Psychopath researcher threatens to sue critics

Photo by Flickr user Profound Whatever. Click for sourceRobert Hare is a psychologist who studies psychopaths and is best known for developing the ‘Hare Psychopathy Checklist’ or PCL-R, a standard diagnostic tool for assessing offenders. He is currently threatening to sue two psychologists who wrote an article critical of the theory underlying the checklist, as well as the academic journal, Psychologist Assessment, that accepted the piece for publication after it was peer-reviewed.

There’s an account of the affair over at the excellent forensic psychology blog, In the News, who note that the article was authored by respected researchers Jennifer Skeem and David Cooke and was titled “Is Criminal Behavior a Central Component of Psychopathy? Conceptual Directions for Resolving the Debate”. As a result of the legal threat the article has never come to light.

The letter from Hare’s lawyers apparently claimed that the he would:

“have no choice but to seek financial damages from your publication and from the authors of the article, as well as a public retraction of the article” if it was published. The letter claimed that Skeem and Cooke’s paper was “fraught with misrepresentations and other problems and a completely inaccurate summary of what amounts to [Hare’s] life’s work” and “deliberately fabricated or altered quotes of Dr. Hare, and substantially altered the sense of what Dr. Hare said in his previous publications.”

It’s probably worth noting that the PCL-R is big business. At current prices, each assessor who uses the checklist needs their own copy of the manual ($123) and the rating booklet ($68.50) and each individual assessment requires an interview guide at $5 each and a scoring form at about $3 each.

However, to use the assessment, each person needs to attend a training workshop at about $350 per person and workshops can easily involve 100 people at a time. Additionally, there is a follow-up correspondence course, price unspecified.

Because the assessments are used in the legal system, it is important that no-one (like an opposing lawyer in court) can find fault in the process and attending the ‘official’ training from the PCL-R company is considered the gold standard.

Recently, the affair has caught the attention of two lawyers and legal scholars who have just published their own analysis of the situation in the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health.

They express regret that Hare has chosen to use legal threats to counter his critics rather than to refute any points he felt were unfair in print himself, but also note that his strategy may actually undermine the usefulness of the PCL-R in court as opposing lawyers “may attempt to discredit that testimony by arguing that the literature relevant to evaluating the PCL-R has been tainted”.

Link to In the News on the case.

4 Comments

  1. Posted June 1, 2010 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    Sigh. I hope this is just a temporary lapse of judgment on his part because it’s hard to imagine something that could be more damaging to his reputation.

  2. Posted June 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Well he may be a jerk that is letting dollar signs cloud his scientific judgment but that’s hardly reason to call him a psychopath.

  3. Posted June 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Woah, thats really bad news. Using the legal system to attack your critics rather than responding with a letter or article of your own in the same journal really undermines the whole scientific method in this area.
    Its a real shame because I’m actually quite a fan of Hare’s PCL. Its only the second factor that includes criminal behaviours, whereas the first factor refers to selfishness and narcissism, which “successful” psychopaths may have in abundance whilst not engaging in criminal activity. The second factor describes some behaviours which are in fact similar to those encountered in brain injured persons with orbitofrontal injury. Hare himself makes a big distinction between “true” psychopathy (factor 1) and criminal antisocial personality disorder (factor 2). Only the antisocial psychopath is high in both factors, and those are the types that do tend to be incarcerated, as the “axe murderer” type.
    If Skeem and Cooke are claiming that criminality is not central to psychopathy, they are actually agreeing with Hare. However, if they are doing so in a way which is criticising his work, I can only imagine that they must be presenting a “straw man” of his arguments and misrepresenting them. This might be what is pissing him off so much.
    Still, it would be better, more professional, more scientific and better for Hare’s reputation if he published a harsh rebuttal of their article, pointing out that they have either misunderstood or misrepresented his work.
    I suppose that if they have actually fabricated quotes and attributed them to him, then they are actually lying about his work, which might warrant a libel suit.
    In my work, Alan Baddeley’s central executive is always misrepresented, mainly because very few people have read his 1986 chapter in which he introduced the term. I found that reading the original work, politely emailing the author for clarification, and citing the response as personal communication was the best approach. I hope that Skeem and Cooke tried this with Hare and that they have saved any emails they recieved back!

  4. Pujarze
    Posted January 15, 2015 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    There is quite a few spelling and grammatical errors in this Amazon review, but it has some good points concerning Hare’s book…

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R1BZIC89LLPP67/ref=cm_cr_pr_cmt?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1572304510#wasThisHelpful

    Robert Hare raises his lance, then touts forward to expose his psychopathic windmills. Delivering us all from evil through the provision of a pop psychology criminology book printed by Guildford Press. Only this book seemingly can expose the evil that lies amongst us as Hare is the new Witch-finder General. This is a book for the herd animal, those that make up the numbers in modernity because it entails them venting their spleen without having to think. Easy prey for a psychopath as it happens because they are gullible. This book flips the coin and does the same trick by trying to put an arm round your shoulder and directing all that hate meanwhile the other hand is going for your credit card.

    A fundamental flaw emerges early and then continues throughout the writing. Everything is the produce of a genetic script as there is no such thing as free will. It is the Old Testament transferred to science to psychology. This book seems to be a light bulb attracting the moths of the scientifically deluded.

    Robert tells us most psychopaths are not Gacey’s, Bundy’s or Gein’s but then devotes 80% of the book detailing their crimes and motives. Finally he lets us into a secret…these were psychopaths. The fact the police let Dahmer go, believing his account when he was in the process of killing one of his subjects is down to his suave manner. Ignored in Hare’s world is the police being conditioned to believe a man rather than a blood battered boy. This is never explained by Hare as he believes in the benign nature of institutions. This is because he is part of one. Presumably if he started pointing the figure at the police the lucrative lecture circuit may dry up.

    Better to keep quiet and concentrate on pathologising the criminal!

    This book incorporates the fleet hand signals, the use of smoke and mirrors to ignore the obvious. The killers he concentrates upon, were all convicted of sexual or physical violent offences against individuals. He ignores the social world where killing in legitimised. For example those who ordered and carried the various 20thC genocides including Operation Phoenix. Again Hare would have to look at his own profession and their involvement, see Zulueta’s From Pain To Violence for a more balanced account. This collusion of psychiatry with death is also detailed in Paul Lerners book on Male Hysteria. These detail not just individual psychopaths but state sanctioned kills all undertaken in the name of a higher cause.

    Returning back to Hare’s killers the question is whether they have any emotions is crucial to his thesis. Do emotionless people kill others or is it an internal rage disguised as having none, an elucidation? Another important question arises when Hare states there are many latent psychopaths. What prohibits them from killing? This is never explained in his book. Perhaps they have a genetic injunction to stop them? If we travel down this route then we are all latent psychopaths. Hare then spends the rest of the book proving his particular thesis, the genetic script. Don’t let the evidence get in the way of a 100,000 seller! Psychopaths are genetically constructed and there is no treatment available according to Hare. The rationale for crimes are all glossed over within this catch all process. No one has ever discovered a gene for “psychopathy” as it is just a belief system, an act of faith. God is transferred to science. Robert is selling you one book to replace another. What Hare doesn’t want to tell you is that Psychopaths are constructed by parents and institutions. That would make you run away.

    This book is aimed at those who seek absolution.

    If you peak under another stone, the journalistic work of Gitta Sereny on Mary Bell, this provides a deeper picture than this pretentious posturing. James Gilligan and bis book “Violence” provides a clearer analysis of violent behaviour derived from his relational work with perpetrators.

    In the Hare world, externalised violence explained by past trauma is not psychopathic because it is explainable. The ultimate ring around wagon defence. As the circle gets tighter we are squeezed towards the flag of truth “in one mind.” People brought up by “loving” parents who commit terrible acts are true psychopaths in the Hare world. Their behaviour cannot be “explained.” Secondly these people continue to have random amounts of children, as they need to propagate their gene.

    This exposes the fatal flaw; Attachment Theory. Hare like his subjects has no concept of it….scary!

    Parents and people working in institutions raining down violence kill empathy in the victim. Unempathic people such as Manson, Gein etc are the products of families and institutions. Children rescued from destuctive parental behaviour by someone who offers a lifeline in childhood as portrayed by Stack Sullican can survive the most horrendous circumstances. This book is dangerous, labelling kids and severing this lifeline. It does more to create psychopaths with its labelling than it does provide any remedy. It gives succour to abusing parents to continue for the childs own good providing the “Bad Seed” defence. I knew they were bad and this is why I abused them.

    Hare eschews the word sociopath, another laymans term, because this acknowledges social factors. Hare does not believe in social factors such as poverty, sexual/physical abuse, neglect, isolation, attachment severance, abusive, unemotional parenting or worst of all… malevolent institutions and nasty doctors. Hare also never questions the “American Dream,” and the hand me down myths he holds. He is part of a system propogating untruths, perenially milking the bull he cannot hold the produce up for inspection.

    He tells us serial killer psychopaths are only the tip of a psychopathic iceberg based on astounding evidence… his thoughts. Bringing illustrations to the table he then draws on film analogies to broaden his argument, so we get clips from Hannibal Lecter. All undertaken to appeal to the popular imagination, a hark back to childhood bogeymen and separate the victims from their cash.

    He does mention board room manipulations but fails to follow them up in sufficient detail. No mention of Gordon Gecko as White collar crime is undertaken by aberrant individuals revealed after death (Robert Maxwell) or by the legal system; the various pension scandals. Institutionalised bullying and violence is invisible; pension misselling, the 2008 financial collapse, flight capital, credit card insurance, Barings Bank, Northern Rock, RBS, Lloyds Bank, Barclays. Is this genetic or socially constructed or socially embedded? Robert like one of his subjects evades the crucial questions…his crucifix and garlic is mentioning the social world.

    The class benign nature of his discourse is another blind spot. Hare treads on very dangerous ground as this book highlights his own issues clearerly. The female sociology graduate, (she must be good, she has a degree,) whose sexualised daughter tells lies, is used by Hare, as a vivid example of a good parent with a bad child. We are never taken any further on the journey on how this construction arose. Hare takes the mother’s account account verbatim; “Where did I go wrong?” The child is absent from the discourse. This silence around the victim highlights the doctors world view. These people must be silenced at all costs. Otherwise they will show him and his theories for what they are; psychological projections by abusers on the abused.

    Robert does not believe in attachment severance, bad parenting, so there is no further exploration of the child’s view. Psychopathic children tell lies anyway according to Hare, they cannot believed. Why bother asking them? They are liars.

    Please note all you people who voted for this book, unfortunately I will have to shout over the shrill noise

    THIS IS THE ARGUMENT USED BY CHILD ABUSERS TO SILENCE THEIR VICTIMS.

    Hare tell us psychopathic children should not be labelled but then tells us their traits can be detected at an early age. He provides a number of indicators to measure these children. Bereavement/ neglect/ trauma are never inspected. Dr. Hare plays out his day dreams of evil children silently growing into monsters, only he can expose and tame. The book is a new cross to expose and nullify these new unempathic vampires. The good Dr. can unmask them, just dial the magic number and he will arrive armed with his psychopathometer.

    The seemingly infallible twins study is trotted out to back up his hackneyed arguments. Normally displayed to show two twins separated at birth growing up apart to have identical traits; alcoholism, schizophrenia, autism, obesity, mental health issues. In Hare’s world two children growing up in the same “loving” family are completely different; Cain and Abel. This proves it is all in the genes. The loving family already pronounced by Hare beforehand so any inspection of his claim is alreay thwarted.

    Hare runs with the fox and barks with the hounds.

    I am not sure whether he is just cynical or Mr. Magoo of psychology/psychiatry/psychotherapy. It is clear he cannot develop a relational stance with his subjects. There is no balance in the bak as he constantly searches for evidence to back up his hackneyed views. Research also lies beyond him and his research team. Presumably he would retort, you cannot enter into a dialogue with psychopaths in his predetermined tautological world; they will only manipulate you with their version of the truth. Hence they are absent.

    One member of his research team who did develop a “relational” stance eloped with a patient. She is then perceived as a victim by the good Dr. Duped. Fleeced and dumped for her money, her “fault” emerges in believing the starry lies of her treatment subject. Her crime, falsely believing he will go straight. The considerable ethical issues are ignored. If this happened in the UK she would be stripped of her professional membership (I hope) and not allowed to practice unless she went for retraining.

    Instead she is used to further the Doctors belief system. The malevolent charm of the glint in the eye that enticed the innocent to be corrupted, not a middle class intellectual woman using her power over a working class man. Middle Class intellectual women with degrees in the care sector are not perceived as abusing vulnerable men. Again Hare believes in institutions highlighting his flawed world view. Running off with patients for sexual gratification Dr is an abuse of power.

    The “psychopathic” verbal accounts are all taken as verbatim ie they say what they mean, even though they are well reknown liars in the Doctors world. Untruth only becomes a factor when they contradict Dr. Hare’s pre-determined belief system. These psychopaths can be spotted as individuals pulling the wings off flies, legs off spiders, vivisecting cats building up to skinning humans in basements. Thousands of these latent types live within big cities. The reason for their disorder; confused brain signals, genetic throwbacks.

    Attachment theory is thrown onto the dungheap. It is given a cursory dismissal despite the case study he provides with “Little Tess,” sexually abused as a baby, engaging in violent revenge in her infancy, clearly affirms the theory. In the Hare brain world the little girl was abused because she was a psychopath, not the other way round. The fact she has been violated and suffers some form of PTSD is just an excuse for her latent unfolding genetic script, meaning she will become promiscuous have lots of babies and bruises. This is the most shocking example in the Hare brained world of collusion with sexual abuse of infants. One has to ask what is seriously going on here and why is this book firstly printed, sold 100,000 copies and no one has picked this up previously?????????

    I would not dispute that nasty people exist, they prey on the vulnerable, needy, isolated, depressed, young and elderly. These are the con men/women of dreams. It is embedded within culture, not a few nasty types. The serial killers are only a small component of a vast dynamic of individually socially constructed violence. This flows through families even ones that perform outwardly noble deeds, sit on various child abuse committees, write tracts on abuse, give money to charity, behaving outwardly with esteem and politeness good Doctor.

    It’s only when you build the relational bridges by having empathy as a practitioner, not gullibility, there is a difference…I mean taking your car to a prisoners workshop where you have crossed swords shows naivety, even in the early therapeutic days. This smacks of self negligence, taking advantage of facilties, something again circumscribed by a code of ethics.

    In a relational world people eventually begin to lose the performed Goffman “front” and reveal what lies behind it, through building trust. If you cannot build these bridges you produce books like this….empty, emotionless, lacking empathy with the subject, egocentric, grandiose…ring any bells?????

    This book is a marker for the current state of forensic psychology and its adherents.


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