Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: Ad Hominem

Hey, maybe tomorrow some woman will accuse You [X. Dell] of raping her when [she] was 3. Good luck with defending yourself.–earlier commenter on this series.
One of the most, um, endearing traits of the FMSF, those representing them, and those supporting them is the tendency to direct talk away from the personal experience and scientific research that establishes the validity of delayed memory recall, and to substitute ad hominem attack for reason or discussion.  Almost everyone who has written critically about the FMSF on this here World Wide Web--and even those not critical of the organization who have nevertheless failed to march in lockstep with their assertions--have faced scorn by someone representing the foundation.*  They have also had their thoughts and writing distorted beyond recognition by those wishing to create an easy strawman.  Better that, than honestly confront a serious issue.

Of course, I personally have gotten off easy.  Legitimate researchers and professionals targeted by the FMSF have had their practices disrupted, their reputations marred, and in some cases their licenses revoked.  Virtually all have become a magnet for accusations, most of these provably false, and others that are probably or possibly false. Some of them can relate to you the financial toll these accusations have taken on them in defense of relentless litigation.  Childhood sexual abuse victims, who experienced delayed recall of their abuse, and then later proved them independently, have seen the particulars of their cases mischaracterized in popular and professional literature.

The attacks have had a rather chilling effect on open and candid discussion about this subject.  Anti-FMS researchers, childhood sexual abuse victims who have independently corroborated stories, and organizations representing the latter, have been rather skittish about engaging me in dialogue on this issue.  They have good reason to do so.  In the past they’ve granted interviews with people posing as press, or academic researchers only to find that they’ve been talking to a private investigator attempting to build a court case for an FMSF supporter.  In one case, the very institution which should have (if we believe its mission statement) helped defend one practitioner, joined the FMSF actions directed against him.

As our friend Shrinky wrote earlier in this series, “Boy, what a minefield.”

In the next post, we’ll talk about some people whose only response to our favorite Manx blogger would have to be, “You ain’t whistling ‘Dixie,’ sister.”
*On a rather ironic note, I have someone labeling me “a shill of the FMSF” because of my refusal to walk in lockstep with her/his assertions.  Needless to say, the subject area is rife with rather intense emotion that throws reason and understanding out the window.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: My Science vs. Your Science

Yeah, this has been one long series.  Through it all, we’ve gone through the origins of the False Memory Syndrome dispute, and the science that each side of that dispute has offered to prove its case.  For the layman, this can seem like a he-said-she-said argument after awhile, with no discernible way to determine whose science trumps the other’s.

I have to confess that as an uninitiated layperson, I was totally taken in by Ofra Bikel’s Frontline special, “Divided Memories,” when it first aired.  After witnessing a Satanic Ritual Abuse hoax and subsequent witch hunt up close, the notion seemed totally credible to me.* More important, FMS was something that I wanted to believe true.  I had something personally at stake in it being true.

But as is my nature, I question everything.  Frequently.  Especially the stuff I’m sure of.  The vast majority of the time I can’t come up with anything that would change my mind on a topic.  In this case, however, I did after looking specifically at how each side used science to make their points.  And after years of researching and thinking about the subject of delayed memory recall, I had to admit that the other side’s science was more compelling, relevant and methodologically sound.

To borrow from an old cigarette ad campaign, I’d rather switch than fight against the truth.

The evidence presented by such researchers as Drs. Elizabeth Loftus, Charles Brainerd, Valerie Reyna, Sir Frederic Bartlett and others highlight the fallibility of memory.  We can see in their studies cases where people inaccurately report a few items in a list of them.  Or are unable to distinguish actual personal experience with falsely recorded experience.  

Well, duh.  Commonsense tells us that memory ain't perfect. 

Truth is, we forget things.  As the “War of the Ghosts” exercise in the beginning of this series suggests, we tend to cling on to what we feel are the most salient aspects.  We have a tendency to fill in the gaps.  As Sir Bartlett would suggest much of this improvisation betrays cultural and experiential biases.  Then too, we often take suggestions from others–especially from authority figures.  Thus we manage to mix belief with actual memory, sometimes.  Or, we might mix-up the details of two or more different memories.

While all of these are informative, and compellingly show memory distortion, they have extremely little to do with delayed recall of childhood abuse memories.  The FMS description given to us by Dr. John Kihlstrom talks about not memory distortion, but of a personality disorder, a:
“...condition in which a person's identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around a memory of traumatic experience which is objectively false but in which the person strongly believes. Note that the syndrome is not characterized by false memories as such. We all have memories that are inaccurate. Rather, the syndrome may be diagnosed when the memory is so deeply ingrained that it orients the individual's entire personality and lifestyle, in turn disrupting all sorts of other adaptive behavior. The analogy to personality disorder is intentional. False Memory Syndrome is especially destructive because the person assiduously avoids confrontation with any evidence that might challenge the memory. Thus it takes on a life of its own, encapsulated and resistant to correction. The person may become so focused on memory that he or she may be effectively distracted from coping with the real problems in his or her life.”
Implicit in this definition isn’t the mistaken interpolation of memory events, but rather the assertion that memories frequently have no basis in fact whatsoever.  What isn’t implicit is the attempt to foster public understanding of “false memory” that connects the forgetting of trivial details, or the reasonable, but incorrect, interjection of details into a memory, to the idea that people create complete fabrication of memory from whole cloth--merely by suggestion, no less.  The studies cited by FMS proponents show that we in fact forget minutiae, and have a tendency to add non-existent items when trying to remember in a given context.  What these studies do not show, or even hint at, is the common creation of a memory from scratch, with no basis in objective reality–much less that someone can implant them, especially by casual suggestion.

Instead of confining themselves to the actual results of research, FMS-proponents attempted to generalize these findings, without subsequent empirical testing.  In doing so, they cast doubt on  the credibility of the FMS diagnosis itself.   After all, there is no study Dr. Kihlstrom or anyone else can offer that people normally invent memories out of whole cloth.**  In fact, all of the research alluded to by the pro-FMS crowd points toward the opposite.  Memory distortion comes more from forgetting, rearranging details in the mind, and filtering them through cultural and personal biases.

After reading the Lost in a Shopping Mall study for myself, I realized serious flaws in its assumptions and methodology.  First off, it assumes that the recall of one person is superior to that of the respondent about the respondent’s own personal history, with no verification of what the facts actually are.  Secondly, the weakness in the results, especially with respect to "partial memory," seem to indicate a nod toward either belief, as opposed to actual recalled experience, or compliance to social demands.  Since a small minority of the respondents actually switched positions, and those who did tended to rate their recall as partial, it seems more likely to me that the respondents, for the most part, never totally bought into the premise that they were once lost in a shopping mall.  If they did come to believe this, we can more easily explain their response as deferring their opinion to the authority of a family member (via the researcher) than actually recalling the experience.  

Furthermore, you’d have to bend the definition of “trauma” beyond all recognition to describe getting lost in a mall as “traumatic,” especially in comparison to abuse.  Then again, were it truly traumatic, one would have to question the ethics of the study.  And as many researchers will tell you, traumatic memory and normal memories are very, very different in important ways.

Meanwhile, critics of the FMS present a number of neurological studies that indicate why and how dissociative amnesia forms.  They also have over thirty studies that validate both delayed recall of traumatic memories of childhood sexual abuse, and the comparable accuracy of hidden memories to non-hidden (or persistent) memories.  Furthermore, many of these researchers, among them Dr. James Chu, understand that actual study of traumatic memories can only come about in viwo, due to the obvious fact that doctors shouldn’t artificially create trauma in order to study it.   It’s a specialty of research in which the vast majority (if any) of FMSF’s Advisory Board have little or no experience. 

Perhaps most important of all: people who have experienced delayed recall have proven the accuracy of the recovered memory through independent means. 

If you hear me saying that anything and everything coming from delayed memory recall has to be accurate, then hear something else.  Implicit memory is subject to distortion as much as explicit persistent memory.  Moreover, anything anyone tells you isn’t necessarily true.  People lie.  They deceive themselves too, sometimes.  If someone tells you that they distinctly remember something happening, there’s very little we can do to ascertain that what they are giving us is an actual memory, belief, or a line of BS.

The point here is that FMS has never been recognized as a diagnosis by most shrinks.  Worse, it’s never actually been defined.  We only have Dr. Kihlstrom’s general description of it.  It’s certainly never been established by the type of empirical evidence that affirms the reality of delayed memory recall.   Worse yet, we have more plausible explanations for why people adopt positions that are contrary to their actual memory.  We can verify these explanations in some cases.  In the McMartin case, for example, not only did two of the child witnesses admit to testifying to facts that they didn’t actually remember, but also to the fact that they depicted these false stories as their memories.

In short, "False Memory Syndrome" has never really been a scientific issue.

So, my science lost to their science.  After reading the literature put out by various members of the FMSF advisory board, and their sympathists, one gets the feeling that even they realize that the science they offer doesn’t prove any of the claims by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. 

But maybe, that’s not the purpose of the FMSF’s Scientific Advisory Board, or other pro-FMS researchers.  Maybe their purpose is to confuse what is at heart an ideological issue with a scientific one by pointing to a body of (in large part) valid scientific research that doesn’t support the major claims of the FMSF: that unscrupulous or incompetent shrinks have implanted memories of child abuse in gullible or vulnerable patients.  The FMSF, and to a large part the mediasphere, generalized the more legitimate studies in terms of what they show about memory, and their implications vis-à-vis the issue of childhood sexual abuse.  The point doesn’t seem to be about establishing the existence, validity and prevalence of FMS in concrete terms, but rather giving it verisimilitude

One thing for certain:  the FMSF’s efforts to influence the public mind were greater and far more ardent than their attempts to influence science and academia. Indeed, in the public relations efforts to establish FMS in the public mind, one of the organization’s main tactics consisted of shouting down science in venues other than the lab.

*No, I won’t give details.  I promised the person(s) involved that I wouldn’t discuss the matter here.

**Note, I’m not addressing schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders here, because those are (1) well described by long-standing academic literature, and (2) wouldn’t be very common.  Here, Dr. Kihlstrom is asserting that completely false memories are common.

BTW, am I the only person who sees a bit of patronization in this description?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: The Reality of Delayed Memory

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, along with Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove and Sarah Polonsky, published a 1994 study titled “Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse: Remembering and Repressing.”  Loftus, Fullilove and Polonsky studied 105 women with a history of alcoholism, and found that 54% of them had suffered from childhood sexual abuse.  Out of that 54%, a “robust 19%” of these women had once “forgotten” the memory of the abuse, but later recalled it. The researchers presume that the 19% who had forgotten, accurately remembered the abuse after forgetting–an argument often tossed out by some pro-FMSF researchers who contend that even if memories are “repressed,” they're usually recalled inaccurately because they’re subject to hypnotic suggestion, therapist suggestion, autosuggestion, fantasy, delusions, and so on.  

A number of other studies indicate that delayed memory recall features the same amount of distortion and accuracy as continuously available memory.  For example, a 1996 study by Dr. Constance Dalenberg, “Accuracy, Timing and Circumstances of Disclosure in Therapy of Recovered and Continuous Memories of Abuse,” studied the recall of seventeen adult patients who experienced childhood sexual abuse.*  By comparing the patients’ memories to the police reports and hospital records of their abuse, Dalenberg found no difference in accuracy between those who had delayed recall of the events (i.e., recovered memories of abuse), and those who had continual access to those memories.**

Another point of contention made by pro-FMS researchers–from Rev. Dr. Ralph Underwager to Dr. Susan Clancy--is that sexual abuse need not be a traumatic experience at all.  If, for the sake of argument, you suppose that not all children are traumatized by sexual abuse, then that still doesn’t mean they aren’t damaged by it.  David Berg, founder of the Children of God Cult, fondly remembered childhood experiences that most would characterize as abusive.  We can see that he wasn’t traumatized by the experience.  At the same time, however, it clearly damaged him. 

On a more scientific level, a 1994 study titled “The Nature of Traumatic Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse,” by Drs. James Chu, Julia Matthews, Lisa Frey, and Barbara Ganzel, found a strong (although not necessarily causal) relationship between childhood abuse and adult psychopathology.*** Moreover rates of psychopathology seemed to be uninfluenced by whether or not the adult patient had continuous, delayed or no recall of the abuse.

In fact, we can cite study after study demonstrating (1) the existence of delayed memory recall, and (2) memories can accurately be recalled after lying dormant for years.  Yet arguably the most compelling evidence of accurate delayed memory recall of sexual abuse comes from those who have gone through it. 

After watching the 1995 Frontline episode titled “Divided Memories,” a document described by Mike Stanton in the Columbia Journalism Review as a “four-hour polemic” advocating the FMS diagnosis, Dr. Ross Cheit, a professor of political science at Brown University, had cause for concern.  The program, which gave ample time for Drs. Peter and Pamela Freyd to declare their side of the story, mentioned very little about recovered memories proven accurate.  Dr. Cheit had earlier managed to find independent corroboration of his recovered abuse memories.  He wondered how many other people had undergone this. 

A student of Dr. Cheit began an answer to his query several hours after the professor mentioned it to him.  An informal database search listed six different cases where recovered memories of child abuse confirmed through independent means. 

Dr. Cheit fired off a letter to Frontline producer Ofra Bikel, asking why she didn’t include another side to this story.  Bikel replied that she didn’t see the relevance of such cases to her documentary.

Of course, Dr. Cheit saw the relevance.  Over the years, he’s discovered numerous other cases, all of which involved delayed recall of memory corroborated by other evidence.  These days, he puts them on his website which includes news, events, and analyses. 

As he says, the site speaks for itself.

*Published in Journal of Psychiatry and Law, vol. 24.

**Dr. Jennifer Freyd, in the previously cited “Science in the Memory Debate,” cautions that both continuous recall and delayed recall are subject to distortion.  In other words, just because someone recovers a memory doesn’t make that memory any more accurate than ones that are continuously available.  The point here is that nothing indicates that it would be less accurate.  One would have almost expectation that memory distortions that occur with explicit memory also occur with hidden memories. She sees the problem as a tendency on both sides to link memory accuracy with memory “persistence,” or in other words the contiguity of memory.

At the same time, she expresses her dissatisfaction with the term “repression” in the context of some studies.  Often, people use the term to describe a deliberate forgetting by the experiencer in order to reorganize information so that traumas and stresses are buried under more manageable memories.  Dr. Freyd saw this as an apple and oranges approach, stating that “repression,” used in this context, “...confuses the epistemological status of observable phenomena with purported motivations and mechanisms for these phenomena.”
***The American Journal of Psychiatry n. 156 (May 1999). 

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Friday, July 06, 2012

Self-Explanatory Post

'Twas a long, long project that was extended....twice.

I'll be back with you all soon. Right now, I'm chilling, recharging my batteries, and clearing my head. Then I'm finally finishing this series.

Thanks for being there for the duration.


Ganesh Map
Click to know more Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5Episode 6Episode 7Episode 8Episode 9Episode 10Episode 11Episode 12Episode 13Episode 14Episode 15Episode 16
  • Alien Abductions
  • April Fool's Day
  • Mae Brussell
  • Cause-Stalking
  • Chappaqiddick
  • The Children of God Cult
  • Sam Cooke
  • Culture Jamming
  • Theresa Duncan & Jeremy Blake
  • Exploitation Movies
  • The False Memory Syndrome Foundation
  • Fox, Monsanto and Mystery Milk
  • Games
  • The Gemstone File
  • Gik-Gik
  • The Golden Ganesh (History)
  • The Golden Ganesh (The Radio Drama)
  • The Gulf Breeze UFOs
  • The Grail Mystery
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Hitlerism vs. Nazism
  • The International Church of Christ
  • Janis Joplin
  • Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie
  • Lyndon LaRouche and Jeremiah Duggan
  • John Lennon
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • McMartin Preschool
  • MJ-12
  • Nurse Nayirah
  • Ode to Miss Texas
  • Operational Finance
  • The Paul-Is-Dead Rumor
  • The Paul-Is-Dead Rumor, Revisited
  • Perverse Science: Biological Determinism
  • Project MK-ULTRA
  • Ruminations on the JFK Assassination
  • Anne Sexton
  • The Summer of 1947
  • The Tate-LaBianca-Hinman-Parent-Hinman-Shea Murders
  • The Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA)
  • Urban Legends
  • The VENONA Ciphers and the Rosenbergs
  • Watergate
  • 9/11
  • Assassinations
  • Chappaquiddick
  • Cults
  • Cyberculture
  • Domestic ops
  • Esoterica
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  • Fiction
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  • The Golden Ganesh (history)
  • Humor
  • Mafia
  • Media
  • Mind control
  • Nanis
  • New World Order
  • Operation CHAOS
  • Paranoia
  • Parapsychology
  • Personal stuff
  • Political theory
  • Pop Culture
  • Psychology
  • Shameless Plug Division
  • Ufology
  • Weird Science

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