Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Junk Science in L.A. Times

Dear Editor:

In Lloyd Grove’s article on gossip columns (Oct. 15, 2006, p. M3), he stressed the need to “nail down” a story before publishing. Yet the Times fails to follow this good advice when they publish, on the very same page, Bettina Aptheker’s charge of sexual abuse against her late father, Herbert Aptheker, based only on recovered memory therapy. This discredited technique has also been known to generate memories of alien abductions that seem quite real to those who hold them. (Would the Times have published such accusations against aliens?) She recognizes this problem when she mentions “false memory syndrome”, but fails to respond to this possibility (other than to simply reaffirm her accusation).

Aptheker makes it seem like her father might have confessed. We only have her account of this, but even that is not quite clear. He allegedly asked “Did I ever hurt you…?” as if he might not have remembered doing such a terrible thing himself. And we are not told just what he apologized for.

It is tragic that Aptheker has memories of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, without corroborating evidence we cannot know whether these memories are genuine or therapy-induced. Shame on the Times for publishing an accusation against someone who cannot respond based only upon pseudoscientific evidence.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Conspiracy Theorists

I recently had an on-line discussion with a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. This was obviously not a scientific survey of conspiracy believers, but I have no reason to suspect that he was not representative. Nonetheless, I think I can draw some interesting conclusions about these conspiracy theorists (in spite of the extremely limited sample) from our exchange:

1. There is no evidence for the conspiracy theories being offered.
2. Those touted as experts are often making claims far from their fields of expertise.
3. Conspiracy theorists cite a lot of poor quality scholarship. (This is common in pseudo-sciences.)
4. True believers are often unwilling or unable to acknowledge rather simple errors.

And perhaps most disturbingly:

5. There is an element of the extreme left-wing that hates American conservatives more than Arab terrorists so much that they are willing to blame American officials for the 9/11 atrocity in spite of the lack of evidence. Apparently this is also true for an element of the extreme right-wing, but it was clearly a leftist that I was debating.

So in the second letter here, Dr. Sandra Sutphen is mistaken about who the conspiracy theorists are. It's not just rightist kooks who are conspiracy mongering. All such nonsense that I've heard personally has come from leftists (who, incidentally, are not kooky on non-political topics). I realize that my sample is probably biased, but 21st century conspiracy mongering is hardly a phenomenon of the right.

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