Snake Oil, Scapegoats, and the Hare Krishnas:
The CPO’s Use of Bogus Science
BY: VISNUGADA DASA, PhD IN CLINNICAL PSYCHOLOGY
Jun 05, PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA, USA (SUN) While completing my doctoral training in psychology, I had an assessment case where a couple had been accused of child abuse and subsequently had a child removed from their care by Child Protective Services. I was to administer a psychological evaluation to both parents in order to shed light on their guilt or innocence. I had no idea what kind of psychological test might be helpful since psychological tests are usually made to measure things like depression or psychotic thinking, not child abuse potential. My supervisors gave me carte blanche to communicate with any expert in the US in order to find an appropriate tool to use. I talked with many experts. The overwhelming conclusion I heard was that there is no such test. In other words, there is no psychological test that is capable of determining if person A abused child B. I was warned to be skeptical of those who say they have devised such a test.
Imagine my surprise when a short time later it came to my attention that the CPO was training its investigators and temple presidents to use the Luscher Color Test to identify child abusers. Essentially, this test asks a person to identify their color preferences from an array of colors. A particular set of colors was said to be characteristic of a child abuser. This test has no accepted validity whatsoever among professionals in the field. Nevertheless, it was being used as evidence by the CPO to allege that certain individuals were child abusers! I argued vehemently against its use. After about a year, the head of the CPO at the time reluctantly agreed to discontinue the use of the test. Nevertheless, another year later, I was present when the CPO head received a telephone call from a devotee in India who had just administered the Luscher Color Test and had “discovered” a child abuser. This ridiculous test falsely identified many devotees as child abusers.
Later I was concerned to discover an ISKCON sannyasi had been required by the CPO to undergo a psychological evaluation at his own expense in the course of the CPO investigation against him. Correspondence forwarded to me from an NA GBC member indicated the contention of the CPO was that the sannyasi was somehow a “demon in the body of a devotee” who took pleasure in harming children. This was to be “proven” through psychological testing. The psychological term for “demon” is “psychopathic deviate”. I spoke to the sannyasi and informed him there was no psychological test that could determine if he were a child abuser. He elected to be humble, go along with the CPO demands, and undergo psychological testing anyway. I advised him that prior to the evaluation, he should at least get a commitment from the CPO that if the results did not show him to be a child abuser, his case would be dropped. If test results have the power to show a person’s guilt, shouldn’t they also have the power to exonerate him? I also recommended he receive the evaluation from a neutral evaluator, since the one chosen by the CPO would likely be biased, having been briefed by the CPO. The sannyasi made these requests but the CPO disregarded them. To his detriment, the sannyasi chose to be cooperative with the CPO, wanting to accept responsibility for his actions, and underwent psychological testing through someone chosen by the CPO.
I was interested in the test results, so the sannyasi sent them to me. The test results showed the sannyasi did not have psychopathic tendencies. So, if one accepted the CPO’s premise that the test could differentiate between an abuser and non-abuser, the sannyasi should have been exonerated. But the evaluator disregarded the results of the tests! (We can assume that if the results had been otherwise they would have been used as a basis for his conviction). Using information drawn from discussions with prosecution witnesses, the evaluator twisted his findings to conclude the sannyasi did, in fact, have psychopathic tendencies! In reviewing the report it was clear the evaluator did not even take the time to interview witnesses for the defense. He did not have the required qualifications to interpret psychological tests; he was not a psychologist at all. And lastly, the CPO-chosen evaluator turned out to be an ex-colleague and friend of a CPO investigator who had a well-known agenda to convict the sannyasi!
In my profession, a report done in this manner by an evaluator without the required qualifications and with such a conflict of interest would be considered malpractice, plain and simple. Nevertheless, the report was entered uncritically into evidence by the CPO to support a conviction against the sannyasi. Hence, it is another good example of the CPO using a scientific façade to gain a conviction.
In the Vakresvara Pandit case, instead of weighing the actual evidence, the judges were directed instead to use a junk science method, the SCAN-View Questionnaire. This test had no proven track record whatsoever in accurately separating the guilty from the innocent (in test parlance this is called a test’s reliability and validity. See below for a more detailed explanation*). The author of the method also cautioned against its use in sex-based crimes. There is a clear and timely example of this test’s resulting in false conclusions about guilt. On the test author’s own website he boldly declares his test methods prove Jon Benet Ramsey’s father is guilty of murdering his daughter. However, DNA evidence recently exonerated the father as her killer.
But even if someone unwittingly argues there was nothing wrong with the test, there are still problems. The test was not used as it was supposed to be used. If you don’t follow the instructions on how to use the test, the results are, of course, invalid. The test author warned that its accuracy would be suspect if it were used to investigate sex-related crimes. His letter to that effect is contained in Vakresvara Pandit’s case file. But nonetheless the CPO chose to use the method in a sex crime investigation. In addition, the test author’s procedure indicates the test is to be administered before someone has been informed of their being a suspect in a crime. After being identified as a suspect, a person’s heightened anxiety about being falsely accused will likely affect his responses. Nevertheless, in the Vakresvara Pandit case the test was administered to VP after he was accused. To add insult to injury, the case file shows the CPO director carried on back-and-forth correspondence with the test author about the case prior to the author’s interpretation of VP’s responses, eliminating any façade of impartiality on the part of the test interpreter. The fact that the results of this so-called test were used to convict VP is ludicrous.
The above examples show a disturbing pattern. With the prevailing sentiment in ISKCON against child abuse, it appears the CPO has repeatedly been using pseudo science, AKA “hook or crook” methods, to generate evidence and lend a veneer of scientific authority to their procedures in order to gain convictions. Regardless of whether someone is guilty or innocent, a bad system of justice is another embarrassment for ISKCON.
My suggestion to ISKCON is simple. Use the civil authorities and court system to investigate and prosecute child abuse in the United States and in other countries where such systems exist. It is short-sighted and pretentious to think ISKCON has the money, expertise, and experience to develop a more effective system. If a person is found guilty in the civil system, the CPO can make additional decisions.
In my professional opinion, the CPO has never properly investigated the possibility that Vakresvara Pandita and others may have been falsely accused. Their understanding of child abuse was misinformed and apparently overly influenced by prevailing public sentiment. This resulted in their having little regard for the accused devotees’ spiritual or material welfare. The CPO has misapplied psychological science and therefore it is likely they have arrived at erroneous conclusions.
Through the use of the methods cited above, I believe the CPO has been responsible for causing an inordinate amount of collateral damage in their attempts to protect children. This has resulted in the serious and unwarranted traumatization of devotees such as Vakresvara Pandita and his family, who have been suffering sanctions, shame, and vilification for six years from a CPO decision guided by pseudoscience and quackery. Enough is enough.
I appeal to the International GBC body to please take the steps necessary to address the problem. I believe there is ample evidence to support overturning the CPO decision in the Vakresvara Pandita case. In addition, I believe consideration should be given to suspending the investigative and judicial functions of the CPO immediately and until it can be determined if, how, and when those functions can be carried out it a judicious manner.
Vishnugada dasa has a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology with a specialty in psychological assessment
* Reliability. Reliability refers to the ability of a test to yield the same results over time no matter who interprets the test. So, if trained persons A and B interpret a test and their conclusions differ markedly from one another, the test is not reliasble. Test reliability is one of the very first ways to see if a test is worth anything. Measures of reliability are not difficult to obtain. All the author of a test has to do is get a number of people to interpret the same test and see if their conclusions match. If they do, the test is reliable. If not, it is not. The author of the test used to convict VP has not published any information about its reliability. It is standard practice in the field to publish reliability data on any assessment tools. Why has the author of the test used in VP’s case not done so? Undoubtedly because it is not credible, and certainly not recognized. Secular authorities who have reviewed the test have concluded that there is no evidence that it is reliable.
To illustrate, suppose you were asked to test the usefulness of a new experimental blood- pressure-measuring device. If every person who used the meter on the same patient at about the same time got a markedly different reading, what would you conclude? You wouldn’t know if the patient had high blood pressure, low blood pressure, or normal blood pressure because the test is not reliable. The same is true of the test used to convict VP. Its conclusions are worthless because it has no demonstrated reliability.
Validity. The validity of a test refers to the test’s ability to accurately measure what it is supposed to measure. Was the method used in this case really able to assess guilt? It is well known that if a test is not reliable, it cannot be valid. In addition, it is standard practice for authors of assessment instruments to publish data about a test’s validity. The test author could have easily published his research. The fact that he did not leads to the conclusion that the test is unscientific. From the point of view of standard principles of assessment, the test results must be disregarded.
CPO MISTAKES REMAIN UNDER THE RUG
By Visnugada dasa
At the 2009 Mayapur GBC meetings, a resolution proposal was introduced aiming at reviewing and restructuring the functions of the Child Protection Office due to serious errors in adjudication.
Interview with Vishnugada dasa
Q: I understand you and some other devotees proposed a GBC resolution for the 2009 Mayapura Festival involving the CPO. Could you explain what the resolution was?
A: The proposal had two parts. The first was to suspend the CPO functions of investigating and trying ISKCON child abuse cases for one year. That was to happen only in countries where civil authorities carry out the same functions. The CPO’s function of educating devotees and congregation members would continue.
The second part of the proposal was to create a panel of experts to review the policies and procedures of the CPO. The panel was to be independent of the GBC and make recommendations for the Mayapura meeting in 2010. Those recommendations were to be directed at improving the CPO functions of investigating and trying ISKCON child abuse cases. They were also to address how past CPO errors would be handled.
Q: Who was involved in drawing up the proposal?
A: Lakshmi Nrsimha prabhu, Dharini devi, an attorney in private practice, and myself. Sesa prabhu presented the proposal to the GBC.
Q: How did you come to the conclusion that such a proposal was necessary?
A: Lakshmi Nrsimha prabhu asked us to review some files from the case of Vakresvara Pandit prabhu. When we did, we were alarmed to find a host of glaring mistakes, bad procedures, and conflicts of interest. As a result, we became convinced Vakresvara Pandit prabhu had been wrongly convicted.
Q: Could you say more about the errors?
A: There were so many. I’ll just cite some of the big ones. We found the CPO kept evidence from the defense. We found people whose testimony could have exonerated Vakresvara weren’t even interviewed, despite the CPO having been informed. We found evidence that could have exonerated the defendant had been ignored without explanation. We also found the CPO used questionable pseudo-scientific procedures that have no proven validity to gain a conviction. And these were the errors for just this one case!
The CPO trained the “judges” themselves. That’s like the prosecution training up the judge and jury. The trial was run without even following the CPO’s own rules. Although the CPO was supposed to be functioning free of GBC influence, that just wasn’t the case. We believe these things made the whole procedure function like a kangaroo court.
Q: What happened with the proposal?
A: My understanding is the first part of the proposal was dismantled by the GBC Deputies committee even before it was presented to the whole GBC.
Q: Why do you think that happened?
A: My sense is there were a few vocal GBC members with a strong stake in the CPO who didn’t want the details of the CPO’s mistakes known to the others. It’s a little like the recent US government attempts to keep messy information from the public.
I also believe they didn’t understand the fact that in the US, as in many other countries, the functions of the CPO are, for the most part, already being carried out by civil authorities. Our position was it was unnecessary and legally unwise for the CPO to try to duplicate those functions.
In fact, in the Vakresvara case, the civil authorities did investigate at the time of the alleged offense and concluded there was no case to pursue.
Q: What about the second part of the proposal?
A: The GBC was presented with the second part of our proposal and decided in favor of having an independent review body. That review body’s responsibility will be to make future CPO procedures and decisions less faulty and biased, which is a good thing. However, it will have no authority to review past CPO mistakes.
Q: So the GBC recognized the need for the CPO to be improved, likely due to past problems, but didn’t provide a way to address the errors the CPO has already made?
A: Exactly. If I remember correctly, the words they used to describe the faulty CPO procedures were “irregularities” and “anomalies.” It seems as though they wanted to avoid using the word “errors”, probably for some legal reason, but it amounts to the same thing. Bad decisions.
Q: What is your position now?
A: I believe it is important for devotees to be informed about how the CPO has made decisions, particularly in the Vakresvara Pandit case. We tried to work through the system and avoided public discussion out of deference for the GBC. We are disappointed our whole proposal wasn’t discussed and debated. That way the scope of past and present CPO errors had a chance of being aired, recognized, and understood. As it stands now, that may never take place.
We want to give devotees a chance to see the evidence and make their own decision. We believe any reasonable person who examines the facts of the Vakresvara case will conclude it was a gross miscarriage of justice. We also wonder about the effectiveness of a governing institution when it stands by as the conviction of a devotee arising from such a miscarriage of justice continues to be recognized, even when those errors have been clearly pointed out and documented.
To the full GBC’s credit, they made a reasonable decision given the information they actually received.
Q: If someone wanted to get further information, what should they do?
A: They are welcome to read the entire proposal. They can also send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.