The 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award will honor "false memory" investigator Dr. Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Loftus is "an ideal example of a scientist who is distinguished for both advancing science and applying it to make critical contributions to society," the association said.
Specifically, she was honored "for the profound impact that her pioneering research on human memory has had on the administration of justice in the United States and abroad," the award committee said.
Dr. Loftus, who serves as Distinguished Professor of Social Ecology, and Professor of Law, and Cognitive Science at UC Irvine, demonstrated that memories can be implanted or manipulated by a variety of means," the committee noted.
Her early research explored the basic functions of memory, such as how the mind classifies and remembers information. Later, she studied eyewitness accounts of crimes and concluded that, rather than being fixed, memories are fragile, suggestible, and malleable over time. For example, she discovered that people remember things differently, depending on how they are asked a question.
Dr. Loftus has testified at more than 200 civil and criminal trials. Such testimony has often been controversial. But her work has been vindicated by the finding that, of the more than 250 prisoners freed on the basis of subsequent DNA analysis, the most common reason for wrongful convictions was faulty eyewitness testimony.
Her discovery that memories can be implanted or manipulated led her to identify what has been called "False Memory Syndrome," in which people in psychotherapy "remember" something they had long ago forgotten or "repressed," such as sexual abuse.
In several states, the AAAS award committee noted, judges have now dismissed murder charges if there was no evidence to corroborate a repressed memory.
Despite the inherently controversial nature of her work, Dr. Loftus has earned important supporters. For example, Dr. Daniel Schacter, former head of the psychology department at Harvard University, has described her as "a pioneer motivated by principle," and the American Psychiatric Association has declared repressed memory treatment "dead" because of her research. She was elected to the membership of the National Academy of Sciences, and she has received numerous awards, including one from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. She was named one of the 100 most influential psychologists of the 20th century—the top-ranked woman on the list.
Dr. Loftus earned her B.A. degree with highest honors in mathematics and psychology from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1966. She received a Master's degree and a Ph.D. degree in Psychology from Stanford University in 1967 and 1970, respectively.
The Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award is presented annually by American Association for the Advancement of Science to honor individual scientists and engineers or organizations for exemplary actions that help foster scientific freedom and responsibility. The award recognizes outstanding efforts to protect the public's health, safety or welfare; to focus public attention on potential impacts of science and technology; to establish new precedents in carrying out social responsibilities; or to defend the professional freedom of scientists and engineers.
The award was established in 1980 and is approved by the AAAS Board of Directors. The AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award will be presented at the 177th AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., which will take place 17-21 February 2011. The awards ceremony and reception will be held in the Grand Ballroom North, Washington Renaissance Downtown, on Saturday, 19 February at 6:00 p.m.
CONTACTS: Dr. Loftus can be reached at (949) 824-3285 or email@example.com. For general information on the AAAS Awards ceremony or other background, Senior Communications Officer Katharine Zambon of AAAS can be reached at (202) 326-6434, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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