After researcher is convicted of sexual assault, journal retracts her co-author’s paper

A disability journal has retracted a paper supposedly penned by a man with severe disabilities, citing duplication.

Although the reason for the retraction may sound run-of-the-mill, this situation is far from ordinary.

The author, known as DMan Johnson — or simply “D.J.” — has cerebral palsy, and was communicating using a controversial technique called “facilitated communication” with Anna Stubblefield, the former chairwoman of philosophy at Rutgers University. In October 2015, Stubblefield was convicted of sexually assaulting D.J., who has been diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia and severe mental retardationThe following month, she was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

In October 2015, Disability Studies Quarterly issued a statement that it was taking a second look at papers by Stubblefield, but did not specify which ones.

Last month, the journal retracted the 2011 article “The Role of Communication in Thought” by DJ, “due to major overlap with a previously published work” in a different journal by the same author (and with the same title).

Many experts have questioned the scientific validity of “facilitated communication.” During the 2015 trial, the jury deemed the technique a “sham” as well, according to Slate:

From the start, Stubblefield claimed that “D.J.,” as he’s known in court documents, consented to their affair through what’s called “facilitated communication.” That is to say, he typed out his words on a portable keyboard, with her hand supporting his and pulling back against his frequent muscle spasms. At trial, though, the state convinced a jury that Stubblefield’s efforts at facilitated communication had been a sham—that Stubblefield was the true author of D.J.’s keyboard messages, whether she realized it or not. That meant her romance with D.J. had been at best a reckless Ouija-board delusion and at worst a knowing fraud.

Stubblefield maintains the two were in love. As explained in a lengthy 2015 New York Times piece:

D.J. can neither talk nor dress himself, but Anna argued that he was able to communicate using a keyboard, as long as she was there to hold his hand and give support.

Because the judge excluded most evidence relating to facilitated communication, the case is now being appealed:

Before the trial started, [the judge] had ruled that Stubblefield’s lawyers could not introduce any text at all from D.J.’s keyboard, nor could they ask any witness other than Stubblefield herself to describe D.J.’s typing or what it appeared to say. They couldn’t have their own experts in FC—including the method’s inventor, Rosemary Crossley—testify as to the method’s value. And, perhaps most importantly, they could not introduce nor even reference Crossley’s own assessment of D.J.’s intelligence, captured on video across three days and 12 hours in early January 2014.

A hearing took place in early April, and court has 90 days from then to make a ruling.

Here’s the complete notice from DSQ, which is not indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters:

The Editors-in-Chief retract the article entitled “The Role of Communication in Thought” published in Disability Studies Quarterly, 2011, 31 (4),

Our decision to retract is due to major overlap with a previously published work: Johnson, DMan (2011). “The Role of Communication in Thought.” The Communicator 20(1): 4-5.

The original article was published on October 25, 2011, and was retracted on April 18, 2017.

The retracted article will remain online to maintain the scholarly record, and will be marked as retracted.

The editor-in-chief declined to comment further on the retraction.

Hat tip: Michael Dougherty

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10 thoughts on “After researcher is convicted of sexual assault, journal retracts her co-author’s paper”

  1. Such a sad, sad story. Although it is somewhat a relief to learn that our criminal justice system has come round to the notion that yes, a female can be guilty of abusing a male… even if the female happens to be named Anna…

      1. The remark was rhetorical in nature, i.e., it ought not matter what gender is involved when we talk about abuse, and specifically sexual abuse. Ergo, it should not matter what the person’s name happens to be either. So the take home message was, justice ought to be blind, but I think we can acknowledge many inherent biases exist.

  2. The reason for retraction was self-plagiarism, so why is most of the article about the sex abuse scandal? Why is that even relevant here?

    1. Because reading between the lines, the sex abuse scandal is almost certainly what prompted this. But as herr doktor bimler notes, it would have nice for the DSQ to acknowledge this elephant in the room.

  3. The idea that one could be stuck in a situation where a self-appointed stranger claims to speak for you, and you can’t do or say anything about it yourself, sounds more like the plot of a horror movie than a “communication technique”!

  4. The reason for retraction was self-plagiarism, so why is most of the article about the sex abuse scandal? Why is that even relevant here?

    The journal could have retracted the paper because the author was raping a helpless individual as part of her preparation for writing it, and falsely claiming that person’s name to be the main author.
    Or because it was using the discredited fraud called “facilitated communication”.

    Instead the editors found an anodyne excuse for the retraction, that glosses over their initial acceptance of the paper, and leaves us to conclude that they would have remained comfortable with it if it were not for the duplication. That’s the relevance.

    1. Ah, got it! I somehow missed that DMan Johnson was D.J. It would have been more apt to refer to him as “her victim” in the title, since he wasn’t really a co-author in the strict sense.

  5. The expression of concern issued in October 2015 by the journal and by the sponsoring Society for Disability Studies covered two articles: the now-retracted article discussed above, and another article by Stubblefield in which she argued that opposition to FC can constitute “hate speech.” The matter of the second article seems unresolved. I would like to hear the how the journal plans to resolve the second matter.

  6. Facilitate Communication is very problematic but there are also situations in which individuals do need support to stabilize so they can type. So, I think it was sloppy of the court to simply throw the communications away without having a range of modes available for him to demonstrate his capacity. I say this because the case and many stories covering it,are steeped in ableism that most people overlook (such as descriptions of the victim wearing diapers and needing assistance to walk as a reason he could not consent and such as having him appear in court as a spectacle)
    All of this does not take away the fact that Anna Stubblefield is clearly a perpetrator.
    The act of having flippant sex with a vulnerable person who, in this case, even if highly intelligent, could only communicate with her (and maybe another?), is unethical at best.
    He would need a support nerwork through the ups and downs of even the healthiest of relationships. If she actually cared for him, she would have encouraged his independence prior to giving in to primal urges.
    She was an ethics instructor, even if she thought he was an intellectual equal, did she not see the ethical dilemma of her having a relationship in which she had all of the power physically and socially ? in which she had to physically facilitate his communication? and where he was legally deemed a dependent ?
    That is nutty.

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