14 December 2021|campaign, child abuse, family violence, parental alienation, petition
Strawman Fallacy Parental Alienation

Do Not Fall for The Straw Man Fallacy

By Ms Amanda Sillars and Dr Mandy Matthewson

Detractors and Deniers of parental alienation tend to walk in their own circles for evidence, also known as the ‘Woozle Effect.’ So, we will refer to this group as the Woozles.

We argue the following, based on actual scientific literature (e.g., Bentley & Matthewson, 2020; Haines, Matthewson, & Turnbull, 2020; Harman, Kruk, & Hines, 2018; Harman & Matthewson, 2020):

Premise 1: Parental alienating behaviors are a serious form of child abuse and family violence.

Premise 2: Parental alienating behaviors harm children and parents.

The Woozles Objection: 1.) Parental alienation is what abusive fathers claim to take children away from protective mothers. 2.) Parental alienation is junk science! 3.) Richard Gardner was a pedophile who created PAS. 4.) They want to place children in the care of their abusive parents.

Is this a good enough response to the argument? No, it is not!

1.) Firstly, no one states that false claims of parental alienation do not occur. The existence of false claims of parental alienation does not negate the fact that this form of abuse does exist. Ignoring the premise that parental alienating behaviours are a serious form of child abuse and family violence and focusing solely on false claims is a false dichotomy. This false dichotomy leaves children and parents at risk of harm and this group of victims/survivors silenced.

2.) Junk science. Are you kidding!? There are over 1000 peer-reviewed scientific articles on parental alienation that they appear to be ignoring. They are also ignoring all the publications in the grey literature and all the publications referring to the phenomena but do not use the term parental alienation. Pretending the science doesn’t exist won’t make it go away.

There are 5 types of science denialism (fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry picking and conspiracy theories) and the Woozles make use of all 5. Read this article to become familiar with the 5 types. In summary, there are fake experts everywhere denying the existence of parental alienation – people who claim to do science but are not scientists and people who know all because they read a blog. These people use logical fallacies, which are faulty, misleading, or incorrect arguments that can be easily unravelled with reason. However, when the body of science is presented and the reasoned argument is made, it isn’t enough for the Woozles. For them, the science will always be junk regardless of its rigour. Woozles also have a habit of cherry picking the data to fit their argument while ignoring anything that doesn’t fit. Then, when there’s nothing left, they’ll make stuff up and go on a personal attack.

3.) If you’re going to accuse someone of paedophilia, you had better bring your evidence. Hang on…wait…Woozles ignore evidence. When evidence exposes their strawman argument, they have nothing left but to personally attack. Much of Dr Gardner’s work has been mis-cited, mis-quoted and grossly misconstrued by Woozles. You can read more about Dr Gardner here.  If Woozles had actually engaged in the literature, they would know that the first documented case of what we now call parental alienation was in 1804 – the King vs De Manneville. In this case, the alienating parent was the father. Feminist scholars have discussed the case, but completely ignored the core of it – parental alienation. It was 1985 when Dr Gardner first published an article describing his observations of alienated children and in 1987, he published his work on parental alienation syndrome. Dr Gardner was not a paedophile. He was a highly respected psychiatrist, child custody evaluator and scholar.

4.) Seriously? No one wants to place children in the care of their abusive parents. This is a typical attack line used to shock, detract, and mislead. Who would actually believe something like this? When it is accepted that parental alienating behaviours are child abuse, this issue can be treated as a child protection issue. Read here for more science.

In this scenario, the Woozles have committed the Straw Man fallacy. Their argument completely ignores our position and substitutes a misrepresented version of that position. To better understand:

A Straw Man is a man-made object consisting of straw intended to resemble an actual man. A Straw Man fallacy occurs when an opponent’s position is presented to resemble the original claim but is not the actual position put forward.

The Woozles have tried to create an illusion that our position has been refuted or critiqued by attempting to switch out our original position with a different one, then they have come in with an attack that parental alienation is junk science. Don’t be fooled.

Sometimes Straw Man fallacies are challenging to spot, but they are often prevalent in politics to misrepresent an opponent’s position. They use Straw men to distract people from complex topics politicians want to avoid. Sometimes, Straw Man fallacies are unintentional, but in this case, it is intentional to mislead others.

It is essential to keep discussions productive, look at all the evidence, and stay gender-inclusive with family violence and child abuse. Before going on the attack of parental alienation, people need to make sure they grasp the exact position and look at all the extensive evidence behind it.

Denying the existence of parental alienation will allow this form of abuse to continue harming children and parents. It will leave children with the abusive parent, the alienating parent. It will also result in children being taken away from the protective good loving parent and placing the child into the hands of the abusive parent who falsely claims parental alienation.

Without skilled practitioners in critical areas, we will not have people trained to identify a valid claim or a false claim of parental alienation. These Woozles publish misleading and false information, causing more harm to children and parents worldwide. It is time to take a stand.

The Eeny Meeny Miney Mo (EMMM) is currently campaigning to have parental alienating behaviors recognized as child abuse and family violence.

Once parental alienating behaviors are formally recognized as child abuse and family violence then clearly defined, this will require those working with alienated families to be educated in parental alienation dynamics and other key areas.

In addition, EMMM considers that the minimum key areas of expertise required of a single expert to include:

  •  Parental alienation dynamics;
  •  Family Violence;
  •  Child maltreatment;
  •  Sexual abuse;
  •  Attachment theory;
  •  Personality disorders;
  •  Anxieties, fears and phobias;
  •  Family systems;
  •  Complex trauma;
  •  False confessions;
  •  False memories;
  •  Repressed memories;
  •  Assessment and diagnosis;
  •  Trauma-informed practice;
  •  Interviewing Children (see note); and
  •  Risk Assessments (risk of harm to self, others and child safety risk)

Note: It must be determined whether the interviewing, questioning and counselling techniques used with the child were so suggestive that they had the capacity to substantially alter the child’s recollections of events and thus compromise the reliability of the child’s personal knowledge.

Our Conclusion: Parental alienating behaviors must be acknowledged, and we need legislation which not only acknowledges its existence but firmly and clearly legislates against it.

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