Thursday, 13 January 2005

Torture at Oxford

Sort of a Brain post this one.

From the Times via The Australian :
People are to be tortured in laboratories at Oxford University in a US-funded experiment to determine if belief in God is effective in relieving pain.

Top neurologists, pharmacologists, anatomists, ethicists and theologians are to examine the scientific basis of religious belief and whether it is anything more than a placebo.

Oxford's new Centre for the Science of the Mind is to use imaging systems to find out how religious, spiritual and other belief systems, such as an illogical belief in the innate superiority of men, influence consciousness.

Researchers believe the study will provide insights into the war on terrorism.
And if not, it will surely make any of the Far-Left in Academe feel a lot better, seeing Neo-Con God-Botherers and Anti-Feminists getting their "just deserts".

Or am I being too cynical?
The aim is to develop new and practical approaches "for promoting wellbeing and ultimately maximising individual human potential".
The pain experiments will be conducted under the direction of researcher Toby Collins, who has a background in marine biology and the nerve systems of invertebrates. He said many people in pain turned to faith for relief.

Dr Collins said the experiments would involve non-invasive simulation of burns and would be conducted according to strict ethical rules. As they suffer, the human guinea pigs will be asked to access a belief system, whether religious or otherwise.
Like, oh, maybe Republicanism? No, I'm definitely being too cynical. I hope.
A neuroscientist from Oxford's physiology department, John Stein, said: "Pain has been central to a lot of problems that religious and other thinkers have concentrated on."

Professor Stein said people differed widely in the extent to which they felt pain. "What we want to do is correlate that with their underlying beliefs."

The study is considered of vital importance in the present world climate, given the role of religious fundamentalism in international terrorism.

A better understanding of the physiology of belief, the conditions that entrench it in the mind and its usefulness in mitigating pain, could be crucial to developing counter-terrorist strategies for the future.
"And this was the only way we could possibly get this experiment funded, just invoke the magic phrase 'anti-terrorism' and Voila!"
"I do not like thee, Dr Fell.
The reason why, I cannot tell.
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Dr Fell."

-Tom Swift, after Marcus Valerius Martial
I have a bad feeling about this, my intuition is screaming that this setup smells. Yes, they're volunteers. And yes, I'm about as anti-Terrorist as they come, with little ethical objections to some extremely coercive interrogation techniques against proven terrorists - whatever is effective. I'm also a secular humanist rather than a religious believer. But they say they're measuring how Religious Faith influences the perception of Pain, in order to do.... what? Better, more scientific ways to inflict pain? Ick. Coercive Interrogation doesn't involve infliction of pain, that's in the realm of the sadist and psychopath. Why not? Because it's not effective, and it corrodes the soul of the Torturer, so it's a good thing it's not effective, to avoid the temptation.

And how to differentiate the effect of "Faith" from a "Placebo" effect, which is an effect due to... faith.

I'd need an awful lot of convincing if I was on the ethics panel before I'd sanction this. I'd also look very hard at the ethical qualifications of the organisation that's funding it. Something doesn't smell right. I hope the Times' reporter is distorting the situation.

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