Announcement of A Distorted Portrayal of Social Justice on OTConnections

Dec 16, 2012

          I write to announce my first article analyzing the social justice forums on OTConnections. If keeping the social justice requirement in the Code of Ethics were an unimportant issue, there would be no need for these articles. But this is not an unimportant issue; it is a supremely important one.

          Unfortunately, the AOTA Code of Ethics is not simply an aspirational document. It has the force of law in many states and, as such, becomes part of the regulations therapists must adhere to for licensure. This means that thousands of practitioners who are not even members of AOTA and have no interest in the organization are going to be forced to adhere to laws based on an agenda driven by a handful of academics who are not even trained in the field of political philosophy. People who are not trained in an area should not be making the types of decisions that entail legal consequences for others who have no idea what is going on. This applies even more so to members who have not taken the time to study the issue.

          Furthermore, because AOTA has imbedded a politically divisive requirement into its Code of Ethics, many professors will structure their pedagogy to conform to the proclaimed values of the profession and to promote compliance with professional standards. If USC is any indication, and I think that it is, the last thing occupational therapy professors need is another excuse to use their classrooms to push their political agendas. To understand the dangers of politicized pedagogy and the type of professors such an education produces, I refer members to a letter I wrote to one of my professors (Dr. [X]) who graduated from USC’s Occupational Science Ph.D. program: the letter is titled “The Ominous Patterns of Dr. [X] and the Failure of the Senior Faculty,” which is located under the Letters tab on my website,

          Considering the seriousness of the consequences that flow from the decision to make social justice a requirement in the Code of Ethics, members had an ethical obligation to educate themselves on the issue in order to responsibly execute the decision-making power given to AOTA. The record of the debate, however, reveals that there is no evidence available for an objective outside observer to conclude that the membership was sufficiently informed on the matter so that it could ethically exercise the tremendous power of creating legally binding decisions for others.

          One of the more conspicuous examples of this failure was Professor Ron Carson. Despite being asked repeatedly by Dr. Brent Braveman to cite the sources that informed his opinion on the matter, Professor Carson could not cite a single source (only later, after admitting he could not cite a source, did he provide sources through a random Google search that proved of marginal value). Citing sources is important because it signals to others that you have studied the subject. Anyone can have an opinion. But professors, more than others, owe it to members to have an informed opinion they can tie to books and articles. 

          Professor Carson’s participation, however, has a very curious irony. And that irony is – as is demonstrated through extensive citations in the article I am announcing here – that Professor Carson was essentially correct in his main assertions. That does not excuse his failure to establish that he formed his views by an informed study of the subject, but having been accurate does have its own virtues.

          The fact that he was essentially correct in his main assertions points to another major problem in the forum. Why didn’t the other professors know he was correct? Why, in fact, did they argue against his main claims? Of particular note here is the participation of members from the Ethics Commission, Dr. Barbara Hemphill and Dr. Lea Brandt, who entered the debate claiming to want to clear up “misinformation.”  Why is that they didn’t acknowledge that Professor Carson was essentially correct on many of the points he was making? And why didn’t they acknowledge Dr. Braveman’s “misinformation”?

          This leads to an even greater irony, which is, why didn’t Dr. Braveman acknowledge that Professor’s Carson’s claims were correct? The greatest irony of all is that Dr. Braveman’s own bibliography from one of his articles in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy 2009 special social justice edition contained FOUR BOOKS that fully substantiate Professor Carson’s positions. Not just one book – but FOUR BOOKS.

         That Dr. Braveman did not mention that his own bibliography substantiated Professor Carson’s statements suggests at least two possible explanations: one is that Dr. Braveman did not read those books, or two, that he was withholding important information from members in the forum in order to win the debate and push his political agenda. There is nothing more damning for a professor than to make statements, especially strong and inflammatory statements, which are flatly contradicted by his own bibliography.

          Professors and FAOTAs should not be abusing their status to push their political agendas, and this is especially so when it comes at the cost of confusing the membership as they try to fulfill their ethical obligation to become informed on a very serious issue. The problem is that the more influential members of this organization are not holding each other accountable. It should not matter whether Drs. Brandt, Hemphill, Braveman, and the others share the same political views or the same political agenda. That should never override their responsibility for keeping themselves and each other accountable to the membership that depends on their experience and education for intellectual leadership.

          And that is the function of the article I am announcing here. It is the first of several I will be publishing over the next several weeks that intend to hold the intellectual leadership accountable for the direction it has steered us in. The article I am announcing in this post is actually a series of three articles with the title “The Intellectual Bankruptcy of One Professor’s Social Justice” (found on my website, under the AOTA tab). Because of Dr. Braveman’s tremendous influence, and because his deficiencies in his participation were so egregious, it was necessary to explain them in detail. The purpose of this series of articles is not just to examine the issues with Dr. Braveman’s participation in the forum, but also to help educate the membership on social justice. 

          Furthermore, the series of articles that comprise “A Distorted Portrayal of  Social Justice on OTConnections” do not deal with statements involving some small mistake here or some exaggeration there or off the cuff remarks that Dr. Braveman never intended for anyone to take them seriously. If he were making unserious statements that did not reflect his actual thinking on the subject, there would be no need to hold him accountable for his participation. It was necessary to explain his participation in detail precisely because the statements analyzed were a serious reflection of the ideas he was advancing. And his outlandish statements resulted in distorting the subject in a major way.

          My argument is quite likely to make emotions run high. In order to keep the intellectual issue being dealt with front and center, we should make clear at the outset that this is not about whether Dr. Braveman is a good person or a bad person. We can stipulate that he is a good person, and a good friend, and a good professor, and a good neighbor, and that he has made substantial contributions to the profession and to AOTA. None of these things are being addressed here. None of these things are at issue. The issue here is a discrete, limited, intellectual issue: it deals with the question of whether Dr. Braveman, in the social justice forums on OTConnections, made responsible statements that accurately reflected the nature of the subject and his knowledge of it, or whether Dr. Braveman made irresponsible statements that distorted the subject and misled members into believing he was more knowledgeable on the matter than he actually was. That is it. It is whether the facts would demonstrate to an objective outside observer that his statements distorted the subject and mischaracterized his knowledge of it.

          Dr. Braveman has already posted brief comments to my work. His post to my website has been placed under my series of articles with the title “Dr. Braveman’s Comments on ‘A Distorted Portrayal of Social Justice’ Dec. 7, 2012.” Underneath his comments is my response, titled “My Response to Dr. Braveman’s Dec. 7, 2012 Comments.”

          I will encourage Dr. Braveman here, as I did in my response to his comments, to give a better-reasoned response, one tailored toward respecting his stature in the profession. As it stands, his defense of his participation in the forum is incoherent and ubiquitously contradicted by his statements in the forum. Simply making a pronouncement that my work is unfair and inaccurate is hardly sufficient. Anyone can say that. It is another thing altogether to address the evidence and arguments presented.

          If my series of articles represented his views unfairly and inaccurately, Dr. Braveman should be able to explain it using examples of how the views I have attributed to him are not the views he holds. That he made his statements on OTConnections is not relevant. The issue is, did I examine statements that he believed true. The location of where such statements were made is a red herring meant to evade the issue of whether he believed the statements or not. The fact of where or how he made his statements would only be relevant to the extent that information on the context of the statements indicates that he did not mean what he said. If he didn’t mean those statements, he is free now to say publicly that he did not mean any of the statements I examined. Unless he disavows them, members can assume he meant what he said.

          Dr. Braveman’s response, in order to have any relevance, should be to the effect, “Alex, in this part of the article you said I believed X is true, but I do not believe X is true, and it was inaccurate and unfair for you to say that I believed X was true when I think X is false.” That is a logically relevant response. Simply saying “But I said X was true in OTConnections” does not address the issue or answer any questions.

          Dr. Braveman is invited to post his article on my website. I will happily publish his response without any editing. My articles will always remain on the web and people who read them should be able to read a thoughtful and extended reply from Dr. Braveman.

         I suggest that those members still interested in this matter start by reading Dr. Braveman’s comments to my articles followed by my response to them. I hope that spurs enough interest for readers to delve into my series of articles.

          For those who will not read my work, I suggest that, at minimum, you look at the postscript at the end of Volume Three where I present what is known as a Synoptical Reading List on social justice. There you will find books and articles on the subject structured as a conversation between those who support the concept of social justice and those who oppose it. This is the best way to structure your reading in order to understand how the subject is treated from multiple perspectives. It is only after a member reads books and articles from multiple perspectives that one can ethically come to a conclusion regarding the social justice requirement in the AOTA Code of Ethics.