September 26, 2011 12:03 pm ET - by Carlos Maza
If you’ve been following the ongoing controversy over Chaz Bono’s participation on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, you’ve probably heard of Dr. Keith Abow. Ablow is a psychiatrist, Fox News contributor, and current member of Fox News’ “Medical A-Team.” Fox frequently relies on Ablow to provide “expert” commentary on an incredibly wide range of issues, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
He is also a seemingly endless fountain of right-wing and anti-LGBT misinformation. Long before he asserted that kids could be turned transgender by watching Chaz Bono on television, Ablow was railing against boys with pink toenails and comparing homosexuality to pedophilia. In fact, Ablow’s history with Fox News is riddled with examples of pseudoscience, misinformation, and unethical behavior.
As a Fox News contributor, Ablow has been a reliable source of anti-LGBT misinformation and fear mongering.
This past April, he initiated a right-wing meltdown over a J. Crew advertisement which depicted designer Jenna Lyons painting her son’s toe nails pink. Ablow condemned the ad as a form of “psychological sterilization” that would encourage children to “grotesquely amputate” their body parts. The day after Ablow’s column was published on FoxNews.com, Ablow went on Fox Business Network's America’s Nightly Scoreboard to continue his war on J. Crew, calling the ad an “attack on masculinity.”
Just last month, Ablow posted two separate columns on FoxNews.com linking homosexuality to pedophilia. The first column, posted on August 11, claimed that pedophilia and homosexuality can be shaped and “kindled” by one’s environment. The second column was less subtle, hinting that homosexuality could be considered a mental illness in certain instances and predicting that “culture is poised to begin embracing pedophilia as a lifestyle choice, just like homosexuality.”
And then there's Ablow’s crusade against Chaz Bono which actually began well before Dancing with the Stars announced this season’s roster. In May, Ablow published a FoxNews.com column accusing Bono of suffering from a “psychotic delusion.” Fox pulled down the column shortly after posting.
In September, just one day after Fox anchor Megyn Kelly lamented the “hate” being directed at Bono for participating in the Dancing with the Stars competition, Ablow published on FoxNews.com his now infamous column, where he advised parents not to let their children watch the show for fear that watching could “kindle” the desire to become transgender. During several appearances on Fox, Ablow defended his column, comparing transgender people to people suffering from anorexia and heroin addiction.
Ablow’s comments were quickly picked up by Bryan Fischer, spokesman for the American Family Association, which has been labeled an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Fischer was thrilled to see a medical professional echo his anti-trans talking points:
Now Dr. Keith Ablow … got a very powerful column on Fox News. I mean I thought I was reading something that was written by somebody here at the American Family Association … Dr. Keith Ablow, he is a psychiatrist, he’s a psychiatrist so he specializes in mental disorders and mental illnesses, and he’s a member of the Fox News “Medical A-Team.” So this guy is a professional. He’s not somebody in the pro-family movement. He’s a medical doctor, a practicing psychiatrist. [emphasis added]
Despite Fischer’s glowing review, Ablow’s column was quickly rejected by mainstream psychiatric organizations. Dr. John M. Oldham, president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), issued a statement explicitly rejecting Ablow’s claim that watching Chaz Bono on television might convince children to become transgender. Dr. Jack Drescher, Distinguished Fellow at the APA and a member of the DSM-5 Workgroup on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders, criticized Ablow for substituting “accurate scientific knowledge” with his own personal bias:
Wouldn’t it be more helpful to offer scientific data rather than sensationalized, detailed descriptions of sex reassignment surgery or metaphors about double amputees to support the views Dr. Ablow “believes to be true?”
Dr. Ablow is within his rights to express personal opinions about transgender people. However, as a psychiatrist speaking in a public forum, his audience is entitled to accurate scientific knowledge of a complex subject rather than opinions, scare tactics and inflammatory language.
Dr. John Grohol, founder and editor-in-chief of PsychCentral – the Internet’s largest mental health and psychology network – agreed, calling Ablow’s claims “pop-psychology nonsense”:
Therefore the premise that watching 5 or 10 episodes of a television show of a person dancing would have any influence — much less a life-defining, definitive impact — on a person’s sexual- or self-identity is simply hogwash. There’s not a shred of scientific evidence to support such a ridiculous premise. It’s simply the personal opinion of a single individual who is promoting a specific prejudice against people he feels are broken and are in need of his help.
So I have to wonder — is this kind prejudice and passing judgment about a person he’s never seen professionally really the kind of thing one should expect from a respected mental health professional such as Dr. Ablow? Is spouting off about “vulnerable” children a responsible, thoughtful opinion, when a professional such as Dr. Ablow is in a position to help educate and dispel the myths so often associated with difficult issues such as sexual- and self-identity?
Or is Dr. Ablow simply perpetuating the stereotypes and pop-psychology nonsense professionals like himself have been doing for decades about things like child development? [emphases added]
Unfortunately, Ablow’s attempt to disguise his personal opinion as scientific knowledge isn’t limited to LGBT issues. Ablow has positioned himself as a chronically misinformed jack-of-all-trades, never hesitating to share his thoughts about issues on which he has no actual expertise.
During appearances on the Fox News and Fox Business channels, for example, Ablow has commented on endangered species, the link between asthma and fossil fuels, government spending and the deficit, and President Obama’s patriotism, birth certificate, and supposedly communist ideology. He attempted to link Obama’s appearances on daytime talk shows to increased depression and suicide rates and asserted that healthcare reform will “sow the seeds” of “the kind of oppression” seen in Egypt.
Ablow’s work on FoxNews.com has been equally absurd. He advocated allowing men to veto abortions, determined that marriage is a “dying institution” due, in part, to the existence of the birth control pill, and compared watching MTV to cocaine use.
For the record, Ablow is not a psychologist. He is board certified in general and forensic psychiatry. The distinction between psychology and psychiatry is significant, as Dr. Grohol noted in an email to Equality Matters:
I should note that Dr. Ablow carries board certification both in general psychiatry and forensic psychiatry, so he can largely speak on any issue that psychiatry covers. However, I might also note that psychiatrists are primarily trained as medical doctors, not experts in human behavior (which training they pick up only in their residency). Psychologists are trained for 5 years in human behavior, and are usually better equipped to discuss a wider range of human behavior. [emphasis added]
Despite being largely unqualified to comment on the vast majority of these topics, Ablow is consistently referred to as a member of the Fox News “Medical A-Team.” Because Ablow is treated as an all-encompassing medical expert, his outrageous comments are granted a degree of credibility that they rarely, if ever, deserve.
In his email, Dr. Grohol explained that Ablow is “expanding upon” an already widespread problem with “media doctors”:
Doctors like Dr. Ablow who also become "media doctors" are often asked to speak on a wider range of topics than they were perhaps originally tapped to talk about. In my opinion, this is largely an issue of availability and access -- a doctor such as Dr. Ablow is simply more readily available and has the media contacts in order to expedite an interview.
For instance, Dr. Drew Pinsky is trained as an internist and only later became certified as an "addictionologist," but is also seen as a sex expert due to his work on the radio call-in show. He might not go quite as far in talking about any topic under the sun, but he does talk about sex, relationships, and celebrities he has never seen as well (which is in violation of the APA's code of ethics for psychiatrists).
So I believe this propensity for branching out and feeling like one is able to speak with authority on a wide range of topics that are only marginally related to one's area of practice or expertise is endemic to media doctors in general. I think if you looked at all media doctors, you'd find most of them do this to some degree or another. It's my opinion that Dr. Ablow may simply be expanding upon that existing propensity. [emphasis added]
Even before joining Fox News’ “Medical A-Team,” Ablow was working to distinguish himself as a typical “media doctor.”
In 2003, he was the executive producer of “Expert Witness,” a dramatic pilot that CBS decided not to pick up. Three years later, he began hosting the short-lived, syndicated The Dr. Keith Ablow Show, but it failed to attract much of an audience. According to TV Series Finale:
The show’s stated goal was to “help individuals, couples and families cope with the personal challenges they face in today’s world, and develop strategies that can help them lead more fulfilling lives.” Many of the early shows seemed to focus less on viewer problems and more on high-profile stories like the Jon Bonnet Ramsey murder, Tori Spelling’s break-up, Anna Nicole Smith’s family, and former American Idol finalists (scheduled for this Friday) – shows geared purely towards getting high ratings. It didn’t work.
While on the air, The Dr. Keith Ablow Show covered a number of supposedly controversial topics facing the psychiatric community, including why the models from Deal or No Deal find bald men sexy, Britney Spears’ career, and the second season of The Real Housewives of Orange County.
Ablow is also famed for practicing “Street Therapy” – literally approaching strangers on the street with a video camera and attempting to resolve whatever mental health issues they have within a matter of minutes. In one segment posted to his YouTube account, Ablow approaches a stilt-walker and hypothesizes that the performer is attempting to compensate for being short during his teenage years (psychiatry!).
When he is not analyzing stilt-walkers on the street, Ablow is a prolific author. He has written a number of self-help books – including one co-authored by Glenn Beck. He has also written six novels featuring Frank Clevenger, a fictional forensic psychiatrist from Massachusetts.
Considering his busy schedule it’s not surprising that Ablow hasn’t had the time to publish even a single piece of peer-reviewed research in the psychiatric field. A search through the American Psychiatric Association’s online database doesn’t bring up a single article written by Ablow in any major psychiatric journal. Searching through the online databases of the American Psychological Association and the US National Library of Medicine returns similar results. Gregory Herek, professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychology and an expert on sexual orientation issues, echoed these findings (or lack thereof) in an email to Equality Matters:
As best I can tell, he hasn't ever published empirical research in a refereed journal in psychology or psychiatry.
I guess that when you’re helping “America’s Next Top Model” mend her relationship with her twin sister, there isn’t much time left for actual scholarship.
Ablow’s Fox News appearances do more than just misinform; they are ethically questionable. The American Psychiatric Association’s Code of Ethics states that “[a] psychiatrist who regularly practices outside his or her area of professional competence should be considered unethical. The guidelines also require that psychiatrists provide “competent medical care with compassion and respect for human dignity.” On both counts, Ablow’s actions are troubling.
Moreover, APA ethical guidelines prohibit psychiatrists from evaluating public figures without a prior formal examination and “proper authorization” for the figure being evaluated:
3. On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.
Ablow has made a Fox News career of offering pseudoscientific evaluations of a number of public figures, typically without their consent and never on the basis of anything more than a few quotes and cursory observations.
Even before asserting that Chaz Bono suffers from a “psychotic delusion,” Ablow had accused Media Matters founder and chairman David Brock of being “full of self-hatred,” theorized that Bill Maher harbors a “deep-seated” hatred of women, and said President Obama must engage in “introspection” to determine if he has “prejudice… towards white people.”
Examples of Ablow’s drive-by psychiatry are nearly endless. Heidi Montag, Casey Anthony, Paris Hilton, Julian Assange, Arnold Schwarzenegger, protesters in Wisconsin – none are safe from his instant-diagnoses.
Considering Ablow’s history of misinformation, pseudoscience, and unethical behavior, it’s no surprise that he was so willing to publicly announce (on Fox News, of course) his resignation from the American Psychiatric Association earlier this month. In response to Ablow’s announcement, Dr. Drescher told Equality Matters:
The American Psychiatric Association is an organization with 38,000 members that provides a big enough tent for a wide range of views and differences of opinion. It is regrettable that Dr. Ablow is leaving the psychiatric mainstream simply because APA doesn't agree with his opinions about transgender people. If he ever reconsiders his decision, I know that APA will welcome him back.
Frankly, it might be better off without him.
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