Memory is not infallible and the next speaker at the newly renamed William Bass-Hugh Berryman Legends in Forensic Science Lectureship Series at Middle Tennessee State University will explain why.
World-renowned psychologist Elizabeth Loftus will present, “Illusions of Memory: The Misinformation Effect and False Memory in Forensic Cases,” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, in the Student Union Ballroom, 1768 MTSU Blvd. The event is free and open to the public.
A distinguished professor at the University of California-Irvine, Loftus studies the malleability of human memory. The entirety of Loftus’ body of work revolves around the concept that your memories can be manipulated.
“She tells people, ‘I’m not interested in what you remember. I’m interested in what you remember that never happened,’” said Dr. Thomas Holland, director of MTSU’s Forensic Institute for Research and Education, which is sponsoring the lectureship series. “You can create false memories.”
Speaker ‘No. 1 in the world’
Holland said Loftus has been called to serve as an expert witness or consultant in countless high-profile criminal cases. Some of those include McMartin Preschool molestation case, the Hillside Stranglermurders, the FBI’s ABSCAM sting, the Rodney King beating, the Oklahoma City bombing and litigation involving Michael Jackson, Martha Stewart, Oliver North, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey and others.
“I think it’s a real opportunity for people in Tennessee to get to see and hear from a true legend,” Holland said. “Her work on memory and specifically, in forensic applications, I would rank her No. 1 in the world.”
Loftus has published more than 20 books and more than 600 scientific articles. She has been recognized for her research with eight honorary doctorates and election to her numerous prestigious societies, including the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Most popular book titles include, “Witness for the Defense,” “The Myth of Repressed Memory” and “Eyewitness Testimony.”
The American Psychological Association lists Loftus as one of the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century. In 2016, she received the John Maddox Prize, which is awarded to those who show courage and integrity in standing up for sound science and evidence.
At UC-Irvine, Loftus holds faculty positions in the Department of Psychological Science; the Department of Criminology, Law and Society; and the School of Law. She received her Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University.
A book signing will follow. Copies of a handful of her most popular books will be on sale at the lecture and proceeds benefit MTSU’s Phillips Bookstore.
New lectureship name honors legend
This year marks the first time for the lecture series will bear the name of Professor Emeritus Hugh Berryman, who founded MTSU’s Forensic Institute for Research and Education in 2006.
Berryman started the biannual Forensic Legends Lecture Series in spring 2007 with a talk from William “Bill” Bass, the founder of the world’s first “Body Farm,” or forensic anthropology research facility, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Bass also served on the board of advisers for FIRE, which is affiliated with MTSU’s interdisciplinary Forensic Science Program.
Over the years the lecture series has featured forensic scientists specializing in DNA, skeletons, gunshots and trauma.
“Forensic psychology had not been talked about previously and we had an opportunity to get Dr. Loftus,” Holland said. “I think it’s a big coup for our university to bring somebody of her caliber to speak.”
This year Holland, FIRE’s second director, decided it was time to honor Berryman by adding the retired professor’s name to the legends lecture series.
“I admire Hugh Berryman, my predecessor. He’s a legend in his own right,” Holland said. “And I thought the speaker series should have an MTSU connection. So I made the decision to rename the lecture series.”
Holland, the former scientific director of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command’s Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu, Hawaii, spoke at the lecture series 10 years ago and took the helm of MTSU’s FIRE center after Berryman’s retirement in 2019.
Other speakers of the Legends in Forensic Science lecture series have included Dr. Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution, who led the team studying the 9,300-year-old “Kennewick Man”; Dr. Kathy Reichs, creator of the “Bones” books and TV series; Dr. Jan Garavaglia, star of Discovery Health’s “Dr. G: Medical Examiner.”
For more information on the Oct. 26 lecture, please contact the FIRE offices at 615-494-7713 or visit mtsu.edu/fire. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sponsors include the Forensic Institute for Research and Education, Distinguished Lecture Committee, Middle Tennessee Forensic Science Society, Department of Criminal Justice Administration, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, College of Behavioral and Health Sciences, College of Basic and Applied Sciences, Office of the University Provost, Forensic Science Program and College of Liberal Arts.
MTSU’s Student Union Building is located at 1768 MTSU Blvd. Free parking is available in the lot north of the Student Union. A searchable campus parking map is available at http://tinyurl.com/MTSUParkingMap.
— Nancy DeGennaro (Nancy.DeGennaro@mtsu.edu)