Abstract: During the 1980s and early 1990s, North America seemed to be in the grip of an epidemic of ritual sexual child abuse. Within 10 years, the epidemic was widely recognized as a false alarm, one sometimes characterized under the headings of "moral panic" and "group think". In this talk I will use the concept of wrongful accusation to explain some aspects of the social dynamics of this episode, drawing especially on Judith Herman's view of the role of bystanders in the reporting of sexual crimes and the politics of complicity. One question about the model proposed here concerns its applicability to other cases, and here I turn to consider briefly racially-skewed patterns of incarceration in both the US and Canada, and the history of eugenics, using Alberta's own robust history of eugenics as a touchstone. For a psychological audience, the talk might best be thought of as articulating a pair of puzzles to which social and cognitive psychologists may help to provide partial answers to--if not during the question period, later on.
Speaker Biography: Rob Wilson has been a professor at the U of A since 2000, having previously been a member of the Cognitive Science Group at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Rob was the general editor, with Frank Keil, of The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (1999), and is the author or editor of five other books, most recently Boundaries of the Mind (2004) and Genes and the Agents of Life (2005). His recent publications at the intersection of philosophy and psychology focus on embodied, situated, and extended cognition, including (with Andy Clark) "How to Situate Cognition: Letting Nature Take Its Course (2009), "Extended Vision" (2010), and (with Lucia Foglia) the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article, "Embodied Cognition" (2011, online). Rob is the director of Philosophy for Children Alberta, and is the principal investigator on the CURA-funded project Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada. His ongoing work focuses on four separate topics: kinship, incest, psychiatric taxonomies, and wrongful accusation. In Winter 2012, he will teach a new course, Phil 305, Philosophy of Psychology, which will cover material from both cognitive science and the philosophy of psychiatry.