Thursday, February 11, 2010

How Science is spun to support ruling agendas

Another look at the UK study in the post below illustrates how research into drugs is reported in a way that amplifies the downside, increases the moral panic about drugs, provides superficial ammunition for prohibitionists and encourages more funding from prohibitionist governments.

I used the study to illustrate the extremely low relative risk of taking ecstasy, comparing it to the thousands of casualties from the War on Drugs.

But Science Daily, reporting on the same study, feeds the moral panic, headlining with: "Fatality Rates Among Young Drug Users A Cause For Concern". 

It quotes lead author Professor Fabrizio Schifano who said: "These data seem to support the hypothesis that young individuals seem to suffer extreme consequences after excessive intake of ecstasy. This is an issue of public health concern which deserves further studies." 

This statement has been likened to Steven Fry's observation that "Too much is bad for you because that's what too much means". It's a classic example of begging the question. 

Note the thinly disguised call for further funding at the end of Prof Schifano's quote, perhaps showing how research findings are reported in a way that foments moral panic in the interests of more funding -- no reflection on the good professor's scientific rigour. The politics of the system are to blame, not, generally, its practitioners who would be out of a job if they openly challenged the funding source. It's a sad reflection on the independence of Science.

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