The ‘gay cure’ experiments that were written out of scientific history

Robert Heath

This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

Robert Heath claimed to have cured homosexuality by implanting electrodes into the pleasure centre of the brain. Robert Colvile reports on one of the great forgotten stories of neuroscience.

For the first hour, they just talked. He was nervous; he’d never done this before. She was understanding, reassuring: let’s just lie down on the bed together, she said, and see what happens. Soon, events took their course: they were enjoying themselves so much they could almost forget about the wires leading out of his skull.

The year was 1970, and the man was a 24-year-old psychiatric patient. The woman, 21, was a prostitute from the French Quarter of New Orleans, hired by special permission of the attorney general of Louisiana. And they had just become part of one of the strangest experiments in scientific history: an attempt to use pleasure conditioning to turn a gay man straight.

The patient – codenamed B-19 – was, according to the two academic papers that catalogued the course of the research, a “single, white male of unremarkable gestation and birth”. He came from a military family and had had an unhappy childhood. He had, the papers said, entered the military but had been expelled for “homosexual tendencies” within a month. He had a five-year history of homosexuality, and a three-year history of drug abuse: he had tried glues, paints, thinners, sedatives, marijuana, LSD, amphetamines, even nutmeg and vanilla extract. He had temporal lobe epilepsy. He was depressive, suicidal, insecure, procrastinating, self-pitying and narcissistic. “All of his relationships,” wrote his doctors, with an unsparing lack of sympathy, “have been characterised by coercion, manipulation and demand.”

One of the strangest experiments in scientific history: an attempt to use pleasure conditioning to turn a gay man straight.

In 1970, B-19 ended up in the care of Robert Galbraith Heath, chair of the department of psychiatry and neurology at Tulane University, New Orleans. Heath’s prescription was drastic. He and his team implanted stainless steel, Teflon-coated electrodes into nine separate regions of B-19’s brain, with wires leading back out of his skull. Once he had recovered from the operation, a control box was attached which enabled him, under his doctors’ supervision, to provide a one-second jolt to the brain area of his choice. Continue reading The ‘gay cure’ experiments that were written out of scientific history

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UCL/BPS Talk July 11th: Martyn Pickersgill “On Infrastructure and Ontology”

The British Psychological Society‘s History of Psychology Centre, in conjunction with UCL’s Centre for the History of the Psychological Disciplines, has announced the next talk in the Summer term. On Monday July 11th Martyn Pickersgill (right) will be speaking on ‘On infrastructure and ontology: Shifting dynamics of knowledge production and application in mental health.’ Details follow below.

Monday 11th July
Dr Martyn Pickersgill (Usher Institute for Population Health Studies and Informatics, Edinburgh Medical School): ‘On infrastructure and ontology: Shifting dynamics of knowledge production and application in mental health’

Infrastructures proliferate within mental health. Services are developed and instantiated both through and as particular socio-material configurations. These are underpinned by diverse kinds of infrastructure, as well as serving as the underpinning for therapeutic encounters. The knowledge drawn upon, ignored or un-encountered by psychological therapists is itself produced through a range of infrastructural arrangements, which are impacted and directed by research funders in varying ways. In this talk, I take considerations of infrastructure as a departure point for discussing two Wellcome Trust-funded projects on the sociology of mental health. The first represents an analysis of the social dimensions of initiatives to enhance access to psychological therapy in England and Scotland; the second is a new study interrogating innovation in psychiatric diagnosis across the US and the UK. I will discuss the forms of normativity that (are claimed to) structure both of the cases I explore, and consider the infrastructural arrangements my respondents imagine and enact in response to these. In turn, I want to reflect on what (drives to develop) infrastructures do to the ontologies of pathologies, patients and professionals working in mental health research and practice.

Location: Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, University College London

Time: 6-7:30pm

Directions: From the Torrington Place entrance to UCL, enter the campus on Malet Place.  After fifty metres, you will find Foser Court on the right hand side. Turn right under the underpass, and enter via the second door on the right.  The common room is straight ahead.

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Allan Branstiter: Madness & A Thousand Reconstructions

The Mississippi State Asylum, see original post on AHA Today for full image citation
The Mississippi State Asylum, see original post on AHA Today for full image citation

Another highlight from the AHA Today blog–an announcement of a three parted post series by University of Southern Mississippi PhD Student Branstiter.  Titled “Madness and a Thousand Reconstructions: Learning to Embrace the Messiness of the Past,” the series, a reflexive narrative about archival research and historiography, will be of particular interest to other graduate students and early career historians engaging in similar processes of craft development.

Branstiter’s series will explain how shifts in the reformulation of his topic (an asylum scandal in Reconstruction-era US south) from ‘event’ to ‘lens’ allowed him to investigate its contexts in a way that could more fully apprehend the complexity involved. By recounting his own historiographic processes, Branstiter expounds upon common challenges in the construction of historical knowledge, including the politics of interpretation, the benefits of allowing the data to speak, as well as negotiation of the limits of formal records and informal memory practices. We look forward to the installments!

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In History of the Human Sciences: The second synthesis of Ronald Fisher

Maurizio Esposito (University of Santiago) has a piece out in the History of the Human Sciences titled “From human science to biology: The second synthesis of Ronald Fisher.”

Fisher_3The abstract reads as follows:

Scholars have paid great attention to the neo-Darwinism of Ronald Fisher. He was one of the founding fathers of the modern synthesis and, not surprisingly, his writings and life have been widely scrutinized. However, less attention has been paid to his interests in the human sciences. In assessing Fisher’s uses of the human sciences in his seminal book the “Genetical Theory of Natural Selection” and elsewhere, the article shows how Fisher’s evolutionary thought was essentially eclectic when applied to the human context. In order to understand how evolution works among humans, Fisher made himself also a sociologist and historian. More than a eugenically minded Darwinist, Fisher was also a sophisticated scholar combining many disciplines without the ambition to reduce, simplistically, the human sciences to biology.

Find the full work here.

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AHA Today on Archiving the Internet

AHA logoStephanie Kingsley (over on the American Historical Association‘s blog) put up a post on the ethical and technical challenges of retaining records of the web. Summarizing the proceedings of a day symposium on the topic, Kingsley also consults with the York Psyborg lab’s good fried Ian Milligan (Waterloo) to expound on the complex topic. She also provides a compendium of resources for those historians interested in contributing to projects being undertaken to #SaveTheWeb. Find the full post here.

 

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IAS School of Historical Studies 2017-2018 Membership Scholarships

_MG_0921Applications for the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey opened this month. Appropriately for a private institute for scholarship without the competing obligations of the university, their School of Historical Studies “bears no resemblance to a traditional academic history department, but rather supports all learning for which historical methods are appropriate.  The School embraces a historical approach to research throughout the humanistic disciplines, from socioeconomic developments, political theory, and modern international relations, to the history of art, science, philosophy, music, and literature. The program:

supports scholarship in all fields of historical research, but is concerned principally with the history of western, near eastern and Asian civilizations, with particular emphasis upon Greek and Roman civilization, the history of Europe (medieval, early modern, and modern), the Islamic world, East Asian studies, art history, the history of science and philosophy and modern international relations.

  • 40 members accepted every year for either single or double terms (approximately $37,500 and $75,000 respectively)
  • Ph.D or equivalency requisite
  • Any nationality, no required institutional affiliation
  • Substantial publication record relative to stage of career
  • Full time residence expected

Follow this link for full information about the program and application announcement, instructions, and stipend calculations.

 

 

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T&P: Saulo de Freitas Araujo’s “Toward a philosophical history of psychology”

Forthcoming in Theory & Psychology, and now available online, is a piece by Saulo de Freitas Araujo on the future historiography of the history of psychology. Full details follow below.

“Toward a philosophical history of psychology: An alternative path for the future,” by Saulo de Freitas Araujo. The abstract reads,

Recent transformations in the history of science and the philosophy of science have led historians of psychology to raise questions about the future development of their historiography. Although there is a dominant tendency among them to view their discipline as related to the social turn in the history of science, there is no consensus over how to approach the history of psychology methodologically. The aim of this article is to address the issue of the future of the historiography of psychology by proposing an alternative but complementary path for the field, which I call a philosophical history of psychology. In order to achieve this goal, I will first present and discuss the emergence of the social turn in the history of psychology, showing some of its problems. I will then introduce the contemporary debate about the integration of the history of science and the philosophy of science as an alternative model for the history of psychology. Finally, I will propose general guidelines for a philosophical history of psychology, discussing some of its possible advantages and limitations.

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Devereux, Ellenberger, and the Early History of Transcultural Psychiatry

The most recent issue of Transcultural Psychiatry includes a piece on Henri Ellenberger and transcultural psychiatry that may interest AHP readers. Full details follow below.

“On the history of cultural psychiatry: Georges Devereux, Henri Ellenberger, and the psychological treatment of Native Americans in the 1950s,”  by Emmanuel Delille. The abstract reads,

Henri Ellenberger (1905–1993) wrote the first French-language synthesis of transcultural psychiatry (“Ethno-psychiatrie”) for the French Encyclopédie Médico-Chirurgicale in 1965. His work casts new light on the early development of transcultural psychiatry in relation to scientific communities and networks, particularly on the role of Georges Devereux (1908–1985). The Ellenberger archives offer the possibility of comparing published texts with archival ones to create a more nuanced account of the history of transcultural psychiatry, and notably of the psychological treatment of Native Americans. This paper examines some key moments in the intellectual trajectories of Devereux and Ellenberger, including Devereux’s dispute with Ackerknecht, the careers of Devereux and Ellenberger as therapists at the Menninger Foundation (Topeka, Kansas) in the 1950s, and their respective positions in the research network developed by McGill University (Montreal, Quebec) with the newsletter Transcultural Research in Mental Health Problems. Finally, I consider their ties to other important figures in this field as it transitioned from colonial medicine to academic medicine, including Roger Bastide (France), Henri Collomb and the Ortigues (France and Africa), as well as Eric Wittkower and Brian Murphy (Canada) and Alexander Leighton (United States and Canada).

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Spontaneous Generations: Phantom Limb Pain in Late 19th c. America

The most recent issue of Spontaneous Generations includes several items that may be of interest to AHP readers. In addition to two reviews of recent volumes on the history of the human sciences, the issue includes a piece by Daniel Goldberg on ideas about phantom pain in the late-nineteenth century. Full details follow below.

““What They Think of the Causes of So Much Suffering”: S. Weir Mitchell, John Kearsley Mitchell, and Ideas about Phantom Limb Pain in Late 19th c. America,” by Daniel Goldberg. The abstract reads,

This paper analyzes S. Weir Mitchell and his son John Kearsley Mitchell’s views on phantom limb pain in late 19th c. America. Drawing on a variety of primary sources including journal articles, letters, and treatises, the paper pioneers analysis of a cache of surveys sent out by the Mitchells that contain amputee Civil War veterans’ own narratives of phantom limb pain. The paper utilizes an approach drawn from the history of ideas, documenting how changing models of medicine and objectivity help explain the Mitchells’s attitudes, practices, and beliefs regarding the enigma of phantom limb pain as experienced by their patients. The paper also assesses concerns over malingering, pain, authenticity, and deception through these intellectual frameworks of somaticism and mechanical objectivity. The paper concludes that much of relevance to the ways in which the Mitchells and other late 19th c. neurologists regarded and treated their patients’ pain is explicable in terms of the larger intellectual frameworks that structured these healers’ ideas about lesionless pain.

Reviews:

Nikolas Rose and Joelle Abi-Rached, Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind. Reviewed by Riiko Bedford.

Cold War Social Science. Reviewed by Mike Thicke.

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NBN Interview w/ Gabriel Mendes on Under the Strain of Color

The New Books Network as released a podcast interview with Gabriel Mendes (right) on his recent book Under the Strain of Color: Harlem’s LaFargue Clinic and the Promise of an Antiracist Psychiatry. As the Network describes,

While providing the first in-depth history of the LaFargue Clinic (1946-57), the book focuses on the figures who came together in a seemingly unlikely union to found it: Richard Wright, the prominent author; Frederic Wertham, a German-American psychiatrist now known for his advocacy for censorship of comic books; and The Reverend Shelton Hale Bishop, an important Harlem pastor. Wright’s literary prowess, work for the Communist party, and brush with Chicago School sociology met with Wertham’s socially-conscious and uncompromising brand of psychoanalysis to challenge mainstream psychiatric theory and its discriminatory practices in the Jim Crow North. Those who could afford it were charged 25 cents for sessions in the basement of St. Philip’s Episcopal church in Harlem, and 50 cents for court testimonials. A thoroughgoing grassroots effort, ignored by philanthropists and state funding, the LaFargue Clinic throws mid-20th Century mental health and race relations into relief, and is sure to stir interest in the untold stories of projects like it.

The full interview can be heard online here.

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