Besides the NBC evening news, the only show I regularly watch on television is “Sixty Minutes,” and I try not to miss it each Sunday. Last night’s episode (consisting, as usual, of three disparate segments) was good, but there was one thing that I’d like to nitpick. (At least I’m not saying that “I don’t mean to nitpick, but. . .”).
The best segment, I thought, was one on schizophrenia, describing its symptoms, giving some distressing interviews with sufferers, and showing how many prisons have now become a repository for the mental ill. Cook County jail (here in Chicago), for instance, was described as “the largest mental institution in the United States.”
In much of the 13-minute piece, which you can watch free here, Steve Croft interviews Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, perhaps the country’s reigning expert on schizophrenia. its etiology, and its relation to crime. It’s heartening to see how hard Torrey fights to show that crimes committed by many of these people, including some recent and horrific massacres, is not their ‘free choice’ but the result of their disease.
I highly recommend watching it, if for no other reason than to hear some schizophrenics describe, with great lucidity, the horrors of their malady and the persistent voices in their heads that tell them to kill not only themselves, but others.
My quibble occurs during the discussion between 3:45 and 4:01, when Kroft is interviewing Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, another schizophrenia expert and the president of the American Psychiatric Association, who shows Kroft a scan of a “normal” brain and a “schizophrenic” brain. As you can see below, there’s a dramatic difference. Of course, the brain abnormalities might be the consequence rather than the cause of schizophrenia, an issue that’s ignored.
UPDATE: A neurologist, Ian Belson, has said in a comment below that these are both images of the normal brain taken at different levels. If that’s the case, CBS has made a serious error. Belson’s comment:
As a neurologist who looks at MRIs daily I just thought you should know that your pictures are two images of the normal brain that were taken at two different levels. The structural differences between a schizophrenic and a normal brai are usually much too subtle to be seen on a routine MRI.
“Normal brain” (screenshot from the show):
Brain of schizophrenic; arrows show abnormalities supposedly associated with the disease:
After seeing this, the pair have this exchange:
Kroft: This is really a disease of the brain, and not a disease of the mind.
That’s not good; for the mind is, as Pinker says, “what the brain does.” In the case of schizophrenia, if there is a genetically (or environmentally) based pathology of the brain, it also causes a pathology of the mind: racing thoughts, voices in the head, and desires to harm. So it’s a disease of both the brain and the mind. Television shouldn’t perpetuate this duality.
But, as I said, this is a quibble, and I think the show did a service by getting people used to the fact that criminal behavior may not be a choice. As you know, I don’t think any criminal behavior is a “choice.” In some sense, all criminals have brain diseases, and that needs to be taken into account by the judicial system.