Steve Pinker has a new YouTube channel.

July 23, 2022 • 11:15 am

Reader Paul informed me that Steve Pinker has a YouTube channel, and he does and it looks official—run by Qualia.

It’s called “The Life of the Mind“, and there will be an episode every Wednesday. The first one is up and is 18½ minutes long; it’s a short history of psychological experiments beginning with behaviorism. (There’s also a short 50-second intro video, but the longer video has the same information.)

Steve’s own career in psychology mirrors the history from Skinnerian behaviorism until today, when cognitive psychology is a big deal. Throughout the narrative he interweaves his own career, and he winds up connecting experiments with rats getting rewards at “random” intervals with the intervals during which humans engage in war. The point there is that a truly random process, like the one used to give pellets to rats, looks to the layperson like they are clustered.  Wars have seem clustered to many, but they aren’t.

This shows how Pinker’s involvement in classical psychology has fed into his more recent work on history and its trajectory.

I don’t know if Steve is being interviewed here (he seems to be looking at someone form time to time), but he’s extraordinarily eloquent (he never says “uh”), and I don’t think he’s reading from a script.

The guy is amazing, but, as he says, he’s hardly done anything that isn’t controversial. Because I happen to agree with most of what he’s written, and have spent time with him, learning that he’s a truly nice guy and not in the least arrogant, I find it hard to understand the animus against him.  Maybe it’s because he believes in genuine progress, which of course angers people for a number of reasons.

Anyway, check the link above each Wednesday, or perhaps you can subscribe. But do listen to the history below, which I found enlightening.

Does everyone have a channel or podcast now? I fear that websites like this are simply going out of style. So it goes.

Indigenous psychiatry: how valuable is it?

July 5, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I’ve written a lot about how New Zealand is valorizing indigenous knowledge, and the educational system is on the path to teaching Mātauranga Māori (“MM”)—a mixture of myth, legend, practical knowledge acquired by trial and error, and spirituality—as “science”, coequal to science in science classes.  There is some science in MM, but as a whole it is certainly not the same thing as modern science, and many of its claims are either dubious or palpably false. To teach MM in science classes is to deprive the children of New Zealand of an understanding of science.

Many New Zealanders seems to regard everything about its indigenous people as not only valid, but admirable. A lot of it is, but many Kiwis are too cowed to stand up to some of the more  questionable claims of the Māori, including the claim that their Polynesian ancestors discovered Antarctica centuries ago. I know about this fear because Kiwis who do stand up against nonsense get persecuted, and I get emails from lots of them who agree with me but say that they dare not speak up because they’ll lose their jobs.

The latest effort to “indigenize” knowledge is the bestowing of a huge pot of money on Māori organizations to use “ancestral knowledge” to help cure mental health issues among the indigenous people. This is described in the Newshub article below, which you can click to read:

The article notes that “The new Māori Health Authority has a budget of half a billion dollars and CEO Riana Manuel has allocated $100 million of that to support centuries-old treatments.”

And there is a need for treatment, for the article also notes this:

Māori have the highest suicide rates of all ethnic groups in New Zealand. Mental distress among Māori is almost 50 percent higher than non-Māori and 30 percent are more likely to be left undiagnosed.

Now of course we can’t attribute this to problems that are unique to Māori, as I doubt there was a control for levels of income and other stressors that differ among ethnic groups. But there is a push to use Māori-centered therapy to cure mental illness in that ethnicgroup, and 100 million dollars for using “centuries-old treatments” is a lot of money.

What are these treatments? It’s not clear, but they’re based on lunar cycles and what can only be called psychoastrology. It’s confusing because the article is, as so often happens in Kiwi news, larded with Māori terms that even non-Māori can’t understand. See if you can suss it out:

Not so well known to non-Māori is their tradition of using the moon and stars to help treat mental health issues.

It’s called maramataka and will be incorporated into treatment by the new Māori Health Authority.

Rereata Makiha is on a mission to share ancestral knowledge with the next generation.

He’s an expert on maramataka Māori, or the Māori lunar calendar, and forecasting based on the moon cycles, star systems, tides, and the environment.

“The maramataka helps you, helps us to predict when things are going to happen, to tell us when the fish are going to run, when the eels are going to run – all those sorts of things,” he said.

“When you understand it a lot it’s a brilliant guide on when you should be doing certain things.”

Rikki Solomon teaches at-risk rangatahi and whānau how to use maramataka for improving mental health and knowing when to spend time doing certain activities in nature or around whanau.

“If we find that a whanau has had a low time or they may feel low, what we use is the maramataka to identify their cycles, their highs, and their lows,” Solomon said.

“What we observe in those low areas is what are some rituals at that time. And what I mean about rituals is what is the environment that they can connect to, because our environment is our biggest healer.”

That doesn’t really clear things up, but here’s more on the practice, with quotes from Riana Manuel, CEO of the Māori Health Authority:

“Connecting people back to those spaces and places that have been long forgotten is certainly something that will be investing in,” Manuel said.

Just like they do with Matariki, Māori use maramataka as a way of reading the cosmos to prepare for what’s coming.

“It’s a way of rebuilding the body, your wairua, and rebuilding your energy and getting prepared for the high energy days ahead,” Makiha said.

“So it goes in waves like that and if people understand it and go back to that rather than rush, rush, rush every day, I think that’s what drives a lot of the ill-health.”

If you can figure out what they’re doing from this, you’re a better person than I am.

Now there may indeed be a benefit to using Māori practitioners and ancient Māori practices to treat mental illness. After all, people often feel that therapists who have a background similar to their own are more desirable.  Women, for example, often feel that a woman therapist will treat their problems better, and the same goes for ethnic minorities.  So there may be something to shared experience and background that is therapeutic (there’s also, of course, a placebo effect).

My criticism here is simply that these practices are being adopted in the absence of clinical trials, and so there is only a “traditional” basis for the therapy. Might Māori be helped more with other practices, like cognitive behavioral therapy, practices that have been tested and shown to be efficacious? Or even medication, which has a significant effect on things like depression. (A combination of talk and drug therapy seems to be the most curative).

As a colleague wrote me, this absence of scientific testing of a method that will absorb $100 million is the same issue raised with MM: what is claimed (or assumed) to be “scientific” has not been vetted using the scientific method. To quote the colleague:

This is exactly the problem that led me to raise concerns about MM versus science in the first place. We now have two alternate sets of “facts.” One is based on scientific evidence, and the other may be supported by some evidence but has never been tested in a way that would be considered acceptable for medical science.

Mental health is a form of health, and this is like treating diseases using astrology and “traditional methods” that have never been subject to genuine scientific tests. Doesn’t it seem wise, before investing $100 million in mental-health treatment, that the government of New Zealand be sure that those treatments actually work? 

Sadly, that’s not the way the New Zealand government rolls.

What’s happening to psychology?

June 16, 2022 • 11:45 am

One would expect that psychology, like all other academic and health-related professions, would be going woke, though I haven’t heard much about this area beyond the “affirmative care” controversy with respect to transgender people.

But this article below, whose title implies that wokeness is invading psychology, also implies that the influence of “politics” on psychology is pervasive, and is having unhealthy results on patients.  It’s from the journal Psychreg, which describes itself this way:

Founded in 2014, Psychreg is a free, award-winning digital publication dedicated to keeping everyone informed about psychology, mental health, and wellness. The publication, as well as the open-access Psychreg Journal of Psycholgy, are published by Psychreg Ltd, a media company based in London, United Kingdom.

Click to read:

I’m going to summarize the thesis in one sentence: psychology has adopted a “politicially correct” narrative, which is that nearly all mental illness or mental disturbance, including schizophrenia, can be traced back to “trauma and attachment narratives”: i.e.,  the sufferer must have experienced trauma and a loss of attachment some time in their lives.

Now this seems overly simplistic for several reasons. For one thing, it implicitly blames parents or friends for someone’s mental illness, which is not only hurtful when incorrect but can derail therapy. And, as Marshall says “Clearly people can develop psychosis with no trauma or threat in their lives.” He points out that the heritability of schizophrenia is about 80%, which doesn’t rule out environmental causes as contributors to the condition, but also implies that their role is relatively minor.

What I wonder is if this “trauma and attachment” narrative is somehow conditioned by psychologists becoming woke. We all know how loosely the term “traumatized” is thrown about, even used to one’s reaction at hearing “hate speech”. It is one of the three dicta of Lukianoff and Haidt that are said to explain the fragility of today’s youth:

 1) The Untruth of Fragility: aka “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker,”

2) The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: aka “always trust your feelings,” and

3) The Untruth of Us vs. Them: aka “life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

If you are fragile, you can make sense of your illness as a result of trauma. And if you have a Manichean view of the world, as in #3, you can pin your problems on other people: a breaking of attachment.

Now I’m not trying to denigrate the mentally ill here, for Ceiling Cat only knows how many conditions can be unbearably painful. Rather, I’m trying to understand why the “attachment/trauma” explanation is, according to Marshall, taking over psychology. Just a few quotes:

As a clinical and forensic psychologist, I’ve always been interested in the causes – not correlates – of mental health, because associations, masquerading as causal mechanisms, bedevil psychology. Our profession is at a crossroads between science-based causal reasoning and knowledge versus politically biased narratives, where scientific evidence is irrelevant – and trauma is all that matters.

This part implies that it’s affecting diagnoses:

. . .Clinical culture is creaking under the weight of a blank slate trauma assumption. Even when it comes to the adversity to trauma pipeline, the position is unclear.  In outpatient psychiatric clinics in New York, a review of newly admitted patients found 82% with at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), 68% with two, and a staggering 42% with four or more ACEs; these are correlational studies, telling us nothing about what causes what.

And a bit more:

My experience, and that of others, particularly of child mental health service, is constant reference to trauma and attachment which in turn can leave the impression that this is all that matters.  Imagine any other field of study or science that paints a two-dimensional picture of causal mechanisms in human well-being, ignoring decades of science on other factors? Physics without gravity; biology without natural selection. The over-focus on adversity then attachment/trauma, while well-intended, can lead to two-dimensional contaminated mindware, over-applied to every person’s emotional struggles.

. . . . Critical psychiatry approaches can highlight the presumed damaging effects of diagnosis. The problem is that deprived people are desperately seeking diagnoses for themselves, their children, and relatives in their droves. When a person can label pain and distressing emotions, this can alter positively such experiences and is relieving. An excellent diagnostic process should be collaborative and include a causal formulation. A diagnostic process should describe and classify problems, not the person.  An ideal diagnostic assessment can view issues on a spectrum and blur the line between normative and pain. What’s the alternative? Well-being descriptions based on poverty, attachment and trauma for profoundly psychotic or seriously depressed people?  The risk is that clinicians who overapply trauma/attachment models could explain autism, fetal alcohol spectrum, ADHD, and a raft of neurodevelopmental disorders from this blank slate standpoint.

Now the article isn’t written very well, but I did want to call your attention to what may be a misguided form of ideology creeping into psychology and psychiatry. Do weigh in if you have any experiences about the stuff above. And note that “diagnoses” are often tentative, sketchy, or weird in psychology, as evidenced by the continual changes of the DSM “diagnoses” in successive editions.

h/t: Ginger K.

American Psychological Society apologizes for perpetuating systemic racism

November 4, 2021 • 11:00 am

Self-abasing and self-flagellating apologies are becoming so common that I don’t want to deal with them any more. They’re part of the attempts of professional associations to come to a “racial reckoning”, like the American Medical Association’s embarrassing attempt to reform language highlighted by Jessie Singal the other day.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has gotten into the game, too, but it’s done it a damn sight better than the AMA. They have not only issued an apology in five parts—one that goes too far, to be sure—for racist practices in the past, but have done a lot more. Usually these are not only pro forma apologies but performative apologies, unlikely to help minorities or other disadvantaged groups. They flaunt virtue, but that’s about all. And they usually neglect class.

But the APA, comprising psychologists, has not only apologized for racist practices (first screenshot below), but listed where psychology in general (not just the APA) fell short in the past (second and third screenshot), gives specific instances of such acts (third screenshot) and, importantly, outlines a specific program about how it will create “equity” in the APA (second, fourth, and fifth screenshots).

It’s one thing to talk the talk, but the specific program commits the APA to certain actions, some of which have time deadlines. I also appreciate their citing specific instances of psychologists’ act of racism, though, as I said, I don’t see a need to reiterate the racist history of the whole discipline when it is only the APA who is apologizing for its acts.  Because they put considerable thought into these five documents, which go on for pages, and commit themselves to a program, I can’t fault the organization for its efforts. True, they do go too far sometimes, but this is more than performative.  I’ll give only two quotes.

Here’s their news bulletin about their apology, which is short.

And then the apology in extenso (below), which is a resolution with three pages of “wheras”s before the resolution is given.  They also say this:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that APA acknowledges that an apology absent ameliorative action is without impact, and thus commits to the following immediate actions of remedy and repair, in addition to long-term actions specified above. These actions are anchored in creating immediate and real structural change for the organization.

  • APA will engage in a comprehensive audit of all its EDI [Equity, diversity, and inclusion] and other antiracism-related activities including ethnic representation of governance leaders and central office staff and policies, practices, and procedures currently underway and in use—to include how psychologists of color will have access to the results of the audit and its intended impact on society, to be concluded by the February 2022 meeting of the Council of Representatives.

Not later than August 2022, initial actions will be proposed for approval by Council, based on recommendations from members and ethnic groups, with respect to implementation of the following three priorities, though Council may offer different tactics than the examples noted below:  . . .

You can read the list of “tactics” yourself.

Below: the historical chronology of the APA’s (and psychology in general’s) racist acts or racism. This took a fair amount of work:

A list of transgressions followed by specific recommendations about how to fix them. Lots of “whereas”s here, too, with the areas of effort broken down into categories (“health care”, “science,” “education”, “early childhood development”, and so on):

Below: a shorter statement that is easier to read, about future efforts. Lots of “whereas”s in this one, too. I guess psychologists like this formal format.

As I said, this goes a lot farther than the usual performative apologies given by institutions and organizations without any program for repair. The prime example of such affirmations of virtue is the “land acknowledgment.”  More power to the APA if their program can really help the oppressed.

I have a single beef (you didn’t think my praise would be unstinting, did you?). The APA apparently wants to indict everybody engaged in “structural racism in the U.S.,” so they went over the top with this statement from the second document:

WHEREAS racist behaviors and ideologies are evidenced in the health inequities of pandemics and disease on Indigenous people (including over 570 Tribal Nations), Black/African American, Asian American, Pacific Islander American, Latina/o and Latinx, and AMENA peoples and communities; psychologists also provided ideological support for, and failed to speak out against, the colonial framework of the government-sponsored industrial (boarding) and day school systems for Indigenous youth (Cummings Center, 2021); the tragic hate crimes and killings of Black people at the hands of law enforcement; the surge in hate crimes against and ongoing harms perpetuated by “model minority” stereotyping of Asian Americans Americans (Yip, Cheah, Kiang & Hall, 2021); the inhumane treatment and systemic targeting and historical exclusion of immigrants of color from the civil rights granted by U.S. citizenship, through immigration policy and its aggressive enforcement and the mistreatment and criminalization of undocumented immigrants who lack access to a pathway to U.S. citizenship; the continuing hate crimes and speech perpetrated against AMENA people; and the overall climate of xenophobia in the U.S. These examples of racism are widespread and impact either directly or indirectly all individuals who belong to marginalized racial groups, including multiracial persons (APA, 2019, 2020a, 2020b, 2021a, 2021b).

Well, they got carried away. But unlike the many organizations that keep telling us they are racist without giving examples (e.g, The Evergreen State College, Williams College, Princeton, and so on, which in fact are not structurally racist), the APA has documented its unsavory history. How refreshing to see a self-indictment that is actually true!

 

The woke termites burrow their way into therapists’ offices

August 14, 2021 • 10:30 am

You’d think that the last places one would start treating individuals as embodying characteristics of their “tribe” are the offices of therapists.  After all, both psychologists and psychiatrists are expected to deal with their patientS as people with unique problems, and not impute to the patient “group” characteristics based on stereotypes or political ideology. Nor should they impose their own political views on their patients, which is a real no-no for therapists. (They do, of course have ideas on how to treat patients, and make suggestions, but not of the genre, “hey, maybe you’d feel better if you wore a MAGA hat.”)

Well, the idea that therapy is ideology-free is, of course, dead wrong, especially now when there is no tent in the Universe where the Woke Camel won’t stick its nose. And so the nose goes onto the couch, as recounted in this Persuasion article by Sally Satel. Click on the screenshot to read:

Now activist therapists aren’t new; for years we’ve had specimens who impose their own views on patients rather than sussing out a patient’s problems from their own words. These activists include “recovered memory therapists”, who, it seems, already know what memories are supposed to be recovered, and try to convince the patient about the truth of things that might never have happened.

You’ve heard of the McMartin preschool case, in which recovered memory therapists dug up instances of sexual and even Satanic abuse of children that never happened. The accused people spent several years in jail, but were eventually acquitted. Right now Jerry Sandusky is sitting in prison for sexual abuse of young boys, with a lot of the testimony that put him there “recovered” by therapists digging around in the minds of young people. (Some said they weren’t abused but, after some bouts with the therapists, suddenly remembered that Sandusky committed sexual acts on them).

These therapists are clearly activists, and one would, based on their activities and the political leanings of therapists, expect them to often be on the Left.

Sally Satel, a psychiatrist who wrote this piece, is against activism, though she is affiliated with the Right-Wing American Enterprise Institute. Wikipedia says she’s a “political conservative” and has also written several books about the incursion of Left-wing doctrine into medicine, like this one (click to go to Amazon site):

Satel’s also identified as working at a methadone clinic in Washington D.C. and as a visiting professor at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. If you’re one of those, you can ignore her views simply because she’s a conservative, but you might be missing some truths. And her claimed truth in this piece, which can be at least partly checked by following the links she gives, is that therapy is increasingly turning into the instillation of woke attitudes into patients as the world because woker. I doubt that, in these times, you’ll find that thesis inherently unlikely! But here’s what she says:

Until roughly five years ago, people seeking mental health care could expect their therapists to keep politics out of the office. But as counselor education programs and professional organizations across the country embrace a radical social justice agenda, that bedrock principle of neutrality is crumbling. Mental health professionals—mainly counselors and therapists—are increasingly replacing evidence-driven therapeutics with ideologically motivated practice and activism.

The Graduate Counseling Program at the University of Vermont, for example, intends to “structurally align” itself with the Black Lives Matter movement and begin “the work of undoing systemic white supremacy.” After George Floyd’s death, the Johns Hopkins University Counseling Center advised would-be students to “consider us one of many resources in the difficult but necessary work of engaging with internalized bias, recognizing privilege, and aligning values of anti-racism and allyship with embodied and sustained practice.”

Such sentiments are not limited to mission statements—they are playing out in the real world of clinical training. Some counseling programs encourage students to engage in social justice activism. Most troubling of all, trainees are being taught to see patients not as individuals with unique needs, but as avatars of their gender, race, and ethnic groups. Accordingly, more and more counselors encourage their patients to understand their problems as a consequence of an oppressive society. White patients, for instance, are told that their distress stems from their subjugation of others, while black and minority patients are told that their problems stem from being oppressed.

The stakes for patients are high. When therapists use patients as receptacles for their worldview, patients are not led to introspection, nor are they emboldened to experiment with new attitudes, perspectives, and actions. Patients labeled by their therapists as oppressors can feel alienated and confused; those branded as oppressed learn to see themselves as feeble victims. It is difficult to imagine how a healthy therapeutic alliance between counselor and patient—a core bond nurtured through a clinician’s posture of caring neutrality and compassionate detachment—could thrive under these conditions.

Is it hard to imagine that therapists might engage in this form of indoctrination when secondary-school and college teacher do it all the time? Satel goes on:

The American Counseling Association, “the world’s largest association exclusively representing professional counselors,” has a Code of Ethics that explicitly cautions against such boundary violations: “Counselors are [to be] aware of—and avoid imposing—their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.” Yet the association has said nothing about the overt ideological stance of some programs, or blatant instances of imposition.

It’s hard to argue with that paragraph’s advice. Nor is it hard to believe that any form of propagandizing patients will be aimed at moving them toward the left because, at least according to Five Thirty Eight, social and personality psychologists are about as liberal as college professors:

When New York University psychologist Jonathan Haidt asked about a thousand attendees at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in 2011 to identify their political views with a show of hands, only three hands went up for “conservative or on the right.” Separately, a survey of more than 500 social and personality psychologists published in 2012 found that only 6 percent identified as conservative overall, though there was more diversity on economic and foreign policy issues.1 The survey also found that 37.5 percent of respondents expressed a willingness to discriminate against conservative colleagues when making hiring decisions. Psychologists, it appears, tend to fall on the liberal end of the political spectrum.

I expect therapists will line up pretty much the same way.

Now it’s okay if a patient’s problems involve politics. Perhaps he was driven to fury by Trump, and it’s upsetting his life. Or he can’t live in a world in which race seems to be the main driver of everything. Then the therapist can draw out the patients and suggest ways to improve their lives. But I don’t think it’s ever valid to impose your own politics on a patient, nor to treat them as a member of a political or ethnic group rather than an individual, like trying to urge them to be “more black or Hispanic” or “less white”.  Satel has a couple of anecdotes about this, but remember, they are anecdotes.

Central to the ideology that’s creeping into the field of mental health care is a growing aversion to recognizing personal responsibility and agency. One colleague of mine who works in a prominent psychiatry department told me that during a group discussion of the growing problem of stress and suicide in black youth, her colleagues were unwilling to discuss explanations that pointed to factors coming from within beleaguered communities. Thus, participants who pointed to fear of police aggression and societal discrimination were greeted with nods, but when she suggested they also consider bullying by classmates, chaos in the home, or neighborhood violence, she was ignored.

I have had my own encounter with this growing illiberal strain. Following a lecture I gave earlier this year to a group of psychiatrists and trainees, I was castigated by several attendees for drawing attention to personal agency in overcoming drug addiction. My transgression, as they saw it, was to “blame the victim” and take focus away from factors such as racism, poor education, and poverty—which, as I had noted in my presentation, also predispose people to heavy drug use. But I was not “blaming the victim,” I explained in an icy Q-and-A; rather, I was drawing attention to the patients’ capacities to improve their lives and, therefore, to hope.

As a palliative, she touts an organization, The International Association of Psychology and Counseling, dedicated to promoting “critical thinking over indoctrination” and to an organization called FAIR in Medicine, a group designed to combat the incursion of ideology into medicine as a whole.  As Satel says at the end (her emphasis):

Though I am worried for my profession, for colleagues who feel pressure to conform, and for the patients who depend on them, I take heart from these flares of resistance. I am confident that there is a silenced majority of clinicians who see the need to resist the ideological encroachment into the field of mental health care and the health sector more broadly. These new organizations are in their early stages but have the potential to attract the critical mass needed to rebuff politicized narratives and re-assert the primacy of individual patients in all their complexity.

Dr. Sally Satel

Failures of replication in psychology

June 29, 2021 • 9:15 am

We hear a lot about the “replication crisis” in science, and it’s often cited to imply that science is largely untrustworthy, perhaps just as fallible a “way of knowing” as, say, religion. And indeed, a number of prominent results in psychology and other fields have not been replicated by others. What is not mentioned in such criticisms is the huge number of studies in “hard” science that have been replicated. As far as I know, DNA is still a double helix, Jupiter is larger than Earth, benzene has six carbon atoms, and the continents are moving about on tectonic plates. Nobody, of course, has totted up the proportion of all results in any field that have been replicated. Still, failures of replication are concerning, but also inevitable, since science is an ongoing process. And they also give us a way of adding or subtracting credibility from a hypothesis.

A list of “replication failures” does serve to remind us that science is fallible, an ongoing enterprise that is subject to revision. Nothing is “proven” in science; the concept of “proof” is for mathematics, where there’s no “replication crisis.” Science is a Bayesian enterprise, in which accumulating evidence combines to give us more or less confidence in a hypothesis. But remember, too, that many scientific “facts” are very unlikely to be overturned, and, using any reasonable layperson’s notion of “proof”, have been proved.  A molecule of normal water has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, the normal form of DNA is a double helix, the speed of light in a vacuum is 299792458 metres per second ( roughly 186,000 miles per second) and so on.

This list of “reversals” below is limited to psychology and is 18 months old. It comes from the site argmin gravitas, and was compiled by “Gavin, a PhD candidate in AI at Bristol.”

The caveats are given by Gavin below, and the most important one is that a “failure of replication” does not mean either that the original result was wrong or that somebody cheated. Psychological studies often use different samples from different places; the statistical power of tests to detect effects depends on sample size, which varies among studies; different statistical tests can give different results; and, of course, there could be confirmation bias in whether you accept a result. And if you use the 5% level of significance, roughly 1 in 20 tests will yield a “false positive.” As Gavin says, “failed replications (or proofs of fraud) usually just challenge the evidence for a hypothesis, rather than affirm the opposite hypothesis.” Here are his caveats:

medical reversal is when an existing treatment is found to actually be useless or harmful. Psychology has in recent years been racking up reversals: in fact only 40-65% of its classic social results were replicated, in the weakest sense of finding ‘significant’ results in the same direction. (Even in those that replicated, the average effect found was half the originally reported effect.) Such errors are far less costly to society than medical errors, but it’s still pollution, so here’s the cleanup.

Psychology is not alone: medicinecancer biology, and economics all have many irreplicable results. It’d be wrong to write off psychology: we know about most of the problems here because of psychologists, and its subfields differ a lot by replication rate and effect-size shrinkage.

One reason psychology reversals are so prominent is that it’s an unusually ‘open’ field in terms of code and data sharing. A less scientific field would never have caught its own bullshit.

The following are empirical findings about empirical findings; they’re all open to re-reversal. Also it’s not that “we know these claims are false”: failed replications (or proofs of fraud) usually just challenge the evidence for a hypothesis, rather than affirm the opposite hypothesis. I’ve tried to ban myself from saying “successful” or “failed” replication, and to report the best-guess effect size rather than play the bad old Yes/No science game.

Figures correct as of March 2020; I will put some effort into keeping this current, but not that much.
Code for converting means to Cohen’s d and Hedge’s g here.

Click on the screenshot to see the “reversals”.

I’ll mention only one example given from each of 13 branches of psychology discussed by Gavin; these are experiments that seem to be fairly well known or whose failure to replicate interested me. Go to the site to see the statistics from the original papers and then from attempts to replicate.  And a lot of other papers are cited as well.

Gavin’s words are indented.

Social psychology:

  • No good evidence of anything from the Stanford prison ‘experiment’. It was not an experiment; ‘demand characteristics’ and scripting of the abuse; constant experimenter intervention; faked reactions from participants; as Zimbardo concedes, they began with a complete “absence of specific hypotheses”.

Positive psychology:

  • No good evidence for facial-feedback (that smiling causes good mood and pouting bad mood).

Cognitive psychology:

  • Questionable evidence for (some readings of) the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Developmental psychology:

Personality psychology:

  • Anything by Hans Eysenck should be considered suspect, but in particular these 26 ‘unsafe’ papers (including the one which says that reading prevents cancer).

Behavioural science:

  • The effect of “nudges” (clever design of defaults) may be exaggerated in general. One big review found average effects were six times smaller than billed. (Not saying there are no big effects.)

Marketing:

  • Brian Wansink accidentally admitted gross malpractice; fatal errors were found in 50 of his lab’s papers. These include flashy results about increased portion size massively reducing satiety.

Neuroscience:

  • Readiness potentials seem to be actually causal, not diagnostic. So Libet’s studies also do not show what they purport to. We still don’t have free will (since random circuit noise can tip us when the evidence is weak), but in a different way.

I’ve read the references about “failure to replicate Libet”, and they don’t show that conscious will is involved in decisions; they show that neural inputs, either random or non-random (i.e., derived from sensory input) influence decisions, and brain activity can predict behaviors before the subject is conscious of having “decided”. But I have no quarrel about that. Free will, if it means anything, especially to dualists, has to involve the causation of a of an action by a conscious decision that could have been otherwise.  And the Libet experiment, and many others since, show a genuine decoupling between brain activity that can predict an action and consciousness of having “decided” to perform that action. That in itself is a sword in the heart of dualistic free will, though of course not of compatibilist free will, as nearly all of its adherents accept physical determinism and reject dualism.

Psychiatry:

  • At most extremely weak evidence that psychiatric hospitals (of the 1970s) could not detect sane patients in the absence of deception.

Parapsychology:

  • No good evidence for precognition, undergraduates improving memory test performance by studying after the test. This one is fun because Bem’s statistical methods were “impeccable” in the sense that they were what everyone else was using. He is Patient Zero in the replication crisis, and has done us all a great service. (Heavily reliant on a flat / frequentist prior; evidence of optional stopping; forking paths analysis.)

Evolutionary psychology:

  • Questionable evidence for the menstrual cycle version of the dual-mating-strategy hypothesis (that “heterosexual women show stronger preferences for uncommitted sexual relationships [with more masculine men]… during the high-fertility ovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle, while preferring long-term relationships at other points”). Studies are usually tiny (median n=34, mostly over one cycle). Funnel plot looks ok though.

Psychophysiology:

  • At most very weak evidence that sympathetic nervous system activity predicts political ideology in a simple fashion. In particular, subjects’ skin conductance reaction to threatening or disgusting visual prompts – a noisy and questionable measure.

Behavioural genetics:

  • Be very suspicious of any such “candidate gene” finding (post-hoc data mining showing large >1% contributions from a single allele). 0/18 replications in candidate genes for depression. 73% of candidates failed to replicate in psychiatry in general. One big journal won’t publish them anymore without several accompanying replications. A huge GWAS, n=1 million: “We find no evidence of enrichment for genes previously hypothesized to relate to risk tolerance.

h/t: Luana

A new paper by a psychoanalyst looks like a hoax, but isn’t

June 11, 2021 • 10:30 am

When I first saw the paper below, which is still on the pages of the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association—a journal I expected to be peer-reviewed journal and have a modicum of rigor even if it is about psychoanalysis—I thought it was a joke: a hoax “grievance” paper à la Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian.  But I don’t think it is. Instead, it’s a horrid, racist gemisch of obscurantist chest-beating in the guise of antiracism. Click on the screenshot to read it, or download the pdf here. (The full reference is at the bottom of the page.)

Just three quotes, besides the abstract above, give the tenor of the paper:

Parasitic Whiteness infiltrates our drives early on. The infiltrated drive binds id-ego-superego into a singular entity, empowered to dismiss and override all forms of resistance. The drive apparatus of Whiteness divides the object world into two distinct zones. In one, the Whiteness-infiltrated drive works in familiar ways—inhibited, checked, distorted, transformed—susceptible, that is, to standard neurotic deformations. In the other, however, none of this holds true. There the liberated drive goes rogue, unchecked and unlimited, inhibited by neither the protests of its objects nor the counterforces of its internal structures.

. . .Parasitic Whiteness generates a state of constantly erotized excitement, a drift toward frenzy.1 Fix, control, and arouse; want, hate, and terrorize. Whiteness resides at this always volatile edge, in a state of permanent skirmish, always taking on the never obliterated resistances of its nonwhite objects. Opaque to itself and hyperconscious of those objects, Whiteness pursues the impossible, a stable synthesis, an end point. It can therefore never rest. Blindly, then, it continues forward, unendingly bent on conquering. There seems no backward path, no mode of retreat. It faces an interminable forward march. If only it could totally and permanently transform these objects, turn the once feared and unknown into the now reduced and measured; turn the once unique and overwhelming into the now fungible and owned.

Whiteness originates not in innocence but in entitlement.

. . . Psychoanalytic work, then, need not properly target Whiteness itself here. Instead, it can effectively target the psychic receptor sites that provide Whiteness the interior vertical mapping on which it depends. The vertical map disrupts the identificatory bond that might once have bound subject to object. The bond persists, though, reshaped and hardened now into a vertical format. Identification morphs into disidentification, similarity into difference, affectionate care into sadistic cruelty. Diminish the spread and influence of these interior vertical receptor sites and, indirectly, the parasite of Whiteness is dislodged, loosed, itself becoming susceptible to exposure, as a differentiated and alien presence. Psychoanalytic work, in its most radical, fundamental, and, finally neutral forms, targets any and all of the effects of vertical mapping. Where verticality was, there horizontality will be.

Ah, the termites are dining well!  Imagine if this paper used any ethnicity other than “whiteness”. It would not have been publishable, and the author would have been damned and demonized forever for racism. Indeed, I’m baffled why the editor of this journal even published the screed. It appears to say nothing beyond whiteness being a parasitic infection of the mind that needs to be cured by psychoanalysis (of course).

Is this a joke or a hoax? I don’t think so. The author has written quite a few articles for the journal and is identified at the article’s end this way:

Faculty, New York Psychoanalytic Institute [NYPI]; co-founder of the Green Gang, a four-person collective working with climate change denial and the relation between the human and the natural worlds; Chair, Program Committee, American Psychoanalytic Association.

Indeed, he’s listed as a faculty member on the New York Psychoanalytic Institute website. He’s a real person!

Here’s a photo of Moss from the NY Post:

Now there’s a different Donald Moss, another physician, who hastened to tweet that he wasn’t the guy who wrote this execrable paper. I don’t see the “correction and apology” on the website, though.

Lee Jussim, a psychologist at Rutgers, points out the similarities between Nazi racism and Moss racism:

I don’t want to delve further into this steaming pile of psychoanalytic scat, as you can read the paper for yourself, and perhaps delve further into the writings of Dr. Moss. But you can conclude two things. First, this Donald Moss is off the rails, perhaps in need of treatment himself (but not psychoanalysis!). Second, the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association has no credibility and, apparently, no standards.

I wonder what his colleagues at the NYPI are thinking. . .

______________

Moss, D. 2021. On Having Whiteness. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 69:355-371.

The New Yorker’s hit job on Elizabeth Loftus

April 25, 2021 • 9:30 am

I doubt that psychologist and memory expert Elizabeth Loftus knew that, when Rachel Aviv of the New Yorker interviewed her for a recent profile, Aviv had a hit job in mind. I say this because Aviv makes statements in the piece (click on screenshot below; I think access is free) implying that she, Aviv, believes in the dubious and largely discredited concept of repressed and recovered memory; and Loftus has spent much of her life doing research that caused the discrediting.

When I first saw the piece’s title, I thought, “Wow! The New Yorker is doing some real science pieces now.”  Indeed, the title seems to be about Loftus’s work, which I knew a bit about. I had met Loftus (her friends call her “Beth”) at the 2016 American Humanist Association Meeting in Chicago, where I spoke and she received the Isaac Asimov Science Award for scientific work that advanced humanist values. After the award, Loftus gave a talk on the fallacies of memory, a talk I found quite impressive. (As you’ll see from the TED talk below, she’s a very good speaker.) At the conference dinner, I sat beside Loftus and we had a delightful conversation, which was also a bibulous one because, as I recall, we’d each had more than our share of wine.  But after I wrote the preceding sentence, I looked up my emails from Loftus after the dinner and found one that said “they should have given us wine”, implying that my memory of being tipsy with her was false! What I wrote was an example of the kind of false memory she works on!

Click below to read the New Yorker piece:

Here’s Loftus speaking about her work. You’ll learn a lot more from this 17½-minute talk than you will from Aviv’s piece.

So I looked forward to reading Aviv’s piece, hoping to learn more about Loftus’s work on memory.  As Aviv notes, Loftus is “the most influential female psychologist of the twentieth century, according to a list compiled by the Review of General Psychology.”  She’s written 24 books and more than 600 papers. I haven’t read any of those works, but know Loftus from her talks and from what I’ve read about her, and so anticipated learning a lot more about memory from the New Yorker.

Oy, was I mistaken! For despite the piece’s title, it has almost nothing about Loftus’s accomplishments, which are many. Instead, Aviv concentrates on Loftus testifying at the trial of Harvey Weinstein, at the appeal of Jerry Sandusky and in legal proceedings of other miscreants—while noting that Loftus has only ever refused a single invitation to testify in anyone’s defense, for she testifies about the known science, not the defendant’s actions. That action alone demonized her, as it did Ronald Sullivan, a Professor of Law at Harvard who was kicked out of his position as a Harvard “faculty dean” at Winthrop House because he also worked for Weinstein’s defense. Because of this, Loftus was also deplatformed at New York University and snubbed by her colleagues at UC Irvine, where she’s a professor.

As someone who worked on the DNA evidence at O. J. Simpson’s trial, and testified about DNA evidence for public defenders in trials for rape and murder, I object to this kind of demonization. (I didn’t take money for any case after the first one I worked on in Chicago.) The job of the defense is to make the prosecution prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and if the prosecution is making statements that are scientifically questionable, including, as we see above, using eyewitness evidence, which can be deeply fallible, the defense’s job is to call those statements into question. Everyone deserves a fair trial, including those accused of the most odious crimes, as well as those who are wealthy.

I digress, I suppose, but I see Aviv’s repeated mentions of Loftus’s testimony for Weinstein as an attempt to smear her. There are too many mentions to think otherwise.

But it’s worse, for while Loftus’s work is barely mentioned, you’ll see that Aviv concentrates on Loftus’s personal trials: in particular, her relationship with her late mother.

Virtually the entire article is devoted to Loftus’s childhood and adolescence, and a large part of that to a single Skype call Loftus had with her two brothers, largely about their mother, Rebecca.  A depressive, Rebecca died, most likely by suicide, when Loftus was a teenager. Loftus is still wounded by this loss. Worse, Elizabeth has very few concrete memories of her mother, and cannot decide whether her mother drowned accidentally or as a deliberate suicide attempt. Elizabeth had a heart-to-heart talk with her mother the night before she was found drowned, and that makes her feel even worse.  Aviv mentions several times that the Skype call, which Aviv was party to, made Loftus cry, and that also appears in the last sentence. I don’t think that’s accidental.

After I finished this peculiar article, I wondered why Aviv concentrated so much on Loftus’s thoughts about her mother and not on her work. When Loftus is asked whether her work on memory somehow grew out of her attempts to remember her mother, she denies it, for all three of her degrees were in mathematical psychology and had nothing to do with memory. Loftus hit upon the memory work only after she started a job at The University of Washington and came upon police records of car crashes, which piqued her interest in memory.

The rest is part of the history of psychology, but Aviv isn’t interested in that. She’s obsessed with Loftus’s scant remembrance of her mom, and Loftus’s doubts about whether she did kill herself. It goes on and on and on, and the article becomes not only boring, but pointless.

When I was puzzled about this, I asked my friend Fred Crews—former professor and chair of English at UC Berkeley, well known critic of Freud and his ideas, student and critic of recovered memory therapy, and a friend of Loftus— if he’d read the piece. He said he had, and had not only found it dreadful, but also had an explanation for its slant. I quote him with permission:

To be brief,  Aviv subscribes to Freud’s original bad idea: People repress traumatic memories, and psychotherapists can coax them into recalling them. With that conviction, Aviv regards Loftus less as a memory scientist than as someone who lets abusers off the hook. In that case, the only interesting question is biographical: how did Loftus acquire this undesirable peculiarity? The result, in Aviv’s prose, is what I would call a “friendly libel.” We are meant to empathize with Loftus’s personal trial, but insofar as we do so, we impugn her testimony as a neutral expert witness.

That assessment seems fair to me, and explains Aviv’s neglect of Loftus’s work in favor of her “personal trial”. In fact, Aviv even impugns some of Loftus’s work, noting that one of her famous studies, on car crash memories, had a sample size of only 24. I can’t comment on that, but sample size alone does not invalidate the study. Does Aviv know enough science to raise such a criticism?

Loftus has sacrificed a lot for her work, and although she is highly influential, and to my mind has largely laid to rest the idea that traumatic memories can be repressed and then recovered through therapy, she is still demonized by the kind of people who think that anybody who testifies in court for an odious person is to be shunned. Loftus moved to Irvine because her position at the University of Washington became untenable when she was criticized for asking questions about a woman who said she’d been abused by her mother.

Enough. I want to close by reproducing, again with permission, a letter Crews wrote to the New Yorker criticizing Aviv’s execrable hit job on Loftus.  The magazine didn’t publish it, for the New Yorker which has a reputation for allowing only very mild criticism of its pieces and deep-sixing any highly critical letters.

The letter notes that Aviv appears to buy into the idea of repressed but recoverable memories of sexual abuse broached (and later rejected) by Freud. Aviv seems to think that Freud made a mistake when he reversed course and decided that the “repressed” events never happened, but were confected by the patients and manifested as hysteria.

According to Rachel Aviv, Sigmund Freud “realized that his patients had suppressed memories of being sexually abused as children.” In subsequently disavowing that realization, Aviv adds, Freud “walked away from a revelation” of the prevalence of child sexual abuse. Later, Aviv writes that in the 1980s and 90s Ellen Bass—the coauthor of The Courage to Heal—and other theorists were “careful not to repeat Freud’s mistake.” And then Aviv refers again to “Freud’s female patients, whose memories of abuse were believed and then . . . discredited.”

This version of events became popular in 1984 with Jeffrey Masson’s book The Assault on Truth, which argued that classical psychoanalysis was founded on a cowardly retreat by Freud from the truth of his “seduction” patients’ molestations. But Freud scholars have known since the 1970s that this account is wrong.

In the brief period of his “seduction theory,” Freud maintained that hysteria is invariably caused by the repression of traumatic abuse memories from early childhood. Although he later claimed that his hysterics had spontaneously told him (in error) about having been molested, the reverse was true. He told them so, because his theory demanded it. Nearly all of his patients at the time disputed Freud’s claim, even scoffing at its absurdity. Freud finally abandoned the “seduction” etiiology because his colleagues, too, regarded it as “a scientific fairy tale” (Krafft-Ebing). They were entirely right. But in the hands of Bass and other modern proponents of “recovered memory,” a theory that collapsed in its own time was rehabilitated for very risky ends.

If you want to see what a charlatan Freud was, I’d highly recommend Fred’s book Freud: The Making of an Illusion.

Full disclosure: here’s a picture I asked someone to take of Loftus and me after the AHA dinner (see my post here). I may not be a completely unbiased observer, but read the NYer piece for yourself and see if you don’t find it weird.

The New Yorker continues to largely ignore or denigrate science, mired as it is in a woke perspective and a view that the humanities are valid “ways of knowing”. Aviv’s piece is a particularly good example of how the magazine misses the boat when it comes to science, obliquely trying to denigrate an influential scientist by concentrating on her life and her own traumas rather than on her peer-reviewed work.

Should mental-health professionals diagnose Trump as mentally ill?

October 3, 2020 • 12:30 pm

It’s one thing for us to call Trump a narcissist or a sociopath, but it’s another thing entirely when a group of mental-health professionals argue that Trump should not be allowed to debate—or should be impeached—because he’s sick in the head.

Psychiatrists generally refrain from diagnosing people whom they haven’t examined, adhering to what’s called the “Goldwater Rule”. That rule, put into place by the American Psychiatric Association, came into being in 1973 when a group of over 1000 psychiatrists questioned Barry Goldwater’s fitness for office based on their long-distance diagnosis. Other Presidents, including Clinton, have also been diagnosed as mentally ill by the pros.

After the diagnosing of Trump started in 2016, the APA issued a statement in January, 2018 that reaffirmed the Goldwater Rule:

Today, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) reiterates its continued and unwavering commitment to the ethical principle known as “The Goldwater Rule.” We at the APA call for an end to psychiatrists providing professional opinions in the media about public figures whom they have not examined, whether it be on cable news appearances, books, or in social media. Armchair psychiatry or the use of psychiatry as a political tool is the misuse of psychiatry and is unacceptable and unethical.

The ethical principle, in place since 1973, guides physician members of the APA to refrain from publicly issuing professional medical opinions about individuals that they have not personally evaluated in a professional setting or context. Doing otherwise undermines the credibility and integrity of the profession and the physician-patient relationship. Although APA’s ethical guidelines can only be enforced against APA members, we urge all psychiatrists, regardless of membership, to abide by this guidance in respect of our patients and our profession.

A proper psychiatric evaluation requires more than a review of television appearances, tweets, and public comments. Psychiatrists are medical doctors; evaluating mental illness is no less thorough than diagnosing diabetes or heart disease. The standards in our profession require review of medical and psychiatric history and records and a complete examination of mental status. Often collateral information from family members or individuals who know the person well is included, with permission from the patient.

“The Goldwater Rule embodies these concepts and makes it unethical for a psychiatrist to render a professional opinion to the media about a public figure unless the psychiatrist has examined the person and has proper authorization to provide the statement,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “APA stands behind this rule.”

I generally agree, for professionals should behave professionally. Doctors don’t diagnose patients without an exam, and psychiatrists are doctors. As an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) noted,  

. . . One reason for The Goldwater Rule is the likelihood of error in a diagnosis made at a distance. A proper diagnosis requires much more than “a review of television appearances, tweets, and public comments,” the American Psychiatric Association noted in its statement. “The standards in our profession require review of medical and psychiatric history and records and a complete examination of mental status. Often collateral information from family members or individuals who know the person well is included, with permission from the patient.”

You can say we already know enough to agree that Trump is mentally ill, but remember, if you want to assert that in court, the perp has to be examined by mental-heath professionals. Courts won’t accept diagnoses without direct examinations.

Now some mental-health professionals say that there’s a “duty to warn” that overrides the Goldwater Rule, a “duty to warn” about the effect of Trump not just on the well being of America, but on the well being of Americans themselves, making them unstable, liable to suicide, and so on. And so a group of 27 mental-health professionals, including psychiatrists, issued a statement last October warning about Trump. An excerpt from that:

Efforts to bring Duty To Warn into the spotlight have been ongoing since Trump first stepped into the political ring. We are joined by mental health professionals from various field including, but not limited to, psychiatry, psychology, medicine, public health, public policy, and social work; in every field, professionals have been voicing their concern about the president’s instability.

We Are Mandated Reporters
Mental-health professionals are mandated reporters with a duty to warn our patients and the community around us if we feel there is a potential danger.  In this case, we collectively feel there is a duty to warn the public of the threat Donald Trump poses both to our nation and the planet.

It is our duty to notice when an individual is a danger to themselves and/or others.

What about the Goldwater Rule?

“The Goldwater Rule is not absolute. We have a ‘Duty to Warn,’ about a leader who is dangerous to the health and security of our patients.” Mental-health professionals are “sufficiently alarmed that they feel the need to speak up about the mental-health status of the president.”

CMAJ counters:

Last October, when a group of 27 mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, published a book arguing that the current US president’s mental state was a danger to the nation, they said they were honouring another medical principle: the duty to warn. The idea behind “duty to warn” is that if you are in a position to know about a danger and have time to alert others, you should do so. Psychiatrists, for instance, are allowed to break doctor–patient confidentiality if they suspect a patient is about to harm a third party.

But part of that duty rests on having done a proper evaluation, according to Dr. David Goldbloom, a psychiatry professor and senior medical adviser for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “You are intervening to abrogate fundamental civil freedoms,” he said. “You can’t do that from having read an article or watched television.”

Of course, we know that Trump is a danger to the country simply because of his statements and actions, and that seems to me independent of whether he has an official DMC diagnosis by professionals.

But Yale psychiatrist Bandy Xenobia Lee, in an interview with Salon (of course), says that it’s her duty to warn people about Trump’s instability.

Lee has a history of trying to publicize her views that Trump is mentally ill; see the section on this in Wikipedia, which also describes her lobbying Congress. That section says this:

in 2017 [Lee] was editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, a book of essays alleging that Trump suffers from psychological problems that make him dangerous.

. . . In an interview she also said, “whenever the Goldwater rule is mentioned, we should also refer to the Declaration of Geneva, established by the World Medical Association 25 years earlier, which mandates physicians to speak up if there are humanitarian reasons to do so. This Declaration was created in response to the experience of Nazism.”

And it’s possible that some of this has to do with, yes, inequalities in American society:

Lee then stated in an interview with Salon in May 2017 that Trump suffers from mental health issues that amount to a “state of emergency” and that “our survival as a species may be at stake.” She also discussed her political views, linking what she sees as increasing inequality in the United States to a deterioration in collective mental health.

She continues her efforts in the Salon interview (click to read):

First, she argues that Trump shouldn’t be allowed to debate:

Trump spent most of the debate heckling and interrupting, mixed with some blatant lying. How would you assess his debate performance?

The huge error was in allowing the debate to happen in the first place. “How was his debate performance?” is the wrong question to start. A debate presupposes mental health. We cannot pretend to have one when management of psychological impairment is what is warranted. The majority of the country may be horrified at what he is doing, but we continue to help the disorder in every way possible by treating his behavior as normal. It applies first to the politicians, then to the media and then to pundits who do not come out and honestly say: “This is beyond anything I have seen and beyond what I can understand — can we consult with experts?” And experts, for a psychological matter, would be mental health experts. Perhaps even specialists of personality disorders or sociopathy would be necessary, given the severity.

I’m not sure people treated his behavior as normal; the media was full of people saying that he seemed unhinged. Having someone like Lee weigh in that he’s mentally ill and shouldn’t have been allowed to debate adds little to that; in fact, I thought the debate was salutary in one sense: Americans got to see how unhinged Trump is. If they want to elect him after that, well, they’ll get what they deserve.

One gets the feeling, throughout this interview and in Lee’s other writings, that part of the reason for her crusade goes beyond her view that an unleashed Trump will harm America; it may well also involve her blatant dislike of his politics. In that respect she goes over the top in emphasizing the psychological toll of Trump on America, a toll that presumably should have mandated his impeachment:

The reinterpretation of the “Goldwater rule,” as happened at the onset of this presidency, has been exceedingly harmful, in my view, for silence in the face of grave dangers facilitates conditions for atrocities. Last month, we created a blow-by-blow account of how we exactly foretold the president’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, based on his psychological makeup. We could not effectively convey this in advance, because the public was led to believe that the “Goldwater rule,” which is a guild rule applying only to 6% of practicing mental health professionals, was universal, or worse yet, some kind of law. But in truth, to change a guideline whose purpose is to protect public health to protect a public figure at the expense of public health violates all core tenets of medical ethics.

Yet Lee has been broaching the Goldwater Rule for a long time (I don’t know how she gets away with this if she’s a member of the APA), and yet nothing has happened to Trump despite her books and her many interviews, all making the same point.

And she may well be right that Trump meets the ever-shifting psychiatric criteria for mental illness. I’m no professional, but Trump’s behavior seems way, way out of line—the tails of the human behavioral distribution. Still, I’m not comfortable with professionals giving a professional opinion by observing Trump the same way we do: scrutinizing his tweets, his press conferences, his debate performance. The man is out of control. But don’t psychiatrists need to talk to a patient before they tell the world he’s nuts? The effect of Trump on people is obvious, and you don’t need to be a mental health professional to see that his Presidency is risky to America. Having Dr. Lee tell us that, in our professional opinion, he’s nuts, adds nothing to our fear of the man.

In fact, if people tried to remove Trump from office, or prevent him from debating, based on Lee’s opinion that Trump is mentally ill, it wouldn’t work. People would just laugh at the attempt, and impeachment on the grounds of mental incapacitation wouldn’t do, either, at least not with a Republican Senate.

I can see where Lee is coming from: she’s a forensic psychiatrist and presumably sees nuances in Trump’s behavior that we don’t see. But we don’t need nuances—we know all we need to know, and if a liberal psychiatrist says Trump is certifiably a bull-goose loony, that will have no effect in swaying his supporters. We already have the means to stop Trump, and we can exercise it in the next four weeks by casting our ballots against him.

Bandy Lee and her book.

h/t: Randy

What is it like to be Trump?

September 9, 2020 • 9:00 am

Most of you probably know about Thomas Nagel’s famous article, “What is it like to be a bat?” (article here), which denies a materialistic understanding of consciousness based on our inability to understand what a bat’s consciousness is really like. While philosophers have argued over Nagel’s thesis, there’s little doubt that, at least for the present, we have no way of getting inside a bat’s head to answer his title question.  (I often wonder, while tending the ducks at Botany Pond, what it’s like to be a duck.)

While a bat’s mind is inaccessible for the nonce, that’s also true of any other creature, including other humans. We don’t know what it’s like to be Christopher Walken, for instance. But we can be pretty sure, based on the fact that the neuronal wiring and acculturation of humans in our society is fairly similar, and because we also can get self-reports from people, that the consciousness of our fellow hominins is pretty similar to ours. There are of course exceptions: people in vegetative or comatose states, people with severe mental illnesses, and so on.

Speaking of the latter, when I woke up in the middle of the night last night (I don’t sleep well during the pandemic), it suddenly struck me that I have no idea what it’s like to be Donald Trump—in a way that’s similar to Nagel’s question. More than most other humans, Trump’s inner life is largely inaccessible to me.  That is, his behavior and mentation seems so alien compared to those of other people, that I have no idea what’s going on in that depilated noggin. Surely, though, he thinks that although he appears narcissistic, erratic, and foolish to most of us, he thinks he’s just fine—tremendous, as he says. He’s a “stable genius.” He surely thinks that it’s other people who are the problem.

The disparity between how Trump describes himself and how he comes across is greater than that of most people, though all of us have a self-image somewhat at odds with how we seem to others. It’s just that in Trump this disparity seems huge. And I wonder if others have entertained this same question.

As a determinist, I can’t fault Trump for making the wrong choices about what he does and what he says, or about who he’s become. That’s all a product of his genes and his environment and he never really had a choice in the ” libertarian free will” sense. But of course we can—and should—call him out for his behavior, because, though influencing the man himself is a lost cause, we might influence others to vote against him.

What is it like to be a Trump? I doubt that it’s pleasant given his obsessive monitoring of how people regard him and his frequent bursts of anger and invective. But I’m sure that if you asked him, he’d respond that he’s “perfect”, that “there’s nobody on Earth happier than I.”

So go the 2 a.m. thoughts during a pandemic.

 

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