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Letters to WW Norton & Company from Robert Spitzer and Elizabeth Loftus

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  • Ian Pitchford
    Date: Sun, 22 Feb 2004 03:27:51 -0500 From: Robert Spitzer To: Richard J. McNally Cc: Elizabeth Loftus
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2004
      Date: Sun, 22 Feb 2004 03:27:51 -0500
      From: Robert Spitzer <rls8@...>
      To: Richard J. McNally <rjm@...>
      Cc: Elizabeth Loftus <eloftus@...>
      Subject: Letters to WW Norton & Company from Robert Spitzer and Elizabeth


      I would appreciate your putting both my email and Elizabeth Loftus's email
      to the president of Norton & Company on the SCCPNET list serve.

      Thank you.


      Robert L. Spitzer, M.D.

      College of Physicians & Surgeons of Columbia University | New York, N.Y.

      Robert L. Spitzer, M.D.
      Unit 60, 1051 Riverside Drive

      Professor of Psychiatry
      Tel: (212) 543-5524

      Chief, Biometrics Research Department
      Fax: (212) 543-5525

      New York State Psychiatric Institute
      E-mail: RLS8@...

      February 21, 2004

      Drake Mc Feely,
      President, WW Norton & Company
      500 Fifth Avenue
      New York, N.Y. 10110

      Dear Mr. Mc Feely,

      In the third chapter of Lauren Slater's new book, Opening Skinner's Box -
      Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century, she has extensive
      quotes from a telephone conversation that we had several years ago. Several
      colleagues who have read the book have asked me if the quotes are accurate,
      since they found it hard to believe that I had actually made so many
      outrageous statements. The quotes of me that appear in the book are either
      outright fabrications or represent what Slater imagines I could or would

      It is of note that Slater could have - but did not - record our

      Here are some of the statements that Slater claims I made and why I am sure
      I never made them.

      Spitzer pauses. "So how is David Rosenhan?" he finally asks. "Actually, not
      so good," I say. "He's lost his wife to cancer, his daughter Nina in a car
      crash. He's had several strokes and is now suffering from a disease they
      can't quite diagnose. He's paralyzed." That Spitzer doesn't say, or much
      sound, sorry when he hears this reveals the depths to which Rosenhan's study
      is still hated in the field, even after 30 years. "That's what you get," he
      says, "for conducting such an inquiry." (p. 68)

      I never said this. I would certainly not have gloated over Rosenhan's

      Spitzer says: "The new classification system of the DSM is stringent and
      scientific." (p. 80)

      You can search all of the many papers I have written about DSM-III. I have
      never said it was "scientific" or "stringent." DSM-III facilitates
      scientific study but it makes no sense to say that it is itself
      "scientific." "Stringent" is a word I never use and incorrectly
      characterizes DSM-III.

      "I'm telling you, with the new diagnostic system in place, Rosenhan's
      experiment could never happen today. It would never work. You would not be
      admitted and in the ER they would diagnose you as deferred.". "No," repeats
      Spitzer, "that experiment could never be successfully repeated. Not in this
      day and age." (p. 80)

      I would never have referred to Rosenhan's study as an "experiment" nor would
      I talk about it being "successfully repeated." Slater seems to be saying
      that I claimed that now, with the DSM, psychiatrists would not diagnose a
      pseudopatient as having a mental disorder. I would not make such a claim. If
      there were no reason to suspect the pseudopatient of malingering, I guess
      that most psychiatrists now would also make an incorrect diagnosis - just as
      the psychiatrists in Rosenhan's study did. It would not make sense for me to
      have made a blanket prediction (twice!) that it could never happen now.

      Since DSM-III was published in 1980, why would I have referred to it as "the
      new diagnostic system?"

      This is a serious matter. As a reputable publisher you have an obligation to
      investigate this matter and take appropriate action to stop these damaging
      misrepresentations by your author.

      I am enjoying reading Slater's book, Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir (Penguin
      Books, 2000). I am up to the part where she describes how she went through a
      period of her life when she was a compulsive liar.

      I look forward to hearing from you.

      Robert L. Spitzer, M.D.
      Professor of Psychiatry
      University of California - Irvine
      IRVINE, CALIFORNIA 92697-7085

      Elizabeth F. Loftus, Ph.D.
      (949) 824-3285 (TEL)
      Distinguished Professor
      (949) 824-3002 (FAX)
      Psychology & Social Behavior
      E mail: eloftus@...
      Criminology, Law & Society

      February 21, 2004

      Drake McFeely,
      President, WW Norton & Company
      500 Fifth Avenue
      New York, N.Y. 10110

      Dear Mr. McFeely,

      I am writing to inform you about a number of factual errors and serious
      misrepresentations in Lauren Slater's book Opening Skinner's Box: Great
      Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century. Her Chapter 8, en-titled
      "Lost in the Mall", is about my research. The chapter is riddled with
      errors - some minor but others extremely serious. Moreover, quotes are
      attributed to me that I have never said, nor would ever say. Here is a
      sampling of some of Slater's errors:

      p. 183: Slater quotes me as saying that Ted Bundy "was wrongly identified in
      a kidnapping charge." I have never said that Bundy was wrongly identified.
      During his trial I pointed to some of the difficulties with the
      identification. However, I never said he was wrongly identified.

      p. 184: Slater quotes me as saying that 25% of the sample is a
      "statistically significant minority." I have called this figure a
      significant minority of the sample, but would never say something so
      scientifically improper as to call it a "statistically significant

      p. 184: I am also astounded that Slater would refer to my sometime co-author
      and ex-husband, Professor Geoffrey Loftus, as "Gregg." One would think that
      someone who sets out to publicly explain and review a scientific literature
      would be familiar with the names of its major contributors. Lest you think
      that this sloppiness with names is an isolated case, let me quote from a
      published review of Slater's book in the London Mail on Sunday (February
      15, 2004):

      "It does not boost one's confidence in her judgment, for instance, that
      within the space of two lines she manages to spell the names of two famous
      psychologists wrong: Thomas Szasz she spells 'Sasz' and R. D. Laing she
      spells 'Lang'. She also writes 'per se' as 'per say', which makes you wonder
      if she knows what it means."

      p. 185: I did not claim that George Franklin's daughter went to "some
      new-age therapist who practiced all sorts of suggestion." I did not make
      subjects in the lab think that red signs were yellow. I did not say, as to
      Eileen Franklin's memories, "Untrue. All these details Eileen later read
      about in newspaper reports." The details included in Eileen Franklin's
      account were in fact available in newspapers, television accounts, and other
      public places. As to where she might have been exposed to them I cannot say,
      since I never interviewed her.

      p. 191: Slater has a long quote attributed to me that uses words that I
      would never have said. It beings: "The real facts are sometimes so subtle
      as to defy language." - I'm not ever sure I can even figure out what this

      p. 192: Slater refers to "the woman who yelled 'whore' [at me] in the
      airport a few years back". No woman has ever yelled "whore" at me in an

      p. 192: Slater refers to "the egged windows of her home, the yolks drying to
      a crisp crust". No one has ever egged my home or its windows.

      p. 193: Slater's account of the Paul Ingram case is sloppy to the point of
      leaving the reader with completely incorrect impressions. For example,
      Slater writes of me "when she heard about this case, and the kind of
      questioning Ingram underwent. She got in touch with her friend and cult
      expert Richard Ofshe, who trundled down to see Paul in his jail cell."
      Contrary to the impression conveyed by these words and those that follow,
      namely that I had played some role in connecting Ofshe with Ingram, or in
      Ingram's subsequent decision to recant his confession, the truth of the
      matter is that Ofshe had been working on the Ingram case and meeting with
      Ingram in his jail cell, and Ingram had recanted his confession, years
      before I had ever met Dr. Ofshe or had become involved with the Ingram case
      at all. I first became interested in the case years after these events
      occurred, when a television reporter who was suspicious about the case asked
      me to help examine transcripts. Dr. Ofshe, and not I, deserves the sole
      credit for his innovative work in this case.

      p. 196: Slater makes a point of the fact that "..by the end of the
      interview, I know not only Loftus's shoe size but her bra size too." The
      reason Slater knows that is that she explicitly asked me for each of those
      pieces of information. It makes me wonder what questions she asked of her
      other interviewees.

      p. 202: Slater claims that I slammed the phone down on her. I have no
      recollection of ever slamming the phone down on anyone, let alone her. If
      there was an accidental disconnection that occurred I would have explained
      or apologized.

      As you will become aware when you hear from other scientists and scholars,
      there are additional serious factual and scholarly errors in other chapters
      of Slater's volume. Historically, W.W. Norton's publications have been known
      for matching the highest standards of factual accuracy of any scholarly
      publisher, but I worry that lately these standards may have slipped. Could
      you either confirm that my impression is accurate, or else let me know what
      steps Norton will be taking to correct the factual error it has published in
      Slater's volume?


      Elizabeth Loftus

      Elizabeth Loftus, Ph.D.

      Date: Tue, 4 Nov 2003 10:38:02 -0500 (EST)
      From: "Richard J. McNally" <rjm@...>
      To: <magazine@...>
      Cc: SSCPNET <sscpnet@...>,
      Dave Barlow <dhbarlow@...>
      Reply-To: rjm@...

      November 4, 2003

      Letters to the Editor
      The New York Times
      229 West 43rd Street
      New York, N.Y. 10036

      To the Editor:

      Lauren Slater got it precisely backwards (The Cruelest Cure, November
      2). Anxiety disorders themselves are cruel; treating them effectively is


      Richard J. McNally, Ph.D.
      Department of Psychology
      Harvard University
      1230 William James Hall
      33 Kirkland Street
      Cambridge, MA 02138

      Telephone: (617) 495-3853


      Date: Mon, 03 Nov 2003 14:17:06 -0500
      From: "John W. Bush" <jwb@...>
      To: magazine@...

      To the Editor,

      Lauren Slater (Nov. 2) wrote a passably even-handed story about David
      Barlow and exposure therapy. There were a few errors of fact, spin and
      selection of sources which I am sure others will point out to you, but
      those are not my main concern. It is the headline that I find most

      "The Cruelest Cure," clearly implies that the cure about to be described is
      in fact cruel. Had it read "The 'Cruelest' Cure" (with quote marks around
      "Cruelest"), the reader would have been primed instead for a balanced or
      even favorable article.

      Headlines create what psychologists call primacy effects -- first
      impressions that can make a material difference in how articles are
      understood. Please try to be more careful with them when the well-being of
      a great many people is at stake.

      John Winston Bush, PhD
      Chairman and Executive Director
      New York Institute for Cognitive
      and Behavioral Therapies

      207 Berkeley Place
      Brooklyn, NY 11217-3801
      Telephone: 646 267-7630
      Email: jwb@...
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