Personality and Conduct
How they can affect hard research, and turn it towards personal bias...
I want to give Hare some credit, in some places. For instance the training aspect, he has made that complaint many times. If you don’t have the training, don’t use the list. However, that is where the credit more or less ends. Now we will get into the larger problems with the PCL-R and that is Robert Hare himself, and the egotism of psychology researchers in general.
Remember what I said about the “don’t use it if you lack the training thing”? That is very true, but there is another step to that, which would be, don’t assume you can assess psychopathy in someone at a glance, training or not. Now, this is a part of the PCL-R pitch. You have to use it properly, and no one is able to pick psychopaths out of a crowd, and that includes Robert Hare.
Except, he claims to be able to do just that. It’s time to get into the story of, “The Psychopath Test, written by Jon Ronson. Ronson is the guy that wrote, “The Men Who Stare at Goats”, so he is a well-known writer who does thorough research. He had an interesting experience with psychopathy in a patient by the name of Tony, from Broadmoor Asylum in the UK.
Tony was arrested as a teenager in the UK. He was facing some charges of assault and had a very interesting way of handling it. He lied and faked insanity to get out of a prison sentence. He would watch movies while waiting for trial, and every single thing that seemed crazy, he would adopt it and tell the evaluators. It worked, and he got himself locked up in a mental institution. At first, he was pleased.
That didn’t last, however, because he found that they wouldn’t let him out. They knew that he didn’t have the mental illness that he had claimed, they had sussed that out pretty quickly. He spent sufficient time in the mental hospital that counted towards his sentence, but still, he lingered inside. He would have served five years for his crime in the prisons, however at the time of meeting Mr. Ronson he had been confined in Broadmoor for twelve years.
Why? Because they had determined that Tony was a psychopath. Since he had been locked up he had been a model prisoner. He had already served his time, and he had no possible release date in sight. They decided that even if Tony had done nothing to warrant being held inside, aside from them determining that he was psychopathic, he would not be released because they didn’t want to release the psychopath.
Ronson at the time was doing research on L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. In Scientology, there is a deep dislike, and mistrust of the mental health field in general, and it was the Scientologists that he was interacting with for his book research that mentioned to him Tony’s plight being locked up, with no hope for being released. Ronson decided to go and meet Tony, to speak with him, and try to understand this whole “psychopathy” business.
In doing so, he was exposed to the PCL-R, the so-called “psychopath test”, and it interested him. He decided that it would make an excellent book, so he went about his research surrounding it. It is from his own accounting of the checklist itself, and his interactions with Robert Hare, that we know a great deal about how he conducts himself.
You might think that Ronson might be biased, and didn’t particularly like him, so maybe what he says is hyperbolic. However, Ronson didn’t seem to even notice Hare’s poor treatment of him while they spent time together. If you read his book it comes across that Ronson is pleased to be able to spend time with Hare, and either doesn’t care about how he behaves, or he didn’t even realize it was happening.
Starting with the “psychopath spotting weekends”, that Hare conducts. This goes back to the training needed for using the PCL-R. Hare himself does these seminars for people to learn how to use the checklist, and Ronson wanted to attend. He contacted Hare’s representatives to see if in the course of writing the book he could observe one of these weekends. Mind you, he is writing a book singing the praises of Hare, but there was no option of observing.
You might now think, well, it’s for professionals only. No, that’s not it. It was the cost. They wanted Ronson to pay the full price, and it is not cheap. I have no idea what it costs now, or if Hare even does these anymore, considering he’s in his eighties, but Ronson finally got a “deal” in which he only had to pay, $515.40, as opposed to $1238.66.
Ronson attends the weekend, speaks to Hare a bit, but did most of his interviewing of him at another time, in a hotel.
Bob was spending Saturday night at Heathrow—a stop-over between Sweden and Vancouver: he spends his life crisscrossing the planet to teach people how to use his PCL-R Checklist— and did I want to meet him at his hotel for a drink?
When I arrived, there was no sign of him in the foyer. The queue for the front desk was long, a lot of tired, unhappy-looking business travelers checking in late. I couldn’t see the house phone. Then I had a brainwave. The concierge’s desk was unoccupied. His phone was sitting there. I could dial zero, go straight through to the front desk (callers to hotel front desks invariably get to jump the queue: we, as a people, seem to be more enticed by mysterious callers than we are by actual people standing in front of us) and ask to be put through to Bob’s room.
But I only got as far as picking up the phone before I saw the concierge marching fast towards me.
“Put down my phone!” He barked.
“Just give me a second!” I cheerfully mouthed.
He grabbed the phone from my hand and slammed it down.
Bob appeared. I made a big, suave show in front of the concierge of greeting him.
“Bob!” I said.
We were two courteous business travelers meeting for important reasons in a hotel late in the evening. I made sure the concierge saw that.
“Will we go to the third floor executive bar?” Bob said.
“Yes,” I said, shooting the concierge a glance. “The executive bar.”
We walked across the lobby together.
“You will never believe what just happened,” I said in a startled whisper.
“What?” said Bob.
“The concierge just manhandled me.”
“In what way?”
“I was using the phone to try and call you, and when he saw me, he grabbed the phone out of my hand and slammed it down,” I said. “It was totally uncalled for, and actually quite shocking. Why would he want to do that?”
“Well, he’s one,” said Bob.
I looked at Bob.
“A psychopath?” I said.
I narrowed my eyes and glanced over at the concierge. He was helping someone into the elevator with her bags.
“Is he?” I said?
“A lot of psychopaths become gatekeepers,” said Bob. “concierges, security guards, masters of their own domains.”
“He did seems to have a lack of empathy,” I said. “And poor behavioral controls.”
“You should put that in your book,” said Bob.
“I will,” I said.
Then I peered at Bob.
“Was that a little trigger happy?” I thought. “Maybe the guy has just had a long, bad day. Maybe he’s been ordered by his bosses not to let guests use his phone. Why did neither Bob nor I think about that?”
We got the elevator to the executive floor.
No, I am not kidding. You would think so, but this actually happened and is detailed in Ronson’s book. That was directly quoted from it.
Next, after this interview and a few days later, apparently, Hare had to catch a train, and he’s late, of course. Does he call a cab, like a normal person? No, he calls Ronson to come and fetch him like a servant, which Ronson does, happily enough. This is why I don’t think Ronson really had any insight into Hare’s behavior. He writes about it like it was no big deal, but when you read it, it comes across really bad.
You might be thinking, “Athena, you’re being overly critical. You weren’t there and didn’t actually witness what went on between them. It probably was very different when it actually happened.” I bet I can change your mind.
I read, “The Psychopath Test”, and it’s pretty good. It has a lot of great historical information in it, and from there I learned how the DSM is constructed. Ronson wrote a balanced and very well-researched book. I enjoyed it. My only issue with it was that he seemed to be very generous in his opinions of Hare. He seemed to like him a great deal. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “star struck”, but a similar feel was in the writings about Hare. You would think Hare would be happy about this book. Flattered about his representation, and offer it some praise, and promotion.
Nope. He absolutely trashed it, and I don’t mean in passing. I mean he spent time trashing it, and Ronson. He wrote a ten-page diatribe about it, and Ronson that is incredibly unpleasant, and you can read it for yourself, right here:
A Commentary on Ronson’s The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry
Hare does not shy away from his comments, as you can see, that is from his own site. This is how he treats people that don’t say exactly what he wants them to. From his own words, it is not at all difficult to glean his thinking about psychopaths.
Bob Hare was passing through Heathrow, and so we met one last time.
“The guy I’ve been visiting at Broadmoor,” I said stirring my coffee. “Tony. He’s just been released.”
“Oh dear",” said Bob.
I looked at him,
“Well, he’s gone to Bethlem,” I said, “But I’m sure he’ll be out on the streets soon.” I paused. “His clinician was critical of you,” I said. “He said you talked about psychopaths almost as if they are another species.”
“All the research indicates that they are not a different species,” said Bob. “There’s no evidence that they form a different species. So he’s misinformed on the literature. He should be up to date on the literature. It’s dimensional. He must know that. It’s dimensional.”
“Obviously it’s dimensional,” I said. “Your checklist scores anything zero to forty. But he is referring to the general way you talk about psychopaths…”
“Oh yeah,” said Bob coldly. “I know.”
“That’s what he meant,” I said.
“It’s a convenience,” said Bob. “If we talk about someone with high blood pressure we talk about them as hypertensives, It’s a term. This guy doesn’t understand this particular concept. Saying ‘psychopathic’ is like saying ‘hypertensive.’ I could say, ‘Someone who scores or above a certain point on the PCL-R Checklist.’ That’s tiresome. So I refer to them as psychopaths. And this is what I mean by psychopathy. I mean a score in the upper range of the PCL-R. I’m not sure how high it has to be. For research thirty is convenient, but it’s not absolute.”
Bob looked evenly at me. “I’m in the clear on this,” he said. There was silence “My gut feeling, though, deep down, is that maybe they are different,” he added “But we haven’t established that yet.”
Going into Ronson’s book, I already didn’t care for Hare but thought that his presentation of him was reasonable. I still didn’t like the man, but that was of course my own opinion. Ronson did a good job of presenting everything in a balanced and enjoyable read.
Now we have an idea of what Hare is like personally, but we haven’t explored the biggest conflict of interest in his position with the PCL-R, and that is the money. It’s not a little money, it is a lot of money. Remember when I mentioned that he slapped a copyright on the PCL-R immediately following naming it after himself, within months of the actual author of the checklist’s death? What I didn’t mention to you, is what came of that copyright. Once the PCL-R and its sister tests, the PCL-SV, and the PCL-YV (bet you didn’t know there were two other versions, did you?) were cemented in their standing as the “gold standard” of diagnostics, they pay royalties on a yearly basis.
The PCL-R alone nets Robert Hare over thirty thousand dollars a year. $30,000.00. He gets over thirty grand a year because of how often the PCL-R is used. Hare tries to downplay this amount, but really, there are families that don’t make that much in a year and still survive. He also gets money from the books that he writes about psychopaths, the talks that he gives about psychopaths, he was a tenured professor in Canada who taught about psychopaths, and of course, the “psychopath spotting weekends”.
The PCL-R is a money-making bonanza, and this causes Hare to make questionable decisions about who he associates his name with. Money can make you do some crazy things, but I think most of us have a stopping point that we till hit before selling out entirely. Not so much with Hare.
How so? I have two words for you, Donna Anderson. For those of you lucky uninitiated, she is the author of the lovely book and website called “Love Fraud”. Why is this significant? Well, I will tell you, but first I must insist that you ingest some rather unpleasant information first. The basis of “Love Fraud” is her ex-husband that she claims is a psychopath. Wait, no, a sociopath. Nope, a narcissist. Well, all three then, since she can’t decide. Whatever he was, she claims that he not only bilked her out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also claims that she had to get an absentee divorce, because the guy is like a ghost, and no one has any idea where he is, and that a court actually wrote this paragraph:
“This Court finds that the marital relationship was not a business venture gone bad where two parties enter into the relationship knowingly with their eyes open and lose their money. It is clear to this Court based upon the testimony of the plaintiff, as well as the other people who have testified, that this is the way the defendant lives his life and this is apparently the way he funds his lifestyle. The defendant met the plaintiff for the sole and complete purpose of defrauding her out of her assets. Unfortunately the defendant was successful. This Court finds it appropriate to assess and award punitive damages against the defendant. This Court assesses punitive damage award against the defendant in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $1 million.”
I very much doubt it. Maybe they did, and I’m wrong, I just don’t buy it. I also don’t buy that she has lived over two hundred times, and in each and every one of her past lives, all two hundred of them, her ex has either abused, or raped her, or both…
Let that sink in. This is an actual claim made by this woman in her book multiple times in various forms. That’s pretty out there. Mind you, no one has ever heard from this ex that she is making money off. No one. I have no idea if the dude even exists. How does this all relate back to Hare and selling out? It all comes down to this. She read one of Hare’s books, and she claims that is how she came to understand who her ex was. Because she names him, and his writing, Hare recommends her work.
This is a woman, that in the very same book that Hare is recommending people read to understand psychopaths, claims to have lived over two hundred times, and the ex was in every single one abusing her. Does that should reasonable to you? It doesn’t to me at all. If I were a practicing psychologist, I would not be putting my name near a woman that makes this claim, but it makes him money, so why not?
Now you have an idea of the PCL-R, where it comes from, who controls it and how, and the man behind pushing it to the forefront of psychopathy. It probably looks pretty messy to you, and it does to me as well, which is why I have so many complaints about it being elevated up as something to revere. With all of this information, you get one more revelation. The PCL-R, as flawed as it is, and now you know how many flaws it has, is the basis for everything we know about psychopathy. It is the basis for every single study, every single cohort selection, every single assessment of those that are considered “psychopathic” in prison.
There are many issues with the PCL-R itself, and there are many issues with how the PCL-R has been implemented. Not all of these issues are specifically Robert Hare’s fault, and a couple of them are specifically not his fault. However, first and foremost, the PCL-R is meant to be a screening tool only, not an end-all, be-all, diagnostic tool. That is not the role it is currently filling, however. It is the basis for pretty much every major study conducted in the prison system, which accounts for pretty much every study of psychopathy, and therefore every conclusion reached regarding it.
To find out if a study that you are reading is based on the PCL-R, you can just skip forward to the “measures” section of the study, and you will find something like this:
We first assessed all participants for psychopathy using the PCL-R (35). This measure used information gleaned from a life-history interview and a review of institutional files to score the participant on the presence of 20 different items. A score of 0, 1, or 2, was given for each item according to the degree to which a characteristic was present. Thus, PCL-R total scores ranged from 0 to 40. Additionally, a diagnostic cut score can be obtained by categorizing participants on whether their PCL-R total score is 20 or below (nonpsychopath) or 30 or above (psychopath). The reliability and validity of the PCL-R has been well established (35, 39). In this study, we obtained reliability ratings for 29 randomly selected participants. The interrater reliability for PCL-R total score was 0.99.
To even be admitted to the study, a PCL-R score was required. However, in this particular study, they don’t have anything more listed for how they were screened, there is just discussion of their “criminal charges”. That’s it, there is nothing else required to be admitted to this study. A screening tool only rules out people without psychopathy, but it does not definitively identify people with it. Many people included in these studies are not psychopathic, but the conclusions drawn on them are then put out regarding psychopathy.
How is psychopathy supposed to have even a mild understanding with this being the environment that it is studied in? I can’t see a way to it. The list is sacrosanct, so long as Hare is there to protect it. Even after he isn’t, it is so entrenched in the research sector that people that try to deviate from it are mocked for having an opinion outside of that agreed upon. It creates monsters to study, not people. If the requirement of the participants of a study is that they be awful people to participate, then the only conclusion to be reached is that all that fall under this diagnosis are by default, awful people.
The cohort selected will consist of people that have no business being included, such as addicts, people not yet twenty-five, and people that did something particularly heinous which bumps them up on the antisocial score, or the factor two elements of the PCL-R, even if they aren’t psychopathic at all, the list counts them in. People that should not be using the list, do so anyway, and people that are psychopathic, will never have a clue that they are, and it all comes back to the beginning. Robert Hare, his stranglehold on what is acceptable for his diagnosis, because he owns psychopathy in his mind.
Oh? Didn’t you know? Hare wants psychopathy reintroduced to the DSM, but not under the name psychopath. Oh no, in his mind, it should be called “Hare’s Syndrome”.
How nice for us.
With everything that you have read in the last three posts, and how messy this one aspect of psychology is, I want to refer you back to the first thing I asked you. Have you ever had an ulcer, and been treated for it? Remember that debacle, and that was something that could be physically demonstrated. Now look at these very long posts, and know that I could have written more. Do you think this is the only place this is going on? Just psychopathy and ulcers?
No, it goes on all the time, and it is done by people that we trust to be doing their jobs properly. You give them your faith, and your trust, that they not only know what they are doing but that they have your best interest in mind. Some do, for others, however, it is about the money, the ego, the prestige of having the job, but not about doing it, it’s the power of the position, and it’s your dependence on them. All of that matters more to some people, and others? They just can’t be bothered to actually do the work. Do you have any idea how many psychologists I have spoken to that held Hare in high regard, until they read what I wrote about him, and had their ideas shattered about the man?
This is why I write and provide evidence. Don’t take my word for it, read the links, see for yourself. Other people refuse. They have no interest in having their worldview challenged, and to them, psychopaths remain the monsters in the night. No good can come from them, and they should be labeled. Identified without their knowledge, and not allowed to live their lives freely. All of that comes back to Hare. These psychologists learned at his feet, absorbed his writings and his opinions, and are now in the world trying to find ways to neutralize a threat that doesn’t exist, from people they will never understand, though they will claim that they do, better than anyone else alive.
Including those of us that are actually psychopathic.
That was awesome. So while reading your posts, I also ran across a documentary about serial killers. In that, they used Hare as a reference to who was a psychopath, which on is face doesn't seem bad, however it was used in a way that struck me like, they think of his work like others think of the Bible. I was disturbed by this.
Now maybe he has a handle on dangerous criminals and their behavior, but, how can he find that a psychopath has very limited emotions on the one hand and then deem someone with rage as a psychopath? They asses people who have a need for companionship as a reason why they abduct and then kill, as psycopaths. Yet a psychopath has no empathy, This makes no sense to me.
So I kinda compared what you wrote to this documentary, and the Hare test questions should rule out people with
empathy. I it seems very contradictory to me. I'm just a layman, and I can see obvious flaws. I don't understand why well educated people don't see them.
Also I got your point about the money he makes too, maybe his intent was to just do his work to begin with and when the money started rolling in he got greedy. I mean it seems to me, like he was trying to find out about psycopathy but had the idea that it was the reason for the worst criminal behavior out there, so that opinion jaded his work from the start. Or maybe he was trying to prove what he already thought. So, that would definitely not make for objective research. No wonder people think that psycopathy equals evil.
Your right that this needs to change, it's so bias it's not even a little funny.
When I first read Hare’s complaint about Ronson’s wrong description of his appearance, the color of his eyes, in particular ,and correction of it, I wasn’t sure if he wasn’t being sarcastic. Turned out he wasn’t, good lord, in his big age. The man to me is an embodiment of cringe.