Monday, January 30, 2012

Interlude - Bach Cello Suites

I’m young and in another world, thinking of hollowness and stairs. I go to buy a Bach Cello Suites CD.

The store is almost empty. I’m happy - don’t bother to hear the piped sound.

“So, you like Classical music?” “You like this?”

I smile shyly, blushing. “Yes.” Hollowness and stairs. I just want my music. Leave me the hell alone.

“Do you like this one better than…?”

I try to be polite, answer vaguely, nod, move away.

“I’ll come up with you.”

He follows me to the counter, enters my personal information.

Interlude - Bechet Mix


Blues in the Air:

Creole Blues:

Egyptian Fantasy:

St. Louis Blues:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Lavender Scare and American Science in an Age of Anxiety

It was largely a coincidence that I read Jessica Wang’s 1999 American Science in an Age of Anxiety: Scientists, Anticommunism, and the Cold War

and David K. Johnson’s 2004 The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government

at about the same time recently. As it turned out, they complemented each other quite well. Both deal with Cold War witch hunts (metaphorical - not literal), their effects on the people targeted, and individual and organized opposition to persecution.

What makes the two books work so well together – and makes them so useful for the student of activism – is that, because of differences emerging in their methods of resistance in these years, the two targeted groups described in the books had very different trajectories. The scientific community left behind outspoken and organized public struggles in favor of working to advocate for individuals through private or official channels and forming alliances within the government, and as a result lost its effectiveness both in terms of individual advocacy and in terms of fighting for a different public role for science. As Wang describes:
The political culture of Cold War liberalism celebrated the potential of the bureaucratic state, privileging procedural reform over principle, and process over fundamental questions of value. In the late 1940s, many scientists began to confine their actions within the rhetorical and political boundaries of Cold War liberalism. Increasingly, scientists turned away from a progressive left rhetorical style that emphasized fundamental civil libertarian principles. Instead, they relied on more limited procedural reforms, most notably the protection of due process rights, to counter the threat to political freedom posed by the loyalty-security system (p. 8).

Scientists' public resistance to anticommunism was tempered by both fear of increased repression and the politically safer route of quietly building alliances within the Atomic Energy Commission and other receptive government agencies in order to mitigate the adverse effects of the loyalty-security system. Scientists achieved some short-term successes in limiting the impact of security investigations on scientists, but ultimately the safer strategy was self-defeating. By earning concessions through unobtrusive, backroom negotiations with government officials and deliberately avoiding public scrutiny, scientists failed to develop public political means of countering the growing ideological demands of the Cold War era. Their alliance with federal agencies bought time, but eventually time ran out. In 1949, scientists and the AEC lost a key political battle with Congress over the AEC fellowship program. Thereafter, the scope of anticommunist attacks on scientists expanded steadily for the next several years (pp. 7-8).
In contrast, gay activists increasingly left behind quieter individual support in favor of open challenges, developing organized direct-action strategies which brought great successes and formed the basis for the later mass movement:
Though [the Stonewall riots are] commonly seen as the beginning of the gay rights movement, by the time those gay, lesbian, and transsexual bar patrons fought a routine police raid, the movement had already won its first major legal victory and had established much of the rhetoric and tactics it would deploy over the next thirty years (Johnson, p. 211).
They’re only two cases, and of course they’re not perfectly comparable,* but the contrasting histories add two data points to our knowledge about social movement methods and their results.

Both books provided historical information that was new to me. I had little knowledge, for example, of the history of immediate-postwar scientific movements or the variety of visions of democratic science originating in the political ferment of the 1930s:
Following a path with few antecedents for American science, ordinary scientists turned to the political realm, where they explored a new synthesis of science, mass-based politics, and the legislative process in order to shape the contours of postwar nuclear policy and the institutional structure of science. As they did so, scientists began to recast their own political identity, pursue fundamental changes in the science-government partnership, and rethink the basic nature of the relationship between science and society (pp. 1-2).**
Similarly, I knew little of the lively wartime gay culture in Washington, DC, which forms a stark contrast to the climate of fear in the persecutory postwar era. And I hadn’t previously recognized the importance of this early activism to later gay rights struggles. I was pleased to learn recently that the book is the basis for a new film

although I haven’t been able to find information about its release.

Johnson in the book on the Lavender Scare does refer to the intersecting persecution of scientists (it’s noteworthy that Frank Kameny was a scientist), but Wang in her history of scientists and anticommunism doesn’t talk about the Lavender Scare (even at some moments expressing confusion as to why certain scientists were singled out, when Johnson shows that it was because of their sexuality). I don’t think this was intentional on her part, but it’s unfortunate that this aspect is neglected in her work as in others on the era. In any case, as I said, the two books pair up nicely, and I’d recommend both.

*An argument that open, organized public protest in this era was more accessible to or likely to succeed for gay people than scientists (many of whom had already engaged in it) would be an interesting one, but I think difficult to sustain.

**Both the pre- and postwar histories shed critical light on silly nostalgic portrayals of the 1950s as a high point for American science and its public role.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

More emerges about Islamophobic propaganda film shown by NYPD

I missed this story when it broke a year ago. The rightwing scaremongering propaganda film The Third Jihad was shown over a period of several months in 2010 to NYPD officers as part of their training. When the reports first came out, those in charge refused to tell the full story. Now they’ve had to reveal more.

The Third Jihad

was produced by Raphael Shore and bankrolled by the Clarion Fund, which appears to be closely connected to if not simply an offshoot of Aish HaTorah, an Israeli Orthodox organization, and heavily funded by the Donors Capital Fund. The Donors Capital Fund is directed by the AEI/Cato/Heritage crowd (I’ll also note the involvement of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which is part of the Atlas network and thus linked toTempleton,* and which I’ve mentioned before).

As Steve Rendell and Isabel MacDonald describe,
The term “Islamophobia” refers to hostility toward Islam and Muslims that tends to dehumanize an entire faith, portraying it as fundamentally alien and attributing to its followers an inherent, essential set of negative traits, such as irrationality, intolerance and violence. And not unlike the charges made in the classic document of anti-Semitism, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, some of Islamophobia’s more virulent expressions…include evocations of Islamic plots to dominate the West.
These campaigns are not about criticism of Islamic religious beliefs or religiously-inspired crimes (note the lack of interest in, and even support for, similar crimes by non-Muslim movements and governments). They feed exaggerated fear and the marginalization of Muslims in countries where they’re a minority, imperialist foreign policy, and violence toward Muslims (or those perceived as Muslims) at home and abroad. It’s especially dangerous when those targeted for propaganda are police or military. It’s part of a clear rightwing political, economic, and often religious agenda. It shouldn’t remotely need pointing out that these individuals and organizations are no friends to social justice, human rights, equality, or secularism. They exist, they have a real effect, and they shouldn’t be ignored.

*And, as probably shouldn’t even need mentioning at this point, winner of at least three Templeton Freedom Awards.

Monday, January 23, 2012

NPR: the serotonin "hypothesis" takes another hit

Howard Brody at Hooked links to a report on NPR about the chemical-imbalance explanation for depression and how it lacks empirical support. They’re very late in coming, but I’m glad more of these stories are appearing, since it annoys me to no end that people who should know better continue to peddle this story in the media (all while their counterparts deny that anyone really believes it).

Brody is disappointed that they didn’t talk to Lacasse and Leo (they could have talked to Irving Kirsch as well), but the people they did interview were reasonably clear about the fact that that the monoamine story is a myth. I’m not thrilled about the impression the report gives to some extent (especially in the misleading title, “When It Comes to Depression, Serotonin Isn’t the Whole Story”) – that this explanation is merely reductionistic or incomplete rather than flat wrong. But the basic message is there.

I also agree with Brody that it’s odd, and to me comes across as seriously naïve, that the report doesn’t talk about the role of the pharmaceutical companies (with the complicity of the FDA) in promoting this myth. It hasn’t been so successful and enduring simply because people like the certainty of simplistic explanations that promise a cure. It’s been so successful and enduring because there are billions of dollars in profits at stake for the makers of psychotropic drugs, and they have no interest in the public becoming aware that the conception of disease and mechanism of action their product is based on is a myth.

I’m slightly disturbed by the focus on the alleged positive and negative consequences of the neurotransmitter story. Alan Frazer, interviewed for the report, claims that the story is positive in that it allegedly “enables many people to come out of the closet about being depressed,” although he offers no evidence in support of this position (the evidence suggests that rather than having a destigmatizing effect, biological explanations are themselves stigmatizing). Pedro Delgado
points out that years of research have demonstrated that uncertainty itself can be harmful to people — which is why, he says, clear, simple explanations are so very important.

"When you feel that you understand it, a lot of the stress levels dramatically are reduced," he says. "So stress, hormones and a lot of biological factors change."
No evidence of this is provided, either, but the paternalism is shocking. It is completely unethical for doctors to knowingly lie to patients about the nature of their condition, or for scientists to lie to the public.*

The report does mention some drawbacks: that people are led to take medications rather than using talk therapy, and that it distracts researchers from studying “other” causes of depression. Both of these are understated, but the point isn’t that they overstate possible benefits of perpetuating this myth and minimize the harms, even though they do. The problem is that they’re focusing on the supposed effects of telling a false tale rather than the fact that it is false. Even in the hypothetical case that lying to depressed people making decisions about treatment and to the public about a major health issue had nothing but benefits, it would still be wrong to do. And this hypothetical situation not only doesn’t apply, but it couldn’t possibly. Creating a culture in which scientists, physicians, and counselors accept and perpetuate falsehoods will always cause harm in the long term.

*And this emphasis on simplicity evades the central issue. As Lacasse and Leo argue:
Since 2002, the first author (JRL) has repeatedly contacted the FDA regarding [the use of the serotonin myth in drug advertising]. The only substantive response was an E-mail received from a regulatory reviewer at the FDA: “Your concern regarding direct-to-consumer advertising raises an interesting issue regarding the validity of reductionistic statements. These statements are used in an attempt to describe the putative mechanisms of neurotransmitter action(s) to the fraction of the public that functions at no higher than a 6th grade reading level” (personal communication, 2002 April 11).

It is curious that these advertisements are rationalized as being appropriate for those with poor reading skills. If the issues surrounding antidepressants are too complex to explain accurately to the general public, one wonders why it is imperative that DTCA of antidepressants be permitted at all. However, contrary to what the FDA seems to be implying, truth and simplicity are not mutually exclusive. Consider the medical textbook, Essential Psychopharmacology, which states, “So far, there is no clear and convincing evidence that monoamine deficiency accounts for depression; that is, there is no ‘real’ monoamine deficit” [44]. Like the pharmaceutical company advertisements, this explanation is very easy to understand, yet it paints a very different picture about the serotonin hypothesis.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Interlude - Anti-Lullaby

Interlude - The Preacher and the Slave

The Science of Schlock

I wrote in a recent post about the Templeton Foundation’s funding of initiatives called “The Science of Gratitude” and the “Science of Intellectual Humility.” Recalling other questionable “sciences” of Templetonian provenance, I decided to do a quick search. Here are a few more initiatives:

  • The Science of Generosity

  • The Science of Free Will

  • The Science of Love

  • The Science of Godly Love

  • The Science of Forgiveness

  • The Science of Optimism and Hope

  • The Science of Wisdom

  • The Science of Virtue

  • Now, new concepts can arise based upon our developing understanding of the world or changes in it: addiction or sexual harassment, say. And some phenomena – ecology, for example - warrant the creation of a new field of science. We can also use approaches from existing sciences to illuminate areas of interest (and, in turn, use this application to educate about science).

    But here “the science of” doesn’t seem to have any real meaning. These are not concepts defining previously unrecognized or new phenomena. There can be and have long been, of course, scientific (anthropological, sociological, psychological, evolutionary) analyses of altruism, aggression, and so on. But this doesn’t appear to be what’s going on here for the most part. Even if funded initiatives in “the science of forgiveness” could or do to some extent include worthwhile research, “Godly love” doesn’t seem to lend itself to similar scientific investigation.

    What appears to be going on at root is that concepts connoting or reminiscent of religion (and specifically Christianity)* have been strategically chosen as themes,** and to these the gloss of “science” has been applied to lend the initiatives, and by extension religion/Christianity, credibility. This rhetoric and the fact that so much of this scholarship is explicitly religious subtly reinforce the connection in people's minds between, say, love and wisdom on the one hand and religion/Christianity on the other. It’s at heart religious propaganda and distorts the meaning of science. That’s nothing new for Templeton, of course, but I wanted to draw attention to it because it’s such a transparently manipulative and schlocky strategy.

    *The idea being reinforced, needless to say, is that goods such as generosity and intellectual humility are inherently the province of religion.

    **The more suited to rightwing political-economic efforts, the better.

    Friday, January 20, 2012

    What is this, International Intimidation Month? The Case of Will Potter

    I’m putting together a post about my favorite books, movies, and television of 2011. At or near the top will be Green Is the New Red by Will Potter. The writing is feisty, and I learned much about terrible developments in the US government’s approach to some of the most important social movements of our time. But maybe the best aspect is how the stories of animal rights and environmental activists, including Potter himself, are told in a way that conveys how the efforts to redefine their activism as terrorism and to intimidate them have affected them and their relationships.

    Recently, in the sentencing of animal rights activist Jordan Halliday, prosecutors have claimed that Halliday is linked to the “extremist” Potter because Potter credited Halliday in a photo caption in a story about a house raid (resulting in no arrests). I’m not sure what the most troubling aspect of this is, but it may be, as Potter writes, that according to the government
    Anyone who writes about what the government is doing to animal rights activists is an “animal rights extremist” by extension....My writing and commentary on civil liberties issues has been featured by NPR, the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, and many other of the top media outlets in the country. I have lectured at nearly 100 universities and associations, including Georgetown Law School, Yale Law School, and the House of Democracy and Human Rights in Berlin. My book was awarded a Kirkus Star for “remarkable merit,” and has been praised by Publishers Weekly, Utne, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and many others. I say all this hoping to make clear that if my journalism is being labeled “extremist,” if my entire body of professional work can be reduced to extremism because I ask questions about what the government and corporations are doing, then everyone is at risk.
    Or it could be the inherent sliminess of this particular tactic. They are using a writer’s admirable sympathy and relationships of trust to silence him. Just as it’s easier to put yourself than your children at risk by protesting, the decision to document the truth about government abuses is far simpler when they’re threatening you and not your sources. As Potter describes, this creates a moral and emotional dilemma for journalists exercising their basic rights:
    [I]t makes me feel that using my First Amendment rights puts my sources at risk. When I saw that my work was being used by the FBI and prosecutors against Halliday, it made me sick to my stomach. It’s one thing to see my name in terrorism files, it’s another to see my work being used by prosecutors to punish people I have written about. An old muckraking motto is “comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.” To have my work afflict people who already have the full weight of the U.S. government pressing down upon them goes against everything I believe about this craft.

    …And so, as I edit this, about to hit “publish,” I keep hesitating. Will writing about this amplify that message of fear? Everything I do depends on the trust I have built with countless activists and their friends and families. What if this makes people afraid to be mentioned on this website?

    The mere fact that I have to ask myself those questions is a testament to how much we have lost in the name of fighting “terrorism.”

    This pattern of conduct by the FBI and federal prosecutors is nothing less than an attack on the First Amendment, and an attack on journalism. It is an attempt to foster distrust between author and source, and it is an attempt to shake the confidence that one can report freely and without retribution, both of which are essential to any meaningful expression of journalism in a democracy.
    It’s not a new tactic, but it is a disgusting one, and it has no place in any system that calls itself democratic.

    Allen Frances on the DSM-5 Field Trials

    Two approaches are possible when the DSM 5 field trials reveal low reliability for a given suggestion: 1) admit that the suggestion was a bad idea or that it is written so ambiguously as to be unusable in clinical practice, research, and forensics; Or, 2) declare by arbitrary fiat that the low reliability is indeed now to be relabeled ‘acceptable’.
    So Allen Frances has a couple of new pieces about fatal problems with the DSM-5 Field Trials. First, they certainly appear to be retroactively and illegitimately lowering their reliability standards based on disappointing field-trial results:
    The commentary states: “A realistic goal is a kappa between 0.4 and 0.6, while a kappa between 0.2 and 0.4 would be acceptable.” This is simply incorrect and flies in the face of all traditional standards of what is considered ‘acceptable’ diagnostic agreement among clinicians. Clearly, the commentary is attempting to greatly lower our expectations about the levels of reliability that were achieved in the field trials – to soften us up to the likely bad news that the DSM-5 proposals are unreliable. Unable to clear the historic bar of reasonable reliability, it appears that DSM-5 is choosing to drastically lower that bar – what was previously seen as clearly unacceptable is now being accepted.
    It’s rather strange that they didn’t have to establish and publicly defend acceptable reliability levels beforehand. This is especially problematic given that, Frances reports, the Oversight Committee was insisting in 2010 that they would not move forward if the field trials returned “crappy results.” But the second phase that was to test revised criteria based on their performance in the first phase was dropped. It appears they are moving forward by redefining “crappy.”

    As he points out, reliability is only one criterion, but it’s an essential one: “Why does this matter? Good reliability does not guarantee validity or utility – human beings often agree very well on things that are dead wrong. But poor reliability is a certain sign of very deep trouble. If mental health clinicians cannot agree on a diagnosis, it is essentially worthless.”

    Furthermore, they did not set up the field trials to assess how the new diagnostic criteria would affect prevalences. As the post hoc rationalization goes:
    [O]ne contentious issue is whether it is important that the prevalence for diagnoses based on proposed criteria for DSM-5 match the prevalence for the corresponding DSM-IV diagnoses” …. “to require that the prevalence remain unchanged is to require that any existing difference between true and DSM-IV prevalence be reproduced in DSM-5. Any effort to improve the sensitivity of DSM-IV criteria will result in higher prevalence rates, and any effort to improve the specificity of DSM-IV criteria will result in lower prevalence rates. Thus, there are no specific expectations about the prevalence of disorders in DSM-5.”
    But, as Frances makes clear,
    This is irresponsible for two reasons. First off, we are already suffering from serious diagnostic inflation. Rates of psychiatric disorder are already sky high (25% in the general population in any year; 50% lifetime) and we recently have experienced three runaway false epidemics of childhood disorders in the past 15 years. Second, drug company marketing has been so abusive as to warrant enormous fines and so successful as to result in widespread misuse of medication for very questionable indications….

    The DSM-5 proposals will uniformly increase rates, sometimes dramatically. Not to have measured by how much is unfathomable and irresponsible. The new diagnoses suggested for DSM-5 will (mis)label people at the very populous boundary with normality…The field trial developers seem either unaware or insensitive to the unacceptable risks involved in creating large numbers of false positive, pseudo-patients.

    Indeed, quite contrary to the blithe assertions put forward in the commentary, we should have rigorous expectations about prevalence changes triggered by any DSM revision. Rates should not be wildly different for the same disorder UNLESS there is clear evidence of a serious false negative problem and firm protections against creating a massive false positive problem. And new disorders with high prevalences should not be included without substantial scientific evidence and convincing proof of accuracy, reliability, and safety. We have known since they were first posted that none of the DSM-5 proposals comes remotely close to meeting a minimal standard for accuracy and safety. And now, the AJP commentary seems to be softening us up for the bad news that their reliability is also lousy.
    These field trials sound like a mess. They would be insufficient even if they were well designed and executed and met acceptable standards of reliability, which does not appear to be the case.

    Imagine a medical licensing program for which performance standards are not specified in advance and students who receive Ds - frequently misdiagnosing healthy people with serious illnesses and prescribing expensive and dangerous courses of treatment - are granted licenses. Scary.

    Thursday, January 19, 2012

    In the future, please attack atheists in this manner.

    Ophelia's just posted a bit more about the UCL Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society flap. She quotes from a BBC article (which presents the position, such as it is, of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association but not that of the atheist group) quoting Adam Walker, the national spokesperson for the Association:
    The principle is more important than who is being attacked – this time it is Muslims and Christians but in the future it could be atheists themselves.
    Attacked?! ATTACKED?! A religious organization is calling this comic an ATTACK?!

    This is madness. The atheist group should not be giving into it in the slightest.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    I love my Presto PopLite popper

    A few months ago, I saw an advertisement for a hot-air popcorn popper. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they were still being made, and mentioned it to several people, one of whom was thoughful enough to get me one for Christmas. When I investigated, I was happy to see that this inexpensive model had won Slate's Pop Off.

    It's hilariously retro, and pops almost every kernel to puffy perfection.

    Did you know that Janssen was using you?

    The fraud investigator had traced as much detail of Shon’s activities as would make an innocent man blush. The prosecution also exhibited internal Janssen emails referring to Shon’s value to the marketing efforts of the firm. The prosecution asked Shon a question that is coming to be the leitmotif of the trial: Did you know that Janssen was using you? - Kalman Applbaum
    While the APA works to intimidate critical bloggers, the Risperdal trial begins in Texas:
    Risperdal earned J&J $34 billion during its 17-year patent period. The size and complexity of the machinery necessary to generate revenues on that scale cannot be easily summarized. Those who don’t have firsthand knowledge of how mega corporations work cannot easily comprehend what’s involved.

    Explaining this is the very challenge facing the Texas Attorney General’s office in the coming weeks. They have gathered millions of bits of data but have only a handful of hours to make their case to a jury as to how they think J&J could have defrauded the state of $579 million. It is of course too early to tell how they will build their case, but in the plaintiff’s opening statement, attorney Tom Melsheimer accused J&J/Janssen of implementing a “systematic scheme…not a one-time event, not an accident” to turn a drug designated for narrow use in the treatment of schizophrenia into a $34 billion pill, with a 97% profit rate, he said, and to defraud the Texan taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars along the way.

    Melsheimer asked the court how the company could have accomplished this feat of unnatural expansion. He alleged four ways: They (1) influenced usage guidelines by bribing Texas officials; (2) illegally promoted the drug for use in children—he added that half the patient population for the drug is under the age of thirteen; (3) made false claims that Risperdal is safer than other antipsychotic drugs; and (4) made claims that, despite costing 45 times as much as generic competitors against which Risperdal could show no superiority, it was cost effective to the tax payer.
    Somatosphere is reporting on the trial.


    In reality, science is locked into a series of dogmas that are largely untested and to some extent untestable, which for science ought to be the great no-no. Yet they must be adhered to, or risk the charge of flakiness and loss of grant. In The Science Delusion, Rupert Sheldrake drags ten of the most powerful dogmas out of the basement and into the light of day; and does science, humanity and the world a large, a considerable favour.

    The most obvious and all-prevailing of the great dogmas is that the universe as a whole – including life -- is mechanical. Bits of stuff interact – and that's it. The smaller the bits, the more fundamental the explanation is deemed to be. According to Richard Dawkins, human beings are "lumbering robots", driven by their "selfish" DNA (where "selfish" is a shameless and seriously misleading piece of anthropomorphism). Consciousness, says Boston philosopher Dan Dennett, is an illusion – just the noise that neurons make, although it is hard to see how something that is not itself conscious could suffer from illusions. On the back of this mechanical dogma all metaphysics, which in effect means all religion, is kicked into touch.
    Is comment even necessary?

    But what if there were other concepts of God? It seems possible that Dr. Stenger and Dr. Pinker have only shown that, for some people, science seems to make belief in certain concepts of God obsolete. Instead of negative definitions of God that fill the void, if we had positive concepts of God that do not lean on the need for comfort, or fill voids like unexplained phenomena, could science make those concepts of God obsolete? What would those concepts look like? Instead of a faith that only has something to offer to those who don't understand a phenomenon, those who are fearful, the comfortless, those near death, or the depressed, what if we had a concept of God independent of gaps and voids? What if we there were concepts of God that had something to offer or add to the fulfilled? What if we had concepts of God based on creativity? On a positive definition of incomprehensible peace? On imaginative joy? On creative, problem-solving love?
    What if, what if, what if. What if you weren't just flinging words about? Do you have such a concept or definition? No, you don't. You have blather. Do you realize how transparently desperate this straining about "incomprehensible peace" and "imaginative joy" is? You should do very well with Templeton, Udoewa.

    So much commentary on science and religion has devolved into utter stupidity.

    APA bullies blogger

    There’s a surge of late in efforts to silence atheists and secularists, which is being well covered by the blogs. People in the skeptical community, though, might not be aware of another recent instance of the use of threats to silence a critic.

    The APA, some might know, is completing the DSM-5. It’s been extremely controversial, and many scientists and others have been highly critical of the process. (Here, for example, is an open letter and petition with more than 10,000 signatures, stating in part:
    Though we admire various efforts of the DSM-5 Task Force, especially efforts to update the manual according to new empirical research, we have substantial reservations about a number of the proposed changes that are presented on As we will detail below, we are concerned about the lowering of diagnostic thresholds for multiple disorder categories, about the introduction of disorders that may lead to inappropriate medical treatment of vulnerable populations, and about specific proposals that appear to lack empirical grounding. In addition, we question proposed changes to the definition(s) of mental disorder that deemphasize sociocultural variation while placing more emphasis on biological theory. In light of the growing empirical evidence that neurobiology does not fully account for the emergence of mental distress, as well as new longitudinal studies revealing long-term hazards of standard neurobiological (psychotropic) treatment, we believe that these changes pose substantial risks to patients/clients, practitioners, and the mental health professions in general.
    and calling for an independent scientific review of controversial portions:
    As you know, it is common practice for scientists and scholars to submit their work to others for independent review. We believe it is time for an independent group of scientists and scholars, who have no vested interest in the outcome, to do an external, independent review of the controversial portions of the DSM-5. We consider this especially important in light of the unprecedented criticism of the proposed DSM-5 by thousands of mental health professionals, as well as mental health organizations, in the United States and Europe.

    Will you submit the controversial proposals in DSM-5 to an independent group of scientists and scholars with no ties to the DSM-5 Task Force or the American Psychiatric Association for an independent, external review?)
    One site providing information and critical analysis of DSM-5 development has been Suzy Chapman’s. In December, Chapman received two cease-and-desist letters from the American Psychiatric Association demanding that she remove “DSM 5” from her domain name or face legal action for trademark infringement:
    Name: Redacted
    Email: Redacted

    December 22, 2011
    Suzy Chapman

    RE: DSM 5 Trademark Violation

    Dear Ms. Chapman:

    It has come to our attention that the website is infringing upon the American Psychiatric Association’s trademark DSM 5 (serial number 85161695) and is in violation of federal law by using it as a domain name.

    According to our records, the American Psychiatric Association has not authorized this use of the DSM 5 trademark. Consequently, this use of the DSM 5 mark is improper and is in violation of United States Trademark Law. Your unauthorized actions may subject you to contributory infringement liability including increased damages for willful infringement. We request that you immediately cease and desist any and all use of the DSM 5 mark. Furthermore, we request that the DSM 5 mark is removed from the domain name .

    The American Psychiatric Association has a good-faith belief that the above-identified website’s use of the DSM 5 name and marks is not authorized by the American Psychiatric Association, its agents, or the law. I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct and that I am authorized to act on behalf of the American Psychiatric Association.

    Please confirm, within the next ten (10) days of the date of this letter, that you will stop using our trademark in , and provide documentation confirming that you have. Any further use will be considered an infringement.

    Thank you for your prompt cooperation in resolving this issue.

    Very truly yours,

    Licensing and Permissions Manager
    American Psychiatric Publishing, A Division of American Psychiatric Association
    1000 Wilson Boulevard Suite 1825
    Arlington, VA 22209
    E-mail: Redacted
    This is simple intimidation. Everyone is familiar with “____ Watch” groups and sites, and this is widely viewed as fair use. As Chapman argues:
    This experience has taught me that the APA trademark claims were not only misguided, but probably legally indefensible. ‘Nominative fair use’ is permitted those who are publishing criticism within texts if use of the trademark is relevant to the subject of discussion or necessary to identify the product, service, or company. Courts have found that non-misleading use of trademarks in the domain names of critical websites (like is to be considered ‘fair use’ by non-commercial users – so long as there is no intent to misrepresent or confuse visitors to the site and when it is clear that the site owner is not claiming endorsement by, or affiliation to, the holder of the mark.

    Everything I have read suggests that my clearly non-commercial use of my previous subdomain name ( – with its prominent disclaimer and no intent to mislead – falls well within the concept of ‘fair use’. This then raises the obvious question – what grounds did APA have for serving me with demands and threats of possible legal action? Several people have independently sent me materials on ‘SLAPP’ lawsuits (strategic lawsuit against public participation). These are threats of legal action intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense – so that they will abandon their criticism or opposition.
    Changing the name of her blog naturally led to a substantial reduction in traffic. Fortunately, the professional and internet community came swiftly to her defense, and this episode has likely garnered her site much more attention than if the APA had left her alone. But this should never have happened.

    I think what we may be witnessing with the broad challenges to the DSM-5 is the beginning of the end for this psychiatric model. Its flaws, failures, and cooptation by corporate interests are becoming more widely known, and it’s unraveling. Efforts at evasion and intimidation like these merely dramatize the process.

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Stay away from medicine, Templeton Foundation!

    So what’s Templeton been up to? (In the realm mainly of religion, that is; AGW denialism and the like treated separately.)

    Well, they and Pew funded “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population.” They found that the percentage of Christians in the world has declined slightly (from 35% to 32%) in the past century, and that the centers of Christian population have shifted from Europe to the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa. This should be useful to atheists.

    They’re sponsoring a lecture series on science and religion at Gordon College in Massachusetts this fall:
    The lectures, which will be open to the public and are meant to encourage both dialogue and further scholarship, will appropriately be held in the school's state-of-the-art Ken Olsen Science Center.

    Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corp. and a longtime Gordon board member, once wrote: "Science is more than a study of molecules and calculations; it is the love of knowledge and the continued search for the truth. The study of the sciences promotes humility, leaving us with a clear sense that we will never understand all there is to know. At the same time, science provides a defense for truth, authenticates Christianity and stems from the nature of God."
    Bet you didn’t know that!

    They’ve awarded $5.3 million to something called the Thrive Center at Fuller Seminary in Florida to examine…wait for it…”The Science of Intellectual Humility.” That humility doesn’t have to come into play with regard to Christianity, apparently. Oh, I forgot - science authenticates humble Christianity and stems from the humble Christian God.

    They’re also, in this time of economic crisis, perversely but predictably funding “research” on gratitude. An alleged “gratitude trend,” according to an article at CNN, is driven in part by “economic hard times, which appear to have provoked a greater appreciation for the basic things in life, like family and food.” The alleged trend is also driven by “what some experts call 'an explosion' in academic research on the practical benefits of gratitude.” The article doesn’t actually talk about these practical benefits, but it does refer to the economic hard times:
    The 2010 Baylor survey showed no significant change in the number of people who pray or believe in God, although it did not directly address gratitude.

    Forty eight percent of the 1,100 Americans with fulltime jobs surveyed by Wayne Hochwarter, a professor at Florida State University College of Business, have a greater appreciation of family because of the economic malaise.

    Hochwarter's 2010 survey found that 49% feel the economic situation helped them appreciate people more than things.
    So this is a survey of people with full-time jobs (and presumably homes and health insurance), and fewer than half reported this greater appreciation, which the writer is interpreting as (religious) gratitude. Nothing, of course, about the people without jobs, homes for their families, food, or health care. It would be kind of unseemly to be asking them about their appreciation of the simpler things.

    The writer claims that “A wave of academic research has offered evidence of the important role gratitude plays in well-being and relationships,” but, again, does not share this research, preferring to focus on weak anecdotes (“While it won't make serious problems go away, Dr. Nerurkar said, it can help change your attitude. 'On a bad day', she said, 'sometimes I’m just grateful for a soothing cup of tea'”). The supposed academic wave seems primarily to consist of: “This year, the John Templeton Foundation awarded a $5.9 million grant to the University of California, Davis for a research project entitled 'Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude'.”

    A foundation started and run by right-wing billionaires, amidst enormous and growing inequality, rampant greed by the rich, the plundering of the planet’s resources, and widespread want and suffering, encouraging people to focus on gratitude rather than social justice and change? Color me surprised.

    Worst of all, they’ve got their grubby paws in medicine. This article describes the increasing role of chaplains in medical facilities, the worrisome encroachment of “spirituality” into medical practice, and a Templeton-funded mega-study of hospital chaplains. All of this is completely unacceptable.

    The piece repeats claims like “Studies indicate as many as 40% of patients with serious illnesses like cancer struggle with spiritual concerns, which can harm emotional and physical well-being” and “Patients who have negative thoughts—say, questioning God's care for them—are more likely to develop worse health outcomes than patients who show positive spiritual coping, such as turning to religion for solace.” Of course, they don’t provide evidence of this relationship between “spiritual struggles” and health outcomes for any specific condition, and certainly not for the cancers discussed in the piece. (Barbara Ehrenreich, drawing on the scientific literature, would have something to say about this broad claim.)

    This insidious notion that turning to religion in the face of illness is “positive coping” while questioning religious beliefs is “negative spiritual coping” pervades the article. Below, the latter is explicitly referred to as “negative religious coping”: “‘Negative religious coping’—feeling angry, unloved or abandoned by God, or doubting one's beliefs—has been associated with anxiety, depression and poorer social and emotional well-being.” In other words, doubt itself is negative and detrimental to well-being. Doubt and the examination of belief are not a natural and fruitful human response to existential crisis, but simply conducive to unhappiness and pathology and in need of fixing by professional illusionists.

    But here’s the most disturbing aspect:
    With a $3 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation—whose late founder was an investor interested in the intersection of scientific research and spirituality—the Health Care Chaplaincy will oversee six national research projects on professional chaplains' role in health and palliative care, Dr. Smith says.
    Should we expect this research to adhere to the highest standards of consent? Here’s the paragraph that follows:
    A study published online in July in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that among 3,000 patients hospitalized over a three-year period at the University of Chicago Medical Center, 41% wanted a discussion of religious and spiritual concerns, yet only half of that group reported having one.

    Patients who had a spiritual discussion reported being more satisfied with their overall care, whether or not they said they had desired it.
    Whether or not they said they desired it. (And let me express my doubt that all of those who had not said they desired it had a positive response to such a discussion. I know I wouldn’t.)

    It’s one thing to ask patients if they would like to have such a discussion and if so with whom. It is quite another to inflict such an intervention on a person who hasn’t expressed interest in it. It becomes even more suspicious when the article goes on to say: “Patients may hesitate to ask for a chaplain's services out of concern that chaplains will proselytize—even though in many cases they don't use explicit theological language and 'are there to be companionable and offer support', says Wendy Cadge, associate professor at Brandeis University.” It’s dangerous for people favoring this research to be suggesting that people who don’t request these meetings just don’t know what’s good for them. It’s also disingenuous to argue that this does not involve proselytizing in those “many cases” [!] in which no “explicit” theological language is used, especially given the fact that there are professionals who provide support services with no religious spin or motive.

    Sick, hospitalized people are a vulnerable population and should be fully protected from those with ulterior motives and agendas based on false beliefs. Given their history of shaping academic research, Templeton’s involvement with studies on this population, particularly those overseen by an organization with a self-serving agenda, should give anyone pause.