skeptical - Rosa's have moved from TT to "rebirthing therapy"
- Hey folks,
I think most people on this list would remember young Emily Rosa doing
a study that seemed to showed that people can't really detect a claimed
"human energy field". Well there have been serious questions raised about
the protocols used during that - but the underlying conclusion still stands,
"there do not seem to be any people who can detect human energy fields
above chance under proper controlled studies". I have run a TT discussion
list for years and have not even been able to find a subject willing to have
their abilities tested. The only thing I hear is people filibustering about how
bad the Rosa's are.
Be that as it may - the Rosa's have been working on some new things.
The news picked up the story several weeks back about a girl who died
during a kook therapy called "rebirthing therapy". I personally think the
vast majority of therapies predicated on "your troubles are because you
abused as a kid" are nuts (and probably part of a growing societal myth
that no one is responsible for their own actions). Recently I've heard
people question how often skeptics triumph over the kooks. The following
story is at least encouraging in that the child abusing crack pots appear
headed for jail:
Linda and I are very pleased to report the conviction Friday night of two
very vicious mental-health quacks in Colorado.
Connell Watkins, 54, a pioneer in the treatment of "attachment disorder" in
children, and her associate, Julie Ponder, 40, were found guilty of
reckless child-abuse resulting in death. They will be sentenced on June
18th, and each will receive from 16-48 years in Colorado state prison. In
addition, Watkins was convicted on a second felony, criminal impersonation,
which carries an additional 12 to 18 months of prison time, and on two
misdemeanors--obtaining a signature by deception and unlawful practice of
During six hours of deliberation, the jury apparently was never in doubt as
to the guilt of the defendants on the main charge. On April 18, 2001, the
two "psychotherapists," together with two "assistants," killed 10-year-old
Candace Newmaker by wrapping her 70-pound body in a flannel sheet, piling
on eight pillows and 673 pounds of adults, and leaving her there until she
died from lack of oxygen. Her adoptive mother, a pediatric nurse
practitioner(!), watched while they did it. A video camera recorded the
The two assistants and the mother also face charges and will be tried this
The case has been something of an international sensation because of the
videotape of the child's death. It showed the four tormenting the girl
during a putative "rebirthing" session. After instructing her to try to
come out of her flannel "womb," they then did everything they could to
frustrate her efforts to comply, blocking her movements, retying the ends
of the sheet, shifting their weight, and never heeding her cries for help.
As Candace literally struggled and screamed for her life, they answered
with taunts and chilling encouragements to "go ahead and die." While the
jury and the other 65 people in the small courtroom watched and listened to
the life ebbing away from a lovely, vibrant, and courageous little girl,
all save a few were visibly moved. It was literally enough to make a grown
man cry. Tears well up still when memories of what I saw on that tape
return unbidden and haunt a quiet moment. I will never be the same as I
That was only Day 4 of the 14-day trial. (Linda and I--and Emily, too--sat
there every day and took copious notes through it all.) There was much
more to come, and it was, in many ways, even worse. There were 10 more
hours of videotapes of this child enduring hitherto unimaginably cruel,
degrading, and frankly disgusting practices in what were called "holding"
sessions. In just one two-hour session, for example, Candace had her face
grabbed, with enforced eye contact, 90 times, had her head violently shaken
309 times, was screamed at just inches away from her face 68 times. The
"therapy" sessions were all like that, with just variations on the theme.
In another, for example, she had her mother lay on her for an hour and 42
minutes, and had her face licked some 21 times; in another, she had her
treasured long hair hacked off into a short, ragged mop; in still others,
she was required to kick her legs in scissors fashion unto the point of
exhaustion. There were numerous periods where this naturally energetic
10-year-old was required to sit absolutely motionless for 10, 20, and 30
minutes at a time. Indeed, the last image of Candace we were shown in the
courtroom was of her sitting cross-legged, staring blankly at the camera,
her face, though still lovely, showing nothing of the smiling, apparently
confident girl seen in her fourth-grade class photo. At the last, hers was
the face of a torture victim. That image, too, haunts me daily.
Testimony given by the defense, including that of the defendants
themselves, admits that such holding "therapy" has been going on for a
decade or more, has gone on despite Candace's fate, and will undoubtedly
continue by others. It has taken an actual death for these culprits to be
subject to the criminal penalties they now face, but they well deserve the
maximum 48 years' prison time alone for the abuse and indignity they
visited on hundreds of children before Candace.
Reluctantly looking past Candace's specific fate, the testimony in this
case has revealed much about the particular quackery that tortured Candace.
In the beginning, there is the phony diagnosis of "attachment disorder" and
the unrealistic expectations of hopeful adoptive parents. Then there are
the hopelessly unscientific, intellectually vacuous, ethically bankrupt,
and pervertedly sadistic beliefs and practices collectively called
"Attachment Therapies." Next there is the motley collection of egomaniacs,
sociopaths, charlatans, wannabees, failures, and hangers-on that comprise
the community of "Attachment Therapists". And in the end, there is the
network of public and private social agencies, licensed and unlicensed
social workers, self-promotional workshops and conferences,
pseudo-professional cross-referrals, private clinics and residential
facilities that sucks desperate (or unrealistic) parents and their children
into its maw using fear, hype and hope. The evidence in this case shows
there was a pipeline feeding North Carolina children to Evergreen,
Colorado, for victimization. Our independent investigation suggests that
there are others with different intakes and outlets.
The prosecutors in this case, Laura Dunbar and Steve Jensen, did a superb
job, both in and out of the courtroom. I cannot imagine how Candace could
have had better advocates. I want to note especially how they made the
case into an exemplar for handling pseudoscientific offerings of evidence.
Whenever the defense tried to introduce testimony about the "efficacy" of
the methods used on Candace, they were blocked because there was no
scientific validation. When the defense finally got someone accepted as an
"expert" on psychology, the prosecution made mincemeat of his testimony
regarding validation and scientific support for the practices at issue.
And when the defendants testified that they used therapies without
scientific basis for doing so, the prosecution went right for the jugular
and used their own codes of ethics which require scientific validation of
their practices. Whenever a witness would admit a procedure was
unvalidated, then the prosecution would accurately label it experimental,
and question the ethics of conducting experiments on unwilling children.
In particular, the following exchange was common in the courtroom:
Defendant: I use this because it works.
Prosecutor: How do you know it works?
Defendant: Because I've seen it work.
Typical quacks. They don't have to wait for science, or go through all
that hard work of collecting valid evidence for their practices. They've
had the epiphany, they've seen the results. That's good enough for them.
Some commentators have noted the arrogance of the two defendants,
particularly in their own testimony. They "knew" what Candace's real
problem was. They just "knew" what she needed to get better. They
"knew" her cries were lies or manipulation. They just "knew" she had enough
air to breathe. Other commentators noted the ignorance of the defendants
repeatedly demonstrated by the evidence. Personally, I think they revealed
themselves as having the hallmark of every quack: the arrogance of
The prosecutorial pursuit was a delight to see. During summation, both
prosecutors accurately pointed out that this was a case of "ends justifying
the means," rife with pseudoscience, and prejudicial to the health and
welfare of the children (victims). The defense necessarily had to let
these charges go unanswered.
A couple of related questions rang out loudly, especially in summation:
Has a child no right to self-determination and dignity? Is it ever right
to torture a child? Given the horrors found in the direct evidence about
this crime, it probably wasn't necessary for the prosecution to raise such
questions. Linda and I had their ears in a very minor way and prodded them
to do so, but it was their own humanity, we think, that tugged them to go
the extra way. We are gratified that they raised all the right questions.
We are also gratified that the jury answered those questions in just the
Yrs, Larry Sarner
"Rebirthing verdict may curb restraint therapy" -- Denver Post 4/22
"Rocky Mt. News story on verdict" -- Rocky Mt. News 4/21
On another topic, I've recently heard (my own opinion isn't set on this issue yet) that what I
learned in grade school about DDT being evil was not supported by real science. Apparently
there are no good substitutes for DDT to kill disease carrying mosquitos. Since the world
knee jerked out the use of DDT, the death rate due to Malaria and other contagion's have
sky-rocketed. It has been estimated that as many as 600 million extra deaths could be
attributed to the cessation of DDT. Some say the deaths get ignored because they are
poor dark skinned people in other countries. If this is true, it makes for a powerful
rejoinder to the question, "whets the harm in some nonsense?"