when science isn’t scientific

One of the reasons that western civilisation abandoned Christianity was that a shiny new replacement was available. While religion was just superstition this new replacement dealt in absolute truth. Its claims could be tested and were subject to proof. It was incapable of error. This new system was called science.

There was much excitement at the time. And today the claims of science are almost universally accepted. If you’re not sure about something, ask a scientist.

The problem is that science has expanded and it has gone on expanding. Science now covers an immense range of academic disciplines. We can be assured that they are all real science. Their practitioners tell us so, and why would they lie?

The problem is that most of these fields are in reality not science at all. They simply borrow some of the trappings of science. Physics is science. One or to other fields of science are also real science. They employ the scientific method, and the scientific method is the one trump card that science holds. The scientific method is an assurance that we’re dealing with truth rather than superstition or opinion or even deliberate falsehood. For a theory to be accepted as true it has to be tested by experiment and the experiments have to be repeated multiple times just to make sure. It’s a fool-proof system. Physicists knew that the laws propounded by Galileo and Newton were true because they were tested by the scientific method and proof was obtained. Of course the laws propounded by Galileo and Newton later turned out to be wrong but that’s an annoying minor detail that is best ignored.

Most scientific disciplines do not employ the scientific method. Geology for example, or palaeontology. You might be pretty confident that a particular type of valley was the result of thousands of years of glacial action but you can’t very well set up an experiment to prove it. You might think that changing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere change the climate but you can’t set up an experiment to prove it.

This has always been a bit of an embarrassment but in the past few decades a solution has been found. If you can’t perform an actual experiment you can set up a computer model. And that’s just as good. The only problem here is that computer models are not just as good as performing an experiment. Computer models are amusing toys. They can be very expensive toys, but they’re still toys. They don’t prove anything.

At least geologists and palaeontologists try to be as scientific as they can. That can’t be said of many other sciences. In fact many disciplines that masquerade as sciences are completely unscientific. Psychology and anthropology for example. That’s not to say that it’s impossible for an anthropologist or a psychologist to have an accurate insight. It’s just that it’s not a scientific insight. Psychology is an art, not a science.

Then there are the social sciences. Like sociology. Such disciplines are very keen to be seen as scientific. In fact they’re political ideologies, not sciences.

And all of this is without taking into account the very real problems of scientific fraud, and the even bigger problems of scientists being motivated by political bias and cowardice. If you look at a field like climate science you get every single one of these problems.

Science’s claim to be able to give us undisputed truth is really rather unimpressive. In certain very narrow fields it can do so, up to a point. The fact that science has major deficiencies isn’t really a problem in itself. What is a problem is that so many people seem to be unaware of these deficiencies. When stuff like “climate science” starts to get taken seriously we’re a long way down the rabbit hole.

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psychiatry, the story of a pseudoscience

I’m having way too much to do with the mental health system at the moment. No, they haven’t sent the men in the white coats to take me away. Someone close to me is however having some major problems with the system.

The major problem of course is that the mental health system is constructed upon the assumption that psychiatry is real and that psychiatric diagnoses have some connection with reality. The truth of course is that psychiatry is about as scientific as astrology. The sacred text of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), is best described as a work of imaginative fiction.

Which means that admitting a person against his will to a psychiatric hospital based on a diagnosis by a psychiatrist is really no different from locking someone up because they have Pisces rising or because of a very unfavourable conjunction of the planets. There’s no actual scientific basis to it, which means that the legal basis for such measures are built on non-existent foundations.

That’s not to say that mental illness isn’t real. It may be real. We don’t know. We have insufficient data. If psychiatrists and politicians were prepared to be honest enough to admit that they know very little about this subject it might be possible to do some good. But good can never be achieved when you’re basing policy and basing treatment on ignorance combined with arrogance.

There are of course lots of other problems. Psychiatrists are like cops. They stick together. They stick together very tightly when their actions are questioned by civilians. When a psychiatrist gets things hopelessly wrong (which is extremely frequent) it is very difficult to get that wrong reversed because the psychiatry code is that you don’t rat on a fellow psychiatrist. So even if you know that psychiatrist Dr Bill Smith is an incompetent buffoon who should not be allowed to practice as a horse doctor much less a psychiatrist other psychiatrists will tend to defend Dr Smith.

And of course there is the biggest problem of all. If you ever find yourself on the wrong side of the mental health system you will discover that absolutely everything you do, no matter how reasonable and understandable, will be interpreted as a symptom of your mental illness. It’s like the old line that if you turn up late for an appointment with a psychiatrist it’s a bad sign because you’re trying to avoid treatment. If you show up early it’s a bad sign because you’re showing hostility. If you turn up on time it’s a bad sign because it shows you’re obsessive-compulsive. You can’t win.

If a heart specialist makes a ludicrously incorrect diagnosis it can and will be overruled by another more competent doctor. Once you’ve been incorrectly diagnosed once as being mentally ill your chances of having that diagnosis overturned are slim.

I’m not suggesting that al psychiatrists are idiots or malevolent. Some try very hard to do good. Some actually succeed. But psychiatry is an art, not a science. We should never make the mistake of treating a pseudoscience like psychiatry as real science.

a prescription for happiness

Perhaps it’s true that human beings have always had a tendency to prefer delusions to reality. It seems to be more true today than ever. One of the saddest of modern delusions is the idea that happiness can be obtained by taking a pill.

It does of course fit in quite well with the modern obsession with entitlement. Nothing has to be paid for and no-one ever has to face the consequences of their actions. If someone is unhappy than that is intrinsically unfair; it’s a violation of their human rights. They can’t possibly be unhappy because they’ve made bad life choices or because their only belief systems are a confused tangle of hedonism and nihilism. No, it can’t be anything like that. It must be a malfunction of the brain. They must be sick. And if you’re sick you go to a doctor.

So unhappy people no longer try to work out what they may have done wrong with their lives. They no longer examine their belief systems to find out if they are actually viable or not. They simply go to their doctor, announce that they are unhappy, and wait patiently while the doctor writes them a prescription for happiness.

Of course we don’t call it unhappiness any longer. We call it depression, which sounds more like an illness. An illness can’t possibly be the fault of the individual. We don’t blame a person for coming into contact with a virus that gives them a cold. Depression works the same way. Somehow or other we catch this illness, possibly from sharing a crowded train with someone who has the illness and is breathing the virus into the air. Then we go to the doctor to get it cured.

Aldous Huxley predicted all this in Brave New World back in 1931 (except that he called it soma and we call it Prozac), and he also predicted the social consequences. It’s one of the many ways in which Huxley turned out to be far more accurate in his predictions than Orwell. Huxley understood that the totalitarianism you have to fear is not the hard totalitarianism of Stalin, Hitler and Mao but the soft totalitarianism in which the state becomes a warm caring mother substitute. It’s not Big Brother we have to fear but Nanny who will make everything safe for us as long as we’re good children. It was one of Huxley’s most brilliant insights that social control is exercised much more effectively when a population is infantilised rather than terrorised. And a pill that makes us happy is one of the most potent tools to bring about the infantilisation of the population.

Happiness pills have not been a government conspiracy. They are a result of the medical profession’s desire to extend its empire into every aspect of our lives. For the Left this has been a happy accident. When everything from unhappiness to gambling is an illness then no-one has to take any responsibility for anything. Which inevitably means that the government steps in and takes the responsibility for us. Nanny has no need to rule us with terror because everyone understands that Nanny knows best and that everything Nanny does is for our own good.

If we still feel that there is something wrong somewhere we just need to take another soma tablet.

psychiatry as religion

Chesterton famously said that when people cease to believe in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything. I’ve talked before about environmentalism and leftist politics in general as a substitute religion. One of the most dangerous of all substitute religions is psychiatry.

Religion attempts to provide answers to many questions. Apart from spiritual matters religion tries to answer questions in the social and personal spheres. Why does evil exist? Why do people suffer? How can I find happiness? How do I make my marriage work? Unfortunately the answers psychiatry provides are bogus and often destructive.

Firstly we need to dispose of the idea that psychiatry has some connection with science. It doesn’t. That’s very obvious in the case of psychoanalysists like Freud and Jung. They were clearly working in the realm of imaginative literature (or possibly speculative fiction might be closer) rather than science. Freud was a brilliant man in many ways but he was making leaps of intuition, not doing science. Modern psychiatry is no more scientific than Freud.

I’m not arguing that mental illness doesn’t exist. There’s ample scientific evidence for the existence of a handful of conditions such as schizophrenia. But the hundreds of “disorders” listed in the DSM-IV are merely vague descriptions of collections of personality traits and behaviours. They change radically with each edition which is a valuable clue that we are not dealing with matters of science. Many of these personality traits and behaviours are in fact quite normal.

They get listed as “disorders” in the DSM if they are socially disapproved of, or if they are perceived as inconvenient. The classic case is ADHD. It used to be accepted that boys tend to be mischievous and extremely active and that they have a tendency to get into trouble. That’s what raising children is all about – teaching them to behave in a civilised manner. Today when boys behave like normal boys they can’t be disciplined because that would be oppressive. So they get medicated instead. And instead of learning to take responsibility for their own behaviour they learn to take a pill because it’s not their fault, they have a mental disorder.

People used to get sad and unhappy sometimes. That’s not allowed in the new religion of psychiatry. Unhappiness is a mental disorder. It’s depression. They have a pill for that as well. The notion that maybe unhappiness is something we all have to learn to deal with is no longer acceptable. That would mean taking responsibility. The core of the religion of psychiatry is that no-one has to take responsibility. We are told that we are facing an epidemic of depression. What we are really facing is an epidemic of sef-pity.

Or take addiction. It used to be thought that alcoholics were people who drank too much, and that drug abusers were people who used drugs to evade reality and responsibility. Now we’re told they suffer from a disease – addiction. And just about every anti-social behaviour, from promiscuity to gambling, is now a disease as well. Theodore Dalrymple has exposed the nonsense of all this in his excellent book Junk Medicine.

The result of all this is to concentrate a great deal of power in a new priesthood of doctors and therapists. Dr Tana Dineen reminds us of the dangers of this in her book Manufacturing Victims.

Crime used to be considered to be selfish or destructive behaviour that required laws and police in order to protect society. Psychiatry has been increasingly used to medicalise crime, so that now criminals are victims who need treatment.

The problems of evil, of sin, of suffering, are now seen as evidence of mental disorders that can be solved by taking the right pill. That not only allows people to evade responsibility, it also makes us a society that is increasingly unable to cope with the challenge of the real world.

Now I have nothing against religion, but a religion that merely offers excuses for vicious behaviour and that encourages us to wallow in self-pity, a religion that infantilises us, is not a healthy religion. A religion should give us the strength to come to terms with suffering and to confront evil. And a religion that goes on steadily increasing the powers of its priesthood is a danger to society. Psychiatry is simply a failed religion masquerading as science.

Theodore Dalrymple’s Junk Medicine

In Junk Medicine Theodore Dalrymple argues that everything we know about heroin addiction is wrong. Or at least, everything that is taken for granted about this subject is wrong.

Dalrymple spent many years as a doctor in both an inner-city hospital and a prison in a major British city so he’s had ample opportunity to see the problem at first hand.

The fact that addicts tell outrageous lies will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever actually met an addict, but far more shocking is the fact that the same lies are not only believed but actively propagated by doctors, nurse, therapists and counsellors working in the field of addiction.

The truth is that physical addiction is a trivial matter. Withdrawal from heroin is infinitely less dangerous than withdrawal from alcohol. Addiction is not something that just happens to people. You have to work hard to become a heroin addict. Addiction is no accident. It’s a choice.

Dalrymple also explodes the myth that addiction forces people into crime. He argues that the reality is quite the reverse. People start off by becoming involved in criminal subcultures and then become addicts.

Addiction is not merely a choice, it’s an attractive choice. It absolves the addict of all adult responsibilities.

Treatment methods such as the use of methadone are entirely useless. In fact any kind of treatment that starts from the proposition that addiction is a medical problem is bound to fail. Dalrymple’s prescription is simple – we should close down all drug treatment clinics. The only purpose they serve is to provide employment for doctors, nurse, therapists and counsellors. A bloated taxpayer-funded bureaucracy has come into being that exists only to perpetuate itself.

Dalrymple also takes aim at the drug-fueled literary tradition that has given opiate addiction a false glamour. He suggests that poets such as Coleridge and Baudelaire might well have produced a good deal more worthwhile work had their brains not been addled by drugs. His reserves his especial venom for William S. Burroughs, and rightly so.

Dalrymple is always provocative but given the fact that the growth of the addiction treatment industry has coincided with a spectacular growth in the number of heroin addicts one has to admit that he has a point.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and audience perceptions

Interesting article by Steven Kates at Quadrant Online on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The author points out that audiences invariably see R. P. McMurphy as the hero and Nurse Ratched as the villain whereas it’s more accurate to see McMurphy as a completely destructive anti-social force.

Kates wrote the article after seeing a stage production but it’s the 1975 film version that has become a cultural icon and his observations apply equally to both the movie and Ken Kesey’s original novel.

The rise of the anti-hero was one of the first serious signs western civilisation was beginning to fall apart. It was also one of the first manifestations of the culture wars in popular culture.

Manufacturing Victims by Tana Dineen

Manufacturing Victims details the horrifying true story of the psychology industry, of the ways it not only makes individuals into victims but makes victims of all of us one way or another. Masquerading as science this industry operates on a basis of lies and ethical practices that would make the Mafia blush.

Dr Tana Dineen is herself a psychologist and lifts the lid on the racket from an insider’s perspective.

Dineen targets psychiatrists as well as the other assorted therapists that infest our society. She warns that one of the biggest dangers comes from therapists whose training is so narrow they can only ever diagnose one problem because they have no broad training whatsoever.