American Notebook: Mental Hospitals and Social Theorists

American Notebook: Mental Hospitals and Social Theorists

A short time ago there appeared a 126-page monograph modestly entitled “Psychosis and Civilization” and written by Herbert Goldhamer and Andrew Marshall. This rather specialized statistical study, which would ordinarily be discussed only in the technical journals, was reviewed, somewhat surprisingly, in Commentary (December, 1953) by Nathan Glazer, who voiced an unqualified admiration for the work. I say, somewhat surprisingly, because Commentary in its “Study of Man” department often criticizes social science research and seldom applauds it. That Glazer should have felt so enthusiastic about this little book is cause for a certain curiosity.

“Psychosis and Civilization” is, within limits, an admirable job. It happens, however, that the hypothesis of its authors—that the rate of insanity is now no greater than it was a century ago—remains unproved. It remains unproved, not because they have failed to explore all the available data, but because it is an unprovable hypothesis. One cannot determine with any degree of accuracy the actual incidence of psychosis, and to be guided solely by the rate of first admissions to mental hospitals, as Goldhamer and Marshall have been, is nearly as misleading as to judge our crime rate by the prison population.

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