Psycho Killer

Last week a mentally ill man shot one policeman to death and hurt three other people when they came to apprehend him in his home in the Swedish town of Nyköping. This is a very rare and shocking occurrence in Sweden, where gun control is such that most people have never seen a handgun. Wednesday, an opinion piece about the case appeared in the main Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. It was written by two senior psychiatrists, Henrik Belfrage and Göran Fransson, both of whom have examined the killer in the past. What they had to say is quite remarkable, and so I decided to translate a few bits.

“Dedicated forensic-psychiatric clinics should be given the overarching responsibility for evaluating threatening people with paranoid symptoms. The level of expertise and security in the public mental healthcare system is insufficient. Many psychiatrists simply do not dare to write a certificate of insanity for these people because they risk facing threats and violence.

As a consequence, there is currently hardly anyone even within the judicial system who dares report threats from mentally ill paranoiacs, because it is impossible to trust psychiatric forced care to act and accept its responsibility. The tragic police murder in Nyköping should never have had to happen. The killer’s paranoid and dangerous state had long been amply documented, and the question was no longer if something might happen, but simply when.

[…]

As early as in 1999 we reported the […] man as exceptionally dangerous. At that time, he suffered from a pronounced delusional syndrom, so-called kverulansparanoia, and several persons were receiving serious threats from him. Unfortunately he was in jail at the time, not a hospital, serving time. After he had knifed three unknown people, killing one, a psychiatric evaluation had classified his paranoia as a personality disorder (that is, not a mental illness), and this was not enough to sentence him to indefinite mental care. […]

Someone who is severely mentally ill should of course be certified as insane and entered into forced psychiatric care, particularly if they are dangerous to others. This is in our view where things are not working, and the fault is mainly with the forced psychiatric care system.

If a psychiatrist for some reason — insufficient expertise, or, which is unfortunately more likely, fear — cannot accept the responsibility of such an assessment, then the forced care system breaks down. Anyone who has previously been involved in a court case or a forced care evaluation regarding the patient ends up in a very precarious situation. To wit, the paranoiac suddenly receives a “certificate” that he is in fact not ill at all, which becomes proof to him that all previous assessments of him as mentally ill were erroneous and possibly motivated by spite. This calls for revenge. […]

It appears that most people within and without the judicial system are fully aware of the weaknesses in the courts and forced care system in cases like these. The threats we have received from the man in question included various affidavits from lawyers, doctors and others who certify that he did not receive a fair trial the last time, that he displays no psychiatric symptoms, that he has the signatories’ full support in his struggle against the authorities etc. Did these people write those documents because they really believed what they said?

No, of course not. They wrote them out of fear for themselves. Everyone knows that unless you play along with the paranoiac you risk becoming the victim of threats and violence. In this case it is also amply documented that a great number of authority representatives, doctors, district attorneys and others have been receiving serious threats from the man for years. How many police reports? None. No-one dares.

[…]

Anyone who had been in contact with this man in recent years knew that he would in all likelihood break out in homicidal violence one day. This was obvious. Nevertheless, in the eight years since we filed our assessment, he has never received forced care. A young policeman with his entire life in front of him became the man’s victim. Him, instead of one of us who are on the man’s hate-and-death list. It feels terrible to us, and it is a great defeat for the judicial system and the forced mental care system.

[…] the professionals in question should not have to live under constant threat because the forced care system is not acting against severely ill and dangerous people. Nor should these ill people be left without the care they so clearly need.”

Update 1 July: Here’s another opinion piece by the husband of a Swedish psychologist who was stalked and threatened by a former patient. She repeatedly reported the man to the police, but he finally murdered her in 2006 on the stairs to her office. The killer has since been deemed too insane to deserve a lifetime in prison, but too sane to receive indefinite forced psychiatric treatment. Instead, he serves a ten-year prison sentence, which in Swedish practice means five years.

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Six Months of Aard

Aardvarchaeology’s been on-line for half a year today! Before I came here, I’d been blogging at Salto sobrius for over a year, so by now this blogging thing is a big part of my lifestyle and self-image. I love it — I write about whatever’s occupying my mind, a pleasurable pastime in itself, and then hundreds of people show up to read it every day! Being here on ScienceBlogs helps a lot to attract readers, and so do Stumbleupon and Reddit. (Digg, not so much.) As I’ve been boasting for a while in the sidebar, Aard is now the world’s number one archaeology blog measured by the number of other sites that link to it. It’s also Sweden’s most widely read science blog, but that doesn’t tell you much as most of the competition there is in Swedish.

Posting frequency. Since moving here, I’ve posted more frequently, accelerating from one entry a day to about three entries in two days on average. This probably has to do with scheduling, which wasn’t available at my old site. Now I usually write my main entries in the evenings and schedule them to appear the following afternoon when Sb traffic spikes because New Yorkers have just gotten to work. But it’s often tempting to write short newsworthy entries during the day as well and put them on-line immediately.

Readership. My blogging currently has a readership beyond my wildest dreams before the move. In May, Aard attracted 480 daily unique readers on average, 112 of whom could be recognised as returning readers. Meanwhile, the old site saw a daily average of 130 uniques, bringing the total up to a wonderful 610 daily readers! (These are Statcounter figures comparable to earlier statshots. The Goog’lytics number is closer to 700.)

Links: on Technorati, with links from 293 individual sites, Aard is currently ranked about number 13,000 out of millions. (Salto was briefly ranked 11,000 last autumn.)

One wish: MORE COMMENTS, PLEASE!

Oh, and BTW — anybody want to buy an Aard T-shirt or coffee mug?

No, That Norwegian Guy Was Not an Inca Indian

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There’s a newsbit doing the rounds of international summer-starved media about a funny cranium found at St. Nicholas’ church in Sarpsborg, Norway during excavations headed by Mona Beate Buckholm of Østfoldmuseet. The cranium belonged to a batch of bones surfacing when some rose bushes were moved. Radiocarbon dates them to most likely the 11th century AD. The find is touted as having “the same genetic marks as the Inca people of Latin America”. This is an oversimplification.

Here’s what it’s all about, and I translate from the Norwegian:

“One of the men had a cranium with a split neck bone, a so-called ‘Inca bone’. That is, he was the bearer of a rare hereditary trait where the seam between the two points called asterion in the rear of the neck does not ossify and close during foetal development in the usual way. In people with an Inca bone, this seam remains visible throughout their lives. This trait almost exclusively occurs in South American Indians, and is most common in Peru.”

“Almost exclusively”. “Most common”. As there are no South American artefacts from the site, the most parsimonious view is that the find demonstrates the existence of this trait among 11th century Norwegians as well.

Thanks to Ian Rogers for the heads-up.

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Sociologist Disappointed With Skeptics

In the current issue of Antiquity is a review of G.G. Fagan’s edited volume Archaeological Fantasies (available on-line behind a paywall). I reviewed this book favourably back in September: it’s pretty much a skeptical attack on pseudo-scientific archaeology.

Antiquity’s reviewer, however, doesn’t like the book at all, and for an interesting reason. Wiktor Stoczkowski is a sociologist of science working in Paris, and he isn’t very interested in the interpretation of the archaeological record. His main concern is with the dynamics of current society.

“The editor of the volume insists that its purpose is less a refutation of specific pseudoarchaeological claims – excellent examples of which are already on the market – as it is an attempt to understand pseudoarchaeology as a social phenomenon. […]

Not being specialists either in sociology, ethnology, or history, the contributors appear ignorant of research already undertaken in these disciplines regarding the cultural current of esotericism (aka occultism), from which ideas qualified by them as ‘pseudoscientific archaeology’ continue to emerge and to spread since the second half of the nineteenth century. They are also unaware that the archaeological component is only one among others in the occultist theories that propose an elaborated worldview designed as an alternative to those of science and of Christian theology. […]

It is paradoxical to see researchers, who sincerely wish to defend science, making so little use of it when studying pseudoscience. The best plea in favour of rigorous scholarship would be a rigorous study of pseudoscience. Alas, Archaeological Fantasies fails to provide it.”

I agree with Stoczkowski that Archaeological Fantasies does not in the main offer sociological studies of pseudoarchaeology, and I find it unfortunate that Fagan made that claim in the introduction. But I must say that neither most archaeologists nor any pseudoarchaeologists that I know of are interested in the sociology of science. Unless Fagan had made that brief remark, Stoczkowski’s perspective on the book would simply have been irrelevant. As a meta-scholar, he views our scientific discourse itself as the object of study. But Antiquity is not a metascientific journal.

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Eight Pieces of Data

Been tagged with the same chain letter by the guys at Why Don’t You Blog? and Tim at Walking the Berkshires. So, in the interest of full disclosure, here are eight random facts about me.

  • I’ve played seven matches of Jeopardy.
  • I’m a Lord of the Forodrim.
  • I once caught chlamydia from a registered midwife.
  • Along with a hoard of other forodrimites, I once ran around a golf course on a Midsummer Night in the nude, showering in the sprinkler system.
  • I’m myopic on the right-hand eye only, giving me poor stereoscopic vision.
  • The hardest mind-altering drug I’ve ever taken in a dose large enough to affect my mental state is caffeine.
  • I once spent a night on a towel under a garden table at the Masada hillfort.
  • I’m crap at ball sports.

Anyone who feels up to it is welcome to consider themselves tagged.

More Vittene Gold

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My friend Lars at Arkland always comes through with ace photographs when I ask for them. Here’s a pic he took in 1995 when a landowner at Vittene in Västergötland had come forth with an Early Iron Age gold torque he had kept in a closet for many years. In this picture, our late colleague Ulf Viking is wearing a makeshift rain coat made of a black plastic garbage bag, ready to search for more parts of the hoard. Read more here!

Dear Reader, feel free to follow Lars example and send me archaeopix! Just tell me a few words about what’s in the pic to aid my dull understanding.

Orbicular Diorite

Here’s some geology for a change.

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At Slättemossa in the province of Småland, southern Sweden, are found ice-polished outcrops of orbicular diorite (“Napoleonite”). This rock consists of granite balls covered with hornblende and other minerals and then encased in a granite matrix. When the inland ice ground the rock down, a smooth grey surface covered in darker circles resulted. Pretty striking, as seen in the photographs by Anders Möller! Anders and Inger are badass geocachers, having found nearly 1400 caches and hidden more than 200.

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Visit the site at N57° 22.930 E15° 36.100. It’s not far from Målilla, where Mr. Chin’s store is! Remember to buy only green things from him, if possible.

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Antiquity Seeks Contributions for Web Site

The fine British journal Antiquity is soliciting material for the Open Access section of its web site. Specifically, Martin Carver and his crew want a) the abstracts of recent doctoral theses with relevance for archaeology, b) obituaries of recently deceased archaeologists. Submit thesis abstracts here, obits here. In either case, you should of course also erect a commemorative rune stone near a ford or assembly site and bury a large silver hoard.

Oh, and they also want really good archaeopix dor the editorial section of the paper edition! E-mail yours with some contextual info and photo-tech details to the editor.

Book Review: Karnezis, The Birthday Party

i-ace83c5643426791809c39ea6d672928-karnezis.jpgPanos Karnezis’s new novel The Birthday Party is a re-imagination of the life of Aristotle Onassis, the shipping magnate. The book is structured around the events of a single day and night towards the end of the tycoon’s life, though the bulk of the text is made up of deftly interleaved backstory. The storytelling method is straight-forward on the verge of simplistic, with an omniscient narrator. Being used to far more murky and intricate approaches, I found myself wondering if some passages were in fact intended as naïvistic parody. The only metafictional twist I’ve detected is that one of the characters is a writer working on an authorised biography of the rich man. He is an Englishman in Greece, while The Birthday Party has been written by a Greek in England.

One thing I missed was a richer backdrop of chronological and topical reference points tying the story to the post-war history of our own or some alternative world. As it is, the narrative kind of floats in a timeless and anonymous late 20th century, where the only things and people mentioned by name are Karnezis’s fictional creations.

I know next to nothing about Onassis, and I have little doubt that the book is packed with in-jokes obvious to the knowledgeable reader. Yet Karnezis kept my interest adequately stoked, mainly through a conflict introduced early in the book (and set out in the back-cover blurb) whose resolution he withholds until the final pages. The tone of the writing is detached and suave, the style austere. And that is my main complaint: hardly anything in the novel is exciting or engaging or challenging, be it emotionally or intellectually. This book will not affect your blood pressure.


Karnezis, Panos. 2007. The Birthday Party. London: Cape. 264 pp. ISBN 987-0224-07932-7.


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