Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lili's weary sigh of the day

God save us all. It's another case of acquired savantism and acquired synaesthesia studied by Professor Berit Brogaard, a female one this time. And the prof has a new book out, choc-full of this kind of stuff. And it just wouldn't be a book about savants without a foreword from the go-to boffin for all things "Rain Man", Dr Darold Treffert. And of course, Brogaard's favourite "sudden savants" Daniel Tammet, Jason Padgett and Derek Amato rate at least a mention, probably a lot more, in the book, in addition to the new lady savant, and a collectioin of names I haven't even heard of yet. Oh joy. What a great day for neuroscience. 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Cheerfulness is now compulsory. F*** you, f*** you very much.

My first impulse upon reading this short but shocking comment piece in New Scientist about the way that unemployment has been self-servingly re-branded by governments in the UK, Australia and the US as some kind of psychological disorder, while interventions that have no basis in science are unethically forced upon the hapless jobless, was to accuse at least some members of the profession of psychology of cashing in their ethics and prostituting their profession to governments. But on reflection I know that the academic hurdles that one must jump through to become a registered psychologist in Australia are high, and I have doubts that anyone who has the ability and has made the investment of years of study to earn such a title would throw away all of their professional credibility by taking a job in the welfare-to-work sector. But then again, I guess, if jobs are scarce... It has often been written that the people working in job centres are only a step away from the dole themselves. I'm guessing that the folks with jobs at these job centres and employment services providers would be more in the league of amateur shrinks, psychotherapists, "mental health" practitioners, "psychological therapists" and counsellors, titles that just about anyone possessing a warm smile who graduated high school a fair while ago can legally lay claim to and get away with it. I'm sure if there are any actual degrees at all connected to the staff of these jobless-processing agencies, they will be from bottom-rung universities. 

I can't imagine that a real psychologist with a career at stake would have anything to do with a bogus psychometric test, and anyone with a pass in first-year psychology from a real university should be able to spot a major flaw in the basic aim of the described government interventions for the unemployed; which is to correct supposed flaws in the personalities of those who lack jobs or lack sufficient paid work. Sure enough, psychiatric disorders should be identified and many can be treated, and the only people qualified to address such issues are psychologists or psychiatrists, but true, educated mind professionals know that the realm of personality is one of normal variations along a group of five or so personality dimensions (personality disorders don't belong here, they come under the category of psychiatric disorders). Genuine, educated professionals also know that personality is generally stable in adults and is substantially influenced by genetics. Personality is not open to being tampered with by government agencies, or by anyone for that matter, and attempts to modify personality can only be expected to fail or harm. Where are the ethics in compelling vulnerable people such as the jobless to participate in interventions that are expected to fail or harm? 

I was disappointed that this article in The Conversation with one co-author in common with the New Scientist piece about much the same issues seems to be solely about the UK experience, with comments also from the UK, and one could say the same about this open-access journal paper by the same two authors of the New Scientist piece, Lynne Friedli and Robert Stearn, published in Medical Humanities, a peer-reviewed journal co-owned by the Institute of Medical Ethics and the prestigious British Medical Journal, but one must remember that one of the four giant corporations contracted to process the jobless in the UK that are mentioned or discussed in the paper is Ingeus, a multi-national company that grew out of a rehabilitation company in Queensland, Australia named Work Directions with a principal Therese Rein, who would years and millions of dollars later find international fame as the wife of a Prime Minister of Australia. I couldn't help but be struck by the hypocrisy of a company that foists upon job seekers a course that teaches "Healthy Attitudes for Living" which has a founder who has lost the battle of the bulge. Do greed and self-interest count as healthy attitudes? I guess the rich and powerful have the luxury of making up their own definitions. 

I very much want to soundly kick arses after reading through this library of accounts of malpractice and institutional abuse of vulnerable unemployed and poverty-stricken people in the US, the UK and Australia. Which arses are the most deserving? Clearly all three governments and all of the companies and multi-nationals large and small who make a living enforcing these shameful policies. I'd like to stab the points of my shoes deep into the shins of every single slug who chooses to work in these places of disrepute, including any who could rightly be regarded as psychologists, who should also have their professional registration revoked. The British Psychological Society issued a brief statement in response to Friedli and Stearn's paper but it avoided the main issue of the prostitution of the profession of psychology to unethical governments; an abdication of duty for sure. At the very least the BPS should be leaping to disassociate their own members, presumably with hard-earned credentials, from the army of pretendie-shrinks and wannabe-psychologists processing the jobless from one bad situation to another. In Australia there are a number of organisations that regulate the profession of psychology. I have found a fairly recent submission paper from the Australian Psychological Society on the subject of unemployment which contains much wisdom and sound advice, but it says nothing about issues of coercion and quasi-psychological practices by employment service providers and it does not mention or reference the work of Friedli and Stearn. Australia does not seem to have the protest groups that can be found in the UK who are concerned with these issues and there is generally little recognition that this stuff is happening in Australia, even though I've seen ample evidence that it is. 

Clearly the Australian federal government thinks psychiatric disorders are a major issue among the unemployed, as a quick search of the "Find Your Local Provider" database of employment service providers contracted by the federal government retrieves 382 provider offices that offer specialist "mental health" services. Certainly there will be many unemployed in Australia who also genuinely have some psychiatric disorder and also many falsely claiming to have one, but one should ask why are employment services taking it upon themselves to try to treat or manage the mental illness of clients when this is the job of qualified doctors? There are clear dangers in such a situation. Employment service providers in Australia have been the subject of a barrage of withering online criticism over many years (a perpetual theme at the Whirlpool forum) and also this year from investigative journalism at the ABC, and a federal government inquiry that found over $41 million dollars worth of rorting in the sector. These are clearly people who can't be trusted to provide an adequate service to vulnerable people which would require professional qualifications that are probably beyond their education to start with. 

Heaven help Australian job-seekers hoping for a service that does not identify him or her as the problem, and heaven help Australian registered psychologists and qualified Australian psychiatrists (who have been through many years of medical education and professional supervision) hoping to maintain the reputation of their respective professions, because it appears that no one in Australia has even noticed that there is a problem with the misuse of psychology and the practice of amateur psychiatry in federal government services for the unemployed. 

Regardless of the appalling ethics of governments subjecting vulnerable people to unproven and demeaning interventions while sticking them with inappropriate and stigmatizing labels, there is also the simple problem of taxpayers' money funding interventions that couldn't be effective or appropriate. Shouldn't the citizens of the UK and Australia be up in arms over footing the bill for psychobabble pseudo-psychology courses provided through government-funded services to the unemployed? Neuro-linguistic programming is clearly popular in the UK with service providers to the unemployed, even though it has long ago been debunked as unscientific. This NLP practitioner in the UK touts services to employment service providers in lacklustre style, while this NLP guru in the UK offers a range of nonsense, citing credentials in a number of therapies that don't sound sensible. The "Personal Empowerment Institute" based in NSW, Australia has a collection a mile long of testimonials from their "Long Term Unemployed Workshops", none of them traceable. If these are genuine testimonials, I wonder how many are from participants who felt that they had any real choice in participating, and how many felt coerced or pressured into giving positive feedback at the end of the course? This claptrap from Perth has reportedly been foisted onto the jobless, from a bloke who loves to mention one particular prestigious WA university in videos and testimonials, but shows no signs of having ever studied there, let alone graduated with anything. Notice how it is all testimonials and no evidence with this crowd? That's a clear sign that this is the realm of pseudoscience. The above examples are probably only the tip of the iceberg, as I would expect that if agencies that are supposed to be providing professional services to the unemployed are actually funneling them into new agey nonsense courses from external contractors they wont be advertising that fact openly. 

Shouldn't the countless skeptics clubs and groups in the UK and Australia be white and tremulous with rage over national governments throwing money at and dignifying pseudoscience? It appears that these clubs of critical thinkers are too busy poking fun at parents who question vaccination, people who believe in homeopathy and other such important matters. I guess I should resign myself to the fact that no one in this wide brown land cares but me. Again. 

Lili's insult for the day

If you were a TV show, your timeslot would be between 3.25am and 4.10am.