Saturday, December 11, 2010

Naming of a new Addiction Institute: Injecting Politics into Science?

Originally posted on the CPDD Listserv, posted here on behalf of Jim Anthony 
Folks in CPDD:
Many of us within CPDD view alcohol/ethanol and tobacco/nicotine as 'drugs'.
We view the early-mid-1970s substitution of the term 'substance' as an inappropriate
politics maneuver, and possibly a supercilious denial that ethanol/alcohol and
tobacco/nicotine are drugs.
In consequence, the idea of a new NIH agency called "Institute for Substance Use,
Abuse, and Addiction" may be a bit of an injection of politics into the science.
There is a Facebook group that advocates a different name such as: "National
Institute on Drug Use and the Public's Health."
I invite you to join that Facebook group and to help us make sure that the politics
are not injected into the science of NIH research.
(I appreciate that there may be an intent for a reach toward 'internet addiction',
'gambling addiction', 'food addiction', 'exercise addiction',  'sugar addiction',
etc., and to bring these related conditions into the fold. This goal can be
accomplished by taking a page from the NESARC program - e.g., 'National Institute
on Drug Use and Related Conditions' although my personal preference is to bring
those conditions into the fold via the allusion to the Public's Health.)
The most important piece of this "pontification" is not to saddle future generations
of scientists with the politics that were involved when early-mid-1970s political
considerations got injected into the naming of SAMHSA.
Also, please note that, to date, the leaders of CPDD resisted any notion of changing
the name of the college to 'College on Problems of Substance Dependence' even though
the reach of CPDD includes all of the above-listed 'related conditions'. We can deal
with this issue in the 'fine print' of the new institute's description and in its
program announcements or funding opportunity statements, exactly where we also can
deal with the fact that the domain of 'drug' can extend to aspirin, chlorpromazine,
and other 'drugs' of less central prominence within the new institute's range.
Jim Anthony
CPDDBLOG welcomes CPDD member’s thoughts on this issue.


  1. Given opportunities other than naming to define the institute's scope (mission statement, PAR/RFPs), simpler may be better -- National Institute for Drug Use Research (NIDUR).

    As part of PHS, public health relevance goes without saying, and having it in the name can backfire (provide a basis, if ill-informed, for challenging support of basic research as happened at NIMH).

    I like NIDUR despite my concern, as someone who drug research grounded in ingestive behavior, that "drug" can be too narrowly construed, just as it can be too broadly construed. I think Jim Anthony is right about elaborating and circumscribing the institute's funding priorities to effectively balance inclusiveness and exclusiveness, rather than hoping the name will do that.

    Public understanding counts, and "substance" doesn't mean to the general public what it does to CPDD members.

    NIDR would be simpler still -- but per Ronald Woods' point, the "Use" in NIDUR is important, to distinguish research on drugs that are sought/consumed from, for instance, the too-general enterprise of pharmaceutical development.

    NIDUR is pronounceable. (And it lacks the "nerd"iness that NIRDU -- National Institution for Research on Drug Use -- would afford.) Why be saddled with awkwardness?

    Finally, on language re: "injection" of politics into science. Of course, there are ways in which Politics can be terrible for science; we all could give examples. But let's be clear: Science is shot through with politics at philosophical, interpersonal, organizational, institutional, and societal levels. Politics does not just "surround" or "contaminate" science. Scientists are humans, and humans are political creatures. Being political doesn't make humans evil (or, Hobbes notwithstanding, good), nor scientists bad, foolish, or deluded. It just is, for better and for worse. Language implying that science is or ought to be or could be apolitical or otherwise "value free" and immune to political discourse, doesn't serve the research community well, for a variety of reasons, about which many have written at length...

  2. Mike Taffe said...

    Regarding the notion that we should be trying for a name that reflects the current public understanding of these topics, I disagree.

    Part of our role as a scientific society is to educate the public on some of the broader implications of our work. Thus we should not be less concerned with matching the current level of understanding of terms such as drug, addiction, dependence and the like and be much more interested in how we move the public understanding toward the scientific understanding.

    We also should be leery of re-fighting battles that have been already won and our focus should be on the new challenges. Personally I think we've moved past trying to convince people that alcohol or cigarettes or cocaine can induce dependence and compulsive behavior. Yes, there are going to be holdouts and even convenient political positions. But still. Battle won, we're in mop up. The new targets which represent a considerable public-perception hurdle are cannabis and non-drug stimuli-food, sex, gambling, the internet. These are scientific targets to be sure- to what degree are there similarities with accepted drugs of abuse and to what extent are there critical differences. What can be learned to help people recover from problematic behaviors and compulsions? But they are also public policy and public understanding targets.

    So I'd favor the more general "Addictive Disorders" or "Compulsive Behaviors" type of name for the new Institute.


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