Skellywag

Monday, January 16, 2006

Lies about drug addiction?

Rat Park was a 200-square-foot housing colony built for a group of white Wistar laboratory rats in 1981 by American psychologist Bruce K. Alexander at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada.

The colony was built to examine Alexander's hypothesis that drug addiction is a myth and that continued drug use, particularly the use of heroin, is largely the product of unhappiness, not neurophysiological compulsion. Alexander hypothesized that the addiction to morphine commonly observed in laboratory rats exposed to it is attributable to the conditions in which they are normally kept, and not to any addictive property of the drug itself. Laboratory rats are "gregarious, curious and active creatures," Alexander told the Canadian Senate in 2001, but are isolated in cramped metal cages, then "subjected to surgical implantations in the hands of an eager (but seldom skilful) graduate student, followed by being tethered in a self-injection apparatus." Such experiments show only that "severely distressed animals, like severely distressed people, will relieve their distress pharmacologically if they can," he said.

This seems to have parallels with the MMR debate, in the sense that apparently important and significant findings by one researcher were not only condemned roundly by others in the field, but the researcher was then ostracised, and attempts to replicate the original research (essential as part of the scientific process) were stymied.

I am not really one for conspiracy theories, but research in science should not be subject to such obviously politically-motivated censure. The implications of both Rat Park and the Wakefield MMR research are so serious (if their findings are valid) that extra research should be supported with urgent funding, not suppressed and vilified.

If, in fact, the methodologies of specific scientific research are seen to be flawed, then further experiments should correct them, but with a view to replicating as closely as possible the original experiments. Dismissing such studies out of hand is neither scientific nor morally justified.


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