Psychologist David Lisak became a star, frequently cited by the White House and prominently featured in the documentary film "The Hunting Ground," after he developed his famous profile of the serial campus rapist.
Lisak has said that that almost all campus rapes (90 percent) are the work of serial rapists. He has further argued that "every report should be viewed and treated as an opportunity to identify a serial rapist."
Notice that the investigation's chief purpose doesn't appear to be establishing whether the accused can actually be held to be guilty of the crime rape but rather on a larger goal of identifying a serial offender. With this goal, it should come as no surprise that the right to due process of the accused takes a back seat to other considerations.
Lisak's work undergirds a lot of the Obama's administration's guidelines for handling rape accusations on campus, most notably "the vexingly anti-due process policies currently mandated by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights," in the words of Reason magazine editor Robby Soave. President Obama went out of his way to mention Lisak's 2002 study on campus predators when announcing the creation, in 2014, of a task force on campus rape.
Denying the accused due process flies in the face of the traditions and canons of western jurisprudence. But this is happening at least in some part because of Lisak's theories.
So what if Lisak's theories are based on dubiously-sourced studies?
Reason's Soave and Davidson College Associate Vice President Linda LeFauve, who is also a Reason contributor, did a series of articles calling into question the research behind Lisak's theories (the portal to those articles is here).
LeFauve noted that the research on which Lisak's influential theories were built had two big problems: the manner in which it was collected was one; the other is that the data was not collected with any direct connection to the subject of campus sexual assault. The New York Times' John Tierney summed this second up in a tweet: Data wasn't even ABOUT college rape.
On the first concern, LeFauve wrote:
"Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists" was published in 2002 in the journal Violence and Victims. Lisak has recently encouraged the impression that he conducted the research himself.
He did not. The paper was based on pooled data from four studies conducted by others on his campus between 1991 and 1998. I spoke with Lisak in March of this year. When I asked about those studies, he first said he was unable to remember their topics, then that they "may have been about child abuse history or relationships with parents." I asked whether they were about campus sexual assault; he conceded they were not.
Asked who the investigators of those previous studies were, he again said he was unable to recall but, when prompted, acknowledged his co-author, Paul Miller, as the lead investigator of two of them, conducted while Miller was a master’s and then doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. I asked if the others were also Lisak’s doctoral students during that time. "Yes, probably," he said.
It is not unheard of for a researcher to repurpose data from other studies. It was, however, unusual to hear a researcher so vague about his subject matter and authorship.
The subjects were interviewed anonymously by the original investigators, and Dr. Lisak ended a telephone conversation with LeFauve when she asked about his claim to have interviewed them subsequently. .
I hadn't been following the Lisak controversy until I saw a piece this morning by Soave on what happened after the exposure of the shaky foundations of Lisak's research:
You Won't Believe What Happened Next (Deafening Silence)
No, the Obama administration did not rush to say it was reviewing the research and theories on which it has based its guidelines for handling campus rape allegations. I imagine that this is going to be pretty much like the 77-cent gender wage gap. That figure has been debunked and debunked by respectable statisticians. But the Obama administration keeps on using it. It fits in with their policy goals, and so what if it is not true?
The Obama administration won't take a second look at Lisak's theories, but four federal judges have recently found that the rights of the accused have been violated in campus rape allegations. In one case, the accused asked for a lawyer and was told by the Title IX officer "a lawyer can't help you here. We won't talk to them."
If the Obama administration were honest, it would be asking questions about the assumptions on which its campus rape policies are based. It goes without saying (though I must say it), that we want rapists to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. We do not want innocent people who are accused of rape to be railroaded, however, on the assumption that it is highly likely that they are serial rapists.
Meghan McArdle had a good column on the Reason debunking.