_Nature_ anti-alcohol editorial is inappropriate

U58563 at uicvm.uic.edu U58563 at uicvm.uic.edu
Tue Apr 11 01:04:21 EST 1995

In the March 30 issue of _Nature_, one editorial concerns drugs, illegal and
legal.  To summarize (and unlike the editors of some scientific journals I do
not pretend to be giving an unbiased synopsis), the writer gives a few good
anti-drug arguments, then promptly ignores them in favor of unsubstantiated
claims that there is still a meaningful black market in legal drugs (well,
maybe there is in Britain:  I certainly haven't heard of half the prisons in
the U.S. being full of tobacco or alcohol traffickers).  Finally, he urges a
"consistent" policy of licensing currently-legal-and-addictive and
not-currently-legal-but-nonaddictive drugs on an equal basis.
   Since critiquing his argument is not my main point I will try to ration
myself to a paragraph.  His ivory-tower arguments neglect to mention on what
basis licenses are to be given, or the penalties to be levied.  For drug
legalization he neglects to mention the true cost of prisons, the backing of
dictatorial governments with "anti-drug" money, the potential of hemp for
industrial/agricultural purposes, the sordid history of racist and personal
financial motives for anti-drug laws, among others.  Nor does he explain how
these problems are to be addressed if only "soft" drugs are included.  Perhaps
he wishes not to be radical --- but then he can hardly be consistent!
   What is really important, however, is that leading periodicals such as
_Nature_ pretend to speak for a broad consensus of scientists, giving carefully
weighed opinion on subjects for which they possess technical expertise.  For
such issues as the broad patents which almost every issue reports upon, the
scientific community is in desperate need of leadership --- of specific limits
that can be proposed and translated into law that can attract broad support
throughout the scientific community.  But instead of giving well-documented
recommendations for specific changes that will benefit the scientific
community (indeed almost everyone),they squander their moral authority with
radical proposals for alcohol, tobacco, and hemp regulation, which do not
represent the beliefs of many of us and which are based upon scanty evidence,
if any evidence at all.

To moderate this rather nasty assessment I will add that I am pleased, in the
sense of the old-time Pravda reader, to see a publication advocate a softening
toward certain harmless drugs.  But I am afraid I have to grade "E" for Effort.

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