THE BACK TO GODHEAD Bad Press Award honors journalism that is not merely unfavorable to the Hare Krsna movement but also biased, sloppy, misleading, irresponsible, foolish, or several or all of these.
Many journalists turn out stuff that amply qualifies. But for this, our first award, we have chosen a piece especially deserving of recognition for showing how third-rate journalism and third-rate psychiatry can work hand in hand.
The piece to which we refer was written by Lori Cidylo and published on the front page of The Psychiatric Times, "The Newspaper of American Psychiatry." The paper, meant for the continuing education of mental-health professionals, is blessed by the presence of twenty-two psychiatrists (and one lawyer) on its editorial board.
The headline said, "Destructive Cultism Gained Momentum Over Last Decade."
"Destructive cultism," of course, is not a clinical term but a buzzword used by groups opposed to what sociologists call, for lack of a better label, "new religious movements." And have those movements gained momentum? The headline says so, but the article gives no information by which to measure the supposed gain.
But let us continue.
The author begins with the obligatory gruesome reference to Jonestown a standard journalistic ritual. She then proceeds to tar with the same brush some 3,000 alleged "cults," lumping among them, of course, Hare Krsna.
"Many mental health professionals who are experts on cultism agree" about the evils of these groups, Ms. Cidylo writes. The language is typical. "Many mental-health professionals." How many? Five hundred? One hundred? Fifteen?
And what makes one an "expert on cultism"? Does the psychiatric profession now recognize "cultism" as a field of medical expertise? Do medical schools offer courses and doctorates in "cultic studies"?
Here's an expert for you. Ms. Cidylo trots out Dr. Margaret Singer, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of California. Dr. Singer was the star witness who testified in ISKCON vs. George to support charges that mantras and austerity make for "mind control" and that Krsna consciousness is "brainwashing." (See page 23.) In more recent cases, at least two federal courts have held Dr. Singer's testimony inadmissible for failure to show scientific acceptance. ** (1. As we go to press, we learn of still another court that has turned thumbs down on Dr. Singer's expertise. Dr. Singer and some colleagues, the court noted, had submitted a report on "coercive persuasion" to the American Psychological Association. But the APA had rejected it because it "lacked scientific merit" and "the studies supporting its findings lacked methodological rigor.")
"Many mental health professionals agree," Ms. Cidylo writes. And what about the many (indeed, the majority) who don't agree? In this kind of article, those silly fools will not be heard from.
But read on, and you'll find alarming statistics from "several studies" and "random surveys," with no word on who conducted the research, where it was published, what groups were studied, what methods and criteria used. Even in a publication for professionals, footnotes, it seems, are out of style. We're just supposed to read and accept.
Ms. Cidylo treats us to the usual recitation of horror stories, with the slant, all along, that whatever is true of one group can be generalized to 3,000 others: a cult is a cult is a cult.
Cast in enough jargon "passive-dependent personality," "ego authority," "dissociative disorder" and it all seems to make sense.
For those familiar with such self-styled "anti-cult" groups as the Citizens Freedom Foundation and the American Family Foundation (notice the Orwellian names), this is all old news. The horror stories, the "experts," the jargon it's standard "anti-cult" party line.
Closely looked at, ** (2. See, for example, Anthony, "Religious Movements and Brainwashing Litigation: Evaluating Key Testimony," in In Gods We Trust: New Patterns of Religious Pluralism in America (T. Robbins & D. Anthony, eds., 2nd ed., 1990).) the thinking of party line experts like Margaret Singer appears hopelessly muddy. But mud is good stuff for slinging.
And for readers of The Psychiatric Times, this mud offers another benefit: play with it for an hour, and you'll gain a certified share in the expertise.
The article, you see, has a coupon that goes with it, asking four questions (one multiple choice and three "true or false").
Together, the article and the coupon form a "learning module" that earns you one hour of "Category 1 Credit" in continuing medical education. (As a physician, you need some twenty-five units of that credit every year to keep your license.)
So tick your answers, send in the coupon, and "Gain FREE Category 1 Credit in The Psychiatric Times." (Yes, that all-caps FREE is theirs.)
But The Psychiatric Times too deserves credit for the quality of its journalism. So, apart from the coupons, we're mailing the Editor of The Psychiatric Times a certificate, suitable for framing, honoring the Times as the first distinguished recipient of the Back to Godhead Bad Press Award.We're sure this prestigious award is well deserved.