AAAS Board Member Elizabeth Loftus Receives Maddox Prize

Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, a current member of the AAAS Board of Directors and a psychologist specializing in human memory, has received the 2016 John Maddox Prize, recognizing “sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest, facing difficulty or hostility in doing so.”

Loftus, a professor of law and cognitive science, performed experiments that revealed “how exposure to inaccurate information and leading questions could correct eyewitness testimony,” The Guardian newspaper reported. Research by Loftus also “demonstrated how therapy and hypnosis could plant completely false childhood memories in patients,” The Guardian’s Science Editor Ian Sample noted.

The John Maddox Prize, a joint initiative of Nature, the Kohn Foundation and Sense about Science, commemorates the late Sir John Maddox, a champion and defender of science who had served as a Nature editor for 22 years. Winners of the John Maddox Prize receive a monetary award of 2000 pounds and an announcement in Nature.

In response to her research, Sample reported, Loftus “endured a torrent of abuse from critics who objected to her work on the unreliable nature of eyewitness testimonies.”

The Maddox Prize organizers said of this year’s winner: “Professor Loftus is best known for her ground-breaking work on the `misinformation effect’ which demonstrates that the memories of eyewitnesses are altered after being exposed to incorrect information about an event, as well as her work on the creation and nature of false memories. In addition to her research, Loftus has appeared as an expert witness in numerous courtrooms, consulting or providing expert witness testimony for hundreds of cases. Her findings have altered the course of legal history; in showing that memory is not only unreliable, but also mutable.”

Loftus was also the recipient of the 2010 AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. Loftus, who received her Ph.D. degree in psychology from Stanford University, was described by AAAS as a “pioneer motivated by principle” and among the 100 most influential psychologists of the 21st century.