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Book review: 'Skewed' By Martin Walker

 

Retrospect has a way of making past blunders look foolish. At one time, the world was assumed to be flat. Various ethnic groups were thought to be mentally inferior. Today, these fallacies can be put under intense historical and sociological scrutiny. But when these ideas were at their zenith, a religious and political zeal often kept them safe from examination.

Skewed: Psychiatric Hegemony and the Manufacture of Mental Illness in Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Gulf War Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a book about modern political struggle. The book starts with a short introduction by psychiatrist Per Dalen. Dalen sets the stage, expressing concern that his profession is "being abused". Then, author Martin Walker picks up with the story of Barbara and Rob Proctor. The Proctors fight back tears as they watch the forced removal of their eleven year old son, Ean, from their home in 1988. Ean, who had been diagnosed with M.E., soon found himself at Noble Hospital, being dropped into a pool though unable to swim. Psychiatrists at Noble’s Hospital who had developed this “treatment” claimed their data had led them believe it would help him “behave normally”. The Proctor’s story sets the backdrop for a desperate battle to limit biological research, as well as influence public opinion on CFS and M.E., in the U.K.

Skewed examines the motives and beliefs of those waging what has been called “Wessely’s War”. Why is a small group of U.K psychiatrists so passionate? Who are Wessely, White, Sharpe, Chalder, Cleare, and the Linbury Trust? What are their personal beliefs and assumptions? Who is funding their efforts? How are politics, research definitions, journals and committee reports used as fodder for public opinion? And finally, who are the human stories from the frontlines? More than anything, Skewed is a compilation that can lead to historically relevant answers to these questions.

Skewed is refreshing for its perspective on the interplay between political interests, profit, and “science”. Walker astutely realizes that “Wessely’s War” is a sociological, not a medical, issue. He correctly notes that psychiatry “does not depend on quantitative material or laboratory results” and is “affected by prevailing commercial, cultural, and ideological influences”. (pg. 236) It is these influences the book seeks to illuminate. This departure from naivety is refreshing. It becomes our responsibility to sort out who controls the so-called “scientific outcomes".

Like most treatises, Skewed is not perfect. The book stretches to interweave the separate issue of alternative medicine into Wessely’s War, making skeptics of alternative medicine often seen like collaborators in "somatization". Left unconsidered is that alternative practioners and psychiatristrists may each be guilty of overstating their healing ability. After all, there may be similar motives for both industries interest in CFS and M.E.

The real strength of Skewed is the information compiled therein. For American readers, the struggle in the U.K. to control public purse strings and limit scientific investigation will come to light. Walker realizes science has already made great strides in understanding CFS and M.E.; what is lacking is socioloigical conditions that foster acceptance of those strides. While Walker leaves no doubt to the eventual outcome of the struggle, it is a struggle the world should not forget or ignore.

Public policy, and the “science” that stems from it, has human, economic, and political tendencies. The war in the U.K. to defund biological research for CFS and M.E. has been driven by those tendencies. Martin Walker’s Skewed gives readers a firsthand peek into motives, players, and tactics in that war.

 

Skewed may be purchased from the following address:

Slingshot Publications B.M. Box 8314

London, WCIN 3XX England

12.0 Pounds U.K.

20.0 Dollars U.S.

18.0 Pounds Australian

+ shipping and handling…