Steve Smith has recently published a book detailing his experiences as a patient at Oak Ridge, the maximum security forensic mental hospital in Penetanguishene, Ontario, in the late-1960s and 70s. Details about Smith’s book, The Psychopath Machine: A Story of Resistance and Survival, and further information on Oak Ridge can be found on his website. (AHP’s previous coverage of Oak Ridge and details on the digital exhibit, Remembering Oak Ridge, can be found here.) The book is described as follows:
When Steve Smith set out to hitchhike from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to Canada’s west coast back in 1968, he was just an eighteen-year-old hippie with an appetite for adventure. But a short way into his journey, a reckless decision to steal a car landed him in police custody. Afraid of getting caught with the two tabs of acid in his pocket, Steve popped them into his mouth. It was one of the worst decisions of his life.
Mistaking his drug trip for a mental breakdown, the authorities placed him in Ontario’s notorious Oak Ridge mental health facility. While there, not only did he find himself shoulder-to-shoulder with people like notorious child killer Peter Woodcock and mass murderers Matt Lamb and Victor Hoffman, he also fell into the hands of someone worse: Dr. Elliot T. Barker.
Over the next eight months, Barker subjected Steve and the other patients to a battery of unorthodox experiments involving LSD, scopolamine, methamphetamines, and other drugs. Steven also experienced numerous other forms of abuse and torture.
Following his release, Steve continued to suffer the aftereffects of his Oak Ridge experience. For several years, he found himself in and out of prison—and back to Oak Ridge—before he was finally able to establish himself as a successful entrepreneur.
Once he began investigating what happened to him during his youth, not even Steve was prepared for what he would discover about Barker, Oak Ridge, and one of the darkest periods in Canada’s treatment of mental health patients. The question remains: Was Oak Ridge and Dr. Barker trying to cure psychopaths or trying to create and direct them?
When they wrote their first papers, Danny and Amos had no particular audience in mind. Their readers would be the handful of academics who happened to subscribe to the highly specialized psychology trade journals in which they published. By 1972 they had spent the better part of three years uncovering the ways in which people judged and predicted—but the examples that they had used to illustrate their ideas were all drawn directly from psychology, or from the strange, artificial-seeming tests that they had given high-school and college students. Yet they were certain that their insights applied anywhere in the world that people were judging probabilities and making decisions. They sensed that they needed to find a broader audience.
A soon to be published book from Princeton Architectural Press may be just what every psychologist and historian of psychology has been waiting for to adorn their coffee table. Psychobookis a lavishly illustrated volume documenting the history of psychological testing.
“Psychobook” comprises an eclectic assortment of tests from the early twentieth century to the present, along with new artworks and whimsical questionnaires inspired by the originals. These materials are interlaced with vintage and contemporary photographs, portraits, collages, and film stills of psychologists analyzing patients or staring incisively into space, sometimes in idiosyncratically decorated Manhattan offices. It’s not immediately clear why this book exists, but it would probably look great in a therapist’s waiting room.
As we recently reported on AHP a new book on the infamous case study of H.M. has subjected this work to increasing scrutiny, especially with respect to the actions of psychologist Suzanne Corkin, chief H.M. researcher who also served as gatekeeper of other researchers’ access to H.M. Corkin died in May of this year, while H.M. (now known to be Henry Molaison) died in 2008.
Backlash against Luke Dittrich and his book, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets, has been growing since a lengthy piece adapted from the book appeared in the New York Times Magazine last week. (Further pieces on Dittrich’s book can be found on Psychology Today and the NYTMag’s Science of Us, among many other sources.) Particularly controversial have been three points: (1) reports that Corkin destroyed the records related to H.M.; (2) claims that Corkin suppressed reports of an additional lesion in H.M.’s brain; and (3) questions regarding the appropriateness of appointing a a non-relative as H.M.’s conservator.
Dr. James DiCarlo, head of the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, has written a letter to the New York Times disputing these claims. Additionally, reports are circulating that a group of roughly 200 neuroscientists have written to the Times claiming that Dittrich’s work “contains important errors, misinterpretations of scientific disputes, and unfair characterizations of an MIT neuroscientist who did groundbreaking research on human memory” (from here; also see here and here for more). The letter signed by this group can be read in full here.
In response to DiCarlo’s claims Dittrich has written a post for Medium outlining his position and evidence regarding each claim. Included in Dittrich’s post is a 7-minute audio clip from an interview he conducted with Corkin wherein she can be heard asserting that records concerning H.M. were destroyed. The audio can be heard here.
Sabine Arnaud‘s new book explores a history of discursive practices that played a role in the construction of hysteria as pathology. On Hysteria: The Invention of a Medical Category between 1670 and 1820(University of Chicago Press, 2015) considers a wide range of issues that are both specific to the particular history of hysteria, and more broadly applicable to the history medicine. Arnaud pays special attention to the role played by language in the definition of any medical category, basing her analysis on a masterful analysis of a spectrum of written medical genres (including dialogue, autobiography, correspondence, narrative, and polemic) that have largely been forgotten by the history of medicine. Arnaud asks, “What made it possible to view dozens of different diagnoses as variants of a single pathology, hysteria?” The answer can be found in a long process of rewriting and negotiation over the definition of these diagnoses enabled this retrospective assimilation, which was driven by enormously diverse political and epistemological stakes. In a series of fascinating chapters, the book interweaves the history of hysteria with studies of gender, class, literature, metaphor, narrative, and and religion. It’s an expertly-researched and compellingly-written account that will amply reward readers interested in the histories of medicine and gender.
Rebecca Lemov‘s beautifully written Database of Dreams: The Lost Quest to Catalog Humanity (Yale University Press, 2015) is at once an exploration of mid-century social science through paths less traveled and the tale of a forgotten future. The book is anchored around the story of Harvard-trained social scientist Bert Kaplan, who embarked on, in her words, a dizzyingly ambitious 1950s-era project to capture peoples dreams in large amounts and store them in an experimental data bank. While unique in scope, Kaplan’s project can be characterized as the culmination of efforts to apply techniques of personality capture–projective testing, dream analysis, and life history–in cross-cultural research on indigenous peoples, an effort to account for the full spectrum of human life amidst the encroachment of modernity upon cultures based, for example, in oral traditions.
Richly documenting the entanglements of Kaplan and others in their attempts to render subjects as data, Lemov throws the transactional nature of anthropology into relief. A data point for an ethnographer can be many things for a research subject: cash for buying American niceties, a beer, a dream lost in the act of recounting, even a permanent mark of distrust. The book is also a history of a technology which never came to fruition: the futuristic reader for Kaplan’s Microcards was never realized, and the boxes of cards became dispersed and lost their value as a total archive of human personality. Lemov argues that we would do well to regard the fate of Kaplan’s database as a parable for our age by calling attention to the information loss upon which the technologies of documentation that saturate our present rely. What, then, will become of our compressed audio files, forgotten social media accounts, and backup hard drives stashed in the back corners of drawers?
the most influential example of “pathological togetherness” lifted from the animal kingdom was not a bird. It was a rodent and, in particular, the laboratory experiments performed on rats in the 1960s by ethologist John B. Calhoun at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
Calhoun built a “rat city” in which everything a rat could need was provided, except space. The result was a population explosion followed by pathological overcrowding, then extinction. Well before the rats reached the maximum possible density predicted by Calhoun, however, they began to display a range of “deviant” behaviours: mothers neglected their young; dominant males became unusually aggressive; subordinates withdrew psychologically; others became hypersexual; the living cannibalized the dead. Calhoun’s “rat utopia” became a living hell.
Calhoun published the early results of his experiments in 1962 in the now-classic Scientific American article, “Population Density and Social Pathology”. As historians Edmund Ramsden and Jon Adams have shown, Calhoun’s rats circulated widely as “scientific evidence” of the dangers of urban overcrowding in human society. His concept of the “behavioural sink” chimed with despairing journalistic reports of “sink estates” and “sink schools” in 1970s Britain.
In acknowledgment of the book’s exceptional contributions to our understanding of Adolf Meyer and the field he singularly shaped, Cheiron awards the 2016 Book Prize to Susan D. Lamb (U. Ottawa) for Pathologist of the Mind: Adolf Meyer and the Origins of American Psychiatry, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2014.
After becoming the first psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1908, Meyer devoted himself over the next five decades to the scientific acceptance of psychiatry as a methodologically sound specialty of medicine. Although historians of psychiatry have recognized Meyer as a founding father, many of his ideas were not well understood, and his highly influential impact on psychiatry has been partially shrouded in mystery. Having gained access to previously sealed patient records as well as Meyer’s personal correspondence, and having offered such a careful and thoughtful analysis of these precious archival materials, Lamb provides historians of the behavioral and social sciences with a coveted window into Meyer’s thinking and decision making.
Pathologist of the Mind clarifies Meyerian notions of psychobiology, psychotherapy, and evolutionary theory (among others) and places this important figure, as well as the hospital and area of specialty to which he was dedicated, into historical context. In impressively detailed fashion, the book brings the man and the era to life.
Our congratulations to Dr. Lamb! Find out more about her work here.
Way back in the Spring of 2013 we brought you news that author Andromeda Romano-Lax was working on a fictionalized account of the life of psychologist Rosalie Rayner Watson. That book, now titled Behave, has just been published by SoHo Press. A trailer for the book is featured above and a recent Kirkus review of Behave can be found here.
The book is described on the publishers website:
“The mother begins to destroy the child the moment it’s born,” wrote the founder of behaviorist psychology, John B. Watson, whose 1928 parenting guide was revered as the child-rearing bible. For their dangerous and “mawkish” impulses to kiss and hug their child, “most mothers should be indicted for psychological murder.” Behave is the story of Rosalie Rayner, Watson’s ambitious young wife and the mother of two of his children.
In 1920, when she graduated from Vassar College, Rayner was ready to make her mark on the world. Intelligent, beautiful, and unflappable, she won a coveted research position at Johns Hopkins assisting the charismatic celebrity psychologist John B. Watson. Together, Watson and Rayner conducted controversial experiments on hundreds of babies to prove behaviorist principles. They also embarked on a scandalous affair that cost them both their jobs — and recast the sparkling young Rosalie Rayner, scientist and thinker, as Mrs. John Watson, wife and conflicted, maligned mother, just another “woman behind a great man.”
With Behave, Andromeda Romano-Lax offers a provocative fictional biography of Rosalie Rayner Watson, a woman whose work influenced generations of Americans, and whose legacy has been lost in the shadow of her husband’s. In turns moving and horrifying, Behave is a richly nuanced and disturbing novel about science, progress, love, marriage, motherhood, and what all those things cost a passionate, promising young woman.