May 26: objects of contention

Judging from the titles of the presentations, today’s symposium promises to introduce some intriguing, as much as controversial, issues that shed  light and challenge traditional assumptions of science and medicine, look at the commercialization and strumentalization of scientific discoveries and denounce  phenomena seldom acknowledged by Western society (because they reveal a reality we often find uncomfortable).

Alan Bleakley’s “Writing out Prescriptions: Deconstructing the Chemical Regulation of Mood” set the tone for the day.
One of the topics that keep coming back over and over again is the
messiness (using the word used during Thursday’s OCAD panel by Jennifer Willet from Bioteknica )  involved in the relationship between the  scientific field and the arts.

In particular, Dr. Bleakley from the Peninsula Medical School focuses on the communication gap (in terms of function as well as the metaphoric use of language)  existing between science, technology and the arts. For him, a possible collaboration between  artists and physicians that examines the language used in both fields would  address a crucial question: is science authoritarian? is the language used by science ambiguous? through his/her work, the artist has an opportunity to unveil and examine the ambiguity of such language.

our bodies are inhabiting a pharmaceutical landscape where the use of drugs such as Prozac has been gradually naturalized.
In this context,  the ambiguity of scientific language is made visible when one examines the way  medications  against “agitated depression” are advertised and prescribed and the circumstances that “require” the prescription of such drugs.

see the map of the complicity triangle here

one can look at the statistics to realize how specific drugs have been advertised to target particular populations or sections of society. Drugs appear to have become the easy solution to conditions that could be rather solved with a change in living standards and habit. for instance, specific drugs are massively prescribed to “cure”  Attention Deficit Disorder in kids, now considered a condition, rather than an educational and behavioral problem.

another way to show the biases of writing prescriptions is to do close readings of pharmaceutical formularies (British National Formulary or BNF), the drug bibles for physicians in England. the names given to drugs, the language used to describe the suggested posology or the tone of the formularies themselves are all symptomatic of a practice that is anything but objective.

finally, Bleakley looks at the way novelists such Hyperrealist Bret Easton Ellis, David Foster Wallace and Rick Moody,  were able to render scientific ambiguity and the naturalized pharmaceutical landscape, through the portrayal of a lansdcape where people are not known by their names, but after the drugs they used.