Science Media Centre roundup
Expert reaction to editorial on serotonin and depression as published in The BMJ (British Medical Journal)*
Dr Clare Stanford, Reader in Experimental Psychopharmacology, UCL, said:
“Prof David Healy’s article treads a path that is well-worn but out of date. He argues that selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants are used because of a pervasive myth that they boost serotonin levels, but this is something of a straw man. He makes the mistake of assuming that antidepressants reverse a functional abnormality in the brain that causes depression. Actually, the theory that low ‘levels’ of serotonin in the brain (whatever that means, functionally) causes depression died many years ago, in spite of the fact that a deficit in the synthesis of serotonin in the brain can trigger relapse of depression in some patients who are in remission: a fact which he also fails to mention.
“By contrast, the monoamine theory of ‘anti-depression’ is alive and kicking. There is plenty of evidence that SSRIs increase communication from neurones that release serotonin, as well as other monoamine transmitters, and that the ensuing downstream changes, such as creation of new neurons (neurogenesis) or modification of gene expression, can ameliorate depression.
“In short, SSRIs probably switch-on anti-depression, rather than switch-off depression (which could explain the rapid efficacy of ketamine).”
“I am sure that most clinicians and scientists will be dismayed that a flawed argument is used to underpin a suggestion that the use of older tricyclic antidepressants, which are so dangerous in overdose, is always preferable to the SSRIs.”
The first thing about the Science Media Centre comment is it’s wild. It completely misreads the editorial it’s commenting on – at no point does the editorial say I or any academic ever believed the serotonin hypothesis or changed our beliefs because it has now been debunked.
In an extraordinarily brief space Clare Stanford introduces a whole new concept Switching on Anti-Depression – that no one I know has ever heard of. And also manages to say that there was never any evidence for the serotonin hypothesis but that the serotonin hypothesis is right anyway.
It’s hard to believe Clare Stanford wrote something like this.
Which raises the question – who are the Science Media Centre? There were several posts last June about the Science Media Centre and Sense about Science – see Follow the Rhetoric, First Admit no Harm, Follow the Lawsuit, Follow the Patient – cover aspects of what’s at stake. This is an organization that under the umbrella of taking a responsible approach to science ends up denigrating a lot of work or researchers that raise concerns about anything that might harm a corporation’s products.
Following the successful establishment of a UK SMC, comparable groups have been set up in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. See SMC Feasiblity Study for a document apparently stemming from a consultation exercise about what a Canadian SMC might look like.
Earlier this year a fuss blew up about coverage of HPV vaccines in the Toronto Star. The Star backtracked from its article, persuaded in part it would seem by input from SMC Canada that the Sixty cases of injured girls they had were just “anecdotes”.
The BMJ and other journals and media outlets divert a large amount of their content via the British SMC these days. They seem to think that this will increase coverage of their content – when the SMC is much more interested ordinarily to close down stories like this one rather than open them up. “We get our experts – who are usually media trained – to tell your journalists why you don’t want to bother with this story”.
Why do BMJ do this?
Who are the US equivalent of SMC?