Peter Ellis web site: Reviews and Papers

Index of Reviews and Papers

Child Suggestibility - Credibility of Child Witnesses



David A. Martindale (2001),

On the Importance of Suggestibility Research in Assessing the Credibility of Children’s Testimony;
The Journal of the American Judges Association, Volume 38, Issue 3 Fall 2001

David Martindale

David Marshall
July 16 2001

Scholars Debate Extent of Suggestive Questioning
by David Marshall

David Marshall is a Seattle attorney who concentrates his practice in child abuse cases and is an expert on legal issues in the area.

Research psychologist Stephen Ceci and law professor Richard D. Friedman have published a defense of the work of Ceci and other researchers in child suggestibility. Their article answers an attack on that research by law professor Thomas D. Lyon.

Lyon said child subjects in studies by Ceci and others were questioned much more suggestively than are children in actual child abuse investigations.

In response, Ceci and Friedman describe field research showing that investigators-even very experienced ones-routinely obtain information by asking children leading and suggestive questions.

Lyon also argued that children tend not to acquiesce to false suggestions that they have been molested. This argument is based on the work of psychologist Gail Goodwin, whom Lyon called the "researcher-heroine of the child protection movement."

Ceci and Friedman answer that Goodwin's results actually support Ceci's and his colleagues'. Some of the children Goodwin studied did acquiesce to abuse-related suggestions. Lyon's disagreement with Ceci and others may amount to a disagreement about whether the glass is half empty or half full.

Ceci and Friedman agree with Lyon that suggestive child interviewing increases the chance of eliciting a true abuse allegation-and also increases the chance of eliciting a false one. In considering how suggestive questioning ought to be, then, one is weighing two harms: failure to detect child abuse versus conviction of the innocent.

Ceci and Friedman's article, "The Suggestibility of Children: Scientific Research and Legal Implications," appears at 86 Cornell L. Rev. 33 (Nov. 2000). Lyon's, "The New Wave in Children's Suggestibility Research: A Critique," appears at 84 Cornell L. Rev. 1004 (1999).

Stephen J Ceci and Richard D Friedman (2000)

The suggestibility of children: Scientific research and legal implications;
Cornell Law Review, 86, 34-108  (Nov 2000)

Stephen Ceci

Richard Friedman

Thomas D. Lyon (1999),

The New Wave in Children's Suggestibility Research: A Critique;
Cornell Law Review, 84  (May 1999)

Thomas Lyon comment:

The importance of these papers on this site is twofold:

(1)      The conviction of Ellis depended on truth of the testimony of child witnesses, many of whom were subjected to extensive interrogations by parents and formal interviewers.

(2)      The Eichelbaum Inquiry into the Ellis case refused to consider expert witnesses recommended and requested by the Defence, such as Professor Stephen Ceci because Ceci had provided some opinion on the case - and anyone with a close publishing association with Ceci.- effectively ruling out a whole body of research.

Incredibly, it has since transpired that Eichelbaum felt no compunction in using a vocal critic of Ceci, Thomas Lyon, as a supposed "neutral" advisor.

This inbuilt bias to the Eichelbaum inquiry exposes the Eichelbaum report as an inquiry with no credibility.

The papers below include a review by Thomas Lyon, published before Eichelbaum used Lyon as an advisor. Eichelbaum should have been clearly aware at this time of the professional debate between Lyon and the work of Ceci and others.  A credible inquiry would have included input from both significant sides of the professional debate. To have used Lyon, but not have been willing to use Ceci, condemns the work of Eichelbaum

Later papers provide critiques of Lyon's review, by Stephen Ceci & Richard Friedman in 2000 and David Martindale in 2001.   Readers can gain an appreciation of the debate - and the importance of the debate to the Ellis case - from these papers.