By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
LOST AND UNFOUNDED
Sasha Abramsky’s profile of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus [“Memory and Manipulation,” August 20–26] is an uncritical testimonial more worthy of a eulogy than a representation of the true nature of Loftus’ career and agenda. Abramsky brushes aside the ethics complaint against Loftus without analysis and accepts Loftus’ clearly self-defensive posture without question. Furthermore, Abramsky only includes supportive comments by Loftus’ allies and none from her critics. Loftus deliberately and egregiously breached the confidentiality of an individual and, to avoid an ethics complaint lodged with the American Psychological Association, resigned from that standard-bearer for the profession of psychology.
Loftus is not the defender of the wrongly accused so much as the defender of those with deep pockets or high profiles. It should be clear to the American public who have had the opportunity to follow high-profile court cases that just because someone wins a case or avoids conviction does not mean he or she was wrongly accused. It means that his or her lawyers were better, the jury more uncertain, the evidence too weak or that any number of other variables did not fall into place. It does not mean that there was no basis for accusation or that the accused was not guilty. Journalists have a duty to explore all sides of an issue or personality, and, when they do not, they are publicists.
Executive Director, International Council on Cultism and Ritual Trauma
Give me a break: The article “Memory and Manipulation” reeks of grandstanding by the subject, Elizabeth Loftus, whose reputation is now on the line. Loftus is no scientist or defender of the so-called “wrongly accused.” (After all, she testified on behalf of Ted Bundy and, as she freely admits in her book, upon meeting him in court thought “he’s adorable.”) She is a paid mouthpiece with an agenda, manipulating the judicial system with her unscientific theories. Indeed, her testimony has been excluded in many a case.
Loftus propagates misinformation by comparing normal memory and rote memory with traumatic memory of repeated childhood sexual abuse. While she may recall her own abuse experience, there are hundreds of studies that demonstrate the phenomenon of delayed recall for core events of personally experienced emotional trauma, like childhood sexual abuse, war trauma, torture and the like. Many victims of childhood sexual abuse have continuous memories; a little less than one-third can experience full or partial dissociative amnesia for the trauma.
There is also no mention in Abramsky’s article that Loftus resigned from the American Psychological Association in the face of two ethics complaints. Moreover, the description of her bizarre role in the Jane Doe case is reminiscent of stalking, not objective, peer-reviewed scientific research.
Abramsky’s memory article is a good example of the value of fact-checking.
Dr. Loftus is in her early 50s? Since she’s been an expert witness “since 1975,” this means she must have been, at the most, 24 when she began testifying as an expert. But her online vita says she didn’t get her Ph.D. to qualify as an expert until she was 26. Moreover, an online bio says she was born in 1944, which makes her 60 this year.
Abramsky says the Holly Ramona case “spawned a generation of repressed-memory allegations.” The Ramona case made headlines in the mid-’90s, long after many high-profile cases had gone public. Did Abramsky mean the Eileen Franklin case? Loftus testified as an expert in that case in 1990. Or perhaps the Marilyn van Derbur case, a People magazine cover story in 1991?
Finally, Abramsky says that Dr. Loftus was sued for “violations of [Jane Doe’s] privacy,” yet the Solano County lawsuit also claims defamation, libel and slander.
Abramsky replies: For the better part of a decade I have been writing on issues of crime and punishment, including on how we judge guilt and what our criteria of proof of guilt need be before we send people to prison. In an era in which America incarcerates 1 percent of its adult population — a far higher percentage than any other democracy on Earth — and spends more on incarceration than any country on Earth, I believe such questions to be of considerable importance.
Pamela Perskin argues that “just because someone wins a case or avoids conviction does not mean he or she was wrongly accused.” That may be true; but, as I argue in my article, perhaps the strongest pillar in our system of justice is a presumption of innocence. To charge a person with a crime should not be enough, in and of itself, to prove their guilt. Yet that is the logical outcome of Perskin’s argument.
Of course, many people who are charged turn out to be guilty. I certainly would not deny that; I imagine Loftus would not, either. However, the mere fact that some of those whom Loftus has studied — Ted Bundy, for instance, as Helen McGonigle mentions — turn out to be guilty does not negate the broader notion that skepticism can serve as a valuable brake on a system that too often conflates accusation with guilt. As we have seen so many times in recent years, eyewitness testimony can sometimes produce devastatingly wrong outcomes, resulting in innocent people spending years in prison before their innocence is definitively established.