Pamela Freyd is lying about her own foundation’s newsletter

February 10th, 2021 Comments off

In an article that is critical of the now-defunct False Memory Syndrome Foundation, Katie Heaney recently reported the following:

In the foundation’s newsletter dated February 29, 1992 (not included in its online archive), in an article titled “How Do We Know That We Are Not Representing Pedophiles,” Freyd explained why she thought it unlikely that the group’s hundreds of members included any perpetrators: “We are a good-looking bunch of people, graying hair, well dressed, healthy, smiling; just about every person who has attended is someone you would surely find interesting and want to count as a friend.”

Pamela Freyd has disputed this, claiming, in a letter published online, that: 

“In fact, the FMSF did not form until March of that year and had no newsletters in February 1992.”

That is a lie. Here are the receipts, proving precisely what Heaney reported.


The therapy that never existed: “Recovered Memory Therapy”

July 4th, 2019 Comments off

Michael Salter just wrote an important thread on Twitter about historical inaccuracies that keep getting repeated about child abuse and therapy. Click below and it will take you there. The thread is a good reminder that “Recovered Memory Therapy” never existed. Rather, it is a pejorative term used by some to discredit anyone who was sexually abused and discloses it in therapy.

Attacks on the credibility of abuse survivors are not justified by research

June 21st, 2019 Comments off

From an important new article in the Guardian by Michael Salter:

[S]cientific studies find that children are far less suggestible than we have been led to believe. Brain imaging studies have identified the neurological mechanisms involved in the process of forgetting and then recalling sexual abuse as an adult.

Delayed disclosure and amnesia are now understood as normal coping mechanisms in response to abuse.


It bears repeating…

November 23rd, 2018 Comments off

…that being anti-abuse is not the same thing as being anti-Catholic. From February 29, 2016:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Vatican newspaper said the Oscar-winning film, “Spotlight,” is not anti-Catholic.

“It is not an anti-Catholic movie, as has been written, because the film succeeds in giving voice to the alarm and deep pain” experienced by the Catholic faithful when a team of investigative newspaper reporters in Boston revealed the scandal of clerical abuse, said the article published Feb. 29 in L’Osservatore Romano.

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.)


An Extraordinary Hearing in Rhode Island

March 31st, 2018 Comments off

Last week, there was legislative hearing in Rhode Island to consider a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for civil suits involving sexual abuse. Katherine Gregg wrote a long story for the Providence Journal detailing the testimony of three compelling witnesses. Two of them had no recollection of the abuse until well into adulthood.

Ann Hagan Webb, who received payments for therapy from the Catholic Church, testified that Msgr. Anthony DeAngelis molested her between the ages of 5 and 12 but that she “totally repressed the memory of my abuse until I was 40 … when my children were about the age I was when it began.” Similarly, Dr. Herbert Brennan, who spoke for the first time about being abused in childhood, testified that “It was 30 years after the fact before my abuse found its way to my consciousness.”

These people were testifying for a law change that might help others in the future; it will do nothing for them. They will not be added to the archive on this site because it is unclear from this article whether there was other corroborating evidence. But the testimony was compelling and, of course, Webb had the tacit admission of the church that they owed her therapy costs (which they provided in exchange for a waiver against suing).


“An uncritical review of an absurdly incomplete record”

February 9th, 2018 Comments off

Mark Pendergrast has written an entire book claiming that Jerry Sandusky might be innocent because, he asserts, all of the testimony was secretly based on therapeutically-induced “memories,” even though somehow that was unknown to everyone at trial. It is a fanciful theory, to say the least, but one that was advanced in a post-conviction hearing by the prominent psychology professor Elizabeth Loftus. The judge’s view of Loftus’s testimony is instructive. It neatly sums up the difference between a scientist, who considers all of the evidence, and a hired gun, who includes “only pieces of information tending to support” their pet theory, based on “an absurdly incomplete record.” 


The Dishonesty of Frederick Crews

February 5th, 2018 Comments off

Jerry Sandusky might be “the most hated man in America,” but he has found a dedicated friend in retired English professor Frederick Crews. Crews just reviewed Mark Pendergrast’s book of that title, which purports to cast doubt on the Sandusky case because some of the victims — gasp! — went to therapists. But Pendergrast never actually claims that Sandusky is innocent. He just impugns the therapists. But that did not deter Crews, however, from jumping to a conclusion that even Pendergrast was unwilling to make. “Who will apologize to Sandusky?” Crews wonders.

Crews’ desire to acquit Sandusky knows no bounds. Publishing his review in the house organ of The Skeptics Society, where there is apparently no meaningful editorial oversight, Crews tells his readers that Pendergrast is “an independent scholar and science writer who has long been concerned” with this issue. But Crews knows full well that Pendergrast’s “concern” began when both of his adult daughters cut him off. As Anne Rochelle put it, in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution: “His [1995] book seeks to prove his daughters and other ‘incest survivors’ have fallen prey to what skeptics call ‘false memory syndrome.’” Even her sympathetic piece allows that the book could well been seen “as a guilty man’s obsessive attempt to clear his name.”

But Crews doesn’t want his readers to know enough to consider that possibility. True skeptics should direct their skeptical powers at Crews, who misled his readers about the motivations of the author whose book he endorsed — ironically — without any apparent skepticism.


Harvey Weinstein and the False Memory Syndrome Foundation

February 4th, 2018 Comments off

Maureen Dowd’s devastating story about Uma Thurman’s experiences with Harvey Weinstein adds to the mountain of evidence against this serial predator. Clinging to the hope someone might still be fooled, Weinstein released photos today that his team says “demonstrate the strong relationship Mr. Weinstein and Ms. Thurman had over the years.” I started calling this “the home movie defense” years ago, when members of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation were providing images of smiling children as a would-be defense. Mark Pendergrast, for example, tried this ploy when he met with a reporter for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution in 1994.

By now, of course, we have all seen smiling pictures of gymnasts on the US Olympic Team. We have also seen smiling pictures of the Turpin family in Disneyland. And then there’s the images of Uma Thurman with Harvey Weinstein (although she doesn’t look very happy in this picture). It’s high time we recognize that the home movie defense is absurd. It makes as much sense as saying “just because I wasn’t abusive every moment of the day, I must never have been abusive.”

The Disgraceful Discounting of a Larry Nassar Victim

February 3rd, 2018 Comments off

Most people who watched the Larry Nassar sentencing hearing were moved by the courage and pain of his victims. Some of the women could not bear to appear in person. A court official read Annette M. Hill’s letter. Hill, a former MSU athlete, was particularly critical of the MSU administration because, as her letter said: “If they had only taken action on the first report, it would have saved me and all the other athletes standing before us today from a life of pain and agony.” Hill reported being suicidal.

In a disgraceful essay just posted online, freelance writer Mark Pendergrast declared that Hill probably has “illusory memories.”

Why? Because Ms. Hill said she had “suppressed” her memories of these events for years. Pendergrast has been on a mission to discredit any abuse claim that might be associated with repressed memory since his two adult daughters cut him off in the early 1990s. But Hill did not say that she recovered her memory in therapy. (Nor is there any evidence that was true of his daughters.) Hill just used the word “suppress.” Which is probably what many other victims of Nassar did. 

In this cultural moment when it seems that victims of sexual abuse might stop being discounted and dismissed unfairly, Mark Pendergrast reminds us that there are still people all too willing to dismiss victims without cause.

Frank Fuster and Mark Pendergrast

January 28th, 2018 Comments off

Frank Fuster’s defenders, undeterred by the mountains of evidence against him (see the entire ch. 5 of The Witch-Hunt Narrative), continue to make false statements about his convictions (plural) for child sexual abuse. The most recent example is Mark Pendergrast’s claim that Frank Fuster’s conviction for lewd and lascivious conduct was wrongful because Fuster “passed two lie detector tests, but the jury was never told” (Memory Warp, p. 213). Pendergrast, who holds himself out as an “independent scholar,” provided no citation for this claim. In an earlier publication, however, he attributed this assertion to nothing more than an interview with Frank Fuster himself.

But there is no evidence in the court file that Fuster ever took a lie detector test or tried to get one entered at trial, where he declined to take the stand. The only test results in the court file are the MMPI tests that found him to be “compulsive and paranoid” with a “strong need to see himself as extremely virtuous.”

Moreover, a careful examination of court records in Fuster’s 1985 case demonstrates that Frank Fuster is a compulsive liar. Take his 1969 arrest for shooting man to death after a minor traffic accident, all witnessed by a off-duty police officer. Fuster pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in that case. But in the Country Walk case, he testified “when I was twenty years old, couple of months before becoming  New York City police officer, I’m accused of being a murderer.” He also claimed that the off-duty officer “set him up.”

But Fuster was not training to be a police officer; he was a salesman at the Minx Fur Company! As his parole report indicates: “much of the information [Fuster] provides differs from that available” in court records. “It does not appear that he accepts full responsibility for killing the victim.” (See pp. 339-341 of The Witch-Hunt Narrative for details and citations). Indeed, Fuster testified at his Parole Revocation Hearing in 1985 that his manslaughter conviction was actually “a crime that did not take place.”

There is much more. Fuster actually testified in the Country Walk case that there was no day care center in his house, even though there clearly was. He claimed not to own masks that were found in his home and that adults had seen him wear. This is the man who Mark Pendergrast accepts at face value. One wonders whether Pendergrast knew some of these facts and chose to ignore them, or whether he never did the research in the first place.


October 27th, 2017 Comments off

Twenty-five years ago, I first remembered being sexually abused as a kid at the San Francisco Boys Chorus summer camp. I later proved it in court, won a substantial judgment that I never collected, and moved on with my life. But the woman who covered it all up, Madi Bacon, was inducted into the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame, and the San Francisco Boys Chorus still has a scholarship in honor of her “quest for excellence” and her “courage.”

There is no courage in covering up sexual abuse. There is nothing excellent about failing to protect children in your care. It is time to stop honoring Madi Bacon and time to start telling the truth: Madi Bacon covered up the sexual abuse of children in order to protect her own reputation. Shame on those who still honor her.

Rachel Aviv Relies on Discredited Study

June 21st, 2017 Comments off

Roger K. Coleman was once a cause celeb of the false-conviction movement. Convicted in 1981 for the rape and murder of his wife’s 19-year-old sister, Coleman claimed his innocence—despite blood evidence that tied him to the crime. (Coleman also claimed to have been falsely convicted of an earlier sexual assault.) Coleman’s adamant denials convinced Centurion Ministries to advocate for him for years. Coleman also claimed his innocence on national television programs, and the New York Times eventually wrote that there were “deep doubts” about his conviction. Coleman appeared on the cover of Time Magazine with the headline “This Man Might Be Innocent” and the inflammatory claim that “courts refused to hear evidence that could save him.”

Coleman implored the state to administer a lie detector test before his death sentence was carried out, and the governor permitted this unusual request. Coleman failed the test. His advocates, unwilling to accept the results of the test they had requested, remained so positive he was innocent that they worked for years after his death to have DNA testing of key evidence. That unusual request was also granted and the tests proved there was a one in 19 million chance that the semen found on the victim’s body belonged to someone other than Coleman.

Confronted with overwhelming DNA evidence of guilt, Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project said “Today we got just one answer, and one man cannot speak for the correctness of the verdicts in a thousand other cases.” The same logic applies, of course, to the unusual case that Rachel Aviv just wrote about in The New Yorker. But Aviv wants her readers to generalize broadly from one case, and to that end she relies entirely on a single study that has been widely discredited.

Aviv cites, without skepticism, a highly-publicized study by Shaw and Porter that claimed in 2015 that “seventy per cent of people, when subjected to highly suggestive and repetitive interviews, would come to believe that they had committed a crime.” What Aviv did not tell her readers is that this study is well known to academic psychologists as an outlier; it is also known for its incoherence. Brewin and Andrews’ 2016 meta-study demonstrates that the study is an extreme outlier. Pezdek and Blandon-Gitlin’s 2016 analysis concluded that the same study was essentially incoherent, employing “an unorthodox rating system” that rendered it “impossible to know what the high prevalence rate actually refers to.”

There are two possible explanations for Ms. Aviv’s over-reliance on this discredited study: (1) her research was so limited she was unaware of these critiques, even though they were published online nine months before her article was published, or (2) she was aware of these critiques and decided not to trouble her readers with complications that contradict her position. Either way, once again, The New Yorker blew it on a story about false memory, as they also did here (with the same study), and here (without the benefit of any study at all).


Bill Cosby and the FMSF, Redux

June 17th, 2017 Comments off

With so much attention on the jury that deadlocked today in the Bill Cosby case, many people are asking why prosecutors in other states have not been able to bring charges in connection with any of the now 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault. The answer is that many states still have statutes of limitation that protect people like Bill Cosby.  On a day when the case for extending statutes of limitation is so clear, 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 of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Mrs. Freyd expressed the concern that extending the statute of limitations “may create more tarnished reputations” (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 about the possibility of “tarnished reputations.” The New York Times published an editorial encouraging all states to join the 16 states that have eliminated the statute of limitations for sexual assault.  As Jill Filipovic pointed out, statutes of limitation for rape “undermine justice for survivors.” The editorial board of USA Today endorsed that position today

But Pamela Freyd’s view is that women like Barbara Bowman, who came to terms with her trauma years after it happened, should not be allowed to pursue justice. Bowman is one of the women the Cosby jury did not hear from:

No Congratulations Here

January 22nd, 2017 Comments off

The following letter was just published in the February 2017 issue of The Psychologist, a publication of the British Psychological Society. The author is Dr. Ashley Conway:

Your short report in the January edition congratulates Elizabeth Loftus on winning the John Maddox Prize, and comments on her facing hostility and attempts to undermine her professional status, without explaining why some fellow psychologists might not be happy about everything that she has done. It might be helpful to have some insight into this reaction. In an extraordinary editorial, Brand and McEwen (2016) inform us that, according to American Psychological Association officials, Loftus was tipped off by them that there was an ethics complaint against her pending, and she left the Association. So no ethics investigation took place. It is reported that, under oath in court, Loftus has repeatedly denied awareness of this sequence of events (Cheit, 2015).

Olafson (2014) and Kluemper (2014) address a separate issue – Loftus allegedly violating the privacy of the subject of a case history, who was promised anonymity, and being untruthful in representing herself to the foster mother of the abuse victim. Discussing two particular papers co-written by Loftus, Olafson (2014) states: ‘There are so many errors among those facts that can be checked…that they cast doubt on the accuracy of the alleged facts in these articles that cannot be easily checked.’ And Dalenberg (2014) makes it clear that Loftus’s actions in this case have now made it ethically problematic for any psychology journal to publish case histories. Read more…

Commentaries on Taus v. Loftus

October 30th, 2016 Comments off

graphic_cover-journal-of-ipvTwo years ago, the Journal of Interpersonal Violence published a special issue about Taus v. Loftus, a civil lawsuit against psychology professor Elizabeth Loftus, stemming from Loftus’s decision to engage private investigators to uncover the identity of Jane Doe, the subject of an anonymous case study involving a memory of child sexual abuse.

There were eight commentaries in the issue, including my own: “Research Ethics and Case Studies in Psychology: A Commentary on Taus v. Loftus.” All of the commentaries are now available as PDFs (without charge) at this site. Scroll half way down the page to find them–along with the 1997 issue about Jane Doe’s memory, beginning with Corwin and Olafson’s landmark article, “Videotaped Discovery of a Reportedly Unrecallable Memory of Child Sexual Abuse with a Childhood Interview Videotaped 11 Years Before.”

“A Big To-Do About Nothing”

August 20th, 2016 Comments off

Does the False Memory Syndrome Foundation view child sexual abuse as a serious problem? They have always claimed to care about sexual abuse and Pamela Freyd has always responded with indignation to this question. But there is remarkable evidence, in a new documentary by Mary Knight, of the cavalier attitude that Eleanor Goldstein has about incestuous sexual touch and about a father who expressed sexual interest in his 13-year-old daughter. Goldstein, a major backer of the Foundation, who co-authored a book with Pamela Freyd, makes her view clear: she considers concern about incestuous sexual touch “a big to-do about nothing.” Will Pamela Freyd disavow these comments? We doubt that she will.

You can support Knight’s documentary, “Am I Crazy? My Journey to Determine if My Memories Are True?,” at this Kickstarter page.

[vimeo 179505273 w=640 h=360]

Corroborated Case: Inability to Remember Sustained Abuse

April 26th, 2016 Comments off

Screenshot 2016-04-26 19.10.10False-memory partisans sometimes grant the existence of recovered-memory cases involving a single instance of abuse, which they might then explain away as “normal forgetting” (although, of course, there is nothing “normal” about forgetting abuse). But there is a seemingly unshakable belief among those promoting “false memory syndrome” that repeated abuse would never be banished from memory. A documented case from Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia challenges this belief. Philippe Vincent Trutmann, who was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison in 2005, “admitted to sexually abusing [Luke Benson] 30 to 40 times over a two-year period.” But Mr. Benson, who remembers Trutmann as a “father figure,” has no recollection of the abuse, as indicated in this story.

“False memory syndrome” is politics, not jargon

February 16th, 2016 Comments off

01d9dd5Dr. Julie Shaw has a blog post at Scientific American called “Stop Calling It False Memory ‘Syndrome.’” Shaw is frustrated because “lawyers, police, medical practitioners, and journalists” continue to use the phrase “false memory syndrome” as if it has scientific meaning. She’s right that it doesn’t. But she is wrong that the phrase is some relic from the 1990s.

Shaw claims “the ill-conceived term … may have been uttered once or twice in the 1990s, but science is totally over it.” What a colossal misstatement. The phrase originated with Peter and Pamela Freyd, who created the “False Memory Syndrome Foundation,” an advocacy organization for parents accused of sexual abuse. The origins of the term were deliberate and they were political. Sixteen prominent psychologists saw the problem in 1993 when they signed a letter to the APS Observer urging others to spurn the phrase “false memory syndrome” for “the sake of intellectual honesty.”

Since then, the term has hardly disappeared from the world of science. A quick search in PsycINFO reveals 169 hits for the phrase in quotes, many in recent years. There are 20 dissertations with the phrase in the abstract, most in recent years. And defense-based psychologists frequently bring the phrase into court.

Elizabeth Loftus, a memory researcher often cited in Shaw’s work, remains on the “Scientific Advisory Board” of the so-called False Memory Syndrome Foundation. She is joined by a number of other scientists, none of whom have rejected this unscientific phrase. Professor Shaw, it is no accident that this phrase persists. It is the work of advocates who have been empowered by scientists. We look forward to you calling out the Foundation that created this problematic phrase and the scientists who remain affiliated with it. 

Bill Cosby and the FMSF

January 31st, 2016 Comments off

imrs.phpBill Cosby was finally charged last month with aggravated sexual assault. Those who wondered why no charges had been brought, even after 35 women told their stories to New York magazine, learned that the statute of limitations protected Cosby in many jurisdictions. But not Pennsylvania.

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 of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Mrs. Freyd expressed the concern that extending the statute of limitations “may create more tarnished reputations” (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). Read more…

“Kevin from Providence”

November 30th, 2015 Comments off

There is an excellent profile in the Providence Journal of Jim Scanlan, who is referred to as “Kevin from Providence” in the highly-acclaimed movie Spotlight. Scanlan never told anyone what had happened to him until well into adulthood. His inspirational story includes his ongoing work with an organization in Providence called ResilientKids.

One might think that the subject of Spotlight–how the Catholic Church covered up child sexual abuse–is well-known and widely agreed upon as a national disgrace. But it bears remembering that the so-called National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ) crusaded of behalf of Father Shanley. Never mind the affidavits from 19 other victims of Shanley’s. To the NCRJ, the fact that Shanley was convicted on the basis of a recovered memory outweighs any and all evidence of serial predation of minors.

Jesuit priest James F. Talbot, who pled guilty to abusing Jim Scanlan, later admitted to abusing 88 other victims. The NCRJ still defends Father Shanley, who may well rival that number.


Yet Another Case of Recovered Memory, Corroborated by Confession

September 30th, 2015 Comments off

People who identified themselves as “skeptics” of recovered memory used to ask “where are the corroborated cases?” This website originated after Ofra Bikel made the revealing admission that she could not find a single corroborated case after months of allegedly searching. We quickly found a handful of corroborated cases and this site was eventually born. Now there are more than 100 corroborated cases in the archive. And here is a media account of another case, this one from Florida, where a woman with recovered memories of abuse corroborated them by confronting the perpetrator and obtaining a confession. The man has since been arrested.

Different Molecular Pathways Change How Memories are Encoded

August 17th, 2015 Comments off

Synapse_B1W2X0_3145295bAnother scientific study supporting recovered memory. The study, conducted at Northwestern University, suggests that if the brain is in a heightened state of arousal it records a memory but does not ‘play it’ back until the mind returns to the state in which it was first encoded. It will be fascinating see how those who have declared victory in the “memory wars” will respond. If the past is any indication, they will ignore this study (and this one, and this one) and continue to say “there is no scientific evidence.” Fortunately, the world of science does not work like the world of politics. The accumulating scientific evidence for recovered memory is undeniable–to those without a political commitment to denying such evidence.

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.


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.

Read more…

A Teachable Moment, Indeed

June 19th, 2015 Comments off

Shortly after news anchor Brian Williams was exposed for exaggerating a war story on January 30th, Professor Elizabeth Loftus rushed to his defense. It was “a teachable moment,” she declared, criticizing everyone who concluded that Williams had exaggerated the story for glory. (See the video linked to this NYT story for an illustration of how Williams puffed up the story over time.) Williams simply had a “false memory.” That was the lesson that Loftus thought we should learn. Pamela Freyd, the Executive Director of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, followed suit, labeling Williams’ exaggeration as a “memory mistake.”

Those conclusions were contradicted by the investigation that NBC conducted. It was reported that NBC found at least ten other instances in which Williams made exaggerated statements about his involvement in stories. Today, Mr. Williams apologized for his behavior. He said it was “clearly ego driven” and came from “the desire to better my role in a story I was already in.” It was a mistake in judgment, not memory.

A teachable moment, indeed.  The lesson is clear: those who promote the false-memory defense are both too quick to acquit people of wrongdoing and too willing to ignore facts that contradict their template. The larger lesson is even more important: that is, the false-memory template cannot distinguish between false valor and false memory. Neither can those who employ it.

Neuroscientists Find “Lost” Memories

June 2nd, 2015 Comments off

29288F9A00000578-3101531-image-a-35_1432849151176The most recent issue of Science contains a report by three neuroscientists who “reactivated” memories that could not otherwise be retrieved in mice, using a technology known as optogenetics. Here is the press release about the study from MIT. “The majority of researchers have favored the storage theory [of memory], but we have shown in this paper that this majority theory is probably wrong,” one researcher said. “Amnesia is a problem of retrieval impairment.” One can only wonder how those who claim there is “no scientific evidence” for the concept of recovered memory will dismiss this study.

An Historic Exaggeration in the New Yorker

May 24th, 2015 Comments off

Screenshot 2015-05-24 20.25.31Twenty-two years ago today, the New Yorker published a remarkably exaggerated and unsupported claim. It was in the second part of “Remembering Satan,” Lawrence Wright’s article about the Paul Ingram case. (Some of Wright’s claims about this case have since been debunked by Karen Olio and William Cornell’s peer-reviewed article, “The Facade of Scientific Documentation: A Case Study of Richard Ofshe’s Analysis of the Paul Ingram Case.”) Beyond the Ingram case, however, Wright asserted that what happened to the Ingrams was “actually happening to thousands of other people around the country who have been accused on the basis of recovered-memory testimony. Perhaps some of the memories are real; certainly many are false” (Wright, Remembering Satan–Part II, New Yorker, May 24, 1993, p.76).

What evidence did Wright provide in support of his claim that there were “thousands” of cases? On what basis was he “certain” that “many” of those were false? None whatsoever. The “thousands” claim is pure fiction. There were thousands of phone calls to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which were often mischaracterized by the Foundation as “cases.” But Wright did not investigate any cases beyond Paul Ingram’s, so his certainty that hundreds, maybe thousands, of other cases were “false” is a measure of his prejudice, not a product of his reporting. Wright is an accomplished and award-winning author; but in this important instance, he got it wrong.

Remembering Results that You Didn’t Find

May 8th, 2015 Comments off

Screen shot 2010-12-26 at 10.43.04 PMThere was a piece in the New Yorker in March called “Remembering a Crime that You Didn’t Commit.” It begins with a brief description of the McMartin Preschool case that omits virtually all of the evidence of guilt, while exaggerating the extent of satanic claims in the case. (See this post for more detail.)

The author then pivots to a description of Elizabeth Loftus’ Lost-in-the-Mall study, claiming that the experiment caused “six of the twenty-four test subjects [to] internalize the story, weaving in sensory and emotional details of their own.” But the vaunted fact checkers at the New Yorker were wrong about more than the McMartin case. They apparently failed to consult the original Lost-in-the-Mall study which makes it clear that the 25% figure includes those who “remembered” the event “either fully or partially,” and partially includes “remembering parts of the event and speculations about how and when it might have happened” (p.722). Speculations, of course, are not memories. And remembering, say, the “part” about being lost is hardly remarkable, since everyone has been lost at one time or another. In short, the original article never claimed that 25% of subjects internalized the false story. A much smaller number did.

Memory experts are quick to point out that memory is constructed and it changes over time. Curiously, those who cover memory researchers rarely, if ever, pause to ask whether professors describing their own research might reconstruct their “findings” over time, remembering results they didn’t actually find. That seems to be the real, but unrecognized, legacy of the Lost in the Mall study. To many, the study stands for much more than it ever actually found.

UPDATE (6/21/17): subsequent research has cast serious doubt on the other study, by Porter and Shaw, described in this article. Brewin and Andrews’ 2016 meta-study demonstrates that it is an extreme outlier. Pezdek and Blandon-Gitlin’s 2016 analysis concluded that the study was incoherent, employing “an unorthodox rating system” that rendered it “impossible to know what the high prevalence rate actually refers to.”