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May 1, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Given the state of academic antagonism between scientists who support shared parenting and those who don’t, it comes as no surprise that, at the same time Dr. Richard Warshak produced the paper I’ve commented on over the last few days, Dr. Robert Emery and six others have published their own point of view. They did so in the April 2016 edition of the Family Court Review that, also unsurprisingly, Emery edits.

In fact, Emery, et al published three pieces in the FCR. The first is called an “Editorial Note,” the second “’Bending’ Evidence for a Cause: Scholar-Advocacy Bias in Family Law” and the third “Convenient and Inconvenient Truths in Family Law: Preventing Scholar-Advocacy Bias in the Use of Social Science Research for Public Policy.” To those who follow the internecine strife among social scientists, this represents yet another strategic retreat by those who approve of the current system of marginalizing fathers in children’s lives.

And why wouldn’t they fall back? After all, their laughably bad research has been outed for all the scientific community to see. Worse (for them), 110 prominent scientists from around the world have endorsed Dr. Richard Warshak’s 2014 paper that embraces shared parenting for children of all ages absent demonstrable unfitness on the part of one parent, serious domestic violence or irreconcilable conflict. In short, as I’ve said many times before, opponents of shared parenting have seen the ground shift under their feet time and again; by now, they’re standing on a precipice. They have no serious argument to make against shared parenting.

So what are these latest efforts in the FCR? The scientists who oppose shared parenting have stopped attacking shared parenting and begun attacking science. In the three articles, Emery, et al make two points. First, the science on shared parenting is insufficient to demonstrate its worth to children and second, anyone who says it is commits the sin of being a “scholar-advocate.” According to this view, scientists should remain entirely aloof from the social/legal/political context in which their science is conducted.

(About that, I’m reminded of an old song by the curmudgeon and MIT mathematics professor Tom Lehrer who was excoriating the nuclear scientist Werner von Braun for his role in developing the nuclear bomb. Lehrer: “’Once rockets are, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department,’ says Werner von Braun.” In other words, scientists who believe they work in an academic bubble, outside of their social/legal/political context, delude themselves.)

I can’t help but notice that, up until now, those opposed to children having meaningful relationships with their fathers following divorce haven’t hesitated to promote their positions at every opportunity. Indeed, their doing so was one of the major reasons for Warshak’s consensus report. The 110 scientists endorsing it wanted to put a stop to the proselytizing by McIntosh, Smyth and others that was then threatening to derail the advances in our understanding of children’s welfare post-divorce. As but one example, even after the shoddiness of her work had been revealed, McIntosh continued to promote a template she invented for judges to apply to parenting time decisions for children under the age of four. That template of course was based on her own flawed research. If that’s not scholar advocacy, I don’t know what is.

In an effort to short-circuit the argument that, if anyone has been “guilty” of advocacy, it’s been the opponents of shared parenting, Emery, et al admit that both sides of the debate have advocated on behalf of their positions. The authors duly tut-tut about that. They do so because they hope to position themselves as disinterested arbiters of the shared parenting conflict in which the two sides sully themselves by crassly stating their points of view on the matter. That is a sham, a pose. It fails on a number of levels.

First, the idea that the shared parenting debate is one of equals is simply untrue. Indeed, Emery, et al nowhere produce or even refer to any empirical evidence suggesting that sole parenting is better for kids than shared parenting. The large body of research demonstrating the opposite has been accumulating for decades. So the idea, assumed by Emery, et al, that there’s some sort of moral or scientific equivalence between research supporting shared parenting and that opposed is simple nonsense. There is no need for a neutral arbiter because neutrality in the face of such one-sided evidence is, as I said, a sham, or worse, anti-scientific advocacy. There comes a time at which the obvious must be admitted. To do otherwise is to put one’s thumb on the wrong side of the scales.

Think of the burning controversy, “The earth, flat or sphere?” About that, we must assume, Emery, et al would, in the interest of avoiding advocacy, refuse to take a stand, preferring to pose as neutral arbiter between the sides.

Second there’s the fact that Emery must be a recent convert to the notion that scientists should refrain from advocating a position in matters that appear in social/legal/political contexts. A very recent convert. Put simply, Emery has invariably opposed shared parenting for many years. That he now pretends to be neutral may fool first-time readers, but no one else.

For example, just a matter of days ago, Emery gave an eight-hour presentation to Nebraska psychologists and social workers about, among other things, parenting plans following divorce. I have a copy of his slides for that presentation and they reveal a person who’s not only an advocate against shared parenting but one who’s willing to misrepresent the science on the issue.

For example, slide 80 contains this nugget: “I do have a problem with distorting science.” So who wants to bet his next words distort science? If you took that bet, collect your winnings. Emery’s very next words, “Research shows that children always do best in joint custody” express what he wants us to believe scientists like Warshak say about the research on children and parents. Of course no one on either side of the debate has ever said any such thing. So we have Robert Emery, in the FCR, posing as dispassionate observer, while in Nebraska, frankly misrepresenting the pro-shared parenting position in order to oppose it.

Oh, by the way, in one of the FCR articles, Emery, et al bemoan the use of straw man arguments. Somehow that didn’t prevent him from making one of his own just a few days ago in Nebraska. That’s the type of intellectual rigor with which we’re dealing.

Then there’s the fact that the section of the FCR in which two of the articles appear is entitled “Researcher’s Roundtable.” Now, when I think of a “roundtable” discussion, I think of several people of differing viewpoints sitting around a table discussing same. But Emery’s “roundtable” is nothing of the kind. It’s less a roundtable discussion than a church choir. Everyone’s singing the same tune, worshipping at the same altar; no one else was invited. There’s nothing neutral about it.

Emery’s current pose as disinterested party, the scientist above the fray, is really the same old wolf in different garb. Again, opponents of shared parenting have nothing to support their position, so their current dodge is that there’s no position worth supporting. Their aim of course is the same as ever – to convince policy-makers and judges to oppose shared parenting.

Their claims have always been threadbare, but they’re now at the point of vanishing altogether.

I’ll have more to say about this next time.

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