5.0842 XPosting from Linguist Re New Yorker Article (1/99)
Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Sun, 19 Apr 1992 13:24:55 EDT
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0842. Sunday, 19 Apr 1992.
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 92 18:30:52 PDT
From: John Gilbert <USERJHVG@UBCMTSG.BITNET>
Subject: New Yorker article on Genie
Professor Vicki Fromkin has requested that the following receive as
wide a reading as possible. I should appreciate if it could be posted on
This is forwarded with Vicki's permission.
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 92 17:16 PDT
From: Vicki Fromkin <IYO1VAF@UCLAMVS.BITNET>
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
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
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.