Chair-entity Vicki Hyde responds to a letter from a member who resigned from the society over the Skeptics’ donation to the Peter Ellis Defence Fund. We reprint her letter as a clear statement of the Society’s position on a controversial issue.
We are sorry that the decision to donate to the Peter Ellis Defence Fund meant that you feel you can no longer support the Skeptics. The donation was made after considerable discussion at the AGM and, to my surprise, was agreed unanimously by those present.
If you will bear with me, I would like to explain the background of this and why it was germane to the Skeptics (in the same way that OJ Simpson or, indeed, your parking fine defence fund, would not be).
At the time of the Civic Creche case we were well aware of similar events in the US, following very similar patterns, and had even predicted that we would soon see in New Zealand a major child abuse case with claims of ritual Satanic abuse involving a day-care centre. We were very sorry to be proved right.
The case followed hard on the heels of ritual abuse “classes” being held in Christchurch where police and social workers (some of them later involved in the creche case) were taught that Satanic ritual abuse is a worldwide phenomenon (this despite the fact that protracted investigations in both the US and the UK have failed to find any evidence of such).
It was also during the depths of the recovered memory/false memory debate when increasing evidence was being presented on the malleability of memory and the ease with which it can be tampered with or modified in adults, let alone small children. Poor science and pseudo-science was being used to try to bolster the idea that memories are always true, and we even had doctors (obviously not parents!) declaring that children never lie.
When the Civic Creche case broke, the initial allegations seemed reasonable enough — we know, sadly, that child abuse does happen in our society, and we all share a responsibility to see that it does not occur and that, when it does, those involved are treated appropriately.
However, we were concerned to see an increasing number of allegations of various classic Satanic ritual abuse elements, including a number of truly bizarre or impossible events. These tended to be produced by the children of people with counselling backgrounds who had bought into the ritual abuse paradigm and who had questioned their toddlers over and over again about events at the creche. This included, as I understand it, the woman whose child made the first complaint and who was pivotal in organising other like-minded parents.
What really concerned us, as Skeptics, was the apparent unwillingness to consider the likelihood that mass cannibalistic rituals, child murder, the disinternment of Jesus Christ and other unsavory — and in some cases lengthy — activities could take place in an open-plan creche which was accessible at any time.
While some of the parents involved apparently still consider that these events did take place, the police were sufficiently concerned to weed out the more bizarre claims and present only the most believable. Selection of evidence to suit the desired aims is deplored in the sciences; it should be abhorred in the courtroom.
There are many other aspects of the case that we find questionable, but I think that the above action really strikes at the heart of the matter. How can we, as members of the public or, worse, as members of a jury, be expected to decide on a case if 80% of the evidence is not even presented because it is considered to be too unbelievable!
The analogy I have used is the following:
Imagine if I was a witness in the OJ Simpson trial and the jury were told that my statement said “I saw OJ Simpson kill his wife.”
Imagine that the full text of my statement read that “I was walking down the road after a couple of quick whiskies and a UFO picked me up and we went to visit Shirley Maclean and Elvis on Mars and then headed back to good ole Earth and I saw OJ Simpson kill his wife”.
I presume that you would agree with us that the earlier part of the statement has major implications for the credibility of the latter. We contend that the police should be required to reveal “the whole truth” as part of their responsibility to provide all the relevant information to a jury so that the latter can decide on guilt or innocence.
Sadly it appears that our justice system does not operate like that. Certainly I know that I now have major qualms concerning jury service — how will I ever know whether the police are concealing pertinent evidence in their desire to present a “good” case?
The Skeptics would not have made the donation to the Ellis fund were it not patently clear that an injustice had taken place. We did so realising that it would be a controversial decision but one that we could not, in all conscience, ignore were we to hold to our principles.
Thank you for your support in the past — we hope that you will reconsider your decision given the above.
Whatever you choose, we wish you all the best.