By: Nick Santangelo

The College of Liberal Arts is proud to announce that one of our professors has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for the second year in a row! This year, Philosophy Department Chair and Professor Miriam Solomon won a Guggenheim Fellowship that she’ll use for a research project in philosophy of psychiatry, titled “Evidence and Values in the DSM 5.x.”

The project will examine the process and criteria used to revise categories in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association’s and make recommendations for improving the revision process. The process involves groups of experts discussing issues and producing a consensus statement. The criteria include indicators of scientific validity, clinical applicability and implications for legal and moral assessments.

“It's a very complex, multi-consideration process that is a social process as well as a scientific process” explains Dr. Solomon. “The DSM process of revision has been revised as much as the DSM itself over the past 40 years, incorporating the methods of medical consensus conferences as well as the standards of evidence-based medicine.”

The department chair first realized the need to study the process and criteria for revising the DSM when conducting a project on the removal of Asperger Syndrome from the DSM in 2013. Those formerly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome now fall into Autism Spectrum Disorder or Social Communication Disorder, and there’s been some patient community pushback about this change.

Dr. Solomon looked at the implications of removing the Asperger diagnosis and argued the need for earlier and more explicit consideration of the social implications of revising categories. In making recommendations for changing the DSM’s process of revision, Dr. Solomon uses ideas from the philosophy of science, science studies and social epistemology.

It's a very complex, multi-consideration process that is a social process as well as a scientific process

Dr. Solomon also notes that DSM categories are syndromic—describing disorders in terms of symptom clusters—rather than biological or neuroscientific. This theoretical framework is being challenged at the National Institutes of Mental Health, where a new set of Research Domain Criteria incorporating recent work in neuroscience is under development. It’s likely that DSM revisions will also have to incorporate results from the Research Domain Criteria. What counts as a “scientific” classification of psychiatric disease is itself under challenge.

Ideally, Dr. Solomon’s findings will have far-reaching implications for clinical care and research. They will also improve how medical students and residents are taught about psychiatric classification. Everything from diagnosis and treatment, to educational assignments and entitlements, to health care reimbursements and assessments of legal responsibility could be affected.

Dr. Solomon expects to continue to publish her results in philosophy and psychiatry journals and to write a book in this area. She is particularly grateful to the College of Liberal Arts, which has supported her research since she started at Temple University as an assistant professor in 1991.

“The College of Liberal Arts takes faculty and student research very seriously,” she says, “They realize that universities produce knowledge as well as disseminate it, and they want Temple to contribute in major ways.”

The Guggenheim Fellowships are awarded to scholars, artists, and writers on the basis of both prior achievements and a research proposal. This year, there were approximately 3,000 applications and 168 awards were made.

Saying she was equal parts surprised and delighted when she won the award, Dr. Solomon advises other faculty to apply for the Guggenheim and other fellowships, even if they think that they are not likely to succeed. She’s grateful for many College of Liberal Arts resources, especially the Associate Dean Sandra Suarez, Kim Fahey and Gina Barnes in the CLA Office of Research.

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