Jan 26, 2017

Barbara Kay: U of T's 'antipsychiatry' scholarship - and not believing in mental illness - is an attack on science

National Post
Barbara Kay
January 10, 2017

In November, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), an all-graduate school at the University of Toronto, announced it had established a world first, a scholarship in the “field” of antipsychiatry, to be named after its primary instructor, Bonnie Burstow, an associate professor in OISE’s Adult Education and Community Development department.

Burstow believes there is no proven biological basis for mental illness. She believes that psychiatric treatment — including drugs — is inherently oppressive and a violation of human rights.

If the image of Tom Cruise springs to mind at this revelation, you’re not alone. Burstow’s beliefs fall right into line with the Scientology “religion,” for which Cruise is a much-beloved and valuable poster boy. In fact, its Canadian chapter of the Citizens Commission of Human Rights, established in 1969 by the Church of Scientology to promote its antipsychiatry agenda, stated on its Facebook page that Burstow’s appointment was “very, very good news,” describing Burstow as “a rock star.”

Burstow is clearly a social justice warrior first and a scholar second. She says, “The long history of psychiatry is the long history of pathologizing women … It is also an institution that pathologizes Blacks, lesbians and gays. This intersectionality analysis is readily available through an antipsychiatry lens.”

To be fair to Barstow, her distrust of psychiatry is not unfounded. For decades, psychoanalysis — often confused with psychiatry, but not a scientific discipline or necessarily premised on a prior medical degree — was wrongly regarded with near-religious awe as a panacea to humanity’s ills. Many analysts did no harm, but others exploited their prestige to promote bizarre theories and, eventually, make psychoanalysis a sidebar in the treatment of mental illness.

Psychiatry, which does require a medical degree, is another story. It has been a work in progress. It is true that psychiatrists gave their imprimatur to homosexuality as a disorder. It is true that schizophrenia and depression were once treated in ways we now regard as unethical. It is true that Freudians infantilized women. But Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, portrayed the damaging effect of Freudian thinking in the metaphorical castration of men. That’s to say, psychiatry did not single out women or minorities for special intimidation. Psychiatry’s growing pains affected everyone.

But that was then. As in all medical disciplines, mistakes beget progress. Through scientific and pharmacological advances, psychiatry is a much changed discipline today. For Burstow to claim there is “no proven biological basis for mental illness” is demonstrably untrue. Countless studies have proved beyond any doubt that there is a genetic basis for all major psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder and depression. One might just as well deny a genetic-biological basis for diabetes (which I believe Burstow’s Scientology fan club does).

True disciplines spring from pure intellectual curiosity, not the pursuit of social justice. They build on collaboration with similarly engaged scholars. Fact is piled on fact, theories are debated, evidence is adduced, lively debate ensues, and eventually a body of credible knowledge is established. Real scholarship is “for” truth. The whole idea of any scholarly field being called “anti” anything is bizarre, and runs counter to the raison d’être of the university. The prefix “anti” tells us that Burstow’s program is merely organized political activism with OISE’s endorsement and the use of their resources. And her stated goal, to “spur alternate ways of arranging society so that we aren’t inventing diseases,” contains a demonstrable lie in the service of an extreme social-engineering agenda.

It is quite disturbing that at this institute of higher learning, which presided over the discovery of insulin, stem cells, and the antipsychotic Dopamime 2, a dean and his advisers would approve this endowment in perpetuity on the grounds of “academic freedom.” And hypocritical. As we know from too many previous controversial stories, OISE’s concept of academic freedom is a one-way street: political correctness rules, and those that are incorrect find their freedom narrowly constrained.

Even though there isn’t a shred of biological proof to uphold the feminist thesis that men and women are socially constructed for difference, and plenty of biological evidence to show that they are inherently different, for example, we will never see an endowed scholarship in the field of “Anti-Feminism” at OISE. On the other hand, given OISE’s enthusiastic history in promoting anti-Israel activism, a future scholarship in “Anti-Zionism” would not surprise me.

Real academics are distressed by the Burstow scholarship; indeed many are agitated and with reason. Hamilton psychiatrist Dr. David Laing Dawson posed Burstow a question: “Your university has a Faculty of Medicine and a Department of Psychiatry. You are already on salary, I presume. Why don’t you offer to participate in Faculty of Medicine seminars and lectures and workshops to promote your ideas and opinions?”

Why? Because that would be the reasonable — and ethical — thing to do. Shame on OISE for setting this terrible precedent.


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