The medical power trip

I’ve been rather incensed recently with the story in the news about the parents who took their child out from a hospital in Southampton against medical advice.

Apparently, we are no longer allowed to disagree with medics.

In one of the most disgraceful breaches of human rights, the doctors called the cops, had international arrest warrants released against the parents, and split the family up for several days.

All because the parents didn’t agree with the doctors’ opinion.

Absolutely appalling!

Who is it that gives consent for treatment of their child? Parent or doctor? It has to be the parents. As the doctors are the ones offering the treatment it would be unethical for them to also be the ones giving consent.

So, within such a system, it is up to the doctors to ensure that they provide ALL information to their patients and guardians in order for them to give informed consent. Implicit within this system is that the patient or guardian can disagree and refuse to give consent.

The only circumstances by which parental consent can be overridden is when the child disagrees (and we need to make sure that they have not been coerced by pissed off medics) or were there is already documented evidence of abuse or neglect. Refusing treatment of your child is not abuse. There are many many reasons why parents may disagree with their child’s treatment plan that has nothing to do with being abusive. In fact, it is the medics who are being the abusers by forcing treatment on a child for who parental consent has not been obtained.

Basically, it comes down to this: who has ultimate responsibility for a child’s welfare (i.e., who is legally responsible?). If it is the parents, then it is them who have to give consent but are also criminally liable for neglect and abuse. If it is the state, then they need to give consent but, equally, they are criminally liable when the shit hits the fans. While the latter would make its own self sustaining industry it also means lots of social workers and medics in court on criminal charges. Scotland is looking to put in place a loosely based system on the latter, which a care worker assigned to every new born child, which seems a legal and ethical minefield very similar to what I have outlined above.

It’s a slippery slope. Already some people with mental health and neurological conditions are deemed to be incapable of giving consent. Are we really sure that medics in these situations are really giving guardians all the information necessary to make informed consent for family members? Given the number of abuses of this system reported online, I very much doubt it. Children cannot give consent, so their parents do. Are we going to erode this system too? Are we saying that parents are either too thick to understand the complex medical terminology or too neglectful to care? If you think that then you need to hope that the medics are the ones that have the child’s best interests at heart rather than furthering their career. If a child’s treatment, for example, is actually a part of research study, then the medic most definitely does not have the child’s best interests at heart.

Parents have a right to deny treatment for their child. It isn’t abuse, it isn’t neglect. Instead of considering the motivations of the parents, consider the motivations of the medics. Medics abusing their power in this way is an erosion of our human rights and liberties and must be fought. Otherwise, you could find yourself in hospital with doctors ignoring your wishes and doing whatever they like “in your best interests”.


MH17: Appalling act, even more appalling media response

The downing of the MH17 flight in Ukraine is APPALLING!

Downing passenger flights should be made akin to a war crime.

More than that, however, I am appalled by the media response. Do we really need to see pictures of the explosion, wreckage and even passengers’ luggage sprawled over the landscape? Do we need to see pictures of grieving relatives?

When will the media learn that this is completely unethical? How about treating the families, and the viewer, with some respect and dignity? Showing these pictures must be distressing for the families who will be wondering and imagining what happened. Harassing families to get their pictures or interviews in completely inappropriate! How would they feel is someone shoved a camera and mic in their face after one of their family was murdered?

Appalling act, and disgraceful actions by the media!

Showing pictures of headless fat people does not protect their identity

Why is it when the media want to run a negative health story they go out and take pictures of videos of parts of people’s bodies without their consent?

There was a twoofer on BBC Breakfast this morning: headless fat people and eyeless smokers.

Why should BBC or ITV be allowed to go out on the street and take pictures of people without their permission to use in their news stories? News stories which are saying negative things about the people who they took their picture of? All those headless bodies are having a judgement made on them: you’re a fattie! you’re going to die of lung cancer!

On more positive stories, you see people on bikes or running being shown too.

I really think that us Joe Bloggs should be allowed to control our image in the media. If we were a celebrity we would be able to. The media seem to think that if they don’t show your head then your anonymity is protected. It isn’t. We do actually have eyes and mirrors and can identify ourselves from other parts of ourselves.

Health & Safety considerations

Dear Researcher

Please find attached your recent ethics form which is being returned to you as you have not completed the health and safety form.

Even though it is abundantly clear from your form that there are no health and safety considerations please indicate whether your proposed experiment will be using any of the following:

nuclear fusion

anthrax, small pox, Ebola or any other lethal virus or bacteria

black holes

hover craft


heroin, cocaine, marijuana or any other fun but illegal drug

exam boards

ground to air missiles, tanks, fighter jets

vending machine ‘coffee’

participants older than 21 years of age, or male participants

teacher training courses lasting longer than two days (please note that an additional from ‘how to deliver effective CPR’ will have to be submitted along with the health and safety form)

We loom forward to receiving your modified form

University Ethics Committee


Are journals’ publishing practices (partly) responsible for academic fraud?

You know something is bad when even your taxi driver knows about it….

Apparently, psychology has a problem with scientific fraud at the moment, as Jens Forster at Amsterdam is the latest to have the finger pointed at him.

This doesn’t look good for social psychology or Holland.

But it isn’t just social psychology that this is a problem for, it is a potential problem for psychology as a whole and for science in general.

Forster claims that he is the victim of a witch hunt. While I don’t know whether this is true, it can sometimes be the case. I’ve known two people accused of fraud who have been cleared. In one case, this person has literally been stalked by his accuser for the best part of 2 decades, with trivial complaints regularly registered and investigated for which none of them have been upheld. This is a particular problem if you are publishing in a very fraught field with factions. If they can’t poke holes in your theory, they can now come gunning for you personally and undermine your reputation.

The Forster case also makes me wonder whether some of these accusations are a case of the “file drawer problem”. You run 10 experiments and only 2 produce significant differences….which ones do you think will end up published? You run 30, 10 work out, but a smaller number produce really clear cut neat data….which ones do you choose to publish?

While this is of questionable practice, and researchers need a slap on the hand for it, it is rampant, and it is encouraged by journals refusing to send articles out for review that do not find significant findings. It is this latter issue which encourages only the “best looking” data to get published and for rather parochial views of findings to occur that give an incomplete view.

So, I’m placing the blame at the door of journals. Although they don’t, obviously, have a policy for only publishing good looking data, it is pretty explicit. I myself had reviewers comment that they don’t want my article published because the data is “messy”. Well, yes, data regularly is messy, but that is because I haven’t massaged or manipulated it. Data is what it is, and when it isn’t, it’s been fudged in some ways. Likewise, reviewers have declined to recommend publication because the data is nonsignificant, or doesn’t fully support a theory, because some of the assumptions were not supported. If journals weren’t so parochial in their approach many of these issues would not be occurring now. We are reaping the whirlwind of decades of poor journal policy.

Perhaps I am naive or overly optimistic, but I’m not inclined to think fraud is rampant in science. Yes, poor research practices are, but out and out fraud, I certainly hope not (although only 14% of medical research can be replicated…so if you want to point the finger anywhere, look there first!).

Some universities are trying to provide space on campus to store data for the foreseeable future. This seems like a good idea. What with the pressure on space on campuses holding onto large data sets (which table top psychology experiments with lots of participants produce oodles of it), there needs to be some way of storing this data. Most academic offices can only contain so much of it before it either goes in the trash or makes its way to the academics home for storage in the attic, which they shouldn’t have to do).

Meanwhile, I will be renaming all my excel files with something more meaningful than Book1…..

International Affective Picture Scale: An ethical dilemma

I faced an interesting little ethical conundrum recently. I review ethics form for my department. Some applications want to run studies with, what can only be described as, horrific images. Dead bodies, mutilated bodies, massive tumours. You might know some of these as the IAPS (not to be confused with the governments’ flagship scheme to increase psychological therapies to the population….although if you’ve waited 6 months to get therapy delivered by phone, you might see some similarities).

My dilemma was this: I do NOT want to look at them. My job however, suggests that I need to vet these images. But were is my informed consent about looking at them? Were’s my debrief and checking whether I’m distressed?

I did not give my consent. I’ve seen some of these pictures many years ago and have successfully suppressed them. I have no desire to repeat the experience. And I shouldn’t have to.

But, is it not a big indicator that such an experiment has red flags when the assessor won’t even look at them? The whole point of them is to make people distressed, and I really don’t see appropriate services being put in palace for long term consequences. And, of course, it is those who are really vulnerable to such imagery that seem to be the target of such projects. Sending them off to student counselling is not appropriate. The horse has bolted.

I am a pretty thick skinned person, I am no more squeamish than the next person. But the one thing I will not watch are images of mutilated bodies. Make me do it are your pearl….it is not in my contract.

IAPS might be standardised and seen as an acceptable stimulus for measuring this that and the other. But I’m not buying

The misrepresentation of psychology on the BBC…again…and again….

BBC News, why oh why?

They have been criticised a lot over the last couple of years for misrepresentation of psychologists and psychotherapists on their news shows.

It usually goes like this…

“Hello psychologist/psychotherapist, lets talk about something that you are not qualified to talk about. You have kids? That is fantastic. You’re subjective experience is very important so let’s just talk about that. We won’t require you to talk about any objectively based evidence collected under controlled experimental conditions. What you do with your kids would be better”

These people are being put forward by the BBC as experts and professional. So, the public expect that everything that they say has some kind of evidence to it. What you do with your kids is not evidence. But because they are there in a professional capacity they are giving weight and credence to what they are saying. Just because you are a psychologist or psychotherapist and also a parent does not make you an expert on parenting anymore than anyone else who is a parent. In both cases, their views are subjective.

Despite the fact that there is a complaint with BBC Trust currently about this issue, they did it again today.

Amanda Dunlop, psychotherapist. Second thing the interviewers said to her was “you also have kids, don’t you?”, and the rest of the interview was specifically about her kids.

If she isn’t going to be interviewed as an expert psychotherapist then why bother? BBC could have interviewed any numpty on the street and found out exactly the same info.

Ms Dunlop was on BBC on 4th Nov 2013 doing exactly the same thing.

Thank you BBC. You are one of the primary reasons, no doubt, that the public think that psychologists and psychotherapist just spout common sense.