Archive for September, 2010

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that heading (pictured below) was quickly removed, and for the last two-plus years the site has highlighted only the outdated article.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).

Another Criminal Conviction from a Recovered Memory

September 22nd, 2010 Comments off

Calvin Huss, of Port Deposit, Delaware, pleaded guilty yesterday to sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl during a seven-month period in 1993. His confession, according to a news report, “came a month after the victim, now in her early 30s, contacted state police following a repressed memory breakthrough during psychological therapy.”

Huss also confessed to sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old girl between 2008 and 2010. His guilty plea was part of a plea deal in which prosecutors agreed to drop related charges.

This case is important not only for adding to the number of corroborated cases of recovered memory of childhood sexual abuse, it is also important because the memory arose in therapy. Recent research, ignored by FMSF partisans, has concluded that memories recovered outside of therapy have a corroboration rate equal to continuous memories of abuse. But Geraerts et. al. (2007) reported that none of their subjects who reported recovering memories of abuse during therapy were able to obtain corroboration. This case challenges the generalizability of that conclusion.

Cold Cases Solved by Recovered Memory

September 16th, 2010 Comments off

A recovered memory by a woman in Nevada just led to the arrest of Fermin Ivan Perez (pictured at left) for kidnapping and sexual assault in 1998. According to one news report, the woman’s “recollection 12 years later was so vivid it led police to both a location and a suspect.” The suspect was subsequently linked by DNA evidence to the crime, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. What will those who deny the existence of recovered memory possibly argue—that she remembered all along but wanted, for some reason that would not benefit her, to have the case remain unsolved for years?

This is not the first cold case to be solved by recovered memory. Travis Vining’s recovered memory solved two murder cases from 1987. Here is the beginning of a three-part article from the Orlando Sentinel about Vining’s recollection and the tape-recorded confession and subsequent guilty plea that it produced in 2007. What will those who deny the existence of recovered memory possibly argue—that he also remembered all along but also wanted, for some reason that would not benefit him, to have these cases remain unsolved for years?

Critiquing “Capturing the Friedmans”

September 7th, 2010 Comments off

A federal appellate court recently upheld Jesse Friedman’s conviction in connection with a sexual-abuse case that was popularized in the 2003 movie Capturing the Friedmans. The court concluded that it was bound by law to uphold Friedman’s conviction—which was based on his guilty plea—but two of the three judges nevertheless urged the district attorney to review the case based entirely on claims made in the movie.

This may be the first time that a federal court paid more attention to the movie version of a case than it did to the case itself. But a careful examination of court records reveals that Capturing the Friedmans leaves out important evidence of guilt and distorts many facts in the case.

Most pertinent to this blog is the assertion that the case may have been built on hypnosis. There is no credible evidence for this claim. Indeed, in an October 2007 hearing, Friedman’s own lawyer described the single excerpt in the movie about hypnosis as “reliable evidence of nothing” (p. 12). It is fair to characterize the movie, he went on, as “containing interviews, cut and spliced, and taken out of context.” Those problems and other inaccuracies are addressed in the video critique below.

One might wonder why someone who failed two lie detector tests, pleaded guilty, told the judge he was “sorry for [his] actions,” asked for “assistance with [his] problem,” and then reaffirmed his guilty plea from prison would ever be embraced as innocent. The reasons apparently have nothing to do with the facts of the case.

Welcome to the new format

September 7th, 2010 Comments off

Welcome to the new format of the Recovered Memory Project. This project began as an archive of corroborated cases of recovered memories of traumatic events. It grew from two dozen cases to over 100, and 5 new cases have just been added, for a total of 106 cases. The archive of corroborated cases of recovered memories is now located at the tab labeled “Case Archive.”

The project has expanded over time to include scholarly resources—abstracts and citations of scientific articles in support of the phenomenon of recovered memory (see the tab labeled “Scholarly Resources”). Thirty-one new resources have been added, including articles from the past three years. The section has been reorganized by topic and now includes sections on memory disturbances in survivors of childhood abuse, survivors of the Holocaust, and war veterans; the neurobiology of memory disturbances; and the recovered memory debate and “false memory” theory. An alphabetized bibliography is available for download. Both the archive and the scholarly resources will be updated periodically.

With this new format, the project now has a blog for commentary on current events, legal cases, scientific research, and other developments related to the so-called “memory wars.” The first substantive entry is about the recent appellate decision upholding the conviction of Jesse Friedman. A number of research-based blog entries are in preparation. Coming soon, blog posts on:

• Harrison Pope’s phony “repressed memory challenge”
• The rest of the story about Paul Shanley
• Billy Banks, the child molester who was embraced by the FMSF

This site also includes an RSS feed, so you can be sure you won’t miss any of the coming entries.