I am relieved and delighted by the overwhelmingly supportive response to Why I am talking to the terrorists. Many thanks to everyone for submitting such thoughtful comments.
Your remarks included quite a few requests for further information. You asked for a link to the ATSA article itself, and happily I can now give one because the ATSA Forum editor has kindly indicated he has no objections. So here goes: What to do with the entrenched client.
You asked to be told about any feedback from the article, and follow-up developments. ATSA Forum does not run a comments/letters section, but the editor, Dr Robin Wilson, commented very positively on the piece in his own Editorial Note, which can be accessed from the URL above. Also, he forwarded to me an email he had received from a reader who is a practising clinical psychologist. I’d better not give his name without permission, but he wrote:
… I thought it was great that you included the O’Carroll piece. I found it very interesting as we seldom get the opportunity to hear such a detailed overview of the client’s experience. The first PO [probation officer] clearly was on the more productive path and reminds us how much more important it is to understand who the person is who has the ‘disorder’ rather than the other way around.
I take it that by “the other way around”, he means a narrow focus on diagnosing and treating what “disorder” the person has, assuming there is one – and his quote marks suggest a welcome degree of open-mindedness on that score. The “first PO” in question is the probation officer I was initially assigned to when released on licence.
One would like to think that there are some therapists currently within the system with whom deep and meaningful discussion can be had, but I rather doubt that that is the case (did you ever come across one?).
Yes, I did: this “first PO” was the perfect case in point, although undoubtedly she was very exceptional. A highly intellectual type, she had simultaneously gained first class honours degrees in both psychology and sociology. Even better, she engaged me in lengthy discussions about Foucault rather than imposing a course of CBT, although she was well versed in the latter.
Otto also asked how the opportunity arose to have a piece published in ATSA Forum. I believe the answer to this question reveals a great deal about the difficulties of getting a word in edgeways once you have a conviction, or indeed if you try to write from a MAP perspective at all. So I do think it will be worthwhile to answer Otto here in some detail. It is quite a saga, though, and will not interest everyone. If your time is limited you might want to skip the rest of this blog and just read the ATSA Forum piece. Either way, it’s a long read, though, so if you’d rather go for a beer or head for the beach that’s fine by me!
My article, or rather its precursor, was initially submitted to Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment (SAJRT). This academic journal had announced a Call for Papers, as they were planning a Special Issue on “Change among High-Risk Sex Offenders”. This announcement landed unbidden in my email inbox, which is the sort of thing that happens when you are known to have academic interests. As I was, and remain, officially classified as just such an offender, I saw this as an opportunity, especially in view of the fact that I was already on surprisingly good terms with Michael Seto, who was to be one of the two joint editors of the Special Issue, with Kevin Nunes. Dr Seto, as many here will be aware, is a leading expert on paedophilia – and there is no need for sceptical quote marks around “expert”: his knowledge and understanding of the scientific literature in the field are second to none.
I was already known to Seto because we are both members of Northwestern University’s online Sexnet forum, which is an email list-serve discussion group for an invited membership. It is a multi-disciplinary forum focused not on arranging orgies, as the name might suggest, but on all academic sexual matters, especially research into the psychology of sex, and including genetics, neurophysiology, endocrinology, etc. I was invited to apply for membership some years ago by psychiatrist Richard Green, founder president of the International Academy of Sex Research.
By the time the Special Issue came up, Seto had been exposed to my (numerous!) posts on Sexnet for about a couple of years. Not everyone liked my radically outspoken views on paedophilia, as may be imagined, but Seto very kindly praised my contributions in one of his own posts to the forum. Being armed with the knowledge that I had made a good impression, I was emboldened to email him, asking whether an article from me would be in order. I knew he could not make the ultimate decision as SAJRT is peer-reviewed. Any article would need to be approved on a doubly anonymous basis: the reviewers would not know my name nor I theirs. Seto emailed back saying he had consulted with Nunes, and also with James Cantor, Editor-in-Chief of SAJRT. All three, I was told, agreed a submission would be welcome and would go through the usual review process.
So, I set about the tough task of researching and writing my first truly academic article. It took much longer than I imagined, and much midnight oil was expended as the final submission date loomed: 1 September 2012. I managed to get a thoroughly-researched and tolerably well-written piece done and submitted by the deadline, albeit I had run out of time to edit it down to something more crisp and concise: the draft weighed in at a monstrous 35,000 words! Far too much! I just prayed the reviewers would give me a chance to cut to a more practical length.
But then disaster struck. I was told too few articles had been submitted to justify a Special Issue. Cantor offered me the opportunity to submit the MS to the regular journal instead. It seemed a good alternative, so I accepted. The paper was then duly sent for review. This was all very well but the absence of the Special Issue meant that Seto and Nunes would play no further part as editors. This was to prove a fateful development.
The review itself was fine. There was only one reviewer, which may be unusual but should not have been a problem. This reviewer – he or she – made a number of criticisms, especially as regards the length of the paper, as expected, but the decision was encouraging. Here is the key first paragraph of the comments received:
This was a very interesting article to review. In places I agreed strongly with the author and in places I disagreed. I found some of it uncomfortable but probably true but at other points some of the conclusions drawn had a self interested flavour (hard to avoid, I accept). On balance I believe the article could be published albeit in a different form. I think that it makes several important points that the journal readership, particularly those in clinical practice but also researchers, would benefit from thinking about.
In line with the reviewer’s recommendation, I expected the editor-in-chief to offer me the chance to shorten and improve the paper, then be judged again on the revised version. But no. Cantor said he had read the manuscript thoroughly himself but had concluded “I am afraid the manuscript is not suitable for publication in SAJRT.”
This looked to me like an irregular and possibly improper decision. The whole point of anonymous peer review, I thought, was that the anonymity is meant to ensure impartial judgment of the work, without any possibility of personal prejudice against the author. I have no reason to disbelieve Cantor when he said he had read the paper thoroughly, but he certainly had been aware of who I was.
More to the point, there was a very good reason to suppose he might have been prejudiced against me. Like Michael Seto, he was a Sexnet member and familiar with my input there. Unlike Seto, though, he had not liked what he had seen. As quite a few heretics here will know, Cantor has been a very prominent public supporter of the Virtuous Pedophiles and is impatient – to put it mildly – with radical MAPs like me. What appears to have got up his nose even more is that I had used Sexnet to publicly cast doubt on the meaning and significance of his research findings, especially as regards a supposed deficiency of white matter he claims to have detected in the brains of paedophiles.
His responses are best characterised as throwing hissy fits, hurling sarcastic abuse while refusing to address the scientific issues I raised. He could not possibly deny this. These exchanges were not in private email: they were on Sexnet, visible to its 400 or so members. For a blow-by-blow account of our verbal fisticuffs see my blog: Scientific egos as fragile as eggs and The dubious analogy of the ‘extra arm’.
In view of this personal history between us, it crossed my mind to complain to the editorial board of SARJT: they would surely see that his rejection of my paper may not have been impartial.
I chose not to pick another fight with him though. Why not? Well, although I had good evidence to suggest he had some animosity against me, I also had to take into account that he was notorious for his sarcastic, bullying, arrogant attitude towards almost anyone who disagreed with him! He was not necessarily prejudiced against me personally, or as a MAP; he could be seen as just horrible all round, in a fairly distributed way! I’m glad I didn’t take up the cudgels, actually, because he has since done me a considerable favour. But that’s another story.
Sticking with the current yarn, then, about a year ago I raised the matter of the rejected article on Sexnet, asking if members knew any other journal that might be interested in publishing it. That was when David Wilson, editor of ATSA Forum, and also a Sexnet subscriber, stepped forward. Even that didn’t happen smoothly though: Wilson only responded after I had kicked up a fuss on Sexnet and been in a spat with one of his colleagues. After that it was “just” a matter of whittling down a 35,000-word article to 3,500 words and then dealing with criticism of the new draft!
In reality, of course, the restriction on length meant I had to focus on one key aspect of the original article rather than paraphrasing the whole thing. What that means, in turn, is that much of the original work remains unpublished. I believe there is potential in this unused material for an article of around 15,000 words. I will not resubmit to SAJRT but I am now on the lookout for a suitable alternative peer-reviewed journal. Suggestions?