Valenstein, Elliot S. 1923–
Valenstein, Elliot S. 1923–
(Elliot Spiro Valenstein)
PERSONAL: Born December 9, 1923, in New York, NY; son of Louis and Helen (Spiro) Valenstein; married Thelma Lewis, June 15, 1947; children: Paul, Carl. Education: City College of the City University of New York, B.S. (cum laude), 1949; University of Kansas, M.A., 1953, Ph.D., 1954, postdoctoral study, 1954–55.
CAREER: Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Washington, DC, experimental psychologist, 1955–57, chief laboratory neuropsychologist, 1957–61; Fels Research Institute, Yellow Springs, OH, senior research associate in psychophysiology and neurophysiology, 1961–70; Antioch College (now Antioch University), Yellow Springs, OH, began as associate professor, became professor of psychology, 1961–70; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, professor of psychology and neuroscience, 1970–94, professor emeritus, 1994–, distinguished senior lecturer, 1992–93. Visiting lecturer at University of Maryland, 1956–57, and Catholic University of America, 1958; Oregon Regional Primate Center, visiting scientist, 1967; University of California, Berkeley, visiting professor, 1969–70; Villa Serbelloni, Rockefeller Study and Conference Center, Bellagio, Italy, resident scholar 1982; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, visiting scholar, 1984; Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar, 1987–88. National Academy of Science, fellow at physiology laboratories in the Soviet Union, 1961; committee chair for National Institute of Mental Health, 1967–68, and Wisconsin Regional Primate Center, 1972–. Member of editorial board, Brain, Behavior and Evolution, 1967–, Neuroscience Translations, 1969, Human Growth and Development, 1974–77, and Law and Human Behavior, 1977–84. Military service: U.S. Army, 1941–45, served in China, Burma, and India; received Bronze Star.
MEMBER: International Brain Research Organization, American Psychological Association (fellow; division president, 1976–77), American Psychological Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow), Society for Neuroscience, Society for Experimental Psychologists, Animal Behavior Society, Instituto Mexicano de Cultura (elected correspondent member), New York Academy of Science, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, Phi Sigma, Psi Chi.
AWARDS, HONORS: Career Development Award, U.S. Public Health Service, 1963–67; research scientist award, National Institute of Mental Health, 1967–71; fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, 1976–77; Fulbright fellow at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1980; Kenneth Craik Research Award, St. John's College, Cambridge, 1980–81; fellow, National Humanities Center, 1984; City University of New York Award for outstanding achievement in psychology, 1989; Lifetime Achievement Award in behavioral neuroscience, International Society of Behavioral Neurosciences, 1999.
(Editor and contributor) Brain Stimulation and Motivation: Research and Commentary, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1973.
Brain Control: A Critical Examination of Brain Stimulation and Psychosurgery, Wiley (New York, NY), 1973.
Persistent Problems in the Physical Control of the Brain, American Museum of Natural History (New York, NY), 1975.
(Editor and contributor) The Psychosurgery Debate: Scientific, Legal, and Ethical Perspectives, W.H. Freeman (San Francisco, CA), 1980.
Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery and Other Radical Treatments for Mental Illness, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1986.
Blaming the Brain: The Truth about Drugs and Mental Health, Free Press (New York, NY), 1998.
The War of the Soups and the Spark: The Discovery of Neurotransmitters and the Dispute over How Nerves Communicate, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Author of educational film scripts, including The Psychology of Eating and Divided Brain and Consciousness, produced by Harcourt, 1978; and slides and audio cassettes for Introduction to Psychobiology series, including Mammalian Sexual Behavior and Brain Control: Scientific and Ethical Issues, produced by Life Science Associates, 1979. Contributor to numerous books, including The Neuropsychology of Development, edited by R.L. Isaacson, Wiley (New York, NY), 1968; Psychopathology of Human Adaptation, edited by G. Serban, Plenum, 1976; and Modifying Man: Implications and Ethics, edited by C.W. Ellison, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1978. Contributor of to periodicals, including Anatomical Record, Endocrinology, Journal of Comparative Neurology, Science, American Journal of Psychology, American Journal of Physiology, Psychological Review, Physiology and Behavior, and Experimental Neurology.
SIDELIGHTS: In his book Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery and Other Radical Treatments for Mental Illness, Elliot S. Valenstein examines the histories of several questionable procedures aimed at curing mental illness. The text focuses on a procedure known as the prefrontal lobotomy—the severing of nerve fibers in the brain, developed in 1935 by Portuguese scientist Egas Moniz and originally called a prefrontal leucotomy. The author credits the strong support of neurologist Walter Freeman with the popularity of the operation in the United States, where more than 5,000 lobotomies were performed per year between 1949 and 1952. In his book, Valenstein first explores the history of the lobotomy, as well as other treatments for mental illness, and then he examines the reasons why such dangerous and seemingly unwarranted procedures were performed with such frequency. According to Valenstein, some of the factors which contributed to the popularity of such drastic treatments—including professional and economic advancement—still exist today. In addition to being a detailed medical history, Great and Desperate Cures is also an argument for more stringent guidelines in relation to new surgical procedures.
Critics praised Valenstein's ability to treat technical subjects with clarity and style. Stanley W. Jackson, writing in the New York Times Book Review, was "impressed to see such a complex and difficult subject given such a fine rendering," reporting that the story was "well told, even compellingly told." New York Times critic John Gross felt that Moniz and Freeman were "both … memorably portrayed," and that "Valenstein has a cautionary … tale to tell, and he tells it extremely well." Daniel J. Kevles, in a review for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, deemed Great and Desperate Cures "a wholly accessible, compelling and authoritative work of history."
In Blaming the Brain: The Truth about Drugs and Mental Health, Valenstein addresses a more recent trend that substitutes pharmaceuticals for what he calls traditional psychotherapy or talk therapy. His detailed study attributes the rise of drug therapy to several powerful factors: among them, talk therapy is expensive, drugs are cheaper; drugs can be prescribed by general practitioners, who are not trained in therapy and are also less expensive than specialists; and insurance companies prefer the cheapest therapies that seem to work. Moreover, pharmaceutical manufacturers are aware of all this and are more than willing to exploit the opportunities it presents, spending literally billions of dollars marketing products to doctors too busy to study the professional literature on their own and to potential patients themselves. As a neuroscientist, Valenstein studied the body of research and clinical trials on psychotropic medicines and found mistakes or misjudgments in most of it: sometimes inadvertent, sometimes self-serving or worse. He suggests there is little unequivocal proof that the majority of mental illnesses are caused primarily by chemical imbalances or that they can be cured or even significantly mitigated by chemical interventions. At the same time, Valenstein does not suggest that mental illness has no roots in biological, chemical, or neurological malfunctions, nor does he equate psychotropic drugs to snake oil. He has, according to J.K. Tidmore's appraisal in Natural Health, "an amazing ability to report on this with clear-eyed composure;" furthermore, he does not recommend one type of therapy over another. He does call for more thoughtful consideration of the options and, as a Library Journal contributor observed, "Valenstein condemns the forces that work to retain the prevailing paradigm."
Valenstein buttresses his call for thoughtful consideration with The War of the Soups and the Sparks: The Discovery of Neurotransmitters and the Dispute over How Nerves Communicate. In this account, he presents a history of the quest to understand how chemicals affect the electrical transmission of signals from neuron to neuron. His necessarily scientific account "exhibits a novel-like character," wrote J.A. Hewlett in Choice, providing "an engaging story of scientific discovery and debate" in the context of the cultures and time periods from which it emerged.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scientist, May-June, 1987, Bennett A. Shaywitz, review of Great and Desperate Cures: The Rise and Decline of Psychosurgery and Other Radical Treatments for Mental Illness, p. 293.
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, May, 1987, Sheila M. Greene, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 218.
Atlantic Monthly, May, 1986, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 100.
Canadian Medical Association Journal, January 26, 1999, review of Blaming the Brain, pp. 233-234.
Choice, July, 1986, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 1738; January, 2006, J.A. Hewlett, review of The War of the Soups and the Sparks: The Discovery of Neurotransmitters and the Dispute over How Nerves Communicate, p. 878.
Contemporary Psychology, November, 1975, review of Brain Control: A Critical Examination of Brain Stimulation and Psychosurgery, p. 888; November, 1975, review of Brain Stimulation and Motivation: Research and Commentary, p. 912.
Ethics, April, 1982, John C. Moskop, review of The Psychosurgery Debate: Scientific, Legal, and Ethical Perspectives, pp. 594-595.
Isis, December, 1989, Naomi Rogers, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 726.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1998, review of Blaming the Brain: The Truth about Drugs and Mental Health, p. 1103.
Law, Medicine, and Health Care, fall, 1987, Theodore M. Brown, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 157.
Library Journal, April 15, 1986, Paul Hymowitz, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 87; March 1, 1987, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 33; October 15, 1998, Kelly Hensley, review of Blaming the Brain, p. 87.
Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1986, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 13, 1986, Daniel J. Kevles, review of Great and Desperate Cures.
Natural Health, November-December, 1998, J.K. Tidmore, review of Blaming the Brain, p. 160.
Nature, April 17, 1986, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 658.
New York Review of Books, April 24, 1986, Macdonald Critchley, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 7.
New York Times, April 1, 1986, John Gross, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. C16.
New York Times Book Review, April 6, 1986, Stanley W. Jackson, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 30; November 8, 1987, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 66.
Psychology Today, July, 1974, review of Brain Control, p. 14; September, 1986, Susan Pollak, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 74.
Publishers Weekly, March 21, 1986, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 78; August 24, 1998.
Science, May 10, 1974, review of Brain Control, p. 669; November 18, 2005, Arvid Carlsson, review of The War of the Soups and the Sparks, p. 1120.
Science Books and Films, December, 1974, review of Brain Control, p. 231; January, 1987, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 164.
Society, January-February, 1988, Norman E. Zinberg, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 86; November, 2000, Gordon Marino and Susan Marino, review of Blaming the Brain, p. 110.
Telos, winter, 2002, Jonathan Leo, review of Blaming the Brain, p. 169.
Village Voice Literary Supplement, May, 1986, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 20.
Wilson Quarterly Annual, 1987, review of Great and Desperate Cures, p. 160.