Since California college professor Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with sexual assault allegations against President Donald Trump's second U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, no shortage of rumors and hoaxes has targeted her. One of the many derogatory claims made against Dr. Ford is that she lied when she identified herself as a "research psychologist" during her Senate Judiciary Committee testimony on 27 September 2018.
The claim originated with Dangerous.com, a website operated by right wing media personality Milo Yiannopoulos. In an article dated 28 September 2018, the site's editor-in-chief, Chadwick Moore, reported that Ford "may have told a lie" and "may have perjured herself" when she said she was "a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine" because she didn't appear to be licensed to practice in California. Thus, Dangerous.com reported, Dr. Ford was in violation of state laws forbidding the false representation of oneself as a psychologist:
Just one sentence into her sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford may have told a lie.
After thanking members of the committee on Thursday, and while under oath, Ford opened her testimony saying, “My name is Christine Blasey Ford, I am a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine.”
The issue lies with the word “psychologist,” and Ford potentially misrepresenting herself and her credentials, an infraction that is taken very seriously in the psychology field as well as under California law.
We found no evidence that Ford lied, perjured herself, or violated California law when she stated her job title. We also asked Moore whether he followed basic journalistic standards in reaching out the California Board of Psychology, consulting an attorney, or attempting to contact Ford's attorneys before publishing his report but did not receive a response.
Ford holds a doctorate in psychology from the University of Southern California, which she received on 20 August 1996. She also earned two master's degrees: one in 1991 from Pepperdine University in clinical psychology, and the other in 2009 from Stanford University School of Medicine in epidemiology. Aside from her research role at Stanford, she is a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University.
But because Moore was unable to find Ford's name listed on a public database of licensed psychologists in California, he concluded Ford had violated California Business and Professions Code section 2903 (a), which states that "No person may engage in the practice of psychology, or represent himself or herself to be a psychologist, without a license granted under this chapter, except as otherwise provided in this chapter."
The code does provide an exemption that would cover Ford as a university researcher, however.
California Board of Psychology assistant executive officer Jeffrey Thomas told us that the title "psychologist" is indeed protected, meaning that it is against the law to falsely represent oneself as a psychologist without proper certification. But the law does allow those who work at research institutions to state their professional role so long as they note that it is specific to the facility at which they are employed. Thomas pointed us to California Business and Professions Code section 2909, which reads as follows:
This chapter shall not be construed as restricting or preventing activities of a psychological nature or the use of the official title of the position for which they were employed on the part of the following persons, provided those persons are performing those activities as part of the duties for which they were employed, are performing those activities solely within the confines of or under the jurisdiction of the organization in which they are employed, and do not render or offer to render psychological services, as defined in Section 2903:
(a) Persons who hold a valid and current credential as a school psychologist issued by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
(b) Persons who are employed in positions as psychologists or psychological assistants by accredited or approved colleges, junior colleges, or universities, or by federal, state, county, or municipal governmental organizations that are not primarily involved in the provision of direct health or mental health services, may conduct research and disseminate their research findings and scientific information.
Moore noted that Ford's job title on the web site for Stanford University School of Medicine appeared to have changed from "research psychologist" to "affiliate" at some point after the Kavanaugh controversy broke, adding to his suspicion that she had misrepresented herself. But it's unclear whether his assumption was true that Stanford "caught the blunder and edited Ford’s faculty page." (We reached out multiple times to Stanford media relations staff but received no answer.)
We have reached out to Ford's attorneys, Debra Katz and Michael Bromwich, with questions about Ford's employment status with Stanford, whether she has any clinical licenses in California under a different name or in any other state, or whether they could comment on allegations she "perjured" herself during her Senate committee testimony but have not yet received a response.
However, perjury is defined as knowingly making false statements under oath, so it's unclear how Ford's relaying of a job title conferred upon her by her employer could possibly meet that criterion.
After publication of this article, Dangerous.com erred yet again in attempting to explain away their previous mistake by claiming that California Business and Professions Code Section 2910 applied to Dr. Ford:
Moore also acknowledged Section 2909 in his original report, and pointed to the fact that the overwhelming majority of academics who do work of a psychological nature are not licensed, and this is perfectly fine and legal. But Moore pointed to the following section of the law, Section 2910 of the same Code, which reads, very explicitly, “This chapter shall not be construed to restrict the practice of psychology on the part of persons who are salaried employees of accredited or approved academic institutions, public schools, or governmental agencies, if those employees are complying with the following: (3) Do not hold themselves out to the public by any title or description of activities incorporating the words “psychology,” “psychological,” or “psychologist.”
Dangerous.com apparently failed to notice (or willfully ignored) that this section of the code specifically refers to, and regulates, the practice of psychology, not the use of the word "psychologist" in a job title.
Section 2910 allows persons who are "salaried employees of accredited or approved academic institutions" to gain "the supervised professional experience required for licensure," as long as that experience is "being accrued consistent with the board’s regulations," and those persons "have as the primary supervisor a psychologist licensed in the state" and "do not hold themselves out to the public by any title ... incorporating the word 'psychology,' 'psychological,' or 'psychologist.'"
In other words, Section 2910 establishes conditions under which budding psychologists employed by schools and government agencies may obtain practical experience on their way to becoming fully licensed psychologists. As Dr. Ford is a research psychologist who is not seeking a license and does not engage in the practice of psychology as part of her job duties, Section 2910 is not applicable to her situation or job title. We spoke with Antonette Sorrick, Executive Officer for the California Board of Psychology, who concurred with our analysis that Section 2909, not 2910, is the relevant section of code that applies to Dr. Ford's situation.