On my integrity and peripatetic career (Posted to the Kettil Bruun Society Listserv)
From: Stanton Peele
Sent: Jan 28, 2010 7:06 AM
To: Kettil Bruun Society
Subject: On my integrity and peripatetic career
[We are all influenced by our funding and career history, but some are more than others. I am always impressed when someone reports findings which go against their deepest beliefs. I would be interested in hearing about an example of where you have done this. RR]
Talk about snotty! Finding me wanting in taking positions contrary to my interests!
Let me mention one position I took which endangered my entire professional standing and personal financial position (a situation in which you were, let’s say, a prominent bystander).
This was in the defense of controlled drinking and natural remission data in the 1980s, following Rand et al. For instance, when my review of the Sobell case appeared in Psychology Today, I was relieved of my position as keynote speaker at the University of Texas alcoholism summer school. Although I was reinstated after threatening to sue, my speaking engagements before provider audiences, which were a major source of my income, dried up (as John French described on this list), and I had to find other ways to support my family. True, I was expressing “my deepest beliefs” – at the expense of my economic survival! Would you call that a principled stand, especially since you could have been equally outspoken on the topic, based on your studies at ARG which found natural remission and reduced drinking outcomes commonplace?
Your casting aspersions on my lack of courage or integrity – Stanton Peele, slave to the man – in a career marked by independence and a willingness to speak truth to power strikes me as adding insult to injury. I found government agencies no more sympathetic to harm reduction and anti-disease positions than private providers. For instance, the recent announcement in NIAAA Spectrum, “Alcoholism isn’t what it used to be,” begins with the sentence: “The realization dawned gradually as researchers analyzed data from NIAAA’s 2001–2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC).”
Yet, I identified more than a decade earlier, based on NLAES, “Not only do most alcoholics improve significantly without treatment, but they typically do so without quitting drinking.” Indeed, writing similar things in my 1985 book The Meaning of Addiction, Margaret Bean-Bayog responded in her review in the New England Journal of Medicine, “this book worried me” and invited people who felt similarly – in a NEJM book review! – to contact her in what my friend Archie Brodsky termed, “Invitation to a Lynching.”
I could go on, but your insinuations can really be seen as one more institutional response to my willingness, however unwise, to speak honestly and to bear the brunt of attacks for positions that eventually are widely accepted. I have learned there are no rewards for prematurely announcing npopular truths. And would I be more independent, honest, and praiseworthy if I worked for a Nordic alcohol monopoly, or bade my time in expounding what I knew to be true, or had a university or government position? This speaks to one issue under discussion, about how some people get to consider themselves holier-than-thou based on their own career choices, which may be as safe and venal as any. I don’t specifically mean you here, since you are not the worst in this regard, and I am far from the worst victim. Recall Davies, Cameron, and Drucker’s description of the use of Addiction editorial positions “as a tool with which to attack individuals who hold new or unfashionable ideas, and in the process to endanger careers and destroy reputations” (an editorial you refused to sign off on).
My my, people can feel warm, moral, and self-justified when they are part of a society that agrees with them, although sometimes their views and self-regard look less good in brighter lighting, as for example in John Tierney’s writing in a featured article in the New York Times about those anti-corporationalists who express “a snobbery akin to the old British aristocracy’s disdain for people ‘in trade.’ Many scientists, journal editors and journalists see themselves as a sort of priestly class untainted by commerce, even when they work at institutions that regularly collect money from corporations in the form of research grants and advertising.” And, in my experience, these same people are not especially distinguished by their boldness in speaking unpopular truths, defending people who are unfairly attacked, or breaking from the crowd of like-minded people with whom they travel.