IPT Book Reviews

Title: Psychology in Litigation and Legislation
Editors: Bruce D. Sales & Gary R. Vandenbos
Publisher: American Psychological Association, 1994

American Psychological Association
APA Order Department
PO Box 2710
Hyattsville, MD 20784
(800) 374-2721

The editors see this compilation of five Master Lectures raising "fundamental issues that should be of concern to psychologists who interact with lawyers, judges, and juries in litigation and who interact with legislators in drafting legislation." In 211 pages several disparate areas of the psychology-law interaction are examined. The aim is to assist in reaching the goal of representing the science of psychology accurately and reliably in the interface between psychology and law.

The book meets that goal. All five chapters reflect an accurate and sophisticated understanding of the fundamental nature of the science of psychology. Each author also succeeds in relating the scientific nature of psychological research to the legal issues involved in their topic. The most interesting and revealing chapter is Julie Blackman's treatment of feminist interaction with the law. She admirably blends scientific rigor with compassion. The indictment that psychology has neglected and ignored the reality of poor women and the injustice they experience is well taken by any psychologist who takes seriously the ethical imperative to consider the needs and welfare of all people without discrimination. The observation that there is pressure to absolutize initial hypotheses, as in the battered women syndrome, and then resist the development of more precise and specific knowledge gained through continuing research is cogent and a necessary corrective to ideological commitments.

Stephen Ceci's treatment of the child witness and the reports of five studies done by him and his colleagues is also a powerful presentation of the impact of continuing research and the process of acquiring accurate information. His summary conclusion that the research is on the side of caution in dealing with accusations of child sexual abuse to avoid false positives may attract considerable criticism. Nevertheless, his presentation and summary of the research is persuasive.

Gary Melton's chapter on expert opinions in the justice system is a careful analysis of the basic issues. The most notable aspect of his treatment, however, is his use of Bayesian inference applied to accusations of child sexual abuse. Melton has long been a champion of children's rights and has been in the forefront of attempting to respond to the reality of abuse. His application of base rates and accuracy of classification using a hypothetical profile of a sexually abused child, even with a 90% hit rate, produces a probability of only one in three correct classification of abuse. Together with Ceci's understanding of the research on child witnesses this makes it clear that the science of psychology is on the side of caution and every possible effort to improve the accuracy of psychology's contribution to the legal system.

Every psychologist who gives any psychological services to anybody should be familiar with the content of Michael Miller's treatment of psychologists as defendants. The frightening possibility of being sued or needing to respond to complaints to regulatory boards and professional associations is explored carefully and thoroughly. He gives good advice of how to take preventive steps and to respond to litigation. Wayne Cascio offers a presentation of the role and opportunity for psychology in responding to disabled individuals. He describes the development of laws affecting the work environment for disabled persons and what psychology can do to respond effectively.

This small book is filled with good understanding of a complex and often troublesome interaction of science and the law. It can be read and studied with benefit by any psychologist or justice system professional who wants to get a better grasp of the nature of the science of psychology and the process of doing good science.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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