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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

May 30, 2019

I was surprised how many people responded to my APA photo-essay with comments like “Seems psychiatry as a field is broken beyond repair” or “This proves you should never trust psychiatrists”.

The mood I was going for was more “let’s share a laugh at the excesses of the profession” than “everything must be burned down”. Looks like I missed it.

I was disappointed to see a lot of the most hostile comments coming from people in tech. It would be easy to write an equally damning report on the tech industry. Just cobble together a few paragraphs about Juicero and Theranos, make fun of whatever weird lifestyle change @jack is supporting at the moment, and something something Zuckerberg something Cambridge Analytica something. You can even throw in something about James Damore (if you’re writing for the left) or about the overreaction to James Damore (if you’re writing for the right). And there you go! Tech is a malicious cancerous industry full of awful people and everyone should hate it. We’ve all read this exact thinkpiece a thousand times.

I’ve tried to push back against this line of thinking. A lot of the most visible and famous things in tech are bad, because scum tends to rise to the top. But there’s also some extraordinary innovation going on, and some extraordinarily good people involved. “@jack invents new health fad of rolling around naked on glaciers” is a much juicier story than “we can now fit twice as many billions of transistors on a chip as we could last year”, but tech journalism that only reports on the former is missing an important part of the story.

I feel the same way about psychiatry. There’s a lot of cringeworthy stuff going on at conferences, but conferences are designed to be about signaling and we shouldn’t expect otherwise. There’s also a lot of great people working really hard to help fight mental illness and support the mentally ill. “Most Americans remain alive and basically functional despite record-breaking amounts of depression and anxiety” isn’t sexy any more than “Internet continues to connect billions of people around the world at the speed of light” is sexy. But it’s a much bigger part of the story than the part where silly people do silly things at conferences.