I don’t subscribe to The Times, but whilst waiting for my taxi to court yesterday I came across [a letter in*] yesterday’s edition from Psychologist Sam Westmacott:
Professor Jane Ireland shocked psychologists when she published her research on expert witnesses (“The shocking tale of a mother seeking help” Camilla Cavendish, Opinion, Apr 12). Her data remains secret and un-reviewed. Normally, research is considered by other scientists who check that the conclusions drawn are based on sound evidence. Professor Ireland could not publish in an academic journal without that review. She wrote an article for a newspaper and made her claims on television.
Her claims were of profound concern to those of us working in the family courts and even more alarming for the families we assess. Her core claim that a fifth of psychologists working as expert witnesses were unqualified was not proven by the evidence in her report.
She made the claim on the basis of the qualifications printed in each expert report. The authors were not contacted by the researchers to establish whether they met her stated criteria of membership of the British Psychological Society (BPS), registration with the Health Professions Council (HPC) and further training beyond their basic qualification.
I and many psychologists publish a short-form CV in expert witness reports. On that alone, I would be consigned to the unqualified fifth, although I am a member of the BPS, registered with the HPC, and have a range of additional qualifications. How many of that fifth were wrongly identified?
Sam Westmacott, Watchet, Somerset.
Other relevant reading on this blog: Experts Upon Experts, and Experts, the Press and a Sloppy Approach to Evidence Based Reporting.
*typographical error corrected 17/4/12
UPDATE 18/04/12: The following relevant authority in which Dr Westmacott is named has been drawn to my attention: L (children), Re  EWCA Civ 1282.