If you put recoveredmemory.net into a web browser, you do not end up here. You end up at the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Why? Because Pamela Freyd bought the domain name and instituted auto-forwarding to her site. Does that mean she is cybersquatting? In a word, no. We did not trademark the name of this site, nor has Freyd tried to sell us the .net domain name at a profit. And we are quite content simply being recoveredmemory.org. But most important, we believe in free speech and we would much rather engage Pamela Freyd on the facts than waste time on arguments about domain names. Why does this come up today? We will have more to say about that in the future. In the meantime, Pamela, recoveredmemory.com is still available if you want it.
Patihis, Ho, Tingen, Lilienfeld, and Loftus recently published a research article in Psychological Science related to the “Memory Wars.” The article carries the provocative title: Are the “Memory Wars” Over? A Scientist-Practitioner Gap in Beliefs About Repressed Memory.
The article is so flawed that one scarcely knows where to begin. It is a sure sign that something is seriously wrong when an article contains a significant misrepresentation in the second sentence. So it is with Patihis et. al., who summarize Professor Jennifer Freyd’s work as standing for the proposition that “memories of traumatic events can be repressed…and yet recovered accurately in therapy.” The authors cite, without a page number or quotation, a single publication of Freyd’s from 1994 that makes no such claim. Instead, Freyd makes the uncontroversial claim that psychotherapy can be useful for those who have experienced childhood trauma. Freyd also cautions, on page 320: “This aspect of psychotherapy and memory recovery also has the potential to lead to distortions in the interpretation of sensory, affective, and behavioral memories.”
One wonders why the authors did not portray the nuance in Freyd’s position. One also wonders why they ignored the substantial body of Freyd’s work in the years since 1994, including her highly-regarded Harvard Press book, Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse. Freyd’s work is notable in part for highlighting two independent features of memory: continuity and accuracy. Freyd has always acknowledged that memory, both continuous and non-continuous, can be inaccurate. See her useful 2004 presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Misleading and Confusing Media Portrayals of Memory Research. It applies directly to Patihis et. al. and the attendant media coverage. Read more…
In a recent TED talk about memory, psychology professor Elizabeth Loftus misrepresented the basic facts of a case study that led her to hire a private investigator and write an article that prompted the subject of the case study to sue her for invasion of privacy. Loftus has mentioned the civil suit frequently in recent appearances and told audiences how terribly unfair it was that she was sued. Given the importance of these events to Professor Loftus, one wonders why she misrepresented the basic facts of the underlying case.
Loftus said the case was about a women who “accused her mother of sexual abuse based on a repressed memory” (See the 13-minute mark of this talk). That is not true. The accusation against her mother came in an evaluation when the child was 6 years old! What makes the underlying case so important is that the girl forgot the details, which had been videotaped at the time, and recalled them spontaneously at age 17. Here is the article that documents those events, which occurred under the supervision of the doctor who conducted the original interview. (She had sought him out because she wanted to know what happened to her as a child.) There is much more to say about how Loftus investigated this case. But for now, it is telling, to say the least, that Loftus misrepresented the facts. Presumably she thinks that audiences are more likely to find her actions in this matter sympathetic if the underlying case was an accusation based on a dubious-sounding recovered memory. Whatever her motivation, there is no question the version presented in her TED talk is false. We await the correction that should occur after a scientist commits an error like this.
A loyal reader of this site pointed our attention to a curious entry in the tax returns filed by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation in 2005 and 2006. In 2005, the organization spent $63,500 on something identified only as “book project.” They spent $52,227 more the next year. Their 2006 tax return lists “the Sturgis Group” as “authors” of the book they are funding. (See p. 10 of this document.) But there was never a book published after this date with the FMSF or the Sturgis Group listed as the author. Indeed, there was never even an announcement in the FMSF Newsletter informing its members that a book they spent more than $100,000 on had been published. One wonders why.
Here is what we have surmised from the available evidence. The president of the Sturgis Group is Mark Lasswell; the address for his advertising and promotion business is a Park Avenue apartment building where he lives with his wife, Clare McHugh, who happens to be the daughter of Dr. Paul R. McHugh, a controversial professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. Dr. McHugh is listed as the sole author of a book published in 2008 called Try to Remember. The book reads like an FMSF newsletter. So it is not surprising that the preface states that Pamela Freyd suggested the book and “patiently supported” it. But there is no indication what kind of support Freyd, the Executive Director of the FMSF, provided. The preface also acknowledges a “yearlong collaboration” whereby McHugh’s daughter Clare “helped [him] put down an accessible draft.” Dr. McHugh mentions her “devotion,” but there is no mention of what happened behind-the-scenes: the FMSF paid Dr. McHugh’s daughter and her husband up to $115,727 to “author” this book.
The book was heralded by the FMSF on the opening pages of this newsletter; but the Foundation did not reveal anything about its significant financial interest in the project. Nor did Dr. McHugh disclose that his book received significant financial support from an advocacy organization. Disclosures of this nature are expected, of course, by the ethical norms and policies for scientists. The $115,000 question is why neither Dr. McHugh nor the FMSF decided to disclose their financial connection when the book was published. Was Dr. McHugh trying to create the false impression of having done this work independent of any financial support from an organization that is discussed favorably in his book? Did the FMSF conclude that the book would appear more scholarly if the public was unaware of their six-figure subsidy? Would reviewers have been more skeptical had they known this was practically a work-for-hire by the FMSF?
On Monday, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office released a 155-page “Conviction Integrity Review” of a multi-victim child sexual-abuse case that ended in 1988 with a guilty plea by Jesse Friedman. The report includes four appendices with almost 1,000 pages. As stated in this New York Times story, the report concludes: “By any impartial analysis, the reinvestigation process prompted by Jesse Friedman, his advocates and the Second Circuit, has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea and adjudication as a sex offender.”
The Friedman case has nothing to do with recovered memory. At least, the actual facts of the case have nothing to do with recovered memory. But ever since the movie Capturing the Friedmans (2003), the defense has been making claims that hypnosis poisoned the case against Jesse Friedman. The Times reported in October 2007 that “Friedman and his lawyer, Ron Kuby, say they have evidence indicating that some of the other youths who accused the Friedmans were hypnotized before testifying to the grand jury.” As it turns out, they did not have any evidence to that effect. The Conviction Integrity Review concluded that there was no credible evidence that hypnosis was used on any complainants in the case (pp. 77-79).
One underreported aspect of the report is the documentation of how misleading Capturing the Friedmans was in several places. We said as much in 2009, with this video critique.* The new report makes it clear that the Gregory Doe excerpt in the movie is even more misleading than we ever imagined. That is the excerpt that made it appear that the man did not disclose anything until after he started therapy. But the review panel examined the interview “in its unedited form” and concluded that it “reveals an account that is dramatically different” from what is portrayed in the movie (p.79). The man actually told the filmmakers that he disclosed to police “the very first night” (negating any claims that therapy that started three weeks later created his claims), that “he threw up for three days after he first disclosed to police,” and that he “developed an anal fissure after being sodomized.” As the report notes, all of those details were left out of the movie.
There are a few studies of “false memory” that have attained almost iconic status. These studies are widely known, but not necessarily well understood. Perhaps the most cited but least understood study of all is the “Lost in the Mall” study by Professor Elizabeth Loftus. As part of an interesting new project at the New England Law School, Professor Wendy Murphy and two law students recently analyzed that study in light of the Daubert and Frye cases. Here is their critique. This project holds great promise for unmasking some of the myths and other inaccuracies that have crept into academic discussions of memory issues.
Professor Jennifer Freyd has a new book with Pamela Birrell called Blind to Betrayal. The book, officially published today, explores various case studies involving betrayal, its effects and how victims come to grips with it. Most relevant to the Recovered Memory Project is the chapter about the False Memory Syndrome Foundation and how Pamela and Peter Freyd invaded Prof. Freyd’s privacy and tried to sabotage her career. That chapter also contains excerpts from a letter that Pamela Birrell wrote to Advisory Board Members of the organization in 1992 about the fallacies of the FMSF. The authors report that only two members of the board responded and neither was willing to engage in dialogue.
This is an important book for understanding the problem of betrayal trauma and for adding to the historical record about the early and indefensible actions of Pamela and Peter Freyd.
In an article about memory in the current New York Review of Books, Oliver Sacks displays a surprising myopia for someone who is generally sensitive to complexity and appreciative of case-based evidence. Dr. Sacks repeats the same fallacies about recovered memory that advocates for the False Memory Syndrome Foundation have long promoted. Sacks, who refers to “so-called” recovered memories, seems to think that because some recovered memories are false, none are true. The archive of over 100 corroborated cases of recovered memory at this site was created to counter that misconception.
Dr. Sacks also describes some of the well-known research that demonstrates that eyewitness testimony can be inaccurate. No doubt that is true. But no reasonable person takes that evidence to mean that eyewitness testimony can never be true! Nor would any reasonable person argue that eyewitness testimony should not be admitted in court unless it is corroborated by other sources. But that is precisely the position that false-memory partisans take about recovered memories. Dr. Sacks apparently has a similar view. One wonders why. (If Dr. Sacks disagrees with these extremists, we hope that he will clarify his position in the future.)
What is most disappointing about Sacks’ article is his credulous acceptance of the claims that there were “thousands” of cases of false memory in the 1990s. Remarkably, Dr. Sacks employs the phrase “almost epidemic” without substantiation of any sort. As it turns out, the evidence for that claim is beyond flimsy. It generally stems from surveys of those who claim that other people have experienced false memory. There are obvious reasons why the people answering such surveys might be dishonest. Evidence from the person supposedly afflicted with this “syndrome” is never included, violating the principles that created the Goldwater Rule. Would Sacks accept an estimate of the number of false convictions in criminal court that was based entirely on a survey of prisoners? Would he diagnose someone as having a neurological disorder (his field of expertise) without ever examining the patient? Assertions about “thousands” of cases of false memory suffer from both of these problems. For further elaboration, see this critique.
Of course memory is fallible. Who has ever claimed otherwise? Indeed, those claiming to be victims of false memory might be the ones who are misremembering the past, although curiously that possibility is never raised by false-memory partisans. (Their memories are apparently the ones that they consider infallible.) But one would hope that a doctor like Oliver Sacks would not extend the simple idea that memory is fallible to reach one-sided conclusions that ignore the case evidence and peer-reviewed studies about recovered memory. One would also hope that a doctor would never invoke the word “epidemic” without actual scientific evidence.
There was a powerful article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine on January 27 about the devastating effects of child pornography on victims whose images have been spread around the world on the Internet. It is the kind of article that would seem to generate only sympathy and concern for victims. But the “National Center for Reason and Justice” proved otherwise. This Orwellian-named organization used the occasion to question whether real harms occurred and to smear Dr. Joyanna Silberg, one of the therapists named in the article. In a letter to the New York Times, published on the NCRJ website, the president of the organization, defense lawyer Michael Snedeker, claimed that “Joyanna Silberg, the therapist of one young woman in the story, is notorious for advocating the debunked myth of satanic ritual child abuse.” Snedeker also asserted that “obsessive attention paid to victims can paradoxically make their feelings of trauma worse, or even cause them in the first place.” He closed by expressing concern about giving “pseudoscientific, dangerous therapists another gravy train.”
These statements are wrong in every particular. Dr. Silberg is not even the therapist for the woman she mentions in the story! That woman lives in another city. Dr. Silberg merely conducted assesments for the purpose of litigation. Dr. Silberg did not receive a percentage of any legal judgments, nor has she received any payment other than the set fees for conducting an evaluation. The insinuation that she may have engaged in therapy that made the woman worse is beyond false, it is defamatory. It is also a claim that defies common sense. It is clear from the article that what Snedeker calls “feelings of trauma” were hardly caused by the therapists in this case. They were caused by the appalling actions of those who took these images and disseminated them. Moreover, Dr. Silberg has never advocated or endorsed anything pertaining to satanic ritual abuse. Instead, she is apparently a target for these smears because she has spoken up for victims of sexual abuse through the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence.
There is real irony in the fact that an organization that claims to worry about false accusations would levy several of their own. One can only speculate why the NCRJ is so threatened by an article about victims of child pornography that it would make such baseless claims. Whatever the reason, their response reveals a great deal about their true values.
Note: we will be engaging the NCRJ’s extremist position on recovered memory in future posts.
There are many indications that the False Memory Syndrome Foundation is fading away. An electronic “FMSF news alert” sent on January 14th claims otherwise, but let’s look at the facts. (1) The FMSF did not release a single newsletter in 2012; the November 2011 newsletter was apparently their last. (2) The listing of information about FMSF chapters around the country is gone. (3) The address listed at the bottom of the FMSF web site as their headquarters was, according to Philadelphia Tax Assessor records, sold in May 2012. The organization apparently does not have a headquarters anymore. (4) There was a retirement-like dinner for Pamela Freyd, Executive Director of the Foundation, last fall. (5) Most significantly, the FMSF has disappeared from the news. An “all news” search on Lexis/Nexis for “Pamela Freyd” returns only two hits for 2011 and none for 2012. (One of the 2011 articles was a journalist who saw through the FMSF and wrote a critical story.) We are planning some retrospective posts this year to correct the record on a variety of misrepresentations made by the FMSF over the years. But there will apparently be fewer of those in the future, as the FMSF slowly disappears.
ADDENDUM (2/7): The FMSF now has a blog that lists the address of the Foundation as a P.O. Box. The “news alerts” they have sent out recently are labeled there as “Newsletters.” There is no information about FMSF chapters and no indication whether Pamela Freyd is still taking a salary as Executive Director of this fading organization.
One important function for this blog is to preserve information that might otherwise be lost in the historical account of the so-called memory wars. This entry is a reminder about an important letter to the editor in the APS Observer in March 1993, signed by 16 prominent psychologists, urging scientists and other scholars to spurn the phrase “false memory syndrome” for “the sake of intellectual honesty.” The popular press fell for the phrase, and so did some academics. But this letter stands as a stark reminder that a host of prominent psychologists recognized early on that this phrase was unscientific and unhelpful. It is the phrase that launched the FMSF.
Earlier this summer, there was a confluence of several high-profile stories, all of which indicated social concern about the sexual abuse of children and the forces that might cause it to be minimized and covered up. Unfortunately, the end of the summer brings three reminders that for every two steps forward there seem to be at least one step back.
The first story involves the outrageous harassment of SNAP, the advocacy group for people victimized by priests. Two weeks ago, the Missouri Supreme Court declined to prohibit an undisguised effort to intimidate those who dare to advocate for victims of abuse by priests. Here is the story on their web site. Second, the Minnesota Supreme Court sided with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona in a case that means that a list of 46 priests in the state credibly accused of molesting children will remain secret. Here is the Star Tribune story. Third, Rev. Benedict Groeschel, described by the New York Times as “a beloved figure among many Catholics and a founder of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal,” recently gave an interview in which he said that “youngsters” as young as 14 were often to blame when priests sexually abused them and that priests should not be jailed for such abuse on their first offense. Remember when the Catholic Church pledged to do everything possible to address the sexual abuse of children? That was ten years ago. Look where the Church is today.
Yes, the Penn State story and others demonstrate increased awareness and concern about the sexual abuse of children. But these more recent stories remind us that even in this climate of heightened sensitivity and awareness there remains a powerful willingness to attack victims’ advocates, to advance technical defenses to avoid accountability, and even to minimize and deny the very nature of the problem by blaming the victims.
In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, a few news organizations have broadcast remarks from various “armchair psychologists,” who have purported to analyze the gunman without ever meeting him. The Columbia Journalism Review just published a comment about this “irresponsible speculation.” What ABC News recently did along these lines violates the “Goldwater rule,” an ethical standard adopted by the American Psychiatric Association after some psychiatrists signed a political advertisement that questioned the mental stability of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
It may seem obvious that mental-health professionals should not purport to diagnose people they have never met. But that is precisely what the False Memory Syndrome Foundation and its Executive Director, Pamela Freyd, have been doing since the organization began. Of course, Mrs. Freyd, whose training is in education, has no credentials in mental health and certainly is not subject to the ethical rules for psychiatrists. But that makes the practice of “armchair psychology” all the worse. The FMSF has frequently labeled cases as involving “false memory” based entirely on claims of the accused and without the benefit of talking to, let alone examining, the person who supposedly has this “syndrome.” Their claims about the number of “cases” of “false memory syndrome” are also based on this flawed approach. The aftermath of the Aurora shootings gives us the opportunity to recognize how much of what the FMSF did over the years falls into the same category as the “irresponsible speculation” pointed out by the Columbia Journalism Review.
Child sexual abuse has recently been the focus of three high-profile stories. Most prominently, former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of sexually assaulting 10 different boys since 1998. Most dramatically, Msrg. William Lynn became the highest ranking official in the Catholic Church to be convicted of a crime connected to covering-up the sexual abuse of children by priests. Most controversially, the New York Times published a long story about sexual abuse by teachers, none of whom had been charged in court, at the Horace Mann School.
A recent editorial in the New York Times focused on one lesson that ties all three stories together: “the reality of late uncovering of child sexual abuse.” For psychological and emotional reasons, victims of sexual abuse often delay reporting their abuse. The law can recognize these realities by extending the statute of limitations to allow for civil and criminal cases to go forward in adulthood. But New York state law does not permit this. Their “egregiously short statute of limitations,” as the Times put it, “tilts the legal playing field against accountability, fairness and public safety.”
The New York legislature needs to do what the Pennsylvania legislature did years ago: extend the statute of limitations well into adulthood. Had that not occurred in Pennsylvania, the Sandusky case could not have gone forward. Neither could the case against Mrsg. Lynn. The state would have been as powerless to act as prosecutors in New York are now that a former Horace Mann teacher has admitted to sexually abusing students, adding weight to a story that some criticized for focusing only on teachers who are deceased.
We would all do well to remember who lobbied against extending the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania. When the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from victims of sexual abuse in 1994, there was one witness who testified in opposition: Pamela Freyd, Executive Director of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Mrs. Freyd expressed the concern that extending the statute of limitations “may create more tarnished reputations” (Testimony of Pamela Freyd, Senate Judiciary Committee, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; May 24, 1994, p. 5). She urged the committee to amend the bill to “encourage and emphasize alternative means of resolving these matters other than courts” (Id., p. 7). We now know how well “alternative means” worked for children who were abused by Jerry Sandusky and for those abused under the supervision of the Catholic Church. We also know that justice would never have been done in those cases if Mrs. Freyd’s position had prevailed.
The simple fact is that the FMSF, through Pamela Freyd, lobbied against legislative changes that would increase accountability, fairness and public safety around child sexual abuse. Instead, they were more worried, as were those who covered up for Jerry Sandusky and for pedophile priests in Pennsylvania, about the possibility of “tarnished reputations.”
That is how Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan responded to questions about whether his diocese provided pedophile priests with $20,000 pay-offs to leave the church. The language of denial is often filled with righteous indignation. The only problem is that the Cardinal was lying. As reported in today’s New York Times, a spokesman for the archdiocese confirmed that payments of as much as $20,000 were made to “a handful” of accused priests “as a motivation” not to contest being defrocked.