2016 John Maddox Prize

Pioneer in understanding of human memory, Professor Elizabeth Loftus awarded the 2016 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science

Professor Elizabeth Loftus has been awarded the international 2016 John Maddox Prize for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest, despite facing difficulty and hostility in doing so. A cognitive psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, Loftus is recognised for her leadership in the field of human memory which continued in the face of personal attacks and attempts to undermine her professional status and research.

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.

The John Maddox Prize, now in its fifth year, is a joint initiative of Nature, the leading weekly, international scientific journal, the Kohn Foundation, and the charity Sense about Science, and is awarded to one or two people a year. The late Sir John Maddox FRS, was editor of Nature for 22 years and a founding trustee of Sense about Science. A passionate and tireless communicator and champion-of-science, he engaged with difficult debates, inspiring others to do the same.

The judging panel consisted of Professor Colin Blakemore FRS, Tracey Brown (Sense about Science), Sir Philip Campbell PhD (Nature) Lord Rees of Ludlow OM FRS, Natasha Loder (The Economist). The judges sat in a personal capacity and the choice of the award does not indicate the view of any organisation they are associated with. The judges were once again struck by the high calibre and the international breadth of this year’s nominations – the highest number received in any year – reflecting a growing recognition in the global science community of the importance of engaging in discussion about science in the public realm. In 2016, there were 72 nominations, with nominees from 17 different countries.

Elizabeth Loftus with bookshelves in the background.
Credit Brad Swonetz/Redux/Eyevine

Partners

The prize is a joint initiative of the science journal Nature, the Kohn Foundation, and the charity Sense about Science. The late Sir John Maddox, FRS, was editor of Nature for 22 years and a founding trustee of Sense about Science.

Comments

Sir Philip Campbell PhD, Editor-in-Chief, Nature, and judge: “Elizabeth Loftus has championed scientific insight in a way that perfectly epitomises the values of the John Maddox Prize.”

Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor of Social Ecology, and Professor of Law, and Cognitive Science, University of California, Irvine: “I could hardly contain my excitement when I first learned that I would receive the 2016 John Maddox Prize, especially since this prize recognizes the work of people who promote sound credible science that bears on a matter of public interest AND who have faced difficult challenges or hostility in the process. Standing up for psychological science in general, and research on memory in particular, has brought a good deal of hostility my way. Receiving this honor helps to erase the pain of insults, death threats, and lawsuits. And I love the idea that, forever, my CV will contain the name of the late Sir John Maddox whom all respect for his tireless defense of science.”

Tracey Brown, Director, Sense about Science and judge: “It’s one thing to stand up for science. It’s another to keep going when the consequences become personal. Elizabeth Loftus has shown remarkable bravery in pursuing her research in spite of verbal and physical personal attacks. Her resulting contribution to our understanding of human memory has been extraordinary. Elizabeth has never backed away from talking about her work. Her persistence benefits us all because it means we see evidence when we most need to see it – when debates are heated and difficult. John Maddox was always of the view that this was when real communicators put on their boots rather than hung up their coats.”

Colin Blakemore, Professor of Neuroscience & Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London: “Elizabeth Loftus’ remarkable work on the unreliability of eye-witness testimony and the existence of false memories has had enormous impact on cognitive science. But what makes her such a worthy winner of the John Maddox Prize is her determination to use the lessons from her research to challenge courtroom procedures and the unjustified claims of some psychotherapists. As a consequence, she has suffered enormous abuse, but has never flinched from criticising bad practice and the misuse of legal processes and of psychotherapeutic procedures.”

Lord (Martin) Rees of Ludlow OM FRS, University of Cambridge and judge: “Society should be grateful to scientists who scrutinise the science underlying controversial issues and are prepared to engage with the public, even when that engagement presents a risk to themselves. Such people often get more flak than praise. The Maddox Prize is one way of showing our gratitude for their courage.”

Brenda Maddox, Patron of the John Maddox Prize: “My late husband John had an unusual combination of knowledge of science and eloquence of expression. Someone once asked him, ‘how much of what you print is wrong?’ referring to Nature. John answered immediately, ‘all of it. That’s what science is about – new knowledge constantly arriving to correct the old.’ He led a supreme example of science journalism and others will do well to look to it.”

Select Coverage

‘We can’t let the bullies win’: Elizabeth Loftus awarded 2016 John Maddox Prize, the Guardian (17 Nov 2016)

False memory, manipulation and the tooth fairy, the Financial Times (£) (21 Nov 2016)

BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, (from 2:44:45) (18 Nov 2016)

BBC World Service Newshour (from 45.11) (18 Nov 2016)

Sense in the face of hostility, the Psychologist (Jan 2017)

UCI Professor Wins International Award, Orange County Business Journal (18 Nov 2016)

John Maddox Prize win for Elizabeth Loftus, Goldsmiths (18 Nov 2016)

UCI professor awarded 2016 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science, UCI News (17 Nov 2016)

Loftus awarded 2016 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science, UCI School of Social Ecology (Nov 2016)

AAAS Board Member Elizabeth Loftus Receives Maddox Prize, AAAS (21 Nov 2016)

Loftus Receives 2016 John Maddox Prize, APS (7 Dec 2016)

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