The false memory movement and The New Scientist magazine

The New Scientist is a popular scientific magazine. This means it is always having to make choices about how to balance factual information with making things exiting and readable to a wide audience.
When the paper was criticised for comparing evolution with creationism, one of its journalists repplied
“If we run very straight, sober covers, we sell fewer mags, we get fewer clicks and nobody blogs about us, so fewer people read what we produce. Now, I’d argue that this week’s cover has got us a lot of attention, and as a result lots of people will read my story. Many will learn something about evolution. Public understanding will increase. So which way do you want it?”
The editor of The New Scientist, replied defending the article, saying that it is

“an ideas magazine—that means writing about hypotheses as well as theories”.

When it comes to the issue of recovered memory, a recent issue of the New Scientist seems to be firmly on the side of the hypothesis ( if you can call it that ) put forward by the false memory movement. So much so that they appear to describe recovered memory therapy as a concept that is precisely defined and widely accepted.
This prompted a letter sent to the New Scientist from Prof Bernice Andrews.
Discussing the issues of “lost” memories and therapy, you report me saying that memories that re-emerge spontaneously are more likely to be real than those from recovered-memory therapy (10 October, p 8). To put the record straight, I did not use the term “recovered-memory therapy” and would never do so. It is a term with no specific definition, often used indiscriminately to describe any therapy (appropriate or otherwise) that might have preceded memories of abuse.
In my role as an expert witness in the courts I recognise that recovering a memory in therapy per se does not necessarily render it unreliable, and the majority of therapists do not use inappropriate practices. In legal cases it is necessary to weigh up a variety of factors that might increase or decrease the likelihood of a memory being reliable before giving an opinion. It is important that experts ground the testimony they provide in scientific evidence rather than opinion, whether they are representing the prosecution or the defence.
For the avoidance of doubt, I do not believe that memories recovered in all forms of therapy are less likely to be real, because there is no consistent scientific evidence to support such a claim. It is, however, universally recognised that certain therapeutic techniques such as hypnosis may be risky if used inappropriately.
London, UK
I am in agreement with  Andrews regarding hypnosis and it seems to me that the New Scientist could write an informative and interesting article about its inappropriate and appropriate use without involving literature and sources from the false memory movement.
I also think that recovered memory therapy is a term used by the false memory movement and not a specific definition.

2 thoughts on “The false memory movement and The New Scientist magazine

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