Some Retraction Watch readers may recall this episode, recounted in a recent op-ed by Lew Powell:
During the 1980s and early ’90s a wave of nonexistent “satanic ritual abuse” claims shut down scores of day cares such as Little Rascals, McMartin in California and Fells Acres in Massachusetts. In virtually every instance the charges lacked any basis in fact. Today no reputable psychologist or other social scientist will argue otherwise. The defendants were innocent victims of a “moral panic” that bore striking similarities to the Salem witch hunts 300 years earlier.
Psychologist Richard Noll found the charges troubling too, so he wrote a piece last year for Psychiatric Times because:
Despite the discomfort it brings, we owe it to the current generation of clinicians to remember that an elite minority within the American psychiatric profession played a small but ultimately decisive role in the cultural validation, and then reduction, of the Satanism moral panic between 1988 and 1994. Indeed, what can we all learn from American psychiatry’s involvement in the moral panic?
The Psychiatric Times editor said the staff thought the essay was “terrific” and might even be a cover story for their January issue. It was posted on December 6. But you won’t find that article — available here — at Psychiatric Times anymore. As Gary Greenberg relates:
The editor made some suggestions for the print version and asked for Noll to finish them by Dec. 16. But then on Dec. 14, Noll discovered that his article had vanished from the website. He made gentle inquiries and determined that it wasn’t a glitch, but that PT had intentionally taken down the article. The reasons were vague–something about how they didn’t like the title (which they had chosen), and how they didn’t like the fact that he had named names. But whatever the reason, the article was gone.
Here’s what the editors told Noll when he pushed for an explanation:
Dear Dr. Noll,
I don’t blame you for being miffed at the inexplicable disappearance of your article, and the long delay in getting back to you with an explanation. I’d like to offer a sincere apology for the delay, and to explain what happened. It hasn’t helped that our offices were closed most of last week and that communications between editorial board members and staff have been generally slow because of vacations.
As you know, Professor [redacted] is the final arbiter of History of Psychiatry columns, so our staff enthusiastically went ahead and posted your article. I read it the weekend it was posted, however, and grew immediately concerned that it raised potential liability issues—possibly for you and, by extension, for Psychiatric Times. I therefore thought it prudent to hide the piece from public view until I could get some guidance from our editorial board. The board did support these concerns, and it was suggested that I consider obtaining corporate legal advice. There was also the suggestion that Drs. Kluft and Braun and some others discussed in your essay needed to be given the opportunity to respond to claims made in the piece. However, there was also general consensus that the piece “may be of some historical interest, but not particularly relevant to the problems facing psychiatry today.” Ultimately, it was the board’s recommendation that we not publish the piece.
We respect your expertise and previous contributions to Psychiatric Times. The scenario is a first for us. I’m so sorry it happened this way. We will return your copyright form and hope that you find another venue for the piece.
Greenberg notes that Noll is “no stranger to controversy:”
He wrote a book in 1994 called The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement. The book was published by Princeton University Press, which was pleased enough with it to submit it for a Pulitzer. It didn’t win, but the Association of American Publishers gave it its Best Book in Psychology award for that year. Princeton is also the publisher of Jung’s collected works, which is a beautiful and expensive multivolume set, one that most likely yields substantial financial rewards for both the press and the Jung family. So it’s no surprise that when the Jung family objected to Noll’s book, which made a splash in popular media, Princeton U Press decided to dump Noll, and pulled the plug on another Jung project he was editing for them, which was already in page proofs. I guess they decided it had been a mistake to let Noll bite the hand that was feeding them.
Powell, we should note, has also been urging the Journal of Child and Youth Care (now called Relational Child & Youth Care Practice) to retract a 1990 issue devoted to “In the Shadow of Satan: The Ritual Abuse of Children.”