Tag Archives: academia

The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs

The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs cover

I have recently read this excellent book  about research into the drug treatment of mental health conditions.

My review which offers an overview and my opinion is at the end of this post, but you may find it even more useful to listen to the author speak about the issues in this video made by the Open Paradigm Project.

The book made me think hard, and raised some very serious questions for me about our confidence in the ‘gold standard’ – double blind medical trial research data – which is held up as such a paragon of reliability. It is particularly annoying to think that education research is criticised as not being rigorous enough in comparison, when such a large scale failure of scientific thinking is reported.

The story, which tells of hubris and ambition amongst scientists, corruption from big business and the damage done, especially in relation to children, is enough to make me angry, but it also inspires me to look for parallel concerns in education.

One such concern is about the confusion between the organ which we call the brain and the phenomenon we call the mind. The story of drugs used to treat complex disorders of the mind is one of treating the brain with blanket interference at the level of the neuron and synapse, and then trying to explain the effects at the level of the mind.

It’s a bit like suggesting rain as a solution for society’s ills. Clearly rain has an effect on society’s functioning, but it has an indiscriminate dampening effect which doesn’t explain, predict or cause something like war, for example, although it may make for a temporary cessation if heavy enough. Indeed, it could be that such a break from the routine of war may help peace efforts to succeed. But nobody is confused that the rain is curing society’s problems in the way that ‘antipsychotic’ drugs are foolishly thought to target mental conditions.

These two things, brain and mind, are for me on completely separate ‘trophic levels‘, using the language of the ecosystems of food chains, just as rain and society are. One affects the other but not in simple ways that can explain the function of the mind through specific events in the brain nor vice versa, for that matter.

So, this analysis leads me to be cautious of any scientific report that attempts to relate brain biology directly to teaching and learning, although I have every confidence that hydration is important for our brains to work well and thus we should provide safe drinking fountains in schools, just as I find at Trinity College Dublin on every floor. Did I mention I now work there? ūüôā

My review of The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs

A must-read for anyone concerned with the well-being of society

In this book, Dr Moncrieff explains carefully, soberly and with considerable academic integrity, how the world of psychiatry has become distorted by its own desire for recognition as a medical profession, its dubious assumptions about the nature of mental conditions and by the efforts made by drugs companies to increase their business.

Dr Moncrieff explains how the desire for psychiatry to be as scientific/medical as other areas of health has led to rushed conclusions about the link between brain chemistry/biology and complex mental conditions of the mind such as schizophrenia, manic depression and anxiety.

The assumption made is that a chemical imbalance in the brain requires toxic ‘antipsychotic’ drugs to counter it, and like insulin for diabetes, over a lifetime since it is a permanent deficiency in the brain. This assumption is shown to have little or no evidence to support it, yet is the mainstay of modern psychiatric practice. Dr Moncrieff proposes an alternative view, that the drugs are simply suppressing brain activity, and thus appear to ‘cure’ mental conditions. The trouble is, whichever view is taken, the drugs have toxic effects which are in many ways no different those from the illegal drugs taken for pleasure that we criminalise in society. These effects are downplayed as ‘side effects’ despite there being substantial evidence of long term damage to body and brain health.

Dr Moncrieff shows how drugs companies, keen to maintain and improve their business, have funded research which shows marginal and questionable improvement through their drugs and have suppressed negative reports. Despite contradictory results, this ‘research’ is followed by advertising and efforts to shift the wider society understanding of mental health, so that patients demand ever more drugs to ‘cure’ their sometimes modest problems, now made to sound like serious illnesses.

The distortions to academic practice, pyschiatric prescription and most damning of all, the attempts to treat young children with toxic drugs are revealed by Dr Moncrieff with careful attention to the published record in a convincing manner, providing a solid basis for further debate.

But, most damning of all, is the experience that Dr Moncrieff reports of a refusal in the psychiatric world to engage with these issues or to properly discuss the ethical dilemmas that arise. I found myself intrigued, challenged but ultimately enraged by the failure of the academic/medical professionals to ‘do no harm’.

I recommend this book without reservation to anyone prepared to think hard about these issues, and who perhaps has been unaware of concerns about mental health treatment and the huge cost to the well-being of society. It is then for us to take up the challenges Dr Moncrieff has described and ask how are we and society to respond?

Research community

A model of community reseearch

Had a very useful meeting in University of Bolton with colleagues intent on developing a community of research – the diagram illustrates our joint efforts to come to terms with this idea, but it does not clarify the concern I have, which is to be confident who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ – I believe to have a conversation that supports learning, you have to feel ‘safe’ with your audience to take risks with ideas. This is exacerbated when you are online, since the audience may be unclear or grow later to include people your are not so sure about!

PhD / Masters opportunities with University of Bolton

I have been working part-time in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics (IEC) at the University of Bolton for the last two years, after seventeen years at Ultralab.

IEC houses three major projects:
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†the JISC Innovation Support Centre for Educational Technology & Interoperability Studies (CETIS);
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†the Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning project creating innovative higher degree frameworks (IDIBL);
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†the TenCompetence European research project developing a lifelong competence development infrastructure for Europe;

I work on the IDIBL project with Stephen Powell and Mark Johnson – an enormous pleasure to refine and improve the Ultraversity model we created in Ultralab at Anglia Ruskin University in 2003 and which is still running. The model is of work-focussed action inquiry as a means to learning, supported by colleagues, online community, facilitators and experts.

After IEC’s success in the recent Research Assessment Exercise, we are able to ramp up our activity in this area and are looking to extend our research group in IEC to focus on the following topics:
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†systematic institutional transformation;
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†organisational improvement;
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†inquiry-based learning;
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†learning with technology;
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†interoperability and standards;
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†learning design;
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†assessment and portfolios;
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†lifelong competencies.

Key features of the learning experience for new members of the research group are:
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†improvement in current work context as the focus for study which enables work full time and study full time;
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†completion of Masters in 15 months, PhD in three years;
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†study online with no need for attendance;
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†learning together as an online community with access to IEC experts;
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†assessment to fit creative and work expertise.

A competitive bursary scheme for PhD will help lower the costs for successful applicants.
If you feel that you fit the bill, then we would be delighted to  to discuss further Рmail me at r.millwood [at] bolton.ac.uk or call me on +44 779 055 8641

A University for Improvement

IDIBL logo

Almost five years to the day that Ultraversity was validated at Anglia Ruskin University, we have received conditional approval for a new scheme based on the same philosophies of learner-centred, work-focussed, community-supported, action-inquiry and innovative assessment.

This IDIBL course framework validated at the University of Bolton is more ambitious in scope, more refined in character and draws fresh inspiration from the organisational thinking from its home in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics.

We can now begin to recruit in earnest for a Masters course in ‘Learning with Technology’ and follow it up with further courses in Regeneration & Sustainable Communities, Chronic Healthcare and other societal thematic problems which need active and vibrant attention.

In each case the proposals will be relatively cost-effective to approve by basing their pedagogy and organisation on our IDIBL framework:IDIBL framework

Shirley on ‘Undergraduates and wider reading’

Shirley

Shirley asks about reading:

  • What prompts students to read more relevant material?
  • Is there sufficient emphasis on appropriate wider reading in the module resources?
  • Are there sufficient opportunities for students to discuss their reading?
  • How can students make better use of libraries, both on and off line?
  • Is there a need for more help on assessing the credibility of reading material?

I would add:

  • How can students share the task of assessing the importance of an article?
  • How can students tackle the academic style and cultural background of articles?

I’m a strong believer in creating reading groups and structuring the responsibilities so that students take turns in presenting their analysis of articles and being critical friends to each other – a simple, but effective teaching organisation, which soon lifts mutual capability.

JISC CETIS conference 2007

 JISC CETIS conference diagram

Loads of enjoyable discursive sessions here, but I enjoyed Scott Wilson’s workshop ‘Co-ordination and Control of Business Processes’ most of all. We discussed which higher education processes could respond to development in the light of technology developments. Our group’s diagram, although untidy led to a neat table of processes we felt could benefit from development:

Process Driver Impact Readiness for change Interventions
1 Peer learning matching Learning productivity Better results, fulfilment Good As 4 below
2 Teaching workload move effort from presentation to facilitation, formative assessment Medium Business process concepts as 4 below
3 Marking / assessment Discomfort, hard work, fairness Lower costs, reliable results, happier staff Low Systems of peer ranking
4 Environmental Audit Environmentalism Planet saved Good Online support
5 Learn(ing)ed Societies, (Journals, peer-review, inter-institutional repositirys, joint bids Need for enhancement of academic society Better education Good Social software, intentional communities of practice, business process enabled