Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

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Why Jerry Coyne is Still Wrong about Antidepressants

A few months ago, Jerry Coyne, Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and an staunch supporter of evolution against creationists, made a series of remarkably flawed claims about medical psychiatry in general and antidepressants in particular. He did this after reading a couple of book reviews on a few controversial books on psychiatry and asserted that medical psychiatry was a scam. Needless to say, I confronted his claims in Why Jerry Coyne is Wrong about Medical Psychiatry and shown that Prof. Coyne made several glaring errors: he incorrectly characterized the mainstream view on the causes of depression, he claimed that the effectiveness of a drug was not evidence for the underlying model (thus implicitly agreeing with HIV/AIDS denialists that the effectiveness of antiretroviral treatment is not evidence that HIV causes AIDS), he did not understand the difference between genetic mapping and estimations of heritability, he advocated Big Pharma conspiracy theories, incorrectly claimed (based on Kirsch flawed studies) that antidepressants are no better than placebo and contradicted himself by claiming that mental disorders were not caused by chemical factors in the brain while at the same time claiming that antidepressants cause psychopathology without any evidence.

After this, I stopped regularly visiting his blog, so it is only now that I noticed that he wrote a follow-up article called Peter Kramer defends antidepressants. In it, Prof. Coyne repeats many of the same flawed arguments as before and it reads like an advertisement of Kirsch book on antidepressants. It is now clearer than ever that Prof. Coyne has gone of the deep end with regards to this topic. It is clear that his pseudoskepticism is deepening and that is why I have decided to write another criticism. There will necessarily be some repeats of content that I discussed in previous entries, but will try to keep it to a minimum.

Let’s get started, shall we? Read more of this post

Why Jerry Coyne is Wrong about Medical Psychiatry

Jerry Coyne is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, a leading critic of creationism and author of “Why Evolution is True” (amazon link), which is a lucid overview of the evidence for evolution. He also maintains a blog with the same name. Prof. Coyne is a pretty rational person, but being rational in one area is not a guarantee that one is rational in another and it is really easy to get sucked in to science denialism. Classic examples of this is people like Peter Duesberg, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, who is the father of HIV/AIDS denialism. This analogy does not seem fair, but perhaps a better one is Coby of A Few Things Ill-Considered, whose How To Talk To A Climate Skeptic is one of the best resources available against global warming denialists. Unfortunately Coby bought into the anti-fluoridation conspiracy, mostly because his dad had written a book about it. I fear that Dr. Coyne has made a similar slip-up.

In a similar turn of events, Jerry Coyne has recently bought into the anti-psychiatry madness of Angell, Kirsch, Whitaker and Carlat. Angell, a microbiologist and former editor of the NJEM reviewed the others books in New York Review of Books. It is scary to read Prof. Coyne’s summary/discussion, mostly because it repeats the same old falsehoods about psychiatry, SSRIs and Big Pharma, almost precisely following the same denialist debating tactics we all know far too well. Because of this, it is a chilling read and had this been done by any other random person on the internet I probably would not have bothered, but it feel it is my duty to correct Prof. Coyne’s misconceptions because I shared many of his other values and positions and because he has relatively high authority in the skeptic community. It would be very unfortunate if this was the beginning to his siding into denialism, not just for himself, but for his readers and the public. No one wants this to happen.

The scary part is that Prof. Coynes summary/discussion broadly and specifically mirrors most arguments put forward by HIV/AIDS denialists: there is the conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies and doctors to make more profits, the notion that treatments do not work but are in fact dangerous, that diagnostic criteria for the condition are arbitrary and differs in time and place etc. and this great irony will be a recurring theme in the following criticism. To clarify, I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, so don’t take my word at it, but evaluate the arguments and read the studies I cite in full to make an informed decision about what you are about to read. After all, I can be mistaken. This will be a point-by-point comment and refutation, as well as a discussing related topics in psychology and medicine. Let’s get started. Read more of this post

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