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Asperger's By Proxy

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Updated 11.26.2014

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A note about terminology. In this article, to avoid excessive wordiness the term "psychology" refers to both psychiatry and clinical psychology. Psychiatry and clinical psychology are distinct fields but have common properties — they're both based in human psychology, both rely on the DSM (psychology's "bible") and they're equally unscientific.
Background

This article examines a troubling aspect of modern psychology — it examines how parents control their children by pretending that psychology is more evidence-based and authoritative than it is. The ultimate victims are the children, who may enter adult life believing that authority, even faux authority, ranks higher than scientific evidence. In today's world, such a belief represents a terrible handicap.

In my other articles , example "The Myth of Mental Illness", I show that ethical considerations and the complexity of human behavior prevent theoretical psychology from performing the kinds of experiments that would place psychology on a firm evidentiary footing, and that as a result the practice of psychology must get along without a scientific grounding in testable, falsifiable theoretical principles. I would like to begin by restating that argument through a comparison of physics, mainstream medicine, and psychology.

Science

Before we compare these fields, let me make a brief statement about the nature of science. Science differs from most human endeavors in that evidence has the highest standing — authority has no standing at all. In science there are only theories, no laws or unchallengeable facts, and any theory, however well-established, can be falsified by new evidence. If an idea should become so well-accepted that it is no longer looked on as a theory, at that moment it leaves the domain of science.

In brief, if a theory can be falsified by experimental evidence, it is scientific. If it cannot be tested in practical experiments and potentially falsified, it is not scientific. This point cannot be overemphasized, and it uncovers the primary defect in modern psychology.

Physics

Physics is a branch of science so completely and successfully governed by theory and evidence that practitioners of less rigorous disciplines are said to experience "physics envy." There are several reasons for the scientific standing of physics, but the primary one is that its principles are comparatively simple and easily tested. Some readers may object that Einstein's Theory of Relativity is not at all simple, and quantum physics is much more complex. This is true, but the complexity of these subjects pales when compared to the workings of the human mind.

Physics possesses a well-tested theoretical core that can predict physical events to a staggering degree of precision, typically ten or more decimal places. And, because so much of modern technology hinges on an understanding of physics, physical theories are constantly being retested and modified when they are discovered not to reflect reality.

Also, there is no ethical dimension to physics experiments. If you want to find out at what point a rod of steel will break, you simply bend it until it breaks. There are no steel rights groups to object to how badly the steel is being treated. And the steel cannot lie to you. You don't have to ask the steel at which point it will break, instead you bend it and ignore its squeaks and groans. So when a bridge is built on the basis of laboratory tests, the steel in the bridge is very likely to behave in the same way — all according to a very clear physical theory, a theory confirmed by experiments that could have falsified the theory but didn't.

Medicine

Mainstream medicine can't be conducted like physics because people have rights, and the quality of experimental evidence stands in opposition to the rights of the experimental subjects. If scientific evidence were the only priority, we would treat human subjects like animals and get much better evidence on which to judge the effectiveness of various medical procedures and substances. Because we cannot do this, medicine cannot ever rise to the scientific standing of physics.

But there are ways to improve the evidence. As it turns out, we can conduct animal experiments to draw some conclusions about human physiology, for example pigs have cardiovascular systems very much like ours and there seems to be a reasonable basis for extrapolating pig experiments to humans.

In the practice of modern medicine emotions run high, patient beliefs play a part, many things go wrong, consequently many theories in medicine have had to be discarded over the years, and the level of certainty in medicine is not very high. Therefore doctors are obliged to get something called "informed consent" from patients before subjecting them to procedures that are uncertain or that have side effects.

Also, when a patient enters a doctor's office, he has the right to know the nature of the procedures themselves, which might be research, diagnosis, therapy or a mixture of all three. It is here that the issue of informed consent is most important.

In the old-style relationship between a doctor and a patient, the doctor was God and you did what he said (and the doctors were all men). In modern times, because of the effect of media reporting and a higher degree of comprehension, patients understand what kinds of things can go wrong and what the consequences are. The best-educated patients ask frank questions and make their own decisions, with the understanding that the doctor is often no better informed than they are.

Psychology

An aside. The ordering of these subjects is not accidental. Physics is the litmus test of scientific methods and content. Mainstream medicine is less scientific than physics, and psychology is less scientific than medicine. The only thing less scientific than psychology is religion, where belief rules and evidence has no place.

If we want to test a theory in medicine, we might locate an animal that can serve as a human proxy, like a pig in a cardiovascular study. But in psychology this option doesn't exist for any but the simplest human behaviors. We are free to conduct experiments with rats or pigeons, two experimental animals very commonly seen in psychology laboratories, but we cannot realistically extrapolate pigeon mental behavior to human mental behavior, and we cannot ethically design rigorous experiments using human subjects.

Let me expand on this point, because according to my correspondence with psychologists and psychology students, the issue of experimental design appears to be a confusing topic. Let's say a client enters a program of counseling and, after several months, reports that he feels "better". What conclusions can we draw from this? Are we justified in taking this as evidence that the therapy is effective? Yes, but only if we abandon any pretense of scientific evaluation. Here are some questions a scientist might ask about the outcome:

  • Would the client have felt better if he had not entered the therapy and simply let some time pass?
  • Would the client have felt better if he had spent the same time talking to a sympathetic relative, or to a bartender, or an astrologer, rather than a psychologist?
  • Might the client have personal reasons for reporting that he feels better, reasons having nothing to do with his actual subjective state (the "self-reporting" problem)?
  • Might this be an example of the "placebo effect," where any attention paid to the client, including a procedure of no known therapeutic effect (a "placebo"), produces a positive result?

These are reasonable questions, they are rarely asked in psychology, and they can only be answered by designing a more scientific study, one consisting of:

  • An experimental group of subjects, the subjects that receive the therapy under evaluation.
  • A control group that receives a make-believe therapy that has no known therapeutic effect.
  • An overall experimental design in which neither the therapists nor the clients know which group they belong to (a "double-blind" study).

This is how science works to minimize the confounding effects inherent in a study of human behavior, but it should be obvious that this experimental protocol is hopelessly unrealistic in the context of psychology — there would be too many ways for the control and experimental groups to discover which they were, and there are those nasty ethical issues lurking in the background, where someone really needs therapy but gets a placebo (or really needs a placebo but gets therapy), which would push the entire enterprise out of the laboratory and into a courtroom, where the therapists and researchers would be sued to within an inch of their lives.

It is for these and other reasons that such strictly designed scientific experiments are never conducted in human psychology. And it is for that reason that theoretical psychology cannot produce a reliable core of scientific, falsifiable theory. And it is for that reason that the practice of psychology is not governed by scientific findings in the same way that physics and medicine are. This is why psychology consists of a series of conjectures and beliefs, rather than a series of scientific experiments and results.

Let's clarify this point with an example. The practice of theoretical physics is called "engineering". If an engineer builds an airplane and the plane falls to pieces while flying, it will turn out that one or more physical theories was ignored in the design of the airplane. This is because engineering is governed by the scientific content of theoretical physics. To put it simply, a failure in the practice of physics can be trivially traced to a failure to heed the theory of physics.

When theoretical psychology is applied in a clinical setting, any connection with physics (and science) collapses. If a client commences therapy and then falls to pieces while talking, the psychologist, the "engineer," cannot refer to theoretical psychology for an explanation, because theoretical psychology doesn't contain a coherent, testable, falsifiable theory of human behavior. As a result of the theoretical vacuum at the top of human psychology, psychologists can do or say virtually anything, without any realistic prospect of refutation, and clients who can't think for themselves are at the mercy of therapists.

Am I exaggerating the present state of psychology? No, not at all. Consider these examples:

John Mack

John Mack and the Alien Abductees

Professor John Mack was a psychiatrist, a Pulitzer Prize winner, at the top of his profession, when he decided to accept at face value the reports of people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Mack's position at the Harvard Medical School and his standing in the world of psychology greatly increased the number of people willing to count themselves among the alien-abducted. And it was not possible to evaluate abductee claims objectively or argue against Mack's position using scientific evidence, because there is no psychological theory that addresses this kind of mental disturbance. Mack was free to say or do anything he cared to, and he could not be called to account by reference to a nonexistent psychological theory that might refute his beliefs.

Ian Stevenson

Ian Stevenson and Past Lives Therapy

While chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia, Ian Stevenson decided to study reincarnation by interviewing children about their past lives. Not surprisingly and with the right kind of encouragement, the children exhibited fantastic recall of their prior visits to planet Earth. Encouraged by these results Stevenson went on the found the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia, a department that now stands alongside physics, chemistry and biology on this university's roster of serious subjects.

Not surprisingly, scientists have expressed little interest in this department of the university, except for a rumored inquiry from the IRS, who are alleged to have expressed an interest in past-lives income tax audits.

Candace Newmaker

Candace Newmaker

Candace Newmaker was a 10-year-old girl whose mother submitted her to a practice known as "rebirthing therapy". Like so many psychological fads, rebirthing therapy gained traction among parents by word of mouth, glowing testimonials, the encouragement of psychologists, everything but scientific evidence. As time passed, the therapy took on a more aggressive form — the child was wrapped in sheets and cushions as a sort of faux womb from which she was expected to emerge completely changed. Well, Candace was certainly changed — she was dead. She had suffocated in the make-believe womb.

Rebecca Riley

Rebecca Riley

When Rebecca Riley was two years old, she was placed under the care of a psychiatrist and diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder. On the psychiatrist's recommendation, Rebecca was placed on a potent cocktail of drugs meant to calm her down. Over time her parents and her psychiatrist, noting the salutary effect the drugs were having on the child's behavior and reasoning that more is better, gradually increased the dosage. Finally, when Rebecca was four, the drugs had the desired effect — she became supernaturally calm. She was dead.

These examples come from a long list of similar stories — therapists who will say anything, parents who will accept anything, children who have no rights. These are stories where science plays no part.

Authority and Responsibility

Parents who consider submitting their children to the care of psychologists should read this section very carefully.

Many people believe that psychologists are sort of like doctors (and psychiatrists possess M.D. degrees, at least in the U.S.), and therefore speak with the authority of a doctor. But, because of the absence of science in psychology, psychologists are not accountable for their actions in the same way that doctors are, instead parents are held to account for the therapeutic procedures visited upon their children. In the two cases cited above in which children died while under the care of psychiatrists or psychologists, the parents were brought up on criminal charges. This is society's unmistakable signal that:

  • Psychology is not a science, and
  • Parents will be held personally responsible for the actions of psychologists.

If the above reasoning seems too esoteric, if a reader finds the logic too difficult to follow, then pay attention to how science distinguishes medicine and psychology. In medicine, if something goes wrong, the doctor can be sued in civil court or charged in a criminal court with wrongdoing. This is because medicine is strongly governed by scientific evidence, and errors tend to result from willfully ignoring the science. In psychology, if something goes wrong, parents are typically held to account for accepting the psychologist's opinions. This is because psychology is not governed by scientific evidence, instead it is nearly all a matter of fad and opinion.

Fringe Diagnoses

A "fringe diagnosis" is one that may be based in reality but that can be plausibly applied to nearly anyone. Asperger's (described below), ADHD and many other conditions may represent real subjective states, but they also represent a playground for unethical psychologists, a pretense to get people into the mental health care system.

Over time psychologists have greatly increased the number of conditions officially recognized as mental illnesses, by including them in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (hereafter DSM), the psychologist's professional "Bible". The present DSM identifies an absurd number of conditions as "mental illnesses", including:

  • "Spelling Disorder"
  • "Written Expression Disorder"
  • "Mathematics Disorder"
  • "Caffeine Intoxication/Withdrawal"
  • "Sibling Rivalry Disorder"
  • "Phase of Life Problem"

This example list means exactly what it says. According to current psychological practice, if you have trouble spelling, if you cannot add a column of figures, if you cannot compose a coherent sentence, if you don't like your older brother, you are mentally ill and you need professional help.

When one hears that a two-year-old girl was given serious, multiple diagnoses as in the Rebecca Riley story recounted above, one may wonder whether such diagnoses can meaningfully be applied to a child that young. The answer is no — such a diagnosis is meaningless even in the prevailing relaxed atmosphere of psychology. But it's important to understand why this happens. It happens because a misbehaving child might result from parental incompetence, but a psychological diagnosis confers the status of a disease, a "mental illness", which frees parents from any responsibility for their child's behavior. This is the parental motive behind the present fad of acquiring fringe psychological diagnoses for very young children.

The problem with fringe diagnoses is that, while it frees parents from any personal responsibility for their child's behavior, it also frees the child from any responsibility for his own. It is difficult to overestimate the emotional effect of being diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, or ADHD, or any of the other currently popular fringe diagnoses. To a child who is not mature enough to understand the social standing of psychology, such a diagnosis might easily be understood as:

  • I am sick, so I should not try to accomplish anything until I get better.
  • I will never get better.

In reality, all these children will eventually have to make their own way in the adult world, and their prospect for individual success is in direct proportion to their willingness to ignore the beliefs and statements of psychologists. This is why such diagnoses are almost always applied to children, and by the time these children become adults, they either figure out that they must sink or swim like everyone else, or they are on their way to becoming permanent, voluntary psychological invalids.

To summarize the above points, because of the superficial connection between psychology and science, because psychologists have no authority and cannot compel behavior, we arrive at the bedrock principle of contemporary psychology: clients pay psychologists, and psychologists tell clients what they want to hear. If a psychologist contradicts a client, the client goes shopping for a different psychologist who will agree with him. And as the John Mack/alien-abductee story proves, you can find psychologists willing to say anything.

Tragically, most of the victims of this practice are children, who have no way to discover that a psychologist is neither a doctor nor an authority.

Asperger Syndrome

Over the past ten years a new psychological condition has become popular and has created an epidemic of U.S. diagnoses, mostly of children. Asperger syndrome (hereafter "Asperger's") is thought to be related to autism, but this is conjecture for the usual reason — psychologists don't know what Asperger's is or even if it is distinct from other conditions. Asperger's also meets the definition of a fringe diagnosis — present diagnostic tests can and do mistakenly identify bright people as suffering from Asperger's, which can lead to an unnecessary stigma and burden and pointless therapeutic treatment for children who, apart from being intelligent, are quite normal.

Also, because a number of famous, successful people have been given the Asperger's label (Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and others), this diagnosis has become trendy and fashionable — there's no other way to put it. Some parents don't mind at all that this diagnosis is applied to their children, and some proactively seek it out. The parents get all the personal advantages stated above, and they place their children in the company of some very successful people. Because of these forces, the Yale Child Development Center has posted this warning:

"Clearly, the work on Asperger syndrome, in regard to scientific research as well as in regard to service provision, is only beginning. Parents are urged to use a great deal of caution and to adopt a critical approach toward information given to them. [emphasis supplied]."

The opinion leaders in the field of psychology have directed this advice to parents, not therapists, for a reason that should be obvious — as explained above, there is no realistic way to control the behavior of therapists. For a therapist, a diagnosis is bread on his table, and any bright youngster can be given the Asperger diagnosis. Many parents don't understand that psychology isn't a science and that psychologists aren't doctors — sadly, these people become hostages of their own ignorance. (Asperger's is discussed in greater depth below.)

Summary

Since the first appearance of this article and its predecessor "Is Psychology a Science?", many conscientious psychologists have begun to take a similar position, but more with a sense of foreboding than anticipation. In 2005, Dr. Ronald L. Levant, president of the American Psychological Association, penned a daring initiative meant to nudge psychology toward an evidence-based model and away from its present reliance on anecdote and belief. But it seems Dr. Levant misjudged the present state of clinical practice — on hearing his proposal, rank and file psychologists reacted with a mixture of panic and fury. Here's a quote from Dr. Levant's later defense:

Evidence-based practice in psychology (APA, 2005): "Some APA members have asked me why I have chosen to sponsor an APA Presidential Initiative on Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) in Psychology, expressing fears that the results might be used against psychologists by managed-care companies and malpractice lawyers."

The rank and file are right, of course. Any effort to move psychology toward an evidence-based model would expose what until now has been a well-kept secret — psychology is not remotely evidence-based, relying instead on anecdotes, dubious extrapolations from animal research, poor-quality retrospective studies and simple belief. To publicly air these facts would trigger a number of legal and practical consequences that psychologists would be wise to avoid. And so far, they have — after a brief uproar in 2005, the APA proposal has been shelved.

In his most revealing sentence, Dr. Levant says, "... psychology needs to define EBP in psychology or it will be defined for us." This acknowledges something that Levant emphasizes in his article — EBP is a proposal, a wish, not a reality. Scientific psychology lies in the future — at present, we only have the acronym.

Case History

No matter how cynical I get, it's just never enough to keep up — Lily Tomlin

This section has been rewritten many times over the years. There is no corollary in dead-tree publishing, where publication, ink on paper, slams the door on changes. I understand certain issues better as the years go by, and there are new events and new information in each revision.
  1. Introduction

    For those who treat it with an appropriate degree of critical thought and skepticism, psychology is no more risky than astrology. But for those who either will not or cannot think for themselves, or who treat psychology as though it is a science, serious problems are inevitable.

    Above I gave examples where parents, with the active participation of psychiatry and psychology, killed their children outright. That is obviously a rare occurrence — it's more common for parents to enlist psychology to destroy their children in ways that don't leave external scars. Obviously a principled psychologist could say, "You're infecting your children with your own dysfunctions, and I won't have any part of this!" Or she could say to the children, "The problem is your parents — the cure is to get away from them as soon as possible." But in real life this almost never happens — because parents pay the bills, a principled psychologist would soon be out of business. It's important to understand that psychology is a business, not a science, and to understand how it works, one need only follow the money.

    This is a first-person account that looks inside a profoundly dysfunctional family. According to standard practice in the social sciences, the identities of the participants are concealed — all names and some events are fictionalized, but the themes are true to life. This account shows how psychology, contrary to outward appearances, can make a bad situation worse.

    On a personal note, I am the "first-person" alluded to above. I've had an adventure-filled life with many risks along the way — an armed standoff with pirates in the Indian Ocean during my around-the-world solo sail, many close calls as a stunt pilot and skydiver, and more recently, a number of fun-filled grizzly bear close encounters. But the biggest risk I ever faced was from a sociopathic housewife who had no hesitation about lying under oath. This is her story, but it's equally the story of modern psychology (they're intertwined).

  2. The Lead-in

    When I'm not sailing across oceans or in Alaska photographing grizzly bears, I live in a pretty part of the rural Pacific Northwest. A nearby town has an odd reputation, one that I doubt many of its residents willingly accept — that of a gathering place for the mentally unbalanced. This view is so widely held that some of the town's less even-keeled inmates — excuse me, residents — defiantly created their own bumpersticker that says, "We're all here because we're not all there." The town's supposed status as a haven for crazies wasn't a matter of great interest to me until one of its residents emailed me, said she had read about me on the Web, and asked me to meet her son.

    I don't want to sound overly cynical about people's motives, but over the years experience has taught me that when a mother asks you to meet her children, it's almost never what it seems. There's nearly always a hidden agenda — the woman is unhappy in her marriage, she wants to shame her mate into working harder to satisfy her narcissistic wishes, or she may want to dump her mate and trade up. Something — something other than a wish to enrich the lives of her children.

    In this case I made a polite but unencouraging reply — I simply had no interest. The woman, who I will call "Joan Smith", then began an email campaign that stretched over seven months, repeating her requests that I meet her, accept a lunch date, befriend her son, etc.. I just ignored her and gave it little thought, occasionally writing back to correct one or another of her more egregious distorted beliefs, but offering no encouragement.

    Seven months later, on realizing I had no intention of meeting her and discovering I was making a public appearance, Joan showed up and presented her son. Contrary to my expectations based on Joan's prose, her son (who I will call "Jim") was very bright and personable, but for reasons I couldn't fathom had no friends and possessed very low self-esteem. In a few minutes of conversation I discovered he much preferred mathematics and logic to messy reality, which reminded me of someone I know very well.

  3. The Set-up

    So it began — not with anything formal or deliberate, but Jim and I began conversing, in person and by email. We both preferred the clean, rational world of mathematics to everyday reality, to the degree that neither of us would have considered mentioning it. I'm sure we both agree with Bertrand Russell's famous remark: "Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show."

    I'm sure most of my readers will get the point of this section without elaboration, but in case this isn't so, over a period of months Jim and I became close friends and focused much of our time and energy on each other. I include this observation because without understanding it, the rest of the story makes no sense. For a spell, all I could think about was spending time with Jim, seeing the world through his eyes — and he felt the same way about me.

    I got to witness Jim's reality, the relatively unencumbered outlook of a very bright young person, and he got the validation of having a friend from the world, from reality, who accepted and appreciated him as he was. We worked on mathematical problems, wrote little computer programs. It was a perfect friendship — for about six months.

    Why so short? Simple — our friendship had nothing for Joan. She had only gotten what she said she wanted, not what she actually wanted, and even while listening, she had no idea what Jim and I were talking about. About this time she wrote and said, "It's nice that my son has a friend who understands the words he uses." I should have taken this as a warning.

  4. Darkness At Noon

    If what Joan had said she wanted during her long email campaign had been accurate, everything would have been fine. She wanted me to befriend her son, a wish she repeated over a seven-month series of dull, overheated emails, and now I had befriended her son. Where's the problem? But this formulation is perfectly logical, and Joan wasn't remotely logical or rational. As time passed, Joan did all she could to make me aware of her existence, her needs, her beliefs.

    To understand Joan's actions, the reader needs to know something about her basic character. Over a period of years, by listening to intelligent people speak, Joan had learned the words they used, but never grasped the ideas behind the words. She was an intellectual Potemkin village, a thin shell of plausibility surrounding the sort of vacuum nature is said to abhor — all flash, no depth, all surface, no substance. More often than I care to remember, she would utter a sentence composed of perfectly reasonable words, then draw a perfectly unreasonable conclusion that, to an intelligent person, couldn't possibly follow from the words. Several Potemkin village examples follow.

    Central to Joan's outlook was the value of psychology and the extraordinary wisdom of therapists. This shouldn't come as a surprise — it made perfect sense that Joan, a pseudoperson with no defining core values, would be attracted to psychology, a pseudoscience with no defining core theories.

    On a practical level Joan's devotion to psychology is easy to explain. In every society there are people who, notwithstanding their status as adults, cannot shape original thoughts or make personal decisions, people terrified by the prospect of directing their own lives, of exercising free will. In past eras religion imposed the measure of authority this kind of person requires, but in modern times, psychology seems a reasonable substitute for religion, in particular because of a widespread misconception that psychology has the status of a science.

    As with most psychology True Believers, for Joan psychology differed from religion only in name. In every respect psychology offers the kind of narcissistic self-assurance, sense of entitlement and absence of self-doubt that makes human history such a depressing read. But it also meant that to criticize psychology within Joan's hearing was to criticize her sincerely held religious belief, a fact I would gradually discover.

    Digression: Religious fundamentalists and psychology followers both reject evolution, but for different reasons. For a fundamentalist, evolution by natural selection supports the heretical idea that nature rewards those who leave the flock and break new ground. For a psychology follower, evolution contradicts the idea that there is a "normal behavior" to which we should all aspire by curing ourselves of "mental illnesses". In evolution, there are no mental illnesses, instead there are environnmental adaptations, legitimate experiments in nature's scientific laboratory, any of which might prove superior to existing adaptations in a changing environment.

    Asperger's is a perfect example. For all we know, its behaviors represent a positive evolutionary adaptation to a changing environment, and might become typical behavior in our descendants. I'm not saying this is the correct interpretation, I don't have the right to say that. But nature has that right — and if she speaks, will we listen?

    One day I picked up one of Joan's many psychology books, read for 30 seconds and remarked that by focusing on hyperactive children, the author was cheating himself out of half the cohort of psychology True Believers, those with hypo-active children. But a quick scan of the later chapters showed that he had redeemed himself — he managed to say that his miracle cure applied to both hyper- and hypo-active children. Laughing at this transparent absurdity, I looked up from my reading and saw Joan's icy look.

    Consistent with her beliefs, Joan acquired psychological diagnoses for her children at the earliest possible moment, and weekly therapy sessions were the norm for everyone in her family. If a discussion became heated, at a moment when a rational person would seek the validation of some kind of authority, Joan would call a therapist and get a ruling. If the issue was of more than average importance, a time when a well-balanced person would rely on parental instincts, Joan would ... call two therapists. I wish I were making this up — psychologists, people noted for their low intellectual ambition, discipline and social standing, were Joan's ultimate source of authority.

    Because Joan paid her phony authorities, they nearly always agreed with whatever she chose to believe, thus enabling her narcissism — yes, dear, whatever you say, dear. If a rare principled psychologist should try to disagree, Joan would fire her and find another. At the end of the process, Joan would announce the result as though a scientific discovery had been made. No, dear reader, I'm not kidding — Joan really was this clueless and shallow.

    But Joan's attachment to psychology wasn't an idle pursuit with no consequence — she had gotten Jim a bogus diagnosis (Asperger Syndrome, described earlier in this article, a diagnosis that can fit nearly anyone and that psychologists have since abandoned), forced him into the "remedial" track at school, and, oblivious to how she looked, recited Jim's past behaviors in a way calculated to support the idea that he was mentally broken. She moved heaven and earth to delay his development, then got an unprincipled psychologist to describe him as "developmentally delayed" (today's replacement for the old term "retarded"), all to attract attention to herself. It became clear that Joan needed her children to be broken, to be in need of special attention, so Joan would appear to be an extraordinary and saintly parent. (It was at this point that I understood Jim's low self-esteem.)

    Digression: On reading this description, law enforcement professionals will likely recognize the signs of Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSP), a bizarre and dangerous syndrome in which a caregiver, usually a mother, invents or creates physical or psychological ailments in the children under her care. As it happens, at the time of these events, one such professional identified Joan as a Münchausen perpetrator. I say "perpetrator" because MSP is not a mental illness, it is a crime, a variety of child abuse. (This topic is more fully developed below.)

    To her everlasting credit, one prominent psychologist examined Jim and, impressed by his superior intellect and reasoning ability, recommended that he be allowed to pursue a normal life, join the mainstream at school and elsewhere. Joan immediately fired her.

    Over time it became obvious that Joan's intent was, not support or nurture, but control. If she had no chance to keep up with her son intellectually, she could instead exploit his trust and inexperience, create bogus authorities and diagnoses to recast his intellectual gifts as symptoms of mental disease, and turn him into someone she could control. But all this activity only postponed the moment when Jim, in spite of Joan's blocking maneuvers, would acquire enough life experience to realize what Joan was doing and why, and how her scheming worked against his legitimate interests.

    At this point my outlook should be obvious — psychology is an intermediate step between religion and science, with all the bad parts of religion and only the most superficial resemblance to science. People attracted to it tend to be those who are too smart for religion but not smart enough for science. Psychology wants to be perceived as part of medicine but it doesn't have the basis in evidence that would require. With respect to Jim, a focus on psychology could only postpone essential steps in his personal development that he would have to make up later, for a simple reason — he wasn't mentally ill, instead he had a severe case of intelligence, an affliction his parents showed no signs of, and one that psychologists haven't identified as a mental illness — yet.

  5. Hell Hath no Fury

    My views should have been as obvious to Joan as they were to Jim, but (if this isn't already clear) Joan was really, severely dysfunctional, quite unable to draw a reasonable conclusion from readily available evidence. On seeing the degree to which Jim and I got along, and the huge improvement in Jim's behavior and outlook over about a year of time, Joan somehow got it into her head that she and I were a match made in heaven (with an obvious subtext — she needed to start controlling me as well as Jim). I saw this happening, but my efforts to edit Joan's picture of reality were unsuccessful. I could simply have told her she was imagining things, but that would have immediately ended my friendship with her son, and I didn't want to take that risk.

    Then it came out that Joan's husband was having an affair. In retaliation, Joan chose a moment sitting next to her husband to announce that she loved me. Great, I thought — I'm expected to offer validation to this woman, sitting next to a man who had a history of violent behavior and who was in a court-ordered anger-management program. Apart from the fact that I and others found Joan to be a catastrophe with arms and legs, how could she not see that, all else aside, no sane person would dare provoke her mate — someone who had recently been dragged a mile outside a car while trying to attack its driver?

    Fully aware of what the result would be, I replied to Joan's amorous overture politely but in a way meant to discourage any fantasies. Joan finally got the point, and within 24 hours it was a classic case of "Hell hath no fury ..." — she became intent on removing me from her son's life. To those who wonder how Joan could rationalize expelling me given my beneficial effect on her son, I can only say that her son's welfare had never been a priority — not when she acquired a bogus psychological diagnosis, or removed him from the mainstream of life, or did what she could to undermine his self-esteem and the positive impression he created. Indeed, the only real obstacle had become me.

    So, given this, why didn't Joan just tell me to leave? That was certainly her right as a mother — but if she did that, Jim would realize he was losing a valued friend for no reason, and Joan would have to accept personal responsibility (something Joan never, ever did). Joan needed an excuse to hold someone else responsible — and within a short time, she came up with a dilly.

    Digression: Throughout human history, there have been accusations that, regardless of their falsity, completely undermined rational discourse and sent people running for their lives. At one time it was the claim that someone was a witch or a devil-worshiper. Later, you could reliably ruin someone's life by calling him a Communist, as in the famous case of Teller and Oppenheimer, two influential physicists. But in modern times the most toxic false accusation is sexual — someone is a sex criminal or a child molester.

    Such accusations have the property that they do maximum harm to the accused with minimal required evidence or risk to the accuser. As a result, they attract moral cowards like flies to honey.

    One obvious objection is that the accusation might backfire and destroy the accuser's life if they're exposed as liars. The answer is obvious — people who do this sort of thing typically have no lives to destroy.

    At this point Joan lost her tenuous grip on reality and her imagination began writing checks that her intellect couldn't cash — Joan tried to have an original thought. She wrote me and tried to claim that a child sitting on the lap of an adult, in and of itself, constitutes molestation. No, dear reader, I'm not making this up, and whether Joan realized it or not, no sane person would spend time in the company of someone this irrational, indeed under the circumstances the irrationality of the belief only added to its potency.

    In reply to a reader's inquiry about reasoning with Joan, showing her that her beliefs were fantasy, by that time I knew this wasn't possible. Let me explain — some time earlier I had begun a sentence by saying, "In my own defense...", at which point Joan interrupted: "What? People who defend themselves only look guilty, or as though they have something to hide!" I was rendered speechless in astonishment. Joan's absurd belief, of which I had been completely unaware, caused many things to fall into place — unwilling to test the value of her ideas, not unlike a bank unwilling to test the value of its borrowers, Joan lived a life of intellectual bankruptcy. And in a self-referential irony, at the center of her untestable beliefs was the idea that people must never doubt or defend their own beliefs.

    This key false belief explained much of her behavior, and revealed why, lacking any capacity for skepticism or critical thought, she was drowning in a toxic cesspool of untested ideas, like the idea that lapsitting equals molestation. I instantly regretted allowing myself to get so involved without first discovering this glaring intellectual defect. Among the thoughts that raced through my mind was the idea that, unwilling to defend her beliefs, she would quickly self-destruct in a courtroom. As subsequent events proved, I had no idea how right that was, or how soon I would find out.

    On reflection I can't decide whether "Lapsitting is molestation" or "Defending yourself only makes you look guilty" was Joan's personal low water mark for Potemkin village thinking, the kind of thinking reserved to those with no measurable core reasoning ability. But more to the point, Joan's lapsitting claim instantly ended my friendship with Jim. I realized if Joan could say something this stupid in an email, she would say anything, anywhere, without overmuch concern about the possibility of a collision with reality. It had become apparent that she was not just stupid, she was dangerously stupid, Crystal Gail Mangum stupid, Nicola Osborne stupid, Shannon Taylor stupid. Stupid raised to an art form.

  6. The Plea

    Jim didn't understand any of the above. Almost perfectly isolated, and now deprived of a temporary dissenting voice, all he knew was what his mother told him. Nevertheless, once he realized I wouldn't be visiting any more, he phoned to ask for a resumption of our friendship. As one would expect from Jim, his plea was perfectly logical — there was nothing inappropriate in our friendship, we both benefited from it, therefore it should continue.

    In reply I addressed Jim just as though he were an adult, which had been my practice until then anyway, but not with respect to this sensitive, adult topic. I explained that Joan's life was ruled by belief, not evidence — she held true any number of nonsense beliefs and New Age superstitions, including a few that she embraced with religious fervor. Then I recited Joan's lapsitting-as-molestation belief and explained that it was Joan's desperate, irrational way to avoid personal responsibility and inject the toxic word "molestation" into the conversation. I went on to say that a small minority of women make false sexual accusations and almost always get away with them [1],[2],[3], Joan gave every sign that she was such a person, and I wouldn't take the risk. I really liked having Jim as a friend, but Joan was more than irrational — she was dangerous.

    Jim aggressively replied — there was no way his mother would make a false accusation, and he frankly began to doubt my judgment and commitment to our friendship. Jim's idealism, his belief in honesty and fair dealing, was perfect, and I would love to have supported it, but I could see what was coming, even if he couldn't. His was a perfect expression of high principles, and for once I hated being the voice of reason and experience. Jim obviously found this exchange emotionally upsetting — because his mother had isolated him from reality, and to a greater extent than normal for a boy his age, she was the center of his world.

    After a long, uncomfortable pause, Jim and I switched to a more pleasant and less emotionally charged topic, discussed the Riemann Zeta Function for a few minutes, then signed off.

    As events were to prove, Jim had no idea how wrong he was, but worse, I had no idea how right I was. Jim's excuse was that he was 13, inexperienced, overly trusting. I had no excuse.

    Looking forward a bit farther, after that conversation I didn't have a chance to speak to my young friend for four years. As I predicted, using methods that ranged from ineffective to despicable, and with the unethical assistance of psychologists, Joan resumed her campaign to persuade her son that he was mentally broken and completely dependent on her. But ultimately this was all to unravel, because during our friendship I helped Jim discover something Joan desperately fought to conceal — Jim wasn't a diagnosis, he was a human being. He had the right to self-respect and to a future.

    Now back to our story.

  7. Dangerous Lies

    Up to the day of the plea described above, Joan had been asking me to resume my friendship with her son, arguing that my departure would hurt his development*("Your continued presence in his life is more than welcome ..."), but sensing what she was capable of, I refused. It then dawned on Joan that, despite all her scheming, I and my money were about to slip from her grasp. So, unable to accept personal responsibility and possessing the ethics of a rattlesnake, Joan cashed in her son's trust and loyalty — she penned a bizarre civil court petition, composed of lies from top to bottom, including one egregious lie that assured a hearing.

    For those unfamiliar with the civil court system, it's meant to deal with disputes between individuals, not crimes or matters in which the state has an interest, but some people try to make criminal accusations in civil court, even though this makes them appear opportunistic and ignorant. To say this in the simplest way, if you want justice, you appeal to the criminal court system, but if you want money, civil court is the right choice. Joan wanted money.

    All I needed to do was show up and say I had assembled a complete archive of Joan's emails, her past written words flatly contradicted her present claims (I included one quotation to make the point), and her claims were absolutely false. On discovering I had kept her emails and knowing what they contained, Joan abruptly fell silent*(in court, silence in the face of an accusation concedes the truth of the accuser's claim), the court drew the obvious conclusion — that she was lying — and ruled that it would give no consideration to her claims.

  8. The Awakening

    After the hearing I ran a background check and discovered Joan had falsely accused other men in nearly identical circumstances — she had a history of false sexual accusations under oath. Obviously I should have run this check before becoming friends with her son, but I am (or was) in some ways overly trusting.

    Meanwhile, being curious and resourceful, Jim quickly found out about the hearing. I can't imagine what went through Jim's mind when he realized the moral focus of his life had done exactly what I predicted she would do, but I can say how he reacted — he resolved never to speak to Joan again, and took the first steps to remove himself from a dangerous environment. How Joan expected to keep the fact of a civil court hearing, by definition a matter of public record, from her son, is beyond me, but we've already established that she is severely dysfunctional.

    As this woman's sordid history came to light, I regretted not producing a more detailed courtroom presentation. Not that it mattered in any practical sense — through her silence Joan conceded she was lying, the court responded by ruling that it would give no consideration to her claims, and it's hard to improve on that under the circumstances. Nevertheless, I had uncovered some facts about Joan that needed to be in the public record so she would have a harder time victimizing others. But another hearing was unlikely — I'm not one of those brainless people who thinks there is some clear advantage to be gained by instituting courtroom proceedings.

  9. "Shut Up," She Explained

    As it happens, I had once again underestimated Joan's avarice and stupidity. Six months later, still hoping to cash in and congenitally incapable of accepting a responsibility that was clearly hers, Joan composed another civil court petition that tried to blame me for destroying her relationship with her son, insisted on suppression of an earlier version of this article, and demanded that I not reveal to "anyone, anywhere" what happened in the first hearing.

    On hearing Joan's unconstitutional effort to deny freedom of expression and demand silence about her past, the court immediately saw what she was up to. In order for social parasites*(defined as people whose life focus it is to find and exploit weaknesses in social institutions) like Joan to continue victimizing people, and to avoid criminal prosecution, they must keep their victims from speaking out or discovering each other. In a now-famous story from England, a more accomplished social parasite accused at least seven men, most of whom understandably chose not to reveal their experiences, and one of whom was thrown in jail for three years, before she was finally exposed as a sociopath and liar and her innocent victims freed. My point is that daylight — exposure — destroys the sick, dangerous game these people play, and that is one reason for this article.

    Apart from that, what was Joan thinking — how could she not realize how I would respond, given her lurid background and the time I had to investigate and prepare? And how could she not foresee that her new claim — her report of her son's reaction, in particular his horrified, vigorous denial of Joan's orginal accusation, proved that she had lied? Was she really that clueless?

    Digression: At this point I ask my readers to try to imagine a scene in which a presiding judge, confronted by an obviously irrational housewife, finds that he must explain the meaning of free speech to her, as though she is an overgrown, backward child, unable to grasp that (a) it's in the public interest that her dangerous behavior become widely known, and (b) the publication (this article) is a fully justified exercise of the right of free speech.

    In my prepared remarks, I described how Joan spent seven months trying to get me together with her son, finally showing up with him in tow. She saw her son's outlook improve greatly as a result of my presence in his life (and I quoted her to that effect), but made furious by my rejection of her amorous overtures, she drove me away with her bizarre lapsitting belief, then reversed course and insisted that I stay involved in her son's development. Finally, having failed in all these schemes, in the first hearing she tried to accuse me of something vile and false, an accusation flatly contradicted by her prior written words. I added that Jim's teachers and others, aware of the advanced courses he was taking, vigorously objected to Joan's effort to brand him "developmentally delayed." I concluded by saying Joan's earlier accusation was part of a history of false sexual accusations under oath, and she was severely dysfunctional.

    Joan, who was served with my statement in advance, had been warned what "severely dysfunctional" meant, apart from its obvious truth. If she didn't object and thereby made it a stipulation (an issue on which both sides agree), she would no longer be able to enter into legally binding contracts, but if she did object and thereby made her mental state material to the proceeding, I was ready to prove she was a Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy perpetrator, and she would very likely lose custody of her children (because of the danger these people pose — from 9 to 31 percent of the children die at their mothers' hands). So, now trapped in her own web, Joan fell silent and offered no defense whatever ("People who defend themselves only look guilty!"), thus conceding the truth of my claims — they were placed in the public record, where they stand today, waiting for her to make another false accusation.

    Because of the detailed recitation of fact I provided, in which Joan exploited her own children to craft a series of dangerous lies against multiple victims, and because she offered not one word in defense, by the end of the hearing the court's contempt for Joan finally equalled my own. Noting Joan's inability to defend herself*(in civil court, the parties are on an equal footing — both must be prepared to defend their statements and actions) and her self-contradicting claims, the court congratulated me on my presentation and gaveled the hearing to a close.

    I remind my readers this was Joan's hearing, not mine — as with the first, she struggled and lied to acquire it*(regardless of the nature of her claims, a mother of minor children can always get a hearing — this doesn't mean the hearing won't backfire spectacularly). Now, because of what she has forced into the public record and because of changing public perceptions [1],[2], if she makes another false accusation, notwithstanding an official reluctance to punish mental defectives, she is to be prosecuted. Also and ironically, because of her history of false claims, if a real sex criminal should appear in her life, the authorities would reject her report — she has willingly demolished her personal credibility. She has erased the distinction between truth and falsehood, and lives in the resulting moral twilight.

    When I first met Joan, as a seasoned world traveler I thought I had seen everything, but a year later I had learned something new — there are people among us who are free to say and do anything, ignore any behavioral standard, violate any law, with the active collusion of modern psychology and its ever-lengthening list of bogus mental illnesses. If, as in this case, it's proved that such a person has lied under oath about vile crimes, too stupid and careless to avoid contradicting their own past words —

    "During this one year of your interaction, [Jim] has grown up from a child to a teenager, and I credit you with part of his positive outlook on life today."
    — they can (and do) avoid the legal and moral consequences by saying in essence, "You can't hold me responsible — I'm sick in the head! I have an official psychological diagnosis! Show some charity! Would you laugh at a handicapped person in the street?"

    The above is a recitation of actual events. Any intelligent person could easily have foreseen the consequences of repeatedly lying under oath about vile crimes, in performances that became part of easily accessed public records. But Joan wasn't an intelligent person — she had the common sense of an eggplant and the conceptual shallowness of a Potemkin village. And the psychologists loved her — she was their bread and butter.

  10. The Finale

    As soon as he liberated himself, Jim contacted me and we resumed our friendship. Now that Asperger Syndrome has been abandoned by psychologists, it's difficult for anyone to try to claim it for themselves (in spite of its attractiveness, as mental illnesses go), so he says little about that, except to assure me he never reveals it to employers.

    I see Jim as a person well-suited to modern times — he will be a successful adult and have rewarding occupations. Indeed, in spite of a severe economic downturn, upon leaving school he immediately acquired a high-technology position with substantial responsibility (apparently Joan wasn't able to persuade Jim's employer that he is "developmentally delayed"). He is not mentally ill. He is not handicapped — in my view, to try to describe intelligence as a handicap is a crime without a name.

    Jim's self-esteem now corresponds to his abilities and prospects, he has a number of close friends, and he works productively in team environments — all behaviors believed difficult or impossible for Asperger's sufferers. It's well-established that many Asperger's sufferers improve on reaching adulthood, in some cases eventually showing no symptoms at all, an outcome psychologists can't explain. In this case and in my opinion, the explanation is obvious: Jim never had a mental illness — the entire episode was fueled by Joan's mental illness, hence the title of this article.

    It may be years before Jim acquires the social perspective required to understand what was done to him as a child, why Joan and her therapist enablers did it, and what it reveals about the field of psychology and about society. But I don't have that burden — it's obvious to me that psychology exemplifies the worst kind of social institution, one that supports beliefs and practices that have no basis in evidence, panders to the irrational beliefs of clients, and offers phony authority to people like Joan.

  11. Analysis

    When I first met Jim, we immediately began discussing an advanced mathematical topic, and this discussion set the pattern for our many future encounters. After that first meeting I tried to thank Joan for introducing me to such an intelligent, creative boy, only to see her strenuously object that he was actually retarded ("developmentally delayed") and mentally ill. I was at a loss for words — Joan was speaking of a boy who taught himself Calculus at age 12.

    Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy

    I then listened to Joan describe Jim's "medical plan", even though psychology is not a medical field and Jim had no medical difficulties. Over time, with the aid of research, observation and the advice of professionals, I reluctantly concluded that Joan was a Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSP) perpetrator (officially defined as a dangerous syndrome in which a caregiver, usually a mother, invents or creates physical or psychological ailments in the children under her care). Over a period of years Joan had constructed an elaborate fantasy in which every behavior that placed Jim ahead of the average child was actually a sign of mental illness and retardation.

    If Jim had been Joan's only victim, there might have been room for doubt, but each of her children got the same treatment — at a very early age each was diagnosed with one or more bogus psychological ailments, each then received an elaborate, nonsense "medical plan," a plan only fully understood, and raptly described, by Joan. Then, with a diagnosis as cover, Joan did all she could to induce abnormal behavior in her children, each of whom eventually became suicidal.

    For those who doubt Joan's diagnosis, I offer this written exchange:

    • Me: "By reciting news events in this lurid way, as though she's a victim, you're terrorizing your daughter!"
    • Joan: "Parents have always terrorized their children. Besides, she's been put in therapy, so everything will be all right."

    Joan actually talked this way, quite oblivious to how she sounded. I tried to imagine Joan's daughter on a couch, analyzing a childhood that had scarcely begun.

    In its series of MSP reports (see reference list below), the FBI surmises that the perpetrator's motive is to outwit medical professionals and manipulate the system to give the perpetrator unearned attention. But having observed Joan at close range over about a year, I think there's more to it than that. I think an additional motive might have been to keep her children from growing up, keep them in a perpetual state of infantile dependence, and to make them as much as possible like the dolls she played with as a child. Dolls are much more satisfactory than real children — you can rip off their arms and legs, then, in a private Florence Nightingale fantasy, heroically "cure" them. And dolls never complain or grow up — they are pleasingly silent and cooperative. But children aren't dolls — they grow up and become adults, with adult perceptions — and to struggle against reality, to pretend children are perpetual broken infant dolls, eventually does enormous harm.

    None of this analysis should be confused with sympathy for MSP perpetrators — they're extremely dangerous people. Many of their children die at their hands, and they spend much of their time accusing others of vile behaviors in a strategy meant to deflect attention from themselves. And in a tragic irony, because of a lack of scientific and professional discipline in the field, psychologists often become unwitting accomplices to these crimes.

    Digression: Why is the FBI the primary information source about MSP? Why do psychologists fail to recognize and diagnose this dangerous condition? Easily explained — virtually all MSP perpetrators are women, the majority of psychologists and psychology clients are women, and many of those clients are mothers with minor children. If word spread that psychologists were willing to diagnose MSP, clients would bail and the psychology business would collapse. As explained above, psychology is a business, not a science.

    Readers of earlier versions of this article have asked why I didn't call Child Protective Services — isn't this a textbook example where intervention is called for? Well, of course I did call them, and their reply was essentially, "Yes, thank you, we know about Joan, we're monitoring the situation." As it turns out, MSP and related conditions are common enough that social agencies won't take action unless a child is injured or dies. And before you complain, ask yourself whether you're willing to pay the higher taxes a more aggressive approach would require.

    But the foregoing means these people are at large in society, free to manifest their dysfunctions on their children, on teachers, and on anyone foolish enough to trust them. Notwithstanding my age and wide experience, Joan was the most predatory, toxic organism I have ever encountered, entirely self-defeating, and because of a complete absence of personal responsibility or common sense, an ideal candidate for modern psychology, which took her money and did all it could to support her sociopathic behaviors.

    Among Joan's stellar accomplishments was the fact that, of those who lived in the same house with her, all (adults and children) either escaped or began to discuss suicide. One had only to spend a few minutes listening to her bizarre description of reality to discover there are just two kinds of people — those who uncritically embrace her twisted beliefs, and sex criminals. At first I thought she was funny in a tragic sort of way, but this was before I discovered she regularly lied under oath, dependent on the charity of the legal system — a charity that has since evaporated.

    The good news in this story is that each of Joan's children eventually designed and executed their own "medical plans" — they got away from their toxic mother.

    Airhead Syndrome

    There isn't a listing for airhead syndrome in the DSM (psychology's "bible"), but there ought to be — it's trivial to diagnose and very common. Scientists, jurists and educated people understand that claims are assumed to be false unless proven true, and a claim's originator has the entire burden of evidence. But airheads (and children) think claims are assumed to be true unless proven false, and the burden of evidence belongs to someone else. In case you wonder how TV production companies can air phony documentaries about Bigfoot, ghost encounters and alien abductions, it's airhead syndrome — no one has proven these ideas false, therefore they must be true.

    Why is it a mistake to assume claims are true unless proven false? Easily explained — let's say I'm an airhead who believes in Bigfoot. According to the airhead thesis, Bigfoot exists unless someone can prove he doesn't exist. But think about this — Bigfoot cannot possibly be proven not to exist somewhere in the universe, hiding under some rock. In formal logic, a disproof would require "proof of a negative", an impossible evidentiary burden. Therefore a skeptical, scientific outlook, the opposite of airhead syndrome, is essential to avoid wasting time on childish fantasies.

    Joan had a severe case of airhead syndrome, but by the time I realized this, I was already committed to getting her son past the more toxic parts of her world view. Her later collision with legal reality was an ugly thing to watch — as far as Joan was concerned, if she could pen a list of ridiculous claims and spell all the words right, that was the end of the process, she had won. But because the legal system honors the scientific outlook, Joan was required to defend herself, to substantiate her claims, which meant writing a petition could only begin the process. In each of her courtroom appearances Joan offered no substance, in fact said nothing at all ("People who defend themselves only look guilty!"), then was outraged that her victims didn't disprove her claims, never understanding that they didn't have to — the burden of evidence was hers and hers alone, just as in science. And the reason she wasn't prosecuted for the repeated felony crime of lying under oath wasn't because the court found her credible, but because the state didn't want to take responsibility for her children.

    When I first visited Joan's house, I noticed that, when she began discussing politics, Jim would promptly get up and leave the room. Joan would rationalize this as a symptom of Jim's mental illness, then proceed to make her political point. But I quickly realized that, to Joan, political discussions meant revealing which single viewpoint was correct — in other words, Joan's political discussions were actually religious sermons. (In a real political discussion, there are as many legitimate viewpoints as there are participants.) After a few examples of this behavior, I, too, would get up and leave the room, leaving a teapot and a cat to hear Joan's uninterrupted diatribe.

    My point? A given person's capacity for skepticism and critical thinking lies on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum are scientists, who humbly and sincerely test their ideas against reality — who defend their ideas — and dispassionately discard ideas unsupported by reliable evidence. On the other end are airheads like Joan, people for whom the expression "constructive dialog" means flying an airplane into a building.

    There's a reason airhead syndrome doesn't appear in the DSM — most psychologists suffer from it. To become a psychologist one must accept as true any number of ideas that lack evidence and that sometimes contradict each other, as a result of which modern psychological training has become a filter that selects mental mediocrities and expels any science-minded students skeptical enough to say, "Wait, what?"

    On that basis, I must warn my readers that if they want to learn the value of critical thinking, of testing ideas against reality, don't bother going to a psychologist for help, because if psychologists actually understood the value of critical thinking, they wouldn't be psychologists.

    Asperger Syndrome Update

    Since this article's original publication in 2005, and in part because of it, psychologists have abandoned Asperger Syndrome, on the ground that it doesn't refer to anything real — or, as one prominent psychologist says, "it's not an evidence-based term.".

    The history of human psychology can be looked on as a series of seeming breakthroughs, followed by embarrassed abandonments (more detail here). Asperger's follows the classic pattern — initially seen as a way to identify mentally ill people on the Autism spectrum, Asperger's is being abandoned after an epidemic of nonsense diagnoses of otherwise normal people, mostly above average in intelligence, but usually too young and inexperienced to understand the long-term consequences of receiving a mental illness diagnosis.

    Asperger's has something in common with many other psychological diagnoses — it relies too much on the personal beliefs of psychologists and too little on objective reality. After its inclusion in DSM-IV, Asperger's became wildly popular because it seemed applicable to nearly anyone (which makes psychologists happy), but things quickly got out of control. In response, and to prevent further damage to psychology, the same people who voted Asperger's into DSM-IV did an about-face and voted it out of DSM-5, published in 2013. (Psychologists create and destroy mental illnesses, not with science, but with votes.)

    To understand the reason for the Asperger's epidemic and its aftermath, readers should realize this article's narrative represents just one of tens of thousands of similar stories — of people too smart for religion but not smart enough for science, people too twisted and insecure to offer conventional nurture to their children, people who think themselves extraordinarily clever but who can't imagine how they look to others. In other words, malicious airheads — psychology's natural constituency.

    In a related development, in 2013 the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) ruled that the DSM will no longer be accepted as the basis for scientific research proposals, for the simple reason that it has no scientific content. In explanation, NIMH director Thomas Insel said about the DSM that "... each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways. The weakness is its lack of validity". Many see this historic ruling as the first step in the demotion of psychology to the status of astrology.

    Imagine if science were run like psychology: "Is there life on Mars? Rockets are expensive — let's vote!"

    Better, imagine if medicine were run like psychology: "We've finally cured cancer — see? We voted the word 'cancer' out of this medical textbook."

    False Accusers

    Recent advances in forensic science, in particular DNA testing, have produced a shocking statistic — in a multi-year study, FBI Crime Labs has found that 20% of sexual accusations are proven false in laboratory tests and another 20% are doubtful. This finding is influential among law enforcement officials because of its source — FBI Labs had every incentive to discover that the evidence gathered by its agents turned out to be factual, but they simply couldn't. Expressed in everyday terms, of 100 sex crime reports filed by women, somewhere between 20 and 40 are false.

    Wendy McElroy, editor of ifeminists.com, said about this finding, "... even a skeptic like me must credit a DNA exclusion rate of 20 percent that remained constant over several years when conducted by FBI labs. This is especially true when 20 percent more were found to be questionable. False accusations are not rare. They are common."

    This is not to suggest that women are less truthful than men overall — the above applies only to those who report sex crimes. But even though men and women are equally untruthful, the lies told by men differ from those told by women. A man's most toxic lie might ruin someone's day, but a woman's most toxic lie might ruin someone's life.

    Equality

    A number of people have written to complain about my blunt description of "Joan Smith", as though women should not be so described (example: "What Do You Have Against Women?"). But I wasn't describing a woman, I was describing a criminal who happened to be a woman, and whose particular crimes are unique to women. The fact that she was a woman deserves mention (only women make this particular kind of false accusation under oath, and only women suffer from Münchausen by Proxy Syndrome) but is otherwise irrelevant. Interestingly, no one has written to complain about how I describe her husband — remember, the borderline psychopath who was dragged outside a car while attacking its driver? It's as though women belong in a sheltered category, on a pedestal, beyond criticism regardless of how outrageous their behavior.

    But that attitude reflects an embarrassing level of sexism, and those days are past. In modern times, women justly demand equality at the voting booth and the pay window (equal rights). The next equality frontier, just coming into view, will change how women are treated in courtrooms and elsewhere (equal responsibilities). Together, these rights and responsibilities are called "gender equality" and they're here to stay. The women I most admire are those who look forward to gender equality and who are fully prepared to meet its requirements.

    To put this in the simplest way, if you are a woman and want to be a scientist, an astronaut, or a captain of industry, then you must be treated just like a man — it's the law. In the same way, if you are a parasite like Joan who abuses her children and victimizes people in the community around her, then ... wait for it ... you must be treated just like a man — it's the law. Gender equality means women must be treated just like men. Does anyone find this either confusing or undesirable?

    Feminist Maureen Reagan said, "I will feel equality has arrived when we can elect to office women who are as incompetent as some of the men who are already there." This is an astute observation, one I agree with. But let me add this — I will feel equality has arrived when women who repeatedly lie under oath about sex crimes must be listed in online sex predator registries, so their neighbors will know how dangerous they are.

To close on a positive note, we can look at Jim, a very intelligent individual who came to a crossroad — to remain his mother's broken doll, or to become a functioning adult, ready to positively influence the world — and who made the rational choice. When this happens, I think we all benefit.

References

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