Did US Psychiatrists Really Agree That Gays Were Nuts?

i-688d28ff8ba0b4be056711def5369ac9-Dykes_on_b_m1195507.jpgOver at Respectful Insolence, a lot of people have been discussing the relationship between skepticism and scientific consensus, a topic I brought up recently. And commenter Alvaro has pointed out a kind of counterexample, to whit, that the consensus among US psychiatrists had defined homosexuality as a psychiatric condition up through 1974. This is classic Michel Foucault territory, and I think Alvaro’s point is interesting and apt. Being gay isn’t always easy in an at best semi-tolerant society, but it sure isn’t something that calls for treatment.

Reading up a little, I found something that surprised me. Wikipedia has a meaty article on the issue, demonstrating that there was no consensus among US psychiatrists about gays being nuts prior to about 1953, and only a very weak one after that date.

To begin with, Alvaro’s chronology is slightly off. In 1953, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Mk. I defined homosexuality as a mental disorder. So did the first (1968) edition of DSM II. But already in 1973, the trustees of the American Psychiatric Association voted unanimously to remove homosexuality from new printings of the DSM II. The following year, amid great controversy, 58% of the APA membership confirmed this decision by vote. So, if we accept the DSM as a direct reflection of the consensus in psychiatry (which is highly debatable), then we only need to discuss a period of 15 years from 1953 to 1968.

In science, no answer can ever be better than the question you ask. My reply to Alvaro is that the issue here is really how “psychiatric condition” was defined in the 50s and 60s. If the definition was something along the lines of “non-standard behaviour and/or mental states that impair a person’s functioning in society”, then gayness clearly did fit the bill. Because it is, statistically speaking, non-standard, and it did pose problems for people living in the even less tolerant US society of the time.

So my take on this issue is that from 1953 to 1968, US psychiatrists may not generally have been very gay-friendly; but their consensus that gayness was something they should try to treat was probably not just a result of homophobia. Many psychiatrists did feel that something must be wrong in the brain of a person who doesn’t want to bonk people of the opposite sex. But they were also asking, “Is being gay a problem for our patients?”. And in the mid-20th century US, it would be hard to argue that it was not. It’s still a problem, because society is intolerant of non-standard lifestyles. What US psychiatrists agreed upon only about 20 years after DSM I was that gayness could not productively be handled as a psychiatric issue, despite the fact that it resides in the brain. In fact, defining gayness as a mental health issue just made the problem worse for the patients through social stigmatisation. Besides, gayness can’t be treated and most gay people don’t want to become straight. This sets it emphatically apart from unequivocal psychiatric diagnoses such as depression and anxiety.

(On a lighter yet kind of sad note, let me mention that the “gays are nuts” perspective survived in unexpected places long after 1968. The 1985 role-playing game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness has a table that the game master uses to determine a diagnose when a character goes insane for some reason. One of the “afflictions” such a character can be hit with is homosexuality.)

As I’ve said before, in my opinion, a real skeptic accepts scientific consensus. But the 1948 Kinsey report had documented a very high incidence of homosexual behaviour in US men. Therefore, the psychiatrists who drafted the DSM I knew that gay sex was not an unusual aberration among the brain-damaged, but something that a large part of the healthy population was doing for fun. I don’t believe there was any scientific consensus that gayness equalled madness in the 1960s. Apparently, however, a consensus remained that gayness was the business of psychiatrists because it was a problem for many people. And this latter is sadly still the case.

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Aard’s First Birthday

i-f0ce4afa618ce7c952064b6f65cd716f-1st-birthday-cake.jpgIt’s been a year now since I started blogging at Sb (after a bit more than a year at Blogspot). Looking at the server stats for December 1-28, Aard is ranked #31 out of 66 blogs here for traffic, with a daily median readership of about 650 uniques, including about 130 identifiable returning readers. (Meanwhile, my old site is still attracting a median of about 70 daily uniques.)

Looking at Technorati rankings, Aard is at about 16,000 worldwide with an “authority score” of 317 (28 December). There has been considerable re-shuffling among the top-10 Sblogs from a year ago. Of those ten, only Living the Scientific Life has improved its T rank, and Pharyngula, A Blog Around the Clock and Cognitive Daily have retained theirs. The remaining six have slipped to a varying extent, some clearly no longer being on the top-10 here. It’s probably largely a question of lifestyle and job demands impacting posting frequency. Aard’s Google PageRank is 6.

Dear Reader, I hope you’ll join me for another year! If all goes as planned, I think I’ll be able to offer a lot of fieldwork dispatches and bits from my growing book manuscript. Along with whatever catches my fancy!

Toxic Dump Too Close For Comfort

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I’ve known for some time from the local papers that the site of the old Tollare paper mill is badly polluted. It’s only 1.6 km from my home, on the opposite shore of the Lännerstasundet inlet (one of the main historic shipping routes into Lake Mälaren). A couple of years ago, a large area in the water outside the site was fenced off with floating länsar to keep the bottom sediments from moving. Apparently, this was one of those paper mills that used mercury in a big way. They’ve recently started covering the polluted sediment with geotextile, cement and crushed rock. (Hope no interesting shipwrecks are hidden underneath.)

Everybody has a polluted old industrial site somewhere near their home. But as I learned recently, this is not just any polluted site. The Stockholm County council has completed a survey of polluted sites, identifying more than 8,000. And Tollare paper mill is ranked number 16 of them for severity of pollution. Woah.

My kids swim occasionally in Lännerstasundet. Shouldn’t be too dangerous unless they start eating seaweed. But I sure ain’t taking up angling…

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Charles Redwine on Muscogee Pottery

Guest entry! Charles Redwine treats us to some really good finds porn with commentary: 17th and 18th century native American pottery from Kasita/Cusseta near Columbus, Georgia in the US. Unfortunately, Charles found out that there was some problem with the publication rights to the pix, so he asked me to remove them from the entry on 31 December.

Chattahoochee Roughened Ware: large jar

The town of Kasita was, at least as referenced in some sources, the “White” or “Peace” capital of the Lower Creek people from the early 17th century to their expulsion from Georgia in 1827-28. The Lower Creek were the part of the Creek Confederacy located along the mid- to lower Chattahoochee River at the border of Georgia and Alabama. The name “Creek” was given to them by whites and today they prefer Muscogee Nation as their designated name. Another term, I believe more accurate and authentic, is “Muscogulge”.

Chattahoochee Roughened Ware: small jar

The location of the town changed over time but, as town names were for the people, not the location, it was always known as Kasita. The longest-term occupation for the town was on a large expanse of river terrace land that the Army would later use for an airfield on the Georgia side of the Chattahoochee.

Kasita Red Filmed Ware: top, swastika vessel; below, sherd with bird head

The three main pottery types of the Lawson Field phase (1715-1828), the time unit designation that is used to describe the later-period Lower Chattahoochee Muscogulge people, are:

  • Chattahoochee Roughened, sand or grit tempered, usually utilitarian jars
  • Lamar Incised, finer sand tempered, most often constricted-rim bowls (or cazuelas)
  • Kasita Red Filmed, in a variety of shapes but at this site in this time period often oval constricted rim bowls.

Chattahoochee Roughened originated in the late 17th century when coarse sand or grit temper was substituted for the shell temper of the 17th century Walnut Roughened type. (No shell-tempered sherds were found at my previous employers’ excavation on a small part of the Lawson Army Airfield). It was usually surface-treated using a brush, probably made up of grass or some such plant material.

Lamar Incised Ware

Lamar Incised goes back a fair distance into prehistory. It was made as early as AD 1400 across a wide expanse of the south Appalachian and adjacent region. The Creeks largely stopped making it in the early 1800s.

Kasita Red Filmed Ware: top, with part of bird and zig-zag; below, turtle vessel

The Kasita Red Filmed type was first manufactured in the 17th century and was commonly used by the Lower Creeks, but not by the Upper Creeks. It was named by Gordon Willey during his 1938 excavations at a nearby part of the airfield area on Fort Benning. Like Chattahoochee Roughened, this type was manufactured by some of the Creeks for a few decades after they were sent to Indian Territory in what is now the state of Oklahoma.

Charles has recently submitted a study of this material to Southeastern Archaeology. For those of you with JSTOR access, check out W.H. Sears’s 1955 paper in American Antiquity. Charles also recommends Fort Benning, the Land and the People.

Update 2 January: Adds Charles, “This site provides access to a list of virtually every pottery type defined by every archaeologist who ever worked in Georgia and then tells you the few types that have made it into modern usage.”

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Consolidating Aard’s Subscriber Base on Google Reader

Google Reader is an excellent blog reader, among whose strengths is that it resides somewhere off your computer. This means that you can read blogs from several machines without having to mark a lot of old entries as read. Nor do you have to subscribe to the same feed more than once. Looking at Aard on Google Reader, I’ve found that the blog has quite a number of subscribers there, but that they are spread across a number of different feed addresses.

Dear Reader, I have a request for you. Could you please make sure that you subscribe to Aard on Google Reader with the following official feed address?

http://feeds.feedburner.com/scienceblogs/lgtN

The reason for my request is that Google suggests further reading to a user based on a) which feeds she subscribes to, b) which feeds other subscribers to those feeds subscribe to, c) how many subscribers a given feed has. So if you can help me boost the number of subscribers to Aard’s official feed, then this may pull in further subscribers.

Also, as I periodically nag you about, please use the hopeful buttons below the profile in the left-hand column to boost Aard on Technorati and Bloggtoppen. Thanks!

Church of Santa

i-4ca30fefc698a6b6bc28ff0466636294-22669701.jpgTown life in Sweden started small in the later 8th century with Birka. The country’s capital, Stockholm, is a late town by Swedish standards, having been founded only in the mid-13th century. One of the oldest extant buildings there is the great church beside the royal castle, Storkyrkan. Here, Satan Santa was worshipped for nearly three centuries.

Most of Europe was Catholic until Reformation in the early 16th century. All Catholic churches are devoted to a patron saint, which is the reason that the urban parishes surrounding the Old Town of Stockholm are named St. Claire, St. James, St. Mary and St. Catherine. Now, who was the patron of the main church of Medieval Stockholm? St. Nicholas of Myra (c. 280-343), a.k.a. Santa Claus.

St. Nick is also the patron of children, students, sailors, fishermen, pawnbrokers, merchants, archers, the falsely accused and repentant thieves. And Russia. And Greece. A busy man.

Update 26 December: But hey, if you’re an archer or a student and St. Nick doesn’t answer your prayers, then try St. Ursula! She also caters to those demographics. Only she’s fake, says the Pope.

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Skepticism and Informed Consensus

A discussion in the comments section of the recent Skeptics’ Circle reminded me of something I learned only after years in the skeptical movement.

A real skeptic always sides with scientific consensus.

This may sound really unsatisfying and self-contradictory at first. Isn’t skepticism about critical thinking? About being open to any idea (or none) as long as it survives rational deliberation? Doesn’t this consensus thing mean that the whole movement is actually just kowtowing to white-coated authority? Well, yes and no.

To begin with, let’s remember that there are many people who are strongly skeptical of certain ideas, but who are not counted as part of the skeptical movement. Take Holocaust skeptics, global warming skeptics and evolution skeptics. In the skeptical community, we call them denialists. Why? Because their views go against scientific consensus.

Science presupposes that all participants have a skeptical frame of mind and arrive at conclusions through rational deliberation. If a large group of knowledgeable people working in this way arrive at a consensus opinion, then there is really no good reason for anybody with less knowledge of the subject to question it. Informed consensus is how scientific truth is established. It’s always provisional and open to reevaluation, but as long as there’s informed consensus, then that’s our best knowledge. Humanity’s best knowledge.

I’ve never studied the historical or archaeological record of the Holocaust. I know nothing about climatology. I have only high-school biology training. Yet I trust that thousands of hard-working scholars in these fields are not conspiring to trick me when they tell me that they have arrived at consensus. I’m a full-time research scholar myself, and I think you’re more likely to get reasonable information about Scandinavian prehistory from me than from, say, a professional homeopath dabbling in archaeoastronomy.

On many issues, of course, there is no scientific consensus. Here, skeptics have every reason to exercise critical thinking and arrive at an opinion of their own. Or to reserve judgement. Also, skeptics have an important mission to fill in publicly debunking claims and publications that are so far out that nobody working professionally in that scientific field pays them any attention.

So, to outskeptic a skeptic, you don’t take a panskeptical position and disbelieve everything you hear. The best skeptics are the most well-read, well-informed ones, who follow science and scholarship. By reading science blogs, for instance.

Update 27 December: Orac has responded with a long thoughtful post (his always are). He states that he doesn’t agree entirely with me, but I think that may just be because I haven’t gotten my point across very well to him. I agree with what he says. Skeptics only endorse the scientific consensus position when there is unambiguously such a position to endorse.

Update 1 January: A number of comments have opened my eyes to something I need to clarify on this issue, even though it may be deduced from what I’ve written above. When I speak about skeptics and professional scientists, I assume that they are two different groups. Professional scientists decide a consensus among themselves on any given scientific issue. Members of the skeptical movement relate to this from outside. A professional in one discipline will of course count among other skeptical amateurs when it comes to issues outside their area of expertise.

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Bandwidth Blues

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Here’s something for the gearheads.

At home, we’ve got a permanent Comhem broadband fiber connection offering 10 Mb/s down & up. Its actual performance is about 9 down and 10 up, which is OK. I like to have a swift uplink since I send a lot of large files and keep my data on a DAV server for easy access from the four computers I work with. This, to the majority who have never heard of a DAV server, means that with a slow uplink, it would take a lot of time for me to save my work when I press CTRL-S.

(A funny thing about permanent internet cabling in Swedish apartment houses is that its endpoint is usually installed right inside the front door. This is of course a sign of how new this utility is: nobody would accept to have their electricity, their phone line, their water pipe, their drainpipe or their central heating ending at the front door.)

Glocalnet recently offered me an ADSL connection that would be cheaper than the fiber connection and give us “up to 24” Mb/s down and 1 up. ADSL is a temperamental technology as it relies on the copper lines of the old phone network. Its performance varies both with the distance from your socket to the station and with the length of the cable from the socket to the modem! This means that it’s basically impossible for an ISP to predict what kind of performance you’re going to get. Still, I hoped I might get a doubled download speed (18 Mb/s) for less than I was paying for fiber, so I ordered the service.

Sadly, I got unimpressive bandwidth. Using Bredbandskollen to check, I found that even with a really short phone cable I only got 12 down and 1 up. I’d rather keep paying a bit more and keep my fast uplink. So now I need to extricate myself from the service. I guess nobody actually gets 24 Mb/s from an ADSL connection.

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English-Speaking World Catches On To Ansiktsburk Lyrical Method

Scandy readers will be very familiar with this. As we learned from “Hatten Är Din”, “Ansiktsburk”, “Fiskpinnar” and other Turk Hits back in 2000, you can get wonderfully absurd results if you listen to a song in a foreign language and pretend it’s actually sung in your mother tongue.

Now, a talented Ansiktsburk poet has subtitled, in English, a typically over-the-top music video from southern India. Unbelievable stuff!

“Have you been high today?
I see the nuns are gay
My brother yelled to me
‘I love you inside Ed!'”

Academic Labour Market in Swedish Archaeology Stinks

Two pieces of news to illustrate the state of the academic labour market in Swedish archaeology.

The good news is that an old coursemate of mine has secured a teaching job. He’s 46, he completed his PhD in 1999, he’s got a decent publication record, he has solid teaching experience and he has unusually ample formal training in university pedagogics.

The bad news is that the job he has been given is 30% of full time … limited to a period of four months … in a city located 580 km from where he lives with his wife.

Dear Reader, are you by any chance a professional academic? Would somebody with this kind of qualifications in your field need to apply for a job like that?

Another symptom of the same thing is a 41-y-o colleague who completed her PhD in 2001. She’s currently studying to become an archivist.

The system is broken, churning out tens of new archaeology PhDs every year despite the fact that none of them can be employed. Just Say No, kids!

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