Friday, January 14, 2005

Scientific "torture," again

In my last post, I criticized the BBC's use of the word "torture" to describe some harmless neuroscience experiments. Via Majikthise, apparently the Guardian has also referred to the experiments as torture. A quick Google search reveals that this 'torture' meme is pretty common. I wonder if they all came up with it independently (which would be very disturbing) or if it was in the press release. MSNBC's story says,
British newspapers gleefully pounced on the story Wednesday. One headline read, "Believers go on rack to prove God relieves pain," alongside pictures of medieval torture.

In reality, while the university's experiment has little in common with the Inquisition's infamous torture implement, the test will not be pleasant. [...] "Sixty degrees centigrade is considerable; it’s a strong enough signal for people to respond, but not enough to cause enduring harm," the doctor said, adding that a gel of chili powder could also be used.
At least someone's sensible.

May I also note that the Times article's lead is "People are to be tortured in laboratories at Oxford University in a United States-funded experiment to determine whether belief in God is effective in relieving pain." The insinuation that the U.S. is funding torture for science goes even beyond the the other stories, by referring specifically (if indirectly) to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The U.S. really is sponsoring torture, and to confuse the real torture with a harmless experiment is completely unhelpful. Note also how this lead plays into the idea that the U.S. is a bunch of religious crazies, so of course we would use torture to test religious faith. Also that we are 'outsourcing' torture to other countries.

So the media prints stuff like this and then wonders why the public doesn't trust scientists anymore? I wonder why...


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