Here are some links to other sites that illustrate the beauty of good science, and the ugly truth about bad science.
Science is important for anyone having psychotherapy, because the basis for psychotherapy is scientific evidence. For example, the BABCP’s standards for CBT therapists say that:
2.2 [A therapist] must always be able to justify assessments/treatments by utilising the available evidence in the public domain
To make sense of that as a patient, you have to understand what scientific evidence is. Unfortunately, a lot of the scientific evidence out there is corrupt for political and commercial reasons.
So you cannot just believe any evidence you happen to come across. The evidence has to be real science. Finding out what evidence to trust seems difficult, but in fact it’s quite easy.
The ugly side of science is illustrated by two recent news stories.
One story reports that scientists promoted their beliefs about climate change by fiddling the figures:
Some of the correspondence indicates that the manipulation of data was widespread among global warming researchers.
And indeed, this is not really news (apart from the specific role of the University of East Anglia in the scam). Manipulation of data to support the political and commercial interests that stand to gain from a widespread belief in global warming has been known about for years.
Another story is about Boots’ mis-selling of a food supplement called Lactium, which they pretend can help to alleviate stress. This is a more important story for patients with mental health problems, because it’s a story about mental health science gone wrong, about bad science being used for commercial gain:
Does it relieve stress? The evidence that it works any better than drinking a glass of milk is negligible. Tha advertising is grossly misleading and the price is extortionate.
The conclusion you have to come to, as a patient, is that you cannot trust claims of scientific evidence based on research papers. There is no doubt that some research papers are genuine, but there is also no doubt that some are bogus or mistaken. Even the scientists argue amongst themselves about these things. When it comes to something so important as your mental health, you would be unwise to believe any of it.
Counter to all this, TED has a great explanation of how science really works. Nobel prize winner Murray Gell-Mann’s talk is about particle physics, an area of research that is linked with mental health only in that it deals with things that are intangible.
Science is not about evidence, ultimately. It’s about what makes sense. And what makes sense often has a simple beauty that makes it unmistakable:
In 1957 some of us put forward a partially complete theory…in disagreement with the results of seven experiments. It was beautiful and so we dared to publish it, believing that all those experiments were wrong.
In fact, they were all wrong.
He tells this story about Albert Einstein:
Albert Einstein used to pay very little attention when people said “You know, there’s a man with an experiment that seems to disagree… What about that?”
And he would say, “Aw, that’ll go away.”
Psychotherapy (particularly CBT) is scientific. But that does not mean a slavish adherence to whatever research happens to have been published. For all you know, it might have been published by people who were more interested in advancing their careers, or making money, or promoting a political belief, than in discovering the truth.
You, however, as an individual patient, can apply your own individual test of beauty to the psychotherapy that you receive. You can ask yourself, “Does this make sense? Is this explanation simple enough? Does it make so much sense, and is it so simple that it’s beautiful?”