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Patihis Finds Brian Williams’ Explanation “Credible”

February 8th, 2015 Comments off

brianwilliamsMaureen Dowd writes today that “NBC executives were warned a year ago that Brian Williams was constantly inflating his biography.” Williams has stepped down, at least temporarily, from his anchor position at NBC News. An investigation by NBC is underway. But Lawrence Patihis, a graduate student in psychology at UC-Irvine, doesn’t need to wait for the results. Patihis told the New Republic that he found Williams’ explanation, that is was a genuine memory error, “credible.”

At last, we have discovered the kind of person who false-memory researchers find credible: someone charged with lying, who claims to have been confused, but whose mistake just happens to have inflated their credentials in some way. The real news will be the day when Patihis and his advisor, Elizabeth Loftus, find the testimony of a victim of sexual assault to be “credible.”

ADDENDUM (I): A blog entry by James Taranto (“Brian Salad Surgery: Science, Journalism, and ‘Moral Authority'”) points out that false-memory research sheds no light on stolen valor and other forms of self-aggrandizement.

ADDENDUM (II): Faye Flam, writing in Forbes: We can accept the experimental evidence that memory is fragmented and subject to distortion, but nevertheless, we realize that some of us manage to go through life without being insufferable blowhards.

ADDENDUM (III): Mike Daisey in Slate: “Misremembered”? Come on, man. People want to be treated with respect—they don’t buy that the life-threatening episode event he described was a product of mistaken remembering.

ADDENDUM (IV): From CNN: NBC finds at least 10 Brian Williams embellishments. One wonders whether Pamela Freyd will label all of those embellishments as “memory mistakes,” the term she used in this post.

False Dichotomies and Other Errors in Patihis et. al.

December 31st, 2013 Comments off

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…