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Nederlog

September 2, 2015
Crisis: China's Meltdown, Corbyn, Canada, Anti-psychotics, Psychiatry

 "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton















Prev- crisis -Next

Sections
Introduction

1.
China's meltdown
2. Corbyn will confront a bankrupt foreign policy. That's why
     he must be backed

3. Canada Charges Syrian Officer with Torture in Rendition
     Case — Despite U.S. Silence

4. Antipsychotic drugs may be used as 'chemical cosh' to
     control behaviour

5. originator bias?…



This is a Nederlog of Wednesday September 2, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about (The Guardian's term) "China's meltdown"; item 2 is about an interesting argument
in favor of backing Corbyn as the new Labour leader; item 3 is about Canada's
decision to prosecute a Syrian officer for torturing a Canadian citizen; item 4
is about a finding that anti-psychotics are used as blackjacks (that is what "cosh" means, in this context) to shut up people with learning disabilities (which is very improper, in case you doubted that); and item 5 is - in fact - about whether psychology and psychiatry are real sciences, now that of 100 psychological articles published in top journals 2 out of 3 turned out to be not replicated.
 

1. China's meltdown

"The first article today" in fact consists of two articles, and I - for once - made up the title, although I did use words that occur in one of the two titles. Also, my reason to open with this is that I think China - the world's second economy - is quite important.

So here is the first of two articles, by Dominic Rushe on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:

World stock markets got off to a rocky start in September closing sharply down on fears that China’s slowing economy will hurt economies across the globe.

In the US all the major indices closed down, the second fall of the week, following similar falls in Europe and Asia. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 2.8% at 469 points, the S&P 500 closed down 2.95% and the Nasdaq down 2.95%. US stocks are on course for their worst performance since the end of 2011.

The sell-off came after more signs of weakness in China’s economy. Data on China’s manufacturing sector suggested output slumped to a three-year low in August. US markets closed down on Monday too, ending their worst August in three years.

There is more in the article, including words from the head of the IMF that were clearly meant to quiet the speculators, which I will not quote because they are not based on any real economic fact. (But the news is that there is nothing to worry, which I find worrisome.)

What does count is that "all the major indices closed down"; that it was the same in the US, Europe and Japan; that more than 1/50th of the total value was lost; and that the US stocks did not perform as bad since 2011.

But I will not engage in attempts to predict or foresee the futures of the stock exchanges, and instead turn to another article on The Guardian, which is this time by Editorial:

This does contain the phrase "China's meltdown" and starts as follows:

Clad as it is in jargon and technicalities, financial meltdowns can often seem like an elaborate spectacle taking place in a foreign country. So it is with the trillions wiped off shares since 24 August’s “Black Monday”. Obviously it’s a huge deal, but beyond the numbers on Bloomberg terminals it’s hard to put into perspective. Yet one way to think about what has happened in China over the past couple of weeks is the drawing to a close of an entire system for running the world economy.

I agree with the beginning: Yes, there was a financial meltdown that started in China, and this consisted in trillions of - speculative - dollars being lost; and no, that is about all one can rationally say, apart from a whole lot of "jargon and technicalities", for no one can rationally predict the movements of stocks.

Next, in view of the very widespread very large losses, I think The Guardian may be correct in believing this to be a major sign that there is a

"drawing to a close of an entire system for running the world economy"

though that is a radical statement.

Then again, there is considerable background for this diagnosis: Here is a summary of the past twenty years:

Over the past two decades, globalisation has fired on two engines: the belief that Americans would always buy the world’s goods, of which the Chinese would make the lion’s share – and lend their income to the Americans to buy more. That policy regime was made explicit during the Asian crisis of the late 90s, when Federal Reserve head Alan Greenspan slashed US borrowing rates, making it cheaper for Americans to buy imports. And it was talked about throughout the noughties by central bankers fretting about the “Great Wall of Cash” flooding out of China and into western assets.

That seems a sensible summary. Next, what has changed seems to come down (in The Guardian's estimate) to two points. The first is this:

First, it exploded the assumption that China can keep racking up double-digit growth rates forever. Stock markets are only the aggregate of investors’ estimates of the future profitability of the companies listed on them. The crash on the Shanghai Composite suggests that shareholders are no longer so confident of the prospects for Chinese businesses – and with reason: data shows that China’s manufacturing, investment and demand for commodities are all on the slide.

The loss of confidence seems fair and rational enough in view of the fact that "China’s manufacturing, investment and demand for commodities are all on the slide".

The second point seems a lot less rational, though I am willing to accept it:

More importantly, the last few weeks have shattered faith in the Beijing politburo as technocrats with an incomparably sure touch. Whatever doubts economists might have had over the sustainability of China’s dirty-tech, investment-heavy economic model, they would normally be quelled with the thought that Beijing’s “super-elite” had a textbook for every occasion. But that was before the shock devaluation of the yuan on 11 August, followed by a jittery press conference called by the People’s Bank of China – after which it spent hundreds of billions buying yuan to keep it strong, effectively reversing the devaluation.

It is a lot less rational because in real life there simply is no “super-elite” with "a textbook for every occasion", although I am willing to accept the hypothesis
that many investors believed so, as long as the boom lasted.

The boom ceased, quite suddenly and quite radically, and what is now the case, according to The Guardian, is this:

But what’s coming to an end is a terribly skewed system in which western consumers made up for disappointing wages by borrowing money from Chinese producers, who in turn bought up western bonds, banks and land. This is no bad thing for the west or China. Eight years ago, a wise man described China’s economy as “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable”. That expert was Wen Jiabao, then the country’s prime minister.

I say - for this means (as far as I can see) that "western consumers" (whose wages have been "disappointing" since 1980, at least for the 90%!) will have to pay for the Chinese losses, it seems rather in the way that "western consumers" were forced to pay in 2008/2009 for the billions of losses of Western banks.

And it seems to me that it is false to say that this "
is no bad thing for the west or China": It seems a bad thing for both.

But we shall see what evolves - and it seems to me either of two things may happen, in the next couple of months:

Either the losses will be mostly straightened out again (by unpredictable stock movements, that have to tend upwards on average) or else they will not, and there will be less investment and less demand most everywhere.

2. Corbyn will confront a bankrupt foreign policy. That's why he must be backed 

The next article is by Peter Oborne on Middle East Eye:

First something about Corbyn:

You may think I wrote a fair amount about his chances to be elected as the new Labour leader, and I will grant you I probably did because he is the first somewhat hopeful Labour leader - according to me - since before Blair (and no, I probably disagree with him about many things, but at least he is a real leftist and he is not a liar, and since Blair that is quite odd in "New Labour"). And you should also realize that I skipped most that I read about Corbyn: The Guardian is full of tendentious articles most of which try to tear him down (with a few exceptions by Owen Jones and Seumas Milne) for no good reasons I could see.

Next, about the present article: I chose to review this, because it seems sensible and it is not by a staunch Corbyn lover. It starts as follows:

With barely two weeks to go until the election of a new Labour leader, a British establishment project has been launched to stop Jeremy Corbyn at any cost.

Plan A involves halting Corbyn before he reaches the winning post. Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, David Blunkett, Alastair Campbell and most of the leading Blairites have already been deployed.

Their mission looks like failing. So Plan B is also in place in the event Corbyn wins. The intention is to make it quite impossible for the MP for Islington North to lead the Labour Party.

Most of the mainstream media as well as the majority of Labour MPs and party donors are part of this conspiracy to nobble the front-runner.

Even though I do not share many of his views, the purpose of this article is to make the case for Mr Corbyn. My argument will be a familiar one to those who follow political events across the Muslim world.

I quite agree with this beginning. Then there is this:

Some Labour strategists envisage that Jeremy Corbyn should be duly defenestrated if he becomes Labour leader in 15 days time - so that Labour supporters can be made to vote again. I am not a Labour voter, let alone a member of the Labour Party with a vote in the current election. However, I am certain this would be a disaster for British public life.

Mr Corbyn is the most interesting figure to emerge as a leader of a British political party for many years.

This is because he stands for a distinct set of ideas and beliefs which set a new agenda in British politics. If he wins on 12 September, he will be the first party leader to come from right outside the British mainstream since Margaret Thatcher in 1975.

Again I quite agree - and no: I am not even "a socialist", but I do think real leftist parties are necessary to defend the rights of ordinary people, and since Blair "New Labour" ceased being leftist (and I am a leftist liberal), I think there is a pressing need for a really leftist party in Great Britain.

Part of the next part of Oborne's article places Corbyn - quite correctly - on the left, and traces some of his intellectual backgrounds, such as Paine and Cobbett. This I will skip. (And you can check out the article.)

Here is part of the reason why Peter Oborne expects more from Corbyn than from the current New Labour Party:

For two decades both main parties have shared the same verities about British foreign policy. They have regarded Britain as automatically subservient to the United States. This in turn has meant that we have interpreted the partnership with the Gulf dictatorships - such as Saudi Arabia and UAE - as central to Britain’s Middle East focus, while taking the side of the Israeli state against the Palestinians.

No matter which party was technically in power, British foreign policy has remained unchanged. David Cameron is indistinguishable in foreign policy terms to Tony Blair. (Indeed, the former prime minister has become one of Mr Cameron’s most valued foreign policy advisors.)

Yes, that again seems quite true to me. The last quotation is this:

Most people would agree that on the most intractable foreign policy issues of our time Corbyn has tended to be right and the British establishment has tended to be wrong. What Corbyn does or thinks today is likely to be vindicated a few years later. Hard though it is for the British establishment to stomach, Corbyn’s foreign policy ideas have generally been more balanced and far-sighted than those of his opponents.

This certainly does not mean that he is always right.
Without examples, I am less certain of the first paragraph, though I quite agree with the second.

But overall, my own main arguments for Corbyn are that he is quite credible (with similar political proposals since decades), he is a real leftist (one of the few left), and he is honest, and none of these things holds for New Labour or for its leaders.

3. Canada Charges Syrian Officer with Torture in Rendition Case — Despite U.S. Silence

The next article is by Murtaza Hussain on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Canada has charged a Syrian intelligence officer with torturing Maher Arar, the Canadian whose 2002 rendition to Syria by U.S. authorities became a cause célèbre.

The criminal charge against Col. George Salloum is reportedly the first of its kind in Canada and marks a formal acknowledgment that Arar was tortured after the U.S. handed him over on suspicion of terrorist links. An earlier official Canadian inquiry declared Arar innocent of any such links.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who brought the charge against Salloum, are calling for him to be extradited to Canada. Salloum allegedly oversaw Arar’s torture in Syria’s notorious Sednaya prison.

The reason this is reviewed is that it is almost the only case of rendition that has come to a US or Canadian court, which itself is a great shame.

In case you have never heard of Maher Arar, this is a link to the Wikipedia lemma on him that is quite long, and that seems good. One of the rather astounding and disquieting facts that emerge from that is the complete irresponsibility of speakers for the US government.

4. Antipsychotic drugs may be used as 'chemical cosh' to control behaviour

The next article is by Sarah Boseley on The Guardian:

This starts as follows, and is reviewed here mostly because I am an M.A. in psychology - and perhaps you should read Study delivers bleak verdict on validity of psychology experiment result that I published on August 28:

Unexpectedly large numbers of people with learning disabilities are being prescribed strong psychiatric drugs, possibly as a “chemical cosh” to quieten those with challenging behaviour, according to new research.

A study published online by The British Medical Journal found that the number of people registered with GP practices with an intellectual or learning disability, who are being treated with psychotropic drugs far exceeds those with mental illness.

If people without mental illness are given psychotropic drugs, such as the powerful antipsychotics more usually prescribed for people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, it is probably to control their behaviour, say the study’s authors, from University College London (UCL).

I am not amazed at all, but this is one of the - many - reasons why I do not regard psychology or psychiatry as real sciences: You should not give anti- psychotics to people, except if they have been diagnosed as psychotics (and even then it may be unwise, for most anti-psychotics have side effects, and they also are not safe in other ways, and are uncertain to work-as-stated).

There is this by the lead author of the paper:

“I think there’s been concern for a long time that psychotropic medications are being overused in people with intellectual disabilities,” said Rory Sheehan, an academic clinical fellow at UCL and lead author of the paper.

He and his fellow authors were concerned, he said, because it is quite difficult to justify the use of strong drugs such as antipsychotics, which can have problematic side effects, except in specific circumstances or as a last resort. “You wouldn’t want to give these medications without quite strong justification,” he said.

I agree with him, but it also seems clear to me that most of the doctors who prescribed anti-psychotics to non-psychotics perceive it otherwise - or indeed
may just not care much, and are simply trying to shut up people - patients - from complaining.

    And while I don't know this, it seems rather strong given some numbers:

About a third of those in the study, or 11,915 people, had a record of challenging behaviour, 47% of whom – or 5,562 people – had received antipsychotic drugs. Only 13%, or 1,561, had a record of severe mental illness.

That is: if you have learning disabilities (which may be of many kinds, some of which do not suggest your intelligence is impaired [1]) and your doctor thinks you
complain too much, your chances are about half (in Great Britain) that your doctor will prescibe anti-psychotics - which he (or she) also will probably neither clearly say nor attempt to clarify or justify, even though the chance that you will develop side-effects (which may be quite serious, and may last the rest of your life) is appreciable.


5. originator bias?…

The last article of today is by 1 boring old man, who is in fact a partially pensioned psychiatrist, who is quite untypical for a psychiatrist:

In fact, this is about the finding I discussed on August 28: Study delivers bleak verdict on validity of psychology experiment result and this time I disagree with 1 boring old man.

Here is the first quotation (and there is a lot more in the original, in part also quoted from others):

That’s a very long introduction to this – a lot of the tutorials had examples from studies done by social psychologists. After all, who teaches the Statistics courses? Often statistics professors come from that very discipline. And over and over, working through the examples, I thought about the softness of the experiments compared to medicine [even psychiatry]. I don’t mean that disparagingly. It’s the nature of their subject matter. The study examples were kind of interesting in their own right, and I think it prepared me for this report about an article in Science [Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science] that was a major undertaking – having 100 studies from their main journals repeated by other unrelated groups and comparing the outcomes. I wasn’t as surprised as the press seemed to think I ought to be at the low reproducibility figures:
Here are some reasons why I disagree with this:

First, and probably mostly accidentally: while I studied psychology statistics were given by somebody who had studied mathematics, physics and psychology, who also was one of the very few decent professors I met in the University of Amsterdam.

Second, I completely disagree with this bit:
And over and over, working through the examples, I thought about the softness of the experiments compared to medicine [even psychiatry]. I don’t mean that disparagingly. It’s the nature of their subject matter.
No, that is in fact a ludicrous argument:

You can be fairly certain that the properties of copper or water (that still holds mysteries!) are the same whatever bit you pick for your experiments, and also that nearly all or all of the properties are invariant, which makes it relatively easy to do experiments, just as you can be certain that human beings and living things are far more complicated than atoms or molecules, and that their properties differ, and that many of their properties also are not invariant, all of which makes making good experiments a lot more difficult - but this does not mean that "
the nature of their subject matter" justifies shoddy and generally unreplicated experiments!

That amounts to saying: Because living things are more complicated than non-living things, we will require less strong experiments and less strong experimental evidence when investigating living things - and in particular
we will rarely (or never) replicate or test experimental outcomes. [2]

I agree this happens a lot (that experimental outcomes in psychology are rarely replicated) but the article that showed that - in an attempted reply to many criticisms of social psychology after Diederik Stapel's many frauds were unmasked - two out of three of 100 psychological experiments in top scientific journals were not replicable simply showed that (probably) 2 out of 3 (or more) "experimental findings" in psychology are no such things: Neither real findings, nor based on real experiments.

Also, it is quite easy to say what would have been the really scientific reaction:

Change the experiments, in part by taking more subjects [3], and in part by requesting that only experiments that have been replicated two or more times (independently) and stood up each time are credible science, if the science is psychology or psychiatry (etc.).

The reason this alternative is not followed is simple: Psychologists and psychiatrists are - as a rule, with exceptions - far more interested in scoring a personal success (that is good for their careers and payments) much more than
in producing a real body of real experimental facts.

The cure is quite simple, but it will not be followed as long as the universities are as bad as they are.

Here is another remark of 1 boring old man:
I rearranged the frequency plots from the figure to clarify the central point. The effect sizes fell by a half and the number that were statistically significant by two thirds. I guess they expected some fall in reproducability, but nothing quite so dramatic. It’s a wake up call for their field, actually for all of us – replication being the gold standard in scientific experimentation and analysis:
First, I completely agree with the last part: "replication" is "the gold standard in scientific experimentation and analysis" - but this is also why neither psychology
nor psychiatry are real sciences: Very little of the purported "experimental scientific findings" of these supposed sciences have ever been replicated - and
once 100 experiments in top scientific journals are replicated, 2 out of 3 "findings" turn out to be not replicable, and therefore are not real findings, I am done: A science of which 2/3rds of top "findings" are not findings is not (yet) a real science.

Second, the beginning strongly suggests that the third part that was replicated may have been doctored with (as Diederik Stapel insisted his colleagues did), namely to make the outcomes more significant than they were in fact. (There are many ways to do this.)

Finally, here is the last quotation from the article:
I obviously spent some time thinking about this report. The authors seemed worried that they would discredit their discipline with this low reproducibility finding. I felt the opposite, impressed that they were examining the precision of their metrics. Because of the subjectivity of the social sciences, it felt like familiar territory to my own corner of things, psychotherapy, where confirmation is so ethereal and replication is king.
I disagree, though I as well "spent some time thinking about this report".

First, I agreed with the authors, indeed to the extent that my conclusion can
be put as follows: I had very strong doubts about the scientificality of psychology and psychiatry since the late 1970ies (when I studied psychology and philosophy),
but since there are extra-ordinarily few replications in psychology, I had little data. Now that I know that 2 out of 3 of 100 of the best articles were not replicated, it seems a fair conclusion to infer that indeed psychology is not a real science, for a real science has a majority of replicable experimental findings.

Second, the author of this article (1 boring old man) confuses two senses of "subjectivity": One is admissible, and refers to the practice of psychologists
and psychiatrists, and is indeed why I have maintained for a long time that
while these were not real sciences, nevertheless some their practicians might
be doing decent work. But this does not extend to experimental findings and
the theories of science: If these are "subjective" as well, then there simply is no science, but merely the - financially quite profitable - pretense of science.

And I am afraid that is where it's at, for most psychiatrists and psychologists,
although I still except 1 boring old man and a few others, who at least rationally
try.

--------------------------------------
Notes

[1] For example, the daughter of a former friend of mine is quite to very intelligent, but she is also seriously dyslectic, indeed like her father. Also, because she is quite intelligent, and a good speaker, she probably will be seen by her doctors - also in view of the fact that she got very little assistance with a serious learning disability - as posing "challenging behaviour".

[2] I have investigated the process of science in psychology in 1980, when I found that the average Dutch psychologist published 2 1/4 (two plus one quarter) paper in a working life of 40 years, and disdained replicating psychological experiments.

Thirty-five years later, with "psychologists" who studied half the time I had to do
for the same diploma, and whose IQs were on average less than in my time, I don't know about how many papers are produced per Dutch psychologist, but it is a virtual certainty almost none of then are replications.

[3] All the experiments I had to participate in (in 1980-1) were quite shoddy, hardly scientific (and most psychologists simply did not understand the statistics they did apply), and were all with the minimal number of "experimental subjects"
to
make it - statistically, if everything else were perfect - probable that there
would be "a significant outcome".


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