One of the artificial flaps du jour recently was about Tom Cruise's comments related to psychiatry and Ritalin. What do actors know about medicine, many of the snide TV talking heads said?
Well, in the first place, actors are human beings and can know anything anyone else can. Just because a person is an actor doesn't mean that he is dumb. Cruise started with nothing and has forged himself a successful career in a viciously competitive and cutthroat business. Dumb people can't do that.
Furthermore, psychiatry is a pseudo-science, just like so-called social science, as Cruise said. There are several psychiatric theories floating around, some of them contradictory. Sigmund Freud has been thoroughly discredited. Alfred Kinsey turned out to be an entomologist, not a psychologist, who preferred to interview convicted pedophiles, who are hardly an objective source on normal sex habits.
Neurology is a science, but psychiatry is not. Neurology studies the physical structure of the brain, while psychiatry purports to study the intangible products of that physical brain, such as thought, imagination and behavior. These are things that cannot be measured or weighed or, with the exception of behavior, even observed.
As for Ritalin, which in my opinion is irresponsibly prescribed for millions of children, it is a stimulant in the same family as cocaine. Long-term studies show that it has no permanent therapeutic value. Furthermore, there is disagreement on whether the so-called attention-deficit disorder even exists. There are also some negative side effects of Ritalin.
So Cruise was quite correct in admonishing NBC's Matt Lauer to read a history of psychiatry and to study the drug Ritalin before he superficially mouths off about their alleged benefits based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence. Journalists don't like to be challenged, but Lauer is the guy who brought the subject up. Cruise called him on it, and Lauer was found lacking any real knowledge of the subject — which, of course, is normal for talk-show hosts.
I wouldn't go to Tom Cruise for medical advice, but I wouldn't go to Matt Lauer, either. Of the two, Cruise has clearly got the edge when it comes to IQ. You have to remember that the gossip, entertainment and paparazzi people are the sludge at the bottom of the journalistic tank. They are superficial, without talent, but greedy and ambitious.
Unless they commit some heinous crime, actors can't hurt their careers by talking. The American public knows that everyone has a right to his or her opinion on any subject. Besides, they don't buy tickets to see Tom Cruise; they buy tickets to see him play a character. And he's very good at that.
There should be wider debate on psychiatry and psychiatric drugs. Unfortunately, medicine in America is market-driven, and the big Hemi engine in that truck is the pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceuticals make drugs and sell doctors on prescribing them at outrageous prices. Most of these drugs do nothing more than alleviate symptoms. They treat; they don't cure. And not infrequently they have serious, even deadly, side effects.
Thanks to the pharmaceutical industry and its billions of dollars' worth of slick advertising, we are probably the most pill-popping nation on the face of the Earth. Small wonder we have an illegal-drug problem, since we are bombarded with images of people restored to their smiling, healthy lifestyles by some miraculous drug.
These pharmaceuticals have such a grip on Congress that they succeeded in writing into law a prohibition against importing cheaper drugs from Canada and a prohibition against Medicare bargaining with the pharmaceuticals for lower prices.
That, to me, is a far more important point to discuss than what Tom Cruise thinks about psychiatry. In this case, you have a naked example of Congress putting the profits of the pharmaceuticals ahead of the welfare of the people of the United States. In the other, you have an entertainer offering a personal opinion. Last time I checked, that was not a crime.
July 5, 2005
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.
© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.