Thursday, January 4, 2007

Reefer Madness, Anyone?

On his website, California sociologist Mike Males describes himself as an “irritating” aging Sixties throwback. He certainly has succeeded in irritating me. Yesterday Males published a muddled essay on the op ed page of the New York Times called “This is Your Brain on Drugs, Dad.” According to Males, the nation’s most serious drug abusers are not teenagers, as is widely assumed. Instead, he maintains, they are us: “graying baby boomers.”

Males offers a number of unpersuasive statistics to support his argument. Among other things, he points out that there has been a large increase in the numbers of drug-related emergency room admissions among the 35 – 64 population. Hello. The percentage of the population that is middle-aged is also much higher now. That’s why they call it a baby boom. And then there’s this dubious assertion: Among the drugs that Males claims is sending us medicare-eligibles to the hospital in droves is marijuana.

His anecdotal evidence inspires even less confidence. Baby boomers, he reports, “rarely used illegal drugs as youths.” This claim is undermined by his own website, where he describes himself as having “smoked a fairly small amount of dope.” That counts, Mike. Even if you didn’t inhale.

It’s possible that there are some valid points buried in “This is Your Brain on Drugs, Dad.” But Males’s essay is also a prime example of my own personal scourge, Contrarian Chic. If you’re in the pundit biz, nothing will get you attention faster than asserting the opposite of what everyone else thinks. Never mind nuance. Never mind taking a balanced position. Just beg to differ.

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