Thanks to the Dalai Lama from a neuroscientist

Despite the boycott, there were 29,000 people registered for the Society for Neuroscience meeting where the Dalai Lama spoke.

A neuroscientist reader of this blog has some thoughts on the campaign to boycott the Society for Neuroscience meetings in protest of the Dalai Lama’s speech:

Saw your commentary on the supposed boycott of SFN by anti-religious bigots. I had to laugh at the original article. I was just there, and the day before I left there were 29,200 registered participants. It was a


If presentations like this one can keep a few people away, especially the wingnutty kind of village atheist, then I’m all for it.

So, thanks to the Lama for the extra (marginally speaking, of course) elbow room.

Update Meta and Meta dissents:

Mark Kleiman is mad, mad, mad that neuroscientists would dare try to block the Dalai Lama from giving a talk at a neuroscience conference. Kleiman (by incorporation of a reader’s comments) even calls the objectors “anti-religious bigots.” Strong words.

Yet, had it been biologists organizing a boycott of Michael Behe at a conference on evolution, surely Kleiman (his perplexing charitability to fiction-based lay fans of ID notwithstanding) would have commended these biologists’ concern that such an appearance would confuse an already scientifically confused public by “highlight[ing] a subject with hyperbolic claims, limited research and compromised scientific rigour.”

And Behe’s training in biology is significant, whereas the Dalai has no training in neuroscience whatever. Which makes it at least plausible that objectors just didn’t see much intellectual worth, and indeed saw significant pedagogical harm, in inviting a nonexpert to lecture them and the public about their subject. So if that’s “bigotry,” it’s a form I can respect.

But in fact the Dalai Lama has been collaborating with scientists on brain-imaging and neuroendocrine studies of advanced Buddhist meditators. One of those scientists is Richard Davidson, who runs the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin (and whom the bigots tried to discredit on the grounds that Davidson — gasp! — actually practices meditation himself. The results of that research are submitted for peer review and published in scientific journals. That’s called “research.” ID’ers don’t do any. It may well be that there are flaws in that research. But confusing disputes over methods on the one hand with the distinction between science and pseudoscience on the other does, indeed, strike me as reflecting bigotry, and not of a respectable kind.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: