Monday, June 14, 2010

I'm not a crook

From Friday's NY Times, an article with accusations of potential censorship against everyone's favorite psychopath scholar with a monopoly on this poorly understood disorder, Robert Hare, regarding his alleged overemphasis of criminality in the PCL-R:
Academic disputes usually flare out in the safety of obscure journals, raising no more than a few tempers, if not voices. But a paper published this week by the American Psychological Association has managed to raise questions of censorship, academic fraud, fair play and criminal sentencing — and all them well before the report ever became public.

The paper is a critique of a rating scale that is widely used in criminal courts to determine whether a person is a psychopath and likely to commit acts of violence. It was accepted for publication in a psychological journal in 2007, but the inventor of the rating scale saw a draft and threatened a lawsuit if it was published, setting in motion a stultifying series of reviews, revisions and legal correspondence.
The inventor of the clinical test, Robert D. Hare, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, sees a different principle at stake.

“The main issue here is that these authors misrepresented my views by distorting things I said,” he said in a telephone interview. “I have been doing this work for 40 years and never seen anything like it.”
The paper — “Is Criminal Behavior a Central Component of Psychopathy?” — was circulated widely among forensic psychologists well before publication. Experts say the scientific issue it raises is an important one.

Dr. Hare’s clinical scale, called the Psychopathy Checklist, Revised, is one of the few, if not the only, psychological measures in forensic science with any scientific backing. Dr. Hare receives royalties when the checklist is used; he called the income it generated “modest” compared with providing paid expert testimony — which he said he does not do.

Dr. Skeem and Dr. Cooke warned in their paper that the checklist was increasingly being mistaken for a complete definition of psychopathy — a broader personality construct that includes deceitfulness, impulsivity and recklessness, though not always aggression or illegal acts. The authors contended that Dr. Hare’s checklist warps that concept by making criminal behavior a more central component than it really is.

Dr. Hare maintains that he has stressed “problematic, not antisocial or criminal, behavior” and that his comments were distorted.

Dr. Skeem said she was “just worn out” by the prolonged dispute.

“When we first wrote the paper,” she said, “we saw it simply as a call to the field to recognize we were going down a path where we were equating an abstract concept with a checklist, and it was preventing us from looking at the concept more closely.”

The report appears in the June issue of the journal Psychological Assessment — that is, along with a rebuttal by Dr. Hare, and a return response from Dr. Skeem and Dr. Cooke.
The abstract of the offending paper:
The development of the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R; R. D. Hare, 2003) has fueled intense clinical interest in the construct of psychopathy. Unfortunately, a side effect of this interest has been conceptual confusion and, in particular, the conflating of measures with constructs. Indeed, the field is in danger of equating the PCL-R with the theoretical construct of psychopathy. A key point in the debate is whether criminal behavior is a central component, or mere downstream correlate, of psychopathy. In this article, the authors present conceptual directions for resolving this debate. First, factor analysis of PCL-R items in a theoretical vacuum cannot reveal the essence of psychopathy. Second, a myth about the PCL-R and its relation to violence must be examined to avoid the view that psychopathy is merely a violent variant of antisocial personality disorder. Third, a formal, iterative process between theory development and empirical validation must be adopted. Fundamentally, constructs and measures must be recognized as separate entities, and neither reified. Applying such principles to the current state of the field, the authors believe the evidence favors viewing criminal behavior as a correlate, not a component, of psychopathy.


  1. You've got to be kidding.

    Dr. Hare is trying to say that his PCL-R does not stress criminality? (I would use an exclamation mark, but I'm trying not to be melodramatic.)

    That HAS to be a joke. Dr. Hare's entire basis for his checklist came from interviewing criminals in prison and jail. He, as far as I know, never really tried to find psychopaths who were not in jail. Henceforth, yes, the checklist does emphasize criminality.

    P.S. If I'm misunderstanding anything here, please, by all means, clarify what I misunderstood. (I say this because it seems this article is a joke.)

  2. It's been quiet here lately..where are the peeps?


  3. Hare is only human and his construct, though widely accepted, isn’t gospel truth or the last word on the subject. Nor should it be.

  4. I'm gathering there are elitist sociopaths that want to be distinguished from the criminals, on accounts of not being in a jail cell...?

    Narcissism at its best!

    Y'all can't reinvent the wheel, now. You are what you are - lucky.

  5. I don't think anything should be counted out. 2Said is right when he says that Dr Hare conducted studies mostly on sociopaths that were in prison. That was the obvious place to look. They certainly could not expect a sociopath to come to them for therapy or to volunteer to be studied. How else was he going to get his info? I think there is much more to be learned. There can be no reinventing the wheel because to reinvent it, it has to be created in the first place. I do believe from what I have read and observed that there are sociopaths that exist on various levels with different degrees of awareness about themselves and how they tick. The higher functioning ones understand the propensity that they have to manipulate and generally wreak havock on those they come in contact with. Many understand it and although they feel driven they are able to establish a code of behavior that is acceptable for themselves and relative to a certain place in society in which they see themselves fitting in. These sociopaths need to be studied. The problem that the professionals have is in trusting the people who would agree to be studied since sociopaths are known to manipulate and lie. I think it is very tough and frustrating for all.

  6. Anon above, are you trolling? Just wondering.

    I agree, by the way, DB.

  7. I mean, the anon above Zan.

  8. Zan, you'll realize that trying to study high-functioning psychopaths is paradoxical. You pretty much pointed that out yourself.

    That's exactly why psychopathy is terribly misunderstood and lacking in research.

    The very idea of being able to study a successful psychopath is like saying -2 + 2 = 1. The equation actually cancels its self out. Which, again, is another big reason for the huge problems with the diagnosis.

  9. I wasn't trolling. Just making an observation.

    I think it's trademark of the sociopath disorder, really. You can't submit over control, not even to your nasty diagnosis with its awful stigma.

    Of course, it's natural, you would want to distinguish yourselves from the typical criminal, because it's offensive to your innate narcissism. But, really, how much self-control does a sociopath really have?

    As much as any other predatory animal would...

    Or, as much as a young child would on a good day, when not presented with new opportunities and enticements to break rules.

    You can't have it both ways, as you would like to believe. Predators are predators. Don't convince yourselves otherwise. That would be delusional.

  10. Anon: "You can't have it both ways, as you would like to believe. Predators are predators. Don't convince yourselves otherwise. That would be delusional."


    I like you, Anonymous.

    Stay around, will ya?

    However, I will say, in my defense, that sociopathy has different levels. As you well know, I'm not unbiased enough to say whether or not I'm one of those super duper advanced sociopaths.

  11. Zan, I for one was not suggesting that Hare’s work is invalid or should be junked. I am saying that it is only one piece of the puzzle and that it should not be considered the final say. No theory that calls itself scientific should. If we wanted dogma (beliefs that are supposed to be beyond question) we’d get “saved” and join the Xtian bandwagon.

    2, are you implying that a so called successful sociopath should not actually be considered a sociopath? If he/she is successful (which I take to only mean that he/she has managed to stay out of prison) then can they be said to be pathological?

    Again, I don’t call myself a sociopath or think of myself that way, even though I am aware that I do not possess a moral conscience. I get that I could kill without qualm and that I don’t because there is no reason for me to. There is nothing pathological about that line of thinking, is there? Unless self honesty is the new pathology.

  12. I just reread my comment to 2 and it is obvious that not being in jail doesn’t mean one is free from psychological pathology. I should add that to my way of thinking, whatever else psychological pathology is, it has to include a rigid pattern of behavioral response that is both maladaptive and causes distress to the person behaving that way. In my case, my lack of a moral conscience does not reify my responses. On the contrary, I am more flexible than most, thus more potentially adaptive.

  13. Daniel Birdick - Poster Boy of Self-honesty,

    "Again, I don’t call myself a sociopath or think of myself that way, even though I am aware that I do not possess a moral conscience. I get that I could kill without qualm and that I don’t because there is no reason for me to."

    If we were privy to objective information about you, your activities, and history, I'm sure someone could find something pathological about you.

  14. Daniel Birdick - Poster Boy of Self-honesty

    :-) Nice.

    You’d find eccentric. Pathological (as I have defined it anyway), nah. Hell, I have barely hurt anyone’s feelings in the last year or two. I’ll admit, in the spirit of honest disclosure, I have lied more often than normal in the last 7 or 8 months, but I know what I’m doing and I only tell people what they want to hear, so it’s a win-win for all involved. And yes, I can see the irony in what I just said.

  15. DB:". . .are you implying that a so called successful sociopath should not actually be considered a sociopath? If he/she is successful (which I take to only mean that he/she has managed to stay out of prison) then can they be said to be pathological? "

    I would say a successful sociopath is pathological, nonetheless. What I was trying to illustrate is that you cannot study a successful sociopath because the act of studying them would invalidate their successfulness, since blending in and 'not being found out' is a part of their very successfulness. (Yes, I accept the connotation that I am less successful to a certain extent for making posts to this blog.)

    DB: "Unless self honesty is the new pathology."

    Self honesty is not the new pathology, no. It's what the honesty portrays that is pathological. For example, let's say I admitted to myself that I am schizophrenic. The schizophrenia would be pathological, not the self honesty its self.

    I'm sure you deduced this, right? If not, there you go.

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