Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Monday, December 26, 2005

Tom Cruise: Who Does He Think He Is - 1

I found fascinating the avalanche of snide media response to Tom Cruise's statements on the Matt Lauder show a few months ago. Why? Here are a few reasons:

1. Every thing he said was, to the best of my knowledge, correct. Psychiatry and its rationales for pushing psychotropic drugs and defining mental illnesses are not based on sound science and are essentially fraudulent. You can find my take on these issues in my essays on psychiatry as a pseudo science and psychiatric spin.

2. The "experts" called in to debunk Mr. Cruise essentially conceded all his points (which few people noticed). For example, psychiatrists Stephen Scharfstein (head of the American Psychiatric Assn. or APA) and Dr. Glenmullin, a Harvard psychiatrist, appeared to be disagreeing with Cruise, while (dimly perceivable beneath all the weasel words) conceded directly or implicitly all the points Cruise made. Glenmullin pointed out that the psych. drugs are hugely over-prescribed, but said, almost as an aside – and with no attempt to provide scientific date validating this opinion – that, of course, psych. drugs are very valuable when used correctly and help many people. Tom never denied that some people think that. He denied that it was based on science. Neither psychiatrist (though asserting otherwise) pointed to any shred of scientific evidence.

Scharfstein, after snidely referring to Cruise as, possibly, being an expert in the field of acting, went on to assert that Cruise's statements were wrong, extremist and irresponsible and that psychiatry is a medical science making tremendous advances and helping millions, but, in his evasive responses to questions, conceded that psychiatry is NOT science – that there exist no medical tests to validate any diagnosis of so-called "mental illnesses"; nor could he point to any scientific evidence for the psychiatric rationale for the drugs: that "mental illnesses" result from "chemical imbalances in the brain."

[Note: As Dr. Thomas Szasz pointed out many years ago in his famous book, "The Myth of Mental Illness", when we use the term "illness" to describe certain conditions, we are using it as a metaphor. There's nothing wrong with a metaphor when we realize it's a metaphor, but when we start taking our metaphors literally, we can get into trouble. For example, an actual medical illness is not labeled an illness until it's "etiology" -- its cause -- is understood well enough to be able to distinguish it from the many similar illnesses. A scientist (a true scientist) would never label "depression" or "tiredness" or any other broad human condition an illness because he knows that any such condition can have numerous causes, and that each cause requires its own appropriate handling. Whenever, in what follows, I debunk the terms "mental illness", I am not denying the existence of unwanted conditions. I'm denying the scientific basis for calling these conditions "medical illnesses" and thereby justifying treating them with drugs.]

The only attempt to cite scientific studies to validate psychiatry as a science came on shows where a psychiatrist held up allegedly normal brain scans and allegedly "mentally ill" brain scans and said that psychiatric science was based on the data from these scans, and that psychiatric drugs made abnormal scans normal. Sounds very scientific, but is hogwash. To understand why, please read my essay (followed by expert documentation) on brain scan science.

Within a week or two of Cruise's statements, the FDA (after stalling for 15 years) finally conceded that the drugs Cruise was criticizing increase the chances of suicide. And a major NIH study announced that new research showed the latest, most "miraculous" and popular (with psychiatrists) drugs were, in fact, no more beneficial than the old bad drugs and were probably more dangerous. And yet another major study came out showing that many of the "miracle drugs" of the past 15 years never did much better than placebos in their trials – data obscured by the drug company's showing the FDA only the most successful trials. In fact, the likelihood is that with slightly different experimental design (using active placebos that create some noticeable effect so that the test subject doesn't know he's getting a placebo), the placebos would have been more helpful (and definitely less harmful) than the drugs. (Note: These new studies differed from previous studies in that they were NOT financed by the drug companies.)

As I say, all this happened within days and weeks of Cruise's statements, but he remained a figure for scorn or mockery in the media, with few noticing that he'd been vindicated.
Similarly, The Washington Post, around this time, printed a front-page rant by Tina Brown talking about how Tom Cruise's romance with Katie was obviously a fraudulent PR caper to promote his latest movie, and would be over as soon as the film was doing well and was obviously fake. Tina cited the expert evidence of her teen-aged daughter stating that it was all a fake.

It's been a few months now. The film (huge hit, War of the Worlds) has made its rounds. Tom and Katie are still together, and few doubt that they plan to stay together. I have not yet seen a retraction or apology from Tina Brown or the Washington Post.
The media have a gift for double think.

3. Brooke Shields was presented as a victim of Tom Cruise's supposedly unwarranted intrusion into her very personal life, whereas it was she who was marketing to the world a book promoting to other pregnant and post-pregnant women the use of a dangerous drug to handle a condition that is (per all available medical science) based on hormonal problems that are not handled by the drugs in question. But, apart from the stupid science here, the point is it was Brooke Shields who made her personal life a public issue, not Tom Cruise.

By analogy, if John Doe enjoys masturbating, that's John Doe's business. But suppose John Doe publishes and heavily promotes a book recommending masturbation for all as the best cure for migraine headaches, warts and hang-nails, and someone goes on TV and says that, contrary to John Doe, masturbation is not a scientifically validated cure for migraines, etc., and that, in fact, it can be damaging to you in various ways?

Now, if John Doe wants to respond to that, a legitimate response might be to point to evidence that masturbation is harmless and does help with migraines, etc. But if John Doe (and his friends) respond by saying, "Boo Hoo, how DARE you tell me how I should live my life and publicly advise me on how I should have handled my very intimate concerns!" – then John and his friends are being extremely disingenuous.

But that is essentially how Brooke and her chivalrous defenders responded, adding the astute observation that Tom Cruise is not a woman, so has no right to speak out on post-partum depression. (I wonder if the psychiatrist who prescribed the drugs for Brooke was a man?) (Gosh, ladies, I really don't think rat poison is a good solution to post-partum depression, but I'm a man, so what do I know?)

And yet, the impression remains (courtesy of the media) that Tom Cruise is an extremist, that he said things that were silly, that his reputation and popularity were damaged (though his movie, immediately after he spoke out, was a blockbuster hit), etc. I'll bet most people reading this have that impression. Why?

Part of it is our tendency to believe that if the media tell us that everybody is saying it, we believe that everybody is saying it, and if everybody is saying it, we believe that it must be truth, that "where there's smoke, there's fire."

Perhaps smoke suggests fire, but the picture changes when we learn that all the mockers have a strong financial incentive for their mockery. And there are several other factors involved. I plan to discuss them in my next few ramblings.

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