Monday, April 23, 2012

Anatomy of Pseudoscience Bunk

A Facebook friend posted this link, which infuriated me so much I decided it was worth a blog post.  Right off the bat it smelled like blatant irresponsible pseudoscience to me, but as I read more of it (despite myself) I realized it is just so classic that it deserves to be taken apart piece by piece and the author, Gary Kohls, hung out to dry for all his googly fans to find.

This guy is or was a general practitioner who decided to specialize in mental illness without bothering to do all the bothersome training that the stupid "experts" do.  You know, three years post-medical school, training afterward, and for many of them studying for that "board certification" that we stupid people think means they know what they're talking about.   No.... this guy made up his own type of therapy which of course works just fine because he encounters his "patients" (i.e. suckers) in general practice rather than psych wards and emergency rooms.  So right there we have:

First, the title: How Psychiatric Drugs Made America Mad

This is classic doublespeak:  the thing that hundreds or thousands of people have used valid scientific methodology to develop is not only ineffective, it's detrimental.  You'd think all those brilliant people would have seen that they were harming patients instead of helping them.

In case you aren't suitably alarmed by the hyperbolic title, the subtitle gives you a punch in the gut:  Many casually prescribed drugs are fully capable of disabling – often permanently – bodies, brains and spirits.

Dateline:  April 22, 2012
This is the date that the article is published to this site, but it's not the date most of it was written earlier.  It doesn't really matter, as the "science" of this seems stuck in the 1950s, or perhaps 1960s since the audience wouldn't buy any of this without first having seen Cuckoo's Nest.

Now let's scare you half to death:
Since the introduction of major tranquilizers like Thorazine and Haldol, “minor” tranquilizers like Miltown, Librium and Valium and the dozens of so-called “antidepressants” like Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, tens of millions of unsuspecting Americans have become mired deeply, to the point of permanent disability, in the American mental “health” system.
Many of these innocents have actually been made “crazy” and often disabled by the use of – or the withdrawal from – these commonly prescribed, brain-altering and, for many, brain-damaging psychiatric drugs that have been, for many decades, cavalierly handed out like candy – often in untested and therefore unapproved combinations of two or more.
Remember Cuckoo's Nest?  Doesn't matter if you do, really because this article will scare the shit out of you.  Your doctor is just waiting for his chance to suck you into an evil "system" and knock your brains out of your head with meds.  These "innocents" have done nothing wrong, and neither have you.  After all, the mental health "system" is a form of punishment, not a system dedicated to making sick people well.  None of the people who are receiving multiple drugs could be drug addicts gaming the system, oh no no no.  Forget Anna Nicole and Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, and anyway people who aren't famous can't become addicted to prescription drugs.

Who would do such a thing to "innocents"?  Perhaps your kindly doctor is a victim, too.  He's been seduced by BigPharma & the FDA

Trusting and unaware patients have been treated with potentially dangerous drugs by equally unaware but well-intentioned physicians who have been likewise trusting of the slick and obscenely profitable psychopharmaceutical drug companies aka, BigPharma, not to mention the Food and Drug Administration, an agency that is all-too-often in bed with the drug industry that they are supposed to be monitoring and regulating. The foxes of BigPharma have a close ally inside the henhouse.
Ding ding ding ding!  We have a
  • Conspiracy Theory, de rigeur for bunk "science" because first before they can sell you on their "truth" they have to shake your trust in people who actually know what they're doing.

And here comes:

That is the conclusion of two books by a courageous investigative journalist and health science writer named Robert Whitaker. His first book, entitled Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, noted that there has been a 600 percent increase (since Thorazine was introduced in the U.S. in the mid-1950s) in the total and permanent disabilities of millions of psychiatric drug-takers.


That's right, don't just take my say-so, little ole' crackpot practitioner.  There are professional crackpots who are selling books claiming that things have gotten worse since we started locking up crazy people in "asylums" and throwing away the key.  Now I think this might be equivocation or perhapst it's straight-up bullshit, but how can there be an increase in disabilities of drug-takers from the beginning of drug-taking, when there were zero permanent disabilities due to drugs because....  read this part slowly:  600% of zero is zero!

The book's author is now portrayed the heroic John the Baptist character that every good pseudoscience needs:

This uniquely First World mental health epidemic has resulted in the taxpayer-supported, life-long disabilities of large numbers of psychiatric patients who are now unable to be happy, productive, taxpaying members of society.


 Whitaker has done a powerful service to humanity, albeit an unwelcome one for various healthcare-related industries, by presenting previously hidden, but very convincing evidence from the scientific literature to support his thesis: that it is the drugs and not the so-called “mental illnesses” that are causing the epidemic of “mental illness” disability.

Whattaguy!  He's taking on the case of "large numbers" (doesn't have exact numbers, conveniently) of people who can't be happy, despite supposedly being quite happy, productive and tax-paying citizens before taking thorazine or whatever.    First, millions of people have been helped by medications.  I am one and I know many others personally including my own mother.  My mother and I are relatively happy, productive and I pay taxes.  My mother paid taxes before she retired from her job.  If not for medications, my mom would not have been a productive member of society.  She was literally a blithering idiot, incapable of carrying on a conversation and an unmitigated complete mess.  My disease is depression, and unlike mom I have never been hospitalized, but I've been helped for sure by the psychiatric profession.

  • So... we have the biased sample again.  If there really is a problem they should be able to present percentages and hard numbers, comparing institutionalized people in 1950 vs. 2000.  I can provide contradictory evidence from my even more limited sample, so how trustworthy can this be?
"Taxpayer-suppored lifelong disabilities" didn't come along until the Reagan administration in the 1980s, so there's no possible way to make a comparison of the current era and the "good ole days" before medication, or even the 1950s-1970s.  With no SSI stats before SSI was invented, the statement is meaningless.  Referencing taxes does give them the air of being unbiased, as liberals tend to worry about sick people and conservatives worry about taxes.


Next we characterize the good guys as "open-minded" and essentialize the "problem:"

Many open-minded physicians and many aware psychiatric patients are now motivated to be wary of any and all synthetic chemicals that can cross the blood/brain barrier because all of them are capable of altering the brain in ways totally unknown to medical science, especially with long-term medication use

Why be wary of chemicals that have been tested and described in peer-review literature?  And this "long-term medication use" has to be weighed as a cost-benefit analysis.  Bi-polar disease usually results in suicide or incarceration without medication, and the side-effects are minimal.  Even if someone has some side-effect in their 70s, aren't the 50 years of living a relatively normal life before that worth that risk?  A 20-year-old taking his first dose this year would benefit from an additional 50 years of research by his 70s anyway so today's 70-year-olds aren't any window to his future.  What these "open-minded" physicians are open to is pseudo-science.  Yes, some of them are gullible too.

The circumstantial ad hominem raises its ugly head:

Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness

In Whitaker’s second book, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, the author provides overwhelming proof regarding this sobering assertion.

He documents the history of the powerful forces behind the relatively new field of psychopharmacology and its major shapers, promoters and beneficiaries, namely BigPharma and those groups and individuals who benefit financially

Rocket science is also a relatively new field, and it does have its share-holders, admittedly, but we did go to the Moon (or did we?).  Sure, there's potential for big industry to abuse its power, but that isn't proof that it's happened.  The author (according to our author) documents the business end, but apparently isn't interested in actual data about patients.  That's a pity.

Next there's an issue that is valid:  off-label use for patients whose brain has not yet developed.  I will grant this, but what does that have to do with whether medications given to adults are safe and effective?  It's passed on briefly without any statistics or neurobiological grounding.  Just thrown out there.

The next authority figure is brought out:

More evidence to support Whitaker’s well-documented claims are laid out in two other important new books written by practicing psychiatrist and scholar Grace E. Jackson, MD. Jackson has done yeoman’s work in researching and documenting, from the voluminous basic neuroscience literature (which is often ignored by mental health clinicians), the unintended and often disastrous consequences of the chronic ingestion of any of the major classes of psychiatric drugs.

Jackson’s most powerful book, in my opinion, is her second one, Drug-Induced Dementia: A Perfect Crime, which proves that any of the five classes of psychotropic drugs that are commonly used to alter the brains of psychiatric patients (antidepressants, antipsychotics, psychostimulants, tranquilizers and anti-seizure/”mood-stabilizer” drugs) have shown microscopic, macroscopic, radiologic, biochemical, immunologic and clinical evidence of brain shrinkage and other signs of brain damage, especially when used long-term.

Long-term use can result in clinically diagnosable, probably irreversible dementia, premature death and a variety of other related brain disorders that can mimic mental illnesses “of unknown cause.”

Dr. Jackson’s first book, Rethinking Psychiatric Drugs: A Guide for Informed Consent, was an equally sobering warning about the many hidden dangers of psychiatric drugs, dangers that are commonly not mentioned to patients when they get their first prescriptions.

Okay, so now our esteemed author has cited four books by two alarmist authors.  That first book is cited without any specific information backing it up, just a string of Latin-Greek words to make it seem authoritative.  The one I find funny is : "clinical evidence of brain shrinkage and other signs of brain damage, especially when used long-term"   What?  How could I snigger at that?  Well, you have to know that old people's brains shrink because they're OLD!  You could look at a "long-term" patient on holistic woo drugs and find those brains had shrunk too, assuming the marks who took the snake oil 1) lived long enough to get an old brain and 2) didn't have a shrunken brain to begin with!

The second "book" seems like it could be subtitled "read the inserts that come with your medication." ... and then when the rare possible side effects scare the shit out of you, take this totally unstudied elixir that has no documented side effects because there have never been any actual studies!

I'm not going to copy the rest.  You get the picture.  I'll summarize though so you don't have to:

Three paragraphs about Thorazine ... with an actual mention of Cuckoo's Nest.  The final statement reverts to the genetic fallacy, saying that Thorazine was originally developed as a dye.   uhhhh (if true)  so what?

By the way, Thorazine and 1950s psychiatry in general are targets of Scientology.  L. Ron Hubbard apparently didn't enjoy his stay in the Cuckoo's Nest so he made it his mission to attack psychiatry after he invented his religion.

Next, a few swipes at Depakote, which I'd never heard of, winding up with a case of a non-epileptic having a seizure after coming off of this epilepsy drug.  I think we can all agree that medications (including some woo forumulations) can have side-effects, and anything put into the brain can have withdrawal symptoms.  Withdrawal may indicate physical dependency technically, but it takes more than that to make something "addictive."  If you've ever known an addict you know they want an immediate high.  They don't get addicted simply by having something in their system that doesn't feel good on the way out.  They get addicted because they like the feeling they get going in.  Depakote would be all over the streets if it delivered a high.

The reason these things are being overprescribed is that people have been brainwashed by TV commercials.  It's a good thing you can't be brainwashed by pseudo-scientific nonsense splattered all over the interwebs!  People might think "safe and effective" is the same as "proven."  *whew*  Otherwise passages like the following might actually convince people:

After reading and studying all these inconvenient truths, mental health practitioners must consider the medicolegal implications for them, especially if the information is ignored by practitioners who are often tempted to dismiss out of hand new, clinically-important information that challenges or disproves their old belief systems.


 Those who are hearing about new data for the first time need to pass the word on to others, especially their healthcare practitioners. This is important because the opinion leaders in the highly influential psychiatric and medical industries have often been bribed or marketed into submission, without considering all the facts that might some day reveal that they are guilty of malpractice

From there the article devolves into more and more psychotic ramblings about conspiracies, "normals" being told they are "mentally ill for life" and that psychiatric drugs are the major cause (or one of) dementia.  ...and then we come full-circle to a reference to the 1950s:

Long-term, high dosage or combination psychotropic drug usage could be regarded as a chemically traumatic brain injury (cTBI) or, as “antipsychotic” drugs were known in the 1950s and 1960s, a “chemical lobotomy.”
TBI or chemical lobotomy can be a useful way to conceptualize this serious issue of drug-induced toxicity, because such neurologically brain-altered patients can be indistinguishable from those who have suffered physically traumatic brain injuries or been subjected to ice-pick lobotomies which were popular before psych drugs came on the market in the 1950s – and before the huge epidemic of mental illness that America is experiencing
America’s health epidemic in mental illness is grossly misunderstood. And the epidemic is worsening, not because of a supposed disease progression, but because of the chronic use of neurotoxic, non-curative drugs that are, in America, erroneously regarded as first-line “therapy.” 
So... other than his two authors and their five books, there are NO references to any authority, no references to studies, or to peer-reviewed articles, or even to any data.   The whole thing is pure bunk, based on faulty reasoning and intended to scare people.

Why scare the "innocents?"  What's in it for him/them?  Buying the books for one thing.  Suckering them into Scientology for another.  That, I believe is the source of this baloney.  The ending is the "tell."  L. Ron Hubbard's 1950s experience is the basis for their twisted view of psychiatry.  I will give them credit, though.  Their tactics are getting more devious. Having debated Scientologists before, when I saw the name "Breggin" in the references, I knew I was right. He used to be their hero before they came up with this new tactic.

The really sad thing is that they're the ones who are conspiring to hook "innocents" and convince them to do something against their own best interest.  If anyone has ever known a true schizophrenic or someone who has committed suicide, this kind of tripe is more than outrageous.  It's dangerous, which is why I decided to offer my debunking to the blogosphere.  I hope someone who is contemplating talking a loved one out of taking life-saving medication will listen to the real experts who have met their loved one and assessed his/her condition.




B.R. said...

Ugh. Why are so many people hung up on suspicion of "conventional" or "mainstream" medicine? It seems like a giant conspiracy theory.

LadyAtheist said...

The hucksters are quite adept at this stuff. Even veterinary medicine has its "alternative" quacktitioners

LadyAtheist said...

The hucksters are quite adept at this stuff. Even veterinary medicine has its "alternative" quacktitioners

B.R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B.R. said...

Just like science, that is.

Gary S. Hurd said...

Wow. I am going to take some time to work through this. Thanks for the heads-up.

It is so hard to differentiate "stupid," from "ignorant," from "crazy," from "evil." I don't think Kuhn is evil. There might be an additional category for him I didn't list above.