Tension mounts across the ideological divide as D-Day (DSM-5 Day) approaches. The APA has powerful allies on its side. President Obama has just launched Decade of the Brain 2 with the announcement two weeks ago that heralds the arrival of BRAIN ( Brain Research through Advances in Innovative Neurotechnologies). For once this is a case of the USA following Europe, as the European Commission launched its Human Brain Project back in January. If that’s not enough, those who believe that science will ultimately explain madness can always rely on the media to fawn at their feet. Although science reporting by organisations like the BBC in Britain is generally of a high standard the same cannot be said of its coverage of neuroscience research.
Here is just one recent example. On 12th April, BBC Radio’s flagship news and current affairs programme,Today, carried two neuroscience items. One, presented by science reporter Rebecca Morrelle dealt with a Canadian functional brain imaging study of people listening to new music. The implication was that we can account for musical preferences and tastes by studying brain activity, without reference to the particular contexts in which music is listened to. The other consisted of an interview between Sarah Montague (a Today presenter) and a senior lecturer from King’s College University of London, in which he spoke about his research on Drosophila (fruit flies, would you believe) brains. We were told that because the neural organisation of these creatures’ brains is fundamentally similar to that of human brains, they can be used to model ‘brain disorders’ in humans, such as schizophrenia and autism. You can hear clips of both items here and here.
Some of us involved in the International DSM-5 Response Committee ( please sign the petition if you haven’t already done so) are writing to the BBC’s Science Editor, David Shukman, to protest about the organisation’s reportage of neuroscience research. It is uncritical, unbalanced, and fails to consider weaknesses and limitations of much of this research. This applies not only to neuroscience, but as you can hear from the clips, genetics research too.
In what follows I am reporting two arguments. The first is an outline critique of the neuroscientific approach to human consciousness in all its great and colourful varieties (including madness). This reflects the main substance of the letter we are writing to the Science Editor at the BBC (David Shukman). This will form the basis of a more detailed critiques that I, and colleagues, are currently working on. The second is a wonderful piece written by Richard Bentall, who emailed us yesterday. Richard was furious at the response of the King’s College scientist interviewed on the Today programme about his crazy fruit flies, to an email from David Pilgrim (another colleague involved with the DSM-5 response). Richard prefaced his email by saying that he was so angry with the King’s College researcher’s response that he was moved to pen this as a response. This is a brilliant academic deconstruction of genetic research in psychiatry, perfectly honed by a craftsman’s anger!
An extract from a letter to David Shukman
[We are concerned about] a growing trend in the reporting of neuroscience by news and current affairs in the BBC, in which this research is presented as unproblematic. The message is that human consciousness and the human problems associated with this can be explained in terms of brain activity. This is misleading for a number of reasons.
- Researchers in the field of neuroscience have raised serious concerns about the poor statistical basis of most functional brain imaging studies (Button et al, 2013). These generally rely on very small numbers of subjects. This makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the results, especially of single studies taken out of context.
- There are also raised serious methodological problems with functional brain imaging studies (Van Orden et al, 1997). The resolution of fMRI and rCBF images is two to five cubic millimetres, a space that contains hundreds of thousands of neurones. This means that we have no idea whether, beyond this level of discrimination, there are groups of neurones that are active/inactive. In other words the resolution of these technologies is too blunt for us to draw any conclusions about the correspondence between experience reported by the subject and apparent brain activity in a particular area. Similar arguments apply to the temporal relationship between perceived brain activity and subjective experience.
- These methodological limitations stand in turn on a problematic set of philosophical assumptions about the relationship between brain and mind (Noë, 2009). This can best be summarised as a casual slippage from brain science to mind and problems with our mental worlds. This makes it possible for scientists to talk glibly about developing models of brain dysfunction in fruit flies that stand for complex and contentious human problems such as schizophrenia.
One would be forgiven for believing from some of the BBC’s reportage, that neuroscience is obliterating the insights of psychology, sociology, anthropology and the humanities from human subjectivity. The launch of the BRAIN project by President Obama two weeks ago, and the European Human Brain Project earlier this year will only increase pressure on news organisations to continue this line of reportage in the years to come
A great deal of the science coverage by BBC is balanced, and of extremely high quality, such as recent coverage of cosmology. Different points of view are presented as a matter of routine, as part of the continuing scientific debate in the field. This situation does not apply to neuroscience. Research here is presented as unproblematic ‘facts’ about the mind. Presenters appear to exert little critical thought about the nature of the research they are presenting. As a result the public are ill-informed about the significance of neuroscience research. This is of potential significance to the field of psychiatry and mental health. The presentation of neuroscience as unproblematic leads to unrealistic expectations on the part of the public at large. In addition the diversion of funding to poor quality neuroscience research is ethically not justified1. It limits funding available to equally important research into the psychological, social and cultural aspects of psychiatric conditions.
To rectify the situation we ask you to take the following steps:
- A more balanced approach to the reporting of neuroscience research, especially functional brain imaging in relation to psychiatric conditions. This could be achieved by more balanced guidelines and training given to science journalists and reporters. It could also be achieved by more opportunities for debate in news and current affairs about the pros and cons of neuroscientific studies
- Clear advice to news editors about the importance of balance in reporting neuroscience studies. It is not, in our opinion, good journalism to have a news presenter who may have no understanding at all of the complexities of the issues involved, interviewing a neuroscientist uncritically about her or his research.
From Richard Bentall (and reported here with full permission of the author)
(i) Schizophrenia is a meaningless construct
There is no syndrome of schizophrenia and nobody can agree on who is schizophrenic. To my knowledge, no statistical study has ever identified a cluster of symptoms that correspond to the Kraepelinian concept or its subsequent revisions. Most recent studies have converged on a multidimensional model that incorporates all psychosis diagnoses (schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, delusional disorder, depression with psychotic features etc) within five dimensions of positive symptoms, negative symptoms, cognitive dysfunction, depression and mania/excitability, or even more complex structural models (Demjaha, A., et al. 2009; Reininghaus, et al in press). In recent field trials, the proposed DSM-V criteria for schizophrenia generated a derisory kappa of 0.46, showing that clinicians working with a precise definition of the disorder and following a diagnostic interview often could not agree on who was schizophrenic and who was not (Regier, D. A., et al. 2013)!
(ii) Heritability coefficients are misleading
It is often forgotten that heritability coefficients are, actually, just fancy correlation coefficients. We all know, or should know, that correlation does not necessarily prove causality. Heritability coefficients are statements about populations and not individuals so that it is wildly misleading to suggest that high heritability = mostly genetically caused (for a detailed discussion of this, see Bentall, R. P. (2009).
In fact, precisely because heritability coefficients are correlations which attempt to parse up the variance in a trait to genetic and environmental causes, low variance in the environment leads to inflation of the apparent effects of genes. This is why, for example, IQ is highly heritable in middle class families (where environmental variation is low) but very low in working class families (where environmental variation is high – Turkheimer, E., et al. (2003). Also, heritability coefficients assume an additive model of genes and environment, which is wildly implausible given what we know about how genes work. Again, assuming an additive model when there are G x E interactions leads to massive inflation of heritability and an underestimate of environmental effects (Dickins, W. T., & Flynn, J. R. 2001). This is probably why, as you know, molecular estimates of heritability are generally much lower than those based on the methods of classical genetics. The ‘missing’ heritability in these studies is probably phantom heritability.
Incidentally, you will also know from the genetic studies that you cite, that the consensus amongst geneticists is now that many common alleles (perhaps many hundreds) probably each confer a tiny risk of all kinds of severe mental illness. Although some CNVs have much higher association with psychosis, they account for only a small proportion of patients and are also associated with intellectual disabilities and autism (Owen, M. J. 2012). This is further evidence, if ever it was needed, that schizophrenia is a meaningless construct and confirms the impossibility of devising a genetic test for the disorder.
(iii) There is massive evidence that environmental factors are causal in severe mental illness
The implications of ii above are that you can’t estimate environmental influences from heritability estimates – you have to look for them and measure them in their own right. Recent studies have pointed to a wide range of environmental factors associated with psychosis. These include social disadvantage, migration, living in cities and various forms of victimisation. I attach a recent meta-analysis I conducted on the evidence linking childhood adversity to psychosis (Varese, F., et al. (2012). The bare odds ratio between childhood trauma was stable across methodologies (retrospective/prospective) and came in at about 3, much higher than any association with common alleles. More importantly, there is evidence of a dose response effect, with ORs climbing to around 50 for children who have been multiply traumatised. Reaction in the psychiatric community has sometimes been bizarre, with convoluted attempts to explain away the data (see a recent editorial I wrote about this, also attached).
(iv) Brain studies do not provide clear evidence of neurodevelopmental disorder in psychosis
The evidence linking the basal ganglia to psychosis is far from clear cut. The best evidence is from response to antipsychotics, but recent studies suggest that only about 20% of patients show a genuine clinical response (Marques, T. R., et al. 2011). In any case, abnormal basal ganglia activity could just as likely be attributed to environmental factors – animal studies show that chronic victimisation leads to sensitisation of dopamine pathways in this part of the brain (Selten, J.-P., & Cantor-Graae, E. 2005)
Current structural and functional neuroimaging studies of psychosis are probably not to be trusted for a variety of complex methodological reasons (Ioannidis, J. P. A. 2011; Button et al. 2013) – this study [Button et al] estimated that the median statistical power of 461 individual fMRI studies contributing to 41 separate meta-analyses was 8%!), not least the emerging evidence that drugs affect brain structure (Ho, B.-C.,et al. 2011).
In any case, the observed abnormalities could well be the consequence of social and environmental factors (Hoy, K., et al. (2011).
(v) A narrow neurodevelopmental approach is damaging to patients
There is little evidence that the biological approach to psychiatry is benefiting patients. Outcomes for patients suffering from ‘schizophrenia’ have not improved since the Victorian age and an increasing number of people are disabled by psychiatric conditions. This is precisely the opposite to what has happened in physical medicine, where genuine advances have led to improved outcomes and reduced disability (see Bentall, 2009, and Whitaker, R. 2005). Just as importantly, although it is often assumed by doctors that promoting a biological understanding of psychosis will reduce stigma, empirical research provides strong evidence that the opposite is the case, and that biological models actually promote stigma (Read, J., et al. 2006; Angermeyer, M. C., et al. (2011).
The claim that biological research (on flies or whatever) will one day lead to a cure for schizophrenia is a common rhetorical trick designed to gain publicity and guarantee grant funding. I have no problem with research on the CNS of flies, which seems valuable in its own right. But linking flies to schizophrenia (whatever that is) is really about self-promotion and is damaging to the interests of patients.
Angermeyer, M. C., et al. (2011). Biogenetic explanations and public acceptance of mental illness: systematic review of population studies. British Journal of Psychiatry, 199, 367-372.
Bentall, R. P. (2009). Doctoring the mind: Why psychiatric treatments fail. London: Penguin.
Button, K., Ioannidis, J., Mokrysz, C., Nosek, B., Flint,J., Robinson , E., & Munafò, M (2013) Power failure: why small sample size undermines the reliability of neuroscience Nature Reviews Neuroscience doi:10.1038/nrn3475
Demjaha, A., et al. (2009). Combining dimensional and categorical representation of psychosis: the way forward for DSM-V and ICD-11? Psychological Medicine, 39, 1943-1955
Dickins, W. T., & Flynn, J. R. (2001). Heritability estimates versus large environmental effects: The IQ paradox resolved. Psychological Review, 108, 346-369)
Ho, B. C., et al. (2011). Long-term antipsychotic treatment and brain volumes. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68, 128-137
Hoy, K., et al. (2011). Childhood trauma and hippocampal and amygdalar volumes in first–episode psychosis. Schizophrenia Bulletin. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbr085
Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2011). Excess significance bias in the literature on brain volume abnormalities. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68, 773-780
Marques, T. R., et al. (2011). The different trajectories of antipsychotic response: antipsychotics versus placebo. Psychological Medicine, 41, 1481-1488
Noë, A. (2009) Out of our Heads: Why you are not your brain, and other lessons from the biology of consciousness. New York, Hill and Wang.
Owen, M. J. (2012). Implications of genetic findings for understanding schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 38, 904-907. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbs103
Read, J., et al.(2006) Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 114, 303-318;
Regier, D. A., et al. (2013). DSM-5 field trials in the United States and Canada, Part II: Test-retest reliability of selected categorical diagnoses. American Journal of Psychiatry, 170, 59-70)
Reininghaus, U., Priebe, S., & Bentall, R. P. (in press). Testing the psychopathology of psychosis: Evidence for a general psychosis dimension. Schizophrenia Bulletin, available online
Selten, J. P., & Cantor-Graae, E. (2005). Social defeat: Risk factor for psychosis? British Journal of Psychiatry, 187, 101-102
Turkheimer, E., et al. (2003). Socioeconomic status modifies heritability of IQ in young children. Psychological Science, 14, 623-628
Van Orden, G. & Paap, K (1997) Philosophy of Science 64, Supplement. Proceedings of the 1996 Biennial Meetings of the Philosophy of Science Association. Part II: Symposia Papers (Dec., 1997), pp. S85-S94
Varese, F., et al. (2012). Childhood adversities increase the risk of psychosis: A meta-analysis of patient-control, prospective and cross-sectional cohort studies. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 38, 661–671. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbs050.
Whitaker, R. (2005). Anatomy of an epidemic: Psychiatric drugs and the astonishing rise of mental illness in America. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 7, 23-35
The Human Brain Project link in your post isn’t working, but here’s a grandiose quote from the Blue Brain Project, which is one of the two projects I believe that was funded by the European Union.
“Analogous in scope to the Genome Project, the Blue Brain will provide a huge leap in our understanding of brain function and dysfunction and help us explore solutions to intractable problems in mental health and neurological disease.”
Thanks for pointing this out, Rossa. The link is http://www.humanbrainproject.eu
OH dear, I bet the brain research progreammes get huge PR budgets. Expect a decade or so of media psuedo-scence on the news programmes and in the press. Warning – Bio-babble ahead.
Ironically, the last “decade of the brain” was promised to provide these same physiological signs and proofs of mental illness’s location and etiology in the brain. In the actual event, ten years of research proved the opposite: that the human brain is not pre-programmed genetically, that it responds dramatically to environmental stressors or enhancements, and that even later in life, injuries to the brain can be addressed and the brain can heal. Most fascinating of all, the one thing that had the most healing impact on a traumatized brain was: a caring relationship with a healthy adult individual.
In essence, this decade of intense research completely undermined any expectation that studying the brain would lead to discrete “mental disorders” that are located in certain places in the brain, and emphasized instead the important of environment and relationships in creating healthy adults. But none of this deters the biological “true believers,” because the “cult of psychiatry” is based on certain inalienable beliefs that must continue to be believed, regardless of the evidence.
Great letters from both of you, and thanks for sharing them.
Very similar to the censorship of ideas.
Turning the phenomenology of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty into an easily digestible narrative that the BBC can reach for is part of the challenge without appearing Luddite.
Suggesting that some human challenges are not best met with technology should be an easier sell than it is. The BBC has a duty to provide balance and often they go as far to provide the balance themselves if they can’t find it anywhere. This is a good chance to make this point to them.
Julia Hammond on BBC Radio 4 often does a good job of being critical and balanced, covering all points of view. I’m sure I have heard points of view congruent with the critical psychiatry networks stance given equal billing from time to time.
I agree completely that Claudia Hammond’s coverage of psychology and mental health is fair and balanced. The problem is how these issues are covered for the general audience as part of news and current affairs, which is emphasised in out letter. Claudia’s work is aimed at audiences interested in the field.
Dear Dr. Thomas,
I want to thank you very much for this great and timely article exposing the never ending claims that “neuropsychiatry” has found all kinds of genetic proof for its junk science DSM bible of voted in stigmas without a shred of real scientific or other evidence that relates to human beings as they live in the real world in actual social, family, work, marital and other relationships or environments for good or bad.
Dr. Jay Joseph has addressed the ongoing problem of false claims of proven genetic causes of DSM labels in the scientific literature that get touted a great deal in the press, but is never replicated in his blog on this site and his great books, THE GENE ILLUSION and THE MISSING GENE.
Can you also comment on the recent article posted here about Dr. Steven Hyman making claims of the same underlying genes for all the major bogus disorders like ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, etc. that has been cited all over the media as proven fact? It is especially galling that such claims are made of artificial constructs invented by psychiatry in bed with BIG PHARMA to push the latest lethal drugs on patent or exert more social control on certain people or groups as in THE PROTEST PSYCHOSIS. We asked Dr. Jay Joseph on his blog and he repeated the necessity of replication of such studies and claims. I would like to know your thoughts on this.
I am very grateful for those like you, Dr. Bentall and others speaking out about the huge harm of biopsychiatry and its life destroying stigmas causing increasing fear and scapegoating of the so called “mentally ill” especially with the latest shootings probably caused by psychiatry and its dangerous drugs since Holmes and Lanza were both “in treatment” and on these drugs per media reports like most school/public shooters. One thing I would like to hear more about is the fate of those misdiagnosed with bogus stigmas like ADHD, paranoia, borderline and bipolar for abuse, bullying and other traumatic events and how this nightmare can or should be addressed (Dr. Carole Warshaw, Dr. Judith Herman). This makes the genetics claims all the more ludicrous.
I appreciate all the hard work you and your colleagues have put into this endeavor and this article. It was very informative and consoling considering all the neuropsychiatry drivel we are bombarded with daily. I just bought the book, De-medicalizing Misery (if I have the title correct) and look forward to reading it after examining the contents on Amazon.
Many thanks for these comments, Donna. I haven’t seen the article you are referring to, but I completely agree with the points made by Dr. Josephs in his excellent work on the failure of replicability in genetic research. This is more generally true across the whole field of biological and neuroscience research into psychiatric ‘diagnoses’. That this is a major weakness of these categories is well recognised by may psychiatric researchers themselves, as can be seen in articles by prominent psychiatrists – see the references below. The essence of scientific investigation established in the early seventeenth century is the replication of experiments set up to test hypotheses. In private, many psychiatric researchers are starting to acknowledge that madness has been a barren field for scientific inquiry, but they are reluctant to admit this in public because their livelihoods are at stake, or (in the case of pharma) profit and dividends.
What worries me is the timing of the launch of DSM-5 next month, hot on the heels of Decade of the Brain 2. It’s too late to change DSM-5, but we have to work all out to staunch the worst excesses of neurodrivel on TV, radio and the internet. This fires up public belief that we can somehow ‘explain’ madness and the moral tragedies (shootings) that you refer to. I hope you enjoy Demedicalising Misery – it’s a great book (but I would say that wouldn’t I!)
Anckarsäter, H. (2010) Beyond categorical diagnostics in psychiatry: Scientific and medicolegal implications. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 33, 59–65.
Andreasen, N. (1995) The Validation of Psychiatric Diagnosis: New Models and Approaches. American Journal of Psychiatry, 152, 161 – 162.
Kendell, R. & Jablensky, A. (2003) Distinguishing Between the Validity and Utility of Psychiatric Diagnoses. American Journal of Psychiatry; 160:4–12
Kendler, K. (1980) The Nosological Validity of Paranoia (Simple Delusional Disorder) Archives of General Psychiatry, 37, 699 – 706.
Robins, E. & Guze, S. (1970) Establishment of Diagnostic Validity in Psychiatric Illness: Its Application to Schizophrenia. American Journal of Psychiatry, 126, 983 – 987
“In private, many psychiatric researchers are starting to acknowledge that madness has been a barren field for scientific inquiry, but they are reluctant to admit this in public because their livelihoods are at stake, or (in the case of pharma) profit and dividends.”
This is made all the more morally reprehensible by the fact that the same researcher class arms government with the justifications for the brutal, draconian forced drugging of both the psychiatric gulags and the home forced drugging (AOT, CTO) atrocities. Anyone who puts their livelihood above the human rights of others is morally bankrupt.
I have learned much from you and your collegues at the Critical Psychiatry Network. The name you chose for the group is very fitting, your thinking is critical, not merely because it challenges established psychiatry, but also because it is good thinking in an absolute sense. If only for the absence of glaring logical fallacies you already stand apart from the vast majority of your profession. You make excellent points in your letter to the BBC regarding the problems in the methods and philosophy underlying neurological explanations of mental syndromes. However, I don’t think your letter will be very effective.
Journalists are disseminators, not referees. Science reporters select material by what is being funded and what scientific peers opine. Sometimes sensationalist value can play a role but I imagine that the BBC wouldn’t want to be associated primarily with that aspect. Your example of balanced reporting in cosmology is just a reflection of a vibrant and competitive community of scientists, with rival teams of similar academic power and position. The uncritical reporting on the psychiatric implications of neuroscience likewise just reflects how far from mainstream the critical thinkers in the field are. Expecting journalists to be better judges than those considered authorities by socieity at large is unrealistic. Journalists of the intellectual depth of Robert Whitaker are, and always will be, rare.
If I may, I would recommend you find and cultivate passionate and intelligent journalists who can recognize critical thinking when they see it. Challenge them on the issues, hold them by the hand and steer them to the corners that others prefer to keep obscure. You do the work for them; when junk is being promoted give them the insight and the material, if it exists, to expose it. They will be your megaphone because they know there also is an audience out there hungry for real understanding. You have the power of ideas and they have the power to broadcast. Just declaring that the BBC needs to improve its standards won’t be enough. You need to find a good partner – not an easy task – and work hard with him/her to get your ideas published to the widest possible audience. The BBC may or may not be the venue.
I agree, Bentall’s response is brilliant. Thanks for bringing it to the attention of MIA readers.
Many thanks for your comments Phil, which resonate with Jonah’s comments below. We are fortunate in GB in having (a small number of) journalists who see through the way science is reported, but no one at the moment who could fulfil the role of Bob Whitaker and MIA. Maybe one way of understanding why MIA has become such an important forum of debate is because of the utterly dire state of science journalism in the US. It’s bad enough here, but reading Jonah’s comments below, it’s nowhere near as bad as the US. We all have the power of ideas, and one of the really important functions of the internet is the democratisation of knowledge. We can share ideas, exchange understandings and, together, resist the oppressive uses of neurotrash in psychiatry.
Thanks for your response and citations. I find it helpful to constantly validate my reality against the never ending BIG PHARMA brain washing with neuro-this and neuro-that everywhere you look. Moreover, when you read articles by main stream psychiatrists and others in the profession about so called mental illness, the author almost always states, “Of course, we know that bipolar disorder…is genetic based on twin studies, etc., etc.”
Here is the article posted on MIA by Dr. Steven Hyman talking about the underlying genes for many DSM labels:
Here is Dr. Joseph Jay’s post and rebuttal on MIA about the same genes underlying several DSM labels:
As I noted, Dr. Steven Hyman now works for the same organization as Dr. Fuller Torrey, so that should tell us something about his agenda.
Yes, I am looking forward to reading Demedicalizing Misery and noted your contributions to it on Amazon when I was considering buying it. Now, if Fuller Torrey had been a contributor…..
Thank you for your initiative (and for sharing Richard Bentall’s great, pointed effort) to enlighten the popular press — regarding this fact, that (as Dr. Bentall explains), “Schizophrenia is a meaningless construct…”
But, from that point of view, I wonder: shouldn’t we be opposing *all* psychiatric diagnostic schemes?
And, I do mean all – not just DSM-5 (albeit, the worst)?
As for that first study you mention (“a Canadian functional brain imaging study of people listening to new music”), it may have been done poorly, but it doesn’t raise my hackles like the second, featuring flies.
(You explain, “We were told that because the neural organisation of these creatures’ brains is fundamentally similar to that of human brains, they can be used to model ‘brain disorders’ in humans, such as schizophrenia and autism.” Incredible.)
Really, I wonder: can ‘civilization’ and our planet sustain the impact of yet another “Decade of the Brain”?
That will be the legacy of our current president, Obama; and, perhaps, you aware that former President, Clinton, shall be the keynote speaker at the APA’s launch of DSM-5!
Here, in the States, though there is some mention of the controversy surrounding DSM-5, the popular media does almost nothing to question any of this.
Mostly, we get ‘science lite’ — which amounts to sciency infotainment-packed soundbites brought to us by fashionable spokes-models; these ‘brain’ initiatives are reported in a way that leads to idolization *not* of great minds (of men or women) but of *affable* people — nueroscientists with the gift of gab and/or charm and ‘bold’ propositions…
So, if you think the BBC reporters are mesmerized, do check out U.S. media online…
NPR (National Public Radio) reporters — who are, theoretically, not so inclined toward sensationalizing, as the rest — are, like, the BBC, fawning over a new generation of hip (Twittering) neuroscientists, whoever is the latest/hottest author to hit the New York Times Best Seller list — as though an official herald, of the new Millennium.
Here’s just a bit of an interview I first heard last year, when it aired, on the radio…
“[NPR Reporter] GROSS: So you’re saying that we should shift from blame to biology in the criminal justice system. So does that mean you think the judge should be investigating if a criminal has a tumor in their brain or if they have a serotonin problem? Or, you know, any biochemical problem in the brain that might be the cause of their bad behavior?”
“[Neuroscientist] EAGLEMAN: Currently in the legal system there’s this myth of equality. And the assumption is if you are over 18 and you have an IQ of over 70, then all brains are created equal. And, of course, that’s a very charitable idea but it’s demonstrably false. Brains are extraordinarily different from one another. Brains are essentially like fingerprints; we’ve all got them but they’re somewhat different. And so by imagining that everyone has the exact same capacity for decision-making, for understanding future consequences, for squelching their impulsive behavior and so on, what we’re doing is we’re imagining that everybody should be treated the same. And, of course, what has happened is that our prison system has become our de facto mental health care system. Estimates are that about 30 percent of the prison population has some sort of mental illness. Well, there are much more humane and cost-effective things that we can be doing there by just paying attention to the fact that brains are individualized. Just as an example,I was just in Richmond, Virginia talking with some judges and lawyers there. And it turns out that they have a very nice story going on there, which is – because of the confluence of a few bad things. The bad things are they have the second highest murder rate in the nation and they completely ran out of money. Their prisons were overcrowded and they realized we need to do something here because our prisons are so overstuffed – just like what’s happening in California. So they opened mental health courts, which is exactly the right thing to do…”
[Note: In this radio interview, neither the neuroscientist interviewee nor his NPR interviewer offered any mention of the fact that U.S. prisons are mainly teeming with captives of the “Drug War” — the majority being non-violent offenders, called “mentally ill” as a result of their becoming recidivist ‘users’ of ‘illicit’ drugs — a.k.a., being “addicts”.]
That neuroscientist (David Eagleman) continues, “…The idea here is if you are mentally ill we’re not going to treat you just like everyone else. We’re not going to pretend that incarceration is the perfect one-size-fits-all solution. But instead, we’re going to take you down this different path and, you know, we’ll take you off the street if you’re behaving badly and dangerously, but we’ll see if we can help you.”
Full transcript: http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=159922899
I presume “help you” means ‘medicate you’.
Meanwhile, a recent headline (in your country’s MailOnline) declares: “Fish are becoming easier to catch ‘because traces of anti-depressants are getting into water supply and making them more relaxed'”
(In that article, we can read, at last, “Environmental chemist Dr Jerker Fick, also from Umea University, said: ‘The solution to the problem is not to stop medicating ill people but to try to develop sewage treatment plants that can capture environmentally hazardous drugs.'”)
Heaven help us…
“So they opened mental health courts, which is exactly the right thing to do…””
Apartheid justice. The beliefs of biopsychiatry BUILT IN to the very system of government. The biopsychaitric theocratic state. Do you swear on the psychiatric bible to fit the label, the whole label and nothing but the label? So help me Allen Frances.
“The idea here is if you are mentally ill we’re not going to treat you just like everyone else”
The idea here is that if a quack, acting in his capacity as government agent labels you mentally ill, you are now a brain, a created less equal brain, needing to be changed. Brains don’t have rights, only people do, and when you’re no longer a person, just a brain, anything the mouth attached to the former person says, is just a noise. Trying to convince the government agents you’re not a diseased brain, that’s the word salad of a diseased brain.
Eagleman and his ilk won’t be stopped by their peers or by government. It is going to take the people to stop this march toward psychiatric apartheid. Tragically, the last time the people stopped anything happening was when? Decades ago?
“Really, I wonder: can ‘civilization’ and our planet sustain the impact of yet another “Decade of the Brain”?”
Absolutely. And absolutely terrifying. What a brilliant comment Jonah. And thank you for telling us Clinton will launch DSM 5 I didn’t know that. Psychiatry truly is a state religion.
OMG!!! Jonah, thanks for putting our complaints here (GB) in perspective. I fully agree with you that this is a terrifying prospect. What worries me is that GB is heading in the same direction. What I regard as real science, by that I mean cosmology and particle physics (the very large and the very small) deal with the fundamental nature of the universe, far detached from human interests. As soon as scientists step into the domain of the human world, science becomes mired in human interests. But it still pretends to be impartial and objective in the way that cosmology and particle physics are. Then again, I have to add a caveat, because as Thomas Kuhn points out in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, paradigm shifts occur in part because of the accumulation of ‘anomalies’ (scientific evidence form experiments that do not fit within the current paradigm) and extra-scientific factors (things like scientists’ academic reputations, careers and so forth) also influence which theories gain ground. Social scientists would extend the range of extra-scientific factors to include wider social and cultural pressures – just the sort of horrors you describe in your comments.
Elsewhere, Pat Bracken, Sami Timimi, and I published a paper in the current edition of Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology arguing that the lack of evidence for the effectiveness of psychiatric ‘treatment’ from within evidence based medicine, can be seen as Kuhnian anomalies that show that the technological paradigm in psychiatry is a failed paradigm.
The arguments and comments of contributors on this website (MIA) are absolutely vital. If we can share openly our concerns about the misuse of science, distorted and intellectually dishonest reporting of it, especially as far as the interface between madness and science is concerned, we can open up a plane of resistance to the nonsense that masquerades as ‘science’ in the media. Bob Whitaker and his colleagues at MIA are to be applauded for their integrity and determination to provide this forum.
Great comments from everyone, thanks, from someone who knew back in 1970 that the game was a bogey when seeing my mother in a locked psychiatric ward with other mentally distressed women. It doesn’t take a PhD in rocket science to see the error of it and the inhumanity of the straitjacket mentality. Resistance is the key by whatever means possible, from science to investigative journalism to the stories of survivors. Here’s to the tipping point and the inevitable paradigm shift. Cheers!
Sorry, forgot to add the reference: Thomas, P. Bracken, P. & Timimi, P. (2013) The limits of evidence-based medicine in psychiatry. Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology, 19, 295-308
I must say the sheer number of 2013 publication dates I’m seeing all over this page is impressive. It’s only April yet Thomas’ piece and his comments are littered with 2013 journal articles. I love this.