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Balkanization and the International Adoption Subspecialty: How Challenges to the So-Called “Experts” are Marginalized

June 16, 2011

The term, balkananization, originated as a geopolitical term which refers to the fragmenting of a region into smaller regions or states that become hostile to one another.  It had its origins in the fragmentation of the Balkan peninsula, but

The term however came into common use in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, with reference to the numerous new states that arose from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire.

Balkanization has since been used as a term to describe any type of fragmentation within a discipline that results in each becoming its own, separate enclave, with its own self-professed “experts” who hold themselves accountable only to others within that very narrow subspeciality, rather than to the profession as a whole or to people from other disciplines within the Academe. Now are readers beginning to get where I am going with this? The most frequent retort that I have noticed Ronald Federici making to his critics aside from the ad hominem and out of context references to our pasts, is that he is an “expert” and we are outsiders from the “fringe” who are not qualified to criticize his work because we are not “experts” in the field of international adoption and he is. I would submit that the subspecialty of International Adoption within the mental health profession is attempting to balkanize itself by its self-proclaimed “experts” maintaining that it can only be critically evaluated by others within that very narrow subspecialty. Therefore if any criticism comes from outside that subspecialty, even from a recognized expert in childhood behavioral problems, for example, that criticism is dismissed. The truly concerning part of this is that some adoptive parents appear to be buying into this and will only listen to a very narrow band of experts, while ignoring the critical analysis and feedback from those outside the subspecialty of international adoption.  This can also mean dismissal from any criticism from people in other fields, which is also unhealthy for reasons I will go into later.

International Adoption is not the only subspecialty where this has happened. In the 1990s, as Robyn Dawes and others have documented, this type of balkanization took place within a subspecialty of trauma therapists who employed memory recovery techniques that had no scientific basis and, in fact, flew in the face of everything science knows about human memory (for example, that the mind does not operate as a video recorder where memories can accurately be recovered and played back). We can also see this within the related subspecialty of Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID which in spite of the questionable science behind it, has remained in the DSM, I believe largely due to the separation of its “experts” and exclusion of criticism from the outside.

Why am I maintaining that this is a bad thing? The events of the 1990s are one example of how such balkanization can allow harmful interventions not only to continue but to remain endorsed by the establishment who defers to internally designated “experts” and excludes criticism from anyone else. What happens to a system that closes off any and all feedback from the outside?  According to systems theory, a system that isolates itself in this way from any kind of outside feedback, goes insane. In essence, it becomes an authoritarian cult that has made itself immune to challenge from the outside world and squelches criticism of its authorities from the inside as well.

I became aware of this concept through a book I am reading that was highly recommended to me by Eileen Gambrill, Challenges (1998) by the mathematician, Serge Lang.

Serge Lang 1927-2005

As I continue to read, I can see why she recommended this book, as it is so highly relevant to the current situation in which I find myself, where I have criticized and challenged the basis of and evidence for certain interventions aimed at adopted children and am encountering many of the same forms of attack that he encountered when he challenged various authorities with well-reasoned criticism and yet was met with ad homimen attacks and arguments from authority by “experts” within their fields. Lang meticulously documented his work with files, keeping careful track of his correspondence with various individuals as well as publications and commentaries on the topic he was addressing.  When I read that, I realized that I have actually been doing something similar when I document and file away all the correspondence I have had and certainly the advent of computers and the internet makes this even easier to do. My blog, Monica Pignotti: The Truth has, for example, been keeping a running documentation of the internet smear campaign leveled against me by those who are unhappy with my criticisms.

The first section (200+ pages) of Challenges deals with Lang’s critical analysis of the work of a prominent political scientist, Samuel Huntington, accompanied by documentation from his files (both Lang and Huntington are currently deceased). Lang was a Yale University mathematician and Huntington was a Harvard University political scientist. The controversy began in 1986 when Huntington was nominated to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and Lang challenged the nomination. Going into all the details of this fascinating case would be beyond the scope of this posting and can be read in Lang’s book for anyone interested. The criticism had to do with the means by which Huntington came to the obviously false conclusion that South Africa, during the 1960s was a “satisfied” society, ignoring the obvious horrendous repression that was occurring against blacks by Apartheid who were so repressed that they were unable to voice their dissatisfaction, which, of course as we all now know, came decades later. Lang presented a critique of Huntington’s methodology and the way in which he operationalized his constructs of dissatisfaction, for instance. They were operationalized in such a way that the blatant racial oppression that was occurring was completely ignored and an unwarranted conclusion was arrived at. Suffice it to say that Lang ultimately did succeed and Huntington was denied membership in the NAS.

However, along the way, Serge Lang was subject to a number of fallacious arguments including straw man and argument from authority, that bear great similarity, in form, to the kinds of fallacies that those of us who have challenged certain practices in the field of international adoption are now undergoing. One of the primary forms of attack is that because Lang was a mathematician and not a political scientist, he had no legitimate grounds to challenge Huntington.

Are you beginning to see the parallels? Just look at the nature of the attacks against Larry Sarner, who is also a mathematician and the insinuations that he has no qualifications to be criticizing international adoption specialists. But it goes even further than that. Linda Rosa (nursing and thus qualified to evaluate physical restraints) Jean Mercer (psychology) and I (social work) have also been excluded because even though we are within the professions we are criticizing, we are not in that very narrow subspecialty. Even the licensed clinical psychologist Marolyn Morford, who has decades of experience working with children who have serious behavioral problems, including adopted children has been maligned and excluded because she is not part of the international adoption “specialty” clique, while her challenges go unrefuted.

One of the core issues here, that Lang’s book has helped me to understand, is balkanization, both between the professions and in my case of the mental health profession, with regard to subspecialties within the profession.  Here are some quotes from Challenges regarding balkanization, for readers to consider:

Lang wrote (p. 81, Challenges):

What promotes the balkanization of science is the autonomy of each discipline, unchecked by others and unaccountable to others who may look into the way that discipline is practiced by some of its members. Overriding the autonomy is precisely what eliminates the balkanization (p. 81).

This next quote has special relevance to the specialty of international adoption, although, of course, Lang was commenting on the matter with Huntington:

In addition, the problem may not be with the autonomy of a discipline. The problem may be that a discipline is influenced principally by a certain group, or even taken over by a certain group, not necessarily by a conspiracy, but simply because like minded people occupy powerful and influential positions. There are examples of such a phenomenon in history. For instance, when Lysenkoism took over biology in the Soviet Union. Of course, in the case of Lysenko, he had additional influence to put some people in jail. It took a long time before the Soviet Academy of Sciences finally dared opposed him.

Thankfully, the present regime in the field of International Adoption does not have this kind of power over its critics, but the principles involved are quite similar. That is, like minded people with certain beliefs regarding international adoption seem to have gained powerful and influential positions within that field, bullying anyone who seriously challenges their cherished notions, with anonymous smear campaigns and in some cases legal action.

Here is another quote. This is from a letter from Stephen Dresch, a Professor of Economics to Yale’s Provost William Nordhaus in 1988. Dresch was commenting on a statement made by Nordhaus in a letter to Lang where he had written (which, by the way sounds remarkably similar to some of the statements from anti-cult movement insiders including the message Steve Hassan repeatedly attempted to convey to me when he repeatedly attempted to squelch my criticism if various “insiders”, but that is a topic for another post):

We need to muster all the strength we have to combat the ignorance and superstition that prevails without our walls. Our mission as an institution for the precious nourishment of ideas and scholars is badly bruised when we turn upon our own, when we withhold that extra ounce of trust and forgiveness (from a 1987 letter from Nordhaus to Lang quoted on p. 38, Challenges).

Here, what we can see is a paradox. On the one hand, interdisciplinary criticism is being discouraged, but on the other hand, criticism from within is also being discouraged. Wherever this kind of position prevails, what we are left with appears to be a highly insulated discipline that discourages criticism from within and from without. This obviously protects the interest of the dominant authorities. Sound familiar? Anyone who has experience within the field of international adoption who dares to challenge the “experts” is immediately maligned, whereas anyone from the outside is immediately “discredited” as not being qualified to criticize. This Catch 22, if people fall for it, represents the perfect setup to create therapy gurus who are immune to any kind of serious challenge or criticism. It gives the inside “experts” absolute power, but only if you fall for this Catch 22 setup.

What is being ignored here is that the criticisms that are being leveled are not ones that it takes an expert to detect. For example, it doesn’t take an “expert” to discern that holding a child (or anyone) in a prone restraint for hours at a time by parents at home alone with the child, is not a good idea. Any informed consumer can gain that much knowledge by looking at the evidence against prone restraints and noting the fact they have been banned for use in institutions in a number of states.

Commenting on this letter, which also included statements regarding interdisciplinary criticism, Dresch, in a letter to Nodhaus, cited by Lang, wrote:

…Indeed, a  multidisciplinary setting realization of “competent peer review” is, in Samuelson’s words, “important and tricky.” However, the “trickiness” is not reduced is not reduced by balkanizing the process (e.g. permitting only economists to evaluate economists) and it is precisely because of the importance of competent peer review for the vitality of the entirety of the interdependent scholarly enterprise that insulated disciplinary enclaves cannot be granted total autonomy and immunity from scrutiny [emphasis added]  Only with disciplinarilly external perspective is it possible to restrain the power of dysfunctional interdisciplinary orthodoxies and to recognize (and act in response to) disciplinary sterility. (reproduced on p. 83 of Challenges).

and regarding the exhortations that Lang needs to be more “tolerant”:

It is precisely insulated disciplinary “autonomy” which promotes “a tragic balkanization of the house of science.”  Finally, the issue of “tolerance” is more complex than Samuelson seems to realize. Tolerance of the “unorthodox” may advance the cause of science, but tolerance toward the shoddy work of colleagues or students is a very different matter (p. 84).

These are just a few examples of how I have found Lang’s book most enlightening, as far as coming to a better understanding of the dynamics of what is occurring in my own situation and the reaction I have received to my own criticism. This has applicability to so many areas of mental health subspecialties. Cult survivors, trauma and dissociation, DID Therapy, Energy Psychology and Attachment therapy (or similar interventions that don’t want to call it that) are a few that come to mind. All have their internally-designated experts who may not be basing their claims on evidence, but make themselves immune to criticism by deeming anyone from the outside who tries to criticize them as unqualified and anyone from the inside who does so, as a polarizer. Insiders tho disagree with “cult experts” risk being labeled as cult apologists or un-recovered ex-cult members who are considered “recovered” only if they conform to what the cult experts” assert and do not challenge it. Yes, I know, it’s highly ironic that questioning authority, critical thinking and failure to conform would get one labeled in such a way. If this happens, the best thing to do is reject those labels and call out  anyone who attempts to use them.

Undoubtedly, as I delve further into Langs’s work, I will have more to write about this.

One Comment
  1. Lang’s book is enlightening! (because of all the contemporary information and relevance).

    Thinking about how David Bohm was silenced and ignored for a few years, especially by Oppenheimer.]

    Thinking also of the problems of an early careerist, who wants a discipline in which she knows everybody and someone in particular can guide her.

    And Balkanisation: that is just it!

    And the Huntington who wrote Clash of Civilisations?

    (That’s the trouble, when you only know that one book, and not the wider context of the person or their work).

    And when trust and forgiveness is turned against you or the profession.

    Without mathematics you wouldn’t have economics or accounting or anything else. So a mathematician looks at things in a very pure way, which application may or may not see/prove.

    No, South Africa was not a satisified or complacent society. Look at Sharpeville. Lots of Afrikaners and Jews (eg Sidney Bloch, Australian psychiatrist who was in Johannesberg Medical School around that time) spoke out.

    Thinking of looking at National Academies (of Education and others) and what they are intended for and what they might really do.

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