The Psychopathology of Shrinks

Summer’s hot breath draws closer and the psychoanalysts of New York and Boston prepare their patients for the difficult two or three weeks of holiday separation. Traditionally, many Boston shrinks take their seaside weeks on Cape Cod, around Truro, sunning and gossiping while their patients muster on their beach towels a few hundred yards away. The touching scene is duplicated further south around the Hamptons on Long Island.

Undoubtedly beach chat among both analysts and analysands will ripple over the June excitements of the psychoanalytic trade, starting with the gallant efforts of Paris Hilton’s psychiatrist, Dr Charles Sophy, to engineer what her costly but incompetent lawyers failed to do, namely spring her from L.A. County Jail where – given the triviality of her offenses – she is grotesquely pent. But of course the prime topic will surely be the end of the Soprano series which, across the past eight years, courtesy of Lorraine Bracco’s Jennifer Melfi – Tony Soprano’s analyst — has been the biggest boost to the shrink business since Lee J. Cobb starred in The Three Faces of Eve.

Truly comical has been the solemnity with which psychoanalysts across the United States have been deploring the “breach of professional ethics” at a shrinks’ dinner party in one of the concluding Soprano episodes in which the identity of Dr Melfi’s patient as Mobster Tony was disclosed. The rare moments when shrinks aren’t seducing their female patients (70 per cent, in an informal New York survey some years ago) are usually consumed by such indiscretions, a tradition stretching all the way back to the notoriety of the patients trotting up the stairs of Bergasse 19, Freud’s chambers in Vienna.

It’s true that some psychoanalysts were indignant at the way Melfi, chided by her colleagues for enabling a sociopath, promptly dumped the Mafia boss as a patient, the climax of a process identified back in 1999 in the British Medical Journal by Dr Tony David as the collision of “the superego of Melfi’s civilised values and the intellect… with the murky id that is Soprano’s stock in trade.” “The strict ethical principles established by the American Psychological Association”, wrote one APA member furiously, “do not allow for the arbitrary dismissal of a client even if they are sociopathic in nature (unless there is danger to the therapist).”

It so happens that these same “strict ethical principles” of the APA have been the topic of unsparing rebuke which probably won’t be cited much on those holiday beaches. A recent report by the Pentagon’s Inspector General confirms what has been detailed in a number of news stories since 2005 concerning the starring role played by American psychologists and psychoanalysts in devising and supervising torture techniques as administered by the U.S. military in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other secret interrogation centers run by the CIA.

These techniques — as has been recently described here by Stephen Soldz have been “reverse-engineered” from the Pentagon’s SERE (“Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape”) program in which US military and intelligence personnel are taught how to withstand harsh interrogation. Psychologists have always been central to this enterprise and are now similarly central to the use of sleep deprivation, sexual and cultural humiliation and waterboarding in grilling America’s enemies. “Reverse-engineered” simply means the Pentagon is using the techniques to torture suspected terrorists.

In 2002 the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded that “interrogation methods used were no longer effective in obtaining useful information from some detainees” and, as the Inspector General’s report details, “recommended that the Federal Bureau of Investigation Behavioral Science Unit, the Army’s Behavioral Science Consultation Team, the Southern Command Psychological Operations Support Element, and the JTF-170 clinical psychologist develop a plan to exploit detainee vulnerabilities.” The use of dogs, sexual humiliation, and kindred tortures were only a couple of months away.

Amid furious protests from such APA members as Soldz and others the APA leadership has piously maintained that “psychologists have a critical role in keeping interrogations safe, legal, ethical and effective.” The Pentagon Inspector General’s Report make clear this claim is ludicrous. So here we have shrinks refining Tony Soprano’s brutish violence, draping his id with the national flag. The August meeting of the APA’s “Council of Representatives” will be stormy as the members vote on a motion introduced by Neil Altman urging “A moratorium on psychologist involvement in interrogations at US detention centers for foreign detainees.”

“Peer Review” and Global Warming

There were yelps of alarm and the rustle of skirts being hoist knee-high after I published a note on sources in my column last week, Dissidents against Dogma. The panic was caused by one of the references to the work of Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski who, as I wrote, has written devastating onslaughts on the IPCC rallying cry that CO2 is higher now than it has ever been over the past 650,000 years. Jaworowski has pointed out the enormous inaccuracies in the ice-core data and the ease with which a CO2 reading from any given year is contaminated by the CO2 from entirely different eras. He also points out that from 1985 on there’s been some highly suspect editing of the CO2 data, presumably to reinforce the case for the “unprecedented levels” of modern CO2. I offered a couple of references to Jaworowski, one of them to an essay, “Ice Core Data Show No Carbon Dioxide Increase”, published in 21st Century Science & Technology, Spring 1997.

It turns out that this is a publication put out by the LaRouche crowd. Next thing you know, poor Jaworowski was being accused oif being a neo-Nazi cultist, with kindred vitriol hurled at CounterPunch co-editor Cockburn.

George Monbiot used to it as the excuse to add Jaworowski to the enormously long list of books and articles he refuses to read because they have not been “peer-reviewed”, thus leaving the honorary chairman of the King Canute Action Committee safely sequestered from any information that might discomfit his prejudices.

I strongly doubt that Jaworowski knows much or indeed anything about the more sinister and odious aspects of the LaRouch enterprise, and sent along his paper because they asked him to. The article in the Larouche magazine merely repeats the claims and supporting arguments that Jaworowski has published in other journals. I cited one of these, “Do Glaciers Tell a True CO2 Story”, The Science of the Total Environment, 144, 1992) pp 227-284.

Another example would be Environmental Science and Pollution Research (“Ancient atmosphere: Validity of ice records,” Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 161 – 171, 1994). These are peer-reviewed journals, so the papers must count as
“science” according to Monbiot’s labor-saving epistemology. Since the whole mechanism of “peer review” is less than a century old I wonder Monbiot deals with science before the mid-twentieth century. He probably disdains it on principle.

As a reader noted to me, “How, I wonder, would Monbiot handle the idea of science that thus contradicts itself? Like many another climate-crisis alarmist (most notably the chief of them, Al Gore), he combines a humble layman’s deference to “what the scientists tell us” with an oddly childlike and deeply obscurantist impression of the way scientists actually work. If everybody in a field of research started talking as if the supreme court had now ruled on a question, or some authoritative magisterium spoken–leaving nothing more to be asked there–you
could tell something had gone radically awry. But the mirage of just such an untroubled consensus is where Monbiot appears to have placed his ardent faith, in the teeth of facts to the contrary. It’s the rhetoric of science that convinces him, more than the reality.”

I also suspect Monbiot was being disingenuous in dismissing Jaworowski as a crank, since a glance at Google would have disclosed to him a cartload of obviously “peer-reviewed” papers by Jaworowski, many of them published by the distinguished Dutch publishing house of Elsevier, which publishes scientific books and journals and is not, I can assert with perfect confidence, not part of the LaRouche operation.

There were also claims that Jaworowski had somehow discounted the effects of nuclear radiation, particularly at Chernobyl. Actually, Jaworowski’s article “The Real Chernobyl Folly” was quite reasonable. He clearly acknowledges the acute radiation deaths of the ‘first responders’. His points about some of the uninformed and wasteful countermeasures, the real psychological damage caused by panic, and the exaggerated claims of victimhood, etc., etc., were all quite sensible. Jaworowski does seem to favor the use nuclear power, as do many advocates of the anthropogenic origins of global warming.

Apropos “peer review” Martin Hertzberg, sent me an amusing note last week:

“When people ask me how can I possibly disagree with all the Nobel Prize winners who have signed on to the theory of the human causation of global warming, I tell them the Einstein story of the ‘Anti-Relativity Society’.

“After Einstein left Berlin and after Hitler took over, the Nazis were not happy with Relativity Theory, which of course they didn’t understand, and which they considered a ‘Jewish science’. There were many distinguished German scientists who were eager to please their new masters, some of them even Nobel Prize winners, so they formed an ‘Anti-Relativity Society’ that published papers trying to show that Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity, was wrong.

“When Einstein was asked about it later, he smiled and responded to the effect that if his Special Theory of Relativity was really wrong, it didn’t take an army of physicists or Nobel Laureates to prove him wrong: just one physics student with a single experiment or observation that contradicted his theory, would suffice!

“One can be sure that all the publications in the Anti-Relativity Journal were peer reviewed. My experience in reviewing papers and in having my papers reviewed, has caused me to reject the whole idea of “anonymous” peer review. The potential for abuse is too great. When I reviewed papers, I always insisted that the Journal Editor inform the author that I was the reviewer and was prepared to support my review openly. Planck himself was the only one who reviewed Einstein’s seminal 1905 papers. Zeitschrift fur Physik was his Journal and everyone knew who the reviewer was.”

Martin Hertzberg’s papers, incidentally, are being scanned by CounterPunch business manager Becky Grant, a task postponed last week because Becky was in Utah with her family attending the wedding of her sister Tiffany, who is the designer of our CounterPunch Books. Best wishes to Tiffany Wardle de Sosa and her husband Miguel Sosa as they settle in San Jose.

I strongly encourage readers to go to David Noble’s essay “Regression on the Left” which has very useful material on the origins of peer review. It can be found here peer review on the website of Denis Rancourt, the Ottawa-based physicist and radical whose excellent essay Global Warming: Truth or Dare,also featured in my list of references and which was presumably also skirted by the testy Monbiot because of its peerless status. Noble describes how the postwar National Research Foundation (later, also called the National Science Foundation “adopted a new mechanism of exclusion: ‘peer review.’ Only peers – fellow privileged professionals, whatever their unacknowledged ties to commercial enterprise – could be involved in deciding upon the merits and agenda of science. Peer review was a relatively novel concept. Editors of journals had in the past, at their own discretion on an ad hoc basis, referred manuscripts to anonymous reviewers before publication to aid them in their decisions, but this would now become required and routinized into standard practice. Peer review certainly had its benefits, such as credibility (peer review as PR), convenient credentialling (no need to read it if it has been peer reviewed), and consensus-building (through mutual back-scratching).

“But it also had its costs, such as prior censorship (by interested parties), and, especially, the coercive encouragement of conformity. If peer review served to immunize science from democratic scrutiny and intervention, it also imposed a measure of like-mindedness upon the scientific community itself, mistakenly celebrated as consensus. Invariably, this tended to narrow the scope of respectable discourse and, hence, of the scientific imagination, inbreeding often entailing a degree of enfeeblement. A safeguard against error, it might also eliminate eccentric approaches and illuminating mistakes, often the key to significant discovery. And if intended to insure that only correct papers were permitted to be published, why then the need for the community of science at all? Peer review before publication would suffice to guarantee that only the truth prevailed.

“Such perils of peer review were early detected and condemned by the physicist Albert Einstein, after his arrival in America. Having submitted a co-authored paper to the journal Physical Review, he was dismayed to learn that it had bean sent by the editor to an anonymous reviewer. ‘We had sent our manuscript for publication and had not authorized you to show it to specialists before it is printed,’ an irate Einstein wrote the editor. ‘On the basis of this incident I prefer to publish the paper elsewhere.’ Einstein never again contributed to that journal. In Germany he had published in a journal edited by Max Planck, whose editorial philosophy was ‘to shun much more the reproach of having suppressed strange opinions than of having been too gentle in evaluating them.’

Despite its defects, peer review became the hallmark of the exclusive scientific establishment (and, eventually – and disastrously – of all of academia), and for a short while the hegemony of the elite remained relatively secure.”

Then came the challenges, few more influential than the work of Rachel Carson, whose work I assume Monbiot disdains because she was never peer-reviewed and didn’t even have a PhD. So much for you, Rachel! Monbiot now states grandly that he has concluded his attacks on the views advanced here. I must congratulate him at least for a perfect record in not addressing a single issue of substantive science, preferring to scurry about in the underbrush, ranting about peer review and LaRouchies. It beats thinking.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.