Elizabeth Loftus Named 2005 Winner of Grawemeyer Award for Psychology

Elizabeth Loftus, who was instrumental in leading the public debunking of the false memory/satanic ritual abuse hysteria in the 1990s, was recently named as the winner of the 2005 University of Louisiana Grawemeyer Award for Psychology. As the press release announcing the award notes,

The fifth awarding of the $200,000 prize for outstanding ideas in the field of psychology is to Elizabeth Loftus, whose research on false recollections and the reliability of eyewitness reports and memories “recovered” through therapy has affected the way law enforcement agencies and the court system view such testimony.

The psychologist has shown that people not only forget but also falsely remember, meaning that they sincerely and vividly can recall events that never happened when information suggested to them becomes entwined with their memory of what actually happened. She points out that the individual may not be able to separate the real threads of memory from the added strands of suggestion.

Loftus’ research has implications for law and for psychotherapy’s methods of probing memory. Interest in both has led to her popularity as a speaker, author, journal editorial board member and expert trial witness. She has testified or consulted in many nationally publicized cases, including trials involving Michael Jackson, Rodney King and the Oklahoma City bombing. Her many honors include both of the American Psychological Society’s top awards and an American Psychological Association award; she also has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Loftus paid a high person and professional price for standing up for good old fashioned science and standards of evidence at a time when many preferred to continue to take at face value wildly improbable stories of widespread satanic cults. She deserves this award and so much more for her work.


Psychology award criticized. Associated Press, December 1, 2004.

2005 – Elizabeth Loftus. Grawemeyer Award for Psychology, Press Release, November 30, 2004.

Victim of Recovered Memory Psychologists Receives $7.5 Million Award

In the 1980s, psychiatrist Bennett Braun was at the center of the hysteria over Satanic cults and recovered memory. Through his practice at the Rush North Shore Medical Center, Braun convinced otherwise rational women and men that they were part of Satanic cults that were killing babies and committing other crimes. Braun told the individuals that they had repressed their memories of these events, and he used a number of dubious techniques to convince his patients that they had participated in these activities.

In February, Braun was once again at the center of the Satanic hysteria but in a different role — as a defendant seeking to settle a multimillion lawsuit brought by former patient Elizabeth Gale, 52.

Braun, and co-defendant psychologist Roberta Sachs’, actions were particularly pernicious with Gale. After checking into Rush for mild depression, Braun convinced her that she was part of a Satanic cult and had given birth to children who were used as human sacrifices in the cult. Braun and Sachs convinced Gale to voluntarily sterilize herself to prevent the cult from using her to produce future such sacrifices.

Gale’s attorney, Todd Smith, told the court that,

[Braun and Sachs] convinced Ms. Gale she had dozens of different personalities which had been created as a result of the horrific trauma they told her she suffered as a child. . . . [they] convinced Ms. Gale she was a member of a worldwide secret . . . satanic cult . . . that Ms. Gale was a ‘breeder’ for the cult and that she had sacrificed her previous children, when she in fact had never had children.

Braun and Sachs had previously settled with former patient Patricia Burgus for $10.6 million. Braun and Sachs convinced Burgus that she was some sort of high priestess in the worldwide Satanic cult.

If there were any justice, Braun and Sachs would be sitting in jail for their fraudulent and repulsive actions, but the only attempt to hold them criminally responsible failed to garner a conviction.


Not in cult: Woman gets $7.5 million. Abdon M. Pallasch, Chicago Sun-Times, February 12, 2004.

Saskatchewan Agrees to $1.5 Million Interim Payment for Klassens

Back in December, a Canadian court ruled that 12 members of the Klassen family prosecuted in a series of ritual abuse cases had been the subject of “malicious prosecution” (see Saskatchewan Government Says It’s Not Sorry for Malicious Prosecution). In February, the Saskatchewan government agreed to pay the Klassens an interim $1.5 million payment, with more compensation — though not necessarily an apology — coming.

That came after a judge ordered Saskatchewan to enter into settlement talks with the Klassens despite the government’s ongoing appeal of the December ruling. In fact, Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell was quick to point out that by paying the $1.5 million, the government was not admitting fault. Quennell told the CBC,

These are not monies being paid in respect to damages, or in respect to any liability. The government is not subject to the result of the appeal, is not liable to pay this amount of money.

For his part, the most famous of the defendants, Richard Klassen, said that the payment of the money is an acknowledgement of his family’s innocence, although he still wants an apology from the government,

It’s been a long time. So what went through my mind was a little bit of satisfaction and, well, acknowledgement. It’s one thing to be acknowledged that you’re innocent, but, I mean, taking away a little bit of the suffering helps.

Quennell might not think that police and the government were malicious, but according to the CBC, in early February “two executive members of Frank Quennell’s constituency office resigned in disgust over the way the Klassens have been treated by the Justice Department.”


Government gives Klassens $1.5M. CBC Saskatchewan, February 5, 2004.

Saskatchewan Government Says It’s Not Sorry for Malicious Prosecution

A judge recently ruled that a family accused of ritual abuse had been the victim of “malicious prosecution” but that hasn’t stopped representatives of the Saskatchewan government from saying it did nothing wrong and has nothing to apologize for.

The case against 12 members of the Klassen family began in 1987 when three foster children — a boy and his twin sisters — made accusations of incredibly bizarre ritual sexual abuse against their foster parents which soon led to allegations against twelve family members.

The children’s accusations were filled with bizarre ritual abuse, including claims that they were forced to eat eye balls, drink blood, participate in orgies, and watch while infants were skinned alive.

Police in Saskatoon called it the “scandal of the century” but few charges were actually lodged against anyone and by 1993 all charges in the cases were stayed. The children later came forward to repudiate the stories. The boy had been removed shortly before making the allegations after he had been found abusing his sisters. He maintained he made up the stories in order to be reunited with his sisters whom he then convinced to go along with the fiction.

On December 30 a judge ruled that Crown Prosecutor Matthew Miazga, Saskatoon Police Superintendent Brian Dueck, and child therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys were guilty of malicious prosecution. Shortly afterward, Saskatoon police chief Russell Sabo publicly apologized to the Klassen’s and promised an investigation into what went wrong in the investigation of the case.

Sabo said,

The judgment in this case vindicates the plaintiffs for the criminal charges they faced. Based on the information contained in the judgment, as the chief of police of the Saskatoon police service, my sympathy goes to each and every person that was wrongfully charged and I extend my apologies to them for any part that the Saskatoon police service played in this case.

But Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quennell was having none of it, telling Canoe.Com,

It is our position that Crown prosecutors did not commit a wrong and there is no reason they would be required to apologize in that circumstance.

Quennell is probably afraid of the millions of dollars that Saskatchewan is going to have to pay out to the Klassen’s and perhaps even the twin sisters. They are also suing Saskatchewan, arguing that police social workers and others did nothing to protect them from the abuse they were subjected to by their brother.


Twins hail malicious prosecution victory. CBC News, December 31, 2003.

NDP Must Take Responsibility for Klassen Family Tragedy and Negotiate Payment Immediately. Press Release, SKCaucus.Com, January 8, 2004.

Sask. government won’t apologize in abuse case. Canoe.CaTim Cook, January 8, 2004

Saskatchewan offers Klassen no apology. Darren Yourk, Globe and Mail, January 8, 2004.

Woman in UK Appeals Murder Conviction Citing Recovered Memories

Jane Andrews, a former dresser to the Duchess of York, recently filed an appeal of her murder conviction claiming that she has recovered memories of early childhood sexual abuse that diminished her responsibility for killing her boyfriend.

Andrews, 35, was convicted in 2001 of murdering her lover, Tom Cressman. She hit Cressman with a bat and then stabbed him to death.

At trial Andrews offered a number of claims, including that Cressman was abusive and that she had suffered sexual abuse as a child, but a jury convicted her and she was sentenced to life.

While in prison, Andrews underwent psychiatric therapy and now claims that she has recovered repressed memories of sexual assault by her brother when she was aged 8 to 12. The brother denies the accusations.

Andrews now claims that Cressman had sexual assaulted her, that she feared he would do it again, and that her repressed fears of childhood sexual abuse boiled up and led her to kill him.

Government attorney Bruce Houlder, however, said that Andrews “has consistently lied, has changed her accounts and now seeks to get a new trial on the basis of something she could perfectly reasonably have run at the time of the trial.”


Ex-royal dresser tells appeal of ‘unlocked’ abuse. John Steele, Daily Telegraph, September 24, 2003.

Elizabeth Loftus on Critics of Her False Memory Research

New Scientist recently conducted a lengthy interview with Elizabeth Loftus about the effects, both person and professional, of the work she has done on studying how false memories can be implanted in subjects.

One of the best parts of the interview was her excellent dismissal of those who attempt to discredit her work with the silliest of claims,

New Scientist: Some researchers argue that you can’t compare such experiments [with college students] to cases of repressed memories of child sexual abuse . . .

Loftus: It challenges their cherished beliefs to say that some of these accusations might be false, so they find whatever ways they can to discredit the work. They say: “They’re just college students”, “They’re just lost in a mall, not being sexually abused”, or “It got implanted through imagination and not through psychotherapy.” But when thousands of psychologists study the human mind, we don’t think we’re only studying college students sitting in a lab. We think we are studying principles that apply to a variety of human beings in a variety of settings. It’s as if somebody said: “You’ve shown that if you shoot somebody in the head with a pistol they die, but you haven’t shown that if you shoot them in the head with a pistol and in a bowling alley, they die.”


Remember this . . . New Scientist, undated.