If you’re roughly of my generation, there’s a good chance that you, like me, went through a phase in the 1990s in which you were somewhere between intrigued by and obsessed with the paranormal trash shows masquerading as news magazine shows – Sightings namely and, to a lesser extent, Unsolved Mysteries and the like.
Those shows loved to highlight repressed memories, often recovered through hypnosis, to “prove” all sorts of claims – alien abduction, near death experiences, and sexual, usually “Satanic”, abuse chief among them.
They would routinely employ the Expert Fallacy, cutting away to bearded Dr. Quackensnack, PhD, in his neat necktie and corduroy jacket, in between cheaply-staged reenactments.
It was convincing, and it was bullshit, and it ruined lives.
The Satanic Panic was largely fueled by this junk pseudoscience “uncovering” undeniable “proof” of devil-worshipping cabals kidnapping, torturing, and sexually abusing innocent children in your sleepy suburb. This “proof” was never accompanied by anything remotely material or forensic, which should have tipped people off, but sciencey-sounding garbage that confirms the existence of aliens and devil worshippers has a tenacious ability to override the part of our brains that process logic.
And nobody knew this better than one Dr. Lawrence Pazder, whose 1980 “nonfiction” “book” Michelle Remembers really got this irresponsible grift going. In the book, Good Doctor Pazder (a man so committed to maintaining integrity that he dumped his wife to marry Michelle, his patient, and the subject of his perverse fantasy novel) “uncovers” the real source of his patient’s anxiety and depression – years and years of abduction, torture, and rape at the hands of a devil-worshipping cult, all facilitated by her mother. All of which backed up by zero evidence and massive leaps of logic and overlooking of contradictory facts (Michelle, for instance, had a perfect attendance record during periods she claims to have spent weeks locked up in the devil worshippers’ secret lair).
But people bought it, for reasons too complex to get into here (though my talk with Joe Laycock gets into much of it), and too often this junk science frontier made victims both of it subjects (who often believed, genuinely, that horrific things had happened to them, when often they had not) and those who supposedly abused the subjects, when far more often than not the allegations against them were nothing more than a manipulated fever-dream, concocted by sham professionals intent only on getting their fifteen minutes.
Which brings us to The Cut, the cultural interest division of New York Magazine, and its shocking, reprehensible embrace of this junk science, as well as its assault on Grey Faction, a project of The Satanic Temple, whose mission is “to protect mental health patients and their families from dangerous pseudoscience and discredited therapies, particularly in the area of so-called ‘repressed memories.’”
To be sure, some people experience disassociation with traumatic memories, and some so-called “repressed” memories may be authentic. But memory itself is extremely unreliable and manipulable, and repressed memory “therapy” has been shown to make the reliability of a person’s memory worse, not better.
But none of that is what Katie Heaney’s piece in The Cut is arguing. What she is doing is taking the side of junk science while pretending to be skeptical and objective, not unlike, ironically, Dr. Pazder forty years ago.
And it’s worth reading Greaves’ thoughtful, forceful response – Lying For Pseudoscience: New York Magazine’s Dishonest Defense of a Harmful, Discredited Theory
This excerpt, about Heaney’s subject, Jennifer Freyd, should help illuminate why:
“If Heaney had looked under that surface, she might have noticed that in 2014, Jennifer Freyd was the keynote speaker at the annual conference for an organization called Survivorship. Survivorship is run by one Neil Brick, a licensed Massachusetts mental health professional who claims that he recovered memories, later in his life, that he had been an Illuminati super-soldier who was trained to rape and kill “without feeling.” Brick has also asserted that Freemasons and/or Satanic cults torture fetuses so as to begin their trauma-based mind control programs at the earliest possible age. Survivorship maintains an annual calendar of “difficult dates,” holidays celebrated by Satanic and/or Illuminati cults, during which targeted individuals are advised to be vigilant for their safety.
The dates cover nearly every day of the year.