A primer for rational inquiry
Question: What do holocaust-deniers and creationists have in common? Answer: There are striking similarities in their styles of reasoning. Both find specific errors in the huge mass of relevant scholarly work and then infer that the scholars’ wider conclusions must be wrong. Both quote leading scholars out of context and try to make it look as though they support views other than the ones they actually hold. And both use honest debate among scholars to suggest that they are in doubt about the reality of the major phenomenon (i.e. the holocaust or evolution, respectively) and that they cannot get their stories straight.
Michael Shermer takes the view that we should confront the holocaust deniers and evolution deniers (as he calls creationists), rather than ignore them. For example, Shermer says, the myths that the Nazis mass-produced soap from the bodies of Jews, and that Dachau was an extermination camp, are based on simple errors of scholarship that have now been corrected. However, because scholars are understandably reluctant to address the arguments of the holocaust deniers, the myths held by the public do not get corrected and it becomes easy for the holocaust deniers to then claim they are exposing lies peddled by the ‘establishment’.
Unfortunately, intelligence and education do not confer automatic protection against the possession of weird beliefs (Shermer’s book includes a variety of other phenomena, such as satanic abuse panics, belief in alien abductions, belief in theories of racial superiority – Afrocentrism, as well as white superiority – and the personality cult surrounding the objectivist thinker Ayn Rand). The weird beliefs held by some intelligent people tend to be different to those held by the less intelligent, but, as Shermer says: ‘Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.’
Shermer’s final chapter examines a number of variables that might relate to the holding of weird beliefs and membership of cults. As well as intelligence and education, these include age, gender, personality and locus of control. The area appears to be somewhat underexplored, but among the results presented here there are a few strong findings. For example, cult membership includes both smart and non-smart people, as well as both men and women. With regard to the latter, however, women are more likely to join ‘spiritual’ cults whereas ‘men [presumably in the US] are more likely to join militias and other anti-government groups’. Shermer also notes that the American public’s views on evolution/creationism do not seem to have shifted since the Gallup organisation began regularly polling them in 1982. However, people with higher incomes and higher education levels are more likely to say that evidence supports the theory of evolution, as are younger people (though in other domains age-effects are decidedly mixed).
Despite the limited protection that intelligence and education offer against weird beliefs, it may help to understand more about the kind of thinking errors that lead to the latter. In this regard, Shermer’s excellent book is a manual for clear thinking in that he discusses the nature of scepticism, the distinction between science and pseudo-science, and some of the reasoning fallacies that prevent people from rejecting weird beliefs. These chapters in particular would make an excellent primer for students learning about rational inquiry, but more than that I would recommend this book to anyone who cares about clear thinking.
I Souvenir Press; 2007; Pb £12.99
Reviewed by David Hardman
who is a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at London Metropolitan University
Understanding Trauma: Integrating Biological, Clinical, and Cultural Perspectives
Laurence J. Kirmayer, Robert Lemelson & Mark Barad (Eds.)
This is an excellent, in-depth overview of the most recent findings of trauma research. The 21 chapters – each by an eminent researcher from areas as diverse as neuroscience, clinical science, and cultural anthropology – present a range of interesting, relevant and valuable information.
There are three sections, covering effects of early life stress on the development of neural systems; clinical approaches to the treatment of trauma; and cultural analyses of personal, social, and political responses to massive trauma and genocide. Though each section will have greater relevance to professionals from specific interest groups, the other two sections must not be neglected as they work together in presenting critical and creative challenges for the trauma worker. For example, Kirmayer’s chapter on the failures of imagination serves to remind us of the challenges facing clinicians in reducing the patient’s story to mere symptoms that require intervention. The breadth and depth of material included in this book are intellectually engaging, and facilitate a better understanding of trauma research.
I Cambridge University Press; 2007; Hb £55.00
Reviewed by Fred Gravestock
A gem for health psychologists
Psychological Management of Physical Disabilities:
A Practitioner’s Guide
Paul Kennedy (Ed.)
This book is aimed at psychologists who are actively engaged in the management of people with chronic diseases and physical disabilities. It shows clearly the important role of health and clinical psychologists in rehabilitation, but it’s also valuable for another reason. For years, journals have failed to publish papers introducing new treatments and evaluating old ones, making it difficult to keep abreast of developments. Clinical practice has stagnated, and standard techniques are too often based on ‘word-of-mouth’ experience… and books like these.
This guide offers all the essentials, as well as expert opinions on the various theories and most importantly, details of the latest interventions. The only thing I missed were separate chapters on rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS.
Concise and well written, this is an excellent introduction to the subject for undergraduates and a useful review for all veterans who wish to check that they are up to date. I found it extremely informative and inspiring. Indeed, in my 30-year career, this is one of the most enjoyable academic texts I’ve read.
I Routledge; 2007; Pb £24.99
Reviewed by Ellen Goudsmit
Practical advice for the expert witness
Expert Witness Practice in the Civil Arena
Expert Witness Fees
These two concise books are nicely laid out and easy to follow and reference back to when necessary. Each includes definitions of key points in bold along the side, which signposts the reader and makes the text easy to follow. The books read as a series of answers to commonly asked questions.
Topics covered include: the role and power of the court over the expert witness, a review of how the expert is sought, review of payments and fees, what should be included in a report as well as practical advice on report writing. In addition, there is useful information on the copyright of the report once it’s finalised. The books also provide numerous web links and reference sources for additional information.
Bearing in mind the limitation that the books are for application in England and Wales, and not in other jurisdictions, here we have two useful reference guides to those in the field that also offer a solid overview to the beginner.
I JS Publications; 2007; Pb £36.99 each
Reviewed by Maria Ward
Apogee of the medical model
A Guide to Treatments that Work (3rd edn)
Peter E. Nathan & Jack M. Gorman
At first glance, this is an impressive compendium of
the efficacy and effectiveness of psychological and pharmacological evidenced-based treatments for a wide range of psychiatric disorders. The breadth of conditions covered is comprehensive, from the usual anxiety and depressive disorders to those less commonly found in a text on treating psychopathology, such as dementia and restless leg syndrome.
Each diagnostic category has a separate chapter summarising empirically validated pharmacological and psychological treatments. However on reflection, this is very much a psychiatric text that assumes its readers are not only comfortable with the reliability and validity of psychiatric diagnoses, but also find the categorical model an effective prerequisite to tailoring treatment interventions. Alternative models such as case formulation and transdiagnostic approaches simply don’t fit and are barely discussed. Equally innovative third-wave cognitive-behavioural treatments such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and ACT barely rate a mention because of the way evidence is weighted in favour of randomised controlled trials.
Recent articles and correspondence in The Psychologist, and more broadly, suggest there is a real paradigm shift occurring in the conceptualisation and classification of psychopathology; and in that context, this volume very much represents the apogee of the medical model and what it can tell us about understanding and managing human suffering.
I Oxford University Press; 2007; Hb £56.00
Reviewed by Doug MacKie
Extra web reviews
Apocalypse soon… maybe
What’s Wrong with Us? The Anthropathology Thesis
As the title suggests this publication works from the premise that there is something inherently wrong with all of us. Feltham describes the meaning of anthropathology as being, ‘the marked, universal tendency of human beings individually and collectively towards suffering deceptiveness, irrationality, destructiveness and dysfunction, including an extreme difficulty in perceiving and freeing ourselves from this state’. Feltham, who is a Professor of Critical Counselling Studies, provides an interesting and engaging argument that is supported by references to religion and an inherent desire not to get on with our perceived enemies. Feltham suggests that at some time in our past we have taken a particular path that is no longer tenable and that we are slowly beginning to realise this, which in turn affects our psyche. Current examples are referred to such as, the pace of technological advance, various violent conflicts, and the serious environmental damage that seems to be continuing unabated.
Feltham offers some hope in that the knowledge that we are heading towards destruction may well act as the catalyst for us to become ‘post-anthropathological’ and thus move away from the self-inflicted extinction of the human race. This is a very readable and engaging book that uses current and historical examples to propose a hypothesis that does not make easy reading for our developing future.
Wiley; 2007; Hb £65.00
Reviewed by Christopher Boyle
The snakes and ladders of PTSD and debriefing
A Guide to Psychological Debriefing: Managing Emotional Decompression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Psychological debriefing is a subject which can arouse intense emotions – perhaps for those who receive debriefing after traumatic events, but certainly for those who recommend against it (e.g. the NICE guidelines), or for it (pointing out the flaws in the trials reviewed by NICE).
I wondered whether this book would be a detailed manual of how to conduct debriefing, or a discussion of the research or the theory. In fact, it is none of these. Despite the title, only one of the six chapters is devoted to debriefing. The others are on ‘emotional decompression’ (a model developed by the author); defusing; PTSD; and training.
Although Kinchin largely dismisses the heated debate on debriefing, he does include as an appendix a paper by Atle Dyregrov, discussing the research. The paper makes valid points, but there is a need to update it as it was published in 1998 and the debate continues.
I don’t agree with everything in this book. But the author provides a useful discussion of the different models of debriefing, and a helpful ‘snakes and ladders’ analogy of recovery from PTSD.
Jessica Kingsley Publishers; 2007; Pb £15.99
Reviewed by Debbie Hawker
Adult dyslexics in HE
Dyslexia at College (3rd edn)
Liz Du Pré, Dorothy Gilroy and Tim Miles
This updated version (the second edition was published in 1996) includes information on the implications of the Disability Discrimination Act in terms of supporting students with dyslexia in further and higher education.
Written in an accessible style, the prime audience is students and lecturers/tutors. Many chapters are focused around specific areas of difficulties and how to improve these, such as spelling, essay writing, time management and note-taking and contain helpful study skills advice. The book also contains useful information about IT support available.
There is a chapter on progression to work with information on the Access to Work scheme as well as information about whether or not to disclose dyslexia.
Finally, the book contains appendixes written by dyslexic adults detailing their experiences, which would be encouraging reading for other dyslexics.
In short, I would recommend this book as a useful guide for dyslexic students or support tutors as well as a useful reference book for psychologists involved in assessing students in FE/HE.
Routledge; 2008; Hb £23.99
Reviewed by Jeanette Carlsson
A billion years’ journey
Evolutionary Psychology: A Beginner’s Guide, Human Behaviour, Evolution and the Mind
Robin Dunbar, Louise Barrett & John Lycett
This book will make you appreciate the stupendous importance of the discovery of genes, which made it possible to explain the notion that all life on Earth today shares a 3.8 billion-year-old common ancestor and that all living organisms are transient receptacles, or in the words of Richard Dawkins: ‘survival machines’ for genes to be passed on into the future.
The authors make a very convincing case for evolutionary history to be seen as an umbrella concept for all psychological perspectives. Different aspects of human history, including the development of language, religion and morality, are discussed in terms of evolutionary adaptation. Other points that come across strongly are the importance of two driving forces in the survival of the human species - competition and co-operation; and the evolution of social control and social cohesion.
As the book charts the history of human advancement most of the arguments are presented with crystal simplicity. The picture gets muddled only towards the end when the argument circles around morality and fairness but as the authors admit themselves this is an area that evolutionary psychology has only just begun to probe. So watch this space.
Oneworld; 2007; Pb £9.99
Reviewed by Katarzyna Chapman
Good in parts
Changing Organizational Culture: The Change Agent’s Guidebook
This book was not quite what I had expected from its title. A large proportion of the book covers theories, definitions and discussion around the issues. Whilst I would have preferred more on practical techniques for organisational culture change, this information may be more useful for other readers.
The book has two parts. Part 1 (five chapters) discusses organisational culture and issues relating to it. This includes its structure, and a useful section on employees’ evaluation of culture (from Antonovski, 1987). The second part (three chapters) covers techniques and tools, personal issues and exercises. Techniques include interviewing, relaxation and stimulating creativity. Whilst I would prefer to see more techniques aimed at addressing issues at the organisational level, such as policies and procedures, what is covered here may be more useful for other readers.
The personal issues chapter includes helping individuals deal with their own mortality, exploring early youth and exploring points of resemblance with your relatives. An interesting aspect of this chapter is on transitions. A typical transition curve is presented, reflecting individuals’ movement through stages including shock, denial, detachment, exploring, and finally, integration.
Wiley; 2007; Pb £29.99
Reviewed by Zara Whysall
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