Monday, August 27, 2012

The Saint of Botany Bay

[X Dell] Lemme get this straight.  You’re giving me an ultimatum?
[Dr. R.] I wouldn’t put it that way, but yeah.  I guess I am.
[X. Dell] (Long pause) I’ll miss you.
[Dr. R.] (A click followed by dial tone)
--1990 telephone conversation
I didn’t really pay much attention to the tall, blonde, Barbie-doll Amazon from South Australia.  Anytime I had business with her, the conversations were short, sweet, and to the point.  We both had a job to do, a cause to fight for.  And my mind had already put Dr. R. in its way-out-of-my-league file.

I didn’t notice that she had been flirting with me until one day, at the office, a group of us were feverishly working to finish our organization’s monthly newsletter.  I had more reason than the others to get the job done pronto, because I had a ticket for Shea Stadium burning a hole in my pocket.  At the time, my only desire in life was to get to the ball park before the first pitch.

That’s when she sauntered in, ostensibly to check on the progress of our efforts.  She made quick queries to the others, but she seemed very interested in what I was doing.  I didn’t want to be rude to the woman, but I had to get out of there.  So I said, as politely as possible, “Forgive me, but I have to finish this right now if I want to see my favorite communists at 7:30.”

“Oh,” she smiled.  “Who would they be?”

“The Cincinnati Reds.”

Everyone in the office broke out in guffaws; everyone, that is, except Dr. R..  The obviously confused Aussie had no cultural reference to make any sense of my statement, or to understand the gales of laughter headed her direction.  “Listen,” she said, “I know just about every single leftist group in Americer, England and Oz, and I’ve never heard of them.  Are you sure they’re legitimate?  Not some FBI front organization?”

The laughing intensified a notch.  After calming down, someone in the office (not me) explained it to her. 

She had heard of baseball, but knew nothing about the rules, players, or the teams.  But a couple of months later, after we became an item (how it happened, I don’t know), she took an interest in the sport, and by the end of the summer had learned quite a bit about it.  Because of my work schedule (not to mention my lack of ESPN–I didn’t have cable, but she did), Dr. R. was often the person who first alerted me to scores, stats and great plays.  She was especially fascinated by Reds manager Pete Rose, then undergoing the gambling scandal that would bounce him from the game.   She taunted me by (correctly) predicting the Reds would fall out of first if the Commissioner banned him.

Dr. R. had a fairly pronounced dark side, which she wore on her sleeve like a badge of honor.  Lacking any social pretension whatsoever, she usually came across as a woman who was one-third pirate, and one-third pure bitch.  She made enemies easily and often.  I can’t count how many times she snuck up from behind to shove some sort of god-awful, Vegemite-smeared health food into my mouth--for my own good, of course.  My protestations didn’t matter to her one whit.  She’d do it again, despite how I felt. 

She got back at a bodega owner, who had made a rude pass at her (sexually harassed her, would probably be more accurate), by “pinching” items from his store on a regular basis.  Like Anne Robinson on The Weakest Link, she took merciless delight in grilling hypocrites and morons, in the process exposing them for what they were.    Unlike mine, her writing tended towards the polemical and abrasive.  She couldn’t care less about being fair, but cared everything about being right.  And she was, so often, right.

She had absolutely no tolerance for the intolerant.  Once, when some fascistic organization left me one of their t-shirts, replete with SS insignia and swastika (long story), I took it to her apartment to show her.  “Can you believe this?” I fumed. Her pale face burned bright red as she took off her flannel shirt, and donned the offensive item.

“Let’s go for a walk,” she said, slipping her arm around my waist.  I knew why she put the shirt on, just as sure as I knew where this walk would head:  right in front of the East Village hangout that served as the organization’s headquarters. She, the Nazi ideal of tall, blonde womanhood, wanted to pervert the semiotics of the shirt by openly acknowledging her relationship to me.  It was Dr. R.’s way of giving the Aryan racists the finger.

Usually, a person’s dark side is something we prefer not to talk about, let alone examine in great detail.  In her case, it was perhaps the most beautiful thing about her.  Sure, it was rough when her dark side turned on me, occasionally.  In fact, both of our dark sides played a key role in our eventual breakup.  But her tendencies towards meanness, rudeness, and insensitivity had a point to them: namely the remaining third of her psyche. 

You see, baseball wasn’t important to her.  But she knew it was important to me.  It was a way of reaching out, of empathizing.  You see, out of all of her faults and virtues, Dr. R.’s ardent compassion for humanity really defined who she was, whether saint or demon at the moment.  She committed her life to the issue of social justice, and all of her dark traits were those of the warrior.

Of course, I was her boyfriend for fifteen months.  So I knew that her compassion wasn’t just an abstract principle, or some politically correct pretense.  I witnessed a very painful example of it early on in our relationship.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Assailing the Tender Age: The Impact of a False Memory Movement

To read this series from the beginning, click here and scroll down.

Today, the concept of False Memory Syndrome pervades the public consciousness, thanks in large part to the numerous press articles and television specials generated by the public relations efforts of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation and its $750,000-per-year budget.  Many people now believe, for example, that hypnosis automatically results in the generation of fantasy; that casual suggestion either in a waking or trance state can become the basis of an experience with no external reality; that people accused of child abuse are all automatically victims, that the accusers are either predatory, delusional or brainwashed; and that delayed memory recall isn’t a real phenomenon.*

Of course, most academics and mental health care professionals have, and in many cases expressed, doubts about the FMS diagnosis, and at the very least have never bought into FMS dogma.  It is not a recognized diagnosis listed in DSM-IV, or peer reviewed literature.  It’s not an empirically established concept.  In fact, it was never actually defined by anyone, just described.  So, one can note that the profound impact the FMS movement had on the public, made only a small dent in the minds of experts: people who actually have to deal with patients suffering from the aftereffects of trauma.

It would seem that the FMS movement was far more concerned with shaping the public consciousness than in conducting, presenting, or influencing science.  At the same time, the FMSF relied upon the prestige of its Scientific Advisory Board, along with a number of valid but irrelevant studies mixed with a sprinkling of pseudoscience, in order to  position the concept of false memory as the mainstream of academia and the professional community, when in fact the opposite is true.

Not that it mattered.  After all, in a logocentric society such as ours we tend to put science on a pedestal. People profess to “believe in” it, but oftentimes they don’t understand what science actually entails.  Thus, for the FMS movement, the point wasn’t so much to educate the public on the science of distorted memory (which is a valid thing to do) so much as to overgeneralize the implications of that research, therefore giving the notion of false memory a scientific veneer; a rationale for the public to believe its major tenets.

For an issue supposedly based in science, the FMSF exhibited rather pronounced ideological biases.  In her 1991 paper, “How Could This Happen?  Coping with a False Accusation of Incest and Rape,” Dr. Pamela Freyd, characterizing herself as “conservative,”  blamed her daughter Jennifer’s recollection on feminism and “political correctness.”  In general this implies an ideological bias against what strikes her as progressive or liberal attitudes.  For anyone reading this, she clearly draws a parallel between liberalism as the perceived enemy, and false memory as the perceived enemy.

Drs. Bessel van der Kolk and Alexander McFarlane gave a sharper perspective of the anti-feminist bias exhibited by the notion of FMS in their 1996 book Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body and Society:
The issue of delayed retrieval of memories for childhood abuse has become a topic of intense public debate.  Interestingly, the issue of delayed recall was not controversial when Myers....and Kardiner gave detailed descriptions of it in their books on combat neurosis.....or when van der Kolk noted it in Vietnam combat veterans....It appears that as long as men were found to suffer from delayed recall of atrocities committed either by a clearly identifiable enemy or themselves, this issue was not controversial.  However, when similar memory problems started to be documented in girls and women in the context of domestic abuse, the news was unbearable; when female victims started to seek justice against their alleged perpetrators, the issue moved from science into politics.”
One also has to note that those supporting the FMSF, the driving force behind the FMS hypothesis, had emotional and legal biases.  The bulk of its membership consisted of parents accused by their offspring of sexually abusing them.  That they decry the accusations as false, one might expect.  But denials, however vehement, have no bearing on their guilt or innocence.  Commonsense would tell us that some of the FMSF’s membership probably abused its children, and probably some of it didn’t.  Unfortunately, commonsense can’t tell us the ratios of one to the other.

Moreover, commonsense is often misleading.  The FMSF once took the position that each and every one of its members was falsely accused.  Given the membership levels the FMSF reported to the public (21,000 at its peak), one would have difficulty believing that they parsed the particulars of each and every one of those cases to the point where they definitively knew of the individual’s innocence.  Of course, the FMSF only claimed 2,385 members to the IRS when it came to filing their taxes.  That’s still an enormous number of cases to scrutinize.  Simply put, one would have to wonder whether or not the FMSF was really in the business of protecting (at the very least) a few pedophiles by any means necessary.

In response to that question, Dr. Pamela Freyd penned an essay for the first FMS Newsletter (dated 29 February 1992) titled “How Do We Know We Are Not Representing Pedophiles,” stating in part:
There are two ways that we will address this concern.  The first has to do with who we are.  If I had taken a camera to any of the three meetings held here in Philadelphia, I would have been hard put to know whom to photograph.  We are a good looking bunch of people:  graying hair, well-dressed, healthy, smiling.  The similarity of the stories is astounding, so script-like and formulaic that doubts dissolve after chats with a few families.  Just about every person who has attended is someone you would like find interesting and want to count as a friend….
The second way that we will address this concern involves lie detector tests….If all members of the FMS Foundation either have had or express a willingness to be polygraph, we will have a powerful statement that we are not in the business of representing pedophiles.

As for polygraph tests, the results under the best of situations are not reliable.  Many people register as deceptive when telling the truth, and vice versa.  Frequently repeating a story, whether knowingly inaccurate or not, can possibly fool a polygraph.  So can memory blackouts, psychotic episodes, or psychopathy.  Polygraphs don’t meet the Daubert standard for court-quality evidence.  Performed even in ideal circumstances, they can only give investigators a notion of where to proceed with an investigation. 

When people contract for private polygraph tests, the results can be wildly inaccurate for a number of reasons, the chief of which is the fact that the taker gets to design the polygraph.  The existence and the distribution of flag questions is therefore no longer a surprise to the subject--and that’s assuming the subject included any flag questions.  So the polygraphs don’t give very good evidence of anything, much less proof.**  

As for Dr. Pamela Freyd’s first point, the good-looking, affability defense also does not meet the Daubert standard.  It doesn't meet any scientific standard, either.  Yet, there's a shrewdness to this statement, especially if one's appeal is not to the courts or the hallowed walls of ivy, but to the masses.  After all, if the public generally pictures the pedophile as a sleezy middle-aged loner, prowling the playgrounds and baseball diamonds in his trench coat while barely able to mask the maniacal grin on his face, then Freyd’s description successfully played upon a prevailing stereotype as proof of her membership’s innocence. 

Of course, many experts didn’t buy it, and many have taken Dr. Freyd to task for the assertion.  In a 1993 interview published in Treating Abuse Today, the aforementioned Dr. David Calof discussed the statement with Freyd, asking for her to clarify what she meant.  This prompted a response that indicated a retreat from the position that all FMSF members were inherently innocent:
TAT:  I'm sure you regret it. I want to remind you of what you wrote in that article ["How Do We Know We are Not Representing Pedophiles?:"]. This is an important question. 
Freyd: It's a tremendous question, and I would like to think that we've carried it further since then.

TAT: I would like to know how you've done that, because what you said in your article was disturbing. You talked about the issue in terms of its importance to your image and the ability of the Foundation to get things done. There was less indication that it would be a terrible fact if true. 
Freyd: It would be horrible if that's what we're doing. We have stated -- I don't know how many times -- that there is no way we can know the truth or the falsity of events to which we're not a party. I don't know how therapists know that either.***
Except for in the movies, or on TV shows, one cannot infer that a protestation of innocence, however vociferous and seemingly sincere, is proof of innocence.  Nor can one infer that it is proof of guilt.  But there is one thing we can infer by the tactics of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.  As Dr. Calof put it:
I cannot know whether members or supporters of the FMSF whom I have not examined or evaluated have abused their children.  However, after 3 years of unrelenting siege, I can say with certainty that many of them have abused me and innocent others connected to me and that the FMS movement tolerates and supports this type of ad hominem attack, encumbrance, and vindictiveness at the expense of reasoned dialogue.
Dr. Jennifer Freyd, the first target of the FMSF, could only grimly muse over the irony that her memories are called into question, and not those of her alcoholic father.  Her uncle, William Freyd, found it considerably more than ironic.  After watching the PBS Frontline episode titled “Divided Memories,” he fired off a letter to the show’s producers reading:
Peter Freyd is my brother. Pamela Freyd is both my stepsister and my sister-in-law. Jennifer and Gwendolyn are my nieces There is no doubt in my mind that there was severe abuse in the home of Peter and Pam, while they were raising their daughters. Peter said (on your show, "Divided Memories") that his humor was ribald. Those of us who had to endure it, remember it as abusive at best and viciously sadistic at worst.

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation is a fraud designed to deny a reality that Peter and Pam have spent most of their lives trying to escape. There is no such thing as a False Memory Syndrome. It is not, by any normal standard, a Foundation. Neither Pam nor Peter have any significant mental health expertise.

That the False Memory Syndrome Foundation has been able to excite so much media attention has been a great surprise to those of us who would like to admire and respect the objectivity and motives of people in the media Neither Peter's mother nor his daughters, nor I have wanted anything to do with Peter and Pam for periods of time ranging up to more than two decades.. We do not understand why you would ‘buy’ such an obviously flawed story. But buy it you did, based on the severely biased presentation you made of the memory issue that Peter and Pam created to deny their own difficult reality.

For the most part, you presented very credible parents and frequently quite incredible bizarre and exotic, alleged victims and therapists. Balance and objectivity would call for the presentation of more credible alleged victims and more bizarre parents. While you did present some highly regarded therapists as commentators (Dr. Herman, for example), most of the therapists you presented as providers of therapy were clearly not in the main stream. While this selection of examples may make for much more interesting T.V., it most certainly does not make for objectivity and fairness. 
I would advance the idea that "Divided Memories" hurt victims, helped abusers, and confused the public. I wonder why you thought these results would be in the public interest that Public Broadcasting is funded to support.”
Of course, it’s supposed to be a free country.  If you want to make your case in the courts, on the picket line, on the streets, or through public relations, you are mostly within your right to do so. And you can call what you do anything you like.  But if you try to call it science, forgive me for not taking you seriously.
*A popular literature example I found, in Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Tunes into TV, reads:
Repressed memories are not completely accepted by the mainstream psychiatric community.  While repressed memories often involved childhood abuse, those cases are so rare–and each one is so unique–that it makes it hard to define the condition.
As worded, this is true, but grossly misleading.  Mainstream psychologists discount the antiquated notion of repression, i.e. the active and willful suppression of unpleasant memories, as the primary mechanism behind dissociative amnesia.  Yet numerous mainstream studies validate both the existence and relative accuracy of delayed explicit memory.  And as to rarity, the writer doesn’t really explain how that’s quantified or defined (after all, it’s only the smurphing Bathroom Reader, for crying out loud).  Nevertheless, from this example one can see how much the ideology of FMS has ingrained itself within popular culture and understanding.

**I have noted that although FMS proponents tout the frequency of passed polygraphs among its members on its website, it does not actually provide any transcriptions for such proceedings, even for cases that have completed adjudication.  One could speculate that if independent, not-for-hire polygraph experts reviewed these transcripts, they would find methodological or procedural errors.

***I’d like to point out a couple of things.  First of all, this interview took place in 1993, before the harassment of Dr. Calof began in earnest.  Calof documented numerous attempts to engage FMS proponents in civil discussion.  According to him, they sometimes talked to him, and sometimes did not.  Again, one could speculate that this particular interview played a role in Dr. Freyd's support of Charles and June Noah's tactics.

Second: “How Do We Know We Are Not Representing Pedophiles” appeared in what appeared to be the inaugural issue of the FMS Newsletter, published 29 February 1992.  It has been cited by numerous researchers as appearing in that issue on that date.  In its web archive, however, the FMSF gives its inaugural issue the date of 15 March 1992, some two weeks later. This issue does not contain the article in question.

I can’t say that the embarrassment of this particular piece prompted the FMSF to try to wipe it, and the entire issue, out of existence.  Nevertheless, the thought crossed my mind.

That concludes the series you thought would never end.  Thank you for staying for it all.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: Implying Disparity Where None Exists

At first blush, one could see Charles Noah’s relentless attack against Dr. David Calof as a lone nut operation.  One can easily picture Noah as a guy who connected himself to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, perhaps through the payment of membership dues or even by fraudulently claiming himself to be a member, and subsequently carrying out actions on his own without the consent or support of the FMSF.  If you’re conspiratorially minded, you might even suspect that Noah’s tactics violated the FMSF’s code of ethics, and that his boisterous campaigns were meant to discredit the Philadelphia-based organization.  If you’re less conspiratorially minded, you still might think that the FMSF would take issue with him for abusing his association with them.

As a matter of fact, the FMSF has since distanced itself from Noah.  Currently on their website, they flatly state that they do not necessarily condone all of his picketing or other actions, writing:*
Chuck Noah does not, nor does he claim to speak or act for the Foundation. Chuck is a retired construction worker and picketing is a part of his experience for making change. Chuck has said that picketing is something he just has to do even though he knows that it is not something that the FMS Foundation supports.
In his 1998 paper “Notes from a Practice Under Siege,” Dr. Calof chronicled some of the support given to Noah by the entirety of the FMSF, with many FMS-proponents in both meatspace and online forums endorsing him, almost to the point of portraying him as a folk hero.  

It’s not like the FMSF could disavow itself from many of Noah’s tactics.  As founder Dr. Pamela Freyd told Sunday Oregonian journalist Jann Mitchell, in an article printed 8 August 1993:
This situation requires every ounce of creativity we’ve ever had to turn things around, get a happy ending and ensure the health of our children.
Probing more deeply into what these ounces of creativity meant in practical terms, Mitchell realized:
She urges confronting a child’s therapist.  Follow your child to the office, hire a private detective, pry the information from other relatives your child may talk to, pose as a patient yourself.**
Moreover, Dr. Pamela Freyd encouraged a number of aggressive tactics, among them picketing.  In an edition of the FMS Newsletter published 5 October 1992 (vol. 1, no. 9), she wrote:
Because of the cult-like cutting off by the children and their therapists, we must work at the level of public awareness to change the situation. You have written letters to papers; you have knocked on politicians' doors; you have filed complaints; you have appeared in public; you have written journal articles; you have even picketed; you have kept us informed. You are changing the climate. Keep it up. We will do our part from the office, but the ending depends on you. [emphasis X. Dell]
One can see that Noah’s actions consisted of direct confrontation with a therapist (although not the therapist who treated his daughter).  They made a point of following staff, visitors and patients (even though the protesters weren’t related to them).  They hired a private investigator in an attempt to entrap Dr. Calof.  They seemed to have pried information from (as well as divulged it to) Calof’s landlord, and conceivably others.  And, of course, they picketed.

In fairness to the FMSF, Noah’s criminal actions exceeded the call for action made by Dr. Pamela Freyd between 1992 and 1993.  Yet, they don’t exceed them by much.  More to the point, the FMSF has made very clear their feelings about Noah, and his connection to the Foundation. 

During the time of Dr. Calof's harassment, if one were to contact the FMSF in Philadelphia asking for a representative in Seattle, he or she would receive, via mail, a business card listing Charles Noah as a “Coordinator” of the Seattle chapter.  In a 1994 paper titled “Inside the False Memory Movement,” published in Calof’s journal Treating Abuse Today (vol. 4, no. 6), Eva Doehr reported that a month before targeting Calof, Freyd met with Noah and other FMSF members in Seattle.  There she saw picketing signs (they were targeting other Seattle area therapists at the time).  She then gave a speech before introducing Noah as one of the “important people” in the FMS movement.

In the FMSF’s official newsletter, Dr. Freyd made a number of laudatory statements praising Noah and his work, describing him as:
“...a precious commodity, a truly dedicated man, with a mission...Chuck didn’t sit and brood.  He didn’t hide and try to work behind the scenes.  Chuck was up front and ‘in your face’ with picket signs.”***
The FMSF actively supported Noah’s targeting of Calof.  Among other things, members combed through the therapist's taped lectures and writings looking for for soundbytes to quote contrary to context.  The point was to depict him as “anti-family,”and to insinuate that he himself had “serious psychological problems.”  They subsequently published the misrepresentations in their newsletter.****

In other words, the FMSF can, on the one hand, baldly state that they did not condone Noah’s actions, and attempt to distance themselves from any negative reaction he might have caused.  But in reality, they patted him on the back within the organization, openly communicated with him, praised him for his efforts, and encouraged him to “Keep it up!”  Most important, they actively joined his attack on Dr. Calof. 

So far from carrying out his own lone wolf missions, Noah worked with considerable support and encouragement from FMSF.  They listed him as a member, and praised what he did.  They recreated him as a hero.  So we cannot see his actions (other than his crimes) as separate from the intentions of the FMSF.

Noah was the FMSF in Seattle, and the FMSF confirmed that when it suited them.  When it didn’t, he was just “a retired construction worker” who took his own actions against the wishes of the organization.

This disproves the old adage.  You can have your cake, and eat it--but only if you’re well-financed and organized.

* (

**Dr. Calof wrote that Dr. Elizabeth Loftus supported such strong-arm tactics as “data gathering” in two keynote addresses; one, in January 1994,  for the Expert Witness Educational Series, Seattle Forensic Institute of Washington; the other, in June 1994,  for the Seventh Annual Northwest Dual Disorders Conference.  I cannot verify this independently, however, because I have yet been unable to obtain transcripts of either speech.

***From “Thank You All and Thank You Chuck,” FMS Newsletter; vol, 5, no. 1 (January 1996);

****In one rather egregious example, Dr. Freyd took a selected two-minute clip out of a six-hour presentation at the Menninger Clinic in the spring of 1993, and criticized it in an article titled “Professional Training in Alienation,” appearing in the FMS Newsletter, vol. 4, no. 1 (June 1996).

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Monday, August 06, 2012

Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: Lawful Harassment

Imagine yourself waking up to what you expect will be a normal work day.  You groom, down your juice, tea, coffee, or whatever gets you going in the morning.  Then you commute to the office.

Now, imagine that once you reach the office there are a dozen or so protesters marching around outside with signs saying that you personally “[Prowl] for Women Victims,” “[You] Sexploit Women,” “[Your] Poison Kills Families,” “{You] Grand Poobah of the Lunatic Fringe and Con,” “300 Ft. to [Your] Voo Doo Pit,” “Stop Mind Control Experiments,” “Beware [Your] Crooked Femi-Nazi Powr Lies.” Imagine one of them holding a sign made of a large wooden cross, draped with a US flag on one side, and on the other side a blowup photograph of your face.  The caption underneath reads “Psycho Spook.”

On 27 January 1995, Dr. David Calof, a Seattle-based psychotherapist, no longer had to imagine that scenario.  He lived it, and continued to do so for years. 

Charles Noah, whose eldest daughter had made an accusation of childhood sexual abuse against him, led the protests with his wife, June.  Did Noah target Dr. Calof because he had treated his daughter or any other member of his family?  Nope.  Calof never treated anyone related to or associated with the Noahs.  Was Dr. Calof a quack with a tarnished reputation for “implanting false memories” in his patients?  Not according to the State of Washington, which actively sought his advice on matters pertaining to therapy, and granted him a license for eighteen years (by that time); and not according to his peers; not according to his patients, none of whom had ever filed a complaint against him.  Was Dr. Calof on some great crusade to prove Ritual Satanic Abuse by forcing people to recall “repressed” memories of bizarre rituals? Wrong guy.  In fact, in his writings he expresses mild reservations about helping patients recover memories; he knows that it might not be in the patient’s best interest to recall the incident at all, and even if the patient insists he stresses that they have to prepare for what might be revealed.  Did Calof have some sort of CIA “spook” contract to do “mind control experiments” as the protesters would suggest?  Not an iota of evidence supports that.

So, what did Dr. David Calof ever do to incur the wrath of Charles and June Noah?

In 1991, Dr. Calof began a professional journal titled Treating Abuse Today (TAT).  During the course of its run, he published several articles from well-credentialed researchers who raised severe doubts about the notion of False Memory Syndrome.

And that’s all it took.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the last thing you’d want, as a therapist, is a bunch of people picketing your office.  After all, what are the neighbors going to think?  More important, what are your patients going to think?

Unfortunately for Dr. Calof, the harassment didn’t stop at picketing.  In fact, it had hardly begun.  The Noahs didn’t content themselves with marching around and handing out accusatory flyers to passersby.  They verbally assaulted him every day he came to work, yelling out such things as “That’s right, baldie, go back to your hallucination pit...cocksucker.”   They also taunted Calof’s assistant, calling him “Freak!” and “Calof’s little suck!”  When Calof got a new assistant (surprise, surprise), Noah attached a blowup photograph of this person on his camper, with a caption reading, “Meet David Calof’s Pet Rat.”

Noah and company eventually got to the point where they would enter the office itself, and raise a ruckus with staff and patients.  In one instance, Noah slammed one of the staff members against a wall, an assault for which he was convicted and sentenced to a suspended jail sentence of one year, and a fine of $5,000, $4,950 of which was also suspended pending Noah’s future behavior.*

Noah and company expanded their campaign to Dr. Calof’s residential neighborhood..**  They then took the same brand of harassment to Steven Anderson, his lawyer, and Anderson's family in their residential neighborhood.  Calof described the incident in “Notes from a Practice Under Siege,” writing:
Noah eventually could not contain his ire and visited his personal harassment on my attorney’s house, where he parked his sign-covered camper for most of a weekend, tried to provoke a confrontation with my attorney’s wife by taunting her, and eventually was arrested when he refused to obey a police order to leave.  My attorney’s wife was very shaken by this rude intrusion into her privacy.  Her two young children were terrified by the loud and queer spectacle.
Arguably more shocking: Noah and his associates put Dr. Calof, his staff, his family and his patients under surveillance.  While at home, Calof’s wife received an anonymous phone call that let her know, in no uncertain terms, that someone had followed her for a considerable length of time.***  The group photographed and videotaped anyone and everyone going into that office.  They took down the license plate number of patients as they drove up. 

Of course, if you’re a patient, the last thing you’d want is people taking photographs of you entering your therapist’s office, especially if they might blow them up and use them in some sort of street campaign outside your place of work.  The harassment of patients forced Dr. Calof to usher in some of his higher-risk clients through back and side entrances.  Extremely high-risk patients he had to discontinue seeing altogether.  He also felt obliged to tell perspective patients that if they sought his help that others might spy on, photograph, and harass them. 

Noah had the savvy to hire an attorney connected with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The ACLU subsequently took on his case pro bono when Dr. Calof sued for defamation.  Noah consequently enjoyed virtually limitless free representation, while Calof had to spend over $100,000 in legal fees. 

The effects of the ACLU representation were fourfold.  To start with, the ACLU lawyer Noah obtained worked in the same law office that represented the landlord of Dr. Calof’s office building.  The attorney apparently suggested the landlord evict Calof, despite not having any legal cause to do so.  She then enlisted the services of a private detective who, posing as someone representing a mentally ill person, tried in vain to get Calof to pronounce, sight unseen, the fantasy sufferer as a victim of Satanic Ritual Abuse.   The PI did glean some information, which ultimately landed in the hands of the landlord, whose souring relationship with Calof became evident.  In order to calm things down, and thinking that the harassment might end, he moved his practice to another location.  Of course, that didn’t work.

Second, and most important, the ACLU played a significant role in developing Noah’s legal strategy.  Their primary claim was that by picketing and monitoring Dr. Calof, Noah’s group was within their First Amendment Rights of free speech; therefore arguing that their harassment of Calof was in fact lawful. 

To some extent, Noah and the ACLU had a point.  One can really push the boundaries, and aggressively picket just about anything--at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.  The problem is that the First Amendment does not protect all speech as free speech.  Threats are not protected speech.  Neither is defamation.  When you lie about someone, and the party you’re lying about is clearly identifiable, and they suffer consequences from your actions, the First Amendment no longer protects you.

The ACLU subsequently attempted to argue that Noah’s harassment was not defamatory.  While this might sound ludicrous at first, they might have had a legal leg to stand on.  Certainly, Noah’s accusations against Dr. Calof were untrue.  They identified him in numerous ways (most conspicuously in blowup photographs), and they damaged his practice, and arguably the lives of his patients.  But, other private investigators, posing as patients, could have possibly tricked Dr. Calof into doing something that could either damage the therapist's reputation, or proved a specific allegation.  If that were to happen, ACLU attorneys could conceivably make a case that Noah's accusations were true.

Also, the case received some press in the northwestern US at the time, and later Mike Stanton would discuss it in his noted essay “U-Turn on Memory Lane.”  If someone has become a public figure, they have to prove, in addition to inaccuracy, identification and damage, a legal concept called ‘malice.’  In other words, they have to prove that those making defamatory statements had a reckless disregard for the truth.  Malice is extremely difficult to prove in a court of law.  That’s the reason why celebrities usually don’t sue malicious gossip about them, or when they do rarely win.**** So, if the ACLU attorneys could persuade a court to view Calof as a public figure, then Calof would have to prove malice.  Thus, depending on a court’s interpretation, the statements might not only have constituted lawful harassment, but could also have been non-libelous-although, admittedly, that’s a really thin stretch.

The ACLU also tried to minimize the scope of Noah’s activities by attempting to argue that he and his associates weren’t part of an organized conspiracy to drive Dr. Calof nuts.  They instead wanted a court to believe that Noah and his supporters all just happened to show up outside of Calof’s office, his home and that of his attorney at the same time other picketers were there, and that they never coordinated harassment activities. Calof found out pretty quickly this was not the case.  As he explained:
On August 18, 1995, one of my professional colleagues, on her way to my office, stopped to talk with the picketers.  She asked Robert Farkus, one of the picketers, if he was with any organization.  He responded, ‘No.’ My colleague asked, ‘Aren’t you working with some organization?’ Adams [another picketer] replied, ‘Yes, but we’re not supposed to say so.’
Third, backing from the ACLU had a negative impact on Dr. Calof’s ability to seek legal representation.  Although he could find attorneys sympathetic to his plight, most declined to represent him.

Lastly, the ACLU added to the pressures on Calof by sending him a bill demanding $40,000 in compensation for their pro bono representation of Noah. 

It might first seem that Noah was some kind of lone gun, working on his own zany crusade, independently of the wishes of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, and that the ACLU’s Washington chapter’s actions were innocently misguided.  But Dr. Calof found compelling evidence that the FMFS actively supported Noah’s efforts in Seattle.

*In addition to the above conviction, Noah also received numerous contempt of court citations during the proceedings involving Dr. Calof.  In one instance, he grabbed Calof’s assistant by the shoulders, in open court, and shouted, “You little cocksucker.”  In another instance, he told the judge, “I don’t respect you.”  After his conviction on the assault charge, Noah complained to the prosecuting attorney, “You ruined me!” and threatened to “get even.”  Noah was also convicted on a count of violating a no-contact order issued by the city of Seattle.

**In a 1998 paper titled “Notes from a Practice Under Siege: Harassment, Defamation, and Intimidation in the Name of Science” (Ethics & Behavior; vol. 8, no.2), Dr. Calof wrote about additional harassment on the home front:
For over 2 years, we have received hundreds of unsolicited ‘you requested this’ offerings for products to cure impotence, bedwetting, baldness and psoriasis; trade school courses, investments; luxury cars; dog and cat food; and psychotropics.  They pledged money to various organizations in my name and ordered magazine subscriptions for which I have been billed.  They once made an application for life insurance in the name of one of my staff members, naming me as the beneficiary.  My wife has received several unsolicited sexually graphic advertisements for telephone sex services.
Calof noted that Noah et al testified under oath that they were not responsible for this specific chain of events.  Still, one can detect, in his commentary, that he didn’t believe that for a second.

***When Dr. Calof complained about the surveillance, and the telephone calls that alerted them to it, Dr. Pamela Freyd wrote him saying that she was “concerned” that someone in the FMS might be harassing him.  She claimed that she inquired about the matter to verify, on Calof’s behalf, that he was receiving threatening phone calls from the numbers of FMSF members.  She then said that she spoke to a Mrs. Moore, who assured her that Calof’s accusation was “a fiction.”

Upon receipt of the letter, Calof made his own inquiry to the local phone company, which promptly initiated an investigation.  The company found that they indeed had a Mrs. Moore working for them, but she denied ever speaking to Pamela Freyd or anyone else in the FMSF.  The phone company determined that because of Mrs. Moore’s appearance on a local talk show shortly before Freyd’s letter, during which she identified herself as a telephone company employee, the FMSF simply attached her name to a false claim.
****In one famous exception, comedienne Carol Burnett managed to win a defamation suit against the National Enquirer.   The case is noteworthy because of its singularity in this regard.

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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Waging Ghostly War on a National Level: Preemptive Sniping

In 1988, several years before the False Memory Syndrome Foundation’s existence, Dr. Anna Salter received a grant from the New England Association of Child Welfare Commissioners and Directors to study claims that psychologists and psychiatrists were asking leading questions to coerce or implant false memories of sexual abuse.  The Association was particularly concerned with this issue because they wanted to know if they had to tweak, or possibly overhaul, its standard interviewing techniques.

By then, Minnesota courts had deemed Rev. Dr. Ralph Underwager a suitable expert witness in scores of abuse cases, in which he testified for the defense.  Because of his advocacy of parents and other adults accused of pedophilia, through both courtroom testimony and his founding of Victims of Child Abuse Laws (VOCAL), he had put out substantial literature asserting what would later become the main tenets of the FMSF. 

Because FMS had yet to reach the national radar, the existing literature supporting those claims was sparse.   So, Dr. Salter concentrated on Dr. Underwager’s work and that of his wife, Hollida Wakefield.  Her plan was to review their research in order to evaluate the merits of their claims that standard interviewing techniques were coercive and leading, thus resulting in false accusations of child sexual abuse.

What she found, disturbed her.  While at first glance the articles appeared scholarly, with fundamental support from a number of studies, she discovered that, by and large, Underwager and Wakefield had grossly misrepresented these studies in order to make their case.*

On 10 December 1988, Dr. Salter discussed some of her findings at a meeting of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  Given five minutes to rebut specifics in a case made on behalf of Dr. Underwager (who was sitting in the audience), she made it clear that although she thought he had raised some valid questions, Underwager's work contained a large number of flagrant errors:
I do want to make it clear that those disagreements are not based on the point of view that he [Underwager represents] because I do believe you can raise some very valuable questions about some of the interview techniques that are used today, particularly leading questions, also multiple interviews and, in fact, some folks really are using some very coercive interview techniques that are likely to lead to error.  I also agree with him behavioral indicators of sexual abuse.... But, as an academic, I really get agitated with what I believe are just sort of misstatements of fact about the professional literature and since I only have five minutes to talk to you, I’ll only give a few examples....

...there has been so much concern among professionals about the statements that Dr. Underwager makes and their accuracy in the literature that I have been given a grant to develop rebuttal materials–to go through his literature and sort out what is accurate and what is not accurate and make that available to everybody.”
To Dr. Salter, this seemed a reasonable way to approach the disagreement: getting all sides together, discussing the issue rationally in a professional or academic forum, finding some common ground, and letting the merits of each case speak for themselves.  This is how academics normally conduct their business, and this was what Salter expected.  She initially thought that Underwager got his sources confused, or that he had a bad typo day, or that the guy at Kinkos printing out his materials had sabotaged him, or anything else that would explain the blatant errors riddling his books and published papers. As she reasoned:
I expected a back-and-forth academic exchange, vigorous no doubt, and even biting....but played out on a field I understood, with research as the context and logic as the tool.
That’s what Dr. Salter anticipated.  But instead of vigorous academic debate, she got her ass hauled into court.

Wakefield and Dr. Underwager didn’t bother with rebutting Dr. Salter in the academic or professional literature.  They made no attempt to claim that despite the errors in their studies their findings were nevertheless valid.  Instead, they filed a defamation suit against her, saying that she had accused them of ethical violations without notifying them first.  For good measure, they sued her multiple times, in different states, accusing her, among other things, of laundering grant money. 

Getting sued for exercising one’s expertise and professional judgment seems bad enough.  What made this worse was the subterfuge the Underwagers engaged in to make their case.  Dr. Salter received two phone calls from someone asking her help in rebutting testimony given by Underwager in court.  She assumed the calls and caller were legitimate.  A few weeks later, she received a transcript of the calls in the mail.  Underwager sent them to her, demanding that she retract the statements or he’d sue her.  At that point, Salter realized that the person on the other end of the line actually worked for Underwager and Wakefield as a private detective.  The Underwagers confirmed this later when, in deposition of one of the lawsuits, they admitted to hiring the PI to entrap Salter. 

Eventually, the American Psychological Association (APA) found Dr. Salter innocent of any ethics violation, writing, “....the committee voted unanimously not to find you in violation of Ethical Principles and to dismiss the complaint as entirely without merit.” 

Dr. Salter found more vindication in the legal arena, as one-by-one courts dismissed each of Dr. Underwager’s suits.  A District Court in California not only dropped the suit, but forbade the Underwagers from suing Salter again in the US.**  When Underwager appealed a suit in Wisconsin, judges handed down a ruling that seemed not only appropriate for him and Wakefield, but to the entirety of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation:
Both Salter and [her co-defendant Patricia] Toth came to believe that Underwager is a hired gun who makes his living by deceiving judges about the state of medical knowledge and thus assisting child molesters to evade punishment.  Persons who hold such opinions cannot be expected to look kindly on their subjects, and the law certainly does not insist that they shut up as soon as they are challenged....Underwager and Wakefield cannot, simply by filing suit and crying ‘character assassination!’, silence those who hold divergent views, no matter how adverse those views may be to plaintiff’s interests. Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by methods of litigation. [emphasis X. Dell]
In “Confessions of a Whistleblower,” Dr. Salter chided herself for her naivete.  She assumed, perhaps like most academics, that the False Memory Syndrome hypothesis was a legitimate scholarly concern, the credibility of which would sort itself out as other issues have done; that is, by weighing the arguments and counter-arguments of knowledgeable persons with honest disagreements.  In her view, she projected her expectations, and those of her colleagues, onto the actions of the similarly credentialed Dr. Underwager.  “Surely,” she quipped, “lying and deception do not occur among people who go to conferences, who write books, who testify in court, and who have PhDs.”  This experience taught her, however, that such was not always the case.

As to lying within academia, one can note that it does go on.  The problem is, being totally dishonest is somewhat difficult to get away with in an ivory tower.  When anyone makes any claim, especially an outrageous one, their peers usually dissect their statements ten thousand ways to Sunday.  If it becomes clear that the academician is lying, especially to promote or justify an ideological position, colleagues tend to call him or her out on it by denying publication in peer-reviewed journals, and by analyzing specific claims in the literature.***

Perhaps that’s why Wakefield and Dr. Underwager waged their campaign to silence what appeared to be valid professional criticism by taking their outrage to a forum where the rules of science and logic did not apply; namely to the public via the courts.   

As it turns out, even though they did not win any of these cases against Dr. Salter, Underwager and Wakefield came out to the good for two reasons.     First of all, when somebody sues you, no matter how frivolous the accusation, you still have to defend it.  You’ll therefore be pitting your resources against, what would eventually become, a well-financed organization that can outspend you.  If you don’t cry uncle and capitulate, you’re going to pay good money for lawyers.  Consequently, such tactics have had a chilling effect on anyone who raises even small objections to the notion of FMS. 

Second, even though you might win your lawsuit, the FMSF has had no compunctions about misrepresenting your case in its literature and public relations.  Jennifer Hoult and Lynn Crook, for example, found it necessary to file complaints to the APA against Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, whom they accused of misrepresenting the facts of their cases when writing about them.****

In this instance, Dr. Salter noted that Dr. Underwager later claimed to have actually won the lawsuit against her, despite the reality that they had lost.  Therefore, if you’re a layman, looking in on the debate from outside, you might come to believe that courts regularly rule against academics asserting the validity of delayed memory recall.

In summary, what Dr. Salter learned most well: the issue of FMS was not, nor ever has been an academic or scientific issue:
It is a political fight between a group of well-financed, well-organized people whose freedom, livelihood, finances, reputations, or liberty is being threatened by disclosures of child sexual abuse and--on the other hand--a group of well-meaning, ill-organized, underfinanced, and often terribly naive academics who expect fair play.

Other academics have seen their careers threatened, and in some cases go up in smoke.  What happened to one Seattle therapist, however, was utterly mind-blowing.
*Dr. Salter gives a brief review of one of these misrepresentations in a 1998 paper titled “Confessions of a Whistleblower: Lessons Learned” (Ethics & Behavior, vol. 8, no. 2) as an example.  But in all, she found them “too numerous to cite.”

**The exact wording: Underwager was “....permanently enjoined from prosecuting and/or commencing any causes of action or claims against Dr. Salter in any and all federal courts or in the court of any state, including but not limited to Maryland, Virginia, Indiana, and Texas.”

***In recent years, for example, those claiming that global warming doesn’t exist, that some ethnic groups are intellectually inferior, or who support “Intelligent Design Theory” find difficulty publishing their work in peer-reviewed journals; not because of political correctness, or because participating researchers are offended, but because each of these cases had serious methodological errors, and overwhelming flaws in their conclusions.  In other words, in the world of ideas, they didn’t make the cut. 

****Both Crook and Hoult had successfully sued parents after their delayed explicit memory recall was corroborated independently.  Dr. Loftus ended her membership in the APA before the Association could review the complaints, and was therefore outside of their jurisdiction.  The APA, consequently, did not act upon them.

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