The Disinformation Continues

In the New York Times, no less. Although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given their recent history of publishing really terrible pieces about autism, particularly at the height of the DSM-5 controversy.

And, as it turns out, the author of one of those pieces is back, this time to dis schizophrenic people. I wonder which population he will target next. The irony of it all is that the author is (or at least claims to be) a psychiatrist. He certainly doesn’t fit the mold of someone who has answered a calling to help people in distress. I have many good friends who are psychiatrists, and I have the utmost respect for their efforts to help autistic and schizophrenic people, and others with various challenges. They are kind, caring people, who are pained to see their patients struggle. I consider their profession to be a “soft” science in that it is built on observation and intuition. Studying the human brain is not the same as learning the properties of laser beams or some other physical phenomenon  Art and medicine are not incompatible.

The author of the pieces in question here, Paul Steinberg, comes across to me as vitriolic and uncaring. He is, I hope, not representative of the psychiatric community in general. The fact that he has been given a platform by the Times is yellow journalism at its worst, in my opinion.

His latest piece, which is a diatribe against schizophrenic people, contains many gems. Here is one of them:

Schizophrenia generally rears its head between the ages of 15 and 24, with a slightly later age for females. Early signs may include being a quirky loner — often mistaken for Asperger’s syndrome — but acute signs and symptoms do not appear until adolescence or young adulthood.

In one of my recent posts, I have addressed this kind of thinking in more detail, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say about it in the future. For now, let me just summarize that schizophrenia may be “mistaken” for autism because it is a form of autism. It arises from a physical difference in the brain, and does not suddenly “appear” at the ages mentioned. Why it is that some people go down this particular developmental pathway is of course unclear. To the best of my knowledge, though, one does not “become” autistic. We are born that way.

Two of my fellow autistic bloggers have taken up the cudgel, and so have spared me (thank you!) from having to go into more detail about all of the obviously atrocious statements in this horrid op-ed piece. They are of different styles and well worth reading.

My friend Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg has written a clear, academic-style response (complete with references that support the facts she cites). In it, she decries not only his heinous disregard for human rights (my words), but his ethical standards and his factual claims. When she is done, there is nothing left of his writing except the hate speech. Says Rachel:

This week’s New York Times Op-Ed page features an utterly irresponsible article in which psychiatrist Paul Steinberg baselessly blames schizophrenia for mass shootings.

The other post I’ve seen is by someone I don’t know, but given its rambling non-linear style (known to and loved by those of us who are autistic </snark>), he has established his credentials. Rachel mentions the ethical violation, and this blogger goes into quite a bit more detail, and makes some good points. For example:

The inherent conflict of interest in attempting to simultaneously represent the interests of individual patients as well as advocate for the public good should be obvious to qualified practitioners in any of these professions, especially those who hold themselves out as leaders and authorities in their field.

One almost declines to respond to a piece like the latest Steinberg folly. But we, as a community, cannot let this kind of misrepresentation go unchallenged. We now return to our regularly scheduled positive advocacy work.

Note added on December 31: “Neuroskeptic” posted a comment on a recent Australian study, which is called “A whole-of-population study of the prevalence and patterns of criminal offending in people with schizophrenia and other mental illness.” I question whether schizophrenia is really a mental illness, though its extreme presentations obviously indicate people who are having severe difficulty in coping. Calling schizophrenia a neurological difference may be only semantics I suppose. When I said that of autism to a psychiatrist friend, his response was, “Well, everything is neurological, isn’t it?” Yes, good point.

Anyway, the money quote from the post just mentioned is

…the great majority of crimes, including violent ones, are not committed by people with mental illness, and that your chance of getting ‘murdered by a lunatic’ is incredibly low. This strikes me as the only statistic that matters to most people.


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