of shared parenting law.

In short, bad as it is as science, McIntosh et als study of overnights for very young children became a woozle for the proposition that, in her words, Overnight stays away from the primary caregiver in early infancy are best avoided and that overnights for older kids are to be avoided as well as is shared parenting generally.

Some of that woozle was beyond McIntoshs control; some of it was actively promoted by her. And now that the weakness of her work is known to all via Warshak, Nielsen and their 110 colleagues, shes running away from it as fast as she can. But that effort, like her effort on overnights, doesnt stand up to scrutiny.

Ill get into that in my next piece.

A Short Treatise on Woozles and Woozling
Her Woozle Revealed, McIntosh Responds
The Foundation of a Woozle
A Woozle Goes Viral

Last edit: by Secretary SPCA

A very enjoyable read all in one place thanks MikeT

Executive Secretary - Shared Parenting Council of Australia
 Was my post helpful? If so, please let others know about the FamilyLawWebGuide whenever you see the opportunity
And the next two instalments:

McIntoshs Efforts to Re-write History Fail - National Parents Organisation said
McIntoshs Efforts to Re-write History Fail

May 21, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Once Warshaks review of the literature on shared parenting and overnights for very young children came out earlier this year, McIntosh et als work was exposed in all its weakness. Of course the fact that Warshaks work was endorsed by no fewer than 110 eminent social scientists gave it a heft that was hard to overlook and fortunately, it hasnt been. It was discussed by Bettina Arndt in the Australian daily The Age and soon began changing attitudes among decision-makers on custody issues.

Then of course there was Dr. Linda Nielsens article that had much the same purpose as Warshaks - to set the record straight on the science on overnights for young children and, in the process, knock down McIntoshs flawed work.

To all those events, McIntoshs response was immediate, accusatory and in stark contrast to her writings and statements of the preceding three + years. I suppose thats not surprising. After all, when the work youve been touting all that time, and thats made you a bit of a star in parental rights field, all of a sudden is thoroughly debunked and, to add insult to injury, compared to a childrens book, a posture of aggressive defense is probably the best you can do.

So lately McIntosh has been hard about the task of attacking Warshak and Nielsen personally and desperately trying to distance herself from her work and whats been made of it. Ive written before about her scurrilous attacks on Warshak and Nielsen, and theres little more to say. Face it, McIntosh is trying to defend her own bad science against the reasoned and fact-based onslaught of 110 scientists around the world whose endorsement of Warshaks paper can reasonably said to have been done for the very purpose of burying once and for all her shoddy stuff. Thats not an easy thing to do and few will be surprised to learn shes making a hash out of it.

But apart from her ad hominem attacks on Warshak and Nielsen, McIntoshs self-defense comes to essentially three things  first, that she explicitly stated her work was not to be used as a basis for public policy, second, that shes only ever said that its frequent overnights shes opposed to, not overnights generally, and third that shes not responsible for what other people say about her work.

As to her first argument, its a mystery where she ever said that her work shouldnt be used to inform public policy on overnights. Linda Nielsen and others have looked for it and come up empty. Where and when did she let anyone know this fact that seems to utterly at odds with her statements and behavior? Remember, her original paper was done for the Attorney General of Australia. What did she think he was going to do with it? What did she think he meant when, six months after receiving it, he said it constituted strong evidence to attack the pro-father 2006 amendments to Australian family law? What did she make of the fact that numerous organizations, in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom cited her work for the proposition that overnights for young children, and indeed shared parenting generally, arent favored? When she made speeches to various organizations throughout the English-speaking world that then took action opposing overnights and shared care, what did she imagine her effect to have been? Did she think these various decision-makers got their ideas on the very subject shed written and spoken on at such length out of thin air?

The simple and obvious fact is that, for over three years, McIntosh was perfectly content for her ideas to be put into practice as part of public policy on parenting. Not once during all that time did she ever shout Wait! My research is inconclusive. Youve gotten the wrong message. Youre making claims my research doesnt support. She said nothing of the sort, and in fact went silently along with every word others said and every policy paper written. When her research was used by the Australian Attorney General as the centerpiece of his opposition to the 2006 amendments to Australian family law, where was McIntoshs cautionary voice? Silent as the grave. When the British government used her work to, as a matter of public policy, oppose equalizing fathers rights in that country, did McIntosh correct their error? She did not.

But to suggest that she was merely silent in the face of the widespread use of her work to marginalize fathers in the lives of their children would be incorrect. No, during the three + years since the publication of her first paper on the subject of overnights for young children, she was furiously adding to her claims that remained distinctly unchanged. So her special publication for the Association of Family and Conciliatory Courts (AFCC) I referred to in my previous piece added a heavy layer of gilt to the lily of her 2010 paper.

And that AFCC piece was at the time (and still is) recognized for exactly what it was  a work with a specifically partisan bent. Its goal was to reinforce the idea, already taking root in the minds of policy-makers, that overnights for the very young should be avoided. Why else would McIntosh, who was chosen to edit the edition, select only scientists whose opinions matched her own? And having done so, why would she then announce that Anyone in the know about attachment will agree: this is a stellar, comprehensive lineup of experts? Where in that edition were the many voices, the weight of solid science that contradicted McIntoshs ideas?

The answers are clear. She did it all for the very purpose of influencing public policy. Even if her disclaimer could be found, it wouldnt convince. A single throw-away line will never overshadow over three years of words and actions that belie it.

Now, it is certainly true that neither Jennifer McIntosh nor anyone else can be held responsible for what others say about their work. We all understand that, when one puts a statement out into the public domain, others may misunderstand, misrepresent or intentionally distort it. Such is the life of every artist, politician, public intellectual, etc. But, as is so often the case with her, McIntoshs attempt to use that simple fact to defend her own behavior is too glib by half.

The simple fact is that, if someone misrepresents what youve said, you have an ethical obligation to correct the record. And indeed, most such public figures would want to do just that. After all, who wants his/her work distorted? Doesnt everyone want their work represented accurately so the public will know what theyre saying and not some falsified or incorrect version thereof?

So when the Sydney Morning Herald announced, shortly after interviewing McIntosh that, The majority of babies who live alternately with their divorced parents develop long-lasting psychological problems, new research has found. Such arrangements cause enduring disorganised attachment in 60% of infants under 18 months, says clinical psychologist and family therapist, Jennifer McIntosh, did she pen an indignant rejoinder correcting their misconceptions? Again, she did not. Nor did she respond to the numerous other articles in the same vein.

At some point, it becomes impossible to conclude anything but that McIntosh knew how her work was being construed and used, and was content with it. No one would expect her to respond to every article every inaccurate fact, every misquotation. But when years go by and article after article, public figure after public figure, organization after organization, say such similar things about her work, with no rejoinder from McIntosh, the message is clear  they got it right, and nothing she says now will change the fact.

If McIntosh now disagrees, perhaps she can explain to the rest of us not only how so many got her words so wrong, but how they all did so in the same way. The journalists who wrote about her work, the office-holders who relied on it in their public pronouncements, the organizations that used it to formulate policies, all did so in a particular way  that overnights with Dad are to be avoided as is shared parenting generally. If we were truly faced with a matter of miscommunication, youd think that some of those folks would have gotten one idea of what McIntoshs message was, some another and still others yet a different notion. But they didnt; they all thought the message was clear, and that strongly suggests that it was.

The requirement that she correct the record (in the unlikely event that it needed correcting), is not just mine. Likewise, its not just a general matter of personal integrity, i.e. that anyone whos been seriously misrepresented would be at pains to set the record straight. No, the requirement turns out to be more. Heres one of the canons of ethics of the Australian Psychological Society, of which McIntosh is a member:  

    C.2.2 Psychologists take reasonable steps to correct any misrepresentation made by them or about them in their professional capacity within a reasonable time after becoming aware of the misrepresentation.

McIntosh certainly knew what people were saying and writing about her work. She well knew the uses to which it had been put in public policy and elsewhere. But never  not once in over three years  did she lift a finger or say a word to make it stop. Had she truly believed that all those people were getting her message wrong, she was bound, not only by the tacit rules of personal integrity, but the written ones of her own professional organization to correct the record. But again, she was silent.

Its not as if she doesnt know how to speak out in defense of her own work. Since Warshak, et al and Nielsens recent slam-down, she seems to have done little else. But for years, she was content to be seen as standing for the proposition that fathers overnights with their children should be sharply restricted, saying nothing to the contrary.

Now she wants us to believe that she was misunderstood and misrepresented. It wont wash. If she really believed that, shed have said so years ago, but didnt. Now shes pinned and wriggling on the wall. Its her own fault, and she wont get off any time soon.

A McIntosh Mea Culpa? - National Parents Organisation said
 A McIntosh Mea Culpa?

Mea Culpa translates from Latin to "though my fault"

May 22, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Having spent the last three + years either espousing limited overnights for non-resident parents, i.e. fathers in the overwhelming majority of cases, or refusing to contradict those who used her research to support same, Jennifer McIntosh has now spent the last couple of months, furiously trying to distance herself both from her own statements and those made by others in response to her work. Thats all come about because her 2010 study and her subsequent work for the Association of Family and Conciliatory Courts has been buried under an avalanche of recent data and analyses of past research that thoroughly debunks her work.

That all puts McIntosh in an uncomfortable position. Shes an academic and relies on her reputation for professional respect and grants for future research. Given that her work on overnights for young children has been revealed as shoddily done and misleading, McIntosh finds herself in a pickle. If youre Jennifer McIntosh, what do you do?

It seems shes taking a two-pronged approach to salvaging some vestige of her professional reputation. The first is indignant denial that shes ever claimed anything other than that frequent overnights should be avoided. That may work with the public at large, but, as I said in my last piece, her steadfast refusal to correct an ever-expanding record of her work being used to deny fathers both overnights with young children and shared parenting at all, tells a different story. That refusal, plus the fact that seemingly everyone who interviewed her and everyone who read her work seems to have gotten the same message, a message McIntosh now wants us to believe she never sent, make her current denials less than persuasive.

That brings us to the second prong of her effort to defend herself against the attacks of more reliable scientists. She and two other researchers, Marsha Kline Pruett and Joan Kelly, have come out with two companion papers published in the Family Court Review. Part I is the authors effort to give their own version of the current state of the science on overnights for young children and Part II is an attempt to provide courts and parents practical guidance on whether and how many overnights non-resident parents should have with their kids.

Do we find a chastened McIntosh in these latest efforts? Is this her mea culpa to both the scientific and legal worlds? Part I of her work with Pruett and Kelly might lead us to believe so. Part II? Thats another matter.

In Part I, the three authors present a view of fathers thats much more in keeping with what so many have learned over the past fifty years or so.

    Attachment refers to a specific facet of the infant/parent relationship. Attachment is a biologically based behavioral system in all infants of all cultures that has the set goal of ensuring protection from disorganizing anxiety through proximity to attuned and responsive caregivers, who soothe in the face of distress and support exploration in the world. Attachment relationships are understood to support the infants growing ability to express and regulate emotions (see Siegel & McIntosh 2011 for overview), as well as to explore and learn with confidence (Gunnar, 2000; Sroufe, Egeland, Carlson & Collins, 2005). Studies in multiple contexts have demonstrated the developmental reach of attach-ment trauma (Sagi-Schwartz & Avierzer, 2005; Zeanah, Danis, Hirshberg et al., 1999), as well as the power of healthy attachments to buffer trauma (Sroufe, et al., 2005)

    Research on infant-father and other significant attachments confirm Ainsworths early observation (1977) that infants are equipped to form concurrent attachments to emotionally available caregivers by approximately 7-8 months (Easterbrooks & Goldberg, 1987; Lamb, 1977 a, b). There is agreement across multiple studies that infants prefer proximity to one parent or the other at different ages and for different needs and experiences, particularly in their first 18 months (Fox, Kimmerly, & Shafer, 1991; van IJzendoorn & De Wolff, 1997). Attachment status to mother and father are generally independent, with each relationship influenced by the contingent response of each parent. While security with one parent does not reliably predict security with the other, attachments to co-habiting parents are mutually influenced (Main et al., 2011; Kochanska & Kim, 2013; Sroufe, 1985; van IJzendoorn & De Wolff, 1997).

    Meta-analytic studies of infant attachments to both parents in non-clinical samples found a similar proportion of infants (67%) classified with secure attachments to father or to mother (van IJzendoorn & De Wolff, 1997; Kochanska and Kim, 2013). In a demographically varied sample of 101 families, Kochanska & Kim (2012) reported that 45% of infants had secure attachments concurrently to both their mothers and fathers, while 17% were insecurely attached to both

    As first articulated by Bowlby, normative differences between mother and father care-giving behaviors have long been noted across cultures. Mothers sensitive response to infants stress states and fathers sensitive and stimulating play and teaching behaviors are particularly salient (Ainsworth, 1967; Brown et al., 2012; Grossmann et al., 2002; van IJzendoorn & DeWolff, 1997). Each pattern of interaction can foster secure attachment. Theory posits and research provides evidence that a mothers sensitive response to stress enables the child to experience that the world is predictable, safe, and that the child can learn to manage his/her distress through the relationship. Similarly, a fathers sensitive challenging facilitates the childs learning to monitor and control his/her excitement, promoting the goal of self-regulation

    The idea that babies have gender biases in attachment formation is not well supported. The more accurate assertion is that babies respond best to sensitive and predictable care giving that facilitates internalized patterns of care; that is, babies learn to respond across situations as if they can expect such quality of care.

This is the person who, in her earlier work, simply assumed the primacy of mother-child relationships? This is the researcher who, for years, allowed her work to be interpreted to marginalize fathers in the lives of their children? This is the speaker who left the impression everywhere she went that fathers having overnights with their young children is to be avoided?

But McIntosh, et al arent done yet. They move beyond attachment theory to the science on parental involvement with children and the deleterious effects of fatherlessness.

    The attachment literature added support to the father involvement literature on this very point. Researchers from both theoretical leanings established through their studies what children have always demonstrated clinically: the early years matter and young children desire and benefit from warm and positive involvement with both of the people who gave birth to and are invested in their well-being.

    The authors move on to identifying various factors, including maternal gatekeeping and the divorce industry as critical components affecting fathers opportunities to maintain contact with their children.

Lest anyone misunderstand the context in which all this arises, Pruett, McIntosh and Kelly make it clear that whats at issue is family law and court practices. What they call the Heart of the Debate, is Parenting Time Distribution After Separation. In other words, this is not some abstract theory; the science they cite, the opinions they express are part and parcel of hotly-contested real-world decisions by judges and others about whether children get to have a relationship with both parents post-divorce or separation, and if so, how much time with each. The authors intend to influence public policy. Let no one in the future pretend they dont.

Given that, the authors go off the rails here:

    Current general population statistics in the United States and Australia indicate that in separated families, between 93-97% of children aged 0-3 years spend less than 35% of their nights with the non-resident parent (Kaspiew et al., 2009; McIntosh, Smyth, Kelaher, 2010; Tornello, Emery, Rowen, Potter, Ocker & Xu, 2013). These data appear to reflect normative sociological differences in parenting roles during infancy. While active parenting by fathers is increasing in intact families, across many western countries (Casper & Bianchi, 2001; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004) the majority of hands-on care-giving during infancy is still undertaken by mothers (Baxter, Gray & Hayes, 2010).

The claim that the almost 100% of separated or divorced parents consigning Dad to less than 35% parenting time in some way reflect(s) normative sociological differences in parenting roles appears to be simply false. After all, a casual glance at the parenting time of fathers and mothers in intact and non-intact families indicates a far different norm. For example, Dr. Edward Kruk reports in his fine book, The Equal Parent Presumption, that the most recent data from Stats Canada and Health Canada indicate fathers doing between 40% and 48% of the direct parenting of children. Further, these data are consistent with the time use data from the United States. In short, where McIntosh, et al get their idea of normative behavior is anyones guess.

The simple fact is that family courts marginalize fathers in the lives of their children. So those separated parents referred to above bear little resemblance to parents in intact relationships in terms of the time they spend with their kids. Face it, its one of the main problems with family court parenting time orders; they refuse to recapitulate the actual parenting roles of fathers and mothers established during marriage.

The authors go on to briefly refer to five studies of overnights with children, including McIntosh, et als notoriously flawed 2010 study. Just why they ignored the other three is a mystery, but unlike her earlier efforts, this time McIntosh makes no bold claims for what the literature on overnights really demonstrates.

    On many levels, the studies are difficult to summarize, and defy grouping. Each used different samples and different data sources, asked different questions about how outcomes are related to overnight time schedules for infants, and explored different schedules and amounts of overnight time. None of the studies can be said to provide a comprehensive coverage of the relevant developmental issues. The usual research caveats are applicable: data collected at one time point precludes interpretations that suggest cause and effect (this pertains to all of the studies except Tornello), and statistically significant findings may be small enough in absolute terms not to be clinically relevant (see Pruett & DiFonzo, this issue, for an expanded explanation of the latter caveat). Moreover, the studies illustrate the importance of taking into account differences between and within samples of families with widely varying demographic characteristics. Multiple questions remain, such as which infants fare better with more frequent overnight arrangements, and what aspects of developmentsuch as cognitive, language, and psychosocial outcomesmay be enhanced by including overnight care in parenting schedules from an early age as well as later ages. None have covered the range of families seen in family court and those who negotiated parenting plans with lawyers, mediators, or among themselves. This field of knowledge will advance and increasingly differentiate family and parenting circumstances based on the collective evidence of multiple studies that are yet to be conducted.

In short, according to these authors, existing literature on the subject of overnights is incomplete. Thats unquestionably true, and were glad to know that McIntosh has so thoroughly backtracked on her previous claims and the claims of others she allowed to go unopposed. But whats strange is that, having concluded that existing studies are insufficient to establish policy on the subject of overnights for very young children, she and her colleagues proceed to do just that in their companion piece.

Last edit: by MikeT

Note! (MikeT's mea culpa :))

In the above quoted articles it has been noted that some hyphens (-) were not copied from the original articles. Attempts have been made to correct this. However, some hyphens may still be missing. It may be that some other special characters have not been correctly copied.

Shared Care and Overnights: what the research is saying - a presentation by Judge Altobelli 22 May 2014 at Taree.

Last night I was in attendance at Judge Altobelli's presentation, during which he referred to the 'new thought' discussed below. It should be noted that Judge Altobelli pointedly asserted that the below refers to children 0 - 3 years of age to which no special circumstances apply. Below is a summary of what his honour had to say, as detailed in a handout of the slides presented;

AFCC Think tank on shared parenting
  • 32 Family Law experts (legal, mental health, lawyers, mediators, Judges, academics, researchers)
  • Chosen for expertise and divergent perspectives
  • Included Pruett, Mayer, Bala, Deutsch, Drozd, Emery, Gould, Fieldstone, Fabricus, Hunter, Johnston, Kelly, McIntosh, Warshak
Consensus reached regarding shared parenting time
  • Most effective decision making is case-specific
  • Statutory presumptions about shared parenting time are unsupportable - no presumption will fit all
  • Social science research strongly supports shared parenting (i.e frequent, continuing and meaningful contact) when both parents agree to it. Some empirical support for children of school age or older, under broader conditions (e.g. some forms of parental conflict)
  • There is no "one size fits all" shared parenting time.
  • Child development professionals agreed that the current state of research supports no definitive conclusion about the impact of overnights on a long-term parent/child relationships and child wellbeing
  • Shared parenting in the midst of high conflict is generally not in the children's best interests. But some families can still manage conflict with or without external assistance, so as to make shared care work without harming children (the judge referred to 'parallel parenting')
  • While family violence usually precludes shared parenting, there are some cases in which the violence is tied to the separation or the dynamics of the adults relationship when together, and may end when parents live apart. In those cases, shared parenting may be feasible. The context and meaning of the violence must be understood.
Consensus regarding decision making
  • Majority consensus for presumption of joint decision making (Equal Shared Parental Responsibility), but a substantial minority espoused case by case approach
Consensus about priorities and competing tensions
  • A child needs stability and continuity in relationships, but those relationships will continue to evolve over time.
  • A child has current developmental needs but other needs will emerge over time
  • Family relationships need to be maintained but children also need to be protected from conflict and violence, as do parents
  • Family autonomy should be preserved but the Court needs to interfere with this to protect vulnerable family members
  • Courts need to deal with the needs of families efficiently, in a timely manner, but also meet the complex needs of very diverse families
Consensus about Social Science Research
  • Promotion of shared parenting is a public health issue not just a legal concern. Positive effects are beyond question - provided there are no risks
  • At its most influential, research evidence offers legal professionals and clinical decision makers the best available information without providing answers or predictions in any individual case. But when aggregate level research is a applied as a determinative of a specific case outcome, its value becomes compromised in the adversarial process. Research becomes part of the problem rather than the solution when it is used as a hammer instead of a level.
  • Need to differentiate areas without sufficient research to offer consensus in legal situations from those without a sufficient data basis or agreement about its interpretations.
  • Infancy is an important developmental stage when sensitive caregiving is critical to maximise wellbeing and special consideration needs to be given to meeting young children's developmental needs.
  • Children benefit from parents sharing in their upbringing, where appropriate, including infancy.
  • Where there is a dispute over a young child's care, decision makers (including parents) should consider all relevant factors. No single factor trumps the influence and importance of the aggregate.
  • Research cannot fully bridge the gap between science and the needs of the legal system (one is questioning and tentaive, the other is certain and definitive).
Consensus about Presumptions
  • Self-determinations by parents - whenever it is safe for the parents and children. When it isn't safe, individual decisions should be based on unique needs and circumstances.
  • Joint decision making
  • Negotiations and determinations about parenting time involving third parties are inescapably case-specific.
  • Parenting plans that provide for continuing and shared parenting relationships that are safe, secure and developmentally responsive but which avoid templates for a division of time.
  • If the above cannot work, a detailed list of factors should be considered in each case, i.e. the best interests standard (s60CC).
Consensus about the Role of Courts in shared parenting disputes
  • Legal process can either hinder or help parental self-determination. Both ADR and case management tools are strongly preferred.

The one thing that keeps repeating itself in my mind is the his honours comments that whilst the above is now a known, it is up to the parties in a matter to present the evidence to the court before the court can make judgements based on the above.

Perhaps this is why Judge Altobelli has seen fit to give these presentations?

A child is a gift, not a weapon. To be a parent is a privilege, one which unfortunately some parents do not deserve.
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