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Elizabeth Loftus and the Hoffman Report

July 22nd, 2015 Comments off

The Hoffman Report, an independent investigation into the American Psychological Association’s involvement with government-sponsored torture programs, was released earlier this month.  As James Risen reported in the New York Times, the 542-page report concluded that the APA’s ethics office “prioritized the protection of psychologists — even those who might have engaged in unethical behavior — above the protection of the public.” The focus of the report is the involvement of the APA in sanctioning interrogation techniques that included torture. But the Report also contains an important footnote about the lax attitude towards ethics in the APA office long before the post-9/11 era: 

The Ethics Office was not insulated from outside influence and the nature of the process allowed for manipulation at times. Koocher told Sidley that Raymond Fowler manipulated the adjudication process when there was a complaint filed against Elizabeth Loftus, a high-profile psychologist who did work on false memories. When Fowler found out there was an ethics complaint pending against Loftus, he reached out to her and told her she should resign her membership before a case could be formally opened against her. He later denied that he had done so and appointed one of his deputies to “investigate” how Loftus had found out about the complaint.

INDEPENDENT REVIEW RELATING TO APA ETHICS GUIDELINES, NATIONAL SECURITY INTERROGATIONS, AND TORTURE, July 2, 2015 (p. 485)

This footnote provides the only explanation that has ever made sense for why Professor Loftus resigned from the APA by fax, shortly after two ethics complaints had been filed against her. The complaints concerned Loftus misrepresenting the facts about two successful recovered-memory lawsuits. Her resignation made the complaints moot under rules that have since been changed to close that loophole. Professor Loftus has never provided a convincing explanation for her sudden resignation. Her sworn testimony on the matter (see examples below) stands in stark contrast to statements in the Hoffman Report.

Perhaps the APA, now anxious to regain its credibility, will finally address the manipulations that resulted in the dismissal of complaints against Elizabeth Loftus.

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