Robert 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.