specious ˈspē-shəs adjective
1. plausible but false
2. based on pretense; deceptively pleasing
In an age of glowing brain scans and plentiful pharmaceuticals, it can be hard to remember that psychiatrists — not exactly known for their aversion to dispensing medication — were once derided for not taking medicine seriously enough.
But as Anne Harrington reminds us, it wasn’t all that long ago when psychiatrists were pilloried as a bunch of woolly Freudians in thrall to specious ideas about absent fathers and smothering mothers. (Or absent mothers — there were apparently any number of ways for mothers to impair the mental health of their children.) In her new book, “Mind Fixers: Psychiatry’s Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness,” Harrington, a historian of science at Harvard, says that psychiatry’s biological turn took place sometime around 1980, and it was so revolutionary that before the decade was up, the profession’s “transformation into a biological discipline seemed complete.”