Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brits finally grow tired of the bumptious Susan Greenfield

The smart Jewish girl who got herself made a Baroness but still wanted more attention. As I also have said on various occasions, her colleagues say that she was more interested in self-promotion than in science. The last sentence below is a polite version of my view about the crap she speaks

During her 12 years at the helm of the Royal Institution, Susan Greenfield has come to be known as “anything but beige”. Undeniably a gifted communicator, she was seen by many as a breath of fresh air blowing through a stuffy establishment when appointed as director. Her supporters see her as an inspiration to aspiring young scientists, a campaigner against sexism in the lab and a smart businesswoman.

However, she has accumulated at least as many enemies as fans. Her detractors accuse her of being more interested in self-promotion than science promotion.

Lady Greenfield has maintained a research career as Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, where she focuses on brain physiology and has founded three biotechnology companies investigating diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

In 1994, Lady Greenfield became the first woman to give the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, and in 1998 she became its first female director. She has appeared frequently on television, written several popular science books and was a recipient of the Royal Society Faraday Medal for science communication. She is probably also the first female scientist to have appeared in photoshoots for Hello! and Vogue and is known for her flamboyant dress sense.

After criticising the Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of science, for not having enough female fellows, she was nominated for fellowship in 2004. But some who felt that her scientific credentials were unworthy leaked her candidacy, details of which are normally kept secret, and she was subsequently turned down.

Most recently, Lady Greenfield has courted controversy by warning that the internet — in particular social networking sites — may harm children’s mental development. Others argue that there is insufficient evidence to back the claims.


Soda Taxes Criticized as Ineffective and Unfair

Food activist godfather Kelly Brownell reiterated his call for soda taxes this weekend, claiming that decreasing the cost of healthy food and boosting the price of unhealthy food will encourage better eating habits. As usual, Brownell is ignoring compelling scientific evidence that says otherwise.

A new study from researchers at the University of Buffalo found that making healthy food more affordable had the unintended effect of freeing up more money for junk food. The researchers recruited mothers to shop for groceries in a simulated supermarket and reduced the price of items such as fruits and vegetables. Although the mothers bought more of the discounted produce, they used the extra money to purchase more packaged snacks. “When you put it all together, their shopping baskets didn’t have improved nutrition,” says Leo Epstein, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Buffalo.

Likewise, a 2008 study by Emory University economists examined the impact of changes in states’ taxation rates on obesity levels. They concluded that soft-drink taxes have only a minimal impact on weight because, even when untaxed, soft drinks represent only seven percent of the average soda drinker’s total caloric intake.

It’s noteworthy that Arkansas and West Virginia have soda taxes. And those two states have obesity rates among the nation’s highest. West Virginia ranks third while Arkansas is tied for 10th place.

Despite all this evidence, money-hungry politicians (and ideologues like Kelly Brownell) continue to press for soda taxes. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is calling for a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages, which would force the city’s residents to pay another $70 million in taxes.

The measure is drawing considerable criticism. Members of the Teamsters Local 830 held a protest against the Nutter soda tax during the weekend’s Patrick’s Day Parade. “We understand that the city is broke,” said Teamster Dan Grace. “But it can’t just be on the backs of my members.”

And a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial says a soda tax is unfair to the poor. “Unfortunately, the drink tax is unlikely to improve the health of residents,” the paper’s editorial board notes. “But it will hit those who can least afford it the hardest.”


Too much sex? No such thing — why sex addiction is total BS

American befuddlement over matters of sex is on the increase, in spite of the fact that one can hardly imagine the subject becoming more befuddling to the people of this country than it already is.

Sex addiction is the latest star in America’s sexual burlesque. Sex addiction has of course been a malaprop from its first usage. Addiction was originally and properly defined as a physiological dependence on a substance to which the body had grown accustomed, such as alcohol, nicotine, heroin and various other drugs. The cure was to end the dependency and abstain from further use of the substance in order to avoid a recurrence of the physiological dependency. These treatments do work and many people have been cured of their addictions and never returned to the addictive substance.

Applying such a metaphor to sexual pleasure creates a misleading and ominous innuendo. Sex is not an addictive substance. It’s a human interaction on which the survival of the species is dependent. It is also possibly the most pleasurable and sought after activity known to humankind, and arguably an experience no one should be deprived of. Most normal people consider more rather than less sexual pleasure to be a major objective in life.

Following the substance abuse mode implies that the only cure for an addiction to sexual pleasure would be a celibate or monastic life, a complete renunciation of the alleged addictive sexual pleasure.

The very idea of sexual pleasure as a harmful addiction plays precisely into the hands of one of the most perverse aspects of Western religious history, namely the teaching that sex is a work of the devil redeemed only by the act of procreation itself. Reliance on the notion of sex addiction in counseling and psychiatric treatment is ominous.

Christianity as a world religion has much to commend it on balance. Nevertheless, its posture toward sexual pleasure has been abysmal. In that respect it should be noted that Christianity, of all the major world religions, is the only one to cast sexual pleasure in such a negative light. Never mind that Christianity’s distaff side - Protestants and others - challenged such negativity toward sexual pleasure. They were eventually and unfortunately drowned out in the debate. It is no coincidence that currently the most Christian of nations, the U.S., is also the most negative toward sexual pleasure. (And at the same time the most confused sexually.) Europe as gone blessedly post-Christian.

We must suspect that the sex addiction proponents unconsciously wish to rebuild something like the medieval Christian social order where virtually every cultured and literate person was bereft of sexual pleasure for life, save for sexual pleasure in the service of procreation

Some psychiatrists are now getting into the fray, offering treatment for sex addiction. However, the Bible of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), is currently being prepared for its 5th edition, and is wisely declining to introduce sex addiction to its manual. It does, however, come close by introducing the category of hypersexuality as a mental disorder. This neologism is the editors’ own special, and arguably less troublesome, substitute for sex addiction. But as the saying goes, it walks like the proverbial sex addiction duck.

The pundits are now weighing in on the new DSM 5. Allan Frances in The Los Angeles Times is worried that philanderers and rapists will now be able to claim mental illness as a defense of their anti-social behavior and thereby escape punishment. George Will in The Washington Post astutely raises the problem of medicalizing the assessment of character, which he unaccountably blames on liberals. I thought I was a liberal, but I’m as concerned as Will about defining character or the lack thereof as a burden of psychiatric diagnosticians. And by extension, character as an expected outcome of proper medication.

So now according to the working version of the new DSM-5, psychiatrists will be able to assess whether one is having too much sex, or even whether one simply wants too much sex. Or too little. They will presumably have some kind of measuring rod to determine what is too much or too little.

This new project, of assessing who might be wanting or getting too much sexual pleasure, or too little, should create many more jobs for psychiatrists. We’ve been needing something to improve the job market. Maybe this will do it. Perhaps psychiatry will now join hands with the worst elements of Christianity and recreate the medieval Christian dream, a world where the only sexual pleasure allowable is that accidentally associated with the desire to procreate.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The sexual averse attitude of Americans comes mainly from the Puritans i.e. Protestants.