Cognition & Reality

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Disease, Disorder, Distraction

Responsible scientists who are familiar with the research but want to preserve the disease concept of alcoholism have had to redefine their terms. They define “disease” as whatever doctors choose to call a disease (Jellinek, 1960)! The point of using the word, they acknowledge, is “social” rather than medical. There is a lack of consistent self-control that leads to harmful consequences (Vaillant, 1990). Of course such sweeping uses of the term make almost every human and social problem into a “disease.”

In the above passage, from a book chapter published over 20 years ago, Herbert Fingarette prefigured the current obsession with attributing any troubling behavior to an underlying disease. The extension of medicine into areas where it does not belong, because its methods do not apply, is an insidious ongoing process. We have not only given doctors great power within the legal domain, but we have also permitted the ideology called “medical science” to dominate the cultural definition of many types of behavior.

Sadness and worry are now perceived as symptoms of an underlying disease, although they could result from a wide range of potential causes. To be in a down mood is the natural response to various circumstances, such as a bad marriage or financial difficulties; and events, such as the loss of a job or loved one. As the beginning of this piece from The Guardian suggests, however, the medical community and the pharmaceutical industry have succeeded in redefining a psychiatric condition called “depression” as a common disorder. Because it is presumed to have an underlying physiological cause, a critical feature of this newly redefined disorder is that it can be addressed with certain expensive medications.

Accordingly, the official numbers indicate that 9% of the US population count as “depressed,” with 3.4% meeting the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder, while doctors write millions of prescriptions for antidepressants yearly, at a rate that continues to accelerate. From one perspective, these figures raise questions about a society with a tenth of its members bummed out, some seriously bummed out, many of them dependent on daily doses of drugs having limited efficacy and unknown long-term effects. From another perspective, the same figures raise questions about what counts as a mental disease or disorder such that so many people suffer from such conditions.

Our society had become addicted to medicalizing social, moral and spiritual problems. As Fingarette predicted, many troubling behaviors have been reconceived as disease states. Doing so puts money in the pockets of pharmaceutical companies and physicians, while it reassures members of both the medical profession and the general public. Insurance companies and government agencies like it, too, because the treatment of medical disorders usually involves medication and other courses of treatment that are much less expensive than traditional psychotherapy, with its emphasis on developmental issues.

First of all, there are “food addiction,” and “sex addiction,” new names for otherwise normal activities that have reached an unacceptable level of excess. Although eating too much can be injurious to one’s health,and reckless promiscuity can wreak havoc, putting these problems into a category with dependence on intoxicants places them within the same disease-oriented framework. As discussed in a previous post, conceptualizing substance abuse as resulting from “disease” is misleading as a guide to treatment and unjustified by empirical evidence, and the same is true, of course, for destructive patterns of behavior to which the addiction metaphor has been extended. Nevertheless, there are many intensive, expensive treatment programs, modeled on programs for substance abuse, dedicated to treating overeating and promiscuity.

The emergence of Asperger syndrome as a diagnosis shows that the redefinition of human behavior as disease does not stop with sadness, overeating, and fucking too much (however much that is). Most people realize that this “syndrome” is nothing more or less than “nerdiness,” as it was called before it became a disease. A look at the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s illuminates its shaky foundation. A child need only meet two diagnostic criteria by exhibiting “impaired social interaction,” and “repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior”; other criteria, such as having “inadequate relationships,” or “impaired nonverbal communication,”among others, belong in the “Maybe” category. Treatment for this “syndrome” is a joke, consisting mainly of medications insurance companies will pay for, and therapeutic modalities that, by their nature, are limited in duration: physical therapy, occupational therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, social skills training, and parenting classes. It need hardly be said that none of these has yielded reliable improvement of the identified problems. Nerdy children may suffer some pain as a result of their behavior, although the very nature of the “syndrome” presupposes that they don’t notice the inadequacy of their relationships. For sure, children who fit the criteria for Asperger’s are annoying, and they can grow into adults with horrible manners, which may explain the amount of attention this “disorder” has received from physicians and psychologists.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is another instance of the “diseasing” of behavior that is deemed to be troubling and disruptive. The controversy over ADHD is so old and so fraught with emotion that there is no point in revisiting it here. Suffice it to say that a recent study, conducted under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health, found that, despite initial improvement, children treated for ADHD through a variety of different recognized modalities, either singly or in combination, fare far worse than children who have not been diagnosed with ADHD. The children received the best treatment the medical establishment can offer, including advanced medications, for at least 14 months, and some were still receiving treatment years later, when they were assessed for their school performance and many other variables relevant to social  and psychological adjustment. Nevertheless, as the results summarized in this table show, they compared unfavorably with comparison subjects on almost every measure chosen by the investigators, who undoubtedly believed in the efficacy of treatment. If ADHD is a disorder with physiological substrates that reflect a genetic disposition, as has long been claimed, “medical science” has not succeeded in discovering how to treat it.

Much the same can be said about the medical approach to the other problems surveyed here. Recidivism by alcoholics and drug addicts who have gone through draconian rehabilitation regimes is notorious. Depression remains a significant problem, as one can tell from the number of commercials one sees for antidepressants. No one is suggesting that there is a reliable treatment for Asperger’s or ADHD. In spite of this abysmal record, physicians continue to operate under the questionable assumption that these conditions represent underlying, circumscribed causes, and continue to treat these conditions as if they know how to ameliorate their effects.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


As I read a history of the disease theory of alcoholism, there is much about how describing addiction to alcohol as a disease de-stigmatizes those deemed to drink too much. For example, Bill W. thought that portraying excessive drinking as a “disease” was a useful metaphor, rather than a medically accurate description of the syndrome, because it removed blame from users. The problem with such metaphors, as the history of the “computer metaphor” in cognitive psychology shows, is that they are inevitably taken too seriously, leading to massive confusion and misunderstanding. In the case of alcoholism, it is widely assumed that it is, indeed, a disease of the brain, subject to treatment by medical professionals, although the the evidence that it represents an actual disease entity is thin, at best.

There are many reasons why the disease concept of alcoholism persists, among them that the confusion caused by applying the disease metaphor to the excessive use of alcohol benefits the makers of alcoholic beverages. If those who ruin their lives with alcohol are suffering from a “disease,” that takes the onus off alcoholic beverages and those who make them. It’s a perfect out. Temperance advocates at the turn of the previous century did blame the makers of alcoholic beverages for the “scourge” of drunkenness, as well as the moral weakness of those who drink. For that reason, the sellers of beer, wine and spirits have to be extremely happy that the approach of the rehabilitation movement blames neither them nor the users of alcohol. Instead, the problem is caused by a disease entity.

By taking the blame away from the substance and from the the user, the treatment of alcoholism as a disease resembles the date rape drugs phantom.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Bud Light: Selling Drunken Sex II

Filed under: Date Rape,Date Rape Drugs,Propaganda,Television,Urban Myths — drtone @ 11:51 am

For whatever reason, my post yesterday about the current Bud Light commercials garnered the highest number of hits of any entry I have ever made on this blog. Maybe it was just that it said “Bud Light,” and everyone is so excited about the product because of those commercials. Maybe it’s that people are sick and tired of the pervasive hypocrisy surrounding the relationship of alcohol to sex. I’d love to hear from readers about why they tuned in here.

In case it wasn’t perfectly obvious, the point I was making about the commercial featuring the write-on labels is that they facilitate the classic “date rape” scenario: An incapacitated young woman gets together with a young man she does not know well… The entire purpose of the ad in question, as with the other Bud Light ads, is the selling of beer as an aid to getting laid. The message to young men is clear: DRUNK WOMEN ARE EASY. BUY OUR PRODUCT AND SEE FOR YOURSELF. I have singled out the Bud Light spots because they appear to me to push this envelope more than similar ads by Miller, Coors, and others.

This is where so-called “date rape drugs” come into the picture for Anheuser-Busch and other companies that sell alcohol. While the public and the duly constituted authorities, both inside and outside law enforcement, chase after the “date rape drug” phantom, the corporate sellers of alcohol can continue unabated in their campaigns to market their legal products for use as stimulants to sex. I am not the only person to see the sad humor in the furor over these other drugs, and the hypocrisy involved. Nor is it out of the question that A-B and other alcohol distributors are involved, sub rosa, in creating an atmosphere of concern about “date rape drugs,” as part of a PR strategy, which they did in connection with the related issue of marketing beer to underage drinkers.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Bud Light: Selling Drunken Sex

Filed under: Date Rape,Date Rape Drugs,Propaganda,Television,Urban Myths — drtone @ 11:54 am

In discussing the urban myth of “date rape drugs,” I suggested that the corporate sellers of alcohol have an interest in distracting attention from their own business, selling the most potent and widely used date rape drug of all time. Throughout human history, the consumption of alcohol has been connected with the reduction of sexual inhibitions in both men and women, although with different effects on each. It is not as if the makers and sellers of alcoholic beverages are ignorant of its use as a sexual lubricant. Far from it.

For many years now, partly in response to legal restrictions on showing the actual drinking of alcohol, the major purveyors of alcohol have advertised the effects of their product. One need only look at almost any beer commercial to know that what it is selling is drunkenness itself. I don’t know if they began the trend, but the famous “Tastes great…Less filling” Miller Lite commercials of the late 70s and early 80s typify this approach. These spots told the viewer about the characteristics of light beer, then a new product, in the context of raucous fun that featured famous athletes, several of them notorious drunks. The selling of drunkenness is not confined to beer commercials, as the sales campaign for Captain Morgan Rum demonstrates.

Although some commercials sell beer, wine or spirits as “cool,” mostly they depict consumers having fun in bizarre situations that resemble drunken fantasies. Many suggest that, in the context of the drunken fun, it’s a useful ploy for young men to supply alcohol to young women. Recent commercials for Bud Light, an Anheuser-Busch product, exemplify this sales approach, unabashedly exploiting women and drunkenness to sell beer.

“3D Test”, a spot that has aired for some time on sporting events, which disproportionately attract young men, can be interpreted as doing nothing but selling inebriation, with special emphasis on the ability of beer to render a woman confused and suggestible. The premise is that the company refrained from airing a 3D beer commercial, because it was too effective and therefore dangerous. The rest of the spot depicts the “dangers” of the commercial discovered during market testing: A young man dives into a television set in order to obtain a virtual beer; a young woman, mouth open and tongue out, abandons herself to a giant holographic glass of beer. At the end of the commercial, the same young woman runs headlong from a bowl of frosty Bud Light bottles into what appears to be the one-way mirror in the “test” room. The “host” of the commercial does not need to say that a woman who, manifestly numb after a few beers, will run into her own reflection (or an imaginary beer) is going to be “easy.”

Another spot illustrates the capacity of beer to make a young man appear attractive to young woman. Two young men are throwing a party on what could be a large pleasure craft. When one of them discovers that they are out of beer, the other demonstrates the Bud Light “app” on his smart phone. The “app” features a video of a Bud Light bottle that opens and from which real beer can be poured. Several scenes follow that show the young man who owns the app entertaining young women with his antics and conversation. In case we were wondering whether the important ingredient in his success with women is the beer or something special about the young man, the spot ends with his friend complaining that he wants a Bud Light app, too.

I can’t find the video for the most recent Bud Light spot, one that comes close to shocking me with its frank suggestion that young men entice young women into sex with the help of beer. The new spot introduces Bud Light bottles with labels you can write on with “a coin or a car key.” One of two young male roommates distributes bottles of Bud Light to the young women in their building, each inscribed with the time and location of a party. In one scene, he literally “lures” a young woman with a bottle lowered to her apartment window on a string. In another scene, when he leaves a bottled invitation with a young woman in the laundry room, she looks back with a welcoming, sexy look. At the subsequent party, young men and women are using the bottles to share names and phone numbers. Not only the beer, but also the package it comes in, help drunk couples to get together.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Date Rape Drugs And The “Good Girl”

Filed under: Date Rape,Propaganda,Sex & Love,Urban Myths — drtone @ 12:10 pm

I promise that I will soon get off the topic of date rape, but not quite yet. When I wrote my first entry on “date rape drugs” after watching a stupid movie, I discovered the depth of the topic, how it drills down to some core values in our society. Now that I’m there, it’s hard to stop.

A fascinating aspect of the prevailing fantasy about date rape drugs is that it makes contact with a societal trope one would have thought had died in the sexual revolution. The “good girl” no longer must abstain from sex before marriage. Instead, she does have sex with her boyfriend in a committed relationship, but  she doesn’t have sex with a random Joe she happened to meet at a bar or party. At least, she doesn’t do so regularly. A magic substance that can be slipped into an alcoholic drink, transforming it into something that render a person unconscious, as if alcohol couldn’t already do that, obviously taps into deep hypocrisy about the consumption of alcohol by women. It not only “explains” the effect of alcohol on a woman’s inhibitions, but also “explains” the non-virtuous behavior of a supposedly virtuous woman.

A “good girl” doesn’t get hammered and end up in bed with an ill-mannered stranger. Maybe she entertains the notion that there’s someone like that deep inside her, but does not contemplate letting her out. Therefore, if she wakes up in a strange place, certain that she behaved recklessly, ashamed of herself, it must have been the result of a “date rape drug,” and not the result of a chain of bad judgments that began when she went to a a party the night before. Clearly, the scenario of a drunken woman leaving a party with a stranger could be a prelude to sex that is truly forced and qualifies as rape. But just as clearly, an alcohol-fueled sexual liaison can simply be confusing, uncomfortable, and something for which one would like not to take responsibility. A “good girl” doesn’t, by definition, act like a slut…unless she’s been drugged.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Date Rape Drugs And Other Evil Spirits

This article from a couple of years ago sums up nicely the factors contributing to the urban mythology around so-called “date rape drugs.” It is interesting that, as the article mentions, the response in some quarters was to perceive the reports debunking the role of drugs other than alcohol in “date rape” as blaming the victim and as ignoring a danger that, however rare, remains real. No matter how many studies demonstrate that the only “date rape drug” of any consequence is alcohol, the false message about the threat posed by other substances remains strong. For example, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) blankly (and falsely) states, “Memory loss can result from the ingestion of GHB and other ‘rape drugs.'” As I have indicated elsewhere, a substantial threat of being “roofied” is often assumed on TV and in films. The argument is essentially over, and the side with the false, hysterical message has prevailed.

Fear of “date rape drugs” clearly serves purposes so important that, confronted with the evidence that they are a tiny problem compared with the “date rape” potential of alcohol, society as a whole persists in maintaining that they represent a severe hazard requiring stringent precautions. As I thought about what those purposes might be, I realized that they are the same ones served by the persistence of other myths I find troubling, those about “chemical imbalances” and behavioral genetics. All of these combinations of myth and metaphor have in common their dependence on alleviating guilt while elevating powerful institutions. Because belief in them is therefore identical with a deep faith in the powers at the center of our culture, to deny their truth is an attack on those same powers.

These quasi-scientific constructs involving chemicals and other elements of medical science are the modern version of identifying what is fearful with invisible demons that can only be quelled through rituals dictated or performed by an authoritative elect. They not only resemble religious beliefs in being dependent on little else but faith and repetition; they are religious beliefs, embedded in our culture because they derive from a widely shared system of doctrines, values and commitments. Just as humans have always done with regard to cherished practices sanctioned by the powerful and believed in by the many, our modern society marginalizes anyone who questions such articles of faith.

I did not realize it until I started Googling about this topic, but young women are now instructed, when at a bar or other public place, to carry any drink with them wherever they go, even into the ladies’ room, accept drinks only from a bartender, drink only from freshly opened bottles, and use available test kits for “date rape drugs.” Thus, they ward off evil spirits who might invade their otherwise harmless alcoholic spirits, transforming the latter into a supernaturally potent, honor-destroying sex potion. In addition to involving young women in established forms and beliefs, these restrictions serve alcohol manufacturers in two important ways: First, they assure that young women consume alcohol in its most expensive, “safe” form, straight from individual bottles and cans; second, they distract attention from the “date rape drug” of the ages, the alcohol they sell.

According to beliefs descended directly from alchemy and other pre-scientific systems, disequilibrium within the fluids of the body produces spiritual disorders that can be cured only by using mysterious concoctions dispensed by medicine men. As I have discussed perhaps more than many of my readers might like, belief in “chemical imbalances” as the cause of at least some forms of emotional disturbance persists as a social and literary trope despite having been abandoned by most of those who originally promulgated it. The reason for that may be that it addresses primitive fears while justifying forms of treatment that satisfy the imperial requirements of the medical profession, save insurance companies money and fatten the purses of pharmaceutical companies. To believe in “chemical imbalances” as the cause of “mental disorders” is therefore a way of paying obeisance to the powers that be.

It all seems rather silly until you confront the fierceness with which these notions are defended. To believe that a child is psychotic because of some physical substance inadvertently passed on through the “blood” is unpleasant, but it is infinitely preferable to believing that his or her condition is the result of bad parenting . Likewise, to believe that one’s daughter was raped by a man who slipped her a mickey is far more tolerable than to believe she made it easier on the rapist by choosing to get shitfaced on Jack Daniel’s at the local bar. One need hardly say that a drug that destroys memory is the perfect antidote to a night one would rather forget, and the perfect explanation for a police report long on histrionics and short on details. No wonder belief persists in some manifestly crude, naive, and false explanations of behavior that serve a host of social and cultural functions.

(BTW, this is in no way intended to let rapists off the hook. Far from it: I find it difficult to imagine circumstances in which it is OK to fuck a semi-conscious woman. In another post, I unpack this issue more fully.)

Friday, 4 March 2011

Drinking, Double Standards, And “Date Rape Drugs”

Filed under: Medical Morality,Propaganda,Psychomyths,Sex & Love,Urban Myths — drtone @ 11:39 am

Since time literally immemorial, men have being “having their way” with women by getting them drunk first. For most of human history, no respectable woman would obtain her own alcohol, nor would she, without male escort, enter an establishment where alcohol is served. That was in the the olden daze, not so long ago, when women were the property of their men.

In a world in which a woman is free to come and go as she pleases, however, she is in a position to get herself drunk with no male assistance and thereby assumes some of the responsibility for the consequences of doing so. If she leaves the bar and is broadsided by another driver who has run a red light, she is still guilty of drunk driving, regardless of whether she was technically at fault, and may bear some legal responsibility for the accident on account of her negligence in driving drunk. It is, moreover, reasonable to assume that she would have been more likely to arrive home safely had she not been as intoxicated as she was. In the same way, if she makes herself an easy target by getting drunk and dropping her guard, she is partly responsibly if she is raped.

This is not the same thing as saying that, because she was three sheets to the wind, it was morally or legally acceptable for Jack to rape Jenny. It is saying that women are responsible for the consequences of their own behavior in every sphere of action, just as men are. Otherwise, we would simply be reinventing a world of double standards in which women are protected because they have no minds of their own.

As I thought about this topic in connection with my interest in society’s fantasy about “date rape drugs,” I realized that it gets us pretty fast into some pretty murky territory. Because women are typically smaller and weaker than men, they are more vulnerable to attack. To own that fully, however, leads directly into regarding women as “the weaker sex,” a designation our society has attempted to leave behind. We are thus confronted with two opposing images of woman: the tough, smart free agent, in every way the equal of men, who must and will make her own way; and the dependent, vulnerable bearer of children, constantly in danger from a hostile society and the men in it. As much as we might want to endorse the former as the real truth about women, men and women both know that there is some truth to the latter, as well.

If we allow women the full freedom of men, which we are legally and morally bound to do, we allow them to enter situations that are potentially more dangerous for a woman than for a man. At a bar, people get drunk. Women are people. Therefore, they get drunk at bars. In that frame, a woman is the exact equal of a man, with the exact same right to get shitfaced and to act shitfaced, which could include interacting with the other patrons at the bar. A man does that, gets drunk and talks to the other bar patrons, and the chance that he is attacked, sexually or otherwise, is very low, unless he directly or indirectly provokes such an attack. That is where the “same situation” is actually a different situation for a woman. Whether it is a matter of social convention or biology, what counts as “provocative” for a woman is simply not the same as for a man. A woman who does not recognize that is being foolish. For a variety of reasons, the same rules do not apply to her as would apply to a man walking into the a bar alone. That is a matter of fact directly contradicting the completely understandable and also true claim that, as a bar patron, she is the moral and legal equal of a man. Wow! What a problem.

One way out of this conundrum would be to invent an evil genie that is not an accepted part of the a-woman-walks-into-a-bar scenario. The right evil genie would transform the situation into one in which it is permissible, within the framework of laws and beliefs specifying that men and women are equal, to see them as unequal nevertheless. One bottle of beer is the same as another, and men and women have an equal right to buy one. What if, however, one of the bottles, the one the woman buys, is surreptitiously spiked, after it is opened, with a chemical that will incapacitate her, rendering her an easy rape victim? In that way, it stays cool that men and women can come into bars and buy beers for themselves, but there’s an evil force emanating from outside that cool situation magically changing it into one in which women are under greater threat then are men.

That evil force would be the “date rape drug,” such as Rohypnol or GHB, recognized pharmaceutical preparations that are far less familiar to most people than is alcohol. That unfamiliarity makes the demonic powers ascribed to them seem plausible, at absurd variance from reality as they may be. It is an established fact, that such drugs are rarely, if ever, used in the context assigned to them as “date rape drugs.” Studies have confirmed that women who believe they were “roofied” and raped, with the tiniest number of exceptions, did not receive any other drug besides the alcohol they chose to drink (and occasionally other drugs they chose to consume). As we saw, however, that reality does not square with the nice picture of men and women as equals in the cozy atmosphere of the local tavern, safely drinking together. It hardly needs be said that it does not square with the nice picture that, say, Anheuser-Busch would want to promote, nor with the picture that women have of themselves as free agents in society, able to go anywhere and do anything. The hugely exaggerated fear of “date rape drugs” therefore acts as a kind of de-equalizer operating outside the prevailing social equality of the sexes, readjusting the focus and keeping everyone happy in their legal, friendly alcoholic haze.

One need only look at the rules one is supposed to apply in order to protect against the use of “date rape drugs” to understand the implicit assumption behind them is that alcohol by itself is safe, something every child knows to be false. These rules were formulated within the context of  a society in which alcohol consumption is a factor in at least half of all auto accidents and homicides–and in many rapes, of course. They are further evidence that the “date rape drug” is part of an urban mythology the function of which is to preserve the status quo.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

“The Hangover,” Roofies And The Liquor Industry

Filed under: Propaganda,Psychomyths,Urban Myths — drtone @ 8:16 am

“The Hangover” is among the worst movies I have seen all the way through. Usually, if a movie is that bad, I shut it off in ten minutes. Sometimes, it takes me longer than that when a film has an actor or two I like, and I keep waiting for it to get better. “The Hangover” has Zach Galifianakis, whom I liked in the HBO series “Bored to Death.” Maybe that’s why I kept watching it.

It says almost everything that need be said about it that “The Hangover” introduces a number of plot points that it resolves through exposition in the end credit sequence. Therefore, most of the movie, which depends on creating suspense about how its main characters entered a bizarre predicament that includes finding a tiger in their hotel room, is a red herring consisting of props and characters that don’t fit into any story worth telling at length. Inexplicably, “The Hangover,” which apparently was a big hit, has a 7.9 rating on IMDB, and received positive reviews when it came out a couple of years ago.

Perhaps the most annoying feature of “The Hangover,” and the one that makes it a topic for this blog, is that its central premise involves the presupposition that taking Rohypnol–referred to repeatedly throughout the movie as “The Date Rape Drug”–will cause you to forget everything that happened in the eight hours or so after you take it. When the characters discover that they have taken “roofies,” the first question one of them asks is whether he was raped the night before, as if that were the central feature of the preparation. It does not matter that, as I have mentioned here before, it has been long established that the use of Rohypnol for “date rape” is largely, if not wholly, an urban myth. I no longer have the Blu-ray disk, but I believe that the substance in question is sometimes referred to as Rohypnol and sometimes as GHB, which are not the same drug, inattention to detail not surprising in a project so ham-handed and sleazy.

I am not a big fan of conspiracy theories, but the continuing appearance in films and TV shows of fabrications about “date rape drugs” other than alcohol, which is the undisputed champion in the category, smacks of a propaganda campaign supported by the liquor industry. Many women believe that, rather than becoming so drunk that they let their defenses down, they have been lured into unwanted sexual situations by men who have spiked their drinks with GHB or other substances. It is rare, however, for any drug other than alcohol to play a role in non-consensual sex, something that has been true since approximately the beginning of time. One can see, however, that it would serve beer, wine and liquor manufacturers to introduce the idea that what they sell is not the main culprit in “date rape.”

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Book Circle

Filed under: Behavioral Genetics,Human Evolution,Psychomyths,Race,Science — drtone @ 10:10 am

The other day, passages in the book I just finished, The Metaphysical Club, regarding the succession of “truths” in science triggered me to look up “sociobiology” in Wikipedia, and I wrote a short post on the subject. In a striking coincidence, the Wikipedia article on sociobiology referred to a New Yorker review of a Steven Pinker book by Louis Menand written about the time he finished the The Metaphysical Club, suggesting to me that perhaps he saw a connection between the content of his book and foolishness of evolutionary psychology. Indeed, Menand’s book is filled with discussions of Darwinian evolution and its uses within debate about social issues, discussions that had stimulated me to post on scientific racism and specifically on Louis Agassiz, making the point that the scientific consensus is often misleading, The same Wikipedia article referred to a 1985 book I had long meant to read, Not In Our Genes, by Lewontin, Rose & Kamin, a famous work deeply critical of  biological reductionism. I decided that it was past time for me to read it, given my own longstanding interest in the subject, and I ordered a copy from Amazon. Almost before they start, the authors of this latter book discuss both Agassiz and the often bogus authority of “science.” It is as if an invisible teacher is guiding my reading.

Monday, 7 February 2011

The 4 Humors & Chemical Imbalances

Filed under: Chemical Imbalance,Psychomyths,Science — drtone @ 12:33 pm

Not entirely as a matter of coincidence, the first sentence of the Wikipedia entry on “chemical imbalances” and the first sentence of the Wikipedia entry on the Four Humors of ancient (and not-so-ancient) medicine each describe the corresponding concept as “discredited.” The latter theory (if that is a historically correct term) dominated medicine until fairly recently, the middle of the 19th century. A hundred years later, in an attempt to bring mental and emotional disorders within the structure of Western medicine, physicians of the late 20th century reinvented the concept of humoral imbalance to explain something they could not quite explain otherwise, probably without recognizing the historical significance of what they had done.

Although the Wikipedia article on the chemical imbalance hypothesis denies its validity, it makes two other moves that are worthy of mention. First, it quotes a prominent expert who describes chemical imbalances as a “useful heuristic” for understanding mental illness. Let me say that it’s difficult for a construct to be misleading and useful at the same time. Second, it mentions that “no other demonstrably superior hypothesis has emerged,” as if that somehow supplies validity to an otherwise discarded framework. It is a way of keeping “chemical imbalances” on life support and at the service of the pharmaceutical industry.

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