The L.A. Weekly profiles Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist famous for her work in how supposed "memories" can be falsified. She has become a frequent expert witness in cases of supposed repressed memories of child sexual abuse, or any case pivoting on memory.
As the story details, she is currently facing a lawsuit from one repressed memory patient over a paper Loftus and a colleague published in the Skeptical Inquirer, casting doubts on a famous heretofore "Jane Doe" story about a woman who remembered, then forgot, then remembered again sexual abuse from her mother while a child.
Even though Loftus herself did not name the supposed victim, the woman sued for invasion of privacy, and in so doing did enter her name in the public record. Loftus' attorney notes in the story that the woman seemed to have no problem with having the doctor who first elicited these supposed memories writing about them publically–"Loftus? team believes that Jane Doe…was fine with her story being used as long as those using it uncritically accepted the reality of her memories."
One of the more interesting details in Loftus work on the malleability of memory:
In an extra-credit homework assignment…Loftus? students [at University of California-Irvine] went home and said to younger siblings things as simple as ?Hey, do you remember the time you got lost in the mall when you were 5 years old?? and then recorded the ways in which the ?memory? would take on a life of its own in the succeeding days, becoming more vivid, more detailed, with each conversation. At a more advanced level, using research subjects in a lab, students successfully created memories of mildly traumatic childhood experiences ? such as being temporarily separated from one?s parents ? that never actually occurred. One student even managed to generate a series of false memories in her research subjects about being licked on the ear by a Pluto character while visiting Disneyland decades earlier. In another experiment, to make sure they were dealing with false recollections rather than real ones, research assistants created memories about meeting Bugs Bunny at Disneyland, who, in reality, couldn?t possibly have been in the theme park. The purpose of these mind games is to show that even the most vivid memory is not necessarily an accurate representation of past reality.
Loftus's area of expertise has made her much-reviled:
A quick Google search reveals hostile Internet correspondence, angry radio-show transcripts and high-octane commentary issuing against Loftus from around the world. And then, of course, there are the aforementioned death threats.
?Once I started being skeptical of those repressed-memory accusers and the therapists who helped them get this way,? Loftus says, her voice tinged with an emotion somewhere between resignation and bewilderment, ?the hate mail began flowing in.?
Loftus is in the unenviable position of trying to bring evidentiary standards to a witchhunt by proving that just because a therapist can get you to believe something happened years ago doesn't necessarily mean it happened. That she should elicit such anger is unsurprising–such supposed memories often serve powerful emotional needs for both therapist and patient.