A disability journal is “paying significant attention” to papers authored by Anna Stubblefield, a former Rutgers researcher recently convicted of sexually assaulting a disabled man who participated in her research.
Stubblefield was convicted of sexually assaulting “DJ,” a man in his thirties with cerebral palsy who was “declared by the state to have the mental capacity of a toddler,” according to a lengthy piece in the New York Times. Stubblefield and DJ published papers in Disability Studies Quarterly; in one, Stubblefield describes a controversial technique which she claimed helped DJ communicate. But when she eventually used the technique to say DJ was in love with her, his family took her to court, and she was convicted of aggravated sexual assault.
Here is the note from Disability Studies Quarterly, which was published this morning:
Note About Volume 31, Issue 4 (2011)
The Society for Disability Studies (SDS) Board of Directors, as the final oversight and decision-making body of Disability Studies Quarterly, is aware of the many questions and debate regarding several articles published in the 2011 (31.4) issue. As an intellectual community, centered on scholarship, research, and learning, we are paying significant attention to the issues raised. We have not yet come to a decision. The case itself, regarding the authors, is not yet concluded.
The notice doesn’t specify which papers are being looked at, whether it’s a formal investigation, and if the note represents a formal Expression of Concern. But that issue of the journal contains an article by Stubblefield, in which she claims she successfully used to help DJ communicate: “Sound and Fury: When Opposition to Facilitated Communication Functions as Hate Speech.” There is another article in the issue authored by DJ (which also says “c/o Anna Stubblefield”), but we are not providing a link to this article out of concerns for his privacy.
Brenda Brueggemann, the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Society for Disability Studies (SDS), which publishes DSQ, confirmed that the note refers to Stubblefield’s articles. She also told us why the note does not list the names of the articles:
No specific articles are mentioned with the statement because the case surrounding the authors is still in process and privacy is being respected as well.
DJ’s paper discusses how it’s possible to learn language without being able to communicate.
Whether or not he can communicate has been up for debate. According to The New York Times:
In 2004, five years before Anna met him, a clinical psychologist named Wayne Tillman, who consults for New Jersey’s Bureau of Guardianship Services, assessed D.J. and found that his impairments precluded any formal testing of intelligence, but that certain facts could be inferred: ‘‘His comprehension seemed to be quite limited,’’ ‘‘his attention span was very short’’ and he ‘‘lacks the cognitive capacity to understand and participate in decisions.’’ D.J. could not even carry out basic, preschool-level tasks. A few months later, a court made P. and Wesley his legal guardians.
From the time she met D.J., Anna thought Tillman had it wrong. D.J. might be unable to speak or hold a pencil, but those are motor skills, not mental ones, and their absence didn’t mean his mind was blank. What if D.J. had a private chamber in his head, a place where grown-up thoughts were trapped behind his palsy? Then, of course, he would fail the standard tests of his I.Q. — tests made for people who can answer questions verbally or read and write. What D.J. needed was another way to share his deep intelligence.
The NYT explains how a method of communication that he eventually learned from Stubblefield supposedly works:
Starting with her hand beneath his elbow, [Stubblefield] helped him point at pictures, and then at letters, and eventually at the buttons of a Neo, a hand-held keyboard with a built-in screen. With his hand in hers, she helped him type out words after 30 years of silence.
But many now question all of DJ’s supposed accomplishments. His family’s initial elation at his ability to communicate disappeared as soon as Stubblefield declared they were in love, says The NYT:
What at first struck them as a miracle — a voice for D.J., his inner self revealed — now seemed a fraud. D.J. could not have given his consent to any love affair, they later told the authorities, because he suffers from profound mental disabilities, just as the psychologists had always told them. His ‘‘messages’’ must have been a sham. If Anna pretended otherwise, it was only so she could use D.J. as a guinea pig for research, or to further her career, or because, as [DJ’s brother] Wesley would later say during the three-week trial for sexual assault that concluded [in October] in Newark, ‘‘she was having some sick, twisted fantasy.’’
Anna has never wavered in her claim that she and D.J. fell in love and that his messages were his.
Indeed, some experts argue her “facilitated communication” methods aren’t scientific, as Slate explains:
Stubblefield has argued that the technique allows disabled people to type on a keyboard with the help of a facilitator, but the approach has been compared to using a Ouija board and called invalid by the American Psychological Association and the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. The judge in the case has refused to allow expert testimony on the method because it is “not a recognized science.”
DSQ is not indexed in Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. An email to Stubblefield’s Rutger’s address for comment bounced back. She hasn’t been commenting in the press on this case.
Stubblefield will be sentenced on November 9th.
Hat tip: Michael Dougherty
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