The FDA recently issued a report saying that marijuana has no medical uses, and no one should bother to research possible medical uses, in direct contradiction to reports by the Institute of Medicine, a subgroup of the National Academy of Sciences. I'm sure you've seen the news around, but here's a CNN link, for what little it's worth.
And lots of folks are saying that it reminds them of the FDA's refusal to license Plan B to be sold over the counter/without a prescription nationally (though some states have already licensed it for over the counter, non-prescription sales) despite the overwhelming support of the scientists and medicos on the recommending committee.
Both decisions are political, both bad science.
Most of my students come to school with a great deal of trust in the authority of people in power, which is good insofar as they don't beat me up when I give out grades they don't like or insist that yes, they actually have to do some difficult work. But it's bad insofar as they don't often demand to be told the reasoning behind authoritarian declarations. And therein, I hope, is some difference between the "them" of Washington and me, because I spend a lot of time trying to explain why I think X or why their paper deserved a D.
One of my students is working on a paper on ecstasy.
(Disclaimer: I'm pretty boring about drugs. Let's face it, these days, for me, a walk on the wild side drug-wise involves a third Advil. So, I'll admit that I've never taken ecstasy. I have no financial ties to ecstasy production or distribution so far as I know.)
He wants to know how ecstasy works in the brain, and what effects it has physically and psychologically. In approaching the topic, he talked about how he'd always heard in school that ecstasy was super dangerous, that it would pretty much get someone addicted on a first go, kill them instantly, and so forth. And he talked about not using ecstasy, but knowing people who did use it, and who weren't (so far as he could tell) instantly addicted or dead.
He likened the information he'd been given about ecstasy to the abstinence "information" he'd gotten at school about sex. At school, the training had made sex out to be a huge big deal, horrible, scary, and so forth, and yet in his experience, that wasn't so. The disconnection between authority and experience taught the student to distrust authority.
Now, on one level, this project is great news for people like me: a student is actually questioning authority and trying to find out why policy is what it is, and what the scientific community thinks about a specific question. I'm all for that kind of inquiry because that's what we want our educated citizenry to do, question, investigate, reason.
But the dishonesty of the representation of information in the high schools strikes me as horribly unethical and wrong.
On the other hand, as another student pointed out, maybe my student hadn't taken ecstasy because of the misinformation, and had been saved from a health or legal problem.
My student continued on to ask if his teachers knew "the truth" about sex and drugs, but weren't telling, or if they'd been lied to and hadn't a clue. Where, he asked, though not in so many words, did truth reside? And if his teachers hadn't been smart or cared enough to seek to communicate the truth, how could he respect anything they'd tried to teach him?