On 22 May, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) published DSM-5, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, after months, perhaps even years, of speculation about its contents.
Its critics warned that DSM-5 would lead to the further overdiagnosis of children and adults. The Economistreported that 11 per cent of American school-age children have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and that DSM-5 would likely lead to even more ADHD diagnoses. Considering the majority of those diagnosed are on prescription drugs, this is a worrying development. So worrying, in fact, that Dr Allen Frances, Professor Emeritus at Duke University and former Chair of the task force that developed DSM-IV, writes: ‘If people make the mistake of following DSM-5, pretty soon all of us may be labelled mad.’
Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon, senior editor for online magazine Slate, is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the issue of bullying.
2013 is just over a week old, and yet scaremongers are already bombarding us with warnings about the deleterious health effects of what we eat and drink. Now they’re turning their attention to children – not only in terms of what we feed them, but also in terms of what we allow them to do with their time.
At a recent Birmingham Salon event, ‘Trust Me: I’m a Scientist’, two University of Birmingham academics – Stuart Derbyshire, reader in psychology, and Joe McCleery, lecturer in developmental neuroscience – made some important points about the use and abuse of science to promote particular policy initiatives. Scientists today are under immense pressure to make discoveries ‘relevant’, and there are ample incentives – not least in terms of career progression – to ‘big up’ results.
Last week, conservation charity the National Trust launched a nationwide campaign titled 50 Things to do Before You’re 11¾ with the aim of encouraging ‘sofa-bound children’ to take to the outdoors and ‘enjoy classic adventures’. The 50 things children should do before their twelfth birthday included everything from running around in the rain, skimming stones, building dens and bug hunting, to setting up a snail race, damming a stream, flying a kite and making a mud pie.
‘Unhappy childhoods afflict one in 10 youngsters.’ So said newspaper headlines in the UK last week, following the publication of a ‘landmark survey’ by the Children’s Society of 30,000 eight- to 15-year-olds. Britain’s happiness guru, Lord Layard, co-author of a previous Children’s Society report titled A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age, said: ‘Everybody involved in shaping children’s lives should sit up and take note of this report.’
On the dust jacket of Dale Peterson’s new book, The Moral Lives of Animals, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs, is effusive in her praise: ‘There’s a special place in the hearts of many of us for books that express the “oneness” of life on Earth’, she says, ‘and this book tops them all’.
Today we are often told that us ‘arrogant’ human beings need to get off our anthropocentric pedestal. We are not as special as we think; we are ‘just another ape’. Peter Singer, the so-called father of the animal rights movement, claims that the great apes – that is, orang-utans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos – are not only our closest living relatives; they also possess many of the characteristics that were once considered to be unique to humans.
Should apes have rights? Absolutely not. Rights are a human concept, premised on the idea of autonomous individuals, who should be treated equally before the law.
Animals are not autonomous. They cannot take responsibility for their own actions, and they cannot – like us humans – subordinate their individual natural drives to the interest of society as a whole. In fact, they do not have society. It is therefore nonsensical to grant animals rights.