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Nederlog
Aug 21, 2011           

                   A bit more on psychiatry - Niall McLaren -2



This continues yesterday's Nederlog, for which reason it has the same title with a "- 2" attached to it and I shall repeat the beginning of yesterday, to provide links and background:

This is best regarded as a postscript to (..)  On confusions and misunderstandings concerning the DSM-5 but I retitled it because it is in fact about psychiatry in general, and about an Australian psychiatrist I just found out about, who seems an interesting and sensible man.

As it happens, doctor McLaren - who has a long and interesting lemma in the Wikipedia, and an own site, both here:

also writes about philosophy: and I assume I will turn to that, eventually, but probably not today or tomorrow.

That was the repeat. Meanwhile, I have read the chapters of the book on philosopy for medical students linked above, and also have watched and listened to his videos, that you can find here

Here is his statement about himself from the last bulleted and linked item:

About Me:

I am a psychiatrist with some 35 years experience, most of it in the North of Australia, which is frontier country.

I write philosophical papers on the status of psychiatry and have now published three books which summarise my work. These show that modern psychiatry does not have a rational basis and therefore fails as a science. It is the only medical specialty that doesn't have a rational model of the nature of the disorders it treats.

I've also shown how a proper model of mental disorder should be assembled, starting with a partial resolution of the mind-body problem. This leads to a rational model of mental disorder, and thence to forms of treatment.

My work shows that biological psychiatry is not scientific and never can be. This includes modern drug management, the emphasis on the physical and chemical state of the brain, as well as the entire system of classification of mental disorders in DSM-IV and will soon appear in DSM-5.

Strangely enough, my colleagues don't like being told they are not practicing a scientific form of psychiatry. I don't understand that. Science progresses by criticising the prevailing model, but orthodox psychiatry does its best to suppress critical work.

The last statement probably is a bit satirical or tongue in cheek.

As I said yesterday, I agree with most of the things Dr McLaren said and wrote, that I heard or read, and he is an interesting and sensible man, who did what any psychiatrist should do, namely develop a plausible theory of mind, or consciousness, that explains human experiences in outline, and relates it to the human brain.

I also agree with much of his own theory, in so far as I understood it from his writings and videos that I have seen, but I also have a bit of a problem with it, that I shall outline as three points:

  • I have a quite different background: I studied philosophy and psychology, and specialized in mathematical logic, philosophy of science, and human reasoning (the last is my main intellectual interest since age 15, that should explain in principle why I arrived at the former two, and studied psychology). So such theories as I arrived at have a rather different background and raison d'être than Dr. McLaren's.
  • I have a somewhat different appraisal of some terms and of the reasons for their usage than Dr. McLaren has. This relates especially to terms involving "biological", as in "biological psychiatry" and in "biophysical" etc. and some philosophical terms, like "monism" and "dualism".
  • I think Dr. McLaren does not give philosopher John Searle his due.

I will - eventually, D.V. - explain these points, but for the moment just refer you to two sets of videos on Youtube.

The first link is the first of four lectures by Dr. McLaren; the second is a video in which Dr. Searle (a philosopher, not a psychiatrist or psychologist) is being interviewed:

In fact, the difference of opinion between Searle and McLaren, as I see it, concerns the status of so called emergent properties, and the meaning of dualism, and I would have assumed Searle and McLaren would mostly agree, were it not for the fact that McLaren thinks they don't, while I think McLaren has been misled by the terminological problems I mentioned above.

This was only by way of introduction, for what I want to do today is to quote and discuss some points made by McLaren in his essay

Incidentally, the title shows the sort of problem I have with Dr. McLaren's usage of terms: Being a philosopher, I know of at least three quite different senses of the term "critical theory": (1) as used by Popper and his followers, who insisted rational criticism and empirical falsification of predictions of theories are the essence of real science, and for that reason called themselves "critical rationalists" (see my: Popper in gruzelementen) (2) as used by neo-marxists like Adorno and Habermass, who insisted philosophical and revolutionary criticism of vested ideas and interests are the basis of human progress, and who found much to criticize in capitalism, and like to style themselves as "critical theorists" (see my: De debilisering van Nederland - 2) (3) as used by postmodernists in literary criticism, philosophy and sociology, who insisted that their nihilistic irrationalism and quasi-skepticism was the basis from which to subject anything whatsoever by critique, as they love to call it, whatsoever, and for that reason called themselves "critical theorists". (See my: Scientific Realism versus Postmodernism)

But this is by the way, to illustrate my point about terminology, that is also not really McLaren's fault, or mine, but an unfortunate ambiguity due to the fact that various philosophical schools like to style themselves as "critical".

Now for some extracts of McLaren's last linked essays, with some comments by me. It starts with the following paragraph, with which I quite agree:


 

An examination of the fundamental claims of modern biological psychiatry shows emphatically that it has no scientific basis whatsoever. At best, psychiatry is a protoscience while, at worst, it is mere pseudoscience. As a branch of medicine, psychiatry lacks a tradition of criticism of the fundamental tenets of its practice. At the same time, orthodox medicine shows no interest in criticizing psychiatry for failing to develop a science of mental disorder. This means that the mentally-disturbed are being compelled to take drugs for which there is no true rational basis.

In fact, that psychiatry is not at all a real science in the sense physics, chemistry or mathematics are real sciences, was clear to me ever since I read aged 17 Patrick Mullahy's "Oedipus : Myth and Complex : A Review of Psychoanalytic Theory", which was a competent review of the various psychiatric theories - Freud, Jung, Adler, Ranke, Horney, Stack Sullivan - as had been produced till the 1960ies, from which I concluded - still being able to recall my childhood quite well - that nearly all of it was baloney, and that I did not understand how people had convinced themselves of its cognitive or moral value.

Note that this does not mean there is no need for something like psychiatry: A discipline that seeks to explain and help persons with psychological problems, such as anxiety, fear, depression, madness, dementia or psychosis, since such problems exist (somehow, both commonsensically and legally).

It only means that psychiatry so far has not been a rational empirical science, and that mostly for a perfectly cogent reason: There is no good explanation whatsoever, to this day, how the brain produces conscious experience. (See my: More on Freud and psychiatry)

Here is more from Dr. McLaren's essay, from which I quote in the order the quotes occur in the text, while I show that I quote by indenting. I have retained the footnotes but not their links, since that probably will not work:

The history of society’s reactions to and management of mental disturbance is not particularly edifying 1. Similarly, the history of society’s attempts to understand the nature of mental disorder does not match the success of other technical fields. In short order, we have ranged from mental disorder as a supernatural phenomenon (possession states and other occult influences), to moral failure, a result of social pressures (social labeling), a purely psychological phenomenon (behaviorism, psychoanalytic theory) and, what is now the dominant approach, a manifestation of a physical disorder (biological psychiatry). Indeed, in any city in the world, one can readily find practitioners of all these approaches and more.

Indeed, for unto this day, "psychiatry" - not a real science, and here is one of the reasons why - consists of competing schools, that disagree about most anything, in diagnoses and in therapies, except about their own importance, fundamental correctness, and right to interfere with patients' life's in many ways, including locking them up, without real judicial trial, and giving electroshocks (in some, not all, schools of psychiatry).

Also, it is noteworthy how the psychiatrists I've met in Holland coped with this wide divergence in psychiatric diagnoses, therapies, explanations and theoretical presumptions:

They all claimed not to belong to any school, but to be ... "eclectic". That is, they all took a bit from here, and a bit from there, and were all particularly concerned not to be tied down to any definite body of doctrine that could be rationally criticized. (Such psychiatrists as I met, I met socially, not as a patient, which makes it more striking: It's an attitude not found in any real science, and indeed any real science is a real science in part because it does have a definite empirical field, that is explained and researched by certain types of theories and methods, appropriate to that field).

Next, to McLaren's particular psychiatric bugbear, which is what he and others call "biological psychiatry":

In schools and prisons, psychotropic medication is almost de rigueur. In some areas, as many as 40% of the children are taking powerful psychotropics after assessments which even the most partisan reviewer would have to admit are very often cursory to the point of insult. Where once the caricature was of a “neurotic housewife” in the suburbs surreptitiously taking her “mother’s little helper,” now we have queues of boys outside the school nurse’s office for “my dexies.” If the tablets are not enough, we also have swarms of energetic therapists of various schools eager to advise on diet, massage, brain, eye and ear exercises and so on, all designed to suppress the effects of one or other “central processing disorder” which, if untreated, will most assuredly devastate the child’s life.“Let a hundred schools blossom,” so long as every one of them assents to the fundamental principle that, first and last, mental disorder is a “chemical imbalance of the brain.” If ever there were a hegemonistic reduction of a complex human question to the level of inanity, biological psychiatry is it. How did this come about?

This is fair enough seeing how this has in fact unpacked in practice: Enormous amounts of children diagnosed with ADHD (virtually unknown for 25 centuries, until the bright or financially greedy minds of DSM-IV created it), that in many cases are treated with strong drugs - but it seems to me Dr. McLaren, who clearly means well, has also fallen into a trap, for there is no such thing as "biological psychiatry" or at least not beyond propaganda level.

Dr. McLaren answers his own question in the last quotation as follows:

The near-total dominance of psychiatry by the biological model arose for a number of intellectual and social reasons. The collapse of the psychodynamic approach to mental disorder was inevitable once its lack of scientific status became clear 2, and once its figures were themselves analyzed. Governments and insurers could perhaps forgive analysts for their lack of a rational model of mind, but they dare not overlook the astounding costs and the inequity of distribution that it entailed. Ironically, behaviorism, which had long mocked psychoanalysis for its irrationality, also collapsed abruptly when its fundamental assumptions were subject to detailed philosophical scrutiny 3.

I think McLaren is a bit optimistic here: The "lack of scientific status" of both psychodynamic theories (various kinds of psychiatry loosely derived from Freudianism) and of behaviorism should have been clear from the start: These schools of thought, like Freudianism, were baloney, superstition or fraudulence from the very beginning, as should have been evident to anyone of good mind, proper education, and free from prejudices or pressures or personal interest to deceive the public with psychotherapeutical quackery.

In a way, the various kinds of psychoanalysis came to grief in the sixties and seventies with the rise to popularity of Laing and Szasz and anti-psychiatry, closely followed by "the Freud wars" in the media (see below), when it had become clear that Freud had been a very dishonest fraud and his theories had done very few any good - that is, if they were not psychiatrists living very well from it.

But these were largely changes of fashion, rather than the result of a rational process of scientific criticism of the claims and practises of psychiatry.

Here's how McLaren explains and evaluates it:

So within psychiatry, the dominance of the biological approach was partly by default: everything else had fallen into disrepute. At that stage, it may have been appropriate for the profession to approach governments en bloc and announce that, since they no longer had a viable model of mental disorder, the vexatious area ought to be handed to another profession, leaving the psychiatrists to return to their medical fold and the nurses to rename themselves (as they had done before). That, however, is not how specialist guilds work so, in a manner reminiscent of Orwell’s dystopia, they stopped claiming that Freudian theory conferred on them the right to call themselves specialists and found another theory which, mirabile dictu, accorded them the same unassailable status for totally different reasons.

Quite so - with my added point made above: The psychiatrists were reinventing their "science" in order to retain their status and income, seeing that the general public had lost faith in the bullshit they had been plugging for decades.

Psychiatrists rushed to embrace the new-old paradigm because it was familiar, it solved a huge number of complex questions about the nature of mental disorder (there were no longer any) and, above all, it was scientific. By bringing them back into mainstream medicine, it silenced the critics such as the psychologists who had always yearned to be accepted as hard core scientists themselves but had never passed Neurophysiology 101. During the 1970s, psychiatry was transformed from a bit of a joke to just another medical specialty.

Here enters my point about terminology again: Some smart but dishonest psychiatrists, interested in saving the profession and their incomes and status, claimed to have become "scientific" by becoming "biological", but this was as much unfounded propaganda and abuse of the term "scientific" as were Freud and Jung's claims that their theories were "scientific" "because" ... they were medical scientists. (A fallacy of the form of Sartre's "There are no concentration camps in the Soviet Union, because that is a socialist country, and socialism is humanism." This is how psychiatry works: By unfounded claims, word magic, wisful thinking, lies, pretensions and fallacies.)

My field, psychiatry, appears to have been remarkably unaffected by the so-called “science wars,” to the extent that major conceptual debates and even egregious ethical breaches have hardly excited comment.

I have provided the link to the Wikipedia article on  “science wars,” for which also see my

but there also were the "Freud wars", that are not yet blessed with a Wikipedia lemma, so I link to Crews and to Webster. These wars were fought in the 1980ies and 1990ies (and indeed quite a few analytical philosophers and philosophers of science had been saying for decades that psycho-analysis is no real science at all).

Back to McLaren:

I believe it does matter, because a correct critical attitude to modern biological psychiatry will show that it has no scientific basis whatsoever. Biological psychiatry reigns just because a powerful clique has taken control of the profession and is driving it in a particular direction purely for non-scientific (social) reasons. The significance for the safety of the consumers of modern psychiatric medicine is just this: How do they know that “mental disorder is just a chemical imbalance of the brain”? If it isn’t, then taking large doses of highly toxic (and expensive) drugs in the long term is reprehensible.

I mostly agree, except that I insist that "biological" as in "biological psychiatry" was sales talk, propaganda, flimflam, bogosity, hokum rather than real science:

bogosity: /boh?go?s@?tee/, n.

1. [orig. CMU, now very common] The degree to which something is bogus. Bogosity is measured with a bogometer; in a seminar, when a speaker says something bogus, a listener might raise his hand and say “My bogometer just triggered”. More extremely, “You just pinned my bogometer” means you just said or did something so outrageously bogus that it is off the scale, pinning the bogometer needle at the highest possible reading (one might also say “You just redlined my bogometer”). The agreed-upon unit of bogosity is the microLenat. 2. The potential field generated by a bogon flux; see quantum bogodynamics. See also bogon flux, bogon filter, bogus.

Moreover, while McLaren is quite justified in his being worried about people being described all manner of expensive and often dangerous drugs "in the name of the science of psychiatry" that is not a real science, and that certainly is also not a "biological science", I maintain that the adjective "biological" is effectively void, except as propaganda:

Of course any proper scientific theory that would explain human experience must involve some reference to and knowledge of the brain and of bio-chemistry. Therefore, to speak of "biological psychiatry" makes about as much sense as to speak of "naturalistic physics" or "logical mathematics": It is a useless apparent pleonasm, just as is the phrase beloved by fraudulent psychiatrist that their manner of pseudoscientific bullshit is "evidence-based medical science" - as if there could be any medical science that were not "evidence-based".

Indeed, the reason they call their fraudulent psychiatry "evidence-based science" is because in fact it is neither "evidence-based" nor "science", and the reason they prefer to speak of "biological psychiatry" rather than "bio-chemical psychiatry" is, undoubtedly, that the latter would show itself to be flimflam, since there is no bio-chemistry that supports any theory of psychiatry (other than in trivial ways, that have little or nothing to do with psychiatry as such, and are mostly pharmacology, which is a real science that is much too difficult for most psychiatrists).

Here is one of Dr. McLaren's main contentions in his essay:

Psychiatry as we know it has no rational basis whatsoever, its claims are narrative at best and, all too often, pure mythology, and the whole endeavor is poisoned by the vast sums of money involved. While psychiatry has the trappings of science (laboratory-based research programs, a jargon, specialist conferences and journals, grants and funding programs, degrees, prizes, elaborate gowns and other academic rituals etc), it is no more than a protoscience, more likely a pseudoscience just because it lacks the sine qua non of any science, an agreed model of mental disorder to guide practice, teaching and research.

Quite so! And not only is it a pseudoscience because "it lacks the sine qua non of any science, an agreed model of mental disorder to guide practice", but more generally because its theories are just no good as rational empirical science:

Here are Dr. McLaren's reasons:

I justify this rather shocking claim in the following manner.

1. The influence of the psychodynamic theories and of behaviorism in psychiatry have all but disappeared. New trainees receive no education in Freudian theory while the therapeutic elements of behaviorism have been incorporated in an essentially atheoretical technology, loosely bundled together as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. In Australia, CBT is largely the province of psychologists, social workers, nurses and general practitioners. Psychiatrists generally take the condescending view that it is little more than occupational therapy – for clients and staff – to keep everybody quiet while the drug treatment takes grip.
(...)

The last statement is at least honest, and shows these psychiatrists  understand that what they offer is hokum ("the doctor keeps the patient amused and tenders his bills; nature effects the cure, or not"): CBT is just somewhere inbetween psychobabble, brainwashing, and moral instructions as in Sunday school, indeed served with trappings as if it weremuch more - which is fraudulent, as is so much of psychiatry.

2. The claim ‘mental disorder is brain disorder’ does not exist in an intellectual vacuum. It is a very high-order ontological claim and, as such, is inevitably nested in a welter of interlocking assumptions and presumptions. Psychiatry does not, at any point, render these explicit; rather, it is assumed that the claim sits comfortably among the other claims of reductionist medical science and to question one would be to question all, which is too silly for words.
(..)

From my point of view - here the terminological problems enter again - the claim that ‘mental disorder is brain disorder’ is quite vague (what do "mental" and "disorder" mean - and if you are so sure, then where is the bio-chemistry that proves this, for any particular disorder?) and - within rational medical science - somewhat of a tautology: Of course psychological problems must somehow, in some way, correspond to a disordered, poisoned, ill, confused, tired, drugged or badly programmed (so to speak) brain - but until the specific mechanisms and biochemistry or the mathematics have been given, this is not science but hope or pretense or wishful thinking, if it is not plain deception.

Here is another strong statement of Dr. McLaren I agree with:

The term ‘mental disorder’ implies very clearly that we have a precise understanding of the expression ‘mental order,’ meaning, in the broadest possible sense, a workable theory of mind. This is not true. Psychiatrists have absolutely no training whatsoever in the philosophy of mind and are prone to the most egregious schoolboy howlers whenever they venture an opinion outside the (narrow) limits of their specialty.

Indeed, and as a philosopher and psychologist I can add that all statements I have seen by psychiatrists other than Dr. McLaren about "the body-mind problem", "body-mind dualism" etc. were pure bullshit, clearly produced to impress or to confuse, but without any real understanding of the issues.

Dr. McLaren gives examples of both incompetent diagnoses and dishonest practices of psychiatrists that I skip, apart from the following quotation, on the morality - or lack thereof - that is involved:

I do not believe these are trivial matters blown out of proportion by a well-known querulous provincial. Putting a child on drugs for life, with all that it entails in cognitive performance, self- and group-perception, physical health, etc, is not a matter of the same order as thinking Santa Claus is real. Even if it is true that ADD/ADHD is a myth, myths certainly have real consequences.

Quite so, but one of the sicknesses that postmodernism introduced was widely accepted relativity of all truths and all values, for which reason many, perhaps most, who received their education the last thirty years have effectively been taught there is no truth and there are no morals, except as subjective states - for which reason falsehood in science can be no worse nor better than falsehood in fairy-tales, as truth anyway is merely a plausible narrative, and morality merely locally accepted fiction about etiquette. (This also allows many to shrug their shoulders at Dr. McLaren and say "Ah, that's just what you think! We think differently, and we are the majority, so you better don't pick a fight! Have a nice day!")

Now Dr, McLaren is going to discuss the main theories that relate to the relation between the mind - conscious experience - and the body or at least the brain. I'll quote and briefly give my own take:

1. Mind-brain identity theory 27 states that, as a matter of contingent fact, mind and brain are one and the same thing. Its value is that it legitimates the claim that mental disorder is brain disorder. This theory was popular in the 1950s to 60s but soon fell into disrepute when it was realized that mind and brain are not identical just because each has properties that the other does not. Moreover, human mental function depends on its symbolic properties and the essential point of symbols is that they are not the thing they represent. It is therefore not possible to draw a one-to-one connection between brain events and mental events, so the claim fails. If mental disorder is to be seen as a special case of brain disorder, some other means is required.

This goes too fast for me, and I also am a scientific realist and atheist, without the least belief in souls and such.

For me, the mind-brain identity theory is true or close to the truth, but is also rather trivial and useless as long as the bio-chemistry and mathematics have not been clearly stated.

Also, I hold that the term "identity" is misleading, not in suggesting that there is more than brain-events and brain-states, but in seeming to disallow the possibility that I think does hold: The relation between the mind and the brain isn quite analogous to that between a program and the computing hardware it runs on.

2. Reductionism is the basis of all physical science, especially the biological sciences 28. It comes in many forms but the most important here are ontological and behavioral reduction. Ontological reduction says that the properties of a higher-order entity will be fully explained as the direct product of the properties of the lower-order entities from which the first is composed. In order to explain something, we look at its constituent parts. A problem arises when some properties cannot be explained on this basis: they are emergent, meaning could not be predicted in advance.

Indeed, though there are other definitions of "emergent", e.g. as "a property is an emergent property of a system of things if none of the things or proper subsets of things in the system has the property".

One good example is the property of being wet, that holds for volumes of molecules of water, but not for a single molecule of water.

Another good example is the property of running a specific program on a specific computer: For standard programs, added to an operating system, it is true that it encodes properties or enables behaviors that the computer plus operating system do not have (except in potentia, as an Aristotelian might say).

3. The most influential form of functionalism is attributed to the American philosopher, Daniel Dennett 29. Dennett was determined to write a theory of mind that did not fall into the trap of substance dualism, which he openly despised. Functionalism is not the most transparent of theories but, in any event, it fails his major ambition. The model of mind Dennett assembled over many years is frankly dualist in nature and leaves the mind-body problem intact, albeit well and truly hidden under a pile of science stuff 30

As it happens, I have read very little Dennett, because I long ago concluded he was posturing (more than not), and I also don't like that what is presented as basic philosophy is heavily sauced with cartoons, as was the case with at least one book of his I looked into.

Since then I have seen some videos with Dennett as speaker, but they again embodied - subtle - mistakes of reasoning, and indeed McLaren seems correct that Dennett's model of mind is dualistic.

4. The final monist model to be considered here, John Searle’s biological naturalism, suffers the same fate 30. Far from writing a material theory of mind, Searle’s model is dualist to the core. Without realizing it, he, too, has used dualist concepts to complete the causal chain in his non-dualist explanation. Neither Searle’s nor Dennett’s theories offer any points of contact with neurophysiology, which is the essential ‘grounding point’ of any theory of mind.

I am much better informed about Searle, as I have read four of his books and quite a few of his papers, and I doubt McLaren is correct about him. I am not certain how much I agree with Searle, and would assume, from what I remember, that he agrees or would agree with my: The relation between the mind and the brain is quite analogous to that between a program and the computing hardware it runs on.

But I am not certain  of this, nor do I know to what extent Dr. McLaren would agree with my statement - where I hasten to add that I do not hold that the programs the brain may run are restricted to the (primitive recursive) functions a computer may run (some, such as Roger Penrose, say the brain is more powerful than a computer, mathematically speaking), and that I do hold that the programs the brain may run are (at least sometimes, themselves) capable of programming, and have a level of autonomy, indeed to an extent like programs running on one's computer (that also may change states of the hardware that runs it, and indeed run the hardware, but cannot be reduced to the hardware, except in the sense that it is capable of running such programs, but does not at all coincide with whatever software it runs).

The biological program is an unhealthy mixture of promissory materialism, wishful thinking and the usual academic and intellectual shortcomings. As I have shown above, criticism from within psychiatry is practically unknown. Unfortunately, and despite the compelling importance of mental disorder to every citizen, so is criticism from without.

While I agree with McLaren that the biological program for psychiatry is what he says it is, this doesn't entail it is false, though I do agree some psychiatrists falsely claim that their theories are "biological" (when they are so only in propaganda, and what is being served in fact consists of attributions by psychiatrists to patients that are not founded on reason, but only on the authority of someone being a psychiatrist or medical doctor).

Now I skip some to arrive at:

Psychiatrists have long attempted to convince the general public, the funding bodies and, most significantly, the younger generations of students and psychiatrists that the profession has articulated a rational model which grants it special and unique knowledge of the etiology and phenomena of mental disorder. Yet all along, we have known, or ought to have known, that there is no such model, thereby exposing ourselves to charges of intellectual turpitude. It is my view that a reasonable person could claim that we are guilty either of the grossest intellectual neglect or of outright scientific fraud. For myself, I can see no defense against either accusation 34.

This is honest and courageous, and indeed what I also think about psychiatry, and in fact also, but to a lesser extent, about psychology: Whatever the intentions of their practitioners and academic researchers, for the most part these are not real sciences, for the good reason that the organ that produces human experience, the brain, is not known well enough to say how it does it, except in very general, mostly unenlightening terms. (**)

Now to my final quotation from Dr. McLaren's essay, who uses Sokal's writings concerningn postmodernism to arrive at a definition of pseudoscience, that I reproduce, after which McLaren shows how psychiatry qualifies as a pseudo-science by satisfying the criteria Sokal gave, with a link to Wikipedia provided

The physicist, Alan Sokal, has listed five criteria which may identify a pseudoscience:

1. It makes assertions about real or alleged phenomena and/or real or alleged causal relations that mainstream science justifiably considers to be utterly implausible;

2. It attempts to support these assertions through types of argumentation or evidence that fall far short of the logical and evidentiary standards of mainstream science;

3. Most often (though not always), pseudoscience claims to be scientific and even… claims to relate its assertions to genuine science, particularly cutting edge scientific discoveries;

4. It involves not a single isolated belief, but rather a complex and logically coherent system that “explains” a wide variety of phenomena (or alleged phenomena);

5. Practitioners undergo an extensive process of training and credentialing [35, p348].

All of this clearly applies to psychiatry, both historically and today, and indeed - apart from 3 - also to all religions and superstitions and political ideologies, and to most of alternative medicine and therapies.

The frightening thing - for a philosopher of science, a scientist, or a concerned citizen - is that psychiatry is allowed, by medical doctors, scientists, and the public, to remain a part of medical science, as if psychiatry is a real science, while it evidently is not and never was a real science, and indeed could not and cannot be, until rather a lot more is known about the brain than is known today. (*)


(*) As I've said before and above, I do believe there is a need for a practical psychiatry, but this should not be pretended to be a real science. And clearly one can also be a quite effective firefighter, with many useful skills, without there being a science of firefighting, with academic degrees, conference, and "peer reviewed papers" - and in fact, there is a much firmer scientific basis for a science of firefighting than there is for psychiatry.

(**) This does not imply one cannot do empirical science that investigates mental properties, but it does imply all such research has some special methodological problems, and is difficult or as yet impossible to found on the brain's biochemistry and processing, since (i) this is what it is all about in the end (without denying that much of what the brain represents and that humans are conscious of is psychological, intentional, imaginative, culturally influenced etc. - but in the end these again are states of the brain) and (ii) there is very little real knowledge about how working human brains manage to represent, symbolize, mean, intend, believe, desire.

And the morally deeply shocking thing is, or should be, that the vast majority of psychiatrists do not admit their fundamental ignorance, do not admit that they are merely guessing and may be mistaken, and do not admit that virtually all empirical science to base their theories in does not exist - while they keep diagnosing, sectioning, drugging, and moralizing people "in the name of the science of psychiatry", while they know or should know that they cause much harm, often on the basis of the flimsiest theories, psychobabble, fashion, or plain pseudoscientific bullshit, like the
DSM-5.

 
P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.
-- Aug 22, 2011: Made some clarifying corrections and additions and also added some links.
-- Aug 23, 2001: Idem, and added (**)



As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):


1.  Anthony Komaroff Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)
2.  Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT: 
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3.  Hillary Johnson The Why
4.  Consensus of M.D.s Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5.   Eleanor Stein Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)
6.  William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7.  Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8.  Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
9.
 Maarten Maartensz
ME in Amsterdam - surviving in Amsterdam with ME (Dutch)
10.
 Maarten Maartensz Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Short descriptions of the above:                

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:

7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
9. I tell my story of surviving (so far) in Amsterdam with ME.
10. The directory on my site about ME.



See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.
 


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