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The John Maddox Prize Nomination for Elizabeth Loftus

Here are extended excerpts from Goldsmiths College (University of London) psychology professor Chris French’s letter nominating Elizabeth Loftus for the 2016 John Maddox Prize (see News and Comment, p. 7).

I would like to nominate Professor Elizabeth Loftus for the John Maddox Prize. She is an outstanding candidate with respect to all of the listed criteria:

● How clearly the individual communicated good science, despite adversity.

● The level of responsibility they took for public debate, and going above and beyond their job requirements.

● How effectively they placed the evidence in the wider debate and engaged others.


Elizabeth Loftus (usually referred to as “Beth”) spent almost three decades at the University of Washington, Seattle. She was determined to carry out research with direct relevance to real-world issues and thus became the world’s leading researcher in the area of the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Her innovative studies showed convincingly how leading questions could influence witness reports. For example, if participants are shown a video clip of two cars colliding, participants will give different estimates of speed depending upon whether the cars are described as “making contact with,” “colliding with,” or “smashing into” each other. Her research also demonstrated what has become known as the misinformation effect. This occurs when, after viewing an event, a witness is subtly presented with misinformation about that event. For example, a questionnaire administered after the event might include a question asking, “What was the color of the car next to the stop sign?” In fact, the sign was not a stop sign, but when memory is tested some time later the misinformed witnesses are more likely to report that they did indeed see one. Such effects are amongst the most robust and widely replicated within the discipline and are routinely described in virtually every introductory psychology textbook. Her book, Eyewitness Testimony, won a National Media Award for a Distinguished Contribution from the American Psychological Foundation. The implications of such work for the criminal justice system are obvious and, as a result, Elizabeth Loftus has been called as an expert witness in hundreds of criminal cases, including high profile cases such as Ted Bundy, the Hillside Strangler, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Loftus took the greatest pleasure in helping to acquit those whom she believed had been falsely accused of brutal crimes on the basis of faulty eyewitness testimony.

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