Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

ODDS AND ENDS

[1] The June 23, 2011 issue of The New York Review of Books has a fascinating review [part one of two parts] by Marcia Angell of several books dealing with pharmaceutical treatment of mental illness. Two dramatic findings stand out: First, there has been an explosion of diagnoses of mental illness, all supposedly treatable with drugs; and Second, careful analysis of double blind studies produced for the FDA strongly suggests that the drugs have little or no beneficial effect on patients, and a variety of harmful effects. If these claims are true [the first one is presumably easily checkable], that is a disaster for the American public, and a scandal for the medical profession. I am, needless to say, entirely unequipped to form an independent judgment on these matters. I recommend that interested parties take a look.

[2] Readers of my bourse on Ideological Critique may have picked up on the fact that I am fascinated by the paleontological dimensions of the Wilmsen/Lee dispute. As a boy, I became enraptured with physical anthropometry. I still recall the slender volume I bought, suitable to be slipped into a shirt pocket, by the famous Harry L. Shapiro, called Handbook of Physical Anthropometry. I would spend Saturdays at the New York Museum of Natural History on Central Park West, staring at the glass enclosed display cases containing Neanderthal skulls and bone fragments. I would look for the heavy ascending rami and shallow sigmoid notches on the Neanderthal mandibles, the slender, graceful ascending rami of the Cro Magnons, the orbital ridges, zygomatic arches, nathions and nasions that signaled the age of the remains. I even took metal working shop at Forest Hills High School so that I could construct a pair of sliding calipers. My plan was to study the anthropometric measurements of first and second generation Chinese-Americans to see whether there were any significant differences caused by environmental factors. It was to be my project for the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, but in the end I settled for an elementary math project. It has been sixty years and more since I did all of that, and museums have in the interim become far more interesting, visitor-friendly places, but I have a soft spot in my heart for those stodgy old display cases.

3 comments:

wallyverr said...

On (1), I haven't had a chance to read that issue of the NYRB yet, but I'm afraid that your summary doesn't surprise me in the slightest. It raises interesting questions, in the context of your current bourse, about the limits of social constructionism. (I'm thinking of philosophers such as Ian Hacking and John Searle.) There is unfortunately a rising incidence of tuberculosis in London. As well as being a failure of public health/social policy, TB infection is something which can be demonstrated by the usual measuring devices of scientific medicine, whether your cultural background is English Protestant, Chinese, Hindu, Muslim, or Marxist.

Whereas some at least of the mental illnesses may well be "social constructions" rather than "brute facts", to make use of Searle's distinction. The drug companies have an interest in promoting their "social existence", but other observers might understandably be skeptical. I hope that inventing non-existent diseases is not what Marx intended by the unity of theory and practice.

Meanwhile, it is a commonplace of cynical economists that the ideal illnesses for drug company sales are chronic ones affecting large groups of relatively well-off customers.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Indeed. I am guessing, from a few passing comments in the first half of the article, that Angell plans to focus in the second part on the malign role of the drug companies in all of this. We shall see.

But don't blame old Marx! I think he had a very traditional hard headed view of science

Steven Pierce said...

There's something very compelling about anthropometry, even though it didn't pan out. One of my old professors asserted the world's last journal of anthropometry was published out of Sri Lanka and remained relevant because of the fascination people there had for distinguishing between Tamil and Sinhalese...