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A little before 1 PM today I got home from the grocery store after playing tennis in the morning. When I checked my email I was struck by this listing of events:
SPECIAL EVENTS—from newsletter of Encinitas Library
Facial Features of Dangerous Criminals
Saturday, June 5
Each facial feature has a corresponding psychological interpretation that will reveal a person’s true inner nature. Learn about specific visual features that will help you protect your family, date safely on the internet, and gain more of an understanding of news and politics. Barbara Roberts will teach you the patterns in body-mind psychological assessment that she’s seen on 6,000 people’s faces in her 20 years of practice. More information at FaceReading1.com
Having spent three years doing graduate work in Social Psychology, while I never did my dissertation, I did learn quite a bit about human behavior, enough to know that there are no distinctive facial features of Dangerous Criminals, other than perhaps a tattoo of a gang insignia.
This was an offering of the public library of my city, one that I have participated as a citizen in it's governance and had a degree of involvement with. The clock was running, as I was a ten minute drive from the library, and needed to change and shower from tennis. First thing is I went on the speakers web site, and it got worse. Here's a video sample of her "science," applied to O.J. Simpson.
I was running out of time, as I was thinking of how I would respond, whether I would confront her as she was speaking, or try to be more reserved, I wrote the following letter that I decided to give to the highest level person on duty at the library:
There is a point when good old fashion hokum crosses a line and become a danger to society, to the people who believe in the nonsense being spouted. This appears to be the case for Barbara Roberts, who has gone from claiming that she has a system to read faces to allow for financial and romantic success to something much more serious.
She was featured at a municipal library, Encinitas California with the headline: Facial Features of Dangerous Criminals. She also alludes to vague psychological and medical credentials, such as a phi beta kappa in Social Psychology. She may have a Phi Beta Kapa, but it is not IN social psychology. She seems to have achieved a BA in these areas with no advanced training at all.
Her Internet site describes her system as “science” yet the essential element of science is verifiability, that the conclusions are subject to objective critical review. There is no evidence at all that her “facial reading” is even in this tradition, much less accepted. Actually it is too silly to even be called “pseudo science”
The greatest danger is that those who actually believe that they are gaining scientific expertise are the same people who could end up on juries, deciding the fate of those accused of crimes. Such people could use these tools to help them decide guilt or innocence, without knowing that they are absolutely without any scientific support. Innocent people will be jailed or worse, because of Ms. Roberts nonsense. One would have to question the ethics of someone who would perpetrate such a false sense of being able to understand the criminal tendencies of an individual. Based on her claims it is meant to assure a parent that the person they entrust their child with is safe, or a women that an Internet dating connection is not a danger. If taken seriously this person could cause serious harm, and more so, since it seems that she has been validated by an official at the city of Encinitas.
P.T. Barnum was right about a sucker being born every minute. But this person who is taking advantage of this truism, could be causing more harm than she imagines.
I got to the library exactly as the talk was beginning, gave my letter to the librarian and entered the auditorium. The first part of the presentation was innocuous enough, a variation of palm reading, tarot cards or astrological charting. She brought a few women to the front,( only two others of the thirty three in attendance were men,) and gave the standard personality evaluations for these venues such as, "You often feel disappointed in life, but you manage to keep on trying" or "sometimes you have difficulty making decisions and after you do often regret it." In other words every variation of "face reading" were the universal qualities of human nature, give in a way that seems like personal insight.
As she said herself, her career began with advising women in areas of "Love, Sex, and Money” Only later did she expand into something of much greater seriousness, and where her exaggeration of her credentials and absurd "teachings" can have life altering effects.
I had to make sure that my concern about these people who now feel that the shape of an ear, or the whites of the eye can be the signal of a dangerous criminal with "95% accuracy" was valid. So, gently, when she asked for questions I broached the issue. Taking careful notes, here's the gist of the conversation:
AR (arodb): This would seem to be useful if somebody were on a jury with a really tough case and you hear stuff from both sides and if you have these cues I guess that could help a jury decide......
..... people who have internalized and learned your material, they could be better jurors.
BR: They could be better jurors or better jury selectors (a profession that advises lawyers on selecting jurors).
AR: No, jurors, I'm talking about people who are jurors.
BR: Could be. Well, I think the bottom line of face reading is whether you're a juror or you're working with your teenager or working to rear a child or you're dating or you're trying to get along with your boss, it helps you to see people clearly, know where they're coming from and know what they're capable of. So it would be great for a juror.
AR: It would be. They would have a better idea. You know sometimes the evidence is unclear. So they would be able to tell.
BR: Sure. Absolutely. (spoken with a strong voice)
AR: Thank you very much.
At the end of the second part, on Criminology, where she went into excruciating details of the facial characteristics that betray criminal minds. Mustaches were important. Anyone who had a little mustache like Hitler is a bad man. And rapists tend to have mustaches that are a quarter inch below the top of the upper lip. An oddly shaped ear is another giveaway. These were all accompanied by a picture book that she was selling, including one of Jesus Christ illustrating features representing pure goodness.
This would all be easy to dismiss as beyond absurdity, yet the books that Ms. Roberts has written on this subject have been quite popular, and her audience is amplified far beyond little gatherings such as this, being a frequent guest on local and national television. Actually, the experience was frightening, not for my personal safety, but it was chilling to be surrounded by seemingly intelligent individuals who actually bought into this inanity.
Since I was there, I felt the least I could do was connect with Ms. Roberts on a personal level. So, as the program was wrapping up and she asked for questions or comments, with a calm respectful voice, I started off by saying that I admire her, that she has followed the American Dream of finding her niche and creating a career. Then I told her my concerns, in these words:
Most of what you do is in areas of love, money and relationships. What disturbs me very much is that in our county everyone here is a potential juror. Everyone here could be looking at a person on the dock to try to find out whether he is someone who deserves to go to jail for a long time or even be executed. You are claiming, erroneously, that you have tools that will aid these people. This is not the place to go into a debate on the details, but unfortunately I don't know whether you are even aware of the potential damage you could be doing.
She listened intently, without any attempt to refute my comments. I continued, after responding to some members of the audience, who were surprised and interested in my words
You mentioned that one sign of a character defect is that the left eye shifts outward. When I was 12 years old, and you can still look at my eye and I can make it shift out, but my mother, bless her soul, took me to a specialist who helped me control it. Whatever my personality flaws I can attest that controlling this problem, amblyopia, has absolutely no effect on my character.
As I walked out I checked with the librarian whom I gave my letter, who assured me that it will be passed up the chain to the person who made this booking. She read it and understood my point clearly. She told me that Roberts had given two earlier talks on the "fun" aspects of face reading, and that this topic may have slipped by. I'll be looking for a response from whomever did the booking.
And that was it. It was 3:45 and I was on my way home.
There are many problems in this world, a few that I feel I have some insight into, but no way to make a difference about them. But this time, by acting on my instincts, it's just possible that this particular woman will always wonder whether there will be another person like me in the audience, or watching her TV appearance, who will point out the absurdity and the danger of what she is promulgating.
Let her stick to her fun specialty, giving her followers some sense of control over “Love, Sex, and Money” and stay away from identifying "dangerous criminals" and I would wish her all the luck in the world.