For more than a month I have been wrangling with the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) about a web page they have that discusses something they call “online infidelity.” AAMFT is the national professional organization that represents marriage and family therapists like me. Think of it like the National Association of Realtors.
I have lots of issues with their webpage that are even more important than the fact that “online infidelity” is a purely fabricated phrase that doesn’t represent a real diagnosis. One of my major complaints is that they are making inaccurate and potentially harmful claims that aren’t based on any real evidence. In fact, they and/or the author of the page have completely misrepresented one research study to make wild claims about the general population, presenting them as fact.
Why should you care? Because this is the organization that is involved with the education, licensing, and ethical practice of therapists. They also support and encourage conducting and using research to inform practice. In other words, they play a very large role in protecting you, the consumer, by creating and enforcing ethical guidelines, informing best practice, and educating therapists.
Given those roles it is stunning to me that they would engage in such flagrant and unethical misuse of research to promote inaccurate and damaging information. And, while I and others have been bringing to their attention for over a month, they have not only refused to take down the offending page, they have refused to even engage in any discussion about it.
I recently wrote an open letter to the Executive Director, Mr. Tracy Todd, and the Board of Directors. A copy of that letter follows. The topic in dispute is about online sexual activity. I understand you may have your own views about such activities. What I’m asking you to do is not make judgment about the activity itself but rather look at the incredibly flawed and unethical way AAMFT and the author, M. Deborah Corley, PhD are using research. That kind of abuse has potential implications for all of us, therapists and non-therapists alike. If we can’t trust the organization responsible for creating ethical guidelines to act ethically, then how are any of us protected?
I ask you to read the letter. If you agree that this behavior is inappropriate, please let them know. You can contact them through their website here. You can message them on Facebook here. Or tweet them at @TheAAMFT. It doesn’t matter if you are a member or not. Your voice matters. Demand responsible use of research to support the claims they make.
- The study was a survey. That means that it is simply asking people to report their experience. It doesn’t measure anything tangible. It doesn’t control for any variables or other factors. It would be like you asking me why I think I get sick. I might say, “well, every time I get a fever I end up sick.” That is not, however, how fevers work. Just because I perceive it that way and tell you my perception, it doesn’t make it true.
- The participants weren’t even talking about themselves. That’s right, the subjects weren’t the individuals participating in cybersex but rather the partners of those individuals. So not only is it report of perceptions, the perceptions require mind reading. Somehow intuiting motivations of what is going on inside the head of another person.
- The sample was biased. The participants were identified as individuals “who had experienced serious adverse consequences of their partner’s cybersex involvement.” In other words, the sample consisted of people that had already determined that cybersex had caused them significant harm. That’s like taking a sample of people who don’t like brussel sprouts if they think other people will spit them out when they try them and then claiming 52% of all people who try brussel sprouts spit them out. No, 52% of people that don’t like brussel sprouts think other people will.
- The sample wasn’t representative of the general population. The sample consisted of 91 women and 4 men. This is hardly a representative sample. It is essentially women deciding for men why they lost interest in relational sex. Imagine informing women about menstrual cycles based on a study that is only men’s perception about what is going on for their female partner when they have their periods.
- There is no way to establish causation. There is a difference between causation and correlation. Do I really need to explain this to you? Apparently so. Correlation is the easy one. All you have to do is show that A and B move together (or in opposite ways) at the same time. If A goes up, so does B. What you don’t know is if A going up causes B to go up, if B going up causes A to go up, if some other influence (C) makes them both go up, or if maybe it is coincidence. That’s right, correlation can actually be coincidence. If you are looking for a good source so you can create more spurious claims, try here.