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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Danger of a Self Fulfilling Prophecy
Sybil poster

I am often surprised by the interesting things I hear on NPR , which I regularly listen to while commuting. I was not disappointed earlier this week when I heard a review of a new book by Debbie Nathan on the Sybil story that made multiple personality disorder a household word. According to Nathan, Sybil never had the real disorder and the entire story was a fraud.

News like this might not be very surprising to psychologists, since multiple personality disorder has been controversial from the start. What surprised me in the review of Nathan's book was how Sybil's psychoanalyst (Dr. Connie Wilbur) was so keen on diagnosing multiple personalities and how Sybil (whose real name was Shirley Mason) took advantage of this need. Here is a quote from NPR:

"Shirley feels after a short time, that she is not really getting the attention she needs from Dr. Wilbur," Nathan explains. "One day, she walks into Dr. Wilbur's office and she says, 'I'm not Shirley. I'm Peggy.' … And she says this in a childish voice. … Shirley started acting like she had a lot of people inside her."

—Real 'Sybil' Admits Multiple Personalities Were Fake, NPR, October 20, 2011

So, now Dr. Wilbur gets to study an interesting, new, diagnosis of a disorder of particular interest and Mason gets all of the attention she craves from the doctor. And so the fiction continued as Dr. Wilbur started injecting Mason with sodium pentothal and more and more personalities were "uncovered".

How long was Dr. Wilbur fooled? Nathan doesn't say, but suggests that once the book was drafted, the potential financial reward was so big that Wilbur couldn't turn back even as it became clear the personalities weren't real. Plausible, I suppose, but I wonder if Wilbur knew in the back of her mind that she was accidentally manufacturing the whole diagnosis from the start.

Posted at: 10:07 PM
Categories: Science and Policy

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Last, Great American Accelerator

Yesterday the Tevatron, once the pride of the physics community, was turned off for the last time, after 28 years of service. Now, for the first time since accelerators were invented in this country in the 1930s, the United States no longer supports a single high-energy accelerator facility. Instead, the remnants of the experimental high-energy physics community in this country are forced to travel overseas for their experiments.