Saturday, August 18, 2007

Tudor Settlement

August 18, 2007, 9:20 a.m.

I have not written at length for the general public about the Tudor lawsuit previously, and I'm not about to start now.

(To make clear: my interest is only that of a family member. I had nothing to do with the Tudor study, and did not play a role as a party, lawyer, expert, or potential witness in the lawsuit -- only someone who followed the news reports and tried to find out as much about it as I could.)

Because some may be interested in my take on it, however, I will at least provide a reference to a book, and a link to a chapter in it which I wrote some time ago. The book is Robert Goldfarb, ed., Ethics: A Case Study from Fluency (Oxford and San Diego: Plural Publishing, 2005). It was an outgrowth of an academic conference on the subject at Fordham University in New York City.

I was asked to present a paper at that conference, which I did. A version of it was subsequently published in that book as chapter 9, "Retroactive Ethical Judgments and Human Subjects Research: The 1939 Tudor Study in Context" (the first four pages of which, pp. 139-143, provide a readable introduction, overview and summary).

As it turns out, the full story behind this lawsuit is as much or more about journalistic, administrative and legal ethics as about human subjects research ethics.

[Sidebar: Many professionals have criticized the design of the Tudor study, and the conclusions drawn from it -- precisely because it did not do harm to the subjects, was not designed to, and did not, "cause stuttering." But on the ethics issue here's what four independent, knowledgeable professionals (not involved in the study's design, execution -- or defense in this lawsuit) have had to say on the Tudor ethics issue (and therefore, by implication, the merits of the suit),

"It was fully within the norms of its time."

"Our assessment of the ethical issues suggests that . . . there is no evidence of intent to harm . . .."

"[N]o researcher has demonstrated that labeling someone a stutterer . . . leads to the development of stuttering."

"If harm was neither intended nor done, what's the problem? Where's the 'lack of ethics' . . .?"
(I don't want or need to drag their names into this blog entry, but all are quoted, footnoted and identified in the chapter linked above.)]

This lawsuit was created by an out-of-state newspaper. Ongoing stories about the lawsuit were reported by in-state newspapers without the benefit of full factual information from either the University of Iowa or the Iowa Attorney General's office -- both of which probably felt an ethical obligation not to try the case in the newspapers, or before television cameras on the courthouse steps, as the plaintiffs' attorneys were quite prepared to do.

Thus, the coverage focused on "orphans" and "monsters" (like the Loch Ness monster, none of which were ever sited) rather than the full factual story of what this study was and was not about.

I stayed out of it because I felt whatever I would say would be discounted, and simply used to divert attention away from the facts and on to me. This now appears to have been a mistake in judgment on my part. But my belief throughout, and this morning, is that it was an equally great mistake for the University and State to fail to explain to the media and the public the details as to why the most kindly characterization one could make of the plaintiffs' lawsuit was that it was frivolous.

I understand that, once we all permitted the case to be misrepresented by the plaintiffs and the media to the public -- along with Iowa's judges and potential jurors -- it may have become, like a "slip-and-fall" supermarket suit, one of those situations in which however abhorrent a "settlement" may be it is still the most cost-effective option. (The settlement was for less than 7% of what the plaintiffs were asking.)

Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the public relations mistakes on the part of all of us are now about to cost the taxpayers of Iowa an unnecessary $925,000 dollars.

If I can get permission to reveal some even more shocking information about this case I'll provide it here later in the week. Meanwhile, that's all I have to say about it.

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Anonymous said...

Let's hope this case just goes away from the public eye. The whole thing is unfortunate. I am not sure that posting more information or dragging it out further at this point would be helpful.

Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

Wendell Johnson has been known to speech pathologists as one of the kindest professionals, who was relly concerned about stuttering patients. This study was definitely a mostrous mistake on his behalf, and I do not agree that he knew that this study would not cause stuttering - on the contrary, as I understand (and as the study was designed), he was intending to prove that labelling a normal child a stutterer can turn a child into a stutterer (for example, Wendell himself blaimed his school teacher for his own stutter).
At the same time, as speech pathologists know, stutturing in early childhood is an occuring and disappearing thing, and I am sure Johnson intended, in case if the subjects of study would start to stutter (and would prove his theory), to stop the experiment, and most, or all child stuttetrers would become fluent speakers again. The problem was that (1) his theory was not correct (you can not turn a non-stutterer into a stutterer by labelling child, stuttering has a strong GENETIC nature), and (2) Tudor, who was conducting experiment, frustrated by the negative results (children did not start to stutter), tried too hard to make these poor children to stutter... The most unfortunate that such thing ever happened.