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Harrison Pope Loses Again; Murray Huber, Guilty

June 17th, 2018 Comments off

Dr. Harrison Pope, the Harvard-based psychiatrist who testifies for the defense in recovered memory cases, lost a case in New Hampshire last fall that merits close attention. New Hampshire is known for the Hungerford case, the 1997 state supreme court decision that set forth such strict conditions on the admissibility of recovered memory testimony that most people consider the decision to constitute a ban.

The obvious result of the Hungerford decision is that prosecutors are highly unlikely to bring cases based on recovered memories. The unintended consequence, however, is that it has become a standard defense tactic in New Hampshire to assert that the complainant is based on recovered memory, regardless of the facts.

That is precisely what happened in the criminal case against Murray Huber, Jr. who was charged with 16 counts of sexual abuse and incest. The complainant, known as A.H., disclosed to a boyfriend over time, in bits and pieces. Then she went to police. 

Enter Dr. Pope, who never actually examined A.H., but nevertheless concluded “to a reasonable medical certainty” that she had unreliable recovered memories. Pope reached this conclusion despite the fact that A.H.’s medical records included a notation from her primary physician that A.H. “has always known [about the abuse] and this was not a realization late in life.” 

Dr. Pope’s testimony strayed far beyond his expertise, which pertains mostly to eating disorders and steroid use. Pope explained A.H.’s PTSD symptoms away by drawing an analogy to those who believe they have been abducted by UFOs. Commenting on the fact that A.H had sent her father greeting cards, Pope opined, without supporting authority, that in his “clinical experience, it would be very unusual that an individual who had memories of having been repeatedly sexually abused by her father would go to the effort of sending him numerous greeting cards.”

The court found that A.H.’s memories did not have to be subject to the Hungerford framework. In other words, the court agreed  that A.H. had remembered all along. In rejecting Dr. Pope’s conclusions, Presiding Justice Marguerite Wageling noted wryly that “Dr. Pope’s 68-page curriculum vita does not provide any indication that he has developed expertise in interpersonal violence or the possible behavioral spectrum of victims of interpersonal violence.” [1]

In short, she permitted A.H. to testify. Rather than proceed to trial and challenge her memory, however, Mr. Huber pleaded guilty two months later. He was sentenced to one year in prison with 20 years suspended. Conditions included enrolling in Sex Offender Treatment.

This was not a false memory and it was not a recovered memory. It was a real case of sustained sexual abuse in which Dr. Pope was willing to impugn the victim’s memory “to a medical certainty” without ever having examined her. If this is not an ethical violation, it certainly should be. 

[1] Order on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss: Recovered Memory, State v. Huber. Docket No. 218-2016-CR-189,238. Rockingham County Superior Court, New Hampshire. (Thanks to Linda McEwen for obtaining this unpublished order.)

 

Maryland Court Recognizes Dissociative Amnesia

May 8th, 2014 Comments off

moscJudge Ronald B. Rubin issued an opinion in Montgomery County Circuit Court yesterday finding that “dissociative amnesia has been sufficiently tested by the psychiatric and psychological community using research methods generally applied in those fields and that it is generally accepted” (p.19).  The court rejected as “unrealistic and unnecessary” Dr. Harrison Pope’s claim that laboratory studies are necessary, noting that “no complete laboratory study could ever be completed on repression of events as traumatic as sexual abuse.” The court also found that the methodological criticisms of studies offered by the plaintiffs “were effectively rebutted by the testimony of Dr. Silberg, the plaintiff’s hearing exhibits and the well-regarded medical literature” (p.18).

Dr. Pope offered a survey he conducted as evidence that dissociative amnesia was not generally accepted. Judge Rubin concluded: “Dr. Pope’s after-the-fact ‘survey’ of a small number of psychiatrists who are dissatisfied with the work of DSM committees is not persuasive evidence of anything other than some doctors disagree” (p.16). It is worth noting that Pope’s survey found a higher rate of acceptance of dissociative amnesia disorder than the problematic study by Patihis et. al., discussed in an earlier post.

The court also cited the “carefully written and reasoned opinion of the federal judge in Clark v. Edison,” another case that rejected Dr. Pope’s position, as a “further indication that the theory [of dissociative amnesia] has attained general acceptance” (p. 19). This encouraging decision suggests that the science of recovered memory is starting to overcome the politics.

Harrison Pope’s Phony Repression Challenge

September 27th, 2010 Comments off

Dr. Harrison Pope got a lot of publicity in 2007 for his “repression challenge,” which offered $1,000 to anyone who could find an example of repressed memory before 1800. Pope et al. later published a paper that argued that the failure of anyone to find an example proved that repressed memory was a social construction.

There is one major problem: someone did win! The winning submission was entered after Dr. Pope and his co-authors published the article that is still highlighted on his home page. The article says that the lack of any examples before 1800 proves their argument; but the article also allowed that an example that fit their narrow criteria would disprove their claim. Applying a version of logic that rivals “heads I win, tails you lose,” Dr. Pope has since claimed that he is still right, even though he lost.

He has also gone to notable lengths to conceal the winner, who was acknowledged only briefly on his home page. But that heading (pictured below) was quickly removed, and for the last two-plus years the site has highlighted only the outdated article. Remarkably, Dr. Pope did not withdraw the article even though its conclusions were disproved after publication.

Click here to see the site as of 9/27/10, with announcement of winner removed. [Summer 2013 note: the site has apparently been removed entirely.]

That isn’t the only problem with the “challenge.” The definitions created by Dr. Pope were so narrow that they rejected a host of examples from hundreds, even thousands, of years ago. For example, Pliny the Elder said in the year 77AD that memory is “affected by disease, by injuries, and even by fright; being sometimes partially lost, and at other times entirely so” (Pliny the Elder, The natural history of Pliny (J. Bostock & H. T. Riley, Trans.), London: George Bell & Sons, p. 165 (1893)). Dr. Pope rejected this evidence because, in his words, it did not specify that fear, per se, could cause memory to be entirely lost. See also Ben-Ezra, “Dissociative symptoms after plague in the 15th century,” British Journal of Psychiatry, 86:543 (2005). For a detailed critique of the contest see Goldsmith, Cheit and Wood, “Evidence of Dissociative Amnesia in Science and Literature: Culture-Bound Approaches to Trauma in Pope et al. (2007),” Trauma and Dissociation, 10:237-253 (2009).