UBC psychopathy expert Robert Hare responds to academic criticism over lawsuit threat

UBC professor emeritus Robert Hare, an internationally renowned expert on psychopaths, has offered his side of the story in a heated dispute over the boundaries of academic freedom. One of his adversaries is his former graduate student, SFU psychology professor Stephen Hart, who is also a highly regarded researcher in the area of psychopathology.

In a 14-page paper posted on Hare’s Web site, the UBC academic responds to an article published in the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, which Hart edits. According to Hare, the IJFMH article maintained that he had not complied with “accepted standards” of scientific discourse when he threatened to file a lawsuit in 2007 against a different academic journal, Psychological Assessment, in response to an evaluation of his work.

“This manuscript was difficult to write,” Hare mentions in a commentary at the start of his on-line rebuttal. “Given the circumstances, I felt I had no choice but to respond to what I consider unfair characterizations of my motives and actions in a long-standing controversy.”

The issue arose in 2007 when Psychological Assessment accepted an article by University of California Irvine forensic psychologist Jennifer Skeem and Glasgow Caledonian University psychology professor David Cooke. It dealt with the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, a screening tool Hare created to measure psychopathy. Hare collects royalties from its widespread use.

Hare characterizes the paper by Skeem and Cooke as an “opinion piece”, adding that descriptions of his work were “so obviously off the mark that anyone familiar with psychopathy would have picked up on the misrepresentations”. Hare claims that he and a colleague, Craig Neumann, were not given an opportunity to reply to the article in the same issue. According to the UBC professor emeritus, Skeem and Cooke revised the article, but it contained “many of the same misrepresentations”. That’s when Hare warned the journal that he might file a lawsuit.

“I threatened litigation only after Craig Neumann and I made a concerted attempt to resolve the matter with Skeem and Cooke through discourse,” Hare writes. “We were not satisfied with merely publishing a rebuttal to an article that continued to contain so many misrepresentations and mischaracterizations of our work.”

This month’s issue of Psychological Assesment published the Skeem and Cooke article, followed by a commentary from Hare and Neumann, and a rebuttal from Skeem and Cooke. Hare states in the paper on his Web site that he has no intention of proceeding with the lawsuit.

“The crux of the dispute has to do with assertions by Skeem and Cooke that we consider criminal behavior to be an essential component of the psychopathy construct,” Hare writes. “We do not, and have said as much many times in print.”

University of South Florida researchers Norman Poythress and John Petrila then weighed in with the lead article in the June issue of the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health. In their abstract, they wrote: “We conclude that the use of threats of litigation to suppress the publication of articles accepted for publication in scientific journals strike at the heart of the peer review process, may have a chilling effect on the values at the core of academic freedom, and may potentially impede the scientific testing of various theories, models and products.”

Hare claims Poythress and Petrila’s article wrongly implied that his lawsuit threat against Psychological Assessment was intended to protect the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised.

The editor of the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, Stephen Hart, is listed as a facilitator with a U.K.-based company called Violence Risk Assessment Training and Consultancy. Cooke is also among the listed facilitators.

Hare points out that Hart and Cooke have been collaborating for several years in the development of a new tool to assess psychopathy. “This raises the possibility of a conflict of interest in making editorial decisions, particularly when opting not to seek peer review,” Hare writes.

He notes that Hart, Poythress, and Petrila “argued for open discussion and peer review”, but claims that they didn’t ask for his side of the story. Hare remarks that his lawsuit threat was issued in 2007, and Psychological Assessment received the final versions of the articles in 2008.

The UBC professor emeritus closes his article by saying he finds it “ironic and disappointing” that he would be characterized as someone who tries to hinder research into psychopathy, given that he has “directly and indirectly facilitated the careers of so many researchers”.

“Particularly disturbing is the suggestion by some that my concerns about the Skeem and Cooke article were motivated by pecuniary implications,” Hare adds. “Had I taken the route of many forensic psychologists I would long ago have been a wealthy man.”

To support this claim, Hare notes that he has testified in court only twice, once in Canada and once in the United States. In both instances, he states, he refused to accept a fee.

“One can imagine how many times I have been offered lucrative legal assignments (many with ”˜name your price’), all of which I declined,” he writes.




Jun 13, 2010 at 10:28pm

Would someone dumb this down - why are people upset exactly??

David H

Jun 14, 2010 at 8:16am

The June 11 article in Science does not, in fact, reference the Hare case at all. Bit sloppy Chuck.

Charlie Smith

Jun 14, 2010 at 9:58am

David H.:

I quote from Dr. Hare's paper:
"As a result of not following basic principles of fairness (hear all sides) Poythress and Petrila and Hart failed to give an impartial and complete account of the situation. Their actions resulted in publication and circulation of a seriously biased account of events, and a commentary in the June 11 issue of Science, which noted that there are several sides to every issue. It also contained a comment by the Publisher of APA that threatened litigation has never prevented publication of an article in an APA journal, but that such a threat would lead to an investigation of the legitimacy of the charges."

If Science is quoting the APA journal saying that threatened litigation has never prevented publication of an article, and if Hare is the only one who threatened litigation, then I think it's fair to assume that this is a reference to Hare. I merely wrote that Science published a commentary on the controversy, which could be broadly interepreted to cover the controversy over people who threaten to sue academic journals. I've adjusted the article to reflect this.

But you're entitled to your opinion. Thanks.

Charlie Smith

Michelle McBride

Jun 16, 2010 at 11:43pm

It's true that Bob Hare has always encouraged psychopathy research in non-criminal populations (e.g., "corporate psychopaths"), and I can certainly appreciate his outrage, given that Cooke is clearly aware of this and also has personally benefited from Bob's generosity in terms of sharing his data and promoting Cooke's work. I find it curious that Bob was not included in the original peer-review process.

Stephen D. Hart

Jun 20, 2010 at 3:56pm


I'm surprised and disappointed that the only two sources for your article are: (a) an article written by a reporter for another magazine; and (b) an personal statement by Professor Hare published on-line.

I expected that, as an investigative reporter, you would seek information from a primary source other than Professor Hare -- such as the articles by Professors Cooke and Skeem, Poythress and Petrila, or Hart, or an interview with any of these people. Speaking for myself, I have spoken with you and your fellow reporters at GS many times in the past, and would have done so about this matter.



Craig Neumann

Jun 24, 2010 at 11:34am

It is outlandish that Hart urges Smith to consult the Poythress & Petrila paper, one that was never peer-reviewed and only presents one side of things! Similarly, can S&C be trusted when their paper was pulled (before any threat of legal action) by a senior editor because they did not precisely quote Hare's published writings, but instead replaced words with whatever they preferred? Perhaps scholarly science is being replaced by political spin.

Stephen D. Hart

Jun 26, 2010 at 6:09pm

Dear Craig--

Your argument seems logically incoherent.

You think it was acceptable for Charlie Smith to base his article on Hare's open letter, which is a document produced by one of the parties to a dispute and has never been published with any sort of review in any sort of journal. Yet you think he should *not* consult the Poythress & Petrila paper, which is a paper written by people who were not parties to the dispute and was published in a journal after review by the editorial staff.

Do you not see the inconsistency here?