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The 'Can we?' and the 'Should we?' of science

By Twilight Patriot - posted Tuesday, 21 May 2024

The remarkable journey of the COVID-19 virus – from bat caves in Laos to freezers in Wuhan, through test tubes and gene editing machines and ‘humanized mice,’ and finally out into the rest of the world and through your lungs and mine, often two or three or four times by now – has made a lot of people think long and hard about whether they can trust scientists, as a whole, to do the right thing. As well it should have.

Defenders of the status quo are quick to admonish the plebs for not trusting the experts, as they point to the fact that most professional virologists are in favor of keeping gain-of-function research going. How can you, a pleb, act like you know more about virology than the average virologist?

And yet, as I explained in an article last year entitled “More Bat Research? When Not to Trust the Experts” the problem with trusting the experts isn’t that they don’t know enough about their chosen fields of expertise. Rather, it’s that most of them are biased in favor of their own institutions and, for a mixture of emotional and careerist reasons, they avoid thinking too hard about the chance that they might be employing their prodigious knowledge in service of ends that are useless or even harmful.


The virologists in Wuhan really did know a lot more about virus evolution than the man on the street. Hence their ability to modify bat viruses to infect human beings. I lack the knowledge to do this, or even to describe in detail howit can be done, and in all likelihood so do you. And it’s true that these scientists’ work did contribute, in a small and marginal way, to the body of scientific knowledge, by answering questions like “what modifications to a bat virus’ spike proteins will best enable it to get past the human immune system?”

But having knowledge isn’t the same thing as having wisdom. It’s one thing to ask if you can do something, and another to ask if you should do it. And it’s difficult for people who can answer the first question with a “yes,” and who naturally want that their hard-earned expertise to be important and useful, to answer the second question with a “no.”

Nor is this a peculiarly Chinese thing. Obviously, China’s lax lab safety standards, plus the low value the CCP places on human life, made this kind of research easier to do in China than in the United States. But one mustn’t forget that the American government had a hand in funding it. And if you want another reminder that the liberal countries aren’t that innocent, just think about our contributions to psychopharmacology, a field that’s been chock-full of tawdry conflicts of interest since before gain-of-function research was a glimmer in Anthony Fauci’s eye.

To see another dismal story of scientists placing their genuine knowledge and expertise in the service of absurd or harmful ends, just consider how it was that the Anglophone world’s medical authorities got into the habit of putting about one in ten of their country’s children on mind-altering drugs to treat conditions – mainly ADHD – that weren’t considered diseases at all just a few decades ago.

This topic has been in the news recently due to a slow-rolling shortage of ADHD medications, mainly stimulant drugs like Ritalin, Adderall, and Vyvanse. Most of these stories are filled up with the usual boilerplate expressions of sympathy for the millions of children and adults who are now struggling to get the drugs they’ve become dependent on, plus speculations on who is to blame – the manufacturers? The DEA? One particular factory in Long Island?

One amusing story from the BBC profiled a cannabis clinic which is seeing an 86 percent spike in customers seeking ADHD treatment, with the clinic’s director saying that it’s only “natural for people to explore other options.” While it’s anyone’s guess how pure these new customers’ motives are, I must admit that I wish them well, for the simple reason that the people I know who smoke weed regularly tend to enjoy better mental health than those with long-term dependencies on stimulants, even of the legal variety. (For what it’s worth, the most well-known illegal stimulants are methamphetamine and cocaine.)


One might think that, in a civilization that’s been drugging some 5 to 10 percent of its children for ADHD for about 30 years by now, scientists would have a good physical model of what causes this disorder. But they still don’t.

Consider, for instance, the chaotic scientific literature – of which this paper is a typical example – on the question of whether various brain regions are smaller or larger in children with ADHD, and whether these differences, if they exist at all, are natural or caused by medication. Hundreds of studies have been done on this topic, but even in the most recent (and, supposedly, largest and best) meta-analysis, only 44 percent of the studies even bothered to distinguish between children who had already been exposed to drugs and those who hadn’t.

(Other subfields of ADHD science are even worse – for instance, almost all of the studies on Google Scholar that look at the links between childhood ADHD and adult income or unemployment rates don’t distinguish between drugged and undrugged children, and some of them only include drugged children,  but still conclude with a exhortation that the negative life outcomes they just saw are yet more evidence that ADHD is a serious illness and that early treatment is necessary.)

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About the Author

Twilight Patriot is the pen name for a young American who lives in Georgia, where he is currently working toward a graduate degree. You can read more of his writings at his Substack.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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