The Reliability and Validity of Gardner's Indicators of Pedophilia
Terence W. Campbell*
ABSTRACT: Despite the professional respect Richard Gardner
deservedly enjoys, his "Indicators of Pedophilia" are grossly
unreliable as a result of their ill-defined ambiguity. Because of
their inherent unreliability, Gardner's indicators rely excessively on
clinical judgment. In view of the extent to which clinical
judgment invites arbitrary conjecture, self-styled
"validators" who rarely encounter allegations of sexual
abuse they do not uncritically endorse can easily exploit the
ambiguity of Gardner's indicators to serve their own biased
agenda. The readiness with which Gardner's indicators provoke
unreliable speculation necessitates persistent challenges directed at
disqualifying them as a basis for expert testimony.
In the midst of the growing hysteria related to allegations of child
sexual abuse, Richard Gardner stands out as a courageous figure wisely
advising careful deliberation in situations that too often provoke
reckless abandon. His 1987 book, The Parental Alienation
Syndrome and the Differentiation Between Fabricated and Genuine Child
Sex Abuse (),
perceptively identified allegations of child sexual abuse as minefields
which mental health professionals were obligated to navigate with
In particular, Alienation Syndrome prompted considerable
attention for Gardner's "Sex-Abuse Legitimacy Scale" (SAL
Scale). His 1992 book, True and False Accusations of Child Sex
further outlined developments and refinements related to the SAL scale
leading to his definition of the "Indicators of
Pedophilia." Despite Gardner's well-deserved reputation as a
paragon of reason confronting powerful but frequently irrational forces,
this article contends that his "Indicators of Pedophilia"
create more problems than they solve.
To his credit, Gardner acknowledged the potential shortcomings
related to his SAL Scale and the "Indicators" which evolved
from it. In his introduction to True and False Allegations, he
I recognized that the SAL Scale was a first offering
and that, ideally, before publishing such an instrument, one should
work 15 or 20 years on its development and pull together the findings
of many groups of investigators. On the other hand, there was an
urgency in that people were being jailed then and we could not wait
until "all the data was [sic] in" before formulating an
objective scale (1992, p. xxxiv).
Unfortunately, however, Gardner's commendable sense of social
responsibility appears to have motivated the development of a seriously
flawed evaluative procedure.
For cases of sexual abuse allegations directed at adult males,
Gardner has developed 24 criteria that presumably discriminate between
pedophiles and non-pedophiles. He indicates that mental health
professionals evaluating allegations of sexual abuse should determine
whether each of the criteria are or are not satisfied for
a given suspect. In turn, Gardner advocates that clinicians
summarize their findings in terms of how many separate criteria
supposedly indicating pedophilia a particular suspect satisfies.
Basically, then, Gardner proposes his indicators as discriminative
indices for differentiating between pedophiles and non-pedophiles in a
population of adult males suspected of child sexual abuse.
Considerations of Reliability and Validity
The utility of any discriminative index ultimately rests upon
acceptable levels of its reliability and validity (Anastasi,
1982). The reliability of any index involves the extent to which
evaluators obtain consistent results when using it. The validity
of an index refers to the accuracy with which it can discriminate
between a particular class of events compared to another class (e.g.) is
this an instance of a legitimate allegation of sexual abuse, or is this
The accuracy of any discriminative index inevitably reflects, among
other factors, the reliability with which it can be applied to
particular cases. For example, if we find it difficult to
determine whether some two-legged creature walks like a duck, and if we
feel uncertain whether it really looks like a duck, and if we also
wonder whether it sounds like a duck, the accuracy (or validity) with
which we classify this creature as a duck or not a duck
will be seriously compromised. Similarly, then, if Gardner's
indicators cannot be applied in a reliable manner to cases of alleged
sexual abuse, their corresponding validity levels will be unacceptable.
The most important reliability issue related to Gardner's indicators
involves considerations of inter-rater reliability. Inter-rater
reliability specifies the extent to which two or more evaluators apply
an index in the same manner to the same case. High levels of
inter-rater reliability indicate that evaluators use an index in a
consistent manner. Conversely, low levels of inter-rater
reliability indicate that evaluators use an index haphazardly; and this
outcome reflects random errors committed by the evaluators.
Indices that resort to vague and ill-defined terms (e.g., "levels
of felt experience") increase random error because of their
ambiguity, and they are unreliable as a result.
The clarity and precision of an index reduces random error and
increases its inter-rater reliability. Well-defined decision rules
applied to an index increase its reliability by virtue of their clarity
and precision. For example, assume that we wish to predict marital
failure (as defined by divorce) and choose neuroticism as a predictive
index. The reliability of this index depends on the clarity and
precision with which we define neuroticism. Consequently, we could
develop a decision-making rule and specify neuroticism as defined by any
MMPI-2 profile with T-scores on scale 7 and any one of scales 1,
2, or 3 exceeding 65. Whether this definition is valid is
entirely another matter, but it would nonetheless result in perfect
inter-rater reliability when defining neuroticism.
Inter-rater reliability is necessary but not, in and of itself,
sufficient for establishing the validity of an index. Therefore,
unreliable indices can never validly predict another variable; but
reliable indices may also prove invalid. Unfortunately, the extent
to which most of Gardner's indicators are grossly unreliable because of
their ill-defined ambiguity will become clearly evident throughout the
remainder of this article. Though Gardner insists that his
indicators are valuable when used "properly," in fact, their
inherent unreliability precludes any such use. Moreover, the few
indicators that qualify as reliable still appear less than valid except
for some isolated examples.
Indicators of Pedophilia in Adult Males
1) History of Family Influences Conducive to the Development of Significant
Gardner contends that family of origin pathology increases the
probability of pedophilia in males. As examples of familial
pathology, he cites conditions such as a history of violence,
alcoholism, drug abuse, psychopathy, serious psychiatric disturbance,
and suicide. With the exception of suicide, which is obviously an
event usually identified with considerable accuracy, all of the
remaining conditions resist reliable definition to the degree that they
invite distortion and bias.
For example, this index raises issues of how does one define family
violence, and is all familial violence essentially identical in its
dynamics and effects? Extreme circumstances in which someone is
hospitalized as a result of another family member's assaultiveness
obviously qualify as significant family violence. On the other
hand, how do we define a brief shove that terminates as rapidly as it
started, or an angrily thrown but poorly aimed newspaper, or a pointed
finger that violates one's sense of personal boundaries while stopping
short of physical contact especially when episodes such as these occur
only very infrequently? These kinds of hypothetical situations
practically defy reliable classification according to whether they are
conducive to the "development of significant psychopathology."
Additionally, the time has come for mental health professionals to carefully
reexamine their prevailing assumptions related to the impact of parental
alcoholism on children. Because the majority of alcoholics cease
their excessive drinking by the age of 40 (Peele, 1989), most children
exposed to the alcoholism of a parent also observe that the parent
overcame his or her drinking problem. Related research indicates
that adolescents of recovered alcoholic fathers rate the atmosphere of
their family as quite similar to that of other adolescents whose parents
never exhibited a history of alcoholism (Jacob, Krahn, & Leonard,
1991). In fact, Jacob et al. emphasized, "... the
environmental impact of alcoholism is of a current and dynamic nature,
rather than reflecting fixed and irreversible effects on the child's
level of functioning" (p. 176). Obviously, then, the
relationship between family of origin alcohol abuse and an adult's
subsequent psychopathology remains quite ill-defined (Logue, Sher, &
Frensch, 1992), and these same considerations likely apply to parental
As with circumstances of family violence and parental alcoholism,
considerations of psychopathy create the same problem how do we
reliably define this condition? A cynic might be tempted to
suggest that anyone whose parent sold used cars grew up in a
psychopathic atmosphere. One could also argue, however, that such
cynics are merely indulging their own biases. Similarly, how do we
define a serious psychiatric disturbance"? Does this
classification necessitate a reaction of psychotic proportions, or would
neurotic and/or personality disorders suffice? Given the
notoriously poor reliability of too many formal diagnoses (Ziskin &
Faust, 1988), this factor also invites massive distortion.
Gardner's use of this index assumes that family of origin
psychopathology validly discriminates between the population of males
who are pedophiles and those who are not. As he acknowledges
himself, however, his assumption remains mere conjecture without the
support of validation data. Even more importantly, the inherent
unreliability of this index practically precludes ever establishing its
validity via empirical research. Without well-specified decision
rules for defining family violence, familial alcoholism, psychopathy,
and serious psychiatric disorder, the ill-defined ambiguity of these
terms guarantees their inconsistent application in practice.
2) Longstanding History of Emotional Deprivation
Gardner indicates that a history of emotional deprivation involving
rejection, humiliation, and other betrayals characterize the formative
experiences of male pedophiles. Nevertheless, this index suffers
from the same problems as the index of family of origin psychopathology
how do we reliably define a "longstanding history of emotional
deprivation"? Assessing such a history inevitably relies on
retrospective data which are notoriously unreliable (Gerlsma, Emmelkamp,
& Arrindell, 1990; Green & Hall, 1984). Mood-congruent
memory effects (Matt, Vazquez, & Campbell, 1992; Singer &
Salovey, 1988) in the here-and-now can also profoundly distort any
individual's recall of past events. For example, depression
increases the probability of remembering one's parents as rejecting and
relying on negative controls; but this outcome reflects the contemporary
influence of mood more than accurate recall of the past (Lewinsohn &
This index also invites distortion because of the eagerness with
which mental health professionals leap to pejorative conclusions about
the families of their clients. When therapists described various
members of their clients' families in the articles of a professional
journal, for example, more than 90% of the descriptions were negative
and less than 10% were positive (Campbell, 1992a). The family
members were portrayed as intellectually dull, critical and intrusive,
and cold and withholding to cite but a few examples. Especially
alarming is the fact that the therapists arrived at these conclusions
without ever having seen the people whose character they irresponsibly
Too often, then, mental health professionals assume the worst about
the families of their clients. As a result, they question clients
in such a manner that they eventually find "evidence" which
they interpret as verifying their original assumptions (Arkes &
Harkness, 1981). Given these considerations, Gardner's
"Longstanding History of Emotional Deprivation" is so subject
to bias that it likely cannot be applied reliably either across
different cases by the same evaluator, or to the same case by two or
more evaluators. Therefore, the prospects for this index validly
discriminating between pedophiles and non-pedophiles are less than
3) Intellectual Impairment
Gardner cites examples and rationales for both impaired intelligence,
and high intelligence, predicting pedophilia. He then indicates,
"My own guess is that in 20th-century Western society
pedophiles, on the average, are less likely to be of high intelligence;
rather they are more likely to be of average or below-average
intelligence" (1992, p.53). To belabor the obvious, the
significance of this issue is so important that it deserves considerably
more than guessing. Unfortunately, Gardner's thinking related to
this question amounts to speculative nonsense.
Formally stated as an hypothesis, Gardner suggests that the incidence
of pedophilia increases in the population of males who exhibit
below-average intelligence. Despite the reliability with which
intelligence can be defined, empirically testing the validity of this
hypothesis would be more difficult than we might otherwise think.
This hypothesis assumes that known pedophiles are a randomly selected
sub-set of the population corresponding in most respects
including intellectual efficiency to all pedophiles.
Nevertheless, pedophiles who manage to avoid detection may do so because
of their superior guile and cleverness. Consequently, attempting
to assess the intelligence levels of known pedophiles to extrapolate
that data to all pedophiles is ill-advised. Indeed, we can only
guess whether using an index of intellectual impairment as Gardner
recommends would result in greater numbers of false-positive or
false-negative classifications when attempting to identify pedophiles.
4) Childhood History of Sex Abuse
Gardner unequivocally states, "Pedophiles are more likely to
have been sexually abused in childhood than those who do not exhibit
such behavior" (p.53). Considerations of both social learning
theory and analytic formulations predicting the identification of
victims with their aggressors make this an appealing hypothesis.
Despite its intuitive appeal, however, the limited data that appear to
support this hypothesis are less than convincing.
As with the indices considered previously, this index also suffers
from the limited reliability with which it can be defined.
Specifying exactly what constitutes sexual abuse is not an easy task
(Campbell, 1992b). Moreover, this index implicitly assumes that
sexual abuse is a homogeneous experience leading to essentially similar
outcomes for all male children who endure it. Obviously, however,
sexual abuse involves very heterogeneous experiences ranging from
one episode of brief fondling to repeated episodes of sadistic
penetration and equally heterogeneous outcomes. At the very
least, the reliability of this index necessitates that it specify the
severity of prior sexual abuse.
We must also remember that when self-admitted pedophiles undergo
treatment, therapy can persuade them that they were sexually abused as
children when in fact they were not (Campbell,
1992b). In circumstances such as these, the pedophile responds to
his therapist's influence and invents a history of his own sexual abuse
via imagination; while simultaneously, he remains convinced he has
uncovered repressed memories. Additionally, the willingness of
pedophiles to consciously fabricate a history of sexual abuse warrants
consideration (Peters, 1989). Any pedophile who reports such a
history portrays himself as a victim deserving sympathy instead of the
scorn usually associated with perpetrators. Therefore, given the
ambiguities frequently surrounding self-reported histories of sexual
abuse, this index also offers little promise for validly discriminating
between pedophiles and non-pedophiles.
5) Longstanding History of Very Strong Sexual Urges
Gardner contends that pedophiles often exhibit a history of intense
sexual urges dating back to early childhood. This particular
index, however, is another example of a definitional nightmare. It
raises questions such as: (1) How intense must one's sexual urges be to
qualify as "very strong"? and (2) At what point in time should
those urges have manifested themselves in a suspect's developmental
history to qualify as "long-standing"? The obviously
ill-defined characteristics of this index severely limit its
reliability; and in turn, the chances of ever empirically establishing
it as a valid index are remote at best.
Gardner indicates that pedophiles frequently exhibit impulsive
life-styles, and moreover, such impulsiveness allows them to disregard
the inner controls that might otherwise inhibit their sexually abusing
children. This is an interesting theoretical formulation, but it
ultimately rests upon anecdotal evidence culled from case studies.
Gardner's thinking related to this index also borders on the
circular. He reasons that pedophilia is an impulsive act;
therefore, pedophiles manifest impulsiveness as a general personality
trait. As a result, Gardner advocates that evaluators look for
evidence of a suspect's impulsiveness unrelated to any pedophiliac
Gardner's position presumes a stable consistency of behavior across a
variety of life situations that is unsupported by the relevant
evidence. Instead, the accumulating data persuasively demonstrate
that individuals often exhibit very different traits in different
situations (Mischel, 1973; Ryff, 1987; Wilkenson & O'Connor,
1982). Consequently, pedophiles may demonstrate impulsiveness as
they sexually abuse children but exhibit forethought and planning in
other situations not associated with their pedophilia.
As has also been previously pointed out, pedophiles who escape
detection may not necessarily correspond in traits and characteristics
to the population of known pedophiles. Any discriminative value of
this index additionally suffers from the problem of how do we reliably
define impulsiveness? Without well-defined examples of
impulsiveness serving as operational definitions, various evaluators
could come to very different conclusions regarding the impulsiveness of
any particular individual suspected of pedophilia.
7) Feelings of Inadequacy and Compensatory Narcissism
Gardner indicates that pedophiles develop narcissistic traits to
compensate for their underlying feelings of inadequacy. In turn,
this narcissism supposedly predisposes pedophiles to seek out the
unconditional, idealized love that only a child can express.
Theoretically elegant as this hypothesis may seem, it also involves
serious reliability problems. Specifically, this index poses
difficulties related to how do we reliably define "feelings of
inadequacy" and "compensatory narcissism"? Without
adequate definitions for these phenomena, different evaluators could
come to very different conclusions about the felt inadequacy and
corresponding narcissism of the same subject. These considerations
profoundly undermine the accuracy with which this index could ever
discriminate between pedophiles and non-pedophiles.
8) Coercive-Dominating Behavior
Gardner contends that pedophiles are often anti-social individuals
whose corresponding aggressiveness leads them into assaultive
behaviors. He attributes this antisocial aggressiveness to the
underlying needs of pedophiles to dominate and control others via either
overt physical intimidation or covert psychological
manipulativeness. This index involves multiple categories of
behavior (antisocial, aggressiveness, overt and covert domination) which
are so poorly defined that they defy reliable classification. In
discussing this index, Gardner provides no decision-making rules (e.g.,
assaultiveness is defined as two or more arrests, or one or more
convictions, or an assault related charge) to determine whether a
subject satisfies it. As a result, applying this index to actual
cases of suspected pedophilia can only result in a wide range of
unreliable opinion between evaluators.
9) Passivity and Impaired Self-Assertion
Gardner also indicates that pedophiles are sometimes characterized by
passivity and a related inability to assert themselves. This index
raises questions of what kinds of overt behaviors reflect passivity and
impaired self-assertion and even more importantly, how does an evaluator
accurately identify those behaviors? Gardner neglects to answer
these questions and consequently, this index invites conjecture and
speculation which can only result in grossly unreliable assessments.
10) History of Substance Abuse
Gardner emphasizes that alcohol and/or substance abuse often
undermine the already impaired behavior controls of pedophiles. In
discussing this index, Gardner cites data supporting his assumptions
related to pedophilia and substance abuse (Haugaard & Repucci, 1988;
Peters, 1976; Wakefield & Underwager, 1988). Nevertheless,
this index also presents problems involving how to reliably define
substance abuse. Again, Gardner proposes no decision-making rules
to increase the reliability of this index (e.g., any individual arrested
for two or more DWI offenses, or arrested for one or more drunk and
disorderly charges, is defined as exhibiting a history of substance
Moreover, there are no standardized psychometric instruments that
reliably identify a history of substance abuse and/or addiction
proneness. Despite its undeserved reputation to the contrary, for
example, the MacAndrew alcoholism scale of the MMPI misclassifies 85% of
the population it designates as "alcoholic." Only 15% of
the subjects identified by the MacAndrew as alcoholic are actually
affected (Gottesman & Prescott, 1989). The unavailability of
well-defined procedures for accurately identifying a history of
substance abuse reduces evaluators to arbitrary and unreliable judgments
when using this index.
11) Poor Judgment
Gardner merely speculates that pedophiles exhibit poor
judgment. Beyond his intuitive impressions, he offers no examples
or decision-making guidelines for assessing this index.
Consequently, two or more evaluators examining the same subject could
reach markedly different conclusions regarding his judgmental
appropriateness. Obviously, then, any potential value of this
index is lost by virtue of its gross unreliability.
12) Impaired Sexual Interest in Age-Appropriate Women
Gardner outlines how pedophiles feel too inadequate to pursue
heterosexual relationships with females their own age. Again,
however, this index is not defined well enough to allow its reliable
application in practice. It raises questions of exactly how do we
define "impaired sexual interest"? Extreme cases related
to this index (e.g., a 30-year-old male who has never married and rarely
dated) pose few classification problems. On the other hand, how do
we apply this index to the case of a 45-year-old male, divorced for 10
years, who occasionally enjoys the companionship of women, but seems to
prefer the company of his male hunting and fishing friends? Given
the greater frequency with which evaluators encounter these gray area
cases, this index is less reliable than we might think when considering
more extreme cases.
13) Presence of Other Sexual Deviations
Gardner indicates that pedophilia more often than not co-occurs with
other sexual deviations. He lists examples such as voyeurism,
exhibitionism, frotteurism, sadomasochism, rape, and other paraphilias
as occurring more frequently in the population of pedophiles compared to
non-pedophiles. Unlike the other indices previously discussed,
this particular index is more conducive to reliable definition. As
a result, this index deserves research to empirically test its
discriminative power. Given the availability of relevant data, it
might be possible to develop an actuarial formula specifying which
paraphilias, and/or in what combination, significantly increase the
likelihood of pedophilia. Without validation data to support it,
however, this index only amounts to interesting speculation.
Gardner suggests that the impaired reality contact of psychotics
increases the likelihood of their engaging in pedophiliac acts. Recently
published data related to predicting the dangerousness of a population
suffering from a major mental disorder (Monahan, 1992) lends some
credibility to Gardner's hypothesis. In view of the moderately
improved reliability for defining psychotic conditions afforded by
DSM-III-R criteria, it is at least possible to empirically test
Gardner's hypothesis in the future. Nevertheless, his assumptions
regarding the relationship between psychosis and pedophilia remain
merely speculative without the availability of validation data.
15) Immaturity and/or Regression
Gardner points out how pedophiles prefer relating to children because
of the pedophiles' fixation at, or regression to, juvenile stages of
development. He cites examples of fixated or regressed immaturity
as including bed wetting, avoidance of day-to-day responsibilities,
disregard for the feelings of others, and low frustration
tolerance. Some of these examples, such as bed wetting, lend
themselves well to reliable definition. Other examples, however,
could solicit biased responses reflecting the personal values of an
evaluator more than anything else.
For instance, I consider anyone who throws a golf club out of
frustration as exhibiting juvenile immaturity. Nevertheless, my
reaction is likely biased by the resentments I quietly endured as an
adolescent caddy obligated to retrieve the clubs of numerous
temperamental golfers. Without well-defined, behaviorally-based
definitions of exactly what qualifies as immaturity and regression, this
index invites arbitrary classifications reflecting the random error of
16) Large Collection of Child Pornographic Materials
This index lends itself fairly well to reliable definition.
Nevertheless, it raises questions of how extensive must a pornographic
collection be to qualify as "large." Additionally, there
are also problems related to exactly what qualifies as
pornography. In one case known to this writer, a child protection
professional and the police officer with whom she worked
concluded that a divorced father accused of sexually abusing his
daughter satisfied this very indicator. They arrived at this
conclusion because of the many pictures the father had taken of his
daughter in her bathing suit at a beach during her visitation with
him. Consequently, the potential for applying this index in a
grossly distorted manner cannot be ignored.
17) Career Choice That Brings Him In Contact with Children
Gardner indicates that some pedophiles though certainly not
all make career choices that maximize their opportunities for
interacting with children. This particular index is obviously more
conducive to reliable definition than the majority of Gardner's other
indices. Nevertheless, its potential for false-positive
classifications related to pedophilia is distressing to say the least.
Simply consider the fact that any male who works with children
endures a greater risk of encountering false allegations of sexual
abuse. Without appropriate data to support the discriminant
validity of this index, the probability of it resulting in an
unacceptable frequency of false-positive classifications is alarmingly
high. For example, this index casts suspicion on Gardner himself
by virtue of his status as a child psychiatrist.
18) Recent Rejection by a Female Peer or Dysfunctional
Gardner contends that adult female rejection provokes
pedophilia. He also indicates that, "Men with no pedophilic
tendencies will not resort to such behavior, no matter how many
rejections they suffer" (1992, p.63). Attributing any
discriminative power to this index defies fundamental considerations of
logic. If many males experience rejection from adult females and
never sexually abuse children, how can this index accurately identify
pedophiles? Even if we overlook the reliability problems
associated with defining "recent rejection," and
"dysfunctional heterosexual relationship," the illogic of this
index warrants disregarding it.
19) Unconvincing Denial
Gardner insists that known pedophiles often resort to feeble and/or
obviously fabricated denials. In contrast, he portrays suspects
falsely accused of pedophilia as expressing more convincing denials by
virtue of their feelings of impotent rage. To belabor the obvious,
this index involves massive reliability problems related to how to
reliably discriminate between "weak and/or obviously feigned
denials" and denials that are "convincing." This is
another instance of Gardner neglecting to provide any decision-making
rules for clarifying the ambiguity of vague concepts such as
More alarmingly, evaluators who attempt to use this index are acting
as if they possess the discriminative power of polygraphs. Such an
assumption, however, identifies anyone who indulges in it as
presumptuously pompous. The related research literature clearly
demonstrates that mental health professionals perform quite poorly when
they attempt to discriminate between honesty and deceit (Ekman &
O'Sullivan, 1991). Consequently, if polygraph data are
inadmissible evidence in courts of law, this index warrants emphatic
repudiation by all legal forums.
20) Use of Rationalizations and Cognitive Distortions That Justify
Gardner describes how known pedophiles often rationalize their
behavior seeking to minimize any sense of responsibility for their
actions. Accordingly, pedophiles may claim, "She enjoyed it,
so what's wrong with it" (p.63), or "a child who does not
physically resist really wants to have sex" (p.64). This
index does not qualify as an indicator of pedophilia; instead, it
conclusively confirms pedophilia when a suspect satisfies it.
Suspects who seek to rationalize their pedophilia have, by definition,
acknowledged that they are pedophiles. Basically, then, this index
merely identifies the cognitive strategies used by known pedophiles to
rationalize and minimize the consequences of their abusive behavior.
21) Resistance to Taking a lie Detector Test
Gardner contends that actual pedophiles generally refuse to undergo
polygraph evaluation. He also indicates that falsely accused
individuals "are often (but not always) eager" (p.64) to take
a lie detector examination. Gardner's observations underscore the
enormous flaws inherent in this index. When falsely accused
suspects decline polygraph tests, this index misclassifies them as
false-positives. In view of the voluminous literature
demonstrating that polygraph errors lead to more false-positive outcomes
than false-negatives (Lykken, 1979; Saxe, Dougherty, & Cross, 1985),
any suspect who refuses a lie detector evaluation should be able to do
so without enduring the prejudice of an evaluator.
22) Lack of Cooperation in the Evaluative Examination
Gardner insists that bona fide pedophiles frequently respond to
evaluations in an uncooperative and obstructionistic manner intending to
circumvent efforts at examining them. In comparison, he describes
falsely accused suspects as welcoming evaluations by qualified
professionals. Once again, this index suffers from the reliability
problems attendant to defining uncooperative, obstructionistic, and
circumventing behaviors. Without well-defined decision-making
rules specifying how to apply this index, it can readily provoke
In another case known to this writer, for example, an evaluator
concluded that a suspect satisfied this index because he had failed to
keep his scheduled appointment for an evaluation. In fact,
however, the suspect thought that this evaluator's role only involved
reviewing the voluminous documents related to his case. Once the
suspect's misunderstanding was clarified, he promptly appeared for his
next appointment. Nevertheless, the evaluator persisted in his
opinion that the suspect had been both uncooperative and
obstructionistic, citing this very index to support his
conclusion. Any suspect who encounters an evaluator this biased is
likely well-advised to protect himself via uncooperative and
Indeed, attorneys representing suspects they genuinely regard as
falsely accused of child sexual abuse could legitimately object to their
clients undergoing an evaluation by any professional who relies on
Gardner's indicators. Given the serious shortcomings of these
indicators outlined herein, one could argue that the only sane response
to an evaluator who uses them is to flee from that evaluator as rapidly
as possible. Otherwise, suspects who voluntarily subject
themselves to such evaluations risk satisfying Gardner's indicator for
23) Duplicity Unrelated to the Sex-Abuse Denial and psychopathic
Gardner indicates that pedophiles generally exhibit a long-term
history of deception that extends beyond their pedophilia.
Nevertheless, he does not specify what kinds of deceptions pedophiles
supposedly demonstrate and as a result, his assertion creates more
questions than answers. For example, are pedophiles especially
inclined to distort their educational backgrounds, or are they more
predisposed to deceit regarding their employment histories?
Unfortunately, Gardner offers no answers for questions such as these;
and this index remains vague and ambiguous as a consequence.
Gardner also cites Haugaard and Repucci (1988) as concluding that
pedophiles frequently exhibit elevated "psychopathic deviant"
[sic] scores on the MMPI. Gardner seems to suggest that the
Psychopathic Deviate scale of the MMPI discriminates between pedophiles
and non-pedophiles. In fact, however, the relevant data do not
support his impressions. In their lengthy review of expert
testimony in child sexual abuse litigation, Myers et al. (1989)
Numerous methods of psychological assessment are used to evaluate
sex offenders. It is important to emphasize, however, that there
is no psychological test or combination of tests than can determine
whether a person has engaged or will engage in deviant sexual
activity. Psychological tests and instruments are useful aids to
diagnosis and treatment, but they cannot be used to determine whether
an act occurred (p.133).
Additionally, Myers et al. specifically pointed out that the MMPI
research related to pedophiles is predominantly characterized by
negative or inconsistent results.
Without well-defined decision rules specifying what qualifies as
"duplicity" and "psychopathic tendencies," the
reliability of this index can only flounder upon the conjecture and
speculation it invites. As a result, two or more evaluators could
reach very different conclusions regarding the duplicity and/or
psychopathic tendencies of the same suspect.
24) Excessively Moralistic Attitudes
Gardner contends that some pedophiles embrace moralistic attitudes
with such dogmatic intensity that they readily censure any and all who
do not endorse their fundamentalistic conceptions of right and
wrong. When pedophiles exhibit these characteristics, Gardner
attributes their behavior to reaction formation condemning others for
the socially unacceptable impulses which they deny but chronically
struggle with themselves. This is another interesting theoretical
speculation, however, it also succumbs to enormous reliability problems.
Specifically, this index raises questions of how to accurately define
"excessively moralistic attitudes"? Without any
decision-making rules for applying this index, we can only wonder if all
members of the moral majority, or perhaps tree hugging environmental
zealots, qualify as excessively moralistic? This index encourages
evaluators, who are so inclined, to indulge their values at the expense
of others whose thinking they disdain.
In addition to the massive reliability problems associated with this
index, evaluators who use it should also prepare themselves to defend
the psychodynamic assumptions upon which reaction formation is
premised. Given the legions of critics who have effectively
dismantled psychodynamic thinking, defending it is indeed a daunting
task. As long ago as 1966, for example, Marmor characterized
analytic theory as provoking unbridled conjecture and wild speculation
from its disciples. In the 1970 edition of their authoritative
text on personality theory, Hall and Lindzey outlined the glaring
deficiencies of analytic theory emphasizing: "... the question then
arises as to why psychoanalytic theory is taken seriously by anybody and
why it was not relegated to oblivion long ago?" (p.71). In
his well-respected 1982 book, Narrative Truth and Historical Truth:
Meaning and/or Interpretation in Psychoanalysis
Spence demonstrated how analytic therapists regularly distort data to
conform with their theoretical convictions.
In view of how vulnerable analytic theory is to a variety of
devastating indictments, well-prepared attorneys could make
cross-examination a memorable experience for any mental health
professional who uses this index. Consequently, evaluators who
employ this index in a forensic setting risk losing their credibility as
experts, and simultaneously, they also resort to a concept whose
ill-defined ambiguity assures its unreliability.
Anyone inclined to defend Gardner's indicators might argue that this
review has focused excessively on the specific features of each index
and overlooked the incremental validity of all the indices when combined
together as a total composite. Any set of discriminative indices
achieves incremental validity when each index satisfied increases the
chances of accurate classification. Accordingly, one might argue
that the number of Gardner's indicators satisfied more than the
particulars of which indicator increase the likelihood of actual
pedophilia. This contention, however, rapidly falls apart when carefully
The incremental validity of any set of indicators requires that each
indicator index stand independent of the other indices. Unless the
condition of index independence is met, satisfying one index can
spuriously lead to satisfying other related indices (Wolfner, Faust,
& Dawes, 1993). As a result, simply summing all the indices
satisfied for an indicator set can result in very misleading outcomes.
For example, consider the following ten indices from Gardner's
indicators: family of origin pathology, intellectual impairment, strong
sexual urges, impulsivity, coercive-dominating behavior, history of
substance abuse, poor judgment, immaturity and/or regression, lack of
cooperation, and psychopathic tendencies. Any psychologist who has
ever worked in a correctional setting immediately recognizes all of
these indices as corresponding to an elevated 4-9 profile of the
MMPI. In other words, all of these indices are inter-correlated
with each other; consequently, satisfying any one of the ten indices
listed above significantly increases the probability of satisfying the
other nine. In turn, an evaluator who overlooks the relationships
between these ten indices can report each of them as satisfied and
attribute significance to that finding but, in fact, such
findings merely amount to an artifact attributable instead to the
non-independence of Gardner's indicators.
Without clearly specified decision-making rules, or well-defined
examples, to enhance the reliability of Gardner's indicators, their
application relies excessively on clinical judgment.
Unfortunately, the substantial research literature evaluating the
accuracy of clinical judgment reports consistently discouraging results
(Ziskin & Faust, 1988). For example, mental health
professionals often question clients in a manner that biases the
information they obtain (Robins, 1985; Rosenthal, 1966).
Assumptions about a client's family of origin, drinking history, or
level of immaturity, for example, increase the frequency of questions
directed at those topics. In turn, asking enough questions about a
particular topic allows clinicians to think they have found evidence
confirming their original assumptions but their thinking in this
regard is often seriously mistaken (Arkes, 1981).
Clinicians frequently insist that symptoms consistent with their
diagnostic impressions were present in an interview; when in fact, they
were not (Arkes & Harkness, 1980). Conversely, they are less
likely to recall symptoms actually exhibited in an interview but
inconsistent with their diagnostic impressions. Additionally, more
experienced clinicians cannot legitimately claim greater judgmental
accuracy by virtue of their years of experience (Dawes, 1989; Garb,
Despite the extent to which the relevant research underscores the
dismal status of clinical judgment, clinicians still overconfidently
assume that their judgments are exceedingly accurate (Dawes,
1989). Nevertheless, it is also important to note that the degree
of confidence expressed by clinicians in their judgments is unrelated to
their actual judgmental accuracy (Faust, 1989). Clinicians often
reach their diagnostic conclusions very early in an interview, and then
they cling to their original impressions even when confronted with
contrary evidence (Robins & Helzer, 1986). Simultaneously,
they commonly overestimate the amount of information they process during
their evaluations. Clinicians assume that they weigh multiple
factors in making their judgments, but the relevant evidence
demonstrates that they rely on minimal data (Fisch, Hammond, &
Joyce, 1982; Gillis & Moran, 1981).
Given the frequency with which clinical judgment too often results in
arbitrary and unsubstantiated conclusions, the potential for abusing
Gardner's indicators is quite alarming. This writer has recently
encountered cases where self-styled "validators" (Ewing, 1992;
Gardner, 1991) who rarely encounter allegations of child sexual
abuse that they do not uncritically endorse interpret Gardner's
indicators to conform with their own biased assumptions. In
particular, these validators exploit the ambiguity of the indicators and
apply them in a manner that appears to validate their prejudiced
thinking regarding the suspects they examine. The validators then
invoke Gardner's reputation and his indicators portraying
themselves as paragons of objectivity while defending their unwarranted
When validators bend Gardner's indicators to suit their own purposes,
clinicians who approach allegations of child sexual abuse with greater
care and caution can find themselves in a difficult situation.
They often encounter unrelenting cross-examination regarding the extent
to which Gardner is a respected figure in the area of child sexual abuse
allegations. Therefore, the ease with which validators can
capitalize on Gardner's reputation and use his indicators to serve their
own preexisting agenda should not be underestimated.
Gardner's previously acknowledged reputation as a courageous figure
deserves continued respect, but his "Indicators of Pedophilia"
do not. By virtue of his psychiatric education and training,
Gardner's unfamiliarity with the technical details of reliability and
incremental validity is understandable. Unfortunately, however,
his oversights related to these issues threaten to provoke a major
crisis in child sexual abuse litigation that demands corrective action.
Assiduously examining Gardner's indicators clearly demonstrates that
they cannot support expert testimony in forensic settings. Legal
tests for determining the admissibility of expert testimony
traditionally demand that it rely on evidence or principles that enjoy
general acceptance in the relevant scientific or professional community
(Ziskin & Faust, 1988). The massive reliability and validity
problems endemic to Gardner's indicators preclude their general
acceptance by the scientific and professional communities on a prima
facie basis. Therefore, contending with the potentially
disastrous consequences of these indicators necessitates persistent
challenges directed at disqualifying them as a basis for expert
The issues outlined and discussed in this article also raise
questions related to the appropriateness of clinically examining
suspects in cases of child sexual abuse litigation. Clinical
examinations typically involve psychological testing which is often
irrelevant in these cases, clinical interviews which can be horribly
unreliable, and clinical judgment which can be exceedingly
inaccurate. Rather than invest enormous resources in examining
suspects, evaluating the legitimacy of the allegations themselves may
return more reliable information.
False allegations of sexual abuse can be considered unsubstantiated
rumors which acquire an unwarranted status of facts via socially
constructed realities (Campbell, 1992c). Mental health
professionals can assist courts in these cases by examining the history
of the allegations and assessing the extent to which they correspond to
rumor formation and rumor dissemination (Campbell) 1992d). Instead
of resorting to the speculation and conjecture that frequently
characterize examinations preoccupied with what transpires within
suspects, evaluating the interpersonal transactions surrounding
allegations of sexual abuse addresses what transpires between
people. Because interpersonal events between people are more
observable than what occurs within them, this latter endeavor enjoys
Child sexual abuse litigation has too long served as a stage
showcasing the incompetence of too many mental health
professionals. These clinicians naively embrace unbridled
conjecture, premised upon intuitive impressions, while blithely
disregarding fundamental considerations of scientific evidence and
logic. And as they indulge their ill-informed biases, their
testimony qualifies as theater of the absurd. Assessment
procedures resorting to anatomically detailed dolls and ill-defined
concepts such as repression, accommodation syndromes, and symbolic play
have betrayed untold numbers of juries and jurists alike.
Ethically responsible mental health professionals are obligated to
discredit practices which threaten to misinform the legal system, and
unfortunately enough, this obligation extends to Gardner's
"Indicators of Pedophilia." Those who would defend these
indicators do so on behalf of an evaluative procedure as seriously
flawed as the practices favored by self-styled validators.
Consequently, then, such defenses seem ill-advised.
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