Feminism and Psychedelic Therapy: How scientific values can help or hinder potentially fruitful avenues of research

Dissertation, University of Edinburgh (2020)
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Abstract

This dissertation is an investigation into how scientific values may influence the kinds of theories which are investigated, and in turn which theories become ‘mainstream’. I have focussed on psychedelic therapy as a family of theories, and I identified three main reasons as to why psychedelic therapy is somewhat incompatible with the current psychiatric paradigm: (1) the inability to conduct double-blind trials, (2) The inability to isolate one explanatory variable, and (3) The mystical and spiritual dimensions of the mechanisms of action of psychedelic drugs. Because double-blind randomised controlled trials, isolating one explanatory variable, and neurobiological- style explanations of mechanisms of action are seen as an integral part of good psychiatric research, this means that psychedelic therapy is inherently disadvantaged as a research avenue in the current paradigm. These three things also arguably embody scientific values proposed by Kuhn (1977), such as accuracy, simplicity, and consistency. Helen Longino (1995) argues that Kuhn’s values do not simply increase the likelihood of a theory being true, but in some instances serve to perpetuate discriminatory ideologies. She proposes her own list of values as a route to a more equitable science, and by extension, a more equitable society. Interestingly, psychedelic therapy as a theory embodies many, if not all of the values proposed by Longino. This led me to my conclusion that if the psychiatric paradigm were more feminist according to Longino’s criteria, then psychedelic therapy would be considered a “better” theory. It would therefore be easier to conduct research in this area, and psychedelic therapy would have a better chance at becoming a mainstream treatment.

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