Can Psychiatrist and Psychologist Court Experts Be Trusted on Memory Science, Round Two

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The British Psychological Society Research Digest weighs in on a study previously reported in Mad in America, showing that psychologist and psychiatrist expert court witnesses were just as poor as lay people at understanding the science of memory and memory distortion. The real problem, the Research Digest states, is that the science itself is unclear. Meanwhile, 1 Boring Old Man points out that the American Psychiatric Association is still suppressing some of the truths about mental health professionals’ promotion of poor memory science.

“A complication with surveys of this kind is that they are premised on the idea that the science of memory is mature enough for there to be a consensus position on the issues raised,” comments Research Digest. “(The study authors) Melinder and Magnussen claim that the ‘correct’ answers in their survey are based on expert surveys, meta-analyses, and research reviews. However, they admit memory science ‘does not have a metric gold standard’.”

Research Digest also points to a recent high-profile debate about memory science between psychologist expert witnesses. “With such public disagreements between experts, perhaps it is no wonder that the current study found variability in psychologists’ and psychiatrists’ beliefs about memory,” comments Research Digest.

Two Texas day-care owners, however, who spent 21 years in prison after therapists testified that some of their children had experienced satanic ritual abuse, are still campaigning for exoneration, reports the Statesman. And earlier this year, 1 Boring Old Man discussed the removal of an article from the American Psychiatric Association’s Psychiatric Times — it was removed because it was critical of some of the most high-profile mental health professionals who originally promoted the belief in recovered memories of satanic ritual abuse.

Can psychologist and psychiatrist expert witnesses be trusted to know how memory works? (Research Digest, December 2014)

Freed Texas day care owners still want exoneration (Statesman, November 30, 2014)

perhaps bigger… (1 Boring Old Man, February 14, 2014)

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2 COMMENTS

  1. “The real problem, the Research Digest states, is that the science itself is unclear.”
    The real problem is that people take science that is unclear and try to make decisions on that. How about using real evidence in courts instead of relying on the experts who know nothing more what an average Joe on the street does.

  2. I have some knowledge of the case surrounding Fran and Dan Keller and the allegations against them and was present at the trial preparation and the trial. The Kellers were arrested following outcries by the child victims and their families. The Kellers attempted to flee prosecution and escaped in disguise to Las Vegas, Nevada, where they were apprehended and extradited back to Travis County, Texas. This case followed on the heels of the notorious McMartin Day Care case in Manhattan Beach, California and the prosecutors wanted to avoid the mistakes made in McMartin. They consulted with a psychologist who was experienced in working with child victims of trauma. He advised the prosecutor to keep the families segregated from one another and assign each child victim a separate therapist to avoid contamination of ideas and recollections. The questionning of the children did not include dolls but the children were allowed to draw pictures without prompting from others in order to explain experiences for which they lacked vocabulary. The children who testified at the trial represented only a small percentage of the children reporting abuse. The children reported sexual abuse that was often delievered in the context of some kind of cult ritual. This is not uncommon as many reports of sexual abuse of children includes supernatural elements used by the perpetrators to foster a belief in the child victims that the perpetrators are all powerful and all knowing. And remember, these were very young children with the oldest being only around 6 years old while the youngest were infants. At any rate, the prosecution never accused the defendants of ritual abuse. That allegation was raised by the defense in an effort to discredit the children’s testimony. In addition to the children’s testimony describing their abuse to the best of their ability, parents testified that they became suspicious when their children returned home from daycare wearing their underwear inside out, wearing clothing not their own, having wet hair, demonstrating regressed behaviors (bed wetting, thumb sucking), being fearful of the dark, experiencing nightmares and night terrors, and exhibiting precocious sexualized behaviors. Also, a co-defendant testified against the Kellers in exchange for a 10-year probated sentence and being labeled lifelong as a sex offender. At the trial, the defense produced a book by psychiatrist Richard Gardner, Sex Abuse Hysteria: The Salem Witch Trials Revisited. This book’s theme is that all adults are latent pedophiles who derive vicarious sexual satisfaction through their children’s sexual exploits. The testimony of a psychologist was solicited to explain the author’s premise and to help the judge understand how traumatized children respond to their traumas psychologically, emotionally and behaviorally. The Kellers were convicted of child sexual abuse. A physician who examined one of the female victims (3 years old at the time) testified that in his opinion the child’s genitalia showed evidence of abuse. In 2009 he recanted his testimony on the basis of experience that led him to believe his previous judgment was flawed. It was on this basis that the Kellers were given early release from their incarceration after serving less than half of their 48 year sentences. They have requested exoneration which, in Texas, requires proof of innocence. It is unlikely that this will be possible or that the judge hearing their request, Wilford Flowers, the judge who presided at the original trial and subsequent appeals, will grant exoneration. As recently as early this year when Fran and Dan Keller were released, one of the victims, now an adult, reiterated on Facebook that he was sexually abused by Dan Keller under the circumstances described in his testimony.