Friday, October 12, 2007

SFU prof takes prize for causing science flap

From the Vancouver Sun

BURNABY - Prof. Bruce Alexander once built an expansive cage to dispel a conventional notion -- that caged rats will become addicted to morphine if it is readily available. Try as he might to tempt the rats, including making the morphine sickly sweet, they invariably chose water over the drug.

The experiments led him to conclude it's not drugs that instill an addictive need in rats or human beings. Rather, environment and psychological factors play a role.

His research prompted newspaper headlines and a firestorm of angry letters to the editor. Fittingly, Alexander, 67, a professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University is this year's recipient of the Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in support of controversy.

"Prof. Alexander's work addresses issues that are important locally and globally, and gives another perspective on addiction," said Ronald Ydenberg, SFU biological scientist and selection committee chair.

"The intense disapproval it has generated should make all thinking people want to take a look at just what it is he's saying that is perceived by some as so dangerous."

Nora and the late Ted Sterling, the founding chair of computing science at SFU, established the prize in 1993. Alexander, who is writing a book titled The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in the Poverty of the Spirit, said the big flaw in most lab rat experiments is they were placed in solitary confinement in a small space.

"Rats are extremely gregarious creatures. They were taking dope because they were isolated," he explained Tuesday.

Alexander said he believes the myth of drug induced addiction has been perpetrated for decades because it serves personal, social, professional, political, and commercial needs, including those of drug companies, who see cocaine and heroin as potential competitors to their own pain killing drugs.

His theory of what causes addiction is that people suffer from dislocation, a sense of belonging. "It's a psychological problem of lacking meaning and purpose," he said Tuesday. "A lot of people in the Downtown Eastside don't have a life, so they join the addiction subculture. It's not a great world but it's better than no world at all."

The prize will be awarded next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at SFU's Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, followed by a lecture by Alexander on the globalization of addiction. The lecture is free but a reservation is needed.


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