• Wed. Nov 25th, 2020

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Who Was Robert Galbraith Heath? His Name Is in the News Now Learn About His Dark Scientific Contribution

Fans and detractors on Twitter called out author J.K. Rowling for her pseudonym Robert Galbraith. They alleged the name was inspired by Robert Galbraith Heath, a psychologist known for his work on gay conversion therapy.

Heath was a psychologist who lived from 1915 until 1999. In 1970, according to The Journal of Neurosurgery, he used a method called “deep brain stimulation” to try to perform conversion therapy on a subject. Electrodes were placed in different areas of the subject’s brain. “After electrode placement, researchers provided patient B-19 with a button to push that would send a current through the electrodes to his ‘pleasure site.’ As Heath and his colleagues recorded the patient’s cerebral activity, patient B-19 was instructed to push the button repeatedly while watching heterosexual erotic films and masturbating until orgasm,” the JNS wrote.

The reasoning behind this treatment was that the stimulation to the “pleasure sites” would become associated with viewing women. A later experiment included Heath instructing the patient to have sex with a prostitute while the electrodes continued to stimulate him. After the experiment, Heath called it a success, saying that the patient was now straight, although the the JNS states that this has been disputed, and it was reported that patient B-19 still engaged in gay sexual activities after the therapy.

Besides his experiments with conversion therapy, Galbraith also researched schizophrenia. According to the Tulane University library, Heath was the “first to delineate a neurophysiological basis for pleasure in the human brain in schizophrenia and to postulate schizophrenia as an autoimmune disorder.” Heath also established the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane in 1949. The university awarded him an “honorary doctor of science degree” and named a lectureship after him in 1980.

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Mosaic Science reported that Heath had also used electrodes to treat schizophrenia in the 1950s. He suspended a study in 1955 due to a lack of “lasting beneficial effects.” Despite a lack of improvements in patients, Mosaic Science said that the psychologist’s research did help gain a better understanding of the way the brain works. He also did experiments with marijuana, which he claimed caused erectile dysfunction as well as brain and respiratory damage.

By the 1970s, Heath began gaining negative attention, according to Mosaic Science. The JNS has said that his treatment of patient B-19 was widely criticized as unethical at the time and still is to this day.

People on Twitter began calling out Rowling for her pseudonym’s closeness to Heath’s name, undoubtedly due to recent accusations of transphobia levied against the author.

As previously reported, the Harry Potter author uses the Robert Galbraith moniker for her Cormoran Strike series. She came up with the name by combining Robert Kennedy, one of her heroes, and “Ella Galbraith,” a name she’s liked since her childhood.

In a statement obtained by Newsweek via email on Friday, a spokesperson said the names lining up was an unfortunate coincidence. “J.K. Rowling wasn’t aware of Robert Galbraith Heath when choosing the pseudonym for her crime novels. Any assertion that there is a connection is unfounded and untrue,” a spokesperson said.

Electrodes
A psychiatric patient is connected, via electrodes, to an electroencephalograph machine which generates an image of the brain’s electrical activity. The process, known as EEG, serves as an aid to the diagnosis of mental disorders. Robert Galbraith Heath is most known for his experiments with electrodes.
Getty/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

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