This article was published in the
"Editor's File" in
The Textbook Letter, September-October 1997.
In Missouri in 1992 a church counselor helped Beth Rutherford
to remember during therapy that her father, a clergyman, had
regularly raped her between the ages of seven and 14 and that
her mother sometimes helped him by holding her down. Under her
therapist's guidance, Rutherford developed memories of her
father twice impregnating her and forcing her to abort the fetus
herself with a coat hanger. The father had to resign from his
post as a clergyman when the allegations were made public. Later
medical examination of the daughter revealed, however, that she
was still a virgin at age 22 and had never been pregnant.
from Elizabeth A. Loftus's article "Creating False Memories,"
in Scientific American, September 1997
"Recovered memory" quackery, invented about a decade ago, has done vast damage to many individuals and families. Its practitioners typically claim that they can examine adolescents or adults, can uncover signs that these people suffered sexual abuse during childhood, and can help the people retrieve "repressed memories" of the abuse itself. This retrieval process, which allegedly causes the repressed memories to return as "flashbacks," is said to serve as "therapy." The quacks' victims usually are women, and the women typically "remember" that they were abused by their fathers or by other male relatives.
The entire business is a vicious pseudoscientific scam. The quacks have adduced no evidence to support their claims, and the "flashbacks" that their victims perceive are mental images induced by the quacks themselves: images of events that never happened. In various cases, quacks have used hypnosis or drugs to promote "flashbacks" -- and in some instances, the "flashbacks" have been used to initiate civil lawsuits or criminal prosecutions for child abuse. These legal actions have been much like trials for witchcraft, typified by the absence of any evidence and by the destruction of innocent defendants.
None of this, however, has discouraged Glencoe/McGraw-Hill from promoting "recovered memory" quackery to students. In the 1993 version of Glencoe Health, a high-school book, Glencoe provided a full-page article that heartily endorsed the quacks' claims, explicitly depicted "flashbacks" as recollections of real events, and led students to believe that experiencing "flashbacks" was therapeutic. The article even taught that if a backflashing woman said that a man had abused her, then the man must be guilty -- even if there was no evidence to support the accusation. [See "How a Glencoe 'Health' Textbook Promotes Psycho-Quackery" in The Textbook Letter, January-February 1995. To learn how Glencoe Health promoted other kinds of quackery, including homeopathy, chiropractic and acupuncture, see the reviews in TTL, March-April 1995.]
Three years later, when Glencoe cooked up the next version of Glencoe Health, "recovered memory" quackery had been indicted repeatedly and publicly by knowledgeable analysts; its poisonous effects on victims and their families were becoming well known, and the techniques employed by the quacks were being exposed. Evidently, however, none of this mattered to Glencoe. In the new Glencoe Health, dated in 1996, Glencoe's full-page endorsement of "recovered memory" claptrap was reprinted word-for-word.
Glencoe is still promoting and selling that 1996 book today, and is still disseminating the quacks' claims to students, though the "recovered memory" racket has now been discredited thoroughly. Even for Glencoe, this is a particularly repugnant performance.
Educators who want to enlighten students about "recovered memory" quackery will find valuable information in:
In 1986 Nadean Cool, a nurse's aide in Wisconsin, sought therapy from a psychiatrist to help her cope with her reaction to a traumatic event experienced by her daughter. During therapy, the psychiatrist used hypnosis and other suggestive techniques to dig out buried memories of abuse that Cool herself allegedly had experienced. In the process, Cool became convinced that she had repressed memories of having been in a Satanic cult, of eating babies, of being raped, of having sex with animals and of being forced to watch the murder of her eight-year-old friend. She came to believe that she had more than 120 personalities -- children, adults, angels and even a duck -- all because, Cool was told, she had experienced severe childhood sexual and physical abuse. The psychiatrist also performed exorcisms on her, one of which lasted for five hours and included the sprinkling of holy water and screams for Satan to leave Cool's body.
When Cool finally realized that false memories had been planted, she sued the psychiatrist for malpractice. In March 1997, after five weeks of trial, her case was settled out of court for $2.4 million.
Some company, that Glencoe!
William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.
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