Sunday, July 29, 2007

James Valliant and Rand's Use of Dexamyl

The extent to which James Valliant is willing to misrepresent his sources can be seen in his evaluation of Barbara Branden’s discussion of Rand’s use of a diet pill, Dexamyl (which contains an amphetamine).

On page 173 Branden mentions that Rand had low physical energy level. and was worried about her weight. She then drops the following footnote, which I will quote in full:

"It was during this period of nonstop work on The Fountainhead that Ayn went to see a doctor. She had heard there was a harmless pill one could take to increase one's energy and lessen one's appetite. The doctor, telling her there would be no negative consequences, prescribed a low dosage of a small green tablet which doctors had begun prescribing rather routinely. Its trade name was Dexamyl. Ayn took two of these pills each day for more than thirty years. They appeared to work: she felt that her physical energy had increased, although it was never high, and her weight stayed under reasonable control. In fact, medical opinion today suggests that they soon ceased to be a source of physical energy; their effect shortly became that of a placebo."

"Dexamyl consists of two chemicals: an amphetamine and a barbiturate. It was not until the sixties that researchers investigated the effects of large doses of these chemicals. They found that extremely high doses were harmful, sometimes even resulting in paranoid symptoms; but to this day, there is only the most fragmentary and contradictory scientific evidence to suggest that low doses such as Ayn took could be harmful. As one pharmacological specialist has said: 'Perhaps they hurt her, and perhaps they didn't.'"

"In the early seventies, when for the first time she became seriously ill, her doctor took her medical history, and, quite innocently, she told him about the Dexamyl. Disapproving, he ordered her to cease taking them at once. She never took another."

"I include this discussion only because I have learned that a number of people, aware that she took this medication, have drawn ominous conclusions about Ayn's mental health; there is no scientific basis for their conclusions." [PAR, p. 173 n. 1.]

There have been (and continue to be) unsupported allegations over the years that Rand was addicted to “speed.” Branden wanted to put these allegations to rest.

Valliant’s mangling of Branden’s footnote is as follows:

“The level of Ms. Branden’s desperation for evidence can be measured by the fact that she speculates in a footnote that the low-dosage diet pill that Rand was prescribed by a doctor ‘may’ have resulted in ‘paranoid symptoms.’ Ms. Branden does so despite also conceding that the pills only had a ‘placebo effect’ after just a short time. Nor is Ms. Branden in any way dissuaded by the fact that Rand easily discontinued their use, again on medical advice.” [PARC, p. 51.]

Monday, July 16, 2007

Society Without A State

Society Without a State by Murray Rothbard is probably the best introduction to anarcho-capitalism and how such a society might function

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Free and Pay Media

The internet makes it possible to distribute large amounts of media for free. It's interesting to see the different approaches taken by organizations.

The Ludwig von Mises Institute provides audio or video of what seems like all of their conferences for free. For example, David Gordon's recent series on The History of Political Philosophy was posted on its website within a day or so of each lecture. Religious organizations also provide large amounts of free material, much of which is of interest to those who don't share their perspective. Reformed Theological Seminary has a number of free course lectures. I've been listening to John Frame's lectures on the history of philosophy and they are quite good. Also worth listening to are Knox Chamblin's lectures on C.S. Lewis.

The Ayn Rand Institute has only a limited amount of free stuff. They have recently posted some free lectures by Rand and others, available to registered users. Most of ARI's material is quite expensive. The Teaching Company's slickly produced courses must be half the price of ARI's lectures, and you can download them and save shipping costs. The Teaching Company's courses I've heard are excellent, if a bit self-consciously "middle of the road."

I'd recommend Prof. Daniel Robinson's course Great Ideas of Psychology which is excellent, if a bit chatty in places. (When the course is on sale you will be able to download if for considerably less than $100.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Fred Seddon on James Valliant versus the Brandens

This is an interesting essay by Fred Seddon on part of PARC that I haven't discussed (the break with Rand). A good example of how Valliant's claims don't stand up to scrutiny. Note the non-existent fact checking by Valliant and the poor sourcing.