The recent Slate article on the clinical trials which are trying to establish 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA for short, otherwise known as Ecstasy) as an FDA approved pharmaceutical is the usual media puff. Lately the media has been all on the side of the folks at MAPS who are convinced that MDMA is perfectly benign. What is fascinating is how intellectually similar the MAPS arguments are to those of the tobacco industry and the Bush administration on climate change. All three take advantage of the inherent uncertainty contained in the scientific process to misrepresent the available evidence. It is stone simple to argue that a given study has not “proved” a scientific point. Very few, if any, single studies can do so. So to isolate individual examples of supposed experimental flaws in a few key papers as evidence that an entire body of work is irrelevant to decide likely risks of MDMA (or smoking) to public health is intellectually dishonest. Advocates for the legalization of psychotropic drugs, whether from the personal use or clinical utility, are fans of the libertarian perspective of “let individuals make their own decisions” which is a nice principle. I’m a fan. But decisions should be made on the basis of the best possible information which, frankly, comes from the scientific community in this case.

Biomedical research scientists in the US (and worldwide) are bright, highly educated and creative folks. Most are dedicated to the public good, undergoing years of low pay while fueling the greatest research apparatus ever built- the NIH-funded behemoth that is American health science. Yet they persist in various types of employment stress and uncertainty for years, with minimal confidence of ever attaining a “real job”. It is dismaying to realize that by the time he received his first R01 (the major NIH research grant) Mozart would have been dead for 7 years (tipohat to Tom Lehrer). The official noises coming from the National Institutes of Health, and even some individual institutes such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (scroll for comments on the young investigator) are positive, sure. We’ve heard such sentiments before, however, and most objective measures show long, uninterrupted dismal trends for the young and developing scientist.