Martinos Center Investigators Respond To Article Critical Of Suzanne Corkin

August 22, 2016


The August 7 issue of The New York Times Magazine included an article by Luke Dittrich—"The Brain That Couldn’t Remember,” adapted from Dittrich's forthcoming book “Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets"— that was critical of the late Suzanne Corkin, an MIT and Martinos Center Researcher who did pioneering research with memory and memory disorders, particularly with the amnesiac known as Patient H.M. Corkin passed away on May 24.


Dr. Suzanne Corkin

In an article published in The New York Times Magazine on August 7, 2016, by Luke Dittrich, groundless allegations were made against Dr. Suzanne Corkin. Dittrich attempts to weave together the histories of Dr. William Scoville, Patient H.M., and Corkin in a narrative that does great disservice to neuroscience and misrepresents Dr. Corkin’s scientific integrity.

Dittrich purports that Corkin misrepresented scientific evidence. He primarily quotes Dr. Jacopo Annese, who developed a contentious relationship with Corkin. Dittrich implies that Corkin hoarded H.M. as a resource. On the contrary, Corkin was extremely collaborative and facilitated access to H.M. by hundreds of scientists. She was bound by scientific ethics and patient privacy laws to protect his identity. As his steward, she was obliged to limit frivolous access to H.M. by prying journalists. Her protection of H.M. is misinterpreted by Dittrich as scientific obstructionism, when in fact she valued H.M. as a research subject and a person.

Corkin and Annese’s collaboration deteriorated. Annese submitted a paper to Nature Communications, without informing Corkin. It described a new frontal lesion that, according to Annese and Dittrich, undermined her research. Dittrich claims further that Corkin tried to hide this finding. Both assertions are incorrect. After Annese identified the lesion, Corkin naturally expressed her surprise, but after thorough analysis and following good scientific procedure, the lesion was described in two subsequent papers, that included both authors. There is reasonable consensus that this frontal lesion will not necessitate reinterpretation of the published findings from H.M. Independent scientists have corroborated Corkin’s conclusions on memory, including work in other patients, some with bilateral hippocampal lesions, and experimental animals.

Having worked with Corkin for years, we can vouch for her scientific integrity, meticulous nature, and personal generosity. In this unfair and unsubstantiated portrayal, Dittrich undermines not only Corkin, but the entire scientific method.

André van der Kouwe, Ph.D.
Jean Augustinack, Ph.D.
David Salat, Ph.D.
Allison Stevens, M.A.
Matthew Frosch, M.D. Ph.D.
Bruce Fischl, Ph.D.
Bruce Rosen, M.D., Ph.D.

James J. DiCarlo, the head of MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, has also released statements about the New York Times Magazine article. Please see here.