Why the debate

From a purely scientific point of view, it should be evident that the quality of the available evidence is insufficient to justify any extreme position at present. However, scientific considerations have been secondary to the passionate advocacy practised by parents who claim to be falsely accused, and by accusers who claim that their memories of abuse are being ignored. Psychiatrists and psychologists have become caught up in the debate and in some cases have abandoned any pretence at neutrality. In the face of these overwhelming and desperately painful personal concerns, the quality of much of the argument has become debased. Thus, supposedly scientific contributions on both sides of this debate have questioned the motives and integrity of people with whom they disagree and have attempted to disparage opponents' professional abilities. Some of these same authors have made exclusive claims for the scientific legitimacy of their own perspective, subjecting opposing data to fierce scrutiny while being relatively uncritical of studies that support their point of view. Much of the literature is obfuscatory and confusing. Logical errors abound, seen for example in the conclusion that because a memory has been recovered in therapy, the practitioner must have been using 'recovered memory therapy'.

A good example of the debate in action is the article by Pope et al.(4) on the evidence for dissociative amnesia in trauma victims and the commentary that follows it.(21) These articles demonstrate how widely differing conclusions can be drawn from the same set of studies, depending on the way terms are defined, on assumptions about what evidence should be given the most weight, and on the rigour with which alternative explanations are evaluated.

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