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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Open Letter: Netflix's "Afflicted" Abandoning Ethics and Science

Maya Dusenbery
Pacific Standard
Originally published September 20, 2018

Here are two excerpts:

The problem is not that the series included these skeptical views. To be sure, one of the most difficult parts of being ill with these "contested" conditions—or, for that matter, even a well-accepted but "invisible" chronic disease—is contending with such doubts, which are pervasive among friends and family, the media, and the medical profession at large. But according to the participants, in many cases, interviews with their family and friends were deceptively edited to make them appear more skeptical than they actually are. In some cases, clips in which family members acknowledged they'd wondered if their loved one's problem was psychological early on in their illness were taken out of context to imply they still harbored those beliefs. In others, producers seem to have put words into their mouths: According to Jamison, interviewees were asked to start their answers by repeating the question they had been asked. This is how the producers managed to get a clip of his mom seemingly questioning if "hypochondria" was a component of her son's illness.

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Even more irresponsible is the inclusion of such psychological speculation by various unqualified doctors. Presented as experts despite the fact that they have not examined the participants and are not specialists in their particular conditions, they muse vaguely about the power of the mind to produce physical symptoms. A single psychiatrist, who has never evaluated any of the subjects, is quoted extensively throughout. In Episode 4, which is entitled "The Mind," he gets right to the point: "Statistically, it's more likely that the cause of the problem is a common psychiatric problem more than it is an unknown or uncatalogued physical illness. You can be deluded that you're sick, meaning you can believe you're sick when in fact you're not sick."

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