A new year – same old piss-poor research standards…

The Vancouver Sun runs an article claiming “Society dehumanizes the addicted while ignoring the genetic and environmental factors at play” but that’s not what this is about.

As a side-issue,. they describe research from Princeton University, the main plank of which was that:-

When undergraduate students were shown images of addicted individuals, only the area of the brain consistent with experiencing disgust was activated. Researchers concluded addicts were being “perceived as less than human.”

Frankly, that’s a conclusion which beggars belief – it’s without any foundation whatsoever. There are people I find disgusting without thinking of them as subhuman – the two are simply not synonymous.

I’m happy to accept that some students perceived images of addicts with disgust – though that does depend almost entirely on the type of images displayed and the mindset of the person viewing them. Any religious person of a fundamentalist disposition (it doesn’t matter what religion, though excludes Rastas), would be almost certainly repelled. However, unless Canada breeds a particularly bluenosed species of undergrad, I suspect most wouldn’t give a toss. Or, perhaps, think “Oh bugger – must cut down!”

So, given the baseless conclusion drawn by the researchers (disgusting doesn’t equate to subhuman in the universe I inhabit), just how carefully selected were the students? I seriously doubt they were randomly selected, otherwise the result wouldn’t have been so clear-cut (unless the results were manipulated – not entirely unknown – to fit the researchers’ pre-conceived opinion of addicts).

I have trouble, too, accepting that “only the area of the brain consistent with experiencing disgust was activated”. That almost never happens. Show someone a picture of anything – scuzzy addict, naked woman, circus elephant, whatever, and several areas of the brain would light up, not least those concerned with vision and analysis (you can’t be disgusted until the brain figures out what it’s seeing). And as “disgust” is not an absolute – different things disgust different people/societies – is there really one single area of the brain labelled “DISGUST!”? I have my doubts.

Given that, from the researchers’ perspective, disgust equals “seeing as subhuman” – which, of course, out in the real world it does not (not in a normal person, at least), this is looking like a rigged game, assuming that it has been accurately reported, which in the history of drug control and prohibition, isn’t exactly unknown.

There’s one tale, from the sixties (possibly the fifties), which might be apocryphal but has the ring of truth about it, in which researchers fed lab rats on a diet of marijuana, then extracted their brains, blitzed them in a blender, filtered them, put the resulting sludge under a microscope, and announced that Mary Jane causes brain damage! Blenders, too, I suspect.

This Princeton farce, for me, at least, falls into the category of research carried out to support a pre-existing conclusion – that junkies are subhuman.