Black Swans By Lauren Slater Essays On The Great

Lauren Slater (born March 21, 1963) is an American psychologist and writer. She is the author of seven books, including Welcome To My Country (1996), Prozac Diary (1998), and Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir (2000). Her 2004 Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychology Experiments of the Twentieth Century, a description of psychology experiments "narrated as stories," [1] has drawn both praise and criticism. It was nominated for a Los Angeles TimesKirsch award for science and technology writing,[2] and was named as a 2005 Bild Der Wissenschaft book of the year in Germany.[3] Criticism has focused on Slater's research methods and on the extent to which some of the experiences she describes may have been fictionalized.

Other awards Slater has won include the 1993 New Letters Literary Award in creative nonfiction, and the 1994 Missouri Review Award, and her work was included in The Best American Essays of 1994 and 1997.[4] She has contributed to The New York Times, Harper's, and Elle.[4]

The Village Voice has called her "the closest thing we have to a doyenne of psychiatric disorder." [5]

Education and career

Slater is a freelance writer specializing in psychology, mental illness, and women's health. She graduated in 1985 from Brandeis University with a bachelor's degree in British and American literature.[6] She earned a master's degree in psychology from Harvard University and a doctorate in psychology from Boston University. Slater was a 2002-03 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During the fellowship, part of the Program on Science, Technology and Society in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, her area of study was neuropsychology, psychiatric care, medical technologies, and medical ethics.[7]

Slater was a clinical psychologist for 11 years before embarking on a full-time writing career. She was the director of AfterCare Services, a mental health and substance-abuse clinic in Boston.[8]

She is married to computer programmer Benjamin Alexander. They have two children: Clara and Lucas.

After the birth of her daughter, Slater wrote her memoir Love Works Like This,[9] to chronicle the agonizing decisions she made related to her psychiatric illness and her pregnancy. In a 2003 BBC Woman's Hour radio interview,[10] and a 2005 article in Child Magazine[11] Slater provides information on depression during pregnancy and the risks to the woman and her baby.

Opening Skinner's Box

Nominated for a Los Angeles TimesKirsch award for science and technology writing,[2] and named as a 2005 Bild Der Wissenschaft book of the year in Germany,[3]Opening Skinner's Box has been described as "one of the first major books to bridge the gap between academic and popular psychology." [12] In a 2004 literary review,[13]Farhad Manjoo, a writer for, observed that it was 'a genuinely compelling read'.

It describes — in the form of stories, complete with characters, plot, and emotional insights — the 10 psychology experiments Slater regards as the most significant or interesting of the 20th century. These include B.F. Skinner's work on behaviorism; Stanley Milgram's demonstration of how ordinary people can be influenced to obey authority; David Rosenhan's 1972 experiment in which eight people feigned mental illness then gained admittance to psychiatric hospitals; Harry Harlow's experiments with monkeys and motherhood; and Bruce K. Alexander's Rat Park, where laboratory rats addicted to morphine turned the drug down when given a better life.[1]


The criticism has focused on Slater's research methods and writing style. The use of creative non-fiction and Slater's highly personalized narrative style are unusual in a book about science, and the work has garnered some hostile reactions, mostly from the psychiatric or clinical psychology community, some of whom have disputed quotations she has used, or have criticized her understanding of the studies she wrote about.[14]

Slater's attorney has responded to the criticism by accusing some psychiatrists and psychologists of having mounted a "vindictive effort" and "vendetta" against her, and of "sniping" at her on[15]

David Corfield, a philosopher of mathematics writing in The Guardian, questions the veracity of the book's reported speech. He relates how, during Slater's discussion with Harvard University psychologist Jerome Kagan, she recalled how Kagan had suddenly dived under his desk to illustrate a point about free will. However, Kagan told Corfield that he had not done this but only suggested that he could do so if he wanted.[16]

In response to Corfield's criticism, Slater showed the New York Times an e-mail she received from Kagan, who was responding to a pre-publication fact-checking list she had sent him. Slater had written: "3. that, in demonstrating to me that people do, indeed, have free will, you jumped under your desk ...," and Kagan responded: "I was trying to demonstrate that when humans have a choice of actions, they can select an act that has never been rewarded in the past ..." [17]

Slater repeated several variants of the urban legend that B.F. Skinner raised his daughter Deborah in an operant conditioning chamber and subjected her to psychological experiments, resulting in psychosis that led her to sue her father and ultimately commit suicide. Although Slater's book stated that the rumors were false, Slater also allowed the reader to believe that Deborah had disappeared. A reviewer in The Observer in March 2004 then misquoted Slater's books as supporting the rumors. This review was read by Deborah Skinner (now Deborah Buzan), who publicly responded that she was not insane, dead, or difficult to contact.[18]

Farhad Manjoo protested on that Buzan's Guardian article 'reads as if she has never even picked up Slater's book',[13] observing that 'Slater's description of the box is pretty much in line with Buzan's description in the Guardian' [13][19]

Another criticism concerned Slater's description of her reaction to the David Rosenhan study. Slater wrote that she had repeated Rosenhan's research, in which he trained students to pretend to be mentally ill to gauge the reactions of psychiatric hospitals, by presenting herself at the emergency rooms of multiple hospitals with a single auditory hallucination to see whether she would be admitted as a psychiatric patient. She said that she was not admitted but was given prescriptions for antipsychotics and antidepressants.

This has been questioned by a number of psychiatrists and psychologists, including Robert Spitzer of the New York State Psychiatric Institute.[15] Slater replied through her attorney that she considered her work to be an "anecdote, not systematic research, and certainly not a 'replication' of Rosenhan's study".[15] Slater's attorney accused Spitzer of being involved in a campaign to discredit Slater's work.[15]



  • (2013) Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother, Beacon Press, ISBN 978-0-8070-0173-8
  • (2012) The $60,000 Dog: My Life with Animals, Beacon Press, ISBN 978-0-8070-0187-5
  • (2005) Blue Beyond Blue: Extraordinary Tales for Ordinary Dilemmas, W.W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-05959-6
  • (2004) Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychology Experiments of the Twentieth Century, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-05095-5
  • (2003) Love Works Like This: Travels Through a Pregnant Year, Bloomsbury Publishing plc, ISBN 0-7475-6217-2
  • (2000) Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, Random House (US), ISBN 0-375-50112-6 [20]
  • (1998) Prozac Diary, Random House, ISBN 0-679-45721-6
  • (1997) Welcome to My Country, Anchor, ISBN 0-385-48739-8

Anthology contributions

  • (2002) "Dr. Daedalus" in The Best American Science Writing 2002 (anthology), HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 0-06-093650-9 [21]
  • (1997) "Black Swans" in The Best American Essays 1997 (anthology), Houghton Mifflin Company, ISBN 0-395-85695-7
  • (1994) "Striptease" [22] in The Best American Essays 1994 (anthology), Houghton Mifflin Company, ISBN 0-395-69254-7

Recent articles

  • "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," Elle, July 2007
  • "True Love," National Geographic, February 2006 (excerpt)
  • "Who Holds The Clicker?", Mother Jones Magazine, Nov/Dec 2005
  • "Cognitive Dissonance: The Work Of Leon Festinger," Die Welt, August 2005
  • "The Life Of Katrina Dalton," The New York Times Magazine, January 2005
  • "The Cruelest Cure: David Barlow and Anxiety Disorders", The New York Times Magazine, November 2004
  • "Rosenhan’s Pseudopatient Experiment," The London Times, April 2004
  • "Milgram’s Obedience Studies," The Guardian Magazine, April 2004
  • "Living In An Age Of Anxiety," Self Magazine, April 2004
  • "Parents help babies learn lessons of love",Deseret News (Salt Lake City), March 2003 (This article first appeared in Parenting magazine. (C) The Parenting Group.)
  • "The Value Of Repression," The New York Times Magazine, March 2003

See also


  1. 1 2 Slater, Lauren. Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century, Norton 2004, ISBN 0-393-05095-5
  2. 1 2 "Los Angeles Times Announces Kirsch Award Winner, Book Prize Finalists", Los Angeles Times Media Center, March 10, 2005
  3. 1 2 "Wissenschaftsbuch des Jahres", HyperSchool, undated, retrieved April 14, 2006
  4. 1 2 Bloomsbury author information; retrieved April 6, 2006
  5. ↑ '"Life is like Skinner's box of chocolates: Slater revisits 20th-century psych's greatest hits",Village Voice (Shrink Rap), by Joy Press, 23 February 2004, accessed 27 April 2006
  6. ↑ Brandeis 50th Review
  7. ↑ Knight Science Fellows
  8. ↑ Slater,Lauren Do You Cure A Sex Addict?”The New York Times November 19, 2000
  9. ↑ Mental health net book review accessed 20 April 2006
  10. ↑ BBC Woman's Hour radio interview BBC Mental Health, Drugs & Pregnancy, Woman's Hour, 14 January 2003
  11. ↑ Slater, Lauren “The Pregnancy Blues“Child Magazine April 2005
  12. ↑ Lee, Felicia R. "Book's Critique of Psychology Ignites a Torrent of Criticism", The New York Times, April 12, 2004
  13. 1 2 3 How free is free will? (on Powell Books) by Farhad Manjoo, 28 May 2004
  14. ↑ Kihlstrom, John F. New England Journal of Medicine, September 2, 2004
  15. 1 2 3 4 Letters from critics about Opening Skinner's Box, and responses from Slater's attorney.
  16. ↑ Corfield, David. "Box Pop", The Guardian, March 27, 2004
  17. ↑ Miller, Laura. "Unpacking Skinner's Box", The New York Times, May 2, 2004.
  18. ↑ Skinner Buzan, Deborah. "I was not a lab rat", The Guardian, March 12, 2004
  19. ↑ Note: Manjoo continued, 'Slater writes that it was actually an "upgraded playpen" whose "thermostatically controlled environment" prevented diaper rash and other kiddie ailments, reduced the chance of suffocation by blanket, and allowed the daughter to walk around without any impediments, building a baby of impressive self-confidence.'
  20. ↑ Note: This book was alternately titled in the UK as Spasm: A Memoir with Lies, Methuen Publishing Ltd, ISBN 0-413-74250-4
  21. ↑ Note: This essay was also published in The Best American Magazine Writing 2002 (anthology), HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 0-06-051572-4
  22. ↑ List of articles on Slater's website

External links

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The $60,000 Dog: My Life with Animals3.09 · Rating details ·  113 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews

A stunning new book about the role of animals in our lives, by a popular and acclaimed writer

From the time she is nine years old, biking to the farmland outside her suburban home, where she discovers a disquieting world of sleeping cows and a “Private Way” full of the wondrous and creepy creatures of the wild—spiders, deer, moles, chipmunks, and foxes—Lauren Slater findsA stunning new book about the role of animals in our lives, by a popular and acclaimed writer

From the time she is nine years old, biking to the farmland outside her suburban home, where she discovers a disquieting world of sleeping cows and a “Private Way” full of the wondrous and creepy creatures of the wild—spiders, deer, moles, chipmunks, and foxes—Lauren Slater finds in animals a refuge from her troubled life. As she matures, her attraction to animals strengthens and grows more complex and compelling even as her family is falling to pieces around her. Slater spends a summer at horse camp, where she witnesses the alternating horrific and loving behavior of her instructor toward the animals in her charge and comes to question the bond that so often develops between females and their equines. Slater’s questions follow her to a foster family, her own parents no longer able to care for her. A pet raccoon, rescued from a hole in the wall, teaches her how to feel at home away from home. The two Shiba Inu puppies Slater adopts years later, against her husband’s will, grow increasingly important to her as she ages and her family begins to grow.

Slater’s husband is a born skeptic and possesses a sternly scientific view of animals as unconscious, primitive creatures, one who insists “that an animal’s worth is roughly equivalent to its edibility.” As one of her dogs, Lila, goes blind and the medical bills and monthly expenses begin to pour in, he calculates the financial burden of their canine family member and finds that Lila has cost them about $60,000, not to mention the approximately 400 pounds of feces she has deposited in their yard. But when Benjamin begins to suffer from chronic pain, Lauren is convinced it is Lila’s resilience and the dog’s quick adaptation to her blindness that draws her husband out of his own misery and motivates him to try to adjust to his situation. Ben never becomes a true believer or a die-hard animal lover, but his story and the stories Lauren tells of her own bond with animals convince her that our connections with the furry, the four-legged, the exoskeleton-ed, or the winged may be just as priceless as our human relationships.

The $60,000 Dog is Lauren Slater’s intimate manifesto on the unique, invaluable, and often essential contributions animals make to our lives. As a psychologist, a reporter, an amateur naturalist, and above all an enormously gifted writer, she draws us into the stories of her passion for animals that are so much more than pets. She describes her intense love for the animals in her life without apology and argues, finally, that the works of Darwin and other evolutionary biologists prove that, when it comes to worth, animals are equal, and in some senses even superior, to human beings.

From the Hardcover edition....more

Paperback, 264 pages

Published October 15th 2013 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2012)

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