ADVERTISEMENT
latest stories:
See Inside Scientific American Volume 306, Issue 4

The Doctor Is Way Out

An amateur examination of one shrink's noodle



Illutration by Matt Collins

This column is not about Newt Gingrich. Nor is it about Chaz Bono. It’s not even about how the thought of them dancing together would make Rick Santorum’s head explode. No, this column is about a psychiatrist named Keith Ablow, who in recent months has taken the time to write about Gingrich and Bono from his unique perspective as a mental health professional.

According to his Web site, Ablow “serves as the FOX NEWS expert on psychiatry.” It was in that capacity that in January, Ablow penned a widely circulated column regarding the well-documented peccadilloes of Gingrich and the former House speaker’s qualifications to be president.

“Here’s what one interested in making America stronger can reasonably conclude—psychologically—from Mr. Gingrich’s behavior during his three marriages,” Ablow wrote. “Three women have met Mr. Gingrich and been so moved by his emotional energy and intellect that they decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with him.” He continued, “Two of these women felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married.” He dug deeper, “One of them felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married for the second time, was not exactly her equal in the looks department and had a wife (Marianne) who wanted to make his life without her as painful as possible.”

Now buckle up for the exciting psychological conclusion: “When three women want to sign on for life with a man who is now running for president, I worry more about whether we’ll be clamoring for a third Gingrich term, not whether we’ll want to let him go after one.”

I am not a mental health professional, nor do I play one on TV. Nor am I about to claim that Gingrich is a psychopath. But I do wonder whether the doctor’s personal political views may be overriding his medical judgment.

For example, Ablow is surely familiar with the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, used for diagnosing that serious personality disorder. If I were a psychiatrist—which again, I am not—who wanted to publicly contend that there was significant evidence for Gingrich being a psychopath—which I certainly do not—I could pretty much just quote from the checklist: glibness, grandiose sense of self-worth, being manipulative, having poor behavior control, being sexually promiscuous, having many short-term marital relationships and, my favorite for the guy still running for president as this column goes to press, lack of realistic long-term goals.

Clearly, the qualities that Ablow thinks recommend Gingrich to the electorate could easily be interpreted quite differently by some other hypothetical qualified psychiatrist. Someone who might come to this Seinfeld-ian conclusion, succinctly stated by the disapproving father of a woman who dated George Costanza’s dad: “This guy ... this is not my kind of guy.”

Which brings us to Chaz Bono, a guy who used to be a gal. When Bono was on Dancing with the Stars last fall, Ablow advised parents “to not allow their children to watch the episodes in which Chaz appears.” He contended that to see Bono being applauded could kindle gender dysphoria in vulnerable youths.

Have I mentioned that I’m not a psychiatrist? Therefore, I can’t say whether Ablow is correct—although it’s easy enough to find vehement disagreement on this issue from other psychiatrists online. I recommend the response from Jack Drescher, a member of the DSM-5’s Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group, who describes the Fox News mind maven’s views as having “little basis in current clinical practices” and being basically just “opinions, scare tactics and inflammatory language.”

What I can’t figure out is why Ablow did not also offer additional obvious advisories. For example, girls who watch Dancing with the Stars might manifest a sudden desire for breast augmentation surgery, and boys who watch might exhibit a predilection for wearing toreador pants tight enough to lower sperm counts. My advice: people who sit on the couch to see fox-trots are better off than people who lie on the couch to hear Fox psych.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Give a Gift &
Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription as low as $9.99

Subscribe Now! >

X

Email this Article

X