LINGUIST List 3.344

Fri 17 Apr 1992

FYI: Genie and the New Yorker

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  • Vicki Fromkin, New Yorker article

    Message 1: New Yorker article

    Date: Wed, 15 Apr 92 17:16 PDT
    From: Vicki Fromkin <IYO1VAFUCLAMVS.bitnet>
    Subject: New Yorker article


    TO: Colleagues and Friends who have or will read the two part article 'A Silent Childhood' by Russ Rymer

    FROM: Susie Curtiss and Vicki Fromkin

    When Part 1 of the article on Genie appeared in the April 13th issue of The New Yorker, we were somewhat concerned about some of the misrepresentation of facts, the 'sensationalism' regarding the case, and the implication that those of us, both linguists and psychologists who worked with Genie over many years were overly concerned with thesearch research to the neglect of Genie and further impliled that we were unconcerned with Genie as a person and her tragedy. As one of our colleagues pointed out, once again, what linguists really 'do' is distorted. But overall we, Susie and I, did not think it was a really terrible article. However, Susie has just read part 2, and is very upset with the inaccuracies and defamatory implications. Although Vicki Fromkin has not yet read Part 2, both of us feel we should alert the academic community as soon as possible to misrepresentations in the article and we are therefore sending this out to illustrate the kinds of concerns and misrepresentations in the article. We would appreciate your informing your friends and colleagues of our concerns so that when they read the article (if they do) they will realize that the true story is far from what Rymer states. Below are just a few examples.

    1) Jean Butler Ruch, who is presented very favorably in the article, created a nightmare for everyone concerned with Genie, herself, and with the study. She sent anonymous letters to everyone involved as well as NSF and NIMH. She gave false information to Genie's mother, and was instrumental in a law suit against the Hospital, the psychologists there, Curtiss and others, a suit which was thrown out of court. It is interesting that Rymer talks of Ruch's unfailing concern for Genie and her mother but does not state that Ruch never phoned or visited Genie for years while she was in the Rigler home and after she left there.

    2) Rymer implies that we benefitted monetarily from the study and the NIMH grant. Vicki Fromkin never received one penny, even for expenses, and Susie Curtiss received $2.20/hr for 10-12 hours/per week as a graduate student researcher from the NIMH grant, and then continued the work as well as hours spent socially with Genie each week without receiving any funds at all.

    3) Rymer implies that none of us did much research on the NIMH grant

    despite our many publications, including the articles in LANGUAGE, Brain and Language, Curtiss's book, and over 20 other papers, and countless reports to scholarly meetings and lectures.

    4) Curtiss showed Genie's mother the book before publication (not mentioned by Rymer) although Genie's mother showed no interest in looking at it or reading it. Susie Curtiss was accepted by Genie's mother at that point as Genie's 'true friend'.

    5) The article does not mention that the personal history had been published in many newspapers and presented at conferences (e.g. the American Psychological Association meeting in Hawaii) prior to the publication of S Curtiss's book. The article makes it appear as if Curtiss broke confidentiality constraints which is totally wrong.

    6) The article fails to mention that everyone, Genie's mother included knew before the publication that all royalties would go into a trust for Genie. Curtiss has never received any funds from the book. The royalties were never offered as a compromise in the lawsuit, as Rymer inaccurately states, since years before,the agreement regarding the trust for Genie had been established.

    7) Much of the scientific 'garble' must be due to the fact that Rymer never used a tape recorder when he interviewed any of us, Curtiss, Fromkin, Lila Gleitman, etc. Many of the so-called 'quotes' attributed to individuals were never spoken by them (and some were not even discussed -- for example, the Fromkin, Curtiss reaction to Genie's puberty) Incidentally, have any of you out there ever referred to the publication of 'Syntactic Structures' as 'the event'? I never heard this before.

    We hope these points do not seem trivial. We are deeply concerned not so much for ourselves but for the misrepresentations of what we as linguists do and what we feel and our basic humanity.

    We are considering writing our own 'story' which would clarify the important issues but we may be over-reacting. We would, however, be very appreciative to hear from any of you regarding what you think should be done, including our forgetting the whole thing. We would, of course, be happy to answer any questions which any of you may have.