Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Once More Into the Breach

with 9 comments

Actually, once more with no time, really.

Three things.

First, I agree with Mike–I’ve never met a child with ADHD.  What I have met, however, is unmedicated children who were later “diagnosed” with ADHD and put on Ritalin.  None of them exhibited the forms of behavior Mike, Robert and Mique have indicated.  Which makes me think that none of the schools who engaged in the wholesale medication of children in the 90s had met a child with ADHD, either.

I also want to point out that I didn’t say that ADD and ADHD didn’t exist.  I said that there was no proof that they existed, and I should have qualified that.  There was no proof–as in a recognized biological abnormality–as late as, say, around Sept 11, 2001, which was when we were going back and forth about whether Greg had it.

He didn’t have it.  He was bored out of his skull, and caught in the ideology–when he got bored he didn’t pay attention, so his grades suffered, so he got bounced out of the honors program, so he got more bored, so…

We may have come up with that biological marker since.  I don’t know.

Second, I wasn’t blaming psychologists for what social workers and psychiatrists do.  I was blaming psychology.  As a field.

Teachers, nurses, and social workers may not be psyc hologists, but they get their ideas about human nature, and about “disorders” like ADD and ADHD, from the courses they take in psychology departments. 

The field bothers me because that business of doing “studies” without adequate controls–with the anatomically correct dolls, with no control group at all–is uncomfortably widespread, and because nobody seems to be interested in checking pronouncements about human nature against actual human nature.

What’s more, the local school psychologist is a psychologist, and she’ll use the DMV-VI (or whereever we are now) as her Bible when she talks to parents.

I know. I was one of those parents.

Whether we like it or not, we have created, over the past fifty or sixty years, a vast interlocking system of policy and regulation that affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, most of them vulnerable. 

There’s a presumption in the US that adults get to make idiots of themselves, and that puts at least something of a break on coercing and medicating them.  But children and, increasingly, old people are defined as “not really competent,” and therefore fare game.

And the profession does not do enough to police itself, nor is it honest about its limitations and failures.

I might feel better about this if one thing had happened:  during the priest pedophilia scandal, I watched everybody on the planet beat the hell out of various archbishops for not protecting the children in the dioceses by removing the offending priests permanently.

But the fact is that, in the 1960s and 1970s, when all this happened, the common psychological advise in these cases was to do exactly what the bishops did.  In fact, most of them were following expert advise that they’d gone out of their way to seek.

The answer?  Making a big public fuss about it would only damage the child.  In cases like this, the child is as likely to be the instigator as not.  Even where the child isn’t, we have a set of therapies that can cure the priest of pedophilia, after which he’ll be perfectly safe to send back into a school.

Nobody is yelling at psychology, as a field, for having made this particular mistake about the nature of pedophilia, or demanding that they face up to that mistake.

When physicists and biologists screw up, they don’t just act like the mistake never happened and expect the public to go on treating them as experts.

The third thing is something to the side here–this was linked to on Arts and Letters Daily this morning:


A lot about scientism, scientific positivism and Sam Harrs, and all of it from the left.

Written by janeh

May 3rd, 2011 at 8:50 am

Posted in Uncategorized

9 Responses to 'Once More Into the Breach'

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  1. I tried to read the article Jane linked to but didn’t get far.

    The title says New Atheism and Sam Harris. The second paragraph was:

    These days the satire rings hollow; so too its hubris. Except for the spats, we really have gone back to 1910, if not earlier. The deregulation of business and the starvation of the public sector have returned us to a landscape where irresponsible capital can again roam freely, purchasing legislatures wholesale and trampling on the public interest at will.

    What does that have to do with the title?

    Certainly from the left and exactly the sort of polemic that turns me off.


    3 May 11 at 2:48 pm

  2. Psychology. Somewhere lately, I ran into–was it Popper?–and the notion of “pseudoscience”–something that sounds like a science, except that it doesn’t make “falsifiable” predictions. It can’t be proven wrong, and so isn’t accorded the respect given those which take that chance.
    I think Popper missed something, or I did. Astrolgy and Phrenology, for example, could easily devise falsifiable tests: one man measures the Bump of locality: another checks land navigation scores for those measured. Run lists of birthdays and service records: are Leos disproportionately likely to enlist? to join combat arms, or to win awards for valor? Easy to do. Not done.
    It would be just as easy for psychologists to examine brains, brain chemistry or behavior and to make large-scale behavioral predictions which could then be confirmed or not–and to adjust their conclusions accordingly. The “discipline” founded by Freud and Jung has been very reluctant to make that leap. Until they do, “pseudoscience” is the right word. But as things stand, the elect have power, prestige, jobs and certainty. They’ll be harder to get rid of then crabgrass.


    3 May 11 at 7:37 pm

  3. Well, I’m not a fan of the kind of ‘psychiatry’ that medicates everyone and starts expanding the reach of a ‘disease’ until it covers people who can function quite well, thank you very much. But in defense of psychiatry more generally, it’s an infant science and expecting it to provide answers to the level of certainty as in the hard sciences is a bit much. I am no expert – and I know at least one such does read the blog – but it seems to me that although experimental work in psychiatry and psychology have made extraordinary advances in the last century or so, the subject is so complex that an enormous amount remains to be learned. This doesn’t mean that psychiatry or psychology is a non-science or a pseudo-science, or that there aren’t a lot of people running around making claims about psychological conditions that can’t really be justified. It means that they have a long way to go before they can answer our questions with the degree of certainty we want.

    In a related field, as I may have mentioned before, I had a teacher who had PhDs in both chemistry and education. He said (paraphrased slightly) that research in education was much harder because in chemistry you could at least assume that all the atoms would do the same thing under the same conditions.


    4 May 11 at 6:49 am

  4. Oh, and I agree with John about polemics. As soon as I spot the kind of writing that seems to be about the clever wording the author can come up with to express insult or bias, I lose interest. And it exists on all sides in any political battle.


    4 May 11 at 6:50 am

  5. Worth reiterating the distinction: a psychiatrist is practicing a branch of medicine. He is in fact an MD. He has to know a good bit about the human body, and his opinions of it do not supercede facts. A psychologist is under no such discipline. He MAY have actually studied the working of live human brains with some of the new toys, but if all he’s done is parrot Freud and interpret dreams, he’s a qualified psycholgist all the same.

    Not to say there aren’t some psychiatrists who couldn’t qualify as barbers, and some very shrewd and understanding psychologists (and bartenders.) But there is an important distinction between a degree based on experimental science and one based on ideology.


    4 May 11 at 3:44 pm

  6. Ouch.

    Yes, there is a distinction between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, and these days, the psychologist has had much more training in actual empirical research. The ones drugging the kids, note, are the psychiatrists. The ones suggesting that keeping recess in schools would be helpful are psychologists.

    And social work is a completely different profession. They’re the ones using the anatomically correct dolls and taking kids away because mom breastfeeds “too long.”



    4 May 11 at 8:01 pm

  7. And we’re the ones teaching the psych courses to the prospective teachers, and they don’t listen to us! They already have their ideology set–inculcated by the society at large and their education teachers.

    There is a fair bit of empirical research on teaching, all of which they find suspect because it is based on “reductionistic, positivistic” science. They would rather do what “feels right” than what the research says works.




    4 May 11 at 8:06 pm

  8. Cathy,

    Have you asked them to define “reductionistic, positivistic” science and explain why its bad?


    4 May 11 at 11:46 pm

  9. Times may well have changed. I’m remembering generations of psychologists explaining that schizophrenia was brought on by upbringing, and being paid for years to cure it by counseling, when from Freud’s day on there was good empirical evidence the approach didn’t pay off–except in terms of billable hours. Much like many of our drug treatments today.

    If one person can identify behavioral symptoms and someone else find biological markers and they match without consulting with one another, you have a real condition. When the people monitoring the behavior can see a change in the treated and not in the control group–and they are not told who is in which group–then you have a real cure. Everything else is desperaton or experiment.

    It’s a simple standard, but a remarkable number of “professionals” would like to receive money and power without adhering to it.


    5 May 11 at 3:36 pm

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