Respectful Insolence

I just shook my head as I perused this item on Pharyngula earlier this morning. What else can you do? The irrationality and lunacy is beyond belief as I read a story about a mother named Colleen Leduc called into school because a report of sexual abuse was made about her autistic daughter Victoria:

The frightened mother rushed back to the campus and was stunned by what she heard – the principal, vice-principal and her daughter’s teacher were all waiting for her in the office, telling her they’d received allegations that Victoria had been the victim of sexual abuse – and that the CAS had been notified.

How did they come by such startling knowledge? Leduc was incredulous as they poured out their story.

“The teacher looked and me and said: ‘We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of “V.” And she said ‘yes, I do.’ And she said, ‘well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.’”

Victoria, who is non-verbal, had also been exhibiting sexualized behaviour in class, actions which are known to be typical of autistic behavior…That lead authorities to suspect she had a bladder infection that may have somehow been related to the ‘attack.’

Leduc was shaken by the idea. “It’s actually your worst nightmare your child being violated,” she admits. “So for them to even suggest that, and that be my worst nightmare, it was horrific.”

But things got worse when school officials used the “evidence” and accepted the completely unsubstantiated word of the seer by reporting the case to Children’s Aid, which promptly opened a file on the family.

“They reported me to Children’s Aid,” Leduc declares, still disbelieving. “Based on a psychic!”


So this mother was reported to the authorities on the basis of a pinheaded, woo-loving, credulous teacher’s aide who apparently regularly sought out the advice of psychics and even believed their B.S. I understand that the law probably seemed to leave the school authorities no choice in the matter. I don’t know about Canada, but in most states in the U.S. laws regarding the reporting of suspected child sexual abuse generally leave very little leeway–or at least its interpretations “on the ground” do. The credulous insinuation of a moronic teacher’s aide who believes in psychics must be treated exactly the same as a real allegation based on observations and evidence. However, there has to be some common sense exercised here, as this is what the law says:

But under the Child and Family Services Act, anyone who works with children and has reasonable grounds to suspect a youngster is being harmed, must report it immediately – and the CAS has an obligation to follow up.

The key word is “reasonable.” An allegation based on a secondhand report of what a psychic said with no other corroborating testimony or evidence cannot be considered “reasonable” by any stretch of the imagination. That’s true even though Victoria was reportedly demonstrating sexualized behavior, which apparently school officials used as additional “evidence”:

The school officials then gave Ms. Leduc a list of behaviours that Victoria was exhibiting.

“You must remember that Victoria has severe autism and is entering puberty so she is exhibiting behaviours that are very common with children of this age but, being autistic and not having been taught otherwise, she will exhibit these behaviours in public,” Ms. Leduc said.

The list included putting her hands down her pants, spitting, seeking to sit on cold objects and gyrating against staff members.

“The principal looks at me and says, ‘We’ve called CAS.’ Then I got sick to my stomach.

“I challenged them and asked if the other children in the class with autism exhibited these behaviours. They said, ‘Oh yes, all the time.’ But they were not reported to the CAS because they didn’t have the psychic’s tip.”

The stupid, it sears every neuron into one last burst of apoptosis-inducing depolarization!

The school officials were clearly in CYA (that’s “cover your ass,” for those not familiar with the term) mode. It’s the same sort of CYA attitude that leads to school officials to turn off any vestige of critical thinking skills and do any of the many stupid things documented at Zerointelligence.net. Indeed, even the Simcoe County District School Board’s superintendent in charge of special education programs agrees:

Lindy Zaretsky, the board’s superintendent in charge of special education programs, said she could not discuss the circumstances of a specific case.

“School staff and administrators have a duty to report, under the Child and Family Services Act when there is suspected abuse and if they believe there is reasonable grounds. However, it is the CAS that weighs any package of evidence and they make the determination whether to proceed with an investigation,” said Dr. Zaretsky.

“I can say that historical and current and future practice from the board’s position is that psychic readings are not regarded as evidence,” she said.

The case reflects some of the difficulties with prevailing policies on child abuse that adopt a zero-tolerance approach.

“We have this policy in place that when in doubt, call and report,” said Peter Dudding, executive director of the Child Welfare League of Canada, an organization promoting the protection of vulnerable children.

There is still room, however, for common sense under zero tolerance, he said.

“The law talks about ‘reasonable and probable grounds’ to believe something — those are really legal terms for showing common sense.

“I have to tell you that at first blush, hearing that the basis of the report is a psychic doesn’t sound like it falls within the realm of reportable child abuse,” he said.

Actually, that’s the very problem with “zero tolerance.” There isn’t room for showing common sense in a lot of cases, or the concept of “zero tolerance” so scares administrators that they turn their brain off, telling themselves that it’s policy and they really have no choice, even if the evidence presented to them is not evidence at all. So, on the word of a brain-dead idiot (who may have been well-meaning, but nonetheless an idiot), Mrs. Leduc was subjected to an investigation, and no doubt her daughter Victoria was traumatized. It’s a good thing for her she had bulletproof evidence that nothing untoward had happened to her daughter:

The mom, who is divorced and has a new fiancé, adamantly denied the charges, noting her daughter was never exposed to anyone of that age. And fortunately she had proof. The mother was long dissatisfied with the treatment her daughter had received at the school, after they had allegedly lost her on several occasions.

As a result, the already cash strapped mom had spent a considerable sum of money to not only have her child equipped with a GPS unit, but one that provided audio records of everything that was going on around her.

So she had non-stop taped proof that nothing untoward had ever happened to her daughter, and was aghast that the situation had gone this far.

Can you imagine what might have happened if Mrs. Leduc had not had this sort of irrefutable evidence to counter the charge? No doubt the investigation would have gone much further. Mrs. Leduc’s friends and associates might have been interviewed. Victoria very likely would have been subjected to a medical examination, complete with a pelvic exam, to look for evidence. Imagine how traumatizing that would have been to an autistic adolescent. This is the sort of thing that happens when belief substitutes for skepticism (in the case of the educational aide) and when school officials are too credulous or cowardly to exercise even minimal skepticism and critical thinking. The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions, and unfortunately a lack of critical thinking can easily turn that road into a superhighway, which appears to be what happened in this case.

There’s so much bleeding idiocy revealed by this case that it’s hard to prioritize what’s the worst. I think it has to be the observation that the school officials who forwarded this complaint clearly have no clue what the term “reasonable grounds” means (whatever it means, evidence from a psychic surely isn’t reasonable by any stretch of the imagination), or, more likely, these officials were too terrified of potential lawsuits that their critical thinking capacity was as seriously impaired as that of the school aide who first made the report on the basis of a psychic reading. It’s far easier just to report the allegation to the authorities and let them sort it out, making the whole mess someone else’s problem. Whatever the case, school officials at Terry Fox Elementary School utterly failed Victoria because they were too stupid or too afraid to exercise a modicum of critical thinking. Before being allowed anywhere near a school, these pinheads should be required to undergo a week-long bootcamp in critical thinking run by James Randi. Meanwhile, the police should be going after the psychic scammer, not a hard-working mother of an autistic child.

When psychics attack, no one is safe from the fallout.

Comments

  1. #1 WTFWJD
    June 19, 2008

    It’s only a matter of time until some school official starts taking advice from an exorcist.

  2. #2 Jason Failes
    June 19, 2008

    There’s an ongoing debate over whether or not Autism is really a condition we should eliminate, and there are several advocacy groups promoting methods that improve social functioning, but do not seek to eliminate autism itself.

    The justification is usually something like “that’s who x is. We have no right to take that away from him/her.”

    Before now, I thought such notions were overly post-modern, and personally stopped embracing radical individualism wherever it overlapped pronounced dysfunction.

    However, it is clear from this example that the autistic child’s level of dysfunction is nowhere near that of those whose care she has been left in.

    So, treatments to eliminate autism? Maybe, but not until we’ve developed treatments to eliminate mindless credulity. It’s far more dangerous and far, far more common.

  3. #3 Rev Matt
    June 19, 2008

    I think the school official who decided this was ‘credible’ should lose their job for being to stupid to know the difference between reality and fantasy.

  4. #4 Andrew
    June 19, 2008

    Do you think CAS would have to investigate if they received anonymous calls about that teacher and the principal and vice principal abusing children? We could perhaps claim that we had drawn up astrological charts indicating a propensity towards pedophilia in those individuals.

    Surely such an act of revenge upon those morons could be easily justified as both fitting and hilarious.

  5. #5 wfjag
    June 19, 2008

    Dear Orac:

    Thank you for using this incident to discuss the abuse reporting act. Every state in the US has similar laws, and all use very similar standards as those in the Canadian law — so, this isn’t just a problem that will occur elsewhere.

    Relying on a psychic is outrageous. However, what about questionable techniques that are more generally accepted –like facilitated communication? Or, if you live in Minnesota, a N.D.’s opinion? You recently discussed Dr. Katz’s advocacy of “fluid” evidentiary standards for what is acceptable in science and medicine. Much of what the law considers “reasonable” or “credible” evidence requiring a potential abuse report is based on what science or medicine finds acceptable. Exposing pseudo-science for what it is, has exceptionally important consequences for everyone (even those who so willing accept pseudo-science)

  6. #6 John H.
    June 19, 2008

    Is it just me, or is there a general increase in fantasy (or fantastic) belief among theoretically rational adults? I thought as one ages (I am past 50) that one’s world view sharpens and relies less and less on the things they told us as small children. Next we’ll be hearing that Bush believes in the Easter Bunny.

    As I said: is this just me? Because this lack of critical thinking, as PZ pointed out, is scary as hell.

  7. #7 thordora
    June 19, 2008

    I just finished re-reading Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World.

    As soon as I saw this the other day, I knew I’d want to read it again.

  8. #8 Allison Dubious
    June 19, 2008

    The psychic should be brought up on charges but she’d probably be acquitted. Headline:SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE

  9. #9 StuV
    June 19, 2008

    Just goes to show you… you can fix autism, but you can’t fix stupid.

  10. #10 Rod Clark
    June 19, 2008

    I’m just bewildered that there wasn’t a single person amongst that faculty that had the brains or the courage to stop this meeting. What a bunch of twits.

  11. #11 Niobe
    June 19, 2008

    Unfortunately, the abuse angle is one psychics play all the time for effect. Derek Ogilvie does it ALL THE TIME. Another British psychic, Patrick Hutchinson did it too recently and scored a hit, which he’s now playing for all it’s worth and trying to testify in court.

    http://badpsychics.com/thefraudfiles/search.php?query=Patrick+Hutchinson&mid=2&action=showall&andor=AND

  12. #12 Calli Arcale
    June 19, 2008

    Relying on a psychic is outrageous. However, what about questionable techniques that are more generally accepted –like facilitated communication?

    This is indeed a very dangerous technique. Maybe sometimes it works, but it can so easily turn into a vulnerable patient into a living Ouija Board. And who can forget the disastrous “recovered memory” nonsense that destroyed the lives of so many daycare workers and schoolteachers in the 80s!

    When I was in high school, I remember hearing about a family who wanted to get their daughter into the marching band. It can be tough for disabled kids to get into the band, but there are accommodations that can be made. One of my friends had no right-hand peripheral vision. Solution: since she couldn’t “guide-right” to line up with the rest of the rank, we made her “right guard” so we all lined up off of her. ;-) But for this other girl, there was no accommodation possible. Not only was she wheelchair bound, and not only was she unable to play an instrument by herself, but with the benefit of assisted communication, could answer yes-no questions right 50% of the time. The parents did not see the problem with that….

  13. #13 Rick Pikul
    June 19, 2008

    A quick explanation from a Canadian about our love of using the word ‘reasonable’ in our laws:

    Whenever a law uses that word, it is invoking what is known as the ‘reasonable man’ test: What would a reasonable man do/think in that situation? This does involve judgement calls, and it should always be considered a flag that one should apply reasoned thought to the case at hand. In the particular case of ‘reasonable grounds’ it would require the reasonable man to think that there is cause for further investigation, when you go to ‘reasonable and probable grounds’ you need our reasonable man to think that the suspicion is more than likely correct.

    The reason we use this term is that Canadian law has a large dose of British Common Law in its philosophy and we try not to write perfectly detailed laws, instead relying on our judges to be sufficiently sane to be able to deal with the atypical cases. It tends to lead Americans to think Canadian laws are either overly vague or overly broad because the US tends much closer to the French Civil Code style of law.

  14. #14 barbie123
    June 19, 2008

    John H., You really struck a chord with me….I am edging closer to 50 and was involved in a conversation yesterday with some women who not only used “homeopathic (ahem) remedies” but used the same on their children….

    Uh, aren’t we past the point of believing in fantasy? I, too, assumed, that as we age, we become wiser and more critical in our thinking. Seems that is not the case in a large percentage of the population.

  15. #15 wfjag
    June 19, 2008

    Dear Rick:

    The overwhelming majority of US states are common law jurisdictions, and use a “reasonable man” standard frequently in statutory and jurisprudentially created tests. Louisiana is the sole state that follows the French civilian tradition (although its laws are heavily influenced by common law doctrines, including the “reasonable man” standard, but in Louisiana the civilian doctrines of in pari materia and the civilian doctrine of equity are still viable).

    I’ll confess that I’ve not seen a suspected abuse report in the US based on a psychic. That’s not much of a defense of US standards, since I have seen some pretty flimsy “evidence” asserted as the “reasonable” basis for such reports — including the “impression” of one ex-spouse who just happens to be in a custody and alimony fight with the other.

    I do see one advantage in Canadian law — the English Rule on attorneys’ fees (the loser pays) vs. the American Rule (absent a statute, each side pays their own attorney). I suspect that better deters fivilous suits. However, in the reported incident since there was no suit and as Canada, like the US, generally follows the doctrine of sovereign immunity, it doesn’t appear that the mother has a right of redress (the psychic is protected by the statute and the school is protected by sovereign immunity). So, the mother may be lucky she even got an apology. Of course, that she had the foresight to make verbal recordings of her child’s school days for a few weeks before the psychic-inspired child abuse investigation probably helped her, too.

  16. #16 jayh
    June 19, 2008

    “Of course, that she had the foresight to make verbal recordings of her child’s school days for a few weeks ”

    Alas, in many US jurisdictions, that in itself is a crime. A few years back a man in Massachussetts who secretly recorded a police officer verbally abusing him at a traffic stop in his car was himself convicted of illegally recording.

  17. #17 baboo
    June 19, 2008

    Coincidence gives credibility to the otherwise incredible – so even if you distrust psychics (as of course you should), you might unconsciously consider some sightings, if they evoke a tenable scenario, as a “better safe than sorry” call to action.

    But I’d still fire the assistant.

  18. #18 wfjag
    June 19, 2008

    Dear Jayh:

    Dr. Novella at Neurologica Blog also has an excellent discussion of this matter. http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/

    One of the commentators cited a news story stating that the reason the mother got the GPS unit with verbal recording capability is that the school had “lost” her non-verbal, autistic daughter a few times.

  19. #19 ekchung
    June 19, 2008

    @WTFWJD

    You mean an exorcist like the governor of Louisiana? It just so happens that school officials might end up doing just that when they allow creationism to be taught in the classroom. See the Bad Astronomer for details.

  20. #20 Ron Sullivan
    June 19, 2008

    Spitting is “sexualized behavior” now? What??

  21. #21 Boinkie
    June 19, 2008

    sounds like the “guided communications” stuff about fifteen years ago…the autistic kids were given a board with letters, and their hands were guided by a “helper” who wrote the letters out…, and within weeks were printing out lurid stories of abuse.

    Films of the “communications” showed the kids looking away from the board and being bored when the “helper” was busy “talking” to the kid…yet even a normal person would have to look at the board to get the letters right…and of course, no one questioned why the kids instantly learned to spell…

    and yes, some parents were prosecuted under this type of fraud too…

    As a doc, I’ve seen a lot of abuse, but also a lot of false accusations… about half the “abuse” cases I saw were false alarms. So there is a lot of exaggeration out there.

  22. #22 Uncle Dave
    June 19, 2008

    Orac pretty much hit the nail on the head with his comments on this issue.

    The area or field of special education in the U.S. is probably one of the least understood or cared about fields of education. Many SpEd teachers start with very little mentoring and guidance with which to deal with the multi-faceted environment that they are required to work in (education issues unique to special needs, medical issues, behavior issues, IDEA issues, Ed code and last but not least -legal rights of the child within the classroom).

    Given the budget and teacher shortage situations and lack of concern for the career teaching field these days (in the U.S.), some of the individuals that are currently working in the special Education career field can be pretty pathetic.

    It seems that there is no field that requires more good judgement and reserve than that of the special education field. The fact that an administrator would move on any of this so called information is what astounds me the most.

    My spouses experience is that it usually takes a firearm to get an administrator/principle to act on any of these issues even if there is medical and emotional evidence that predisposes a teaching professional to move on it. In many instances the teacher (instances with “good” cause -bruises, behaviors etc) ends up having to make the call because the principal is unwilling to get involved.

    Keep in mind that many special needs children are living in deplorable conditions with guardians or drug dependant parents that are quite negligent to say the least. In many of these cases where there is actual abuse taking place, social services is left with few options with which to help the child at all, or at least improve there condition after the abuse is reported, documented and confirmed.

    The situation in my assesement is that of an area that is cared very little about, monitored by agencies that have little resources and reported by individuals that are relunctant to report. For the most part the system usually aires on the side of doing very little.

    That all being said, these people get my;
    If she sinks, she is not made of wood and therefore she is a witch award.

  23. #23 Suricou Raven
    June 19, 2008

    In reference to a much earlier comment, there is likely some collective benefit to be gained from keeping a small proportion of higher-functioning autistics in the population – aspergers and similar. They may be barely capable of looking after themselves, but they can also have a high intellectual inteligence and the type of obcession that brings them to superhuman brilliance. They make a good pool of potential geniuses, even if the eventual discovery of the Next Big Thing is made by someone who needs to be reminded occasionally to get dressed before leaving the house.

  24. #24 Azkyroth
    June 19, 2008

    So, treatments to eliminate autism? Maybe, but not until we’ve developed treatments to eliminate mindless credulity. It’s far more dangerous and far, far more common.

    Present scientific evidence suggests that in order to remove autism from existing individuals, the person’s entire brain would have to be rewired at the cellular level, and/or his or her development would have to be rewound to the point of fertilization and replayed. Given this, our focus should indeed be on teaching autistics the skills they need to survive in the world in a way that makes sense to their brains.

    (Though I’ve often thought that a cure for neurotypicalism would be a worthy scientific endeavor).

  25. #25 Uncle dave
    June 19, 2008

    Boinkie said;

    “sounds like the “guided communications” stuff about fifteen years ago…the autistic kids were given a board with letters, and their hands were guided by a “helper” who wrote the letters out…, and within weeks were printing out lurid stories of abuse.”

    Yea that was one for the Guiness Book of world Record voodoo. My spouse came unglued when she saw that being reported as a “facilitating technique” in the media.

    “and yes, some parents were prosecuted under this type of fraud too…”

    Sociopaths and cult preachers tend to be very good at seeking out those that are weaker or susceptible and can be bullied. Those within the group that suspect they smell horse crap must be immediately singled out and crushed in fear of them causing an outbreak of skepticism.

  26. #26 wfjag
    June 19, 2008

    Dear ekchung:

    I assume that you are referring to Gov. Bobby Jindal, the graduate of Brown University, with honors, in biology and public policy, who then received a master’s degree in political science from New College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar.

    “Jindal came to national prominence during the 2003 election for Louisiana governor.

    In what Louisianans call a “jungle primary”, Jindal finished first with 33 percent of the vote. He received endorsements from the largest paper in Louisiana, the New Orleans Times-Picayune; the newly-elected Democratic mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin; and the outgoing Republican governor, Mike Foster. In the second balloting, Jindal faced the outgoing lieutenant governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Lafayette, a Democrat. Despite winning in Blanco’s hometown, he lost many normally conservative parishes in north Louisiana, and Blanco prevailed with 52 percent of the popular vote.”

    [You may remember Gov. Blanco - she's the one who wouldn't authorize federal assistance to Louisiana until about 12 hours before Katrina made landfall, and, instead of attempting to coordinate response efforts, including making decisions necessary for the coordination of state and FEMA efforts, spent her time doing photo-ops of passing out bags of ice in order to show that she was "concerned." This isn't to suggest that FEMA Administrator Brown did a good job. Rather, the facts show that the Katrina Charlie Foxtrot in Louisiana had many "parents." Interestingly, the experiences with FEMA of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, whose governors authorized federal assistance much earlier and who actually made the decisions necessary, were considerably better -- not great, but fairly good.]

    There is a lot of speculation that one reason that Jindal lost that election (in a state in which David Duke once was in the run-off for Governor) was due to his race. In any event, Blanco did not run for re-election and Jindal in 2007 took 54% of the popular vote in the primary to be elected governor, since there was than no run-off.

    While I am aware that Jindal supports teaching ID in the public schools, I’ve seen nothing supporting the allegations in Bad Astronomy that he supports teaching “creationism,” or “thinks that an exorcism cured cancer,” and the “far-right religious group” that Bad Astronomy refers to is the Roman Catholic church.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Jindal

    (Yes, I am aware that Jindal converted to Roman Catholicism — Heaven forbid that a Catholic ever be elected President or VP of the US, right?)

    Although I can personally see various reasons to question Gov. Jindal as a V.P. – despite considerable experience in many areas of Government and an outstanding education, he’s very light on experience. Unfortunately, Bad Astronomy does not appear to be a credible source when discussing politicians, political issues or social issues. That blogger lets personal prejudice get in the way of accurately stating facts and engages in too much rhetorical scare-mongering. I ignore bloggers from both sides of the political spectrum who do that. I also am skeptical of bloggers who note a candidate’s race (either as a pro or con) or religion (either as a pro or con). And, since I haven’t reviewed the bill passed by the Louisiana Senate, I’m not prepared to believe merely on the represenations of Bad Astronomy that it mandates teaching “creationism.”

  27. #27 Azkyroth
    June 19, 2008

    They may be barely capable of looking after themselves,

    Bite me. ;/

  28. #28 Azkyroth
    June 19, 2008

    While I am aware that Jindal supports teaching ID in the public schools, I’ve seen nothing supporting the allegations in Bad Astronomy that he supports teaching “creationism,”

    Are you under the misapprehension that there’s a difference between ID and Creationism?

  29. #29 alison
    June 19, 2008

    I second Azkyroth – if you’ve been reading Orac for any length of time (or ERV, or PZ, or any of a number of other bloggers), how on earth can you say that ID & creationism are two different things????

  30. #30 amhovgaard
    June 19, 2008

    Suricou Raven:
    People with Aspergers don’t have to be reminded to get dressed. Some have slightly odd ideas about what to wear, though; like wearing all white all the time, or wearing whatever feels comfortable with no regard for how they look (fairly common). My brother, who has Aspergers, wears his clothes until they are completely worn out, more or less until they fall off :-) He believes that environmentally friendly behavior is important, consumerism is not a good thing, and unlike most of us (but like a lot of people w/Aspergers) he acts according to his principles no matter what other people think of his behavior.

  31. #31 Mac
    June 19, 2008

    This is ridiculous. Somebody take that teacher’s aide out bag and flog them. Also, what “recovered memory” stuff from the eighties?

    Anything that states “it is impossible to know” is very obviously not-science. As in “it is impossible to know the will or goal of the Creator,” a main point for ID. Therefore, ID should not be taught in science classrooms.

  32. #32 Azkyroth
    June 19, 2008

    Also, what “recovered memory” stuff from the eighties?

    Two links, to start with.

  33. #33 Militant Agnostic
    June 20, 2008

    Orac’s subsequent post on quack cancer treatments has lead me to suggest that the psychic, teachers aid, and principal be given a round of Gerson therapy at the drive through window of the nearest Tim Horton’s. (I find that Tim Hortons coffee reaches a drinkable temperature about 60 – 75 km down the road from the point of purchase).

    At least the Special Ed Supertintendant seems to realize that a psychic reading is not grounds for an investigation.

  34. #34 Zen
    June 20, 2008

    I’m not reading this the same was as many others seem to be.

    First, it seems that CAS did the right thing. They looked into the situation, promptly declared the allegations utter hokum, and apologized for the trouble.

    I, too, wonder how things would have been different without the GPS tracker, but given that such powerful evidence was available, it would have been stupid not to use it.

    The point is, with such institutionalized hypersensitivity to minimize the rate of false negatives, you are going to get a high rate of false positives. That’s just the nature of a screening test.

    The question is, how intrusive and annoying is the confirmation test? While I can see the annoyance that the school thought that the rantings of a psychotic (formal definition: “loss of contact with reality”; I’d suspect ICD-9-CM diagnosis code 297.1), the fundamental fault is not theirs. A high false positive rate is part of the design of the system.

    The question, and I can’t see it answered in the press reports I’ve seen so far, is whether the confirmation was unreasonable. CAS will get false reports. Do they dispose of them in a civilized manner, or is this an inquisition where suspects must prove their innocence by ordeal?

  35. #35 Niobe
    June 20, 2008

    “(Though I’ve often thought that a cure for neurotypicalism would be a worthy scientific endeavor).”

    The boy next door is a non-verbal 6 year old who’s constantly stimming, flaps his hands and can’t focus to look somebody in the eyes. He’s been a source of constant worry and care for his parents since day 1, and his mother is hell bent on trying to prepare him for a life with a modicum of independence, but he’ll probably be institutionalized. She’s insanely focused and gets compensated for some of their costs (go, nannystate), but it’s a burden.

    Curing/preventing autism isn’t about eliminating quirky characters, it’s about lessening the inhuman load of parents and caregivers and the quality of life for all involved.

  36. #36 Bee
    June 20, 2008

    Yes, children’s protection services can be prone to knee-jerk reactions, but unfortunately the alternative, too often, has been kids dead of abuse.

    In this case, the law that says you must report if you even think, or are told by anyone, there might be abuse happening caused a school to act foolishly. I personally think the ‘psychic’ should be charged under some appropriate law and at least given a hefty fine and a severe lecturing from a judge. I would really like to see such people held to account for the consequences of their ridiculous activities more often.

  37. #37 notmercury
    June 20, 2008

    Niobe: “Curing/preventing autism isn’t about eliminating quirky characters, it’s about lessening the inhuman load of parents and caregivers and the quality of life for all involved.”

    Um, Niobe, Since we haven’t discovered a cure or a way to prevent autism, curing/preventing autism isn’t about about your experiences with the boy next door. I’ll admit the load can be heavy at times but I wouldn’t describe it as inhuman.

  38. #38 wfjag
    June 20, 2008

    “I am aware that Jindal supports teaching ID in the public schools”

    Azkyroth & alison:

    Please read exactly what I wrote, and note the key word “teaching.” Jindal is a politician, and the first minority politician to be elected to state wide office in a state that about 20 years ago voted David Duke into a run-off with Edwin Edwards (prompting the “Vote for the Crook, It’s Important” bumper sticker).

    I have no idea whether he, an honors graduate in Biology from an Ivy League university and Rhodes Scholar, believes in ID — nor, I suspect, do you. The assertion in Bad Astronomy strikes me as on about the same level as assertions about BHO that because he attended a huge and wealthy church in the same district that he intended to start his political career by running for Ill. state senate, HBO necessarily agrees with the rantings of Rev. Wright. As Rev. Wright recognized, BHO is a politician. So is Jindal.

    Enough off thread. Orac’s excellent blog, along with that of Dr. Novella, raise plenty of important issues of concern. If/when Orac decides to write a comment that raises the issue of how law is made in Louisiana, since I’ve seen it at the sausage making level, I’ll go further. Here, however, that is inappropriate.

  39. #39 notan_ostrich
    June 22, 2008

    Q. How do you defend against a psychic’s vision in a court of law.
    A. With a mind reader of course.

    At least in this case the physical evidence was held to be better than the supernatural evidence. I can imagine situations where some would think something was wrong with the physical evidence if their psychic was contradicted. I hope no one ever has to defend against supernatural evidence before a jury of Wooers.

    notan

  40. #40 ebohlman
    June 22, 2008

    It occurs to me that the school district may actually have violated the mandatory reporting laws by not making reports for all the other students who were exhibiting “sexualized” behavior, given that they included Victoria’s behavior in their report on her. Needless to say, the outcome of doing so would be horrible for everybody involved (kids being temporarily put with foster parents untrained to deal with the intense meltdowns that would likely result from being removed from their parents, every twentysomething male employee of the school having to lawyer up, etc.). But we must Think Of The Children, even when it means exposing them to real risks in order to lessen imaginary ones.

  41. #41 Some Canadian Skeptic
    June 23, 2008

    I like seeing virtually the entire skeptic blogging community discussing this.

    I blogged about this on June 17th, and I’m trying to launch an email campaign to get people to write to the School Board. I also think it’s high-time that the identity of the ‘psychic’ be revealed. I live near Barrie and know the city well. I have some contacts there who are helping me trying to figure it out, but, unsurprisingly, the newage community in Barrie are being very tight-lipped about it.

    Anyway, if anyone is still interested, please check out my blog entry, http://somecanadianskeptic.blogspot.com/2008/06/psychics-and-sex-and-autism-oh-my.html where you can find all relevant contact information of the school board.

    Lets not let them get away with this!
    Cheers.

  42. #42 Charity
    June 24, 2008

    My cousin was once reported to Child Services. They never found out who made the accusation or what the basis was. (Their city has an anonymous hotline.) Child Services had to open a file, talk to their 3 kids. It was degrading and very frightening for them. Thank God, the social workers saw a very normal family and closed the file. My cousin suspected her teenage daughter’s then-boyfriend for calling them, because he was angry that they had grounded the daughter for lipping off to her parents AGAIN. Calling Child Services is not something you do because your PSYCHIC told you to. And this teacher’s assistant should not be let anywhere near children EVER AGAIN.

  43. #43 Porges
    June 25, 2008

    Over here we still have someone in jail for ‘that ’80s stuff’ :/

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