July 13, 2012
“It is painful to admit this, but when the McMartin story first hit the news, the two of us, independently, were inclined to believe that the preschool teachers were guilty. Not knowing the details of the allegations, we mindlessly accepted the ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ cliché; as scientists, we should have known better.
“When, months after the trial ended, the full story came out – about the emotionally disturbed mother who made the first accusation and whose charges became crazier and crazier until even the prosecution stopped paying attention to her; about how the children had been coerced over many months to ‘tell’ by zealous social workers on a moral crusade; about how the children’s stories became increasingly outlandish – we felt foolish and embarrassed that we had sacrificed our scientific skepticism on the altar of outrage.
“But our dissonance is nothing compared with that of the people who were personally involved in or who took a public stand, including the many psychotherapists, psychiatrists and social workers who consider themselves skilled clinicians and advocates for children’s rights.
– From “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson (2007)
Of course, not everyone who “mindlessly accepted the ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ cliché’ ” has recovered his misplaced scientific skepticism.