Pets as Pawns in Patriarchal Power and Pontrol
FYI, my letter to Radio NZ:
Dear Radio NZ
Regarding your story yesterday (Wednesday 28 March) on the ‘study’ about Pets as Pawns in domestic violence, I considered nominating Radio NZ for the Skeptics ‘Bent Spoon’ award for gullible, uncritical acceptance and reporting of dubious claims.
I note that in this evening’s (Thursday 19 March) Checkpoint a story on ‘fracking’ aired critical discussion of the research on that topic. For example, an environmental group spokesperson Theresa Gooden was reported to have said that studies claiming fracking to be safe were not “independent enough to be reliable”. Yet in the case of biased, predetermined research designed to denigrate men, Radio NZ simply acted as a mouthpiece for the propaganda merchants, asked no searching questions, sought no analysis from anyone independent concerning the validity or reliability of the claimed ‘findings’, and offered no opportunity to those damaged by the propaganda, i.e. men, to respond.
The pets study used Women’s Refuge staff firstly to select subjects then to carry out ‘semi-structured interviews’ with them. Another aspect of the study involved questioning Women’s Refuge managers and SPCA personnel who were preselected for already “knowing about” the pets/domestic violence links; talk about circular reasoning! Such research carried out by Women’s Refuge industry representatives constituted the least ‘independent’ research one can imagine. Further, it was statistically invalid and its findings can have no rational relevance for a wider population beyond those particular subjects questioned.
Nothing at all was done to seek corroboration for the subjects’ claims. For example, pets were claimed to have been seriously hurt but no effort was made to obtain veterinary records of the claimed injuries. All data were self-report or hearsay and there is simply no way of knowing how much of it is true.
The study made no attempt to control for observer bias and did no reliability checks. Given that the interviewers all were wedded to what they wanted to find and the semi-structured interview technique allows maximum opportunity to extract exactly that, it amounted to blatant engineering of results.
The study made no attempt to avoid interviewer demand characteristics and did nothing to ensure any ‘double blind’. The subjects were clients of the Women’s Refuge service and will have wanted to please staff by telling them what they wanted to hear (which was strongly implied in the leading questions on the interview guide). One may as well get the Pope to undertake interviews seeking self-reported effects on subjects about their past use of contraceptives or having abortions, ensuring that all subjects were first preselected by local priests; guess what results will be obtained?
The pets study questioned only women. If men were questioned similarly (especially by people providing them with accommodation and support), it may well be that a significant proportion of them will report abuse and threats towards pets etc by their female partners. The SPCA/WR study provides absolutely no basis for gender comparisons or analysis but that didn’t stop its report from implying that this is something only men do to women and children, or Heather Henare claiming the problem was all about patriarchal power and control tactics. (The Duluth Power and Control Model was always only an ideological, theoretical construct that has never been verified through good human science. Even our own independent, university based studies have shown that domestic violence mostly involves mutual violence in situations of relationship conflict. You must know this (you reported studies by Prof Fergusson and others in the past), so why do you not critically question those who now continue to characterize domestic violence as only a male = bad, female = victim problem?
Why would such a fantastic radio station that maintains high standards of journalism and critical enquiry in most other spheres then consistently fail to do so when it comes to feminist attacks on the male gender?
I request that in future you obtain comment from representatives of the men’s movement when stories arise that directly impact on the reputation or otherwise of men.