American Humanist meeting: Day 2

May 29, 2016 • 10:30 am

I went to one panel yesterday: “Humanism and Humor: Funny Ladies Discuss”, with Margaret Downey as moderator and featuring comedian and author Julia Sweeney and comedian and activist Leighann Lord (she also co-hosted Star Talk with Neil deGrasse Tyson). I thought it might be a rather serious discussion of comedy and its implications for nonbelievers, but it turned out to be hilarious: both comedians cracked us up many times with spontaneous quips. I suppose I should have realized that, but what I realized only during the panel was that comedians have brains different from the rest of us. I, for one, couldn’t emit bon mot after bon mot, and on the spot. It’s a great talent. Julia told some stories about her SNL days, and added that she can’t watch Al Franken as a politician, because she knows what he’s really thinking when he’s speaking as a senator from Minnesota, and she cracks up when thinking of what’s going through Franken’s mind. He was, she said, the funniest person she ever met.

She was also asked what kind of sketch her most famous character, the androgynous Pat, would do in these days of the transgender bathroom fracas: she responded that it would probably be along the lines of people hanging around outside the bathrooms to see which one Pat entered. She also told some stories about SNL regular Victoria Jackson (a believer): one involved Jackson saying offstage that we really shouldn’t help poor people, because they’re going to heaven anyway and their miserable lives shouldn’t be prolonged, for that just delays their receiving their ultimate reward. According to Julia, she and Al Franken said, “You’re kidding, aren’t you, Victoria?”, and Jackson said, “No, I really mean it!”

Left to right: Margaret Downey, Leighann Lord, Julia Sweeney

Star Trek fans may know John De Lancie, an actor and director who is best known for playing the role of Q in the Star Trek series (I never saw it, but Q was apparently an omnipotent and nasty character—much like Donald Trump). De Lancie has done a lot of other work, including Shakespearian acting and playing the role of Clarence Darrow in a traveling play that (unlike Inherit the Wind), was based on the real Scopes Trial.

Accepting the Isaac Asimov award for Humanist Arts, De Lancie gave a really lovely talk (well emoted, since he’s an actor!) on how he became an atheist when only about 8 years old, how he was thought to be stupid because he couldn’t read till he was about ten, and how he found himself (and his ability to read) by being cast in a school production of Shakespeare. His speech will be on YouTube in about a month, as will all the others, so I won’t recount some of his anecdotes, including his meeting with another atheist (and previous Isaac Asimov awardee), Gene Rodenberry. He did say that his favorite Shakespeare plays were Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2.

John DeLancie

Elizabeth Loftus got the Isaac Asimov award for Science, and gave a nice talk on her work on faulty memory and the fallacy of recovered memories. She also discussed the persecution she faced from social workers and psychologists opposed to her assertion that there is little evidence for long-term repression of traumatic memories, including those involving sexual abuse. She was, in fact, sued by a “recovered memory” patient for investigating her case and finding that the evidence for a recovered memory of abuse was bogus. At one point in the five-year lawsuit, which went to the California Supreme Court (she won, although the lawyers were the real winner!), Elizabeth said she spent hours trying to feel better by watching Lifetime T.V., which often has shows about beleaguered women who triumph over adversity. She said she was embarrassed to be a professional psychologist who found solace in such dreck, but that it worked. In the Q&A session afterwards, a guy got up and confessed that, he too, watched Lifetime T.V. and it was even worse, for he skipped the NFL playoffs to watch it.

I had my picture taken with Dr. Loftus afterwards; she’s a lovely person, and a very tough woman:


The banquet food continued to be good, with a nice piece of salmon over lentils for dinner:


. . . followed by a chocolate tart with whipped cream. (There was a salad an a nice bread basket beforehand.)


And, in my room, “hydrate” yourself: only $3.50 for a 16-ounce bottle of water. How dare they? Needless to say, I drank tap water.


I give my talk in about an hour, so it’s time to shower and put on the nice clothes.

34 thoughts on “American Humanist meeting: Day 2

  1. Q was part of a collective of beings. I don’t think they were nasty, just childish, bored and somewhat sociopathic. Q was a great character, but my pathology probably has my love of Q misplaced.

  2. $3.50 for a bottle of water – 500ml by the looks of it – and it doesn’t even seem to have ant-tamper seals on it. Particularly sloppy.

  3. Your description of the event and primary participants sound so wonderful that it makes me envious that I couldn’t have been present. Wish I could be there to hear you speak. (Will you be wearing a pair of your boots? You don’t seem to be wearing boots in the photo with Dr. Loftus.)

  4. It is so satisfying to see Elizabeth Loftus rewarded and recognized like this. What she has had to live through is truly horrifying. Simply because she didn’t shy away from difficult questions, didn’t shy away from controversies – and followed the evidence, rather than moral outrage and “good” stories.

    And, she spoke up for many that (basically) no one else cared for. A true hero in my eyes.

    I recently ran past this interview with EL done by Carol Tavris, that touch on both her research and her personal life, Inside the Psychologist Studio with Elizabeth Loftus

    1. As I recall, Loftus was treated in a very shoddy manner by the University of Washington [which happens to be my UG alma mater], a gag order basically locking her files and preventing her from publishing or speaking on false memory during the years the Taub case was being litigated.

      Perhaps some of this was over-reactive university lawyers, but my recollection is that some of her UW colleagues were nasty as well.

  5. The hyperlink for the text “Q in the Star Trek” leads to the Lifetime TV network (as does the more appropriate link below). This is likely a cut-and-paste typo. I suspect the desired link is

    PS The character of Q is more powerful than Trump but mainly mischievous rather than malignant.

    1. And while Trump thinks he knows everything, Q actually did. 😉

      And in fairness to the character, the later episodes with him tended to have him imparting a message of sorts and heavily implied that he actually wanted the best for humanity long-term (think “Q-Who”, “Tapestry”, “All Good Things…”).

      1. I liked the episode where Q chastised the crew for squandering their time being preoccupied with banal things. I think a lot about that episode when dramatic things happen at work for no good reason.

  6. Re Loftus

    The only case of recovered memory of sexual abuse that is I find at all convincing is the one that started the whole discussion but remains IMO atypical- the case of former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur.

    But hers seems to be a case of dissociation and split personality rather than the kind of complete repression of memories that recovery-therapists claim to unearth through deep hypnosis (which likely simply implants false memories). Van Derbur’s credibility is boosted by the fact that her older sister had non-repressed memories of similar abuse, and that when she confronted her father, he did not deny the allegation (according to her autobiography). Derbur’s case is also atypical in that the recovery of memories did not take place under deep hypnosis, but rather occurred as a consequence of a point-blank question from her church’s youth pastor (who was my uncle- full disclosure) as to whether her father was molesting her.

    By contrast, the charges of sex abuse/incest that Rosanne Barr has brought against her parents seem to lack credibility, though she credits Van Derbur as an inspiration. Anne Heche’s charges also lack credibility. Barr recanted her charges in 2011.

    Loftus quotes someone who talks about these two cases as if they were somewhat similar somewhat similar in this article ( but the cases seem different to me. In the same article Loftus DOES say,
    “If confirmed abuse is prevalent, many instances of repressed memory abuse cases also could be authentic. Unfortunately, in the repressed memory cases, particularly when memories do not return for 20 or 30 years, there is little in the way of documented corroboration. This, of course, does not mean that they are false.”

  7. Once again, thanks for conveying all that detail, Prof CC. It’s a great read.
    And nom pictures are always welcomed!

  8. Bottled water in Chicago is just stupid. We have some of the best tap water available anywhere. One of the benefits of being located on an enormous freshwater sea. Incredibly soft. When I travel, I am struck by how much more soap and shampoo I have to use to get sufficient lather. And it is clean – we reversed the flow of the Chicago River and send our crap down to St. Louis.

    And guess where Ice Mountain, a Nestle subsidiary, gets the water that it bottles? From springs that feed Lake Michigan.

  9. What an excellent time! This was my first “humanist conference”, and it was stellar! I very much enjoyed your lecture and it seemed as though you’ve added quite a bit of new information to it. Thanks for taking the time to autograph the books and take photos. As I said, one of the books will be sent to a friend of mine living in Scotland. She’s very excited to add your work to her library.

  10. Kudos to Dr Loftus. IMO ‘recovered memory therapists’ should all be locked up indefinitely as menaces to society, worse than crack dealers. Take someone who already has psychiatric problems, encourage them to fantasise about their past, imply that *somebody* must have abused them, and surprise surprise some poor relative who never did a thing finds him/herself the target of a witch-hunt at best, horrendous criminal charges at worst.

    And of course, after 10 or 30 years, there’s no possible way to disprove any allegations.

    Most of the psycho-woo industry could be dismissed (in the same way as homeopaths) as relatively harmless con artists who only steal money (except when their dubious ‘therapy’ stops someone getting proper help) but ‘recovered memory’ is just pure evil. People are quite capable of concocting paranoid fantasies without encouragement.


    (Disclaimer: I’ve never been the victim of one, thank FSM.)

    1. Indeed. I think you also can draw many underlying structural parallels between these therapists and psychiatrists adhering to the idea of repressed memories, and the monks and priests in the holy inquisition – and in continuation, the “evil” that they perpetrated.

      In both cases they believed, (in all probability) sincerely and deeply, that they were doing a truly good thing, and ultimately, that they were defending and helping vulnerable and defenseless (blameless) people and societies. They were exposing and fighting a true evil, and, that the enormity of that evil justified the abhorrence and dramatic measures taken in its defense.

      And, in both cases, the underlying assumptions are, in all probability, dead wrong.

      Nota bene, not that sexual molestations and rapes does not occur (they obviously and depressingly do), but, the very idea that you could repress the memories of it completely out of your consciousness, and that someone, by applying some fancy technique, could later make them reappear.

      There are, I think, some very valuable lessons to learn from this, and these apparent recurring patterns…

      1. Yes. I would just add that there is so much evidence of the unreliability of memory, and the ability of the brain to ‘adjust’ memories to suit preconceptions or suggestions, or to conflate memories, that encouraging people to ‘remember’ is an extremely hazardous proceeding.

        I know only too well, having had it quite fortuitously demonstrated to me a couple of times, how insidious this can be.


        1. As you say, it aught to have been bloody obvious with a bit of applied (calm detached critical) reflection, or, should at least be so today.

          There also appear to exist another (potential) grave psychological error at work here, namely the “Trauma Myth”, which was stumbled upon by Susan Clancy during here graduate work at Harvard.

          Basically, what she found was that, for the (possibly wast) majority of victims of sexual molestation, (the approximately 90 percent of the cases that does not involve any physical violence and force), the victims did not report of any fear and shock when it happened.

          Most reported that they did not even understand what was happening until much later. None had repressed it, many had simply not thought about it for many years, because, when it happened, it was not something overly dramatic or remarkable.

          The shock, sadness and feeling of betrayal, (the perpetrator is in the wast majority of cases a close relative) came much later, with the understanding of what really happened. And this grief is often (as I understand it) much more complex than the “simple” model commonly used.

          Because the whole public story has been centered around the experience of the minority of the most gruesome cases, bolstered by the ever more dramatic revelations of repressed memories of satanic cults and what not, this wast majority of true victims has been almost completely sidetracked.

          And that is to my mind, a truly dark irony in all this…

          Susan Clancy wrote a book about her study, that I think is well worth the time to read, The Trauma Myth: The Truth About the Sexual Abuse of Children–and Its Aftermath

      2. As Bunge pointed out 20+ years ago, the whole “repressed memory” thing comes straight out of psychoanalysis, the greatest pseudoscience (or pseudotechnology) of all time.

  11. Lookin’ très chic in photo the third, Jerry. Remember to shoot the cuffs as you walk in a joint.

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