Monday, September 26, 2011

Bessel van der Kolk & the Disappearing Coauthor

"Repressed memories" brought into consciousness by means of hypnotic regression or other recovered memory therapies have given rise to bizarre folkloric narratives of alien abduction and past lives. Defenders of the notion of recovered memory accuracy typically ignore questions regarding these particular types of "memories" while insisting that nothing like a false memory syndrome exists. Finding themselves in intellectually untenable territory when arguing for the legitimacy of recovered memory testimony, the believer is often fond of producing a laundry list of citations of recovered memory research. The quantity of citations is meant to cow the inquirer into conceding that there must indeed be quite a bit of science supporting their position. 

As it turns out, none of the research is very good -- relying heavily on poor retrospective surveys, misinterpreted data, and downright dishonesty. Doctors Harrison Pope (in His book Psychology Astray) and Richard McNally (in Remembering Trauma) have done excellent work in scrutinizing the many errors in recovered memory research, but I hope to highlight certain illustrative examples here on this blog. If you have a particular study you'd like me to look at, please let me know.

Bessel van der Kolk is something of a hero to recovered memory believers, but the deposition taken below (by Dr. Christopher Barden), as part of a trial in which van der Kolk was acting as an expert witness, reveals some grave questions regarding his scientific rigor.  Following this deposition, van der Kolk vanished from the expert witness roster.

The below was previously available online elsewhere. I have retained the original introduction by Dr. Barden: