Friday, September 24, 2004

Sydney psychiatrist guilty of murdering health chief

A former Sydney psychiatrist has been found guilty of murdering South Australia's mental health chief. Jean Eric Gassy, 48, was found guilty by a South Australian Supreme Court jury.

He was found to have murdered Dr Margaret Tobin, SA's Human Services Department's director of mental health services, by shooting her in the back at her Adelaide city office block on October 14, 2002. Gassy, from Oyster Bay in Sydney's south, had plead not guilty to the charge.

During the two-month trial, the prosecution alleged Gassy gunned down Dr Tobin because he harboured resentment towards her over the role she played in having him deregistered as a psychiatrist in 1997. But Gassy told the trial Dr Tobin was a closet lesbian and her real killer was a member of the lesbian underground.

Monday, September 13, 2004

The Decline of the Psych Personality Test

As seen in the Boston Globe

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI, is taken by as many as 15 million people a year and used to screen applicants for jobs from police officer to nuclear technician to priest. Eighty-nine companies in the Fortune 100 use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to determine how and with whom their employees work best. The Rorschach test, the granddaddy of them all, is used diagnostically by eight out of 10 psychologists and routinely submitted as evidence in child custody cases, criminal sentencing, and emotional damage lawsuits. Online dating sites even use personality tests to help match prospective couples.

Clearly, there's something about the elusive notion of personality, and the possibility of capturing it, that draws us to these tests. But an increasingly vocal group of critics is fighting this testing tsunami, arguing that many of the tests themselves have not been tested and that their unscientific conclusions may do far more harm than good. Last year, in "What's Wrong with the Rorschach? Science Confronts the Controversial Inkblot Test" (California), four psychologists dismissed the Rorschach test as having no more validity than "tea-leaf reading and tarot cards." In "The Cult of Personality: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves" (Free Press), due out later this month, Annie Murphy Paul, a former senior editor of Psychology Today, charges that personality tests "are often invalid, unreliable, and unfair" and that their prevalence has grave consequences, not least the distortion of the very idea of human nature to fit their arbitrary dictates.

Part of a much larger article, reviewing the situation for each of the major tests. Bottom line: bad science used far more often and in situations that even the original authors did not envision, nevermind intend

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Illegal Psych Scam closed down in Mexico

As seen in various reports from Yahoo news and elsewhere

Authorities closed three rehabilitation centers in northern Mexico this week and deported hundreds of U.S. teenagers sent there for treatment of drug, alcohol or behavior problems, immigration officials said on Saturday.

Authorities shut the three centers in the Baja California towns of Ensenada and Rosarito (after a surprise raid on the psych facilities) on Friday and began deporting 590 youths, many of whom were in Mexico illegally. A man who answered the phone at one of the centers identified by the immigration officials, the House of Hope Academy in the Pacific coastal town of Ensenada, refused to comment. The other two centers could not be immediately identified and contacted for comment.

Mexico investigated the centers after complaints of maltreatment, and found the youths had entered Mexico as tourists, not residents of treatment programs, the National Immigration Institute said. Immigration officials also said at least one of the centers was run by an American who had also entered on a tourist visa and had no legal right to run a business in Mexico.

"Seventy-five percent of the undocumented Americans have left the country. The rest will stay in the care of the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana until their parents are contacted," said Raul Zarate, spokesman for the immigration institute. The youths were residents at the centers, which treat behavioral problems, drug and alcohol abuse, the Mexican authorities said.

The immigration institute said in a statement the centers had been closed by the state health ministry after patients complained of physical and psychological abuses.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Strong warnings expected on antidepressants for kids

As reported in USA Today

Scientific advisers to the Food and Drug Administration next week are expected to recommend tougher warning labels or other restrictions on antidepressants linked to suicidal behavior in children.

More than 1 million U.S. children take the pills. A re-analysis of studies, released last month, confirmed that those on antidepressants may be nearly twice as likely to become suicidal as kids given sugar pills, and some drugs appear to raise the risk much more than others.

There were no suicides in the 4,250 children studied, but experts think a "wait and see" approach isn't likely.

"They're going to have to do something," says Graham Emslie, child and adolescent psychiatrist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "The horror stories have been just too horrible, and their advisory committee is going to be influenced." [...]

After March, there was a sharp drop in pediatric users of antidepressants, according to an analysis for USA TODAY by Medco, a large pharmaceutical benefit management firm. Records show a 10% decline in patients under 18 taking the drugs in the three months after the March warnings, says spokeswoman Jennifer Leone.

Psych drug companies are expected to do something to stem the tide of falling profits.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Negatives Results to get much more exposure

Editors at 11 international science journals have imposed a new policy that will result in the public release of negative medical research that pharmaceutical companies often prefer to hide.

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors will require, as a condition for publication, that researchers register their studies in a public repository before undertaking clinical trials on volunteers.

"Honest reporting begins with revealing the existence of all clinical studies, even those that reflect unfavourably on a research sponsor's product," the committee wrote in an editorial to appear simultaneously in its member journals. "Unfortunately, selective reporting of trials does occur, and it distorts the body of evidence available for clinical decision-making."

The committee includes editors from the US-based New England Journal of Medicine, the Medical Journal of Australia and Britain's The Lancet, among others.

The policy was prompted by the tendency among pharmaceutical companies to hide negative research. A recent example was a non-published study on anti-depressants that could aggravate suicidal tendencies among adolescents.

The policy applies to clinical trials starting after July 1, 2005. Current trials have until September 13, 2005 to do so, according to the editorial published in the September 16 edition of the New Journal of Medicine.