Why “X Is Like Y Chemically” Is Meaningless (And Why It’s Not An Insult To Be Told You’re Wrong)

I was recently in a discussion that invoked the “X is dangerous for you because it’s only one atom/molecule away from Y” argument. In this specific case, the argument being made by Person A was that Drug X was dangerous because it was chemically similar to Drug Y. While the conclusion was accurate, the methods used to reach this conclusion were wrong. Yet, even though the conclusion was correct (in this case), I believe that pointing out why the methodology used is wrong is an important discussion to have.

BUT WHAT WAS WRONG ABOUT IT?

The idea that, simply because an item is chemically similar to something dangerous, it too is dangerous, is an argument built on a fallacy. There are plenty of harmless things (e.g. water) that are chemically similar to something dangerous (e.g. water and hydrogen peroxide) but are not harmful to us. In fact, similar pseudoscience methodologies have been used to prop up arguments of anti-vaxxers and other alt-right and alt-left beliefs.

BUT SCIENTISTS MAKE COMPARISONS ALL THE TIME!

In the case of this particular example, it is true that scientists will sometimes compare drugs to one another. However, drug studies tend to focus on how drugs interact with the body. Any associations between drugs are based on that. Generally, the only time studies on one drug will reference another is to say something like “potential for addiction is similar to Drug Y”. Scientists generally avoid statements like “Drug X is chemically similar to Drug Y and should therefore be avoided” because they know these types of statements are misleading and don’t inherently mean anything.

As stated earlier, Person A isn’t wrong when they say Drug X and Drug Y are chemically similar. They certainly are, but it’s besides the point. The point is: It is poor methodology to use chemical composition comparisons between two different substances to call one dangerous simply because the other is. The comparison is inherently meaningless in itself – lots of harmless things are one atom away from something dangerous. It’s only how the body interacts with each individual substance that provides actual merit to the idea that something is dangerous.

ARE YOU CALLING ME DUMB?

There is no malice or insult in having someone say “your methods for this are wrong and here is why.” There is not even malice or insult in saying “you’re using the same methodology as the alt-right and alt-left”. These are perfectly neutral factual statements and should be taken as such. It’s important to point out these logical fallacies, however, so that people can be educated on the issue and stop perpetuating bad science. Being (told you’re) wrong is the first step to being right – and there’s no shame in that.

SO WHAT SHOULD I HAVE DONE?

If we are trying to make the case, for instance, that Drug X is as bad for people as Drug Y, we should base our argument around the way Drug X affects the body. Because, while this person was 100% right that Drug X can be dangerous, it’s not necessarily because its chemical structure is similar to Drug Y’s (which, as previously stated doesn’t necessarily mean anything by itself). By drawing chemical composition comparisons (that are inherently meaningless) we are propping up pseudoscience methodology.

WHY IS THIS A BIG DEAL ANYWAY?

This is something we should all be passionate about because these are the types of arguments the alt-right and alt-left use to bolster their anti-science claims. More and more, people on both the left and right are starting to fall prey to pseudoscience – so it’s more important than ever to have these conversations in public so people can get educated. We need to put an end to these methodologies so people don’t ultimately buy into misunderstood pseudoscience and so that those who do buy into this pseudoscience can’t point at us and say, “look they’re doing it too so it must be right!”

Because these conversations are so important, we need to do away with the idea that if someone tells us we are wrong or are using poor methods of gaining information employed by pseudoscience advocates, that it is a personal attack against us. It is not and we can’t take these things personally. These are merely factual statements to help someone better understand where they went wrong and how to do better in the future. Like I said: Being wrong is the first step to being right – and there’s no shame in that.

Live and let live: Religion, atheism, and being caught in-between

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Religion has been a part of human life in some form or another for at least 4,000 years. It has provided support for communities, given people a common cause to group around, and been a source of charity and service.

Yet, for those who do not belong to a religion or believe in a God, it has often been a source of pain and suffering. And certainly there have been a number of atrocities committed in the name of God.

The discord between these two groups, I think, doesn’t just stem from a fundamental communication problem, but a fundamental difference in the way both are wired.

A brain hardwired for God

Even 4,000 years later, it’s true that religion continues to be beneficial to humanity. Charity, social support during times of crisis, and a sense of purpose are just a few of the ways religion enriches the lives of many today. There are even indications that humans are hardwired for religion.

So it’s understandable when religious people get angry when Atheists attack their convictions with statements like “Your church isn’t true” or “God is a lie” and retreat into their trenches, often destroying all hope for fruitful and progressive discussion.

But make no mistake, there are certainly things that need to be discussed. While people should be able to believe what they want I firmly believe they must square those beliefs with facts. And the fact of the matter is that religion has also contributed to some truly gut-wrenching things in our modern day: rape culture, suicides and homelessness (especially among gay youth), mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, and more.

The ways that religious denominations contribute to these and other pressing issues deserve criticism and discussion. And religious people need to understand that criticisms are not a personal attack, or even necessarily an attack on their church.

I’d be happy to see religion flourish more, but I want to see it happen while lessening the damage and hurt it unintentionally contributes to for both faithful and non-faithful people.

But while some of the problem is communication, the other problem is simply how differently we are wired — which never appears to be taken into account on either side.

While religious people may be hardwired for faith, non-believers are just as likely to be hardwired differently. Just as the idea that someone who attends church is an unintelligent sheep is grossly inaccurate, the idea that someone who doesn’t want to go to church is evil or amoral is flat-out wrong and can be incredibly damaging.

In religion, but not of religion

When I was young, church taught me about the golden rule, being thy brother’s keeper, turning the other cheek and judging not lest ye be judged. I feel that I learned some of my most cherished ideas about humanity and life from church.

But even when I was young, I felt oddly out of place in church settings. The older I got the more my anxiety in church settings grew. I felt constantly on guard — that I could not be myself. I was constantly wearing a mask and it was suffocating me. I began to drift away from the church. My family, many of my peers, and my church leaders were understandably upset by this development. After all, my very soul was at stake.

Church leaders handed me responsibility after responsibility, trying to give me a sense of purpose and place within the church. Unfortunately, these responsibilities only compounded the stress I already felt from church and, truthfully, pushed me farther away.

The more I stressed out, the more I found myself thinking, “Is this what God would really want from me? Isn’t church supposed to be a place of serenity and happiness rather than protocol, stress and anguish?”

My parents tried to prod me to attend services. When gentle pokes didn’t work, I was given ultimatums. When those just pushed me away further, they tried gifts and niceties.

The disapproval about my drifting from friends and family was palpable and created a vicious cycle. I could not be at peace in church — and it appeared I could not be at peace outside of church either. The stress of the paradox furthered the anxiety, depression, guilt and anger issues I had been experiencing in church for years. I had already been self-mutilating throughout the latter half of my high school years as a form of self-medication. Shortly after high school I turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Up until this point I had tried to maintain some sort of church presence, even if it was a limited one, partly to placate my family and partly because I felt it was what I was supposed to do. However, I soon realized I could not live a double-life. I finally made it clear that I didn’t want or plan to continue attending church.

Immediately, there was an incredible weight lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t feel like I had to hide myself anymore. It was like finally breathing after spending 19+ years suffocating.

Technically, it was a great first step toward sobriety and a healthy life.

However, I still felt a lot of guilt over who I was because of my upbringing. It would be several more years before I’d begin to heal the remaining emotional scars with therapy and finally stop using alcohol and drugs, becoming truly okay with the person I am.

Live and let live

I know my family and friends always wanted what was best for me. The things they did came from a place of love, but ultimately also of ignorance about who I was. They were so worried about my soul that they didn’t understand the way they were damaging me.

I often wonder how differently my life would have been if I had been nurtured to be myself, simply be a good person, and make the most of whatever it is I do believe in. Would I have ever turned to drugs or alcohol? Would I be further along in my career?

Religion can be an incredible force for good and, I believe, even necessary for some people. But just as it may be hardwired into some people, I think there are others who are simply not wired for religion. I hope someday people on both sides will understand to “live and let live” and embrace those who live differently and have found their own way to truth, happiness and health.

Drug Abuse and Getting Clean: Common Misconceptions

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Nancy Reagan taught us all that drugs are bad. D.A.R.E. programs taught us that users are criminals, they are bad people. No one ever bothered to tell us that the vast majority of them were in need of help from a mental health system that largely doesn’t exist.

DeBie Hive

I’ve seen a lot online lately about drugs. From welfare drug testing to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death to the fact that heroin use is up. I’ve also seen a lot of misconceptions about drug users and addiction. I’d like to clear some of that up.

Drug use = addiction

While it’s true that most drugs have the potential for addiction, from cigarettes to heroin, not everyone who uses drugs is an addict or has a problem. Plenty of people imbibe beer or smoke marijuana without it ever becoming a physical or psychological issue.

Drug users are stupid

There’s no two ways about it, people with higher IQs are more likely to use drugs, undoing the notion that drugs are a fool’s vice. The correlation isn’t completely clear, but experts note that smarter people are often under more pressure to perform and some may also become easily bored and seek the extra stimulation drugs offer.

I’ve also observed that, the smarter you are, the easier it is to become disillusioned or depressed about the world around you. Drugs can be an alluring coping mechanism.

Drug users just want to get high

While it’s true that the high is the reason people begin taking drugs, it’s really not as simple as that. For many drug users, getting high is a means to an end. Drugs seem like a good way (at least in the beginning) to deal with life’s rigors or one’s own inner demons. It’s a fact that drug use is higher in the mentally ill and those who go through traumatic experiences.

There’s also been a rise in prescription painkiller addiction, which may stem from doctors prescribing them more to help patients with pain. Some people have a higher risk of addiction due to genetics, so even something that might seem harmless at first can turn into a serious problem.

Drug users can stop anytime they want

Drug addiction can, sometimes literally, be crippling. And addicts know this. An addict may very well want to clean up and get help, but continues using because it’s the only way to remain functional at work or get through job interviews.

Withdrawal (essentially what “rehab” does) is a MONTHS-long process, and when you have to support yourself or your family, cleaning up just isn’t an option. And even if you manage to get help, rehab (if you can afford it) mostly treats the symptom. Until the root cause is dissected and patched with therapy, there’s a higher chance of relapse. And quality therapy is not something addicts often have access to.

If they do manage to get cleaned up though, the battle still isn’t over. The battle is NEVER over. An addict will be an addict their entire life, even if it’s been 5, 10, or 50 years since they last used.

There can also be social consequences to cleaning up. In order to decrease the chance of a relapse, a person may need to cut ties with close friends and family. If they don’t have a strong social network of sober people to rely on when they take such a step, this can also leave them emotionally vulnerable — which can lead to a relapse.

Drug addicts on welfare are moochers

There is a misconception that there are a lot of drug users who use welfare — and that they use welfare money to buy more drugs.

First of all, the number of drug users on welfare is extremely low and screening costs taxpayers far more than the amount saved in denying benefits to the few who do use.

Secondly, welfare is, in a way, the closest thing the government currently has to “drug rehabilitation.”

As I said above, addicts need drugs to function properly. Without their daily fix, survival is practically impossible. For the insanely low amount of drug users who actually use welfare, it could be helping them survive (whether they use welfare for food, shelter, drugs, etc.) as they attempt to rehabilitate or try to hold down a job.

Remember, for an addict, drugs are as physically necessary as food.

Panhandling homeless people will just spend their money on alcohol and booze

This one isn’t necessarily a misconception as much as a misunderstanding. Drugs — especially alcohol and cigarettes — can be a survival tactic for homeless people. I once heard someone mention that they couldn’t understand why a homeless person would buy cigarettes or booze before buying food.

Here’s the reason: Food doesn’t last long when you have no way to store or cook it. People with homes take refrigerators, stoves and microwaves for granted. Cigarettes last longer than food and can suppress appetite, which makes the little food one is able to scrounge go a lot farther on a lot less cash.

As for alcohol: Everyone knows that it makes you feel warmer (even though it really does the opposite). That can make sleeping and surviving on the cold streets seem a little less harsh. And, for some, alcohol can also help suppress appetite.

The other thing to keep in mind is that those who are mentally ill (and therefore at a higher propensity for addiction) are also more likely to become homeless. It is hard to survive on the streets when you can’t function properly — making it an awful place to get sober.

Drug users are lowlifes and I certainly don’t know any

You might be surprised just how many addicts you know. Most of them hide their addiction — due to shame and social stigma — while they work to support themselves and/or their family.

Right now, in America, there is no easy way for addicts to get cleaned up — especially if they’re on their own or a family breadwinner. Employers will not allow employees to take months off to get cleaned up and there is no real government program (that i know of) that will help support an addict (and their family) while they get sober.

But these people are everywhere. They’re your friends, family, and coworkers. And they’re not bad people.