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October 01, 2007

Science and Scientism (Political, Rhetorical)

A good general rule of thumb is that because neither political beliefs nor belief in a supreme being can be “falsfied”, they are not proper subjects for study by empirical science. One way to recognize such beliefs is that they  usually have “ism” as a suffix: Fascism and Hinduism are convenient examples. The unfamiliar term, scientism has ben used in that context, and the even less familiar democratism certainly could be.

The current issue of Scientific American contains an article on consciousness co-authored by Susan Greenfield who is also a professor of Pharmacology at Oxford, a baroness, a well known authority in the hot new field of “Neuroscience,”  and a dogmatic opponent of any liberalization of cannabis laws. The current article is of little interest in that context; however Greenfield’s views on pot, which can be found here and here; certainly are. Both provide good examples of how otherwise smart people can be led into absurdity by their political beliefs.

In the Guardian article Greenfield began by creating a straw man with the statement: “One of the most frequently touted myths currently in the news, is that alcohol and cannabis have the same effects on the brain, hence if alcohol is legal, then cannabis might as well be.” This is disingenuous in the extreme; not only is the basic premise obviously false; (she disagrees with herself in the next article), but it has clearly been offered to create another false premise which is even easier to attack. Unfortunately for the baroness, very few advocates of more liberal pot laws ever use that argument.

The rest of the lecture is a rambling cluster of disingenuous arguments, often by analogy, about a potpourri of unproven assertions and  assumptions. Typical is the one, based on the nature of synapses and drug effects, which assumes a “molecular handshake” at the synapse, and because cannabinoids have receptor sites and alcohol does not, leads her to claim that the cannabis metabolites stored in fat and demonstrably much slower than alcohol to be completely excreted, must  somehow be damaging the brain for that entire interval.

She also conveniently ignores that the policy she endorses has made the kind of clinical research she bemoans the lack of nearly impossible. So much for the Baroness and her vaunted championing of science. It’s too bad she’s really endorsing scientism, whether she knows it or not

The same arguments are repackaged in the Observer article, along with an assumption, recently disproven- by Donald Tashkin- of all people, that smoking pot is as dangerous to health as smoking cigarettes. She also wonders why people aren’t using pot to relieve pain!

Perhaps the baroness should read some contemporary peer reviewed literature about cannabinoid agonists before making a further fool of herself. Her unrealized vulnerability as a scientist may also explain the hidden basis for a catty observation in the Guardian.  

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at October 1, 2007 07:35 PM