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Dr Maryanne Garry responds to Dr John Read

Radio New Zealand, August 8th, 2000. Kim Hill interviews Dr Maryanne Garry

Kim Hill

…. Dr Read, a senior lecturer in Auckland University Psychology Department has taken strong exception to the invitation to US Professor Elizabeth Loftus to be keynote speaker at the New Zealand Psychological Society’s annual conference at the end of this month. This morning I will talk to Dr Maryanne Garry who is a Victoria University psychology lecturer who worked with Professor Loftus in Seattle and supports her position on recovered memories in the spirit of scientific enquiry.

Well you will remember we spoke to Dr John Read yesterday. Dr John Read of Auckland University. He is a psychology lecturer. Senior lecturer in the Psychology Department and he was adamant that the invitation issued to US Professor Elizabeth Loftus of the University of Washington in Seattle to be keynote speaker at the NZ Psychological Society’s annual conference later on this month was the wrong thing to do. Professor Loftus is a controversial figure. She is a world authority on the memory capabilities of children, and in fact was one of the first academics to question the beliefs of child abuse therapists that adults could recover memories of sexual abuse inflicted on them at a very young age. So. That’s what her reputation is largely based on. And Dr Read said at this particular time in New Zealand it is inappropriate to say the least to have somebody billed as keynote speaker who could do serious damage to the battle against child sex abuse.

Victoria University Psychology lecturer Dr Maryanne Garry has worked with Professor Loftus in Seattle, and she says that this is academic freedom. Certainly Dr Loftus, Professor Loftus should come to New Zealand and speak. Certainly she should be good hearing and certainly she may well spark debate. That’s what it’s all about.

Maryanne Garry is with me now. Good morning.

Maryanne Garry

Good Morning, Kim.

Kim Hill

You’ve spoken with to Professor Loftus since this controversy broke out have you?

Maryanne Garry

Yes, several times!

Kim Hill

And she says?

Maryanne Garry

Ah, well I think she’s a little surprised. I called her first because I was a little mortified I’ve been trying to get her to come visit me for about five years and now I’m sort of thinking I invited her into the lion’s den or something. She said, well, you know, I’ve dealt with this thing all over the place, so.

Kim Hill

I’m sure she is used to it. She has put her head above the parapets so to speak.

Maryanne Garry

Yes

Kim Hill

You heard John Read yesterday. He was very very adamant that it was inappropriate for Professor Loftus to come here, because it would undermine the cause of tackling child abuse. How do you feel about that?

Maryanne Garry

I think John Read was a little more than adamant. He was libellous at some points. Because, he is entitled to his opinion. which I think is bad opinion, he’s entitled to it. He is not entitled to promote what are bad facts.

Kim Hill

And the bad facts are?

Maryanne Garry

Well, a couple of things. First of all. Professor Loftus is a world expert in human memory distortions, and she has been since about the early 70’s and it was really only in the early 1990’s that you’ll probably remember the whole repressed memory controversy came into being and she had an international reputation quite before that. Shes had several hundred articles by then. She had gotten several scientific awards, hundreds of thousand of dollars worth of grants, and so she had a reputation firmly entrenched before on other related issues of memory distortion, before this ever became an issue.

Kim Hill

You’ll be referring to Dr John Read’s claim that Professor Loftus has done very nicely thank you from setting herself up as an expert witness for the defence in those kind of child abuse cases in America?

Maryanne Garry

Ah, well, what I was referring to there first of all was her academic reputation, which is unparalled and still is, even before repressed memory was an issue, but, as far as what he said that is just not true: I mean, first of all he said. I was taking notes when I heard the tape yesterday. He said Professor Loftus is a leading member of a movement which minimises abuse and says children make it up, that she argues consistently in court that children make up abuse on a massive scale. You know, those kinds of things. This is preposterous. She has never said such a thing.

Kim Hill

She has never said that children’s memories can be faulty?

Maryanne Garry

Oh, yes, she has.

Kim Hill

Well, you know, that’s synonymous, according to Dr Read.

Maryanne Garry

Well Dr Read is wrong. It’s not synonymous.

Kim Hill

All right. You may think it’s not synonymous, but if somebody says to you this child says that it has been abused, this child is suffering from a faulty memory. That’s synonymous with making it up, isn’t it?

Maryanne Garry

Well, no. Aactually, I have to be clear here because Dr Loftus’ questions are almost entirely about adults. So her area of expertise and her focus almost exclusively about [adults]. No, she asks questions like: "What is it about when adults recover, or remember events from long ago? And what are those events like? How accurate are they? Are they largely to be, you know, completely accurate, not accurate, partially accurate, does it matter whether it’s about sexual abuse non sexual traumatic incidents or relatively mundane incidents from long ago?" Those are the questions that she asks.

I think has nothing to do with the question that Dr Read is asking, and I think we should be asking which is What are we as a country going to do to make sure that there is no more Hines? Those are very different questions. She’s not ever talking about little two year olds who get water poured on them, and are killed, as Dr Read would have us believe.

Kim Hill

I suspect that we are talking politics here and not science. I mean I said the same thing to Dr Read yesterday and it’s true isn’t it?

Maryanne Garry

To some extent it is.

Kim Hill

And to some extent , whatever Professor Loftus has said she has been adopted and espoused, by a whole lot of people who possibly she wouldn’t want to belong to the same club as her?

Maryanne Garry

I’m not sure what you’re asking.

Kim Hill

Well, you had a huge escalation in recovered memory claims in the United States. That was linked in some way in people’s minds to whether allegations of child abuse were legitimate or not. There was a pendulum swinging there.

Maryanne Garry

Mmm

Kim Hill

And for all Dr Loftus’s academic positions, what people do with what she has said is something else again isn’t it?

Maryanne Garry

Well it is something else again. There are people who use Steven Hawkings research to justify the existence of UFO’s. I mean what can you do about that?

Kim Hill

All right. In terms of what Dr Read has said which is that the way she is being interpreted will provide succour to people who say, child abuse is exaggerated, it doesn’t happen to this extent, and innocent people are being put in gaol because children make things up. In terms of that kind of environment, do you think it was smart to make her a keynote speaker at this particular time in New Zealand history?

Maryanne Garry

Well absolutely. In fact it would have been just silly for the Psychological Society not to take up the opportunity to have somebody who is this world renowned. And as for the fact that people are getting this false information, one of the biggest proponents of this false information about Professor Loftus’s work is John Read himself.

Kim Hill

By which you mean?

Maryanne Garry

By which I mean he [does so] consistently. He spent 30 minutes on your show yesterday with a lot of facts, – I put facts in quotation marks – to stuff that she’s never said. He’s attributing to her research that she’s never done, stuff that she’s never said, claims that she’s never made. It’s preposterous

Kim Hill

And, so, what do you think is going to happen?

Maryanne Garry

What do you think is going to happen when she..?

Kim Hill

I mean is she going to come?

Maryanne Garry

Oh absolutely

Kim Hill

There is no doubt about that?

Maryanne Garry

No doubt about it.

Kim Hill

Is she going to perhaps seize her position as keynote speaker for a position that is less controversial? I mean, John Read said it’s the keynote issue, not the fact that she is coming to speak here at all.

Maryanne Garry

I think Murray Horn was pretty spot on when he said he doesn’t necessarily believe that either. That if Beth Loftus had been given a slot in a workshop or a symposium in between two graduate students, I still think John Read would have hit the ceiling. You know. I mean, we don’t have, this woman is, she has published about 300 scientific articles and books. She has received numerous awards. She is, [and] this is one of my favorite little explanations about her stature: the British Psych Society offers one lifetime appointment to an American, and only one – trust the British – so a year – I mean not a year – sorry, ever..It used to be B F Skinner, who everyone knows. When he died it went to Beth Loftus. So she has an unparalled world reputation, and to invite her here and sandwich her in between say, two of my PhD students would be insulting. Of course she deserves one of the half dozen keynote slots that are at the conference.

Kim Hill

Have you spoken to Dr Read about this?

Maryanne Garry

I’ve never spoken to Dr Read at all.

Kim Hill

Has his reaction been mirrored or echoed anywhere else? In other words, how normal is it for Professor Loftus to arouse strong feelings within the psychological world?

Maryanne Garry

Well she does arouse strong feelings. I’m pleased to say in my own department at Victoria University, people are looking upon Dr Read’s comments with some astonishment. She is coming to speak the morning that she does your show on the 29th. She is speaking at our University lecture at our University, then she heads down to Otago, and the people at Otago are similarly astonished that she would be meeting with this kind of reaction from academics.

Kim Hill

And it presumably relates to the very politicised atmosphere surrounding child abuse now?

Maryanne Garry

Ah, yeah. It does.

Kim Hill

It is very hard though to talk about it, in purely clinical scientific terms and in part because the evidence of recovered memory is arguable, isn’t it? I mean, I’m not you know, suggesting it shouldn’t be argued. I’m trying to suggest to you that this is why feelings run so high. I mean in the absence of hard evidence argument rises in fury doesn’t it?

Maryanne Garry

Well, yeah. I mean, one of the reasons that this gets so contentious is because it is about real life issues that matter. So these are, people like Beth and me and my students and what not, and her colleagues, we study issues that matter, and so it arouses quite a lot of vigorous debate and feeling among people. But, I mean, coming back to this point you just asked about the debate on repressed memories. From a scientific perspective there is very little in the way of debate any more. There is no scientific evidence for the concept of repression. There is plenty of evidence that people forget. There is plenty of evidence that people remember. But all the research that talks about when people forget and then remember shows that memories are rarely perfect. And in fact, people forget long ago, sexual events at the same rate as they do and the same kind of forgetting and accuracy when they remember at the same rate as other non sexual traumatic events, non sexual significant events. So there is nothing particular special about memory for sexual events. Nothing. And that is what the scientific evidence shows. So, if you want to have a belief that runs counter to that, that’s fine, but I think it’s about time some people put up some evidence.

Kim Hill

I appreciate your time, Dr Maryanne Garry, who is a supporter of Professor Elizabeth Loftus, and as I said yesterday, we have an interview scheduled with Professor Loftus on August 29th

Back to John Read page

John Read / Murray Hahn interview with Kim Hill

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