Academic journal article Behavior and Social Issues

Psychiatry's Thirty-Five-Year, Non-Empirical Reach for Biological Explanations

Academic journal article Behavior and Social Issues

Psychiatry's Thirty-Five-Year, Non-Empirical Reach for Biological Explanations

Article excerpt


This is our third article in a series that began with a special issue of Behavior and Social Issues in 2006. Here we briefly review our central points from the first two articles. First is that over the past thirty-five years, claims of biological causation of mental and behavioral disorders have gone well beyond the research data, for reasons that are largely related to psychiatry's lost esteem and protection of its "turf," as well as to the financial interests of the pharmaceutical industry. Our second position is that claims of psychotropic drugs' effectiveness have been overstated. We respond, as well, to the protestations of Professor Jerome C. Wakefield who defends biological psychiatry. We also provide an update on relevant events within the drug industry since our last article in this series.

KEYWORDS: FDA, behaviorism, biological causation, pharmaceutical industry, organized psychiatry, efficacy of psychotropic medications, identical twin studies, brain imaging studies, psychological paradigms

In this, our third paper in this exchange, we first reiterate what has taken place up to now. We and Stephen Wong (Wong, 2006; Wyatt & Midkiff, 2006) authored anchor papers in a special issue of Behavior and Social Issues (Mattaini, 2006). Our paper described the turn to biological explanations for mental and behavior disorders that has occurred in both the professional and popular cultures in the past thirty-five years. We also reviewed the non-empirical reasons for that turn. Those reasons included efforts by organized psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association) to recoup lost esteem and to rebuff "intruder" professions (clinical psychology, etc.), as well as the financial interests of the pharmaceutical industry. All of this has occurred with the evident support of the American Medical Association. We refer the reader to that earlier article for a complete presentation of those issues.

In reply to our article, six reviewers responded favorably, or at least benignly, elsewhere in that issue to the facts we had adduced. An additional reviewer objected to our theses. Jerome C. Wakefield (Wakefield, 2006) found our discussion to be less than compelling. He defended biological causation mainly by attacking behaviorism. We responded with our second article in this exchange in which we pointed out that Professor Wakefield had only tangentially addressed much of the general case we had made, and had failed to address many of the specific points we had raised, as well. Moreover, his critique of behaviorism was so limited in its focus that it was less than compelling (Wyatt & Midkiff, 2006b). That exchange concluded the special issue of Behavior and Social Issues and, we had diought, the discussion However, Professor Wakefield contacted the editor and requested an opportunity to again convince the journal's readers that our presentation had failed, and that his efforts to dismantle behaviorism had succeeded.

As a result, now Professor Jerome C. Wakefield (this issue) has again struggled to defend an extreme version of biological causation of mental disorders, an extremism whose many weaknesses we have exposed in our first and second papers in this series (Wyatt & Midkiff, 2006a; Wyatt & Midkiff, 2006b). We now reply to Professor Wakefield's follow-up effort to both attack the behavioral model, and to defend a biological causation model. We judge his efforts to have again come up short, not a surprising outcome given that we have relied upon evidence, while Professor Wakefield has tended to rely upon verbal style, including a tendency to claim that our examples lacked completeness, our analogies were not analogous enough, or the data we presented were somehow off the mark. In the end, those were weak methods by which to attempt to undo our findings. We will provide the reader with examples of that style below.

Wakefield's defense of extreme biological causation (this issue) continues to miss its mark for several reasons. …

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