Monday Miscellany: Biology, Benadryl, Body Dysmorphia

1. Ozy on reformism.

2. Is muscle dysmorphia just a misconception of what eating disorders look like in men? Emma at Science of EDs.

Whilst women encounter pressure to be thin, evidence suggests that men encounter pressure to be more muscular—a drive that by its nature would not necessarily be associated with the pursuit of weight loss (Olivardia, 2001).

The point at which this pursuit of muscularity becomes a mental illness has traditionally been understood as muscle dysmorphia (MD), a subset of body dysmorphia, which is itself a subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Using the OCD framework, the obsession becomes the muscular body type and the compulsions include engaging in disordered eating behaviours, exercising compulsively, and taking supplements.

Unsurprisingly, researchers have noted that this sounds an awful lot like an eating disorder.

3. Science makes me sad: biological explanations of mental illness reduce the empathy that mental health professionals feel towards patients.

4. This research is from earlier this year, but given that I can’t scroll my newsfeed without seeing fifteen stories about measles, here’s some research-informed information about communicating vaccine effectiveness.

It’s counterintuitive, especially:

In contrast to other disputed science issues, public opinion on the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccines is not meaningfully affected by differences in either science comprehension or religiosity. Public controversies over science, including those over evolution and climate change, often feature conflict among individuals of varying levels of religiosity, whose difference of opinion intensify in proportion to their level of science comprehension. There is no such division over vaccine risks and benefits.


Communications that assert the existence of growing concern over vaccination risks and declining vaccination rates magnify misestimations of vaccination rates and of exemptions. Experiment subjects who read communications patterned on real media communications underestimated vaccine coverage by an even larger amount than subjects in the control.

5. My social work program focuses on strengths-based assessment, but if you’re not training in the mental health field (and even if you are) you might not have heard of the concept. Miri has an explanation.

6. I first heard about the Hearing Voice Network when I was reading Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks. The Independent has an excellent profile. Francisco provided this related story on Facebook.

I have an important job. Every day, i evaluate various containers for hazardous waste (up to and including medical waste) to determine whether or not they are suitable for a given application. The vast majority of my work comes from pressurized containers that hold (usually) harmless compounds under extremely high pressures (hundreds of times greater than atmospheric pressure). When these vessels fail, people die. Period.
I have been in this business for nearly 40 years. I am approaching retirement, and I have commissioned more of these pressure vessels than I can count. THOUSANDS of containers are out there in all sorts of industries being worked on and around by people completely unaware of one fairly important fact: the person who commissioned those vessels has heard voices in their head since they were 14 years old. There are three of them. One of them is something of a snarker, another is mostly silent and very childish, and the third is frighteningly, violently insane.
The last one didn’t show up until I was graduating college. Every time I have stamped a container, I heard a soft voice in my ear chiding me for missing an opportunity to kill somebody. I’m commanded to steer into oncoming traffic every time I drive home. I’ve caught myself idly listing the ingredients to build a bomb or a meth lab or a homemade firearm more times than I care to list. That voice has been my indicator for the integrity of every device I have commissioned over my entire career. If ever I am about to stamp something and the voice is silent, I recheck my numbers.
Truthfully, though, I have no idea how much separation there is between me and them. How much of what they say comes from me, and how much of what I do comes from them? Every day, thousands of people go to work in environments that are certified as being safe only because a complete madman put a stamp on a piece of paper. I’ve driven away my wife, my children, and my family to keep my secret safe. Once I retire, my only companion will be an illustrious professional reputation built on misplaced trust. With retirement looming, I ask myself every day whether or not I should come clean and check myself into a mental hospital. I believe I would rather die, and that single thought is the only thing that is answered by complete silence from the others sharing my head.

7. ‘Female Husbands

8. A pretty damning piece of research (replicating other research), anticholinergic drugs (tricyclic antidepressants, Benadryl) when used in the elderly will dramatically increase the risk of dementia. I can’t find information about usage in younger adults and dementia in later life, but wow is this concerning.

9. Public defenders of public enemies.

In 2006, a college student named Christopher Porco was convicted of killing his father and maiming his mother in a brutal ax attack at their home outside Albany, New York. Laurie Shanks and her husband served as Porco’s defense team. “People detested us,” she says. They got death threats. She was followed and photographed. Someone even put the name of her children’s camp on the Internet. It was terrifying.

The hostility underscored for Shanks what a hard time people have accepting that the Christopher Porcos of the world deserve the same rights everyone else does. Indeed, high-stakes criminal defense work is not for the faint of heart. In recent years, defense attorneys for a relatively new class of social outcast — accused terrorists and Guantanamo Bay detainees — have been the object of vitriol. “You have to be able to take the abuse and just keep coming back,” says Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics specialist at New York University School of Law.

3 thoughts on “Monday Miscellany: Biology, Benadryl, Body Dysmorphia

  1. “Evidence suggests that men encounter pressure to be more muscular…”

    I wonder WHERE? Certainly not among the bay area set and I imagine the coastal professional class. Being all muscly is gauche. Better to look like the guy who hosts This American Life.

    As for #3, I’m surprised. We’re told that Americans are quick to blame individuals for their problems because of our faith in hard work and free will. So, take that away and even LESS empathy? Maybe it’s got something to do with the particularisms of psych workers or something.

  2. I don’t expect that the bay area and the coastal professional class make up anything like the majority of men or a representative sample of men. There’s some interesting articles on the pressure to look like Ira Glass (the This American Life guy) and anorexia/bulimia in men. But pulling widely-circulated diet advice for men it seems almost exclusively tailored around turning fat into muscle, or acquiring enough protein to build muscle and exercises for being ‘ripped’

    Yeah, the bio stuff is unusual, but I’d expect it stems from something similar to the studied phenomenon about why the “[mental illness] is just a brain disease! you would go to a doctor for diabetes, so it shouldn’t be stigmatized to get mental health treatment!”

    It appears that when you give people biological or physical illness, they map that on to their idea of physical ailments, which are treated and then resolved. This leads to a lack of sympathy for people who have failed to get better, because failure to get better must indicate a failure to comply with the treatment.

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