A new level of chutzpah in psychiatric ghostwriting

The New York Times has a revealing article about how a popular textbook for family doctors on how to treat mental illness, apparently written by two big name psychiatrists, was almost entirely written by a ghostwriting service under the direction of a large drug company.

Two prominent authors of a 1999 book teaching family doctors how to treat psychiatric disorders provided acknowledgment in the preface for an “unrestricted educational grant” from a major pharmaceutical company.

But the drug maker, then known as SmithKline Beecham, actually had much more involvement than the book described, newly disclosed documents show. The grant paid for a writing company to develop the outline and text for the two named authors, the documents show, and then the writing company said it planned to show three drafts directly to the pharmaceutical company for comments and “sign-off” and page proofs for “final approval.”

“That doesn’t sound unrestricted to me,” Dr. Bernard Lo, a medical ethicist and chairman of an Institute of Medicine group…

David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, is memorably quoted as saying “To ghostwrite an entire textbook is a new level of chutzpah.” “I’ve never heard of that before. It takes your breath away.”

The book is reported to be Recognition and Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: A Psychopharmacology Handbook for Primary Care by Charles B. Nemeroff and Alan F. Schatzberg.

Nemeroff. Now where have I heard that name before?

Link to NYT piece on ghostwritten psychiatry textbook.

Do robots dream of electric reaping?

If, like me, you’re worried about the coming robot war, The New York Times has an article that might make you hyperventilate. It’s about how the military is increasingly arming robots and creating artificial intelligence weapons systems.

The piece explores the rapidly advancing technology of warrior robots and also covers the ethical debate over the use of mechanised killers.

It turns out that some people are so concerned they’ve created a robot arms control lobby group.

For those still a little anxious about the whole affair, several people are quoted who try and put our minds at ease.

“A lot of people fear artificial intelligence,” said John Arquilla, executive director of the Information Operations Center at the Naval Postgraduate School. “I will stand my artificial intelligence against your human any day of the week and tell you that my A.I. will pay more attention to the rules of engagement and create fewer ethical lapses than a human force.”

Dude, you’re not helping.

Link to NYT on ‘War Machines: Recruiting Robots for Combat’.

A history of friends in high places

I recently indulged in the outrageous luxury of placing an international order for the book High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture by Mike Jay and I’m very glad I did.

If you want to get a feel for the sort of thing it tackles, the author has a fantastic video where he discusses the history of opium use and how the British in the 1800s were doing exactly the same as the modern day cocaine cartels do now.

It is an incisive and eye-opening history of society and its highs, as well as being wonderfully illustrated on almost every page.

In fact, it’s so beautiful it could almost be one of those expensive coffee table books but it also has the advantage of being shot through with a compelling narrative about how drug use developed in the world’s diverse cultures.

And it really is breathtakingly diverse in its scope – tackling everything from Native Americans and their use of the hallucinogenic cactus peyote, to the black sweet tea enjoyed in the Arabian peninsula, to loved-up urban clubbers popping ecstasy, to the enthusiasm for betel nut in the Far East, to.. well, you get the idea.

The book has been published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name, currently showing at London’s Wellcome Collection, but it more than holds its own.

It’s a compulsive, colourful journey through one of the world’s favourite pass-times and definitely worth checking out if you’ve ever had an interest in how we tweak and have tweaked the brain’s reality settings.

Link to book details on publisher’s website.
Link to excellent 10 minute video on the history of opium.

Photographing the brain, 1894

Legendary Polish neurologist Edward Flatau created one of the first photographic brain atlases way back in 1894. This photo shows how he carefully took 20-minute exposure photos of freshly sliced brains.

The photo is from a recent article published in European Neurology that discusses how Flatau created the atlas and the review it got from a young Sigmund Freud, then early in his career as a neurologist.

To be fair, Freud’s review was 200 words of benign praise and hardly worthy of note, but the article is worth checking out for the discussion and images from the pioneering atlas.

Lucky for us, the article has been made open-access so enjoy it while you can.

Flatau used whole and dissected human brains, unfixed and only rinsed in water. He applied small diaphragms to effect a better depth of field, and took longexposure photographs, with exposure times of 20–30 min for uneven surfaces (ventral, dorsal, lateral and medial facies, plates I, II, V and VII), and up to 10 min for flat sections (horizontal, coronal and sagittal, plates III/ IV, VI and VIII) A schematic color chromolithograph depicted central brain pathways and connections.


Link to article directly.
Link to DOI entry for article in European Neurology.

On the touchstone of consciousness

A wonderful poem simply titled ‘Thought’ by the English writer D. H. Lawrence.

Thought, I love thought.

But not the juggling and twisting of already existent ideas.

I despise that self-important game.

Thought is the welling up of unknown life into consciousness,

Thought is the testing of statements on the touchstone of consciousness,

Thought is gazing onto the face of life, and reading what can be read,

Thought is pondering over experience, and coming to conclusion.

Thought is not a trick, or an exercise, or a set of dodges,

Thought is a man in his wholeness, wholly attending.

Lawrence was hugely controversial in his day, not least due to writing Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but maintained a penetrating interest in the psychology of individuals which his stories so vividly illustrate.

Link to Wikipedia page on D.H. Lawrence.

2010-11-26 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

The New York Times has an excellent piece by wide-thinking neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky: This Is Your Brain on Metaphors. Want more metaphors? This week’s ‘In Our Time’ had a history.

The web’s best optical illusion videos from io9.

The Guardian has an excellent piece covering some of the latest findings in the neuroscience of synaesthesia.

Thank you LanguageLog for the keeping it real coverage of The New York Times’ odd anecdote-led ‘Your Brain on Computers’ series.

New Scientist on a New York exhibition of Franz Messerschmidt’s sculptures – a series of “character heads” whose distorted facial features he believed had the power to ward off the demons that tormented him by pinching his thighs and abdomen.

Waiting for the sky gods of brain science. Oscillatory Thoughts takes a critical look at headline-making blue-sky-and-bluster neuroscience projects.

ScienceNews covers new research on bomb blast brain protection finding helmet visors may prevent shock waves entering through the face.

What makes a good gift? Irrationally Yours discusses how to select a present for maximum guilt-alleviating impact.

NPR has a brilliant piece on siblings, personality development, genetics, environment and why two people who grow up together can be so different.

A 15-minute writing exercise closes the gender gap in university-level physics according to research expertly covered by Not Exactly Rocket Science. Now someone hurry up and invent one for psychology so I look less of a klutz in front of my female colleagues.

The Morning News has a brilliant first-person account of someone caught up in compulsive gambling.

A diagnosis of schizophrenia exited the body of a white housewife, flew across the hospital, and landed on a young Black man from the housing projects of Detroit. Brilliant In the News piece on recent research on ‘how schizophrenia became a black disease’.

BBC Radio 3 had an surprisingly engrossing programme on when Freud met the composer Mahler. You have only two days left to listen to it and streaming only. Public funding in action.

Does having children really make us less happy, despite the contrary stereotype? Evidence Based Mummy has an excellent piece that delves into the detail.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece by VR pioneer Jaron Lanier on the psychology of being an avatar.

The ‘smell of fear’ makes us dangerous. The BPS Research Digest covers a piece on how the scent of anxious people encourages risk taking.

APA Monitor magazine for December has just arrived online. Lots of psychology goodness from the American Psychological Association.

A mirror neuron dance party for autism spectrum disorders. The Neurocritic tackles a funky if not wildly speculative treatment for ASD.

The New York Times covers the increasing use of virtual reality in psychological treatment.

The psychiatric hospital best known as the site for the filming of the 1975 movie “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” will soon be reopened for patients. Providentia has the news.

Time magazine has a piece on how posh people are worse at reading emotion in faces. Better manners though, and that’s what counts.

Do guns make violence more likely? Barking Up the Wrong Tree tackles a relevant study.

The Guardian has an important and interesting piece on false memory, unsound convictions and a legal system that still relies on the vagaries of recall.

‘Synthetic cannabis’ has been given an immediate and temporary ban in the United States. Addiction Inbox, as always, has brilliant coverage.

An infection of mental fog

The Guardian has an excellent article on how tropical diseases are a major and largely unrecognised risk to the mental agility of young children as parasites directly or indirectly affect the brain.

Frustratingly, the diseases are widespread and, in many cases, easily treatable, if only the resources were available.

Unfortunately, the same problems that make treatment scarce also mean that the conditions are under-researched and it’s still not clear in many cases how the diseases end up causing mental deterioration.

We are still a long way from understanding the mechanisms by which a given disease may affect cognitive function. For instance, a parasitic worm infection may have its main effect on educational progress by causing diarrhoea and malaise, leading the child to miss school or to be listless and unmotivated in the classroom. But there may be more direct effects on brain development caused by malabsorption of nutrients or iron-deficiency anaemia. It has also been suggested that the toxins generated by some parasites may affect brain function.

Such effects may be temporary, the child catching up with his or her peers once the infection has been cured, or long-lasting, if brain development is disrupted during a critical phase. Research in this area is difficult, but is urgently needed if we are to develop effective preventive strategies.


Link to Guardian piece ‘Out of sight, out of mind’.