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Doubly vicious
Editor's Introduction -- The writers of Glencoe's high-school book Glencoe Health are not content to endorse an immensely destructive form of pseudoscience. They also teach students that if a person is accused of a crime, the person is certainly guilty and should not be allowed to answer the accusation.
from The Textbook Letter, January-February 1995

How a Glencoe "Health" Textbook
Promotes Psycho-Quackery

William J. Bennetta

"Recovered memory" quackery is a highly destructive form of mumbo jumbo that has become popular in the past decade or so. Its practitioners typically claim that they can examine adolescents or adults, discover signs that these people suffered sexual abuse during childhood, and help the people to summon up "memories" of the abuse itself. The "memories" have supposedly been hidden for many years (as a result of a mysterious happening that's called "repression"), so the alleged victims have been unaware of them; yet the "memories" have somehow remained complete and accurate, ready to be retrieved when the victims are subjected to occult treatments. Retrieving the "memories" is said to be beneficial and to function in some sort of "therapy."

It is all nonsense -- a circus of superstition, psycho-babble, unsupported notions, and bogus "cases" in which quacks have planted ideas and images in the minds of alleged victims of abuse, then have declared that the images were "recovered memories." The alleged victims usually have been women, and they usually have been induced to "remember" that they were abused by their fathers or other male relatives. ln some instances, mountebanks have used hypnosis or drugs to increase the chance that a woman would absorb planted images, would regard them as memories or "flashbacks" of real events, and would even fabricate further "memories" and "flashbacks" to confirm the planted ones.

This arrant psycho-quackery can wreck lives and destroy families, of course, and it has done so. Some of its worst effects have been realized when "recovered memory" tales were exploited in civil lawsuits or even in criminal prosecutions for child abuse. Such prosecutions have been remarkably similar to witchcraft trials, complete with imaginary "evidence" and with testimony about "events" that could not be distinguished, by any means, from fantasies or hallucinations or wishes.

Over the past couple of years, some substantial opposition to "recovered memory" charlatanry has emerged (along with a movement against the use of "recovered memory" claptrap in actions at law), and some individual purveyors of "recovered memory" services have been conspicuously discredited. [See the postscript at the end of this article.] These developments have come too late, however, to help most of the persons whose lives have been ravaged by invented recollections and bogus accusations. Both inside and outside of our courtrooms, "recovered memory" charlatanry has produced vicious consequences.

It is alarming, therefore, to find that this nonsense is being promoted in the high-school book Glencoe Health (1993). Glencoe's writers have given a full page to a feature article that parrots and validates most of the notions that the "recovered memory" mountebanks put forth.

The article is cast as a narrative by a young woman who calls herself Leah and who declares that she was abused by her uncle when she was a girl. How does she know this? Well, it seems that the uncle had also abused Leah's nameless sister; and although both girls apparently forgot about his depredations, Leah's sister later "started to get some flashbacks" when she was about 23 years old. Then, says Leah, "my sister and I started to really talk, and more and more about my uncle started to come back -- for both of us." Enlightened by those chats with her backflashing sister, Leah has joined an "incest survivor's group" and is feeling better, although there are still "whole pockets" of her childhood that she cannot remember.

The tale is incomplete in a way, because Leah doesn't say who or what helped her sister to start getting those "flashbacks." Otherwise, the story that Glencoe's writers have put into Leah's mouth is a fairly coherent, direct endorsement of the "recovered memory" racket. I can't imagine that students could read it without being led to believe that undefined things called "flashbacks" are real memories which have been buried for years; that these memories constitute accurate, reliable impressions of past events; that other genuine memories "come back" (in a mysterious way) during sympathetic conversations; and that pondering such so-called memories has therapeutic effects. Glencoe's writers don't tell that those are merely quackish notions, unsupported by evidence, and that the peddlers of such notions can do massive harm. The writers don't explain that we have no way of evaluating the claims that allegedly were made by Leah's sister -- no way of knowing whether they were anything other than fantasies or malicious inventions. The writers don't point out that Leah herself may be dispensing fiction, that her entire tale may be false, and that she may have fabricated it (for whatever purpose) after she saw "recovered memory" stories in newspapers. Worst of all, the writers don't provide any response from Leah's uncle; they apparently want students to believe that he must be guilty merely because he has been accused.

I infer that Glencoe's writers fashioned their article by rewriting a handout that they got from some psycho-quack.

Health educators who would like to inform themselves and their students about "recovered memory" quackery should be sure to read Frederick Crews's excellent two-part article "The Revenge of the Repressed," in The New York Review of Books for 17 November and 1 December 1994. Crews does an admirable job of explaining how "recovered memory" quackery originated and how the quacks operate. He also reviews the relevant scientific information, showing how it fails to support the quacks' claims and how it renders some of those claims ridiculous.

Postscript: In May 1994, after a trial held in California's Superior Court for Napa County, a businessman named Gary Ramona won a judgment against a psychiatrist, a marriage counselor and a hospital for their respective roles in causing his adolescent daughter, Holly, to "remember" that he had raped her when she was a child. During the trial, Gary Ramona had denied raping Holly and had argued that her "memories" of abuse were attributable to reckless acts performed by Richard Rose (the psychiatrist) and Marche Isabella (the counselor). Those two, Gary Ramona said, had manipulated Holly, had intoxicated her with sodium amytal (a "truth serum" that can induce hallucinations), had led her to believe that chemically induced fantasies were recollections of reality, and had led her to think that the emotional problems which she was suffering as a young woman meant that she had been sexually abused by her father when she was a child. Under the influence of Rose and Isabella, Holly formally accused her father of rape. The results of that accusation, Gary Ramona charged, included the destruction of his marriage, the destruction of his reputation, and the destruction of his career as an executive of the Robert Mondavi Winery (Oakville, California).


William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes frequently about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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