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A muddle of psychiatrists

Here is a fun little article in The Independent about psychiatrists who think Donald Trump is mentally ill, and it is their professional duty to warn people. They are saying this sort of thing:

I’ve worked with murderers and rapists. I can recognise dangerousness from a mile away. You don’t have to be an expert on dangerousness or spend fifty years studying it like I have in order to know how dangerous this man is.

This sounds like complete nonsense, but it turns out that “clinical evaluation for predictions of future dangerousness, have become integral to the function of the legal system” — so it is qualified nonsense.

I don’t know about psychiatry; one commenter dismisses it as junk science. Most of the other commenters think it is a bit silly to attempt to diagnose a politician from viewing public appearances.

I think experts, especially when direct measurement of the phenomena is impossible, have a tendency to mistake shared opinions for objectivity. Politics amplifies that effect. See also climate science.

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63 comments to A muddle of psychiatrists

  • PapayaSF

    The absurdity of this should be obvious to everyone. Trump has been in the public eye for decades. He’s dealt with countless politicians, celebrities, bureaucrats, and often-corrupt unions. He has thousands of ex-employees, and a few ex-wives. So where are all the public freakouts, the angry tell-all books, the dead bodies?

  • Lee Moore

    I have a friend who is a psychiatrist in the US who deals with mostly serious criminals who claim to be crazy; one of his jobs is to offer expert advice to the court on whether such folk are indeed crazy, or are just pretending. His view is that a lot of his colleagues are not charlatans but are simply prostitutes, happy to hire themselves out to the defense to say that the accused is crazy. (As I understand it, you still get locked away when you’re found to be crazy, but you’re then in a better position to be released earlier when it is discovered that you’ve “recovered.” And of course you avoid any risk of the death penalty.)

    But my friend finds that though that some of them really are crazy, quite a large proportion are just pretending.

  • Alisa

    Danger of what, exactly? Of being a person I don’t like, who has the temerity to hold opinions different from mine?

  • Ferox

    What reputable psychiatrist would offer (1) a public diagnosis (2) of someone whom they had never personally examined? Sounds to me like grounds for being expelled from their professional organizations and losing their licenses to practice psychiatry.

    I am finding it difficult to imagine a more unprofessional, unethical behavior for a psychiatrist to engage in.

  • Patrick Crozier

    When it comes to “experts” I try to find out how good they are at predicting the future. Keynsians: “experts”. Austrian economists: experts. Climate scientists: “experts”. Medical profession: experts. Public health researchers: “experts” etc.

    BTW, IIRC during the Second World War, the US commissioned a bunch of psychologists to have a look at Adolf Hitler. They predicted that he would never enter into peace negotiations and kill himself rather than surrender.

  • bobby b

    Wasn’t there a post here recently concerning why we no longer believe “experts”?

    (As part of my early-days law practice, I did some personal injury representation. Yuck. There are, circulated amongst plaintiff attorneys, lists of various medical experts recommended for lawsuits. This one will always find a permanent back injury. That one will always find PTSD. This other one will always testify that pain is severe and permanent. That one over there will speak for an hour on how various family members will forever be affected by the loss of companionship of the now-crippled victim. You can find an expert to say anything you need said, if you’re willing to pay their fee.)

  • bobby b

    Ferox
    April 22, 2017 at 8:41 am

    “What reputable psychiatrist would offer (1) a public diagnosis (2) of someone whom they had never personally examined? Sounds to me like grounds for being expelled from their professional organizations and losing their licenses to practice psychiatry.”

    The American Medical Association is incredibly “progressive”. Their view on this is that the doctor is bringing the profession into the public eye (which is wonderful), and that he is right to warn us all of this danger. He’ll book speaking gigs out of this and receive tons of adulation.

    Now, had he opined that Obama was ill . . .

  • Alisa

    Patrick, you might find this interesting, if you have not read it yet. I am as skeptical of “experts” as the next person, but I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water either.

  • The title of this should have been ‘A derangement of psychiatrists’. 😉

    But in truth there is nothing funny about psychiatry being weaponised for political purposes.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    The claims made in the conference have drawn criticism from some in the psychiatric establishment, who say they violate the American Psychiatric Association’s “Goldwater rule,” which states psychiatrists are not to give professional opinions on people they have not personally examined.

    Four mentions of the Goldwater rule yet nothing about how it arose, despite that origin being very relevant. Quoting Wikipedia:

    The Goldwater rule is the informal name given to Section 7.3 in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) code of ethics,[1] which states it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures they have not examined in person, and obtained consent from, to discuss their mental health in public statements.[2] It is named after presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.[3][4]

    The issue arose in 1964 when Fact published the article “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater.”[3][5] The magazine polled psychiatrists about American Senator Barry Goldwater and whether he was fit to be president.[6][7] The editor, Ralph Ginzburg, was sued for libel in Goldwater v. Ginzburg where Goldwater won $75,000 (approximately $579,000 today) in damages.[3]

  • Alisa (April 22, 2017 at 9:10 am), I question the expertise of someone who asserts on archetype-classification grounds (in the very first paragraph of the article you link to) that in a locked room with Stalin and Mussolini, Hitler would be first to starve, without any consideration of the facts of their biographies. Stalin certainly had form in getting the goodies when locked up or in exile during Tsarist times. He boasted of duping Sverdlov into doing all the chores when they shared exile in Siberia, and was said to be tough in the ‘interrogation game’ the prisoners played, as well as cunning in starting rumours (at least one of which got an innocent fellow prisoner beaten up). However Hitler spent years in the rough casual ward, then was a WWI soldier for 4 years, then a V-man in the suppression of the Bavarian communists. Arguably, Mussolini was least used to cohabiting with ruthless men on scant rations (but, as the article notes, Mussolini was the tallest and looked the fittest). The article reads as though the interviewee had a philosophical hammer so classified these dictators as different kinds of nails and then predicted how those nails would fare. The rest seemed mostly on this level – very superficial descriptions of past, and analogies to present, that just left me thinking but, but, but, ….

    So I did not spot any baby to avoid throwing out with its bathwater anywhere in that article. Jung does predict that France and the UK would not honour their guarantee to Checkoslovakia, but he does so only on general cynical grounds that would seem to apply equally well to Poland. Churchill foresaw very much the same thing rather earlier on the specific grounds of Eden’s resignation and the anchluss – which happened in the same week – and related matters (by coincidence, I was reading that chapter in his first WWII book earlier today).

  • Alisa

    Niall, you and I could argue ad infinitum whose reading of these individuals is more correct – yours or Jung’s, which is why I am not going to go there, since I don’t have the time or the energy (but if I did, you could well end up convincing me that your take on it is superior to Jung’s). I’ll just say that it was the archetype aspect of Jung’s analysis that incited my interest, rather than his correct or incorrect reading of these specific individuals. The reason is that even though history does ‘repeat itself’, it never precisely replicates past individuals and events. So it’s the generalized patters that I find more useful than specifics when trying to predict the future using past experience. Not that specifics are useless – quite the contrary, it’s just that they are useful in a different way.

    The point more pertinent to this thread though is that reading part, which is another way of saying the impression an individual makes on an observer, and – more importantly – the way the observer interprets this impression. Psychology, psychiatry, and even “physical” medicine are not “exact” sciences, which means that an expert in these fields is someone who has a lot of experience merely observing and interpreting; in that sense, you may well be as much or even more of an expert as Jung was. My only point was that skepticism of experts is always well justified (even more so when it comes to non-“exact” sciences), but that it still makes a lot of sense to listen to people who at least sound like they know more than we do, and more so if they have a record of real-world experience.

  • Alisa (April 22, 2017 at 12:14 pm), we certainly agree that it is wise to listen to the impressions of others who do not agree with us, and I’ve found it wise to read people who wrote at the time – in ignorance of what happened next. Jung’s impression, from witnessing the moment of Mussolini’s first seeing it, that Mussolini liked the goose step – liked it in a balletic sense – and therefore introduced it to Italy’s fascists for that reason is very different from the political explanation for Musso’s taking this step (please excuse bad pun 🙂 ) that was inferred by Orwell (c.f. ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’) and all others I have read (all of them non-witnesses, of course). That Jung was there and witnessed the moment gives his description interest. I don’t begrudge the time taken to read the article that included that experience. But generally in this article, as elsewhere when I’ve encountered him, Jung’s tendency to find his ‘archetypes’ everywhere seems to me more often a hindrance than a help to his ability to read a situation.

  • rxc

    All of the soft “sciences” are progressive. They work on the consensus principle, not on the principle of falsifiable, reproduceable measurements. It is “science” of a different universe, amenable to change at any moment. The hard sciences are based on the concept that the universe works the same way, everywhere, and that this can be reproduceably demonstrated. Soft “sciences” operate on the principle that everything is up for grabs, as long as there is a consensus of the “experts”.

  • Alisa

    Fair enough, Niall.

  • Alisa

    rxc, I don’t think that this was always the case, but here we are.

    The hard sciences are based on the concept that the universe works the same way, everywhere, and that this can be reproduceably demonstrated

    Indeed, because the hard sciences deal with the inanimate parts of the universe, to the exclusion of human beings – who are dealt with by the soft sciences, especially the behavioral variety, such as psychology and psychiatry, and plain old medicine too, to a significant extent. The fact that the subjects of their study (i.e. humans) are much less predictable than rocks, water or electricity, because of that pesky free will factor, does not make that study useless or impossible; it does though make it more vulnerable to bias, group think, and other ills that hard sciences are better at avoiding (although obviously not invulnerable to them).

  • Laird

    I rather prefer Perry de Havilland’s title for this post.

    As to the linked article itself, a few interesting tidbits from it: Dr. John Gartner was the first person quoted, but later on the organizer stated that “Dr Gartner was invited as an activist and was not on the actual panel.” So an article about a panel gives more time (as well as pride of place) to an admitted activist who was not actually on it than to those who were. Telling. And then there is “The doctors have said that even if it is in breach of tradition ethical standards of psychiatry, it was necessary to break their silence on the matter because they feared ‘too much is at stake’.” So the ends justify the means. Typical of leftists. Also, note that in their minds these standards have now been demoted to “traditional” (and thus apparently optional) rather than an actual rule in the profession’s Code of Ethics. Rationalize much?

    [Thanks to Natalie for that information on the Goldwater Rule, by the way.]

    It appears that Yale is already attempting to distance itself from this conference. “The organiser emphasises that the event was independently organised and did not represent the views of Yale University or Yale School of Medicine.” And “She [the organizer] hopes that the public and politicians will understand that mental health issues are not to be used as a weapon, just as other health issues are not.” It’s a little too late for that, I fear. Her caveats ring hollow.

  • Paul Marks

    Barry Goldwater was a great man, and I am yet to be convinced (to put the matter mildly) that Donald Trump is – but they share this in common.

    In 1964 several hundred “mental health professionals” were trotted out to claim that Barry Goldwater was mentally ill.

    None of the shrinks had even met Barry Goldwater – their diagnosis was by ESP.

    It is hard to have any respect for this gaggle of charlatans.

  • One of the tests of the seriousness of the pro-liberty order is that it is likelihood that these psychiatrists will be brought up on professional charges of violating their code of conduct. Libertarians talk a good game about private law enforcement. We are confronted with a blatant fact pattern of unprofessional conduct. Will nobody go off to actually do the deed?

    There are better than 40k signatures on change.org that engage in this particular professional ethics violation. There are thousands of scalps waiting to be claimed. Will they get away with their unethical behavior? Here’s the link to the petition.

    https://www.change.org/p/trump-is-mentally-ill-and-must-be-removed

  • rxc

    Alisa,

    There are some parts of the hard sciences that have a random component – quantum physics/radioactive decay involve phenomena that are not predictable, except in a statistical way, but everyone’s statistics turns out the same result, if they do it right. The soft “sciences” are generally not reproduceable, because we don’t hold several elections, over-and-over, to see it the population votes the same way every time, we cannot do reproduceable experiments on people (sometimes we can, on groups of people, but even then the results can vary), and I cannot think of any social science that can make a hard prediction that a person will actually do or react in a way that is reproduceable or falsifiable. Not even Pavlov’s experiment – I do it every day with one of my cats, and I can tell you that he does usually react to the music, but not always, which is the standard for a “hard science”.

    I am just tired of all these people calling themselves “scientists”. Maybe they study social issues or psychology, but their characterization of the word “science” is a bastardization and corruption of our language. They should go back to calling it “social studies”, or medicine or poll taking. Not social “science”, or political “science”, or even medical “science” (it is getting close, but is still too complicated to predict who is going to get sick and die, or who is going to get well.

    I am an engineer, BTW. I do NOT do science, even though I use the methods and results of real science.

  • CaptDMO

    Hmmm…psychiatry , unlike it red headed stepchild psychology, is DEEPLY entrenched with the Pharmaceutical Industrial Complex, not to mention subsidized payment from assorted medical welfare schemes.

    I wonder if Mr. Trump’s efforts to exterminate fraudulent organized crime operating under the “But, I’m a DOCTOR!It’s SCIENCE!!!” umbrella has anything to do with their prognosis, from watching him on tee vee? Let’s cut to the REAL experts… “Bartholomew and the Oobleck”

  • Alisa

    I hear you, rxc. Speaking of engineering vs science, what bothers me is not so much that they imagine themselves to be scientists on the same level as physicists, but that many of them tend towards actual (social ad even personal) engineering, and seriously try their hand at it when in positions of influence or power.

    That said, I have another remark, about your first paragraph: reproducibility is not an end in and of itself, it is a necessary characteristic of science as a useful tool, the real end being predictability. Hard sciences (lets just cut to the chase here and call them by their real name, physics 🙂 ) provide for a great level of predictability thanks to their reproducibility. The horse and the cart, as it were. Social and behavioral sciences cannot provide nearly as high a level of predictability because of their almost total lack of reproducibility under controlled conditions etc., as you point out. However, they still do provide a measure of predictability that is not negligible (although certainly not measurable), and it would be a shame not to take advantage of it.

  • Bruce

    My attitude has long been:

    “Social Science” is a contradiction in terms”.

  • bobby b

    I’m thinking of getting new business cards:

    “Bobby B, Scientist At Law.”

    Should seriously bump up my internet credibility.

  • Thailover

    Keep in mind that innumerable “experts” are certain about fortune telling, i.e. predicting climate DOOM! …even though one can’t predict chaotic (or Chaotic) futures, and even though the climate has been far warmer in the past which has been fantastic for green plant life and biodiversity…and even though the entire climate doom fiasco is based upon a formal logical fallacy(*) from which no rational inference can be made. And even though all climate models that bothered to make predictions have utterly failed and proved their predictions false, and even though we KNOW that (a) oceans regulate the CO2 cycle, and (b) as water warms, it retains less dissolved gasses, which means of course that warming temps must lead increasing atmospheric CO2 and not the other way around. And even though there is no reason to think that Warming Climate” = Doom.

    “Experts” like Bill Nie the clownish guy are convinced…that his, he has faith…in “experts” apparently.

    (*If man is contributing to the warming of the climate, then if man ceased his climate warming contributing efforts, then the climate can be expected to stop warming and possibly even become cooler. This is the logical fallacy known as Denying the Antecedent.)

    (Chaotic, capitalized, is in reference to Chaos theory, sensitive dependence upon initial contidtions, which makes long term meaninful predictions impossible).

  • Thailover

    It’s my opinion that psychiatry is less “science” than alchemy is…and I’m pretty sure this was Jung’s opinion as well. (Alchemy was a proto-science, which wasn’t a failed approach as many if not most people think. If you’re curious, ask me why).

    Karl Popper was right, psychiatry consists of making models that can’t be falsified and decidedly is no more a science than religion is.

  • Thailover

    Laird said, “Telling. And then there is “The doctors have said that even if it is in breach of tradition ethical standards of psychiatry, it was necessary to break their silence on the matter because they feared ‘too much is at stake’.” So the ends justify the means. Typical of leftists.”

    When psychiatrists are not acting as psychiatrists, then their opinion (consisting of fear mongering reactionary and unprofessional behavior), holds no more weight than Einstein’s opinion of cabbage soup. This seems to be nothing more than an Argument From Authority fallacy, and questionable authority at that.

  • Thailover

    “Will they get away with their unethical behavior?”

    Well of course they will.

  • Thailover

    Paul Marks wrote, “Barry Goldwater was a great man, and I am yet to be convinced (to put the matter mildly) that Donald Trump is – but they share this in common.”

    Trump would have beaten LBJ, but Goldwater was too much of a gentleman to expose what a complete vile lying sack of shit with criminal involvement LBJ was. Trump would have done to LBJ exactly what he did to Slithery.

  • rxc (April 22, 2017 at 2:52):

    All of the soft “sciences” are progressive. They work on the consensus principle, not on the principle of falsifiable, reproduceable measurements.

    This is an important point, but I agree just enough with Alisa’s qualifications (see her later comments above), to want to analyse it further.

    1) Trivially, one can do – and I have done – case studies in fields or at times where reproducible experiments are not practicable. These are not – IMNSHO – valueless, though I’d agree with rxc that, in a sense, he would have the right to call knowledge so obtained ‘good working practice, pro tem’, not ‘science’.

    2) Science depends crucially not merely on repeating experiments by rote, but on a culture that genuinely seeks falsifiability. Read the bit in Richard Fenyman’s CalTech 1974 address (the full version) in which he describes the lengths a true scientist went to to falsify a rat-maze experiment by eliminating false clues – and how that paper was ignored by others in the field, who just went on doing such experiments the old way – i.e. the now proven-to-be-unscientific way.

    There are two ways to get a culture that genuinely seeks falsifiability (in theory; there is only one in practice).

    – One is to find honest scientists and exclude the dishonest, the mentally lazy, the street-cred seekers, etc. But that would be a great way to get honest government too, wouldn’t it? Vote only for honest leaders who could be trusted with power. 🙂

    – Another way is to ensure some degree of balance between those who will like a given experimental outcome and those who will not. As balance of power provides free government from un-saintly politicians, so cognitive diversity provides actual science from imperfect scientists.

    (If you go here, and scroll down to Wednesday, March 24, 2004, you can read Natalie’s post on how even those as admirable as herself can need a little ‘cultural’ help at times to learn the importance of actually reproducing results. 🙂 )

    The corollary of all this is:: As political correctness gains power in a given field, that field swiftly ceases to contain science. The UN’s announcement that “the science is settled” on global warming (end-April 2007) was what prompted me to investigate how settled it actually was (it helped that May 2007 was astonishingly cold in the UK – the biggest Gore effect I’ve ever seen). It was the first time I saw – with astonishment back in that innocent time 🙂 – how completely and how rapidly the killing of the culture of scepticism in a field could destroy the science of that field. Other fields are in the same state (transgender science – I would today write transgender ‘science’ – is the most recent example I’ve noticed).

  • Alisa

    he would have the right to call knowledge so obtained ‘good working practice, pro tem’, not ‘science’

    It certainly is not ‘science’ in the Popperian sense, but it is in any of the “literal” meanings it has had since forever. Not to get mired in semantics or anything, just to add some additional perspective to the discussion.

    As political correctness gains power in a given field, that field swiftly ceases to contain science

    Yes, because the very purpose of PC is to stifle free thought and expression, and the resultant impulse to question the ruling dogmas of the time and place.

    how completely and how rapidly the killing of the culture of scepticism in a field could destroy the science of that field

    Skepticism is only one prerequisite, and it is not necessarily as lacking as one might think – lack of rigor is as much of a problem, if not more so.

  • I once met a young American woman who claimed to have undergone therapy to help her deal with her divorce and subsequent misery. Once I’d gotten to know her I reckoned her therapist must have been the equivalent to the lawyer in The Simpsons. She was a walking example of how bad psychiatry must be in the US.

  • Mr Ed

    The science is settled’

    That’s great, as you scientists wont need any more funding now, will you?’

  • David Moore

    Patrick Crozier

    BTW, IIRC during the Second World War, the US commissioned a bunch of psychologists to have a look at Adolf Hitler. They predicted that he would never enter into peace negotiations and kill himself rather than surrender.

    I’m not convinced that you needed to be a psychologist to have worked that out.

  • Alisa

    Unsmite me, oh the all-powerful Admin…

  • Lee Moore

    Picking up on Niall, Feynman’s rats and all that swaddling, there’s another principle at work here.

    Why do scientists get the results of those experiments that they do, which succeed, published in scientific journals and even sometimes reported on in magazines and newspapers ? But not the experiments that fail ? Cos (a) they don’t really want to bother reporting their failures, and (b) even if they did, no one would publish them.

    The most useful thing a passing billionaire could do for science is to create an online science journal which just published reports of experiements that hadn’t worked.

  • Mr Ed

    These days a scientist is often someone whose practice is directed towards getting at government grants.

    The rest follows accordingly.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Trump would have beaten LBJ, but Goldwater was too much of a gentleman to expose what a complete vile lying sack of shit with criminal involvement LBJ was. Trump would have done to LBJ exactly what he did to Slithery.

    Indeed!
    BTW i seem to remember reading that Goldwater had what used to be called “a nervous breakdown” at some point in his life … or was that also part of the character assassination?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Before commenting on the substance of the debate on the scientific method, let me comment on a side issue (with apologies for going off topic).

    The UN’s announcement that “the science is settled” on global warming (end-April 2007) was what prompted me to investigate how settled it actually was […]. It was the first time I saw […] how completely and how rapidly the killing of the culture of scepticism in a field could destroy the science of that field.

    Niall, weren’t you already alarmed by all that fuss about The Skeptical Environmentalist? and Lomborg is not even a skeptic!

    I myself have not studied the science in any detail: i was turned into a skeptic by learning that, without positive feedback, the influence of carbon dioxide on the climate is pretty weak; and by considering that (a) where there is positive feedback, there must be negative feedback as well, unless the system is unstable, which is not the case for the Earth’s climate; and (b) if there is both positive and negative feedback, then i would not trust any model to reliably extrapolate (as opposed to interpolate) from data.

  • Thomas Hazlewood

    In the book ‘Foundation’, historians, as they deemed themselves, simply read other people’s works without the need of any of that bothersome research. Now we have psychiatrists who can conduct an analysis without actually having a patient or a history. Fiction becomes reality.

  • bobby b

    A psychiatrist looks at a data set consisting of statements, responses, acts, and mannerisms, and constructs an overall opinion of a subject’s mental state.

    Why can’t this be done without direct personal contact? With sufficient data, why can’t that opinion be just as valid as if the psychiatrist had sat next to the subject?

    The point is, all this episode shows us is the complete lack of scientific rigor of psychiatric opinion. Using impressive words, any psychiatrist can come to any conclusion she desires about any subject.

  • Alisa

    A psychiatrist looks at a data set consisting of statements, responses, acts, and mannerisms, and constructs an overall opinion of a subject’s mental state.

    He also necessarily talks to the subject, asking him questions and registering his reactions and response.

  • Snorri Godhi (April 23, 2017 at 6:23 pm) “Niall, weren’t you already alarmed by all that fuss about The Skeptical Environmentalist? and Lomborg is not even a skeptic!”

    Snorri, I was far from prompt in noticing that the actual physical science of Global Warming was garbage. I could see that global warming was being oversold and exploited politically, but I casually assumed some real science was at the bottom of it. IIRC, Steve MacIntyre et al were pointing out flaws in 2003. Christopher Landsea wrote his letter warning the scientific community against UN science in 2004. And there had been criticisms raised ever since the late 90s at least. However up to spring 2007 I was blithely ignorant of all this: the media largely did not report it, and I innocently thought the physical sciences were not corruptible to anything like the degree of the social. Only the coincidence of my being between contracts at the moment in 2007 when Pachauri made his “science is settled” remark left me feeling I had the spare time to investigate.

  • bobby b

    “He also necessarily talks to the subject . . . “

    If you’ve ever been involved in a hearing on testamentary capacity, or in contesting an involuntary commitment, you know this isn’t the case.

  • Alisa

    Bobby, those are not psychiatrists, they are government officials. They were trained as psychiatrists, and most likely practiced psychiatry in the past, seeing real flesh-and-blood patients and actually talking to them. But they are no longer that. The problem is not with psychiatry, but with government meddling in people’s lives.

  • Cristina

    Psychology, Sociology, Bioethics, and to a lesser extent Psychiatry are the enlightened children of Humanism. As such they are first and foremost political instruments.
    What made those professionals slightly different from, say, journalists as political tools, is their capacity to disguise plain common sense as “science” simply babbling high-sounding neologisms.
    A cadre of snobs the whole lot 🙂

  • Watchman

    How many of those criticising subjects as non-scientific (only true for a limited value of science) have actually studied any of them? This knee-jerk reaction always irritates me – how can we criticise those psychiatrists for abusing their subject’s ethics if we don’t believe their subject has any value, since if it has no value the ethics have no purpose?

    All academic areas have strengths and weaknesses. Physics and Chemistry are unusual in that they are concerned with things that are, pretty-well, separate from humanity, and can thus be measured and tested, often in a particular environment. But these are outliers, not ideals – we can’t study anything else like that, and it is worth noting the observer effect does exist in physics anyway, so maybe we can’t even properly study physics like that… And the problem with studying anything outside of a pure-lab environment is that human judgement enters into it, and preconceptions come into play. So of course research will reflect the political biases of those conducting it (and perhaps studied in it – psychology has a growing awareness of the issues with this, much basic research being done on cohorts of mainly female, mainly white, mainly from wealthy backgrounds, 18-22 year old students (who normally wear their hair long as well – they tend to be a recognisable type, and probably mainly have similiar political views)) because we can’t get away from the inconvient fact that our beliefs effect our thoughts. But do we simply decide that this makes these subject valueles, as Cristina seems to suggest?

  • Alisa

    This knee-jerk reaction always irritates me

    Precisely.

  • Cristina

    Watchman, I did study Psychology and Sociology after been a Biochemistry professor. And, please note I said Bioethics, no Ethics.
    The real scientist has the restraint of reality weighing upon him. Not so the con artist talking about other people’s feelings, motivations, and behaviors (present and future).
    If I guess correctly on any of those areas about a patient, I’m very smart and all-knowing.
    If I don’t, well, that’s too bad. After all, everybody knows this is not an “exact thing”. That doesn’t say I’m wrong and I can go on unencumbered by my mistake. A win-win for my ego.
    Does that not ring like a swindle to you?
    Also, what pass as the arcane mysteries of the human mind unveiled by a psychologist are almost always a common-sense approach to reality at best. At worst, it’s just gibberish for the consumption of a suffering person.
    It is a knee-jerk reaction to the pompous poseurs indeed. 😉

  • In the 80s, psychology was taught in Oxford as follows. Year 1: teach students Freudian theory. Year 2: invite guest lecturers to criticise Freudian theory; students would shout down (more politely in those long lost days) the guest lecturers and insist Sigmund Freud knew what he was taking about – their teachers had told them so. Year 3: break it to the students that Freudian theory’s cure rate was statistically the same as that of Rogerian* analysts – which was as good a proof as the subject allows that Freudian theory has no particular correspondence to how the mind actually works. (BTW, both had a cure rate of well under half.)

    Although the course was in some ways well adapted to teach scientific caution, it reached this state almost accidentally: the lecturers had (reluctantly and eventually) lost faith in Freudian theory, had not (yet) found anything very convincing with which to replace it, and found that the above let them comfortably reuse their lecture notes and fill the three years.

    I have no doubt a new psychological orthodoxy has replaced the accidental honesty of those years, but have no current connection to know details. When I last studied the UK psych situation – circa 2011 – it appeared that the sort of CV that ambitious parents and schools help their kids develop to get into Ivy League universities was mild compared to the ‘commitment’ needed to get an actual job in psychiatry in the UK; just completing the course would be nothing compared to the extracurricular activities of those who alone would survive the first pass through hundred-per-job applying CVs. (It also emerged strongly that, in these circumstances, transgressing against whatever jargon was fashionable would be very career limiting.)

    * Rogerian: a treatment approach in which the psychiatrist tries to avoid any input of their own views, concepts, etc., but just to encourage the patient to talk, asking ‘tell me more’ questions, in the belief that the patient best knows their problems and alone can solve them, while intrusion of the psychiatrist’s recent and ill-informed view of them will more often harm than help. (This is a colloquial definition of how it works).

  • Laird

    “if we don’t believe their subject has any value, since if it has no value the ethics have no purpose”

    Sorry, not buying it. Ethics are* important regardless of the value of the subject, because their existence (or lack) reveals much about both the field and the person practicing within it. And it demonstrates at least the attempt to professionalize the discipline. I would expect practitioners of astrology to have professional ethics, if only to minimize unintentional harm to their victims customers. I have even higher expectations of those possessing advanced degrees from reputable universities and professing to provide succor to desperate people.

    * Is “ethics” a plural noun?

  • Snorri Godhi

    psychology has a growing awareness of the issues with this, much basic research being done on cohorts of mainly female, mainly white, mainly from wealthy backgrounds, 18-22 year old students

    Had my awareness of this being raised before i finished high school, i might well have pursued a career in psychology!

    WRT Freudian theory: i remember reading (in a review of Clockwork Orange on IMDb of all places!) that psychoanalytic treatment increases suicide rates. Sorry i can’t provide supporting evidence.

  • ns

    Isn’t there something little soviet about it all? Is the next step that these psychiatrists will state that anyone who voted for an insane and dangerous candidate is not mentally fit to vote?

  • bobby b

    “Bobby, those are not psychiatrists, they are government officials.”

    They’re private psychiatrists and psychologists, for hire.

    I’ve hired them. I’ve cross-examined them. When (for instance) you’re fighting over the mental state of a now-dead will-writer, it’s the only avenue available for “professional” testimony.

  • Thailover

    Lee Moore wrote,
    “The most useful thing a passing billionaire could do for science is to create an online science journal which just published reports of experiements that hadn’t worked.”

    Indeed.

    Theory x: “If A, then B”.

    If Theory x proves true in every trial, it’s accepted.
    However, if on the 2,345,254,234,334,345,765,456rd real world occurance, A didn’t lead to B, then theory X is false. Arguably, the only meaningful and definitive theory is one that’s falsified.

  • Thailover

    “i remember reading (in a review of Clockwork Orange on IMDb of all places!) that psychoanalytic treatment increases suicide rates. Sorry i can’t provide supporting evidence.”

    Well, that’s one form of catharsis I suppose.

  • Cristina

    I have even higher expectations of those possessing advanced degrees from reputable universities and
    professing to provide succor to desperate people.

    It’s my experience that those expectations are absolutely misplaced on almost all of them. Conceit and cynicism, yes. High professional ethics, not so much. Remember, we are never responsible for our failures. Better still, we never fail.

  • Thailover

    Watchman wrote,
    “…and it is worth noting the observer effect does exist in physics anyway, so maybe we can’t even properly study physics like that…”

    An common misunderstanding of the Copenhagen Interpretation.

  • Thailover

    Bobby B wrote, “Why can’t this be done without direct personal contact?”

    Because you’re getting pre-filtered occurances. If the media only broadcasts Trump’s “crazy-talk”, or worse, broadcasts half-statements and misleads the pubic about what was said and the context, then one can’t conclude anything meaningful.

  • Rob Fisher

    I hate having my pubic mislead.

  • Alisa

    When (for instance) you’re fighting over the mental state of a now-dead will-writer, it’s the only avenue available for “professional” testimony.

    OK, I sit corrected. Still, that, in your opinion, defines the entire profession?

  • bobby b

    “Still, that, in your opinion, defines the entire profession?”

    Lordy, no, but it does speak directly to the issue of the ethics of the situation, and whether a psychiatrist necessarily must have direct contact. It’s vital that any resulting opinion be accompanied by a disclaimer that there was no direct contact, but it still counts for something.