It has come to my attention that a woman in Coventry (England) named Maxine Aston has made a series of bold claims about a new disorder named “Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder”, she claims on her web site (http://www.maxineaston.co.uk). The disease which she claimed to have documented is one suffered by the wives of men who have Asperger’s Syndrome.
The problem I have with her new condition is that the evidence for the existence of Maxine’s disorder has never been disclosed in either the peer reviewed literature or in serious reports which are on the same intellectual level as something such public enquiry into a serious accident.
It was interesting that a paper (http://www.maxineaston.co.uk/cassandra/Affective%20Deprivation.pdf=) appeared recently on Maxine’s web site which is entitled “Affective Deprivation Disorder: Does it Constitute a Relational Disorder?”
My first thoughts were
1. The paper does not present any evidence such as the results of a clinical trial or a survey to suggest that the condition exists.
2. Each reference which the paper used to support the idea that the condition exists is either Maxine’s website or a book written either by Maxine, Karen Rodman and a woman called Harriet Simons. It appears that Harriet is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Smith College School for Social Work (http://www.smith.edu/ssw/).
I have looked into the background of Harriet Simons, Smith College is a liberal arts college for women (http://www.smith.edu/aboutsmith.php). I have made a search of the Smith College website and I am unable to find many details of the university staff, the site does not appear to have pages showing the publications of the members of staff. I have made the standard ISI web of knowledge search for papers by Ms Simons published while she was at Smith College (I found nothing). I then tried a search for papers by her on the subject of “aspergers”, “autism” and ”affective deprivation”, again I found nothing.
The problem with a book is that it is normally nor peer reviewed in any way what so ever, anyone can publish a book on anything. So without any peer reviewed journal papers it is hard to judge how good the case is for the existence of the disease. I like most scientists hold the view that a person making a claim for something existing should have the burden of proof on them. They need to be able to show that their ideas are true.
Now while it is impossible to trace the ideas back to their origin, I think it is possible for me to apply my critical thinking skills as a journal referee to the paper published on Maxine Aston’s web site which was written by Harriet F. Simons and Jason R. Thompson. While I can not claim to be a expert on human sciences, the skills I have used in the chemical world do work on other topics. What I have done with the paper is to subject it to a one hour simulation of the examination which I give a paper for a chemical journal.
My moral compass compels me not to consider if a paper panders to that which I hold dear, but instead I mostly consider the following questions.
1. Is the paper clearly written ?
2. Is the paper original ?
3. Does the contents of the paper support any claims made ?
4. Is there any clear error or mistake in the paper
5. Does a reasonable alternative explanation exist for the conclusions of the paper ?
6. Is the paper referenced in the proper way ?
So lets get to work !
Et. al. should always be in italics but a more important issue exists in this paragraph, the reference Maxine Aston (2007c) is a web page which is on Maxine’s web site, this is not a good reference for a serious paper. So as a referee I would require that this source be replaced with a better one before the paper can be considered for publication.
A reference is needed for line 6, this is required to give a source to the idea that AfDD is linked to the low emotional intelligence of at least one party in a relationship. Also the term “emotional intelligence” what does it mean, has it been used before by someone else. It may need a reference.
Again web sites as references, also in this paragraph books which appear to be popular science level books have been cited as references. Also the story of priestess Cassandra is a pretty little story which might not be appropriate for a serious journal. It is langauge which might be considered as hate speech or a bit of pop culture. I would tell the authors to express themselves in less flowery language. As a man who likes to consider himself a serious man of science I have an issue with this choice of langauge in the same way as the referees had an issue with Alan McKee’s use of vulgar words. One remark from the journal was “Certain language used in this study is unnecessarily vulgar and unscholarly” (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=409059). At the same time I would require the authors to express themselves in a way which is clear to the non specialist.
How can emotional intelligence be measured, a reference is needed to explain how. In general this paragraph and the rest of the paper need to be referenced better using high quality sources. I will not waste any further words on this point as I need to move onto other issues.
AfSS diagnostic criteria
Empathy Quotient is mentioned but why is no clear reference made to the work of Simon Baron Cohen. Also how does the list of psychological and physical symptoms differ from normal stress. If you compare these symptoms with those of combat stress as documented in Field manual 6-22.5 (https://rdl.train.army.mil/soldierPortal/atia/adlsc/view/public/9509-1/fm/6-22.5/TOC.HTM) it explains in section four how symptoms of combat stress include
Anxiety, a loss of confidence in both self and the unit, anger and other effects which are listed in the possible symptoms listed in the paper. The paper needs to be rewritten to explain if and how the symptoms differ from normal stress. Also the use of the term PMT is not acceptable, what does it mean it could mean “photo multipler tube” which is a electronic device or it could mean Pacemaker-mediated tachycardia which is a term in cardiac health. Also what is “female related problems”, could it include the problem that the typical small woman might have with gripping jam jar lids that an average sized man does not have ? I strongly doubt if it is the case but the paper must be rewritten to prevent misunderstanding occurring. The paper must be understandable several 100 years into the future where society is likely to be very different to our own.
The emotional sequelae of AfDD
Evidence must be cited to support the example or is it a totally hypothetical case which is being written about.
Evidence is needed to support the idea that a person can be “aspergated”, conventional wisdom dating back to the interwar years is that mental illness is not contagious. One medical book from this era wrote that the staff at mental hospitals tend to have lower rates of insanity and mental illness than the general population.
If the authors of the paper have evidence that a mental health condition can be passed like a pathogen based disease (such as AIDS or the common cold) I strongly suggest that they seek the opportunity to publish in a high profile journal. Such a finding would be of great interest to the general public, medical workers and the academic community. I do however warn the authors that as this idea goes against a paradigm which has stood for many years, so they will need to be able to offer compelling evidence.
The next paragraph uses the term “meltdown”, this is a bad term to use. The term meltdown is a very misunderstood and misused word already. It is normally understood to be part of a nuclear reactor accident where the fuel and associated metal equipment melts into a molten pool. I strongly suggest that this langauge be revised.
If the authors can show me how a person’s emotional or mental state is able to melt zirconium tubing or even uranium dioxide then I will be impressed (I sincerely think it is impossible). Also I doubt if a person can create things like clouds of hydrogen from a metal water interaction through what the paper calls a “meltdown”, I also doubt if one of these meltdowns would either make me want to swallow KI, don a gas mask (plus wrap my body in a plastic bag like suit) or take shelter.
Later on this page it states that “conventional wisdom is that true empathy cannot be taught”, whose conventional wisdom is it and kindly provide a reference.
Next paragraph, it states that Maxine has put forward valuable recommendations for the treatment of persons with AfDD. Who has judged these to be valuable, and what evidence supports this judgement. As at this point I have seen enough of the paper to judge that it should be either rejected or subjected to a rewrite I will not go any further with my examination of the paper.