“Recovered memory and repressed memory have been scientifically discredited.” — New York Magazine Ignored This Letter from the Center for Inquiry

These letters are part of a set of letters issued to New York Magazine in response to their reporting on false memory and repressed memory. For greater context, and to see all letters, please start here.

A letter from Timothy Binga at the Center for Inquiry:

January 26, 2021

“The Memory War” and the FMSF

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) was recently the target of a malicious article in New York Magazine (January 24, 2021, and online in The Cut, a subsection of the New York Magazine website). The article is titled “The Memory War,” with the tag line of “A daughter’s accusations, and the foundation built to discredit them.” Katie Heaney, the writer, seems to have some sort of axe to grind with the FMSF.

A few things about the article: I am not going to point out the errors regarding the psychology; that is for the experts in those areas and I’m sure those will be forthcoming. I also cannot discuss anything about the history of the Freyd family (founders of the FMSF); I don’t have any of those details of their history, only the history of the organization. And, for full disclosure, I know the Freyds having worked with them to get the archives placed into our collections.

About the collection: These are the archives of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, created to examine the concept of False Memory Syndrome, Recovered Memory Therapy and to advocate for those who are falsely accused of child sexual abuse through the use of “recovered memories.” Recovered memory and repressed memory have been scientifically discredited.

The FMSF Archives are housed at the Center for Inquiry, within the Center for Inquiry Libraries in Amherst, New York. Not the Center for Skeptical Inquiry as named in the article. In addition to newsletters, court decisions, survivor newsletters, court cases, DVDs, and clippings related to False Memories, there are five filing cabinets of family letters, as mentioned in the article.

The letters were redacted by the FMSF (not CFI Libraries, as indicated in the article) to remove name and address information to protect the family members, parents, and everyone involved. The letters are grouped in numbered folders, which can be seen in the finding aid created for this collection (found at the Empire Archival Discovery Cooperative (https://www.empireadc.org/). A local only database was created to match the numbered folders to the cases in which they are related, and this is not released to anyone.

As part of my discussion with every researcher who wants to use these materials, I mention the redaction is poor on many of the letters; it is mostly black marker. If one worked hard enough, one could read through the redaction. I mention this because I also let the researchers know that we will require a signed non-disclosure document indicating they will not release the specifics about these cases or use the information to contact anyone in these letters. My concern is their privacy, and we typically follow as many HIPAA guidelines (used for medical records) as we can with this collection to make the records as secure as possible.

The closing of the FMSF called “abrupt” was nothing of the sort. It was planned for over a year and done because the legal system has been educated as to the nature of false and implanted memories and has stopped allowing a pseudoscience to be a part of the proceedings. The need for this organization has declined as the knowledge about false and implanted memories has risen.

One of the key points missed by Heaney is that the FMSF existed to help those who have had these allegations made as a result of poor work done by psychologists and psychiatrists who may have introduced these false memories or lead their patients to believe something that didn’t happen. This is not an exoneration of real predators; the implication that it does likens the article to clickbait and tabloid-fare.

Timothy Binga

Director of Libraries / IT Manager
Center for Inquiry

Stay curious.

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