Category Archives: Amens, hallelujahs, huzzahs and kudos

A serendipitous opportunity to validate teaching stories; are my memories veridical?

I found my January, 1997 monthly work schedule the other day.


I’d just turned 33 and recently completed my Master’s much later than my original defense date and under a different supervisor than the professor with whom I’d started. My wife at the time was pregnant with our first child, but we didn’t know it. I was about to decide on a PhD program.

I was significantly older than other Boston-area research assistants I worked with and had a far more itinerant and objectively non-normal career.

I also had absolutely no idea the shape my career would take.

By January, 1997 I’d been at the Boston VA for a year and a half working with amnesic patients for the Memory Disorders Research Center of Boston University. Laird Cermak was the director and I worked primarily with Mieke Verfaellie, Bill Milberg and Dan Schacter. The MDRC atmosphere was friendly, productive, and everyone worked so collaboratively!  Mieke was one of my intellectual mentors and fortunately Twitter provides a platform to connect with colleagues from the past — and in this case to thank Mieke publicly for her mentorship.

As 1996 drew to a close, funding for the MDRC had not been renewed and I moved to Harvard to work full time for Dan.

Finding this schedule allows me to verify two personal stories I’ve told my students for 20 years, stories which are intended to illustrate, on one hand, some difficulty in conducting false memory research in the 90s, in the middle of the so-called “memory wars,” and also what it was like to work with anterograde amnesic patients from day to day.

Meeting Susan Clancy prior to controversy over her work:

Susan Clancy was a graduate student working with Rich McNally at Harvard when she decided to test two different populations of people for susceptibility to false memories, using the Deese-Roediger-McDermott associated word list paradigm. The two populations were women who had reported “recovered” memory of childhood sexual abuse and, subsequently, people who had reported alien abduction. Here’s abstracts of these key scientific papers:

To my mind, as a teacher interested in making clear the intersection of basic science and science directed toward the public interest, you have to talk about these findings carefully but directly. If there are similar mechanisms behind a tendency to claim a recovered memory of a traumatic or implausible event and memory errors in laboratory tasks, we should know this. And the consequences can be significant; in this case Clancy was hounded by people thinking she was denying the reality and/or the potential harm of CSA which she was not doing.

A 2003 New York Times article detailed her career to that point and the controversy surrounding her work.

Relevant to my teaching though, I tell students I can clearly recall the day Clancy came into my office to ask to use the DRM word lists we were using in our studies with amnesic patients. And low and behold, there is the date in black and white!


My memories of Patient SS as a teaching example of working with amnesic patients:

I saw on the schedule that I had meetings to run a “Patient SS” in two experimental sessions a week apart late in the month and early in February.


One thing Youtube videos of amnesic patients don’t show is how often they can tell you the same story (or story fragment) in a very short period of time. I think reporting these small details of working with brain-damaged patients is instructive and valuable to help students prepare for any clinical work they may undertake.

So I tell my students that SS was a relatively “self-taught” physicist who started his own optical company which made lasers. Upon entering his living room the research assistant sees a beautiful wall-mounted clock with colored crystals as hour indices. SS explained, often twice in a minute until the experimental work got underway, that the clock was a gift from his employees and featured many of the crystals that his company developed.

I looked up the original reports of SS and his condition, knowing that as in all neuropsychological reporting there would be comments on his occupation. Sure enough, in Cermak’s original 1976 report, here are the key verifications.  I still don’t know if the company made lasers or what the crystals were for, but I recall the clock and it was beautiful.


Memory is quite fallible and these recollections which I embed in my teaching could have been wrong. I’m glad to have done this exercise and relieved that my memories of 20 years ago seem stable.

That doesn’t mean other memories aren’t wrong though.


In My Sphere, Machinist Man, Hot Wheel City, Three Swallows, Free Supper, Jumbo’s.
Lyrics do not match the record closely in some places…

The Protomartyr No Passion All Technique Crowdsourced Lyrics Project

Part 1 -up to Jumbo’s. These are not complete in comparison to the record.

In My Sphere, Machinist Man, Hot Wheel City, Three Swallows, Free Supper, Jumbo’s



A note on Kim’s review of Watters & Goldrick-Rab’s review of Carey’s The End Of College

I have not yet read Kevin Carey’s The End Of College (henceforth TEOC).

But I’ve read some of it, and an awful lot about it though, all in a short time. I’ve read a case study in the New York Times which is taken directly from the book, a profile of status-seeking George Washington University

I’ve read a précis of sorts, laying out the book’s major themes, which is also found in the pages of the New York Times

Of all the great written work about the book so far, I encourage everyone to read chronologically;

1) John Warner’s review of the book’s take on economic inequality and how that may or may not be solved by TEOC is great and encapsulates my initial serious concerns far better than I could myself. Read it here:

2) Then came a devastating critique by Watters and Goldric-Rab, called Techno Fantasies, which also touches on the false promise of TEOC solving the economic inequalities of college but which is mainly focused on the highly-(cor)related issues of race and privilege and which takes an evidence-focused look at the effectiveness of MOOCs. If one is in the trenches every day reading higher ed news and literature as many college instructors are, these social justice-oriented and pedagogical critiques are familiar and must be more widely known.

3) Joshua Kim’s review came out the same day as the above; it is here:“-end-college”. I don’t like the salutation but otherwise find Kim’s review relatively balanced. Certainly not as breathless as Carey’s book appears to be.

4) The problem that’s burning up the internet right now is Kim’s choices in responding to the Watters and Goldric-Rab critique – which he titled Criticism vs. Attack, found Most of this response is all about tone policing. I believe that Kim’s position comes from institutional sexism plain and simple. Two must-read pieces on this are by David Perry here: and here:

In fact, from the title to the opening salvo paragraphs, Kim’s address to Watters and Goldrick-Rab is deeply tone policing. He makes serious misstep which others are not really addressing. He says that they don’t seriously engage with Carey’s concerns about the present state of “college.” Let me quote Kim here:

In the case of the The End of College this closing off of the conversation is particularly troublesome, as Carey is engaging in an important critique of our existing higher education system. What I found strange in the Watters and Goldrick-Rab review was no recognition of Carey’s focus on the structural flaws and inconsistencies that characterize much of U.S. higher education. 
If you read The End of College you learn that Carey is very worried about the costs of college, and is concerned about the general quality of student learning on most campuses. Carey spends much of the book trying to understand the roots of the hybrid university system, and how we arrived at a situation where huge numbers of students are excluded from receiving a postsecondary education.  Carey writes that, 
.. As college becomes more expensive, the have-nots are increasingly students from low-income backgrounds. Colleges are taking existing inequality and making it worse”.  (page 85)
I’d be surprised if Watters and Goldrick-Rab don’t share this concern.
So I went back to the Watters and Goldrick-Rab piece to see if they addressed Carey’s accounting of the raft of higher ed problems as espoused in TEOC. Of course they engaged with the problem! They state quite clearly:
Carey’s book comes at a time of rising college costs, swelling student debt and cuts to university courses, faculty and majors. From students to parents to taxpayers, everyone is alarmed about higher education’s most pressing challenges. As an education technology writer and scholar of higher education policy, we are, too.
Later in the piece:
One of Carey’s strongest objections is to the way in which higher education confers enormous benefits on the privileged and powerful (an issue that we agree is a major problem and have each written about time and again).
And still later, describing the role of education experts:
And the story that they tell is quite comforting for many who look at the rising cost of college and the fragile economy and hope that their children will be able to follow the right path toward a more secure future. 
How could Kim have failed to see the plain agreement that Watters and Goldbrick-Rab have with some if not all of the negative preconditions for Carey’s futuristic arguments for disruption? Pretty great example of confirmation bias, to this cognitive psychologist’s eyes.
As for the sexism, I leave that to others. I think David Perry nails that pretty well.

Top 10 Hammond Funk & Soul list in progress


Ray Sharp and the Soul Set – Earthquake


Mickey and the Soul Generation How Good Is Good?


Art Butler – Soul Brother


The Soul Lifters – Hot Funky and Sweaty


Dave Baby Cortez Getting to the Point




Dave Baby Cortez I Turned You On.


The Hunter and His Games – How You Get Higher


Mickey and the Soul Generation Iron Leg