Of Alligators And Men

102_1481The other day I was reading in the Independent Florida Alligator, University of Florida student newspaper, about a researcher on campus who was studying alligators. This researcher, one Ashley Boggs, was specifically studying the growth rates of alligators. She collected eggs from the relatively clean Lake Woodruff and eggs from the more contaminated Lake Apopka, not far away from the Kennedy Space Center. She was looking at the effect chemical elements in the water, such as flame retardant and heavy metals, have on alligator growth. Some of these alligators at the same age as others in the research show dramatic differences in size. Ultimately she hopes to show whether the degree of pollutants in the water at one lake have made the alligators remarkably smaller hailing from there than the alligators hailing from the much cleaner lake. I have read children on stimulants for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder tend to be smaller than children who are not on pills for this disorder. Maybe we should be giving alligators such stimulants, no, not because they have ADHD, but to see how their size compared with alligators that weren’t being given such chemicals. We could then see if they were affected in the same fashion as human beings.

Here We Go Again

The psychiatric profession has been hammering the genetic explanation home on schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders for so long that you’d think, as they claim, the matter proven. Repeating a line over and over again doesn’t make it true, or what science is out to do in the first place, proven. Calling suspicions and intuitions proof doesn’t cut it.

The National Institute of Health is throwing away millions and millions of dollars on research into the genetics of madness. The result of these studies has essentially been to push any meaningful use that can be made of these studies, if any meaningful use is to be made of them at all, further and further into the distant future. The possibility that the initial assumptions behind this research may be in error is not one of the possibilities researchers have factored into their efforts.

There are two main approaches in current mental health treatment, and these two approaches, often operating simultaneously in the same treatment facilities, are at cross purposes. First, there is the recovery model that would, despite the best efforts of these researchers, hold serious mental illness to be a condition that could be fully overcome with time, effort, and concern. Then, second, there is the biological psychiatric theory that holds serious mental illness out to be a permanent condition determined by a person’s genetic make up. Under this theory, a semblance of normality, maintained by a regimen of regular drug use, is the best that can be expected for a person stricken by one of these maladies.

We don’t ask what the genes are that would cause a soldier in captivity to crack under torture. We don’t ask what the genes are that would shut a prisoners lips, and keep that prisoner from squealing on his or her cohorts, in the face of certain death. We don’t look for genes to explain why most people would burn out on the job, in certain lines of work, given enough stress and pressure. We wouldn’t be seeking the genes behind schizophrenia and bipolar disorder if we didn’t feel somehow that the experience of receiving a psychiatric diagnosis had not pushed a segment of the population a wee bit closer to a lower branch on the evolutionary tree than the rest of humanity.

In the early part of the twentieth century the eugenics movement swept through the psychology and psychiatry departments on campuses throughout this country. This same eugenics movement, exported to Germany, played a major role in arriving at what came to be known as ‘the final solution’. The idea was to weed out, starting with types considered to be degenerate, those members of the species deemed unfit to reproduce. This idea was eventually extended to include members of a racial and ethnic minority. I’m afraid that the present generation of psychiatrists has not sufficiently dealt with the implications of their professions involvement in this movement, or they would be taking a vastly different approach to the resolution of misfortune.