Quiet Radicals: The Life and Work of Ruth and Edward Brecher

Brechers Title Card
Image of Ruth (Cook) Brecher from the Philadelphia Inquirer, April 9, 1933; Image of Edward Brecher from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 6, 1932.

Part 1 – Ruth Came First

Editor’s Note: This post is by Points Managing Editor Emerita Emily Dufton. She holds a PhD in American Studies from George Washington University and is the author of Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America. Email Emily at emily.dufton@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter @emily_dufton. Welcome back, Emily!

There’s something about the topic of drugs that can invite great writer couples to tackle the subject together. Going back nearly a century, spouses Dr. Charles E. Terry and Mildred Pellens co-authored their 1,042-page opus The Opium Problem in 1928. In 1996’s Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure, Dan Baum (who passed away from brain cancer last year) dedicated the book to his wife Margaret, who was his “reporting and writing partner” and “a genius at wrangling meaning from a sentence.” “My name is on the cover,” Baum acknowledged, “but the book is equally Margaret’s.”

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Opioids, Addiction, Podcasts, and How You Can Help Points

science history institute The Science History Institute, formed by the merger of the Chemical Heritage Foundation and the Life Sciences Foundation, is a fantastic resource for those interested in researching the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the life sciences – topics that are necessary if we’re to understand the role that intoxicants have played in our lives.

Located in Philadelphia with outposts in Europe and California, the Science History Institute has an archive and library, an acclaimed museum, and a variety of fellowship programs that are definitely worth a look.

Through Distillations, their outlet for podcasts, a magazine, videos and blogs, the organization is also a publishing powerhouse. Check out their remarkable longform story on opioids, and subscribe to their podcast. The Institute is launching a new series on the history of addiction treatment, including The Narcotic Farm, Therapeutic Communities like Synanon, methadone maintenance, and buprenorphine/Suboxone. It’s definitely worth a listen.

One more thing: As we mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of excitement around here. Points and the ADHS’s journal, the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, are both working hard to increase and improve our reach over the next few years, with the assistance of the University of Chicago Press.

But we need your help.

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Another Shot: Will dAd5GNE “End” Cocaine Addiction?

Among Facebook friends familiar with my work, dozens of conversations have started by their linking me to relevant pieces on, for example, the racial disparities of marijuana legalization, the therapeutic application of psychedelics, and, perhaps less pressing but no less appreciated, the varieties of ways our ancestors got high. As much as I try to …

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How Our Leading Science Journals Perpetuate a Model of Addiction Already, Repeatedly Shown to be Ungrounded, Baseless, and Harmful in Its Effects

Editor’s note:  Following on his recent post about plagiarist Jonah Lehrer, guest blogger Stanton Peele continues his critical review of mis-spent ink on addiction science in distinguished publications by recalling additional examples.  Stanton may be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/speele5.

Stanton Peele

Jonah Lehrer’s imaginative, stylized, baseless view of neuroscience and its relationship to creativity and other cognitive functions was welcomed in seminal science blogs for Wired and The New Yorker, but also at the world’s leading scientific journal, Nature, because it corresponds with their own facile but incorrect views.  Given not only the highly speculative and inaccurate nature of much of Lehrer’s writing, his lying about sources, and his alleged personality defects, we might wonder what about his pedigree justified his appearance at perhaps the premier spokesperson in our era for the new brain science.

The answer: He provided lame justification for the au courant scientific meme that neuroscience accounts (not might account) for much of human behavior.   That these publications are slavishly, uncritically devoted to this meme might seem remarkable, unless one considers science – certainly popular science, but actually much more – to be merely another culturally determined social institution (the constructivist viewpoint).  Today this means they are agit-prop for the most untenable, reductive claims made for modern psychiatric science, particularly around addiction and drug use/alcoholism.

I.  Lehrer’s Nature Blog

Lehrer actually wrote for the leading scientific publication in the world, Nature.  I described in my previous post how his editors there seemed completely unperturbed by his fantastic, unbelievable assertions about the mnemonist Shereshevsky. The neuroscientist who pointed out his errors, Daniel Bor, further noted:

[O]n page 100 he writes, “This kind of thinking takes place in the prefrontal cortex, the outermost layer of the frontal lobes.” This is anatomical rubbish–the prefrontal cortex instead, as the name implies, is simply the front-most section of the frontal lobes. Layers have nothing to do with it. I expect such mistakes from less able undergraduate students, who are too lazy to read the first line of the relevant Wikipedia article, but never ever in a respected science book. Then on page 112-3, he writes “the first parts of the brain to evolve–the motor cortex and brain stem.” Where did this come from? The brain stem very probably evolved hundreds of millions of years before the much more recent cortex, which the motor cortex is obviously a part of. So this is completely wrong as well.

What Lehrer knew was that – if you assert it definitively – you can make any behavioral claims you want about the brain.  His downfall was occasioned because the same can’t be said about Bob Dylan quotes. Of particular interest to me are similar claims made about addiction in prominent science publications.

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