I get legal threats: Cinematic Appraisals UPDATED

So I got this e-mail accusing me of slander and informing me that attorneys will be in touch regarding damages from an old post about a service called “Cinematic Appraisals.”  The writer does seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the fact that every time they e-mail me, there’s something new for the front page of Google.  In different places, this particular message seems to be trying to legally threaten me, trying to shame me, and trying to make me feel sorry for her.

The e-mail mentions a Facebook *page* with which I am unfamiliar, but I have written about their website twice — once before FtB (on SheThought, WordPress, and now hosted here) and once last spring.  The second does a very thorough job highlighting all of the things claimed without evidence on the scientific part of their website:
http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller/2010/11/04/cinematic-appraisals-scam-or-science/
http://freethoughtblogs.com/ashleymiller/2013/04/22/i-get-e-mail-cinematic-appraisals-mind-science-or-pseudoscience/

Now the letter — it is pasted as is, typos hers.  I’ve offered some notes.

Dear Ms. Miller,
I am shocked that you have maintained your campaign against my company even after I communicated the facts you misstated.¹ From this point forward our attorney will be the only contact because we feel it is important that people who seek to have a public voice are also accountable for their actions. I appreciate the rights our great country affords its citizens and, like most people, work hard to keep my rights from infringing on the rights of others. Thankfully, our courts have defined where your rights end and mine begin. I cannot imagine why anyone who wishes to have a public voice would so recklessly damage the business of another, especially without provocation.

In your November 4th, 2010 post, you identify yourself as a writer who spends, “a lot of time looking out for scams trying to take advantage of me” and identifies my company as fraudulently “bilking people out of their money”, even though the Home page of our website clearly defines that we do not work with writers and that we do not offer screenplay coverage.²  We have not solicited your work and you have never been a customer. However, you have gone as far as to misleadingly solicit ScriptSavvy and Carson Reeves as alternative legitimate businesses for your readers to use as though they performed the same service as our company.

You are certainly aware of your errors and the damages of your slanderous comments.³ I contacted you personally as soon as your initial post surfaced in the Google search results requesting that you re-visit our website for the facts, however you continued your campaign of slanderous advertising by creating a Facebook page labeling our company a “scam”.  Facebeook removed the page over liability concerns, yet your posting continued.  I contacted you again on April 21, 2013 indicating that we had been financially harmed by your posts and clarifying again that we are an emotional response testing company, not screenplay coverage.

Your misleading comments have financially harmed our business, slandered our business name and disparaged our products, and we will seek to recover the damage you have caused. I hope you can put yourself in my shoes and understand how you would react to someone that slandered your name or a business you worked hard to create.

Sincerely,
Christine Reynolds
christine@cinematicappraisals.com

1. By maintaining a campaign, she seems to mean not having deleted the initial post.  On her part, no facts have been offered, no questions answered, no sources or science presented.

2. “After the initial page-by-page study is complete and individual score determined, the screenplay is then studied and examined by separate evaluators for its story structure and connection strength, yielding the second analysis based on content.” I’m sure there’s some other word for this than screenplay coverage, but for some reason it’s just not coming to me.

3. I’ve yet to be offered any information suggesting my analysis was in error, despite having asked for it.

4. She technically contacted my editor with this message: “11/17/10 8:23pm  We strongly suggest you review the complete information on our website prior to making slanderous comments, as our evaluations are completely separate from script coverage and script doctoring services. Our evaluations measure the bioneurological activity of the tester. We are available to answer any questions you may have.”  My editor responded by saying she was free to say what was wrong with the post and to offer any fact corrections.  We also both asked her for any scientific evidence for the claims on her site.  There was no response.  Also, “bioneurological” is a silly, meaningless word.

5. Facts were not and are not available on the website, which is the entirety of the complaint.  Seriously, nearly every sentence makes a claim that should have a citation.

6. I legitimately have no idea what she’s talking about here.  The only thing on Facebook I can find is me sharing my post about it last spring, which is obviously still up: https://www.facebook.com/mgafm/posts/10100289115192657  Possibly there was some actual page created?  I am unsure.

UPDATE:

I got a second e-mail from the same address, this one far more aggressive.

You obviously have not consulted an attorney, you will need to do so. When you do, they will tell you that you have no defense.

Your opinion is not based on experience or knowledge, the only opinion you have shared has been a fabrication because we have never conducted ourselves fraudulently with you or anyone else and do not even offer the services you purport are a “scam”.

Professional legal counsel will advise you on the difference between expressing yourself and infringing on the rights of others through slander, product disparagement, and tortious interference. Your postings are such an obvious example of a violation of the statutes that an attorney actually contacted us.

We have the ability to change our name or simply bury your online fabrications, while recovering our lost income and marketing expenses from you for the period beginning when your slanderous campaign originated in November 2010 through the end of 2013. Thankfully, you cannot change who you are and when I worked at an educational institution, part of my job was performing background checks on any potential speakers to ensure a solid reputation and to avoid people such as yourself that recklessly slander others which could damage the institution’s reputation.

Regardless of the outcome of this slander complaint, I will keep it renewed to forewarn others. Additionally if this lawsuit, whose judgement I will personally keep renewed until every cent I am awarded has been repaid, protects the world from another aggressive blogger with nothing relevant to say, the stress of the court filings will have been worth it because I will have made the world a better place.

Michael Shermer Legal Fund

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 10.43.01 AMSomeone has set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to help pay for Michael Shermer’s response to the unnamed first hand accuser at PZ’s site.

I actually don’t have a problem with people deciding they want to help raise money to pay for the legal fees someone else is incurring.  I think the justice system is such that that is entirely reasonable, especially if you’re a fan of the guy and think he’s being falsely accused.  It’s really no different from OJ or Michael Jackson fans wanting to financially support “their guy” through their legal troubles.  I happen to find myself on the opposite side, having heard and experienced too much behind the scenes to believe in Shermer’s innocence, but I don’t begrudge those without that knowledge for wanting fair legal representation of Shermer.

I do, however, begrudge them their inability to believe in the good intentions of others with a demonstrable history of trying to do something positive with the movement.  It seems that, to some skeptics, merely offering criticism of problems you see in the organizations, conferences, celebrities, or overall movement is tantamount to wishing to destroy skepticism, rather than an attempt to make skepticism better.

“PZ Myers and the FtB feminists have set their sights on skepticism and atheism in general. They clearly want to do harm to the institutions.”

You hear this argument a lot from Republicans, that criticizing America is anti-America or trying to destroy America, when in fact it’s trying to make America better and fix the problems within, rather than turn a blind eye.  Yes, a lot of “FTB feminists” have set their sights on skepticism and atheism in general, because we’re part of those movements and care deeply about making them better.

And, of course, it’s difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re just trying to make sure justice is served when there’s this:

A show of support will send the message that we as a community will no longer tolerate illogical attacks on people who do not condone nor support sexual harassment, sexual predation, or rape any more than we support defamation of our community members from anonymous allegations.

Ah, so donating to this is not, in fact, an attempt to help Shermer get decent representation, but rather a way to condemn unnamed victims who come forward with their stories.  Got it.  Out of curiosity, what is the appropriate way for a reporter to deal with a story from an unnamed source who is known and trusted, whose story and reputation is vouched for by multiple others?

[Blogathon] Bimodal Personalities and the Myers-Briggs

[Part 1 of a topic suggested by @mmace134]

The Myers-Briggs Personality Test is very, very popular. It’s used as a predictor of career paths, of relationship styles, of leadership ability. Basically, you take the test and answer a bunch of questions like “Do you enjoy having a wide circle of acquaintances?” (To which you can only respond “Yes” or “No”. Based upon tens of answers, you’re given a four letter code, like INTJ or ENFP. Each letter codes for a specific trait, with two possibilities for each.

I/E: Extraverted/Introverted

S/I: Sensing/Intuitive

T/F: Thinking/Feeling

J/P: Judging/Perceiving

This all seems fairly reasonable–we can all agree that some people are more extraverted and some are more introverted. Some people make decisions based on feelings and some people don’t.  The problem is, the test is based on the idea that people are one or the other–that is, that most people are overwhelmingly extraverted or overwhelmingly introverted. If that was the case, we would expect a graph of scores of introversion and introversion to look like this:

bimodal

 

That’s a bimodal graph–one with two peaks. Those should represent the extraverts and the introverts (or the Thinking people and the Feeling people, or the Sensing and the Intuitive people).

The problem is, what we actually get is this:

bellcurve

…a unimodal graph. A bell curve. A normal distribution.

Most people fall near the center of  the Introversion/Extraversion, Thinking/Feeling, Sensing/Intuitive, and Judging/Perceiving spectrums.  Of course, there are people scoring very highly for one or the other–but they’re not the norm. This wouldn’t be terribly problematic if the Myers-Briggs didn’t insist on divvying people up into one or the other, which they do by splitting the responses down the middle.

That means if I’m just slightly to the left of center, because I’m pretty extraverted, but I don’t enjoy having a huge group of friends, I’m in the Introverted category, along with everyone who thinks gatherings of more than three people are hell. But aren’t I closer in type to people who are just to the left of center? Yep.

And nearly half of the research on the Myers-Briggs is done by institutions that benefit or publish the test in the first place. [*makes skeptical face*]

Want a validated personality test? Try the Big Five Personality Inventory

Have a post topic? Tweet me! Even more importantly, donate to Secular Students!

For Best Results, Trust in God and Use Large Sample Sizes

Earlier this week, Crommunist pointed me to this article in The Atlantic, People Who Believe in God are More Responsive to Treatment of Depression. And ohhh boy do I have feelings and crinkly skeptic eyebrows.

[As a side note, I'd like to thank The Atlantic for putting a link to the original research in their footnotes. Nice touch, actually including the science you're talking about. Everyone else, take heed.]

While I wasn’t particularly impressed with the article in the Atlantic, there were some good things to be said about the original research (found here if you have access. At the very least you should see the abstract and summary).

First, a word of caution. This is a prospective study. In other words, a study that followed people over time, in real time. That means that there’s a small sample size (159 participants), because it’s hard to find funding for an following a huge group of people. Retrospective studies can offer the ability to have a large group of participants, but also mean that you can quite easily miss important variables. As a result, prospective studies are considered to yield data a cut above that of retrospective. The tradeoff is, the smaller sample size can cause the occasional news site to get super excited about what are pretty conditional results.

What did they do?

Okay, so what actually happened? Researches went to McLean Hospital (an excellent place to get psychiatric care, I hear), and talked to patients in their day program. These are clients who aren’t living in the hospital, but are coming to receive services all day and returning to their homes at night. (This sort of thing is also called partial hospitalization).

All participants were given a battery of statistically sound tests to measure congregational support, religious affiliation, depression, self-harm, and belief in God, as well as psychological well-being.

Of Note: No God was specified, the participants were simply asked “Do you believe in God?” and told to circle a number from 1 to 5, where 1 is defined as “not at all” and 5 is defined as “a strong sense of belief”.

No part of treatment was changed–the researchers were just interested in who seemed to respond best to treatment.

Who did they look at?

The methods section is a little fuzzy on whether they approached 159 patients and two refused from that point, or whether 159 was the total number of participants. Regardless, the sample size wasn’t terrible large.

On one hand, this is a group of people in a very well controlled environment–a hospital–one of the few ways you can have control over environmental factors during the study. On the other, anywhere between many and most–those are the scientific terms–of people with depression and anxiety won’t be hospitalized. So you’ve got a slice of the population with very serious manifestations of these disorders, possibly with presentations that aren’t responsive to traditional coping mechanisms or therapy. [Keep that last part in mind, it comes up again.]

On the other, you have a  very particular subset of people with these disorders. Partial hospitalization programs take your entire day–that means you’r either taking time off from your job or not working. While insurance usually covers partial hospitalization, you have to actually have insurance. That means that what we’re looking at here is a subset of people with access to this kind of care.

And what does the methods section say about the demographics?

 Most participants were Caucasian (83.6%) and single (61.4%), and there were a high number of college graduates (45.3%). Impairment in the sample was high in that 56% of participants were unemployed, and all patients presented with global assessment of functioning (GAF) scores of <45, representing serious symptoms/impairment.

…Sounds a lot like what we’d expect.

What was found?

Even after controlling for age and gender (Women and those who are older are more likely to believe in God), belief in god was related to having better outcomes in the program. Not related to outcome: religious affiliation. You didn’t have to believe a certain kind of God, you just had to believe there was a god out there.

Belief in God was also related to having greater support from the religious community, (I’m shocked, I tell you, SHOCKED), but not related to having a greater ability to regulate emotions.

So should you convert to vaguely-unspecific-god-belief? Probably not. Researchers actually concluded something entirely different than the title of the article would lead you to believe. It appears that there was an important mediating variable: belief in the success of the treatment process. People who believed in God were significantly more likely to place their trust in the ability of the program to help them.

Belief in treatment credibility and expectancy of success across levels of belief in God.

Belief in treatment credibility and expectancy of success across levels of belief in God.

And that, not belief in God, strikes me as the more important link. People who believe in the the ability of a type of therapy to help them are far more likely to see results of the therapy than those who are skeptical. And it appears that those who have faith in a deity are also more likely to believe in the authority of their psychologists and psychiatrists–perhaps an expected result?

Some words on race as it influences this research:

Eighty-three percent of these participants were Caucasian. In the United States, even when controlling for income, mental health spending for outpatient care (aka partial hospitalization) for Latino and black consumers is only 60-75% of that for whites. Add to that the long history psychiatry and medcine has of unacceptable medical experiements on minorities. Testing psychotropic drugs on black and Hispanic children, overseas pharmacological experiments, and on and on. Is it so surprising that we find significant differences in trust of physicians in ethnic minorities?

What does this mean with respect to this study? Research has shown that African Americans are more likely to avoid seeking early treatment, like outpatient care for their depression. (Research is contradictory on this phenomenon in Latino populations.*)

Black and hispanic rates of admission to inpatient hospitalization care are, as a result, much higher. Without the ability to trust in or access preventative health care, many more are going to need emergency services, including involuntary commitment, which can be an unpleasant process; first responders are often untrained in compassionate care of psychiatric patients. And so the cycle of distrust repeats. Which means fewer minority participants in studies like these, which means care tailored to non-minority clients.

General conclusions:

This is…an interesting study.

It’s not badly done by any means. But it is a small sample size, and not very generalize-able to the population of people with depression. I’d like to see more research that examines a cross-section of people in inpatient, outpatient, and therapeutic settings, with a careful eye to the influence of trust in psychiatry. Until then, I’m willing to reach a cautionary conclusion that for white participants who can and need access outpatient programs, belief in god is linked to belief in the promised results of treatment, which leads to better outcomes, with the caveat that the populations of People Who Can Access Outpatient Care and People Who Trust Outpatient Care In The First Place overlap heavily.

 * I know I’m actually just talking about two specific minorities in this section. Unfortunately, there’s basically no other research available. If someone say, had extra money to throw at research into other minorities and psychiatric care, they should do that posthaste. 

Scammers on Craigslist

ScamOh, there’s nothing new about scammers on CL, but what is the point of having a blog if I cannot post about them.  I am trying to sell a basically new MacBook Pro because my stolen computer got returned to me several weeks after I got a replacement.  I got an e-mail from someone asking me to ship it to West Africa — they would pay through PayPal in advance.  So, West Africa sets off alarm, but PayPal in advance makes sense.  But the e-mail also mentioned that the guy was out of town (trawling Columbia, SC CL of all places) AND he was going to pay me way more than I asked for.

So, I asked Emmett who said it was a scam, though it wasn’t clear how, and then I googled the message and got some hits.   For your enjoyment, here is the scam e-mail I received:

It’s OK, I will go with your price, Actually i am from Salt Lake city in Utah and am currently on a field trip, but want to purchase it for my daughter that is currently in West Africa working with American Embassy,her wedding is coming up next 3 weeks, I promised her a surprise gift and this happened to be what I want.

I have a PayPal account and can pay you right away, it’s secure and protects two parties in a transaction. Please if you do have paypal account,send me your Payment request of $1380 which will cover the cost price, shipping and insurance to ship to my daughter’s destination. Once you send the request i will proceed with the payment.

My verified paypal account @ [email protected]. I will forward my daughter’s residential address to you for shipping as soon as the payment gets to you…

Sincerely Waiting.
Ryan (801) 513-3035

Apparently, from what I can get from other sources, they wait for you to ship and then dispute the payment on Paypal.  Or they send payment to a similar address to yours that they create, hoping you don’t notice the difference.

For your researching purposes, here are a bunch of other examples along the same lines.  Thanks Google.

Same e-mail with someone who followed up.

Hello Shelby,
I got your mail.
Actually i am from Salt Lake city in Utah but want to purchase for my daughter that is currently in West Africa working with American Embassy,her birthday is coming up so i want to buy a surprise gift for her.Please if you do have a PayPal account,provide it to me so that I will Make the payment to you. It’s secure and protects two parties in a transaction.
I will be paying you the total of $280 for both the cost price and the shipping.
Please i need the information fast so that your payment will reach you before the
day runs out to enable you ship the Packages fast.
Thanks for anticipation.
Rita….

Blackhat forum post with similar email.

I will go with your price, Actually i am from Altanta GA and am currently on a field trip, but want to purchase it for my daughter that is currently working with America Embassy in West Africa, her birthday is coming up next Friday, I promised her a surprise gift and this happened to be what I want. I have a PayPal account and can pay you right away, it’s secure and protects two parties in a transaction. if you do have paypal account,send me a Payment request of $427 which will cover the cost price, shipping and insurance to ship to my daughter’s destination. Once you send the request i will proceed with the payment. My verified paypal account @ xxxxxxxxxgmail.com I will forward my daughter’s residential address to you for shipping as soon as the payment gets to you. Sincerely Waiting. Hxxxxxxd Lxxxxxxxxe

Echeng with lots of comments about CL Scams.

From: larry Linda [email protected]
Date: August 18, 2009 4:58:35 AM PDT
Subject: Re: Blackberry Bold 9000, original box – $270 (SOMA / south beach)

Hello, Nice to here back from you, I don’t have pick up arrangements due to the fact that I’m out of the Country to Athens Greece for a Conference meeting,so you will be shipping the item to my Son in West Africa.I’m buying the item for him as a Gift because he win a scholarship in two days ago and i we be offering you $275 for the item and $100 to cover up the shipping fee down to him at oversea,I will be paying you via PayPal.So kindly get back to me with your Confirmed PayPal e-mail address so that i can transfer the funds into your Account,so you will be shipping the item via the USPS Express Mail Service(EMS) after payment has been done.i will be waiting to here back from you with your paypal account info so that i can send that to paypal online for the instant money transfer.get back to me ASAP…

I get e-mail — Cinematic Appraisals: “Mind Science” or Pseudoscience

polygraphI got a very hurt e-mail from someone yesterday.

A few years ago, before I was at Freethoughtblogs, I wrote an article about a service offered to film producers called “Cinematic Appraisals”.  I had recently optioned my screenplay and I was generally up-to-date with everything, but a friend sent me a link to their site telling me I would have a field day.  It still reads like fake science and a potential scam, especially at $50/page, but I now also know that they are so unprofessional that they didn’t even realize I was the second highest Google result until a client pointed it out to them.

Of course, now that I have been reminded of their existence, I have to write about them again.

A potential client mentioned your blog as a top result when searching our company name, Cinematic Appraisals.

We are a small company that performs emotional response testing for investors and have no idea how we ever drew your negative attention. The Home page of our website states that we do not work for writers or agents (we refer them to The Writer’s Store, which offers a smaller-scale emotional response section at no additional charge with their script coverage).

Would you please do us the courtesy of explaining how our services have affected you and how you have determined those services are fraudulent, or of kindly removing the damaging post? Again, we are a small business who puts a great deal of time and care into the work we perform.

The really charming part of the website is where it explains it’s “patented” science, which sounds like someone holds onto an e-meter or is attached to a lie detector while reading the screenplay and they measure the “results”.  While there is some science being done to measure reactions to movies, as far as I have been able to find, there are absolutely no conclusions and nothing that could be extrapolated to reading a screenplay.

THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE MIND SCIENCE METHOD

Cinematic Appraisals’ patent-pending Mind Science Method is based on neuroscientific research (citation needed) conducted (by whom) over the last 40 years (citation needed). The Mind Science Method measures neurobiological triggers and reactions (how), assigning a proven value (citation needed) for each level (of what).

It’s long been known (by whom) that moviegoers psychologically fall into a state of “suspended disbelief” (citation needed) when watching stories play out on film (which is not the same as reading a screenplay), which is just the beginning of what goes on in the psyche and the body during film watching (citation needed). Viewers’ physiological responses also fluctuate depending upon their level of involvement with the story and action (citation needed). While watching something highly stimulating, the human body releases a host of limbic chemical responses (citation needed, which responses). The dose of chemicals released is proportionate to the level of emotional stimuli (citation needed), creating lasting emotions (citation really needed).

In other words, when the protagonist runs, the connected viewer’s heart rate will increase (citation needed). When the protagonist holds his breath, so does the connected viewer (citation needed). This state has been compared (by whom) to the state of partial hypnosis (not even “full hypnosis”? a state not entirely recognized by science, citation needed) —a state normally only achieved when dreaming (hypnosis and dreaming are the same? citation needed).

The Mind Science Method gauges this degree of connection with the material (the screenplay, they have, of course, been talking about watching movies, not reading) using our unique patented neurobiological algorithms (patented apparently means “not gonna tell you anything”). This allows the producer to tell when the screenplay produces this hypnotic-like state—and when it does not (citation needed). This allows a producer to reverse-engineer the screenplay to create one audiences will love (evidence?), before going through the expense of production.

Proven in the lab (citation needed) and the real world (citation needed) to correlate (ah, correlation) with neurobiological responses (which have apparently not been “proven” to correlate with success of a film).

The Mind Science Method has been lab tested (by whom) and is proven to correlate (but not measure?) with the actual psychophysiological responses of a subject to the screenplay. Testing measured neurobiological activity with a variety of electrodermal equipment including galvanic skin monitor, electromyrograms, a zygomaticaus, a corrogator, an EEG and EKG MP150WSW with Tel100C remote monitoring module data acquisition system (does this just mean lie detector?).

Over the course of years of testing and development, the Mind Science Method has been used to objectively (lol) rate more than 30 scripts for films with known gross box office receipts (and how did they do?), verifying the validity of our method (but not well enough for us to share the validity measures) and giving us a statistical basis (citations???) for predicting the success of a script with known Mind Science Method scores.

My response to the woman who e-mailed me was simple:

I am a blogger who writes about the entertainment world and skepticism. A producer who is a friend of mine alerted me to your website and I wrote about it, as I imagine you got from the original post, because the “mind science” as explained on your website seems to be pseudo-science and you provide no detailed explanation or scientific corroboration of your methods.

I am happy to write further about the science behind your service if you are willing to provide any peer-reviewed, scientific studies. Or any further information about what exactly the service you provide is, how it works, why it costs that much, any evidence that the responses you measure are accurate measures of emotions, any evidence that emotional responses are related to film success, or any projects that have been successful through your help.

So You Want To Talk About Multiple Personalities?

I’ve gotten a few requests over my blogging time to talk about multiple personality disorder. I’ve (half) jokingly told friends that this post would garner me a great deal of upset commenters but here it is. 

Important Note: My opinions on the scientific validity of this disorder DO NOT reflect any belief that identified ‘multiples’ or sufferers of DID aren’t suffering, don’t deserve to be treated, or should be in any way, shape or form ridiculed, belittled, or treated poorly. Full stop.

So, I totally spoiled it with the disclaimer, but here it goes.

I don’t think Dissociative Identity Disorder/Multiple Personality Disorder is scientifically valid as a diagnosis.

…and since this is a fairly prevalent feeling in the psych community, I’m less worried about the Internet is Forever ™ problem.

Sybil: a book, a movie, and a tale of really unethical psychology.

DID?

While there’s some reports of people exhibiting something like multiple personalities as early as the 17th century, but the diagnosis didn’t take off in popularity until the 20th century. It’s entry into pop culture is strongly linked to Sybil, a book about one (real) woman who appeared to have sixteen personalities. It was a popular book, run in newspapers, and cited as one of the main factors in the sudden upswing of DID/MPD diagnoses. Sybil and her therapist are no longer alive, but much  criticism surrounds it. (See below)

DID/MPD was called Hysterical Neurosis, Dissociative type in the second iteration of the DSM. By DSM III it was Multiple Personality Disorder, and DSM IV made both significant changes to the criteria and the name, creating Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).  However, because of the prevalence of MPD in current literature/horror movies/culture, I’ll use DID/MPD.

In general, DID/MPD is characterized as having multiple distinct personalities or identities (this is the second required criteria for diagnosis). These are called ‘alters’. Usually, though not always, there’s a central personality that’s often treated as the “real” one. That identity is usually depressed or anxious.

 

So. Sybil.

Sybil is the pseudonym for Shirely Mason, the client of psychoanalyst Cornelia Wilbur.  Mason didn’t come to her therapist because she had DID/MPD–her presenting problems were anxiety and memory loss. Then, after seeing Wilbur, suddenly, BAM, she had sixteen personalities.

Do I sound suspicious? I am.

Though the client files are sealed, multiple analyses of the taped sessions have said that Wilbur herself encouraged Mason to develop alters…and offered her money for talking about her different personalities. How did those personalities appear? Wilbur, who gave many drugs to her clients (including some very highly addictive psychotropics), gave Mason sodium thiopental and heard her mention other identities under the drug’s influence.

Sketchy? Most definitely. If that wasn’t damning enough, Mason wrote later that she had made the alters up.

Relevant reading: Remnants: The Last Stand of the Satanic Ritual Abuse Movement.

Who gets diagnosed? Who is diagnosing?

Of course, Sybil/Shirely Mason being a the result of unethical practice doesn’t negate that multiple personalities could exist. So what else do we know?

Those with DID/MPD diagnoses are often reported as having severe trauma in childhood. Data on this isn’t actually very clear, because many of the psychologists to originally diagnose MPD/DID believed in repressed memories and used really unscientific techniques to ‘retrieve’ them (This was around the time of the satanic abuse cases). Current research doesn’t support the idea of this sort of trauma repression.

DID/MPD patients also score very highly in measures of ‘hypnotizabilty’–a specific measure of being suggestible…and anywhere between ‘many’ and ‘most’ practitioners who diagnose DID/MPD use hypnosis to determine if their clients have multiple personalities. Hypnosis: not a methodologically sound form of diagnosis.

And those practitioners? They’re a specific subset of  psychologists, and they appear to get a statistically improbable number of clients who turn out to have DID/MPD. Of course, this could be a result of skeptic practitioners under diagnosing, right? Absolutely.

However as many as 70% of those with MPD/DID diagnoses appear to have borderline personality disorder (BPD). That’s high enough to suggest something more than simple co-occurence, which has lead to suggestions that professionals are using the idea of multiple personalities to explain the impulsivity and rapid emotional changes of BPD. Further, when the diagnosis of schizophrenia was introduced, there was a sudden crossover from those with MPD/DID to schizophrenia. Is it possible that those who believe in the DID/MPD diagnosis are just more likely to categorize BPD or schizophrenia as multiple personalities?

Relevant Reading: Dissociative Identity Disorder: A Controversial Diagnosis

The North America Problem. Is this a cultural diagnosis?

North America has the highest rates of DID/MPD diagnoses in the world. It’s also the place where multiple personalities are most familiar to the population at large. While this doesn’t mean the diagnosis is invalid, it casts, shall we say…aspersions. Secondly, when DID/MPD became a popular diagnosis in the 80’s, we also saw a sudden increase in the average number of alters, from 2-3 to an average of approximately 15. Hmmm.

Memory crossover in alters.

We’ve learned a lot about memory in the years since MPD/DID gained traction.We know, for instance, that repeated exposure to neutral (or even nonsense) words will result in faster recognition of those words.

(This can be tested by giving participants a series of possible categories for nonsense words and letting them learn by trial-and-error which word matches which category. For instance, in Trial One, James may match word Njdhsuf to Category A. When the result is NO, he is unlikely to try Category A for word Njdhsuf in Trial Two. By Trial Three, he may know that word Njdhsuf goes with Category C. If he is retested a short time later, James will sort the familiar nonsense words into their correct categories at higher rate than random chance, even if he feels as though he is guessing.)

Those diagnosed with DID/MPD report distinct personalities and identities, almost always reporting autobiographical amnesia (alters report knowing nothing of other alters or of what was done when the client was in a different identity) between personalities, one. So in a test like the one described above or similar, you would expect to see that if James is one identity, when he became an alternate identity, he would show no memory of the nonsense words, and sort them into correct categories at rates that resembled random chance. That’s not been shown to happen*. (This study also showed that indirect measures of behavior and ERP–which could be grossly oversimplified as how your neurons fire–found recognition in one identity of neutral words learned in different identity.) This study tested emotionally loaded words and found the same.

Okay, so what about autobiographical information? Though patients may have a central organizing identity, most report their personalities know nothing of other personalities. Objective tests have utterly failed to validate this. Though I strongly encourage reading this entire study about autobiographical memory in those with MPD/DID, here’s some relevant sections  [bolding is mine]:

Consistent with previous studies, transfer between identities on the memory task occurred even for negative material, despite patients reporting amnesia for this material, learned in another identity state. Transfer across amnesic barriers in DID also occurs for conditioned emotional information. Testing DID participants, Huntjens et al. administered an evaluative conditioning procedure that confers a positive or negative connotation on neutral words. In a subsequent affective priming procedure, participants displayed transfer of this newly acquired emotional valence to the amnesic identity (i.e., transfer of emotional material between identities).

Our findings are consistent with the results of other studies involving objective laboratory tasks indicating intact inter-identity memory functioning in dissociative identity disorder. In most studies, researchers test memory within the same experimental session shortly after learning. In contrast, we tested memory after a 2-week delay, thus increasing the ecological validity of our study. However, the results do conflict with the reports of amnesia between identities, suggesting that the subjectively experienced absence of autobiographical knowledge about other identities is quite self-convincing.

These findings become particularly important in cases like these**.

So what about people who appear to be multiples***?

I don’t have a great answer to this. Right now, therapy for DID/MPD seems to focus on integration: bringing all facets together into a single identity. There’s some pushback from self-identified multiples on this idea, many of whom feel that they’re not sick or broken, and that therapy treats them as such. I don’t really disagree, if they feel that they’re coping well. Forcing someone into therapy rarely goes well, and except in instances of danger to self or others, I’m all about the hands-off approach.

In the long term? I think we need to remove Dissociative Identity Disorder from the DSM. Like other diagnoses (*cough* Transvestic Fetishism *cough*) it seems to be the theory of a small contingent of scientists with little support in the community. When this dies as a cultural meme, I believe we’ll see a similar decrease in diagnostic popularity and even symptomology.. (We’re also seeing a sharp decline in scientific interest.)

——–

A great deal of the links and understanding that were required for this blog would not have been possible without Ed Cara, who you can find on twitter and blogging at The Heresy Club.

*Upon reflection this isn’t quite accurate. A few case studies have suggested autobiographical amnesia. However, I’m going to go with the majority of evidence found in studies that used controls (and simulators–people pretending to have amnesia) and larger pools of participants.

**Though DID/MPD has been a staple of the horror genre and several sensational trials, please don’t make the mistake of thinking DID/MPD is linked to being violent.

***This seems to be the preferred term in my reading of multiples’ writings (another popular term is ‘systems’). I’ll take correction and change this if I’m wrong.

Moderating Comments, Normalization & Anonymity

I was on this panel at SkepTech! You can read my prepared thoughts here.

Notes:

-I improperly conflated psuedonymity with anonymity in the last third of the talk. Those are different things. I think pseudonymity (like Gravatar, Disqus, etc. offer) is one of the nice middle ground ways we can keep an eye on commenters across mediums.

-I stick with my remarks about wanting assorted -ist comments to be off my posts in the first place. Normalizing bad behavior perpetuates the problem. Removing awful comments in my little corner of the internet is one way I try to prevent normalization.

-I was a bit more wordy than I wanted–I’m lucky to have avoided the nerf gun.

What do you think? What did we leave out? 

SkepTech

…was spectacular.

-There were many more panels than I’d seen at previous cons. I don’t usually love panels, but I’m very supportive of this system if it means introducing new voices. (Olivia James, one of the first-timers, got spontaneous applause on multiple occasions throughout the Real World Activism panel. Damn.) We talk a lot about this being a young movement, a movement that anyone can join and become a part of. That’s only true so long as we work to find new speakers and leaders–otherwise you have an old guard and where’s the fun in that?

Safe Space

-Safe space hangout zone! I took advantage of this often. After three hours of class and a six hour drive to Minnesota, the conference looked like Introversion: Advanced Mode. The zone (lots of open area with clusters of seats and windows, located behind the tabling space) was perfect. Either by coincidence or design, it was out of the flow of con traffic, meaning no forced interactions, and quiet. Conversations were relaxed and participation wasn’t required–I spent a good deal of time listening to brilliant people arguing.

-And did I mention the panels? I love when panelists disagree–and the organizers tried to make it happen. Panels are exciting when there’s a debate, when sides are chosen and audiences divided. And there were! (Our moderator threatened us with a nerf gun. Never a dull moment.)

-The Wall O’ Tweets! It wouldn’t be a con without live-tweeting, and SkepTech had a simple way of letting audiences see what and who were tweeting. The setup was simple: TweetDeck, one projector, and judicious use of filters to collect relevant tweets. Very occasionally this was distracting–some speakers were sidetracked or interrupted by laughter at tweets they couldn’t see. Other speakers and panels incorporated tweets and tweeted questions into their presentation.

BHRvKw1CIAATcC-

Olivia won the contest–and got a plush sperm cell.

-(Plush) microbes! There’s nothing like “Thanks for that talk. As a gift, we’d like to give you gonorrhea!” Each moderator and speaker got a different one–as did the winner of the Twitter contest.

A wonderful weekend–and here’s to hoping for a SkepTech 2.

Photo credit: Geeks Without God

SkepTech: Anonymity on the Internet

Like Miri, I’m going to be at SkepTech…[checks calendar]…holy crap, tomorrow!

And lucky me, I’m going to be on a panel about anonymity on the internet, moderated by the lovely Chana.

This panel will explore the conflict between online anonymity and harassment. In a world where absolute freedom is practically possible, what shall be permitted? Anonymity is a double-sided coin; it can be a great generator of content, activism, and community, but also provides a safe space for blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, hate speech, and death threats. Is moderating any more “self-policing” than the violent comments policing who creates content? How far should self-policing go—should we go troll hunting into meatspace, causing commenters to face serious, “real life” repercussions? How far is too far, or not far enough?

I have a couple of thoughts–but mostly I want to hear yours. This isn’t a subject I’ve given much direct thought. I obviously spend a lot of time on the internet, but I rarely comment on blogs. Mainly, I interact with commenters by either…
1) Pruning the terrible ones.
2) Reading the really insightful ones and passing out shiny internets.
And the occasional 3) Reminding people that I’m Kate, and not Ashley*.

So, in no particular order:

I don’t think anonymity is quite so much the question as whether or not the moderation policy fits the goal of the site. When it fits, you have a useful site–though everyone can hate your goals and disagree and critique them and boycott them and all that.  Aligning goals and policy, but on opposite ends of the spectrum are Reddit and Shakesville.

Reddit: Though within-subreddit moderation can be pretty high, across-subreddit moderation is low. And by low, I mean nearly non-existent. However, reddit mainly wants to have a Wild West Internet setup. (“Subreddits are a free market. Anyone can create a subreddit and decide how it’s run”[link]), and their policy reflects it. I have feelings about this, which is to say that I don’t like it.

Shakesville: Shakesville is the opposite of reddit. Explicitly a safe space, they have a highly structured comment policy, use content notes, and wield a fierce banhammer. They want a space without explaining at the 101 level, and they want to exist as a haven on the internet. For one reason or another, I’ve never become part of the regular commenters, but I appreciate the idea.  The commenting policy–which is followed very closely–creates the space Shakesville is looking for. Readers are devoted, and the comments fit in with their goals: violating the rules of the safe space will get you banned. Of course, I don’t think this is how the entire internet should run–101 spaces matter, and fucking up and misunderstanding and asking really awful questions and learning because someone took the time to explain why, exactly, affirmative action isn’t racist against white people? That matters too. But safe spaces can be useful, and Shakesville is one of them.

And when comment policies don’t match up with the goals?

Basically, you get every mainstream news site. Seriously, have your read the comments? Don’t read the comments. No real conversation happens, because everyone is busy yelling about how Obama is a Muslim, the earth is flat, and The Next Great Conspiracy Theory. And when the occasional debate does start, some ALL CAPS WARRIOR leaps in. It’s an exercise in futility, and most people hate it…so they don’t participate, and then even fewer people are left to patiently explain that no, it’s not true that atheists eat babies.

As for troll-hunting in real life?
I don’t like call out culture–the naming and public shaming (particularly shaming on the internet, where stupid is forever) rubs me completely the wrong way. Yes, people have really awful damaging attitudes, and sometimes I do think it can be done carefully, well, and surgically*, but mostly, allies should spend less time calling out and more time making change. And change doesn’t happen by alienation. (Caveat: this doesn’t mean you have find r/MensRights and make a go of explaining feminism. But when you think you can have conversations, do that.)
Relevant reading: I Remember Saying Stupid Shit

What do you think?

*Note: This post was written by Kate, and not Ashley.

**Goal: define “carefully, well, and surgically” by the time I’m on the panel on Saturday.

You can follow SkepTech at @skep_tech