Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Thursday, October 03, 2019

The New Crucible




CRUCIBLE II 

Increase Mather        All rise for Judge Hathome.
Judge Hathome         Increase Mather, can I have a report on the morning's executions?
Increase Mather        There has been a holdup in one case. The girl Carla.
Judge Hathome         What's the delay?
Increase Mather        Apparently there's a lawyer outside who wants to mount a defence.
Judge Hathorne        A defence? This is very irregular. On what grounds?
Increase Mather        He says Carla's innocent.
Cotton Mather          How can she be innocent? She's a witch. Look, it's right here in Malleus Mallificarum-III-Revised, in the criteria for witchcraft Let me see, the criteria are A, significantly subaverage sanctity, B, gross and sustained deficits in church attendance, and C, not innocent. By definition. It's that simple.
Increase Mather        It is being claimed, I think, that she's been misdiagnosed.
Cotton Mather          Nonsense. She's had all the standard test batteries. We administered nonlinguistic tests like being thrown into the duckpond and being stuck with pins, and linguistic tests like saying the Lord's Prayer backwards, and she scored in the profoundly or severely bewitched range on all of them.
Increase Mather       He does have some criticisms of the tests themselves. A suggestion, I believe, that they don't necessarily measure what they purport to measure.
Cotton Mather          Lord save us. These tests have been employed for years, and I can assure you that they've been exhaustively standardized on the entire surviving population of Salem.
Judge Hathorne        The tests are generally accepted, then?
Cotton Mather          Of course they are. It's only common sense, after all. The empirical correlations are absolutely undeniable. People with high sanctity test scores have an 80% higher than average chance of entering the ministry, and people with low test scores have a 100% higher chance of being burnt at the stake. You can't argue with the facts. 
Increase Mather       It's possible, I suppose, that she could just have a specific sanctity defect. Differential diagnosis in these cases isn't always easy. If she had a developmental biblereading disorder, say, the prognosis then would be much better - hanging, I think, rather than burning. In mild cases I believe there are recorded instances of patients achieving lashing at the cart's tail.
Cotton Mather          No, no. There may be a grey area around borderline diabolism - that's fairly prevalent, I think the last study said that there were soft signs of developmental depravity in something like 98% of the normal population – but profound witchcraft is quite unmistakeable. I sometimes think it should be given a separate listing in the manual, something like organic devilry, to distinguish it from the sinners at the bottom end of the normal curve.
Increase Mather       The defence has done their own tests, and they say that they have evidence that she's been independently producing prayers at a sin-appropriate level.
Cotton Mather          Oh, I know what they're saying. It can sound quite convincing to a layperson, so I took the precaution of having their papers looked over by an independent professional. Allow me to introduce Dr. Bob Shopland, an officially registered witchfinder with extensive clinical experience.
Judge Hathorne        Has he appeared as an expert witness in any other proceedings?
Cotton Mather          He testified at several of the last dozen burnings. Goody Crossley, I think, and Goody Morton.
Judge Hathorne        Good. There's no question of his impartiality, then. You may begin, Dr. Shopland.
Dr. Bob Shopland     Thank you, your honour.
Judge Hathorne        Have you administered any tests to Carla yourself?
Dr. Bob Shopland    Yes, your honour. I administered the standard test in this area, the hydrometric evaluation.
Judge Hathorne        A hydrometric evaluation?
Dr. Bob Shopland    We threw the accused into a carefully measured body of water - 68,540 liters plus or minus 7 litres, accurate to within the 0.0% confidence level - and observed whether she floated Studies have shown, your honour, that witches have a specific gravity greater than two point one four standard deviations from the norm, and correspondingly float. Innocent people, or, to give them their technical name, 'corpses', sink to the bottom of the pond and stay there. Carla did go under four times, for a mean time of 1.35 minutes, although the amount of water she swallowed wasn't statistically significant, but towards the end of the session she moved her arms to propel herself back into the mud at the edge of the pond. On the basis of my observation, I would say that her arms were clearly manipulated.
Judge Hathorne        Manipulated?
Dr. Bob Shopland     By the evil One. The prince of darkness. Old scratch. Doug Biklen.
Judge Hathorne        Quite. And have you had an opportunity to look over the so-called defence evidence?
Dr. Bob Shopland    Yes I have, your honour. And I'd like to say at the outset that I view with some concern the prospect of nonprofessionals venturing into the field of witchcraft. Bewitched people suffer from severe and global moral and spiritual problems, problems which have been amply documented over the years in a veritable bonfire of research. The intransigence of their diabolic handicaps is well known, and one has to be wary of raising false hopes in vulnerable parents.
Cotton Mather          I couldn't agree more. Show me a hope, I've always said, and I'll show you a false hope. They've taken years, sometimes, coming to terms with the fact that their son or daughter or husband is – different - and then along come these people, some of them quite sincere, saying no, all you need to do is let him out of the stocks or out of prison or not hang him and he'll be just like anybody else. Families are so vulnerable to that kind of charlatanry. They don't want to face the truth, and they'll snatch at any excuse to put off the ugly realization that they have a devil worshipper in the household. I've seen it a thousand times. It's what we in the profession call "Being in denial' or 'avoidant coping'.
Judge Hathorne        And this being in denial' – would that affect the value of their evidence?
Dr. Bob Shopland    Oh, worthless. Completely unreliable. Denial works as a cognitive barrier, you see, and until they've worked their way through it parents can't really be trusted to tie up their own shoelaces.
Cotton Mather          Guilt, denial, anger, acceptance - they have to work through the stages. When they've come round to accepting what we've told them, then we can listen to what they have to say. That's why it's such an important part of the role of professionals working in the area to help families to come to terms with limited hopes for their child. In this case I had get them to learn to deal with the notion of having her fry in hell for all eternity, and I may say that that putting that across was a real challenge.
Dr. Bob Shopland    Absolutely. Sudden and rapid cures promised in a field where we know they aren't possible can be very damaging, and undo years of hard work and hard won adjustment.
Judge Hathorne        And what about these prayers people have heard them say?
Dr. Bob Shopland    I'm not convinced. I feel — and I'm speaking here as a trained professional - that both the content and format of these purported communications are quite inconsistent with informed expectations. They simply defy rational explanation in terms of established religious, medical, or educational theory.
Judge Hathorne        No coherent theory as to the underlying principle, eh? That's very significant.
Dr. Bob Shopland    People who have previously given every clinical indication of being utterly damned are said to be uttering complete prayers, things like - "Oh Lord, get me out of here, oh god stop the pain...." And, if I may say so, I find it particularly suspicious that they all seem to say much the same sort of thing. Nothing but criticism of the church and the elders, complaints of injustice, misunderstanding, shoddy treatment, prescriptions for appropriate treatment for accused people, statements about how they want to live in the community (or just live)..... One could be forgiven for wondering if this was just the kind of thing you would expect if words were being put into their mouths by people with a bee in their bonnet about the evils of large institutions like jails.
Cotton Mather          Well, we all know their agenda. It's the same old gang that pushed for religious toleration, and look what happened there! All the religious deviants pushed out of their correctional institutions onto the streets. Oh, the liberals are all right, the academics are all right, they've all gone back to their ivory towers, they aren't the ones that have to cope with the consequences, you can't go out into the street now without bumping into a gang of Quakers wandering around not taking their hats off. 
Increase Mather       Get a family of quakers in the street, and bang go your property values. No wonder people don't like it.
Cotton Mather          It's not just the property values, either, it's for their own good. They don't fit in, they don't belong, much as we would like to get rid of prejudice against them it's there and there's no point pretending it doesn't exist, they'd be much happier in so many ways being in a disciplined and supportive environment with people of their own kind in the jail.
Increase Mather       Or the stocks?
Cotton Mather          Or the stocks, that would be another possible option. Or the ducking-pond. There are a variety of possible placements. (Smiles indulgently) This isn't the bad old days!
Judge Hathorne        Gentlemen, gentlemen, we're wandering from the point. We're not talking about quakers now. We're talking about witches.
Dr. Bob Shopland    Well, yes, Quakers are at the other end of the spectrum. Higher functioning, certainly.
Judge Hathorne        The point is, the defence is claiming to have evidence that this person isn't a witch. If there is evidence, shouldn't we look at it?
Dr. Bob Shopland    Judge, I can assure you that there hasn't been a single instance where a claim of this nature has stood up to scientific scrutiny. Oh, there's lots of anecdotal evidence, people claiming that these people have displayed undiabolic behaviours in the family or in the community, patted a child on the head or put a coin in the poorbox, but on every single occasion where these claims have been appraised scientifically in a controlled study by bringing these people in and applying red-hot irons to their feet they've been unable to do anything except scream like fiends.
Cotton Mather          Exactly like fiends.
Judge Hathorne        There's no consensus among professionals on this new theory, then?
Dr. Bob Shopland    I would say, in fact, that most professionals would be quite strongly against it. I've spoken to quite a number of witchfinders myself, and I haven't found one yet who's prepared to say that all the people he's had burnt as witches were innocent. I'm not saying that it's never true – if someone is accused of curdling the cows’ milk with the evil eye the question of whether or not they're a witch remains an empirical question for the interrogator on each occasion – but I do have to say that for anyone to imply, in the absence of empirical validation, that this technique can break through the power of Satan raises serious ethical concerns.
Cotton Mather          Very serious. Has your honour considered having the defense lawyers burnt?
Dr. Bob Shopland    I have to warn you, judge, that if all this rhetoric and media hype continues it may well succeed in setting witchcraft services back forty years. Our only hope is that rationality and the rules of evidence will prevail.
Judge Hathorne        The rules of evidence?
Dr. Bob Shopland    Standard scientific practice. A valid test, judge, is a test where
1) the variables are strictly controlled - preferably with leg irons, handcuffs, and choke collars;
2) the outcomes are double-blind - that is, both the subject and the torturer wear blindfolds; and
3) there's a control group - that is, one group is in control of the other group, generally with whips and red-hot pokers; and
4) the outcomes can be correlated with the consensus of the existing literature.
Cotton Mather          All we ask, judge, is that people claiming that you can drive out demons without the use of fire in large quantities have to prove their point first, to me. It's not as if I have a closed mind; I just want conclusive proof, through rigorous and properly designed experiments that meet the rules of evidence and identify the variables and eliminate the possibility of outside influence, that the use of fire is no longer appropriate because hell has frozen over.
Judge Hathorne        I'm afraid I have to agree with you. We can't hear this evidence until there's a consensus in the witchfinding community. It's most unsatisfactory, I must say, and I wish I hadn't been put in this unfortunate position. Out of concern for Carla and all other children who may be suffering from their inability to free themselves from demonic posession, the court implores those individuals who are able to do so to conduct the necessary studies to determine the reliability and validity of this most interesting technique. Given the potential for breakthrough to understanding and possibly remediating some of the tragic and mysterious conditions affecting some children, professionals and non-professionals alike would eagerly welcome definitive findings. Until this is done we will never know if there is
“a knocking in the skull, an endless silent shout,
of something beating on a wall, and trying to be let out."
Cotton Mather          And what about Carla?
Judge Hathorne        Carla? Oh, burn her. 


Chris Borthwick 11/21/92 

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