Harvard Memory Expert On Rick Perry’s ‘Oops’ Moment

You almost had to feel sorry for Rick Perry last night.

His breathtaking inability to remember the third federal agency he’d shut down as President (!!) was so utterly embarrassing — at that level, in that context, for that long — I wondered whether there must be some biological breakdown behind it.

So I emailed leading memory researcher Daniel L. Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard, and asked what he thought. Here’s his quick response:

The kind of memory problem suffered by Perry corresponds to what I called
“blocking” in my book on The Seven Sins of Memory (2001) – blocking is the third of the seven sins. Blocking refer to a temporary inability to retrieve information that is available in memory. Interestingly, blocking occurs most commonly for proper names, as was the case here. Blocking can be increased by stress and also by aging, although we can’t know for sure whether either one was a factor in this instance. Also, blocking tends to occur for information that is familiar, but has not been retrieved frequently or recently – again, I don’t know for sure whether that applies here.

Daily Rounds: Supreme Court Hears Vaccine Case; Keeping Patients On Drugs; Radiologist Downsizing; Hormones And Kidney Stones; Losing Your Memory In Retirement

Supreme Court to Consider Vaccine Case – “The safety of vaccines is at the heart of a case expected to be heard on Tuesday by the United States Supreme Court, one that could have implications for hundreds of lawsuits that contend there is a link between vaccines and autism. “(The New York Times)

Express Scripts Seeks to Keep Patients on Drugs, Reduce Health-Care Costs – Bloomberg “Express Scripts Inc., one of the largest managers of prescription drug benefits in the U.S., introduced a program designed to cut medical costs by identifying the chronically ill patients most likely to neglect medicines within a year. Computer models that tag the potentially noncompliant will let St. Louis-based Express Scripts contact patients before they stop taking drugs.” (

Running a hospital: First bend in the health care cost curve Radiologists are losing their jobs, writes Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Chief Paul Levy: “Recent trends in radiology imaging portend a dramatic and rapid reduction in this segment of a hospital's business plan,” he writes. “Our Chief of Radiology summarizes our experience — common to other hospitals as well: ‘The biggest hit has been in CT, the modality we are most dependent on for revenue. We are about 10% down in CT cases from last year, due to a combination of patient and physician fears about radiation exposure, more prudent ordering of studies by physicians, leakage out of the medical center, and the introduction of physician incentive programs (to minimize the amount of imaging) by some insurers.'” (Running A Hospital)

Hormones linked with kidney stones in older women – “Among more than 24,000 postmenopausal women taking either hormones or dummy pills, those using hormones were 21 percent more likely to develop kidney stones over about five years.” (Boston Globe)

Memory Decline Accompanies Earlier Retirement, Study Finds – “The implication, the economists and others say, is that there really seems to be something to the “use it or lose it” notion — if people want to preserve their memories and reasoning abilities, they may have to keep active.” (The New York Times)