Select Chapters in Professional Negligence

A textbook in use in 2012 cannot describe homosexuality as 'an emotional disorder' that stems from 'a strong need for dependence.'

A protest broke out a month and a half ago over a Hebrew-language psychiatry textbook, published by Tel Aviv University, that presented anachronistic and mistaken views about homosexuality. But the book contains other equally unenlightened and dangerous views.

"Prakim Nivharim B'psychiatria" ("Select Chapters in Psychiatry" ) was published in its current format in 2010, and its contents, which serve as the basis for many academic programs, were criticized by mental health experts, educators and members of the gay community.

Gays protesting - Olivier Fitoussi - 12022012
Olivier Fitoussi

This protest is justified. A textbook in use in 2012 cannot describe homosexuality the way Prof. Shmuel Tiano does. In his chapter, he describes it as "an emotional disorder" that stems from "a strong need for dependence." Tiano also writes that this "disorder" can be treated by conversion therapy.

But it's not enough that the respected lobby condemned the book's homophobic aspect. One could argue that the debate overshadows equally dangerous positions in this work. Even if we set aside the problematic articles on issues such as treating mourners, the handicapped and autistic people, there are subjects where a deviation from the truth is not merely an embarrassment to the author, it's downright dangerous.

One example is the chapter that explains that incest between a father and daughter is actually the fault of the mother who has refused to have sex with her husband, or the father being seduced by his daughter. On another topic, it states that most battered children are deviant and problematic. In other words, "normal" children are never battered, according to the textbook.

These are the viewpoints students of psychiatry, psychology, medicine and social work are exposed to. As the text's harsh critics have pointed out, the potential influence on these caregivers makes the book truly dangerous. But there is another, no less significant, reason the texts are so harmful: "Select Chapters in Psychiatry" is widely used in both the legal and welfare systems. A quick scan of the legal database Nevo revealed 32 quotes from this textbook. And that's merely the tip of the iceberg since indictments, defense statements and cases that end in compromise are not quoted in legal databases.

One could have expected that, in view of the widespread criticism of the book, the people responsible would have taken care of the problem. But in a piece in Haaretz, the director general of the university's Dyonon publishing house did not discuss the claims. For its part, the Council for Higher Education said that "as part of the academic freedom (enshrined in law ) that is given to institutes of higher learning, they are the ones responsible for deciding on the relevant reading lists."

These responses are not appropriate for so serious a failure. The claim of academic freedom is not admissible in a case like this. Academic freedom does not apply to something scientifically incorrect. In addition, this freedom cannot apply to something that is harmful and that under certain circumstances justifies a father's violence toward his children and incest. So the correct term is not academic freedom but professional negligence.

It would be good if the publishers and the Council for Higher Education obeyed their consciences and withdrew the book from the shelves and the various study programs. But even if they and the authors are not concerned about their contribution to rulings that could benefit criminals, all concerned should consider that this book opens them up to damage claims from anyone harmed by its anachronistic, patriarchal and mistaken diagnoses.