Saturday, December 15, 2007

Matthew Murray and the Blame Game

While looking into Matthew Murray and his beliefs at the "All Spin Zone," in the post "Matthew Murray -nghtmrchld26 in his own words" by Daniel DiRito, I came across another victim of the Blame Game in the comments section there.

Not atheism, not heavy metal rock music, not video games. The victim was antidepressants and psychopharmacology. Someone calling themselves ErnestR started arguing for the old Scientology position. ErnestR wrote:

It should be noted that virtually every one of these shooters like Matthew Murray were taking antidepressants or similar psychotropic drugs. This includes recent Omaha mall shooter Robert Hawkins, Finland school shooter Pekka-Eric Auvinen, Columbine shooter Eric Harris, Red Lake shooter Jeff Weise, Springfield Oregon’s Kip Kinkel, child killer Andrea Yates, Michigan’s Seth Privacky, Jason Hamilton, and hundreds more. Although all were troubled and depressed, often for years, they lived with their problems and didn’t become killers until after they started taking antidepressants.

It did seem that Matthew Murray had taken some sort of antidepressants, at least he wrote about it:

People then usually assume that I only tried prozac (or some other drug) for two days and got upset that it didn’t “work” and they say “oh well, you need to give it more than a couple of days to work”….I don’t know how 8 months is only a few days…but maybe you f***ers who can only come up with lame ass answers need a good ass kicking. These lamers will also say “well maybe try a different therapist?” or “just…….keep trying”

And I must confess that I did start to wonder if there was something to the claim that antidepressants might be part of the cause. But I still couldn't buy ErnestR's position, parts of it were down right quackish and nutty. I knew ErnestR was seriously misinformed when he wrote in the same comment:

They act too much like LSD, which was the treatment of choice for schizophrenia during the 1950’s.

LSD was never a "treatment of choice" for schizophrenia. His information got garbled somewhere in transmission. Researchers believed that the psychedelic state induced by LSD mimicked psychosis, it was called a psychomimetic. A researcher here or there may have given it to a schizophrenic to study the results, but it was, as far as I knew, never a “treatment.”

While the newer antidepressants may have destructive long term consequences no one has foreseen there are thousands upon thousands, probably millions, of people who feel they’ve been helped by them and who never go on suicidal shooting sprees.

However, I argued my case badly. I wasn't equipped with enough information to argue against this hypothesis. Seeing how other "facts" had gotten botched I challenged ErnestR on his claim that all the killers he had named, Robert Hawkins, Pekka-Eric Auvinen, Eric Harris, Jeff Weise, Kip Kinkel, Andrea Yates and others really used antidepressants and got hoist on my own petard.

It turns out that not only did all of them use antidepressants but that some of the people supporting the case were making predictions that in the future more such killers would be found to be using antidepressants too. Correlation may not be causation, but when antidepressant use among suicidal mass killers becomes downright predictable, could that not be a clue that the relationship is causal?

It may not be. That's certainly not how a causal relationship is established. There isn't sufficient data to jump to any conclusions yet. This is the kind of bad logic and reasoning so common with people like Vox Day (though he uses bad logic in combination with fake data) Tony Perkins and others I noted in my previous post.

Then why WOULD it seem that antidepressant users have a predilection for committing mass murder and suicide? Why DO antidepressant users commit mass murder and suicide at a much higher rate than nonusers? First, note that very few do. These events are rare. Part of the answer is that mentally ill people have more chance of "going postal" than mentally healthy ones and mentally ill people are the ones who seek out psychiatric drugs as help for their problems. In such a case there is correlation without cause, and in fact we might find that the antidepressants have indeed helped and prevented some people from striking out.

If you have a million people with emotional issues, with depression and all sorts of other mental problems that might get misdiagnosed as depression, some fraction of them are going to kill themselves regardless of medication, an even smaller fraction might commit mass murder and then suicide. To say that antidepressants caused it is a stretch. It would be like blaming aspirin for headaches because most people who take aspirin also have headaches. The causative agent in the relationship is more likely to be the mental illness, not the antidepressants that they use.

It's possible that out of the millions of people taking antidepressants a small portion are reacting with violent and suicidal fantasies that a few will act on. I can't rule out antidepressants as a possible causative agent, but I can say that it is unlikely to be one. Drug approvals are a numbers game. The reality of our drug approval process is that drugs are approved based upon a good outcome, not a perfect outcome. In fact, at drug trials some patients will do better on the dose that isn’t ultimately chosen because they select the dose that helps the most people.

It's not a perfect process, but what other alternative is there? The truth of the matter is that while we have made great advances in science, we have only scratched the surface on how drugs interact with our complicated natural body and brain chemistry. Mistakes, costly mistakes, could happen. However, blaming the antidepressants at this stage isn't warranted.

Most people who are playing the blame game have some kind of agenda and it works because too many of us are hungry for easy answers. And yet, like a broken clock that is right twice a day, sometimes someone with an agenda will get it right by pure accident even though their analysis and logic are faulty.

Having pointed out the dangers of having an agenda I'd like to point to this post by Dana at Principled Discovery, called "Fundamentalism, psychotropic drugs and mass murder" which looks at how certain Christian beliefs in the spiritual roots of disease can lead to a near denial that mental illness is real.

If you have more interest in Matthew Murray, Daniel DiRito has some posts on his blog, "Thought Theater." There does seem to be something of an agenda in this post, "Removing The Thin Veil Of Evangelical Eisegesis," in that DiRito is ready to blame, in part, Matthew Murray's evangelical upbringing. If you participate in any forums where someone like Matthew Murray might show up, you might want to read this, "Going To The Matt - Reach Out & Bring Them Back," and keep your eyes open.


L K Tucker said...

The connection between antidepressants and sudden violence would seem to be a close one. But when you look around the world there is sudden violence in even primitive societies. They do not have access to modern pharmacology.

VisionAndPsychosis.Net, a five year research project, points to a little known problem discovered when it caused mental breaks for office workers. The Cubicle was designed to deal with Subliminal Distraction exposure and solved that problem after 1968.

Several mass shooters had SD exposure. Mark Barton, Atlanta day trader Shooter, Jeff Weise, the Redlake School shooter, and Seng-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, had all created the "special circumstances, for SD exposure.

The Post Office does not provide Cubicle Level Protection thus explaining Going Postal, the Culture Bound Syndrome of the United States named for this problem.

Depression can be shown to be an outcome of Subliminal Distraction exposure. Those taking antidepressants are doing so because of their reaction to SD.

Subliminal Distraction is the true killer. It causes depression, paranoia, fear, and thoughts of suicide which shape thought to precipitate the mass violence event.

So few people are aware of this design/engineering problem that no information or evidence is gathered when there is a mass shooting, sudden disappearance or college suicide.

If there were wide spread knowledge of this phenomenon someone would have observed exposure and prevented these shootings.

dana said...

A random thought that might not be relevant in the least:

Is there a relationship to mass murder and atrocious events of child abuse where a biological parent tortures his or her own child, sometimes to the point of death? We focus on shootings because they have a certain sense of senselessness and can possibly affect us. But child abuse is not so rare.

Sybil, for example, is a rather famous case. The abuse she suffered was horrific, but her mother appears to have suffered from untreated schizophrenia.

And I am also curious about Andrew Kehoe. I don't think there was any treatment there, despite the fact that his first suspected murder was at the age of 14 when an oven set his stepmother on fire and he reportedly just watched her burn. He later blew up a school because he was upset about taxation issues he blamed for the loss of his farm. That was a long time ago.

Principled Discovery