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People involved with the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF)

Exaggerated Membership

Stephanie Dallam meticulously breaks down the Foundation’s exaggeration of membership figures and cases in her article, “Crisis or Creation? A Systematic Examination of "False Memory Syndrome." You can read the full article here: 


FMSF membership reported to the public has been consistently and highly inflated, in comparison to actual membership the FMSF reported to the IRS. In her article, Dallam notes:

In early 1994, the Sacramento Bee reported that Pamela Freyd “said her Foundation has 11,000 members, including health professionals and lawyers.”… In an article ironically titled ‘Ethical Issues in the Search for Repressed Memories,’ FMSF advisor Harold Merskey (1996) reported “The FMSF has grown rapidly with over 12,000 members by early 1995 and with more than 21,000 listed inquiries” … In April 1995, Ofra Bikel's Frontline documentary ‘Divided Memories’ (which relied heavily on the FMSF for information) reported that the foundation had 15,000 members. Toward the end of 1995, the FMSF's newsletter suggested that the organization was “over 17,000 strong” … These figures [are] significantly larger than those reported to the IRS for 1995. The FMSF reported that by the end of 1995; they had 2,385 members… in 1996 the average membership figure reported to the public was approximately six times higher than the figure reported to the IRS. [1]


Figure 1, from Dallam’s paper, “displays reported membership figures in relation to reported contacts. This graph demonstrates that while both contacts and membership figures appear to rise rapidly, actual membership levels remained relatively flat.” [1]


The inflated membership figures reported to the public were conflated with the FMSF’s received phone contacts inquiring about false memory syndrome:

Dallam reports that a FMSF newsletter issue in March of 1994 “featured a bar graph titled: "Number of Cases Documented." The graph shows 11,000 documented cases of false memory during the preceding two years. However, a close examination of the accompanying text revealed that the FMSF had been contacted by 11,000 people. Thus, "documented cases" were actually phone calls asking for information… The same issue of the FMSF newsletter included a letter written by an anonymous FMSF volunteer. The volunteer wrote:  "Can you conceive of an organization that grew from 250 families in March 1992, to 11,000 in February 1994?" (p. 8). This letter implied that contacts (phone calls and letters with questions and concerns, along with 4,000 cases of "family problems" of which the organization has no details) were now members of the foundation.” This was cemented shortly after when the Sacramento Bee published an article claiming that the FMSF had 11,000 members. [1]


The FMSF continued to report inflated membership despite Moving Forward contacting Pamela Freyd about membership discrepancies after Peter Freyd had posted to an online email listserv ‘Witchunt’ that the FMSF had at least 2,500 members. In response, Pamela Freyd stated in September 1995 that the FMSF had around 4,000 members – still nearly twice the number reported to the IRS. [2]


After their contact with Peter and Pamela Freyd on the subject, Moving Forward exposed the FMSF’s inflated membership and lack of investigation into ‘documented cases’ in September 1995, publishing an article titled “False Memory Syndrome Foundation's Membership Exaggerated: Organization has Only About 4,000 Members”:

“Other questions are being raised over how FMSF calculates its membership. The organization has apparently adopted the practice of labeling many of its members and contacts a “family...” According to Pamela Freyd, this method of categorizing members and contacts extends to every inquiry about a situation that FMSF receives "in which the person indicates that they know someone who had no memories of abuse before therapy." In other words, Those who merely claim that they have a family member who has recovered memories of abuse are automatically categorized as representing entire families [by the FMSF]... in Clohessy's view. "Under the current way in which the organization tallies its members and contacts," he says, "child molesters who have confessed to their crimes and have been convicted of child abuse could join or call up and be counted as a 'family'." [2]


In response, Pamela Freyd announced in the October 1995 FMSF newsletter that despite how “numbers always seem to fascinate people,” the foundation had stopped recording the number of ‘documented cases’ of ‘false memory syndrome’ as they believed they had sufficiently proved that ‘FMS’ existed:

“The FMS Foundation is frequently asked to provide the "number" of individuals in various categories that we have described, such as affected family contacts, retractors or lawsuits… We [the FMSF] stopped reporting numbers a few months after we announced that 10,000 people had told us that an adult… in some sort of therapy setting had claimed to have "recovered repressed memories" that she had never known about before, made accusations and cut off all contact with anyone who would not validate the new beliefs. We stopped reporting numbers because we believed that we had documented the existence of a problem.” [3]


Despite the Moving Forward expose and Pamela’s subsequent retraction of numerical data, the FMSF’s membership continued to be inflated. In 1997, “a member of the FMSF reported in testimony before a Georgia Senate Judiciary Subcommittee that the organization had 18,000 members.” Later that year, Pamela Freyd stated that the FMSF only had “some 3,000 dues-paying members.” [1]

Founders, Employees, Staff

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation consists of:

  • Founders: Pamela and Peter Freyd, Ralph Underwager, Hollida Wakefield, Dr. Harold Lief, and an unnamed group of families.

  • FMSF Office Manager: Frank Kane

  • FMSF Paid staff: Anita Lipton and Zipora Roth. Both women are teachers. Anita was later promoted to the coordinator of legal research – In the Feb 1997 newsletter, she was listed as holding a masters degree, while in the September 1999 newsletter she was listed as holding a bachelor’s degree.

  • FMSF Newsletter Columnists: August Piper, Katie Spanuello, Allen Feld, Mark Pendergrast, and other “Members of the FMSF Scientific advisory Board and Members who wish to remain anonymous.” jan/feb2006

  • FMSF Newsletter editors: Peter Freyd, Toby Feld, Allen Feld, Howard Fishman, and Janet Fetkewicz.

  • FMSF Newsletter research: Merci Federici, Michele Gregg, Anita Lipton.

  • FMSF Newsletter notices and production: Danielle Taylor, Valerie Fling, Ric Powell.

  • Co-Chairman of the Fund Raising Committee: Lee Arning and Charles Caviness 

  • Part and Full-Time Volunteers: A full list has never been published, and the foundation never used the last names of their volunteers. Some names include: Lisa, Nick, Nancy, Ric, Janet, Mika, Karen, Allen, Toby, Valerie, Merci, and Marjorie

  • Scientific and Professional Advisory Board

Scientific Advisory Board Members: Psychologists or Not?

FMSF emphasized not only that "board members make substantial donations to the Foundation both in time and money" but also that "it is the presence of the Advisory Board that has given our efforts credibility." [4] By 1998, 6 years after the FMSF had formed, the scientific advisory board had only gathered to meet twice. [5]


Currently, the FMSF’s website’s page on the scientific advisory board states that “In forming the FMSF, we felt that we would be most effective if we could gain the help of members of the scientific and clinical communities who studied memory… we began to identify people whose published research in the field of memory or clinical practice might provide insights into the problem. We decided to approach senior members in the field…” [6]


How many advisory board members actually held relevant degrees in psychology or psychiatry? Turns out, 11 members of the advisory board (23%) did not have advanced degrees in psychology or psychiatry. Two board members had degrees in sociology and one had a medical degree, but the others had degrees in English, business, linguistics, and philosophy. [4] August Piper has never been board certified in psychiatry (failing twice), [5] while Emily Orne held a bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked in her husband’s lab. Finally, James Randi was a stage magician who had sexually explicit (tape-recorded) phone conversations with teenage boys. [7]


Ten members of the advisory board with psychology degrees specialized in areas unrelated to memory and abuse (20.8%). These include areas such as the psychology of sleep, linguistics, human judgment, homosexuality, schizophrenia, vision, and the neuroscience of spiritual experiences. [5]


Together, just under half (43.8%) of the FMSF’s scientific advisory board did not hold advanced degrees in areas relevant to the recovered memory controversy.

Resigned Members of the FMSF’s Scientific Advisory Board Members

At least five members of the FMSF’s scientific advisory board resigned: Jon Baron, Ray Hyman, Louise Shoemaker, Louis Jolyon West, and Ralph Underwager. In the FMSF archives, Underwager and Baron’s resignations are not mentioned.


The Florida Tampa Tribune reports that Ray Hyman “said he is uncomfortable with the group's blend of science and public relations.” He is quoted saying  "They have a lot of good people on their advisory board, but they also seem to be kind of a propaganda group.” [8]


The Portland Oregonian reported that both Hyman and Baron personally knew Jennifer Freyd, who’s accusations of abuse spurred her parents to found the FMSF. Hyman was her colleague, and Baron was her undergraduate mentor. They “resigned after hearing her side of the story.” [9]


Ralph Underwager resigned from the FMSF’s advisory board after he made supportive statements about pedophilia. While being interviewed by a dutch pedophile magazine, he responded to the question of "Is choosing paedophilia for you a responsible choice for the individuals?" by stating "Certainly it is responsible... I don't think that a paedophile needs to [defend their choice]. Paedophiles can boldly and courageously affirm what they choose. They can say that what they want is to find the best way to love... With boldness, they can say, "I believe this is in fact part of God's will." [10]


[1] Dallam, S. J. (2002). Crisis or Creation: A systematic examination of false memory claims. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse,9(3/4), 9-36.

[2] Lawrence, Lana. (1995, September). False Memory Syndrome Foundation's Membership Exaggerated: Organization has Only About 4,000 Members. Moving Forward Newsjournal. 3(3). 

[3] Freyd, Pamela. (1995, October 1). Dear Friends. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 4(9), 1.

[4] Pope, K. S. (1997). Memory, abuse, and science: Questioning claims about the false memory syndrome epidemic. American Psychologist, 51(9), 1006.

[5] Joye v. Rosmann. Deposition of August Piper, Junior, MD. (District Court of Shelby County, Iowa, 1998, September 2). No. LACV017111. 

[6] False Memory Syndrome Foundation. (2019, July 12). About FMSF - Advisory Board Profiles. Memory and Reality: Website of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. 

[7] Landsberg, Michele. (1996, February 11). Beware of false prophets peddling false-memory hype. Toronto Star. A2. 

[8] Hollingsworth, Jan. (1994, September 4). ‘Recovered memory' cases spark psychology debate. Tampa Tribune. 1. 

[9] Mitchell, Jann. (1993, August 8). Memories of a Disputed Past. The Oregonian. L01. 

[10] Joseph Geraci. (1991 June). Paidika interview: Hollida Wakefield and Ralph Underwager Part I. No Status Quo Websites. Retrieved 2023-04-25.

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