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Which side gets science? - #386

The second essay in the 2012 version of The Best American Essays, is Marcia Angell's "The Crazy State of Psychiatry", originally published in The New York Review of Books. Reading it now makes you realize just how much has shifted. Not in the sense of the psychoactive drugs she questions having become more demonstrably effective nor in the sense of psychiatry's diagnostics becoming more scientific. These are more-or-less unchanged. Also unchanged is our willingness for drug-based solutions to most medical problems (see Ozympic). What surprised me about the essay is that the books it reviews are classic left-of-center attacks on pharmaceutical companies; it takes for a given that a progressive person ought to be skeptical of medicines, like vaccines, and their side effects. The good leftist assumes that right-leaning people are carrying water for drugs of unknown origin with unknown side effects.

How much has shifted since 2021's mRNA vaccines! It used to be that the anti-vax movement was centered in rich enclaves of major cities—hardly rightwing areas. It surprised me that the NYRB published reviews of books questioning pharmacology. But, that was in 2012, before our approach science switched sides. I'd expect such a set of books and reviews of them to be described as misinformation by such outlets now.

Or, maybe, I'm adopting too much of the right/left frame. Decent science is an approach that is supposed to look at the demonstrable facts, wherever they lead. Political impact shouldn't be a consideration. Besides, according to the book reviewed in the first link below, the people attacking science are often attacking it from the left.

Even when it comes to covid and its vaccine(s), some room seems to be opening up to allow science to pursue truth. This week, in the Times, there was a pretty thorough article asking us to consider the people suffering from their vaccination's side effects. A few years ago, such concerns would probably have been dismissed as rightwing crankery, and likely not have found their way into the gray lady's pages.

The framing that "the science" or "the scientific community" speaks with a monolithic, settled voice on a topic likely doesn't encompass what science really is, nor what our considerations of it should be. Angell closes her essay asking us to rethink our approach to diagnosing and treating mental difficulties, and to stop preferring lifelong psychoactive medications to any other treatment. We should take the same approach to other scientific insights: be careful about over-adoption and be cognizant of the costs and benefits of pharmacological prescriptions. For example, vaccines save lives, but anyone who tells you to ignore the people experiencing their side effects is telling you to be inhumane to your neighbors.


bbd0a1c463c396d946f00be7795e248aef-24-galileos-middle-finger.w250Why Some of the Worst Attacks on Science Have Come From Liberals

Many liberals, after all, have convinced themselves that it’s conservatives who attack science in the name of politics, while they would never do such a thing. Galileo’s Middle Finger corrects this misperception in a rather jarring fashion, and that’s why it’s one of the most important social-science books of 2015.


25vaccine-side-effects-barcavage-twbl-articleLargeThousands Believe Covid Vaccines Harmed Them. Is Anyone Listening?

All vaccines have at least occasional side effects. But people who say they were injured by Covid vaccines believe their cases have been ignored.