Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Closure of “Closure”

February 10, 2013

When people nowdays talk about dealing with tragedy and loss these days, they find it extremely difficult to avoid the word “closure.”  When it comes to dealing the death of someone close to us, when he have to deal with the consequence of some  catastrophe or other, or when it comes to a perceived breakdown of a relationship,  we are frequently told that what we need is closure. Closure is supposed to the final healer and means by which close some chapter or other of life and are get on with rest of it.

It’s not all that difficult to see why the idea appeals. The idea of bringing suffering or grief to an end or close,  and as result begin without sorrow, guilt, or anger has to be appealing. A term that originated in Gestalt psychology has by the end of the last century become so commonplace that it is on the tip of the tongue almost everyone who wants to help in getting someone over a difficult patch.

Very recently there are people who have begun to cast doubt on the usefulness of the idea either as a theory or in practice. For example,  the American sociologist Nancy Berns, in her book Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us, poses  the following questions:

When it comes to the end of a relationship, the loss of a loved one, or even a national tragedy, we are often told we need “closure.” School children are told to find closure after a shooting. A nation seeks closure after 9/11. Mourners search for closure after a funeral, and family members want it following a homicide. Families of missing persons search for closure, as do Katrina survivors and other victims of natural disasters. People are told to find closure after their pets die. Closure is a new emotional state, one that people supposedly need to find in order to heal after a loss. But do people need closure? Or is it even possible to find closure after bad things happen? Why has talk about closure become so popular?

Closure has become a central part of sales talks in the funeral, grief, relationship advice, and memorialization industries as well as a political argument for issues ranging from the death penalty to roadside memorials. Closure provides an engaging behind-the-scenes look at how and why the concept of closure is used to sell products and politics.

But what is closure? There is no agreed upon answer. Closure has been described as justice, peace, healing, acceptance, forgiveness, moving on, resolution, answered questions, or revenge. And how are you supposed to find this closure? People try to find closure by planting trees, acquiring memorial tattoos, forgiving murderers, watching killers die, talking to offenders, writing letters, burning letters, burning wedding dresses, burying wedding rings, casting spells, taking trips to Hawaii, buying expensive pet urns, committing suicide, talking to dead people, reviewing autopsies, and planning funerals. And this is just a partial list.

Talking about closure limits how we think about grief and fails to capture the experiences of many who grieve over death or other losses. Some people struggle to meet social expectations for closure when privately they resent the idea or, worse, they wonder whether something is wrong with them because they do not have closure.

 One of the pithiest remarks I have heard on the subject has been made by Stephen Grosz in his book, The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, and it is this:

My experience is that closure is an extraordinarily compelling fantasy of mourning. It is the fiction that we can love, lose, suffer and then do something to permanently end our sorrow.

Pithy and true? I wonder.


A defence of blogging.

July 4, 2009

John Naughton uses Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column in today’s Guardian to mount a defence of blogging against “print-based critics of online news, who are forever asking rhetorical questions about how much fact-checking is done by pyjama-clad bloggers”

I’m quoting John’s whole posting here because it should be read through without interruption caused by the reader having to find bits through links.

Lest we get too carried away by admiration of the Daily Telegraph’s role in exposing the hypocrisy and corruption of MPs, it’s worth consulting Ben Goldacre’s column in today’s Guardian.

He focussed on a report in the Torygraph which appeared under the headline “Women who dress provocatively more likely to be raped, claim scientists”. The report begins:

Psychologists found that all three factors had a bearing on how far men were likely to go to take advantage of the opposite sex.

They found that the skimpier the dress and the more flirtatious the woman, the less likely a suitor was to take no for an answer.

But, contrary to popular opinion, alcohol consumption did dampen their ardour with many men claiming that they were put off by a woman who was drunk.

Sophia Shaw at the University of Leicester said that men showed a “surprising” propensity to coerce women into sex, especially those that were considered promiscuous.

Ben phoned Sophia Shaw to see if the story was an accurate account of her research. She told him that

every single one of the first four statements made by the Telegraph was an unambiguous, incorrect, misrepresentation of her findings.

Women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped? “This is completely inaccurate,” Shaw said. “We found no difference whatsoever. The alcohol thing is also completely wrong: if anything, we found that men reported they were willing to go further with women who are completely sober.”

And what about the Telegraph’s next claim, or rather, the paper’s reassuringly objective assertion, that it is scientists who claim that women who dress provocatively are more likely to be raped?

“We have found that people will go slightly further with women who are provocatively dressed, but this result is not statistically significant. Basically you can’t say that’s an effect, it could easily be the play of chance. I told the journalist it isn’t one of our main findings, you can’t say that. It’s not significant, which is why we’re not reporting it in our main analysis.”

Ms Shaw went on to say:

“When I saw the article my heart sank, and it made me really angry, given how sensitive this subject is. To be making claims like the Telegraph did, in my name, places all the blame on women, which is not what we were doing at all. I just felt really angry about how wrong they’d got this study.”

Ben reports that since he started sniffing around, and Shaw complained, the Telegraph has changed the online copy of the article. But “there has been no formal correction, and in any case, it remains inaccurate”.

Now… Of course this is the kind of thing that happens every day in much of the mainstream media, so we’re rather resigned to it — especially in reporting any aspect of scientific or scholarly work. But it’s conveniently overlooked by many of the most vociferous print-based critics of online news, who are forever asking rhetorical questions about how much fact-checking is done by pyjama-clad bloggers. Actually, in this particular case, a blogged account as factually inaccurate as this Torygraph story would have been picked up and demolished within minutes in the blogosphere. So let’s have less cant from the processed-woodpulp brigade about the intrinsic superiority of their trade.

Donna Dickenson’s “Body Shopping” reviewed.

September 30, 2008

American journalist and editor of  Doublethink, – the magizine that sets itself the task of developing “young conservative and libertarian writers” – Cheryl Miller has written a lengthy review (or maybe I should say useful précis) of Donna Dickenson’s Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood  [link to earlier entry] (Oneworld,), for the Washington-based magazine, The Weekly Standard.

To be cured by the hangman’s noose did not always have so ominous a sound.

Throughout the Middle Ages, executioners routinely dissected the bodies of their victims, and sold the various parts as medicinal remedies. Human fat, rendered from the bodies of criminals, was used to treat a variety of ailments, including broken bones, sprains, and arthritis. For those suffering a bad cough, a potion might be administered, which would include pieces of the human skull ground to a fine powder. Epileptics sought out public beheadings so they could drink from the criminal’s blood while it was still warm and supposedly at the height of its efficacy.

If you think such grisly practices have gone the way of feudalism, Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood will make you think again. ………… 

…….. Body Shopping describes a science that has become positively vampiric in its insatiindividually appraised and priced: “Hand, $350-$850, Brain, $500-$600, Eviscerated torso, $1,100-$1,290.” A whole cadaver can fetch up to $20,000. The uses to which this tissue is put are no less gruesome. Bone dust from stolen cadavers might be found in your dental work. The collagen used to plump a starlet’s lips is likely derived from the cells of an infant’s foreskin. The “secret ingredient” in the various beauty treatments marketed to Russian women? Aborted fetuses from Ukraine. able appetite for human tissue and organs, sometimes outright stealing the raw material it needs. A veritable black market in human flesh has been established, with each part……(read on)

Cheryl Miller blog 

Donna Dickenson is a ……….. (fill the blank)?

September 21, 2008

All too often people who when they want to make arguments they like sound more convincing do so by claiming that the people first put them are somehow more qualified than they are. For instance, if they want to convince the general public that a statement about medical issues has come from an expert, they will claim, without a second thought, that that the person in question is a “distinguished scientist” as if this automatically bestowed on that person an infallibility lesser mortals have not got.

This thought occurred to me while reading an entry  which Julia Manning, Director of, made on the blog, which modestly describes itself as “a high quality, multiple-authored blog written by some of the best conservative thinkers and commentators around.”

But Woman’s Hour yesterday featured the thought provoking scientist Professor Donna Dickenson who reminds us that not just our money but our bodies are vulnerable. In her new book Body Shopping: The economy fuelled by flesh and blood she reminds us of the dangers of applying consumerism and commodification to the human body.It is no longer the domain of fiction, and whereas the common concerns of social intrusion and privacy are well aired here on CR, we ignore at our peril the loss of the ownership of all our public and [not so any more!] private parts. Professor Dickinson is one of several distinguished scientists who has agreed to help 2020health consider policy implications for technologies in health, but where billions have already be staked e.g. on genetic patents, can any Government be strong enough to resist this tempting source of revenue?

Manning, given her position, should know that Professor Dickenson is not in the accepted sense of the word a “scientist”, let alone a “distinguished” one. She is, as far as I know, a philosopher, with as special interest in ethics (particularly medical ethics) and politics.You have to wonder why Manning, who, being a graduate in Optometry and Visual Science at City University, is entitled to refer to herself as a scientist, should call Dickenson a scientist. Is it because bandying about the word philosopher would not go down all that well in circles? You imagine that this as a group that has more respect for good old-fashioned hard science than for that namby-pamby (probably left-leaning) philosophy.

It could be that Manning did not bother checking on Professor Dickenson’s credentials before writing, in which the casual reader, if he or she has some sense, is forced to wonder if there are inaccuracies in her reporting.

“Who owns your body?” asks Donna Dickenson

August 29, 2008

In an engrossing, but nevertheless easy-to-read, essay, published in the English Language Pakistani newspaper Daily Times, ( and already appearing recently in Project Syndicate & and the Journal of Turkish Weekly), Emeritus Professor of Medical Ethics and Humanities at the University of London and 2006 winner of the International Spinoza Lens Award, Donna Dickenson,  reminds the general reader that though we may think otherwise, we do not own as much of our own body as we think. She argues that, as the American law professor, James Boyle, has already suggested, “things previously outside the market — once thought to be impossible to commodify — are becoming routinely privatised”

…..In biomedicine, a series of legal cases have generated powerful momentum toward the transfer of rights over the body and its component parts from the individual “owner” to corporations and research institutions. So the body has entered the market, becoming capital, just as land did, though not everyone benefits, any more than the dispossessed commoners grew wealthy during the agricultural enclosures

Most people are shocked when they learn that one-fifth of the human genome has been patented, mostly by private firms. But why be so surprised? After all, female bodies have been subject to various forms of property-holding over many centuries and in many societies.Women’s bodies are used to sell everything from cars to pop music, of course.

But female tissue has been objectified and commodified in much more profound ways, in legal systems from Athens onwards. While men were also made into objects of ownership and trade, as slaves, in general women were much more likely to be treated as commodities in non-slave-owning systems. Once a woman had given her initial consent to the marriage “contract”, she had no right to retract her consent to sexual relations — ever.


The fact that a feminist perspective is very much to the fore in Dr Dickenson’s argument, or that she is suggesting that we men ahve taken along time to realise “commodification” of the body has long been accepted because it did not until now affect us, should give us an excuse to the arguments that there is what she describes is going on and that we (all) should be seriously considering whether or not we should be putting a stop to it before it’s too late.



New Books by Donna Dickenson


 Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh & Blood It’s been said that we are witnessing nothing less than a new Gold Rush, where the territory is the human body. Human eggs are used in huge numbers for the stem cell technologies—over 2,000 in one recent case. Roughly one-fifth of all human genes have been patented by biotechnology companies. Women’s tissue is worth more than men’s, but both sexes are vulnerable. The fact is, we don’t own our bodies in law.
Some people may shrug, ‘We live in a consumer society, so what do you expect?’. Others might reply, ‘Yes, we live in a consumer society, which will bring us great medical and scientific progress– if we just leave well enough alone.’ Both responses are far too simple. Donna has just published a popular science book which will show why. Written for a general audience, Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood aims to bring these important questions out of commercial secrecy and into public debate.


29.08.2008 7:15

Dickenson’s essay, under the title My Body, My Capital has now found its way into the Daily News (Egypt)



See My Body, My Capital in The Malta Independent 30.08.2008


The Vatican and Intelligent Design

August 29, 2006

Under the banner  Pope prepares to embrace theory of intelligent design, the today’s edition of the Guardian reports that: 

Philosophers, scientists and other intellectuals close to Pope Benedict will gather at his summer palace outside Rome this week for intensive discussions that could herald a fundamental shift in the Vatican‘s view of evolution.

There have been growing signs the Pope is considering aligning his church more closely with the theory of “intelligent design” taught in some US states. Advocates of the theory argue that some features of the universe and nature are so complex that they must have been designed by a higher intelligence. Critics say it is a disguise for creationism.

Well, well, what next? Fully paid up membership of the flat earth society? 

A prominent anti-evolutionist and Roman Catholic scientist, Dominique Tassot, told the US National Catholic Reporter that this week’s meeting was “to give a broader extension to the debate. Even if [the Pope] knows where he wants to go, and I believe he does, it will take time. Most Catholic intellectuals today are convinced that evolution is obviously true because most scientists say so.”

Well, actually nobody, not even the much maligned intellectuals, believe in evolution just because scientists “say so”. Scientists have this annoying habit of offering very good reasons for saying what they say. They may even go so far to offer proofs.  Very occasionally, and usually very tentatively, a scientist may put forward a hypothesis about how evolution got started, but as as hypothesis, as I understand it, is merely a provisional idea which needs further evaluation, the scientist, if he cares for his reputation, will be very careful to state that this is all it is, a hypothesis. 

So when we say we believe in evolution, we are more than likely saying , on the one hand, that we are convinced by those parts which have been proved, and, on the other, that we subscribe to some hypothesis or set of hypotheses that we think will eventually prove true. The vast majority of us are not, irrespective of what Tassot would seem to be implying, bullied into belief by what scientists say.