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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Psychiatric Times reinstates retracted essay on “satanic ritual abuse”

with 3 comments

psych timesLast month, we brought readers the story of a retraction in December from Psychiatric Times, of an essay by Richard Noll that included this passage:

Despite the discomfort it brings, we owe it to the current generation of clinicians to remember that an elite minority within the American psychiatric profession played a small but ultimately decisive role in the cultural validation, and then reduction, of the Satanism moral panic between 1988 and 1994. Indeed, what can we all learn from American psychiatry’s involvement in the moral panic?

That essay was republished on March 19, along with an editor’s note:

Editorial Note: In light of the responses we have received regarding this article by Richard Noll, PhD, that was posted on our website on December 6, 2013, the article has been reposted with a modification. Additionally, we are posting responses from certain of the individuals mentioned in the article and from Dr. Noll in order to leave analysis of the article up to our readers.

The publication also included three responses from those named in the essay. An excerpt from a response from Stanford’s David Spiegel, titled “Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right:”

Dr. Noll unearths memories of a period during which what was then called Multiple Personality Disorder was linked to reports of satanic ritual abuse. He treats us to accounts of heated meetings involving this. I recall speaking to the International Society of Multiple Personality Disorder and Dissociation and informing them that the name of the disorder would be changed to Dissociative Identity Disorder in DSM-IV. I asked for a show of hands and, to my surprise, given the fact that this would require changing the name of the Society, about two-thirds voted in favor. A group of people sitting in the front rows were wearing T-shirts that read “D.I.D.,” which I took to be a good sign. When they turned to leave, I saw that they had printed “D.I.D. NOT” on the back. I appreciated their sense of humor about a serious and often contentious issue. I wish Dr. Noll had the same sense of balance. His piece has a ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ tone that does everyone a disservice.

Another from Richard Kluft:

Having acknowledged an element of veracity in Dr. Noll’s account, there is ample reason to dispute many of the other aspects of his argument. Dr. Noll’s accusation that there has been wide-spread iatrogenesis of DID in persons initially without a dissociative disorder is worthy of particular notice. Despite the vociferous opinions of many, there is no objective data to support it.5 That being said, it is clear that iatrogenic pressures may lead to the development of additional self-states in already dissociative individuals.6 Further, evidence has accumulated to demonstrate that while false memories may be induced in a small percentage of vulnerable individuals, the recall of once inaccessible memories that can be documented as accurate is a well-documented phenomenon.7 Noll’s style of argumentation links phenomena commonly attacked together, but he fails to note that even the most complete refutation of every single satanic ritual abuse allegation would leave his skepticism about the possibility of accurate recovered memories and his accusations about the iatrogenesis of DID unproven. In a 1995[8] article I demonstrated the recovery of initially unavailable accurate memories of trauma, false memories, and the fact that both could coexist in traumatized dissociative patients.

And from Bennett Braun:

Remarks taken out of context can be presented in a manner that misrepresents the overall intent of the speaker. I would suggest that the Editors of Psychiatric Times obtain the tapes of the events to which Dr. Noll refers and make their own decisions whether or not I have said what I am alleged to have said, and to place what I have said in the context in which my remarks were made. It is regrettable and shameful that such slanderous remarks will be printed by the world’s most read psychiatric publication, and conveyed to colleagues who will not be in a position to question them or judge their accuracy.

Noll has the final word. Excerpt:

If  any one of the facts in this large scholarly literature of the past quarter century has truly been maliciously misinterpreted or is incorrect, as is alleged in the commentaries above, I think it is therefore ethically imperative for Drs. Braun and Kluft to offer published historical documentation to contradict such a false claim robotically repeated by decades of scholars. But they need to make a case to the public based on historical and scientific evidence, not on polemics. Let’s all hope they do this. I know they have much to teach us.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

March 25, 2014 at 9:30 am

3 Responses

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  1. I was a teenager at the time, and I well remember the hysteria whipped up about satanic child abuse. As Noll is quoted above, these people mentioned in the article need to clear their names by establishing the facts, not merely by denying them. It’s not merely academic, a great deal of harm was inflicted.

    Dan Zabetakis

    March 25, 2014 at 9:46 am

  2. In the quotation from Bennett Braun, you might put the note numbers in square brackets (if you can’t do superscripts). The last sentence in his quotation begins “In a 19958 article…” and it took me a while to realize that it was a 1995 article with footnote 8.

    Ken Pimple

    March 25, 2014 at 9:51 am


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