Refutation of the disinformation about Monica Pignotti

Posts tagged ‘Critical Thinking’

My Prediction Comes True: The propaganda continues and I continue to challenge it

As predicted, a number of the prominent mental health professionals who have signed my statement of support are now being brought into the smear campaign, the latest being the well-known social psychologist, Carol Tavris. I am honored to be in such company. Fortunately,  most of these people are established enough that the anonymous cyber smear campaigners have no power to harm them.

I continue to be very grateful to the 47 people who signed this statement of support in helping the days of the therapy guru who is immune to questioning and criticism, come to an end by adding their voices to this ongoing conversation (this is not to say that they are all criticizing and exposing the same individuals — what they have in common is that they are exposing various forms of pseudoscience and other forms of questionable practice, as well as advocating research and evidence-based practice).

[In a later posting, I elaborated on who I do and do not consider a “therapy guru”. Since those anonymous WordPress bloggers have been attempting to twist these words and interpret them in a ludicrous way that no reasonable person would, to set the record straight, I was not talking about “terminating” or doing violence to anyone  (I haven’t a violent bone in my body!)  I was talking the continuing nonviolent cause I have been involved with for the past seven years of educating and advocating for therapy consumers. I was not  “alluding” to the most recent set of questions I asked Ronald Federici and Heather Forbes. What I am talking about is bringing those days where therapy gurus are immune to questions and criticism and dissenters are silenced to an end by speaking out and being a strong advocate for evidence-based practice and critical thinking. I don’t just mean one particular therapy guru (I was using the term generically here). I mean the many therapy gurus that are still out there who cannot deal with having their claims challenged and instead launch smear campaigns against anyone who questions or criticizes or as one “cult expert” did, bring in a third person to attack me on a list serv where I had expressed a disagreement with a statement the person had made to CNN.] The message from these 47 people is that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. They way the anonymous smear campaign bloggers attempted to twist this message is only further evidence of the propaganda campaign.

That doesn’t mean that we are “demanding answers”. What it means is that therapy gurus who feel they are above answering questions will be seen for what they are by educated consumers. As Margaret Singer pointed out, one of the most telling signs of whether a mental health professional is trustworthy is the manner in which they respond to questions.

All 47 of those people have in some way made substantial contributions to ending the days when questioning a therapy guru is not allowed. And yes, anyone has the right to ask those questions, not just people within the profession. Licensed mental health professionals are here to serve the public and that means that anyone in the public, regardless of their position does have the right to question them.

Lately I am being attacked for posting to the internet of all things.  Much ado is being made over the fact that sometimes on a busy month I might average around 4 postings per day to Google Groups. These are mostly postings that take me, on average, all of 5 minutes to do, so that’s about 20 minutes per day, far less time than most people would spend on some hobby and hardly the “astonishing number” that are being portrayed.

What is happening is that some of the followers of other therapy gurus and self-proclaimed top “experts” who I have questioned and expressed disagreements with (e.g. Steven Hassan who has proclaimed himself to be America’s Leading Exit Counselor), are popping out of the woodwork, glad to see this smear campaign against me and essentially informally aligning themselves with Ronald Federici and his supporters, not necessarily with Dr. Federici’s consent and approval and not in any kind of conspiracy, but essentially they are taking his side when they pile on in this smear campaign. I have questioned Mr. Hassan’s claims that the therapy he offers to ex-cult members is superior to that of other mental health professionals, since no direct comparison studies (or even uncontrolled studies, for that matter) have ever been conducted on Mr. Hassan’s approach and yet he charges fees that are quite high for a masters-level licensed mental health counselor ($2500 per day plus $100 per hour just for travel time and $200 per hour on weekends for travel time and even higher rates for holidays). What this means is he is charging $100 per hour on weekdays and $200 per hour on weekends just to sit in what he requires to be a business class section on a plane or in an airport while traveling. Some of us are lucky if we make that amount for an entire day’s actual work and don’t get paid for any travel time, yet he makes it just for one hour of sitting on a plane in the comfort of business class. On a weekend on a coast-to-coast flight, that could amount to $1000.  How can he charge this? He has convinced enough people that what he does is very special and unique, yet where is the evidence? His infomercial-style website, lacking transparency, does not list these fees and says instead to call for fees and repeats his phone number multiple times, but the word has gotten out anyway.

I have also expressed my disagreement with Mr. Hassan for claiming that most ex-cult members need therapy to recover. Again, this seems to be a prime example of the kind of propaganda tactic described by Eileen Gambrill in a recent publication of a propaganda index. Among other issues, the article discusses as one propaganda tactic, problem framing in such a way that it medicalizes and pathologizes life problems that may be more successfully worked out by means other than psychotherapy and not labeling the person with a mental health diagnosis, as Mr. Hassan is prone to do (e.g. he labels cult members has having “dissociative disorders”). A classic propaganda tactic is to 1) claim that a particular problem is highly prevalent, without empirical support for its prevalence and 2) claim that the problem is under-treated and I would add, 3) if left untreated by so-called experts in the area (who often charge very high fees for their services) that the problem will not get better or will even get worse.

This may be good for business, but not so good for the consumers who may spend time and money in therapy that not only wastes their money that could have been put to better use and may not help, but may even do more harm than good. If a therapy is not well tested, we do not know whether it helps, does nothing, or harms. We are basically taking a gamble based on misplaced trust in authorities who market their treatments ahead of testing them to see if it works. Again, it’s the old “trust me, I’m an expert” line.

This is a prime example of what I would encourage prospective therapy clients to question when interviewing therapists or people to conduct cult interventions who, in the absence of good research, claim that their approach is superior to others. It is the clients who are hiring the therapist and have every right to demand that a therapist who is making such claims provide good, sound evidence, rather than the kinds of testimonials from “grateful” mothers and the like, that we see on Steve Hassan’s website, to support those claims. Testimonials are simply not enough.

The issue and conflict here is between therapy gurus who are offering treatments based on testimonials and self-published books who are not used to being challenged vs. the critical thinkers and mental health consumer advocates who are concerned about the welfare of mental health consumers and in essence, putting these therapy gurus and their followers on notice that their days of being immune to criticism and questioning are over. We are getting, predictably, a great deal of push back on this from people who have a vested interest in this not changing and their followers who go ballistic at the thought of any criticism of their therapy guru.

PS: For the record, it is already well known that I left and completely repudiated Scientology 35 years ago. As my account of my experience makes clear, even during the time I was involved in Scientology I was never involved in any kind of violence (as the anonymous WordPress bloggers have been implying as they once again demonstrate their inability to comprehend figures of speech). While in Scientology, I never had that kind of power and was always on the receiving end of the abuse, not a perpetrator although I never experienced any physical violence the entire time I was in. During the time I was involved that was many years before the current leader who is the one who has been alleged to be violent, came into power and I was long gone before any of that happened.

Monica Pignotti Taught Multiple Perspectives on Feminism

I just can’t imagine who has the time to go through everything I have written online with a fine toothed comb and grasp at any straw they can to slam me. My guess is that someone with no other life is either devoting their life to finding anything they can to malign me or it is someone’s job. In any case, the latest in the smear campaign against me is an anonymous posting slamming me as “harassing students” for making the  following statement:

I am probably the only one in my department who exposed students in my diversity class to both the writings of radical feminists and the writings of more conservative feminists, such as Christina Hoff-Sommers (who I actually agree with
on a number of points) because I wanted them to have both points of view.

I committed what one of my cyber stalkers apparently considers the sin of actually exposing students to multiple perspectives on feminism in a diversity class. Imagine that! Not sure if this individual feels it is horrible I taught about radical feminism or horrible I taught about Christina Hoff-Sommers’ work (who is highly critical of radical feminism) or horrible that I gave students multiple perspectives and encouraged them to think critically about whatever they read. That’s the whole point. I don’t just teach perspectives that I agree with because the whole purpose of education, by my philosophy, is to teach students how to think, not what to think. In other words:

Teaching students how to think in a rational, critical manner, is education.

Teaching students what to think is not teaching or education at all; it’s indoctrination. If students just absorb material like sponges and then just uncritically regurgitate it back on some test to please the instructor, that is a complete waste of time and of the good money they are paying to get an education. Of course there are certain facts and skill sets that need to be taught and learned, but at the end of the day, it is how they think, not what they think, that counts and makes them a professional rather than a mere technician.

The final assignment I gave that class, by the way, was to have them pick a controversial issue, identify what their position is on it and then turn around and play devil’s advocate, producing the very best arguments they can find for the opposing position and then write about their conclusions and what they learned from doing so [I did this very thing on my potentially harmful therapies blog, by the way, when I gave the very best arguments I could possibly find for prone restraint and thoughtfully examined them]. I always graded students on the quality of their arguments and students who produced well-written, sound arguments got high marks, regardless of whether I agreed with their position.

It this is their best shot against me, someone must be getting pretty desperate. Talk about grasping at straws. And of course the post is continued with the usual untrue and completely unsupported assertions that I was fired from FSU and that I “ranted” to the class about various topics I did not. This is easily refuted by references I am happy to provide from people who actually worked with me at FSU. Who will people believe? Those who worked with me and know me or an anonymous coward? A real head scratcher — not.

Although I have yet to identify the anonymous individual is or individuals are who has been posting libelous material about me and yet lacks the courage to put his name to what he or she posts, it is interesting to note that whoever they are, have been literally flooding the internet with libelous and defamatory postings of all kinds about me since the dismissal of Federici v Pignotti. Perhaps whoever it is was unhappy with the outcome?

Just a guess on my part but it is interesting to note that during the three months this case was active, there were very few derogatory postings about me and even those were quite mild, compared to the overtly libelous ones that have been posted since March 4, 2011. And before anyone attempts to put words in my mouth, again, please note that I am not accusing Dr. Federici of making these postings, but whoever the anonymous individuals are seem to have stepped up their activities posting untrue statements about me since the dismissal. While a few might just be internet trolls jumping in on the action, it is a big stretch to think that all of the posters are just trolls, given the timing and the nature of the postings and that some had knowledge of things that were not in the public domain that a so-called “troll” could not have found out about by being online.

Is it hypocritical to use the title “Dr” or “PhD” and yet challenge authority?

Recently I have been slammed by a certain reputation management company (who apparently has an axe to grind with ACT) and charged with being a  “hypocrite” because I use the titles Dr or PhD and yet encourage people to challenge authority. These are two completely different things. The fact that I use the title “Dr” or “PhD” which I worked very hard to earn in a fully accredited institution,  does not mean that I am a hypocrite if I criticize certain others who happen to also hold a doctorate degree and urge people to challenge authority.

On the contrary, part of my PhD training was to think critically and not just automatically accept something just because someone with an advanced degree says so.  It does not make me a hypocrite to criticize someone else who has a PhD.  The process of getting a PhD from a rigorous program is all about learning how to challenge authority and think critically.

It would only be hypocritical if I maintained that people should just blindly trust me because I have a PhD and I have never done that — that attitude runs contrary to everything I have ever stood for. I do not use my titles to convey the message that people should just unquestioningly accept anything I have to say because I am an “authority”. I use them because these are titles that I have worked very hard to earn and deserve to use them and I am addressed as “Dr” in any formal professional situation (for example, at conferences) I have been in, since defending my dissertation and earning my PhD.

That being said, I have never, ever, asked my students or anyone else to just take my word for anything and I have never graded a student down for disagreeing with me on a topic. In fact, I have been known to give students A’s on papers if the paper was well written and well argued even if they took a position I disagreed with. By the same token, if a student turns in a poorly written, poorly argued paper who happens to agree with me, I will still give such a student a low grade. In other words, I grade students on the actual quality of their work, not on whether or not they agree with me.

So yes, I will continue to use the titles I have earned and make no apology for doing so and I will continue to encourage people to challenge authority and not just blindly accept something just because someone with a PhD or other form of doctorate said so. Anyone who has actually been through a good PhD program understands that the two are entirely compatible.

The Benevolent Tutelage of Monica Pignotti: Free Critical Thinking and Geography Lesson

The anonymous bloggers on that other WordPress blog are at it again, putting words in my mouth. They claimed that I said one could prove a negative. No, I did not say or write that. However, since this is a commonly misunderstood point, I consider it worthy to elaborate on. While true that one cannot prove a universal negative, it is possible to falsify a positive. In essence this means that in some cases, a person can prove their innocence indirectly by showing proof positive of a contradictory fact. Perhaps they need to add Karl Popper and Aristotle to their reading list.

Here is an example. I can absolutely and very easily falsify the lie that was posted that my PhD was revoked. All I have to do is have FSU send a sealed copy of my official transcript to the appropriate parties. A classic example is that of the alibi for a crime. A person can prove they are innocent by providing proof they were somewhere other than the scene of the crime at the time it was committed. A person obviously cannot be in two places at once. Game over.

However, in the US justice system, as anyone who has ever been a juror as I have learns, the State in criminal cases and the Plaintiffs in civil cases have the burden of proof. In a criminal case, that means the person is innocent until proven guilty. The defendant does not have to prove he/she did not commit the crime. Of course, it helps if he has an alibi or can provide DNA evidence, but that is not what is required.

I will preface my remarks by saying that I have the utmost respect for actual clerks in the legal system who do their jobs and don’t misrepresent the legal systems in postings. The problem I have with this particular person who claims to be a hacker clerk is specifically with the way he misrepresents the legal system and seems to imply that the courts “like” Federici (is he claiming that they are biased in favor of him?). I can’t imagine his employer would approve of this. Recently a poster who appears to be a Federici supporter (although he denies knowing him) claiming to be a clerk at the courthouse posted to Fairfax Underground displayed egregious ignorance of US libel law, stating that the defendants he is suing have the burden of proof to show that the statements they made were wrong. That is the case in the UK, which is what made Simon Singh’s legal case so difficult, but it is not the case in the US. In the US, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to demonstrate that the alleged libelous statements made were factually false. This makes libel cases very difficult to prove, because the plaintiff has to come up with a way to falsify the statements made. Virginia is in the United States, not the UK.

In my case, if I could identify who is lying about me, it would be easy as I can easily falsify the lies that I was fired from FSU or had my PhD revoked by providing the relevant documents. However, the ACT website used fair use quotes directly from Federici’s self-published book, Help for the Hopeless Child. If Federici could produce a copy of his book showing that the quotes were nowhere to be found, he could win, but of course he cannot do that because these quotes are, in fact in the book. and anyone can look at the page numbers cited and see that.

The little anonymous “clerk” (I don’t know if he actually is a clerk — in my opinion he is someone who is lamely trying to scare me — but for convenience’s sake I will refer to him as that) also displayed incredible ignorance of what is required as evidence. He seems to think that unless people observed first hand, they cannot make any claims. Somehow in his little mind, he seems to be confusing the concepts of courts requiring direct evidence vs. heresay with what is permissible to say that would not be considered libel. If someone really could be sued for writing about anything other than direct observation, the courtrooms would be filled with journalists and anyone who has ever written a negative book review. That is just more nonsense that shows the little clerk, or whoever he actually is, didn’t learn much from his job. If he is really a clerk, I wonder what his boss would think about his mouthing off his ignorance, misrepresenting and making a mockery of the legal system and the fact he called himself a hacker clerk. The little clerk also seems to think that what he considers ranting about a person is actionable. No, it is not, unless the rants contain lies about facts. Fortunately, the little clerk does not get to make up the rules. The law is the law and the justice system is obligated to follow the law.

So yes, it is perfectly legitimate to critique someone else’s writings and recommendations that are being made in those writings and if the writings are recommending prone restraint procedures, it is perfectly fine to offer up an opinion on the danger of prone restraints, especially since several states agree and have banned them entirely and there is a large body of literature showing their dangers.

Being licensed and proclaiming oneself an “expert” does not mean that people cannot write about that person. Any person in the US is free to criticize anyone at any time for anything as long as they do not make a statement that is factually incorrect that damages the person’s reputation.  If Federici follows through with his threats to appeal the case which he must do within 10 days of his previous legal loss in small claims, as plaintiff, he will have the burden of proof to show that a factually false statement was made maliciously that damaged his reputation.

Here’s a geography lesson. Virginia is in the United States, not the UK. In the UK, defendants have the burden of proof in libel cases. However, in the US, the plaintiff has the burden of proof, so unless Virginia has seceded from the US and become part of the UK, Federici will have the burden of proof, plain and simple.

Again, if Federici follows through with this lawsuit what is at stake here is academic freedom and freedom of speech on the internet. Rest assured that those who care about either of these issues will not be happy. If people can be hauled into court from out of state without sound basis, this would have a chilling effect on both because even if he loses, the defendants would be put through the time and expense of having to hire a lawyer, show up in court and present a defense.  As I understand it, an appeal case is considered essentially hitting the reset button, meaning that certain things from the small claims case cannot be carried over, including possibly the jurisdiction issue which can once again be argued. Cases involving the internet are such a new area, they are difficult to predict, so let’s wait and see and hope that precedents get established that do not have chilling effects on a person’s right to free speech and academic freedom.

Late Breaking Update: Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch has just been sued by Doctor’s Data Laboratories. For details and to contribute to his legal defense fund, click here and  here.

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