In his recent nextgenforensic post commenting on my paper on theory construction in the sexual offending area (Ward, 2014) Ian McPhail identified a number of weaknesses that he believed would result in poor theory construction. His major concern is my suggestion that integrative pluralism should guide theory construction will result in ‘bloated, ill-defined theories of sexual violence’. I take it that McPhail thinks I suggest that all researchers should pursue integrated theories in their own research programs, each attempting to build their own integrated (pluralistic) theory. That is incorrect. What I am suggesting is that the forensic/correctional research community should work in a more coordinated manner.
Recently, Prof. Tony Ward made a few recommendations on how researchers and theorists can contribute to theory development and advance our understanding of the causes of sexual violence (article can be downloaded here). In this post, I will examine two of the main arguments raised by Ward. My purpose here is to point out some limitations to his arguments and propose some ideas that I think will also be fruitful in developing explanations of the causes of sexual violence that help us do what we want to do and solve practical problems (i.e., prevent sexual violence and treat sexual offenders). So this post will be thoroughly Jamesian (read: pragmatist) in approach. And from the start, the reader should know that since this is a critique of a conceptual work, the post will necessarily be somewhat technical, so buckle up for some heavy conceptual lifting!
Today I stumbled upon a free, open-source online text analysis tool called Overview; a collaboration between the Associated Press and the Knight Foundation. This tool is designed to allow for the mining of large sets of documents according to topics and to provide a visualization of broad trends and patterns. They are the kind of tools that are often used by journalists or political analysts whose roles require them to trawl through large numbers of lengthy documents to broadly classify and interpret their contents. Intrigued, I thought, “I wonder what would happen if I uploaded some child sexual solicitation transcripts in there…?” Having conducted research on the topic before, and knowing that there were publicly-available examples of such material, I decided to give it a bash.
[Warning: this post contains an overabundance of profanity.]
— overviewproject (@overviewproject) July 18, 2014
In the coming days, I will be posting some commentary on the article by Tony Ward, as I think he raises some interesting ideas but misses out on some potentially fruitful avenues of conceptualizing dynamic risk factors as constructs involved in sexual offending. My commentary will explore some of the concepts raised by Dr. Ward, critique their perceived value, and offer some alternative ways forward in this very important non-empirical work within forensic psychological science. Stay tuned!