John Maddox Prize win for Elizabeth Loftus

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Goldsmiths, University of London Honorary Graduate and pioneer in the understanding of human memory, Professor Elizabeth Loftus, has been awarded the 2016 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science.

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Professor Loftus is an Associate Member of the Goldsmiths Department of Psychology’s Forensic Psychology Unit (FPU) and has spoken at numerous sold-out Goldsmiths events. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the university in 2015.

Professor Loftus’s work has inspired and shaped the careers of several members of the Department, with Professor Chris French citing her as a key influence on the work conducted under the Anomalistic Psychology Unit, formed in 2000.

FPU lead Professor Fiona Gabbert, whose work also focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of human memory, has described the "overwhelming impact" of Elizabeth's contributions to the field.

Elizabeth Loftus has been awarded the international 2016 John Maddox Prize for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest, despite facing difficulty and hostility.

Professor French nominated Professor Loftus for the Prize. He says: “Elizabeth has pioneered two major waves of research in the area of human memory. Back in the 1970s, she became the world's leading researcher in the area of the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. In the 1990s, she led the way for research into false memories.

“In each case, her research had profound real-world implications for the operation of the legal system, particularly in cases of wrongful allegations and convictions. Her research into false memories is of particular relevance to cases of alleged historical childhood sexual abuse based solely upon memories ‘recovered’ during therapy.

“Inevitably, her findings have not been well received by everyone. Therapists using dubious techniques to 'recover' allegedly repressed memories have vilified her for casting doubt upon their clinical expertise. Patients with detailed ‘recovered’ memories of abuse, sometimes of the most extreme kind, have derided her claim that such memories could be totally false.

“Throughout all of this adversity, she has remained dedicated to carrying out research of the highest standard and basing her conclusions upon robust evidence. Furthermore, she has somehow managed to retain a warmth and joie de vie that truly mark her as a very special person.”

“We are told that we are now entering a ‘post-truth’ era and that experts are no longer needed. These are dangerous days indeed for the future of science. Now, more than ever, we need the inspiration that courageous scientists such as Elizabeth Loftus can provide by standing up for science in the face of adversity based upon pseudoscience and emotion. I cannot imagine a more worthy winner of the John Maddox Prize.”

A cognitive psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, in addition to her research, Loftus has appeared as an expert witness in numerous courtrooms, consulting or providing expert witness testimony for hundreds of cases. Her findings have altered the course of legal history, in showing that memory is not only unreliable, but also mutable.

The John Maddox Prize, now in its fifth year, is a joint initiative of Nature, the leading weekly, international scientific journal, the Kohn Foundation, and the charity Sense about Science. The late Sir John Maddox FRS, was editor of Nature for 22 years and a founding trustee of Sense about Science.

The judging panel consisted of Professor Colin Blakemore FRS, Tracey Brown (Sense about Science), Sir Philip Campbell PhD (Nature) Lord Rees of Ludlow OM FRS, Natasha Loder (The Economist).

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