The most recent issue of History of the Human Sciences has Scott Vrecko as guest editor and is dedicated to Neuroscience, Power and Culture Contents. Two articles adresses more specifically the use of drugs inside psychiatry.
The persistence of the subjective in neuropsychopharmacology: observations of contemporary hallucinogen research by Nicolas Langlitz (Department of Anthropology, New School for Social Research). The abstract reads:
The elimination of subjectivity through brain research and the replacement of so-called ‘folk psychology’ by aneuroscientifically enlightened worldview and self-conception has been both hoped for and feared. But this cultural revolutionis still pending. Based on nine months of fieldwork on the revival of hallucinogen research since the ‘Decade of the Brain,’this paper examines how subjective experience appears as epistemic object and practical problem in a psychopharmacological laboratory. In the quest for neural correlates of (drug-induced altered states of) consciousness, introspective accounts of test subjects play a crucial role in neuroimaging studies. Firsthand knowledge of the drugs’ flamboyant effects provides researchers with a personal knowledge not communicated in scientific publications, but key to the conduct of their experiments. In many cases, the ‘psychedelic experience’ draws scientists into the field and continues to inspire their self-image and way of life. By exploring these domains the paper points to a persistence of the subjective in contemporary neuropsychopharmacology.
Profitable failure: antidepressant drugs and the triumph of flawed experiments by Linsey McGoey (Saïd Business School, University of Oxford). The abstract reads:
Drawing on an analysis of Irving Kirsch and colleagues’ controversial 2008 article in PLoS [Public Library of Science]Medicine on the efficacy of SSRI antidepressant drugs such as Prozac, I examine flaws within the methodologies of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that have made it difficult for regulators, clinicians and patients to determine the therapeutic value of this class of drug. I then argue, drawing analogies to work by Pierre Bourdieu and Michael Power, that it is the very limitations of RCTs — their inadequacies in producing reliable evidence of clinical effects — that help to strengthen assumptions of their superiority as methodological tools. Finally, I suggest that the case of RCTs helps to explore the question of why failure is often useful in consolidating the authority of those who have presided over that failure, and why systems widely recognized to be ineffective tend to assume greater authority at the very moment when people speak of their malfunction.