Thursday, 17 November 2011

Priscilla Coleman Responds to Critics

Today, Priscilla Coleman, the author of the article in the British Journal of Psychiatry presenting a meta-analysis purporting to demonstrate a causal relationship between abortion and mental health problems published a rapid reply, where she responds to her critics so far. Most of the response addresses scientific details (however, she seems to be responding only to a minor part of the scientific criticism), but a rather substantial part tries to address the claim from critics of personal bias and undisclosed conflicts of interests based on that on Coleman's part. As I understand it, Coleman's defense is that since, in her view, the American Psychological Association is furthering a pro choice stance, it is OK for her to be consciously biased in her research without telling so when publishing an article in a journal requiring disclosure of conflicts of interest. She also, seemingly without any sort of proof, accuses her critics and/or other (unnamed) researchers of sitting on unpublished studies that would support Coleman's claim. Rather remarkable, isn't it?

Read Coleman's response here.
Read my former posts on this topic here, here, here, here and here.

Stay tuned!


  1. No, I think that if it is true that she is not affiliated with any pro-life organization then it is normal to say "CoI: None declared". There are plenty of statisticians who have a strong emotional bias in the Bayes/Frequentist war (which almost certainly influences their conclusions in methodological research) but they never declare that either. Maybe not the ideal situation, but the political biases of non-affiliated persons would often be impossible to verify anyway.

    What I do find poor in her response is that she doesn't address the details of the criticism. I mentioned five points in my critique that were very concrete so if I were wrong it would be easy for her to depute them. She didn't address any of them. Basically, her response is a pile of feel-good cliches. No substance.

  2. Helene,

    thanks for this!

    I do think that most scientists as well research ethicists would make a distinction between a bias due to a practice-science inclination (such as in the Bayesian/Frequency case) and a bias of the sort that Coleman, albeit not having a formal affiliation, has been declaring publicly. In the case you mention, the unsaid leaning is out in the open as soon as the researcher declares practical conclusions to be supported. This since it is an implicit premise of the argument.

    Coleman's bias is different, since it is not figuring substantially in her argument, but rather is about an idea of using science as a pragmatic vehicle to further political goals. It is about having a set view on a political issue and then shaping one's science to further that view not through proving oneself to be right or claiming oneäs results to support one's political view, but by instigating an apparent case for doubt by mere repetition - much as so-called climate sceptics do and the tobacco industry used to do before defeated. All in the interest of a pro-life extremist to use whatever means available to stop women from having abortions. This is what transpires through the exmpales given in BenGoldacre's and James C Coyne's responses. In effect, in Coleman's case there are sources for verification.