August 6, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

More Criticisms Raised Against Psycho-Science

Are psychology and psychotherapy losing their minds? Claims of their scientific validity are under fire (again).

‘Spin’ found in over half of clinical trial abstracts published in top psychiatry journals (Medical Xpress). Notice the key words here: spin, top. Psychiatry is wobbling like a spinning top under new allegations, according to a new survey published in the British Medical Journal.

‘Spin’—exaggerating the clinical significance of a particular treatment without the statistics to back it up—is apparent in more than half of clinical trial abstracts published in top psychology and psychiatry journals, finds a review of relevant research in BMJ Evidence Based Medicine.

The findings raise concerns about the potential impact this might be having on treatment decisions, as the evidence to date suggests that abstract information alone is capable of changing doctors’ minds, warn the study authors.

Why is this happening? Well, doctors are busy. They don’t have time to read lengthy papers and digest all the stats. Many of them glance at abstracts to get quick impressions about treatments that might be helpful or seem “new” and “promising.” The trouble is, those abstracts often contain inflated claims of efficacy. Why? Researchers and journals know they have to make a quick impression. They don’t want their findings to sound boring, so they ‘spin’ them to look more snazzy, using “questionable reporting practices in order to beautify their results.”

Researchers have an ethical obligation to honestly and clearly report the results of their research. Adding spin to the abstract of an article may mislead physicians who are attempting to draw conclusions about a treatment for patients. Most physicians read only the article abstract the majority of the time.

Spin doctoring is like colorful packaging on an inferior product. Needless to say, the patients suffer the most from these unethical practices, placing their trust in pseudo-scientists who put their trust in potentially pseudo-scientific treatments. Even if an individual psychologist is personally honest, he or she becomes a quack if fed duck food for the head.

Does psychology have a conflict-of-interest problem? (Nature). In this News Feature from July 2, Tom Chivers asks hard questions about the science of psychology. He is disturbed that “Some star psychologists don’t disclose in research papers the large sums they earn for talking about their work.” Is that a concern, he asks? Well, yeah.

Chivers starts with a story about Jean Twenge, a psychology star who makes tons of money on the speaking circuit, using Gen Z students as her target audience. She doesn’t mention her speaking income in her scientific papers. In other scientific fields, that would be a clear conflict of interest.

Twenge’s academic papers don’t mention her paid speeches and consulting. Yet that stands in stark contrast to the conflict-of-interest (COI) guidelines issued by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), an influential organization whose standards have been widely adopted by many medical and some psychology journals. Those guidelines say that such ‘personal fees’ should be declared as potential COIs in research papers because readers should be made aware of any financial interests that they might perceive as potentially influencing the findings.

Well, yeah again. And Twenge is not an outlier, Chivers says, Other big-name psycho-scientists like Stephen Pinker excuse this behavior as not necessarily a conflict of interest. In some cases, like giving a TED talk, perhaps not. But transparency in publishing one’s income from speaking would certainly raise the bar of integrity, rather than suggesting the motive, ‘I’m promoting these findings because they make me a lot of money.’

If COI were the only problem facing psycho-pseudo-science, it would be one thing. But other concerns about flaws in ‘mind science’ go back years. This is all the field needs when it is already under scrutiny.

Researchers who spoke to Nature about their concerns say they see the issue as connected to psychology’s greater need for self-scrutiny because of some high-profile cases of misconduct, as well as to broader concerns about the reproducibility of results.

The score looks bad: (1) conflicts of interest, (2) non-reproducible results, (3) rife misconduct, (4) spin doctoring. Is there anything positive this questionable field has to offer? Science can study the best learning techniques, and neuroscience can help patients with problems like addiction. But when it comes to advice on how to live, or how to solve personal problems not caused by medical conditions, how do psychologists even know that their counsel is superior to the time-tested advice of a wise parent or Biblical counselor? The track record of psycho-science does not look good.

A century of psychiatry … Books in brief (Nature). Psychiatry is supposed to be psychology in a white lab coat. Supposedly, psychiatrists have more cred because of medical training. Look what Barbara Kiser has to say in her short review of a new book by Andrew Scull, Psychiatry and Its Discontents.

In this incisive collection of essays on the history of psychiatry, Andrew Scull shunts through more than a century of attempts to treat, contain and theorize about mental illness. From the Victorian asylum era and the rise and fall of psychoanalysis to the arrival of psychopharmacology and neuroscience, Scull chronicles the medicalization of mental illness with balance and scepticism. He is trenchant on psychiatry’s failures, from prefrontal lobotomy to ‘care in the community’; critical of neuro-reductionism; eloquent on diagnosis debates; and ever aware of the human suffering at his chronicle’s core.

There appears to be nothing positive to say about this field by the author or the reviewer. Speaking of frontal lobotomies, see Jerry Bergman’s article here from Jan 22, 2019, “Frontal Lobotomies: a Darwinian Mental Health Holocaust.” This is just one of the horrors coming from man’s attempt to “cure” the soul.

Tom Bethell, Darwin's House of Cards (2017)

Bethell’s book blows down the castle Darwin built.

What do you expect from a ‘science’ that began in Darwin-drenched Victorian England in the late 19th century? Freud and the other leading lights of the “psychology” movement have all been debunked and replaced by other quacks. And now look at the situation in 2019. Are you better off than you were 160 years ago? A ‘science’ built on Darwinian assumptions cannot be any more solid than the house of cards Darwin built.

In light of what we have just read about the pseudo-sciences of psychology and psychiatry, let us ponder some words spoken by Jeremiah a long time ago. Actually, these are God’s counsels, spoken through his appointed prophet, Jeremiah. Note that the Bible’s use of “heart” is what we would call the mind or inner being today.

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
8 He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
9 The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
10 “I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.”
11 Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch,
so is he who gets riches but not by justice;
in the midst of his days they will leave him,
and at his end he will be a fool.
12 A glorious throne set on high from the beginning
is the place of our sanctuary.
13 O Lord, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake you shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth,
for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.

Jeremiah 17:5-13

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