The conversation concerning Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia (hereafter UPS) took another wrong turn with extended references to Nazism and the Holocaust in a blog post by Peter Kinderman, Me, my brain and baked beans. Goodwin’s rule is once again confirmed.
Peter Kinderman is one of the main spokespersons for the British Psychological Society UPS document. The blog further identifies him as a Professor at University of Liverpool, and the President-elect of the British Psychological Society.
Godwin’s Rule or Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies is “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.“ Michael Godwin elaborates on it in I Seem To Be A Verb: 18 Years of Godwin’s Law:
I created Godwin’s Law and began to repeat it in online forums whenever I encountered a silly comparison of someone or something to Hitler or to the Nazis…. My feeling is that “Never Again” loses its meaning if we don’t regularly remind ourselves of the terrible inflection point marked in human culture by the Holocaust. Sure, there has been genocide before that point and genocide after it, but to see an advanced, highly civilized nation warp itself into something capable of creating such a horror—well, I think Nazi Germany does count as a first in that regard. And to a great extent, our challenge as human beings who live in the period after that inflection point is that we no longer can be passive about history—we have a moral obligation to do what we can to prevent such events from ever happening again. Key to that obligation is remembering, which is what Godwin’s Law is all about.
Those horrified by the Holocaust as a unique historical event see invoking it casually in political or professional rivalries as a “gross misappropriation of the past and an obscene misuse of history.”
The continued misuse and trivialization of the word prompted Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and chronicler of the Holocaust, to discontinue using it. “Whatever mishap occurs now, they call it ‘holocaust,'” Wiesel said. “I have seen it myself in television in the country in which I live. A commentator describing the defeat of a sports team, somewhere, called it a ‘holocaust.'”
This will be a long read edition of PLOS Mind the Brain because of extensive direct quotes from BPS President-elect Kinderman. His statements strain all credibility. I don’t want any ambiguity as to whether I made them up.
Readers are encouraged to retrieve Kinderman’s blog post and see for themselves. It is posted at the anti-psychiatry blog, Mad in America.
A résumé of what his blog reveals
- President-elect Kinderman has unusual psychological experiences which he traces to growing up in a family environment with a harsh, unloving mother.
- In ways that frighten him, he fantasizes about winning Nobel or Pulitzer prizes and being awarded knighthood. And “I lurch forwards and jump to conclusions in my mental logic.” He is prone to tangential connectivity and abstract, ‘clang’ associations.
- He believes that these experiences would have caused him to be castrated if the Nazis had won World War II.
- He believes that those who adhere to what he terms a disease model of psychological disorder are essentially following the Nazis.
- He believes the connection is obvious to friends and colleagues, who consider him brave in making it public.
- He makes extensive references to the Holocaust in developing his argument.
- Kinderman is particularly frightened by advocates of this disease model because of the rise of right-wing political parties in Europe.
- He ends with a plea “don’t use the ‘disease-model’ as a framework.”
A résumé of my commentary
- Kinderman sees his unusual experiences as giving him privileged status to condemn those who accept the biomedical model of psychopathology.
- He invokes the Holocaust and Nazi analogy to bolster his argument in what he sees as a turf war between his supporters and psychiatrists. Actually, the overwhelming majority of academic mental health professionals accept some version of a biomedical model.
- He has long been caricaturing psychiatric diagnosis in reductionist terms, referring to the biomedical model as a “genetic disease” model. But by invoking the Holocaust and the Nazis, he is excluding himself from participation in any subsequent conversation.
- Until President-elect Kinderman apologizes to the larger community which accepts the need to protect the memory of Holocaust from such desecration, the credibility of the British Psychological Society remains damaged. The BPS Board of Trustees should condemn him or accept responsibility for having such a spokesperson.
- Kinderman indicates that his blog is “a slightly longer version” of an article published elsewhere. The earlier article lacked any reference to the Holocaust or Nazis and he expresses appreciation to Anne Cooke for editing the transition. She therefore shares responsibility with Kinderman for the references to the Holocaust and Nazis. She is similarly disqualified as a participant in any conversation in the social media until she apologizes.
- In place of scientific evidence, Kinderman’ frequently claimed the authority of personal eminence associated with his professorship. This is disallowed by his references to the Holocaust and Nazism, which place him outside of academic discourse.
- UPS was explicitly aimed at influencing mental health service users and policymakers. Vigorous debate should continue, but critics should not require the authors to engage them. After all, what do you expect from somebody who considers you a Nazi? And to get back into the conversation, the authors of Understanding Psychosis have to address Kinderman putting the Holocaust and Nazism on the table.
I hope that these résumés will inform, but do not satiate you. I hope they encourage you to read further in what will prove a fascinating discussion. But regardless, begin asking yourself what responsibility the trustees of the British Psychological Society have in dealing with the situation that Kinderman has now created. Or does it really matter that the President-elect of this organization has written such things?
Kinderman’s Me, My Brain, and Baked Beans
In mental health, resolving the relative contributions of our biology and genetics and how these interact with social and environmental factors (our parenting, peer-relationships, learning, and experiences of both abuse and nurturing) is more than an intellectual puzzle. I’m occasionally annoyed by what appears to be a rather simplistic suggestion that, if there’s a biological, even heritable, element, to a psychological phenomenon, then we’re inevitably discussing an illness, a disease.
A Difficult Childhood
He soon gets to depicting his early family environment and readers can again ponder ‘where is this taking us?’
After my mother’s death, we discovered that, when she had confessed to a religious mentor that she was in danger of loving her children more than God, there was a subsequent process of re-adjustment … she was encouraged to practice loving her children less. My parents rejected the material world as merely a stepping-stone to heaven (or hell) and paid little attention to worldly pursuits. I remember opening a letter from Cambridge University confirming an offer of a place as an undergraduate. I told my mother, whose reply was; “Very nice dear, now, do you want baked beans on toast for breakfast?”
Kinderman’s point seems to be that he and his siblings were not reared in a loving and accepting environment. His mother’s religiosity was pivotal. Kinderman discourages us from having any sympathy for the mother. But now that he has brought her up, we can nonetheless wonder about how she might have been suffering.
An astute reader with a sense of history might also wonder if we are being set up for a simplistic refrigerator mother explanation of psychological problems in offspring.
In the 1990s, Irish motivational speaker Tony Humphreys drew upon his own adverse childhood experiences to extend a discredited theory of the refrigerator mothers of children with autism to explain schizophrenia and diabetes. He was subsequently censured by the Irish Psychological Society.
Humphreys was following up on the 1940s work of Leo Kanner who coined the phrase in describing mothers of autistic children as “just happening to defrost enough to produce a child.”
As an antidote to this nasty mother bashing, I strongly recommend Refrigerator Mothers, an hour-long movie freely available on the Internet. It provided an opportunity for mothers with autistic children to talk back against the stereotype of them.
Once isolated and unheard, these mothers have emerged with strong, resilient voices to share the details of their personal journeys. Through their poignant stories, Refrigerator Mothers puts a human face on what can happen when authority goes unquestioned and humanity is removed from the search for scientific answers.
Kinderman claims to be an expert by experience
Kinderman then describes his unusual psychological experiences and behavior.
So I am emotionally labile; my self-esteem and emotions are very fragile and very much dependent on what I imagine other people are thinking. Or, at least, I think I am; my observations of my own behaviour are themselves subjective, and it’s possible that others do these things as much as I do. I frighten myself (given my relative’s experiences) by fantasising about… winning Nobel prizes, winning Pulitzer prizes, being elected to this and that, being awarded knighthoods… and that’s frightening because I’ve seen self-referent fantasies ruin other people’s lives.
…And, perhaps most saliently, I lurch forwards and jump to conclusions in my mental logic. So, if you give me the sequence “A, B, C” and ask me to complete the sequence, I’ll say Z. Maybe that’s a bit of a joke (a pun on ‘complete’), and it’s unequivocally good for me in my academic career. A creative professor is a good professor. I also and simultaneously make abstract and surreal connections. It’s a recognised part of my teaching style – I’ll veer off on a tangent. Again, perhaps useful in an academic and possibly engaging or at least entertaining for students (if they can keep up…). But jumping to conclusions, tangential connectivity and abstract, ‘clang’ associations all have very interesting connotations in the field of mental health.
Too much information. What shall we to make of these deeply personal and out-of-place disclosures from the President-elect of the British Psychological Society? Kinderman claims benefit from it these experiences and does not want to discredit himself. Yet he is giving live ammunition to critics who have long been frustrated with his distinctive torrents of scrambled anecdata and pomposity. No worry, Kinderman is about to discredit himself more thoroughly.
But for a bit, Kinderman continues quite reasonably:
So I am very interested (and, I hope, open-minded) about what it is, if anything, that we inherit. How do I differ from other people? What proportion of the variance in these traits can be accounted for by genetic differences? What proportion of the variance in these traits comes from being brought up by repressed religious extremists? What proportion comes from being reinforced, through my childhood, for being academic? Which elements of my upbringing were different other people’s anyway?
Kinderman brings in the Nazis
Out of context, this appears a reconciliatory statement that invites agreement from critics. But there is a disaster ahead. Kinderman’s train of thought transports unknowing readers to the death camps of the Holocaust with contemporary psychiatrists branded Nazis. Kinderman apparently thinks his friends and colleagues will consider him brave for exposing this obvious connection.
…I think it’s perfectly possible to be intelligent and open-minded about the contribution of genetic and environmental factors in our mental health. We can intelligently and respectfully discuss how experiences and heritable traits can interact to produce the wonderful variety of human experience. This, I think, is a much more accurate and helpful way to conceptualise what’s going on than to say that some of us – but only some of us – have ‘mental illnesses’. Labels such as ‘schizophrenia’ not only suffer from the validity problems that we’ve discussed elsewhere, but also obfuscate these important considerations. I don’t think it’s helpful to consider how I have managed to avoid developing ‘schizophrenia’, or whether I have ‘attenuated psychosis syndrome’. To do that, to reduce these discussions to binary considerations of the presence or absence of disorders, necessarily constrains the scientific debate. It can also sometimes have frightening consequences in the real world. When I’ve mentioned some of these issues before in less public settings, friends and colleagues have often told me that I’m being brave, and that it’s a potentially risky topic of conversation. So why might that be?
The eradication of undesirable genetic traits
Part of the reason that people might be reluctant to talk about such issues is that we have a very poor track record in this area. This is a difficult topic, but I think it is important to remember the infamous 1933 Nazi Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses). Arguments of genetic science not only led to the drafting of this law (which permitted the compulsory sterilisation of any citizens who were judged to possess a ‘genetic disorder’ which could be passed onto their children) but indeed led German-American psychiatrist Franz Kallmann to argue that such a policy of sterilisation should be extended to the relatives of people with mental health problems (in order to eradicate the genes supposedly responsible). The notorious Action T4 ‘eradication’ programme was the logical extension of these policies.
From Kinderman’s Me, my brain and baked beans.
Kinderman accuses Franz Kallmann of being a war criminal. Kinderman should have spent more time at Google University learning about Kallmann who fled the Nazis in the 1936.
Considered a Jew by the Nazis although not by himself, he could not publish his work, and had to rely on friends at Munich to read his papers for him. He could only get his statistics into print by quotation in papers of others’ authorship.
… Despite of all obstacles, he succeeded in organizing the first research department in psychiatric genetics in the United States at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. This department became the main source of intellectual support of psychiatric genetic research in the U.S. for a generation.
Kinderman’s description of Kallmann as a “German-American psychiatrist” is used to smear all of contemporary psychiatry with the taint of Nazism.
At the Bath Conference on Understanding Psychosis, Kinderman refused to engage other members of the panel. It is too bad that the event was not recorded and that the BPS insisting on editing a journalist’s account. But those who were there will recall Kinderman closed with a rambling, incoherent rant about the horrors of mental health professionals telling psychiatric patients that they had a genetic disease.
Perhaps uncomfortable with having invoked the Nazis, in his blog he tries to shift to fascism. He introduces a non sequitur in claiming that if schizophrenia represents “a biological problem, we can dismiss any further troubling considerations.” Then he insists in a most extraordinary way on his privileged status talk of the Holocaust because of its personal relevance and threat.
Of course, a focus on biological aspects of mental health problems is not in any sense necessarily synonymous with fascism. But for many of us, there are echoes of blame, of stigma, when we identify the pathology within the genetic substrate of the person. I’m reminded of Eric Pickles’ notorious throw-away comment to a voter campaigning about the abuse she’d experienced that she should “adjust her medication”. If the pathology lies in the person, and particularly if it is a biological problem, we can dismiss any further troubling considerations.
So one way to understand these kinds of experiences is to diagnose some form of ‘subclinical’ syndrome, perhaps attenuated psychosis. If the Nazis had won the second world war, I would have been castrated as a first-degree relative of a ‘schizophrenic’. Disease-model, eugenic, thinking is a direct threat to me personally, especially given the recent rise of UKIP and other far-right parties in Europe. I am interested in whether the traits that make me a good professor may also be related to the traits I listed earlier, and on their impact on my emotions. I am interested in whether they may have emerged from a similar mix of genes and environment that led my relative to experience psychosis. I am very interested in the practical implications; I have always, for example, avoided certain classes of street drugs. It is absolutely possible to discuss gene × environment interactions, but – please – don’t use the ‘disease-model’ as a framework.
Why Peter Kinderman and Anne Cooke are excluded from further discussions of Understanding Psychosis until they publicly apologize.
Nonetheless, gratuitous references to the Holocaust in Nazis regularly occur around the world, highlighting all the more the need to insist on them being obscene.
The memory of six million Jews and the eleven million other human beings who died in the Holocaust is too sacred for calculating politicians and their paranoid cheerleaders to be turned into a semantic missile.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is incorrigible. In 2014 he said
If you felt something incredibly powerful at Auschwitz and Birkenau over the 11 million killed worldwide and the 1.5 million killed on those grounds, cannot we feel something extraordinary about 55 million murdered in our own country in the wombs of their mothers? Does that not speak to us?
Now Huckabee is being condemned by Israel for saying the Iran nuclear deal is “marching the Israelis to the door of the oven.” Israel does not need that kind of support.
Why did Kinderman destroy his credibility by publishing this?
For the same reason that Mike Huckabee made the comparison between abortion and the Holocaust. He believes these things, he has bad judgment, and he thought he wouldn’t be caught.
Huckabee speech was captured on a videotape in 2014 and subsequently distributed by Right Wing Watch, a non-profit working to expose the Far-Right’s extreme and intolerant agenda. Otherwise most of us would not have learned of his statements.
Kinderman similarly may have thought that he was in a closed environment where he could express views that would resonate with an important part of his constituency. He surely would not have made them at an international scientific psychology gathering.
The long thread of comments Kinderman elicited at the blog site showed little indignation and tacit acceptance that psychiatrists are Nazis. He seems to have only tweeted once about this blog post and probably didn’t think it would come to the attention of the larger community.
He may be a professor at University of Liverpool and President-elect of the British Psychological Society, but he plays to a constituency that is neither academic nor professional.
Dealing with the offense to all comes first
Even before the references to the Holocaust and Nazis aside, there there have been many reasons be offended by Kinderman’s promotion of the BPS UPS.
- Serious academics have been outraged by Kinderman’s arguments without evidence against diagnosis, his claim that antipsychotic medication is toxic and ineffective, his crass emotional appeals, and his slandering of the large other side on an important issue. UPS simply not does not adhere to academic standards in terms of logic and reference to evidence and would not pass independent peer review.
- Mental health service consumers and their family members have been upset that issues that concern them are being framed in such a misleading and irrational way by a professional. They are unrepresented and silenced by the carefully selected clinical examples in the UPS. Treatment options have been misrepresented in ways intended to frighten them. They have legitimate concerns about having to be diagnosed or treated by psychologists who hold such warped views.
- Many members of the British Psychological Society are embarrassed by the organization sinking to this level. They would not want to be asked in a public gathering if UPS represents solid science. Many UK psychologists who are not members of BPS are upset that the organization that supposedly speaks for them is associated with such ridiculous statements.
All who are offended should feel free to speak out. But the preemptive issue is before the larger community is that Kinderman has behaved in an unacceptable manner. Kinderman is out of the discussion. His license is revoked and he needs to reapply.
If Kinderman or Anne Cooke pop up in these discussions, they should simply be asked “Don’t you have a problem with desecrating the memory of the Holocaust?” and then ignored.
The dilemma facing the British Psychological Society
Kinderman blurs any distinction between his personal views and those of the organization with which he incessantly claims to speak, often in forums only available because he represents BPS. It’s incumbent upon the BPS to clarify where they stand on what is now a game-stopping issue. Do they condemn Kinderman or are they left implicitly condoning him?
Here is a list of members of the Board of Trustees and some of their email addresses I was able to obtain from the internet. Readers might want to individually and collectively inquire about where the board stands about Kinderman casually invoking the Holocaust and Nazism in a context where references to these historical events have no place.
- President Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes CPsychol CSci FBPsS firstname.lastname@example.org
- Vice President Professor Dorothy Miell CPsychol FBPsS email@example.com
- Honorary General Secretary Dr Carole Allan CPsychol Csci FBPsS Carole.Allan@glasgow.ac.uk
- Honorary Treasurer Professor Ray Miller CPsychol FBPsS
- Chair Education and Public Engagement Board Professor Catriona Morrison CPsychol AFBPsS firstname.lastname@example.org
- Chair Research Board Professor Daryl B O’Connor CPsychol AFBPsS D.B.O’Connor@leeds.ac.uk
- Chair Professional Practice Board Dr Ian Gargan CPsychol AFBPsS
- Chair Membership Standards Board Dr Mark Forshaw CPsychol CSci FBPsS FIHPE
It is fair game to raise the issue of Kinderman’s transgression when members of the BPS Board of Trustees appear at public gatherings. I intend to do so when Daryl B O’Connor shows up at the European Health Psychology Conference in Cyprus and encourage others to do so as well. “Hey Daryl, about Kinderman’s references to the Holocaust and Nazis…”
BPS President Jamie Hacker Hughes announced the launch of Understanding Psychosis on Twitter and then unsuccessfully tried to squelch discussion when it turned negative.
It was foolish for the BPS President to insist that conversation about a document that could not conceivably pass independent peer review be confined to venues gated by peer review. It would be a disaster for him to adopt this strategy in trying to squelch the conversation about what Kinderman has done.
The other authors of UPS and Kinderman’s bringing in the Holocaust and the Nazis
Anne Cooke is given credit for the transition for an earlier blog post by Kinderman that lack references to the Holocaust and the Nazis to the present one.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Anne Cooke for helpful comments and advice on earlier drafts.
She also edited UPS. Some of the contributors have expressed previously extreme anti-psychiatry sentiments in public. Now that Kinderman’s blog post is distributed, they need to get clear on where they stand on desecrating the memory of the Holocaust.
The conversation about Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia
From its launch, critics of Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia lots of abuse. Their own blog posts have been spammed with threats and demands the blog posts be taken. There have been hit and run attacks on blog comment threats and Twitter by pseudonymous commentators who morph and disappear from the internet. Often, outrageous comments are left and elicit responses, only to later be removed,leaving whole threads incoherence.
The day of the official launch of Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia, Keith Laws, Alex Langford, and Samei Huda posted a detailed critique that became one of the most viewed posts at Mental Elf ever. Angela Wilson Ursery posted a comment attacking the three as engaging in mutual masturbation and bragged about it on Twitter. The moderator at Mental Elf quickly edited her comment, but Kinderman retweeted her announcement and Anne Cooke favored it.
So, Kinderman has now gone from endorsing the views of UPS critics as masturbating each other, to expressing worries about being castrated, and now tying in the Holocaust and Nazis. Very strange for a President-elect of the BPS
At 1Boring Old Man psychiatrist Mickey Nardo unflinchingly takes aim at NIMH Director Thomas Insel and American Psychiatric Association President Jeffrey Lieberman. Mickey approvingly quotes long statements from the Critical Psychiatry Network and engaging its representatives in long threads of comments on his blog posts. But he has grown frustrated trying to deal with the authors of UPS and their followers.
I’ve sort of stopped responding to comments myself because they focus on anything I say as evidence of my being some insensitive psychiatrist who holds people back and snows them with medication. I’m not that…The cases of psychotic illness I followed in my practice were treated much in the same way as the BPS Report suggests, though my attitude about medications changed over time because of frequent relapses.
But I don’t think the responders want to know what my objections really are, and would prefer to keep me in the bad guy role. I’m not interested in being defensive. If my writings about this aren’t clear, ask me a question. If you prefer to see me as some doom-sayer, that’s your call…
Well, now you know, Mickey, some of them think you are a Nazi.
The conversation about UPS must continue, without Kinderman and Cooke
BPS offered UPS as
A resource for people who work in mental health services, people who use them and their friends and relatives, to help ensure that their conversations are as well informed and as useful as possible. It also contains vital information for those responsible for commissioning and designing both services and professional training, as well as for journalists and policy-makers”.
UPS is chock-full of posturing in what its authors see as a turf war, misinformation, and simple nonsense. We should continue to provide mental health service uses, policymakers, and other professionals with evidence-based alternative information. From the first day of its launch, the UPS authors have not been keen on sustained evidence-based exchanges. We should continue without them, despite Kinderman having seriously damaged the debate.
DISCLAIMER: I am grateful for PLOS blogs providing me the space for free expression. However, the views I present here are not necessarily those of PLOS nor of any of my institutional affiliations.