Culture Wars/Current Controversies

‘Junk science’ in court

May 19, 2023
Hello, Insiders. Nicholas Carlson, global editor in chief, here. Today we have the story of Jill Montes. Her son said his stepdad was sexually abusive. A judge gave the stepdad custody anyway. Then she found the photographs.

This is a stunning investigation into the unproven concept of “parental alienation” and how judges have used it to tear families apart.


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— Nicholas Carlson

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Disney, plane crash, & Musk

  • Disney is scrapping its planned $1 billion campus in Florida — and more than 2,000 jobs that were set to move. This marks an escalation of its feud with Ron DeSantis.
  • Elon Musk told a Twitter advisor at 4 a.m. that the company would only pay rent over his “dead body,” a lawsuit said. More here.
  • Four children whose plane crashed in the Colombian jungle two weeks ago were declared alive. However, local authorities have yet to confirm whether they’re safe. Read more.

Parental nightmare

Jill Montes of Carlsbad, California, lost custody of three of her children in 2021 to her ex-husband. He had accused her of “parental alienation.” Maggie Shannon for Insider


For years, family courts have leaned on the controversial theory of “parental alienation” to discredit allegations of child abuse.

Parental alienation is a fairly recent idea, conceived in the 1980s by a psychiatrist who argued that divorcing mothers, desperate to win custody suits, were brainwashing children against their fathers.

So in multiple cases where kids said their fathers abused them, the dad has denied the accusations and accused the mom of manipulation. Judges have leaned on alienation theory to send kids to “reunification programs” — and into the custody of their alleged abusers.

Alienation has never been accepted as a psychiatric disorder by the medical establishment. Yet today, mental-health practitioners across the United States assess and treat it, particularly those who specialize in custody cases.

A new investigation from Insider, in partnership with the nonprofit newsroom Type Investigations, dives into this phenomenon and the industry that’s popped up around it.


Zell, the 1%, & more

Pola Damonte/Getty Images


  • How much money you need to be among the wealthiest 1%, according to new data. You need $12.4 million to be in the richest 1% of people in Monaco. In the US, it’s $5.1 million — and in the UK, it’s $3.3 million. More here.
  • The real-estate billionaire Sam Zell has died aged 81, his company announced. Through his firm, Equity Group Investments, and various other companies, Zell was the largest owner of mobile-home parks in the US. More on Zell’s legacy.
  • Elon Musk didn’t want to wake his security team in the middle of the night to pee, a lawsuit said. The lawsuit claims that Musk wanted to build a bathroom next to his office in Twitter’s headquarters. Read the full story.
  • A US tourist fell into an uncovered manhole in Thailand’s “sin city.” He was unable to climb back up and was trapped in the sewers for four hours, but he said it felt like days. He was rescued only when a passing security officer heard his cries. Read more.
  • Ukraine intelligence chief says Kyiv wants a demilitarized border zone up to 60 miles inside Russia to prevent future conflicts. Major General Kyrylo Budanov said that if Russia doesn’t “want revenge in a couple of years, this shouldn’t be an issue.” More here.
  • Super mom? Super judged. Insider spoke with moms who were judged for their parenting decisions, including for having kids in their late 50s and for breastfeeding into toddlerhood. Read more.
  • A high school approved a student’s graduation speech that was written by ChatGPT — then he went majorly off script. “I don’t know about y’all, but I hated school,” the student told the audience, according to a transcript of the speech the Independent reviewed. The full story.

116-year-old renovation

Wilfred House


A New Jersey couple bought a 116-year-old house for $435,000 and spent five years renovating it. Along the way, they found new parts of its history as they ripped up carpet and restored floors in the Dutch Colonial home. Look inside.

Royal car chase

A spokesperson for Prince Harry and Meghan said that the couple were pursued by “highly aggressive” paparazzi during a two-hour car chase in New York City on Tuesday. But the NYPD downplayed the events, saying that there were no collisions or arrests.

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This edition was curated by Nicholas Carlson, and edited by Hallam Bullock, Lisa Ryan, and J.R. Stacey. Get in touch:

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