Friday, November 03, 2006

Memory experts: even the best are fallible

Inaccuracy of memory expert Elizabeth Loftus will not be an expert witness at Scooter Libby’s trial over the Valerie Plame CIA leak.

Why? In part because Judge Reggie Walton ruled that jurors should be able to decide for themselves on the reliability of a particular person’s memory without Scooter using Loftus as an expert witness precisely to make himself look more fallible.

But, during a hearing before Walton’s ruling, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald gave Loftus a once, and twice over.

And? He “picked apart the psychologist's testimony until she acknowledged errors and misstatements in her findings.”

That included admitting that some of her own findings were unscientific. Specifically:
Fitzgerald got Loftus to acknowledge that the methodology she had used at times in her long academic career was not that scientific, that her conclusions about memory were conflicting, and that she had exaggerated a figure and a statement from her survey of D.C. jurors that favored the defense.

Now, I don’t view this as a sudden victory for touters of repressed memories. I do see it as a caveat that EVERY expert in the social sciences may be whistling in the dark at times.

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