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Book.  Treating the Brain: An Odyssey
by Barry Blackwell, MD
International Network for the History of Neuropsychopharmacology 2020

As a further introduction to this section on ‘Bias in science’ it is appropriate to note this book (2020), because I imagine some may think my comments about the colossal amount poor science being published is some kind of over-reaction, some may conclude I must surely be exaggerating.

I assure you this is not the case, after all I am a psycho-pharmacologist.  My career was centred around researching and using medication help people with serious illnesses affecting the brain.  I am pro medication, but pro medication that works, not pro medication that is marketed falsely and deceptively, and that has minimal benefit.

Therefore, this Book published in 2020 by Barry Blackwell, is noteworthy.  Barry is one of the eminent senior doctors and researchers in the field of psycho-pharmacology, his career spanned the last half of the last century, and into this millenium. Barry is now in his 88, I correspond with him frequently because of his seminal work discovering the cheese reaction with MAOIs, back in the 1960s. You will see his papers referenced in my writings along with comments about the perspicacity of his work.

Barry says:

Originally titled Treating the Brain this comparison led me to describe it as an odyssey, adding that to the book’s title (Blackwell 2020).
Edward (Ned) Shorter was kind enough to write a Preface to my book and while he agreed with the two periods and their labelling, his experience as one of the world’s leading historians of psychiatry and his expansive data base led him to recognize the far larger significance, scope and severity of the difference now documented in [Shorter’s book] The Rise and Fall of the Age of Psychopharmacology.

Purpose of the Book

In the Preface to his own book Ned expresses his main concern:

People still take drugs for the brain and mind that often work but the science has gone out of it

As a historian he traces this from

the relative dignity and arms-length relationship between industry and academy in the 1960s to the invasion and capture of academic psychiatry by the industry in the 1990s. How did this decline occur?
Shorter, ‘the invasion and capture of academic psychiatry by the industry’

That is as radical is anything I have ever said.

Barry continues

Ned answers his own question. “The rise of psychopharmacology was a brilliant event but its fall has resulted from the triumph of commerce over science.” He names this “the degradation of psychiatry as a clinical discipline” and identifies two major contributory causes, diagnosis and treatment. The former is “The DSM calamity” dating from DSM-III in 1980, “a monstrous compilation of artifacts and half diagnoses.” The latter contrasts the appropriate and effective use of imipramine, chlorpromazine and the MAOIs for “sturdy clinical diagnoses” contrasted with the less effective but relentlessly marketed SSRIs and second-generation antipsychotics for consensus driven DSM disorders. So, psycho-pharmacology has evolved from “a rigorously scientific discipline” to become a “a commercial trope for selling drugs; wide-eyed speculation about neurotransmitters and receptors and jury-rigged trials replace scientific evidence.”
The fall of psychopharmacology is the triumph of commerce over science

I do not think I need to add anything further to the words and thoughts of these emminent senior academics in order to persuade you that what I have written in this section represents what many more senior members of the psychopharmacology community might say, even if only in private.


Addresses, communications, media


1. Gillman, P.K., Atypical antipsychotics: where is the science, where is the evidence? The Carlat Psychiatry Report, 2013. 11(1): p. 3-5.

2. Leucht, S., W. Kissling, and J.M. Davis, Second-generation antipsychotics for schizophrenia: can we resolve the conflict? Psychol Med, 2009. 39(10): p. 1591-602.

3. Huston, P. and D. Moher, Redundancy, disaggregation, and the integrity of medical research. Lancet, 1996. 347(9007): p. 1024-6.

4. McLaren, N., Psychiatry as Bullshit. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 2016. 18(1): p. 48-57 http://theaimn.com/psychiatry-as-bullshit/.

5. Smith, R.L., Medical Journals Are an Extension of the Marketing Arm of Pharmaceutical Companies. Public Library of Science: Medicine, 2005. 2: p. e138.

6. Smith, R., Travelling but never arriving: reflections of a retiring editor. British Medical Journal, 2004. 329(7460): p. 242-244.

7. Akers, K.G., New journals for publishing medical case reports. Journal of the Medical Library Association: JMLA, 2016. 104(2): p. 146 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4816468/.


Wisdom of the elders

Medical science publishing: A slow-motion train wreck

Risperdal: Forgotten Chicanery

Lancet ‘21 antidepressants’ meta-analysis

Guidelines: problems aplenty

Book Review of “Drunk Tank Pink’ by Adam Alter

Understanding Science: Science and Scientific Information

The Drug Industry’s Paradise

Gotzsche on Fraud and Deceit

Stepped trials: Magnifying methodological muddles — the supernatant effect

Mirtazapine: The greatest lie of all?

How Your Mind Works: It is Magic Part 2

P-hunting: The illogical in pursuit of the indefensible

Why Most New Antidepressants Are Ineffective

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