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Mad Science ! February 25, 2009

Posted by Chris in Medicine, Science & society.
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First off let me just give a brief over view of what I’d like to accomplish via this blog.
I’m going to talk about animal testing though out the majority of this installment.
Then I will follow up with a second post about human testing (as per my comment in class about the pregnant mothers being subjected to radiation/uranium tasting on their unborn children)

My goal is not to gross you out, though in honesty – I hope I do.
My goal is for you to walk away from this blog, your computer..
and some time, maybe 5 min.. maybe 5 days from now think back to what I say.
Think back to the videos and pictures I’ll post and really ask yourself – at what cost..

If you don’t feel a connection to animals – I understand, well I don’t really understand, but I know some people don’t like animals. The next installment will deal with human testing – primarily Japan,Russia, Germany and USA.
Maybe you will connect better with seeing 1/2 dissected mothers, while their unborn children lay next to them.

.. anyways enough of that..
on to Mad science !

In my class presentation I showed you experimentation video from the 50’s, 60’s and even as recent as the mid 70’s. The cold war acted as a catalyst for mad science to take place. We were looking for anything to beat the Russians at/with and vice-verse.  It only stands to reason that median would be on the list. This begs the question, how does one show their medical superiority? The answer is easy, perform the most outrageous experiments on humans and animals. The more extreme the experiment the more press it gets and thus the only saying goes, no press is bad press.
Ok you might be thinking that’s all good and dandy, but why did this continue into the 70’s ?
It’s because the idea that the most extreme experiments win you the publicity still holds true today. The difference is today many “scientists” try to conceal their experimentation as best as possible, allowing only enough proof to show in order to secure grants. This happens for many reasons: fear of someone else coming along and doing the same experiments, fear of protest from the general public… the list really does go on.

Is animal testing morally right?
Yes No
Human life has greater intrinsic value than animal life Animals have as much right to life as human beings
Legislation protects all lab animals from cruelty or mistreatment Strict controls have not prevented researchers from abusing animals – although such instances are rare
Millions of animals are killed for food every year – if anything, medical research is a more worthy death Deaths through research are absolutely unnecessary and are morally no different from murder
Few animals feel any pain as they are killed before they have the chance to suffer When locked up they suffer tremendous stress. Can we know they don’t feel pain?
1: http://www.animalport.com/animal-testing/animal-testing-facts-figures.html

Compelling arguments on both sides. I am really torn between 2 mindsets. The first is if this is what it takes to continue the ‘evolution’ of our species then so be it! The second state of mind is, basically how I connect with the animals. It’s strange that I have less of a connection to people who willingly go into human testing than those animals who are forced into it.

You might be thinking – well, yes we test animals, but we have ethics boards to prevent cruelty and unusual/unneeded experiments.  You would be right, “institutional review board (IRB), also known as an independent ethics committee (IEC) or ethical review board (ERB)” are there to protect animals! Except they don’t apply to government or industry work. For government or industry work the only requirement they need to meet when testing or running experiments is that they not break the law.

Here are some videos that I hope resonate with you, in what way I don’t know.
Maybe you will be sickened by them, maybe you’ll just brush them off as a part of life.
I just hope they effect you in some way. –
Please watch at least the first video, it will only take a few min of your time.

In this day and age, do we really need animal testing?
Is this science or is this cruelty to animals?
If its both science and cruel –
should we accept the results, and by accepting the results are we paving the way for more mad science to take place ?


Are Mental Illnesses Natural Kinds or are they Socially Constructed? February 18, 2009

Posted by daw0157 in Medicine, Science & society, Social science.
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This post is coming a bit late after my presentation on mental illnesses way back on 18 Dec 2008.  With the rather large gap between presentation and post, I think it will be worthwhile to recap both the material presented and the flow of the lively discussion we had.

The question that I tried to explore and explain was the notion of mental illnesses, and whether or not they would be considered natural kinds (they happen because they happen) or socially constructed (as a society, they were created to fill some role or need).  This question is important because as we define and categorize mental illness in the United States right now, about 1/4 of the population(*1) over 18 years old suffers from a diagnosable mental illness.  Having a better understanding of these mental illnesses is beneficial to many different aspects of our life, from how we understand them, to how we treat the illness, to how we treat the person afflicted with the illness.

I started the presentation by asking the class if anyone had ever heard of depression.  The unanimous decision was that the class had heard of it, and was under the assumption it was truly a natural kind of mental illness.  Next I asked if the class had heard of Drapetomania, and of course no one had, because Drapetomania is no more than Louisiana’s attempt at scientific racism.

The example is a little ridiculous and in the debate of mental illnesses and their validity as natural kinds, depression is very well understood to be natural and something like Drapetomania could not be any more socially constructed. I used this example for the sole reason of drawing two lines in the sand to show the great range between illnesses that would be discussed.

There are a few unique positions that have been well researched and documented. These “sides” of the argument have proven to encapsulate the general opinions of people who have attempted to propose solutions to the problem.

The first opinion would be that of Thomas Szasz. According to Szasz the mainstream view in the West is that the changes in our description and treatment of mental illnesses are a result of our increasing knowledge and greater conceptual sophistication. On this view, we have conquered our former ignorance and now know that mental illness exists, even though there is a great deal of further research to be done on the causes and treatment of mental illnesses.

The strongest opposing view of mental illnesses being natural kinds is led by the philosopher Dominic Murphy. According to Murphy mental illness is a concept like pest, weed, and vermin. Weeds and vermin are not natural kinds, but they are made up of natural kinds that can be explained empirically. Furthermore, whether something counts as a weed or a vermin depends on human interests in a way that allows the class to grow over time, or vary across projects. Concepts that are sensitive to human interests in this way are open-ended — things may fall into them (or drop out of them) as human interests change over time. Folk thinking does not determine in advance whether a species is a pest, nor does it make scientific investigation of a species of pest into a normative endeavor. (*2)

Classifying mental illness has proved a continued problem, because of the vague understanding we have of their affects on a person. There are certain controversial disorders that have proven to be difficult to classify such as: homosexuality, psychopathy, personality disorders, and attention deficit disorder. Currently we diagnose mental illnesses by their symptoms rather than their causes. This led to some questions for discussion:

– Is it possible for any classification scheme of mental illness to be purely scientific?
– Do our classification schemes in psychiatry always rest on some non-scientific conception of what should count as a normal life?
– Why aren’t neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s classified as mental illness?

Some interesting websites and readings that I found are listed below. They are rather impartial and more concerned with delivering information.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Dominic Murphy’s book “Psychiatry in the Scientific Image” reviewed
The Social Construction of Mental Illness and its Implications for the Recovery Model


*1 – Cool Nurse is Cool
*2 – pp. 98-99, Psychiatry in the Scientific Image

Ethical Issues Surrounding Human Cloning February 11, 2009

Posted by bmielenhausen in Medicine, Science & society.
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Ever since Dolly the sheep was cloned back in 1996, cloning became a hot button issue with many people concerned about what we can do with new scientific advancements. Many of the fears people have from cloning come from a lack of knowledge about the process.

When human cloning first became a concern, Hollywood made many movies about armies of Hitler’s and the like coming to get normal Americans, when the truth is not only would that be the most expensive army on the planet, the clones would be unlikely to trained in time before they die, not even mentioning the fact that clones do not possess the same mind as the donor, that is a product of setting and circumstance. There are, however, many issues with human cloning that do pose ethical and physical questions that need to be answered if we are ever to conduct human cloning.

Technical and medical safety: This is the prime, number one reason trials of human cloning have never taken place. The success rate of an implanted egg coming to age is less than 1,000 to 1. At these rates no clone would be worth the hefty price tag that would come with it. Also, in clones of other types of animals (Sheep, cats, etc) birth defects are much higher than that of natural birth. LOS or Large Offspring Syndrome causes the clone to grow too large inside the womb of the host, causing birthing difficulties or death. Along with the increased risk of birth defects, clones would also suffer from “old age”, meaning symptoms normally associated with the elderly like hip and joint problems and even senility, much earlier in their lives. Some scientists estimate a human clone would have to have their hips replaced in their mid teens. Even Dolly died early at 4 years old, most sheep live to at least 10 years.

Undermining the concept of reproduction and family: These issues become more of a problem in a physiological sense, disrupting the normal family unit to include clone “children”. Some people believe that clones will disrupt the normal human mating process because everyone will want an exact copy of themselves, not just passing on half their genetic information.

Ambiguous relations of a cloned child with the progenitor: Again this has more to deal with the relationships that would occur between the clone and the progenitor, or genetic donor. In my mind I cannot think of any reason, other than perhaps medical benefits of having a genetic copy lying around, why anyone would clone themselves just to have, and if the clone was made for medical purpose, is that truly fair for the clone, should they have a say as to if they even want to donate whatever they were created for.

Confusing personal identity and harming the psychological development of a clone: Most people seem to think that clones would be all messed up, both physically and mentally. I could only Imagine if the only reason I was created was not because my parents loved me and wanted to raise me, but because somebody needed a new organ or other donor part. And if you were a clone that was made to be raised as a normal child, knowing that you are the exact same as another human could be damaging. Every aspect of life would be compared to your donor, and chances are you would be nothing like your donor, at least as far as your mind and what you think.

Concerns about eugenics; Promoting trends towards designer babies and human enhancement: As soon as you start talking about cloning, people bring up genetic testing and super babies. I doubt we will ever clone a human being, even if we eventually have the technology to make it a viable option for most people because it would open a huge can of worms. If we eventually have the technology to pick out exactly what we want our kids to look like, exactly what traits we want to hand down to our children, we would create a caste system where you would have these “super babies” competing for the same jobs as “regular” people. I believe that we will get to a point where we eradicate the chance of all potentially harmful genes (cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc) just like we have for other such medical problems like polio.


Thanks for reading,

-Ben Mielenhausen

The study of Happiness February 7, 2009

Posted by esl5400 in Medicine, Philosophy of biology, Philosophy of mind, Social science.
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·         Defining Happiness

Happiness is a state of mind or feeling such as contentment, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy

·         Measuring happiness

What causes happiness:  External stimuli (i.e.  Win the lottery; Get an A on an exam…)

The Satisfaction with Life Index was created by Adrian G. White, an Analytic Social Psychologist at the University of Leicester, using data from a metastudy.  It is an attempt to show life satisfaction (subjective life satisfaction) in different nations.

In this calculation, subjective well being correlates most strongly with health, wealth, and access to basic education

This is an example of a recent trend to use direct measures of happiness, such as surveys asking people how happy they are.  Some studies suggest that happiness can be measured effectively.

Ø  Interesting fact:  USA ranks 23rd in the world for overall self assessed satisfaction

Ways to measure happiness levels:                Self Assessment   (Surveys)                                                   Biochemical testing

ü  A chemical called Serotonin is believed by doctors and researchers as the neurological cause for happiness perception.  The influx in the level of Serotonin in your bloodstream can be the main cause for sadness, depression, and suicidal thoughts and feelings.

ü  Other “Drugs” can replace Serotonin with a stronger chemical in the brain, having a similar or increased effect

§  LSD

§  Ecstasy


Q:  So why measure happiness?

A:  Pharmaceuticals!

Although studies are performed to assess overall contentment, or to judge the effect of a change in outside influence, Doctors and biochemists want to create a solution to create a treatment to make people happier.

Testing (surveys or chemical) is done in laboratories to determine the effectiveness of the drugs in clinical trials. If we couldn’t effectively, repeatedly, and consistently measure happiness, then the entire market for medical research and development of happiness and/or depression would be futile. 




·         Example:  How stuff affects our happiness level

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter or, less frequently, in the summer, repeatedly, year after year.

The US National Library of Medicine states that “some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and crave sweets and starchy foods. They may also feel depressed.

There are many different treatments for classic (winter-based) seasonal affective disorder, including:  

§  Light therapies with bright lights

§  Anti-depression medication

§  Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Questions to consider:

*      Is happiness learned?

Ø   If so, how do babies recognize and respond in comfort to their mother, or to being fed, or held and rocked? 

Ø  If not, can this be broken down to and simply explained with brain chemistry and preprogrammed responses?

*      If we effectively argue that the feeling of happiness is no more than a scientifically explained organic chemistry problem, further resolved in human psychology, then what might be the social and moral repercussions or concerns that would be incurred? 

Ø  Consider:  does the same thing make two different people happy?  Can the effects of pleasure and happiness be predicted?

Ø  If happiness, love, and joy were simply preprogrammed responses to external stimuli, does that take away from the experience of happiness?

*       Could science ever get to the point where, through chemistry and medicine, happiness is measured on a point value system (based on Serotonin levels)?  Would people then choose certain experiences based on this quantitative approach?

Ø  Much like counting calories or carbohydrates when eating

Sources:              Wikipedia:

Ø  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happiness

Ø  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisfaction_with_Life_Index

Ø  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasonal_affective_disorder 


This is a copy of what I plan to present this comming Thursday for my class project on the study of happiness.  It covers a range of topics, but my focus is on the ability to study hapiness.  We begin by defining what we percieve happiness to be.  The two most common, and seemingly practical, ways of measuring happiness levels are the more popular (surveys) and the more precise (biochemical testing).  I will discuss the differences in these, and related them to how they are both used to better understand happiness, and therefore make better applications of medicine and making changes to your enviromnet, and how this call all have wither positive or negative impacts on your happiness level.  Please feel free to read my proposed topic questions to create a more intellectually stimulating conversatioons after my presentation.