Category Archives: sociology

A Ghost of Medicinal Misnomers Past

Old advertisements on a wall, corner of Regent's Square / Sidmouth Street, London (Photo:Tim Jones)
Old advertisements for medicines on a wall, corner of Regent’s Square / Sidmouth Street, London (Photo:Tim Jones)

Aspirin by any other name

Drugs have at least two names: a generic or scientific name, and then any number of manufacturers’ brand names for what is essentially the same thing.

So the generic names for two well-known painkillers are aspirin (acetylsalicyclic acid) and paracetamol (acetaminophen), but on Wikipedia you’ll find at least a hundred alternative brand names for paracetamol alone.  My favourites are the cuddly ‘Panda’ and the bemusing ‘Europain’.

It’s done of course to differentiate a commercial product, or identify a mixture of drugs – like aspirin and caffeine in Anadin.  But it hinders keeping track of particular chemicals that suit you, for a cold or whatever.   Also annoying are brands that list different drugs by application under the same headline brand, especially when the contents vary between countries.

Ghost Sign

As much as I enjoy banging on about how brands can obfuscate choice and cloud rational decision-making – and not just in medicines – this post is really about that photo of a building above, that I took yesterday in Regent Square, London.   It’s an unlikely and incongruous survivor.   A wall covered in early hand-painted advertisements for medicines from a bygone age.  It’s a ghost sign.

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Probably Victorian, when salve and laxatives were all the rage, the full spiel for one of the products, ‘King’s Citrate of Magnesia’, made by Bates & Company, reads:

King’s Citrate of Magnesia

Invented in 1844

The Original Safest

& Best

W.W. King was a Liverpool chemist of mixed fortune.   I found him listed twice in sources for 1851.  First as a prize winner in the Catalogue of the Great Exhibition1 – for his ‘effervescent citrate of magnesia’, but also in Charles Dickens’s Household Narrative2 for that year, in his regular round-up of bankrupts.

King's Effervescent Citrate of Magnesia won a prize at the Great Exhibition of 1851(Wikipedia)
King’s Effervescent Citrate of Magnesia won a prize at the Great Exhibition of 1851

Citrate of Magnesia induces a Motion

It was no secret that the article was entirely wanting in both citric acid and magnesia3

The Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions, October 1, 1870

Magnesium Citrate, or Citrate of Magnesia, is still used as a uncontentious  saline laxative and magnesium supplement.  But it has a 19th century history that echos some of today’s complexities around drug names, descriptions, and branding.

We expect boxes and bottles of medicine to contain what the label says.  But by 1870, a situation had developed where products labelled citrate of magnesia were more often than not found to contain a mixture of “tartaric acid, sugar, and carbonate of soda3 .  It made for a nice fizzy summer drink, but little else.

A hapless public bought the mis-named drug in spite of the unrealistically low street price; it wasn’t like they could slip on glasses and read the small print, because compulsory ingredients listing hadn’t been invented.  That some brands, including King’s (of our wall fame), appeared to ship the real deal didn’t simplify the big picture.

All this threatened the reputation of professional pharmacists, so, as reported in the October 1st 1870 edition of the Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions3 , some of them met to discuss a formal motion that would set things right – they hoped.

What’s in a name?

19th century Britons got their medicines from a variety of sources: via a doctor’s prescription, from an apothecary, chemist, or druggist, but also as commercial articles from the general store or local  grocer.  It’s like us going to the doctor, the pharmacy at Boots or RiteAid, or shopping at Tescos or Walmart.  The difference is we get the same drug wherever we go, while for 19th Century folk it was more of a lottery.  General commercial outlets were especially problematic – where unscrupulous quacks plied their mischievous trade of old.  At worst, the more renegade outlets might be guilty of “applying definite chemical names to articles not having the composition thereby designated3 “.

A quack from an earlier age (Credit:Tufts University)
A quack from an earlier age (Credit:Tufts University)

The pharmacists thought renaming the product might be the answer, but that idea just got them in a mess.  Do you call a thing what it is, or what it should be?   Suggestions included “citrate of magnesia of commerce“, “citrate of magnesia so called” , “citrate of magnesia of pharmacy“, “granular effervescent citrate of magnesia“, or the more vague “granular effervescent salt“.  Also names closer to the common composition, like “granulated tartrate of soda“; or  “citro-tartrate of soda” – whose sponsor claimed special privilege because it was already listed in the British Pharmacopoeia (an early list of approved drug standards published in 1867).

Interior of typical victorian pharmacy
Interior of typical victorian pharmacy (Credit: Wellcome Library London)

In the end, relative sense prevailed, with options smacking of inaccuracy and deception, however pragmatic, being rejected in favour of scientific purity.

…this Conference, as representing and expressing the highest aims of pharmacy, ought to maintain a scientific purity and exactness in its nomenclature3

The Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions, October 1, 1870

Not that everyone was behind an honest naming regime.  It would confuse the public, said some, and open a Pandora’s Box of renaming obligations; hundreds of ambiguous favourites would be challenged: from ‘Salt of Lemons’, to ‘Seidlitz Powders’, to ‘Soda Water’.

From this strained conflict of pragmatism with scientific integrity a final motion was passed: a bit lame on specific actions, but a signal that professional pharmacists would not countenance inaccurate naming driven by commerce or tradition.   At least for Citrate of Magnesia that is, by now firmly established as the tip of a misnomer ice-berg.

That this Conference is of opinion that the term ‘citrate of magnesia’ as applied to the ordinary granulated preparation of commerce is a misnomer, and ought to be discouraged as inconsistent with the true interests of pharmacy. (The final form of the motion)

The Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions, October 1, 1870



Motions from professional bodies are all well and good, but they’re not law.  ‘Discouragement’ without legislation is toothless, and laws in this area had been slow in coming and often contested.

Prosecutions for drug misnomers were made under the Food Adulteration Act (Photo: Tim Jones)
Prosecutions for drug misnomers were brought under the Food Adulteration Act (Photo: Tim Jones)

Earlier legislation, like the Apothecaries Act of 1815, defined standards and training for licensed apothecaries without actually outlawing unqualified practitioners, druggists, or quacks.   The Medical Act of 18584 was more about regulating doctors, and explicitly excluded from its provision chemists, druggists, etc. involved in the sale of medicines (although it did action the earlier mentioned British Pharmacopoeia).

The Pharmacy Acts of 1852 and 1868, established under the auspices of the pharmacists’ own professional society – the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (est 1841) gave them powers to control drugs, and may explain why this was such an issue in 1870.  But with those acts focused on poisons and dangerous drugs, legal actions against peddlers of mis-named versions of the pedestrian citrate of magnesia were brought under the more generic Food Adulteration Act (1860) or Adulteration of Food and Drugs Act (1872).  Coincidently, these same legislations helped reduce the sawdust content of sausages, and alum and chalk in bread.

In this 1873 case, the defendant was found guilty under the Adulteration of Food and Drugs Act (1872), and fined £10 – about £1000 today – plus the cost of analysing his product:

Prosecution under the Food Adulteration Act for mis-selling citrate of magnesia (The Times, Nov 1, 1873)
Prosecution under the Food Adulteration Act for mis-selling citrate of magnesia (The Times, Nov 1, 1873)

Gradually things moved along, with further legislation on dangerous and controlled drugs appearing in the 1920s.  The Medicines Act 1968 split drugs into the prescription, pharmacy, and general sales categories we have now.   The naming of medicines in the UK is today administered by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), an agency essentially tasked with resolving the sort of issues our pharmacist friends were facing in 1870.

There’s no doubt controls over the naming and description of medicines has progressed massively since 1870.  But with outstanding issues around the labelling and promotion of homeopathic products, and the classification and control of herbal remedies, the job’s far from over.



1. Official Catalogue of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations 1851, Cambridge University Press, 2011

2. The Household Narrative of 1851, Ed Charles Dickens

3. The Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions, October 1, 1870, P.275

4. Medical Act of 1858 (here at


Of Related Interest on Zoonomian

Monkey Brand Comes Clean (re: nineteenth century soap ads.)


Further Reading

More about Ghost Signs at Sam Roberts’s

More medical ghostsigns at the History of Advertising Trust

Blogger Sebastien Ardouin says more about Bates & Co here.

More recent legal developments, more so for dangerous drugs, in: Shipman Enquiry, Fourth Report, Chapter 3 (pdf here)

More on the fight against food adulteration here at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Monkey Brand Comes Clean

Like any normal person, I decorate my bathroom with Victorian engravings of anthropomorphised monkeys.

Monkey Brand Adverts from The Graphic and London Illustrated News
Monkey Brand Soap adverts from The Graphic 1897 and The Illustrated London News 1901. Monkey Brand aficionados might note that between the two pics ownership changed from Benjamin Brookes to Lever Brothers – an early incarnation of the giant Unilever business we know and love today. (Photos of original prints in Tim Jones’s collection)

These two depict the kind of half ape / half-monkey used by Benjamin Brooke and Lever Brothers to promote Monkey Brand soap, a super-popular cleaning product at the turn of the twentieth century.

An intriguing little strap line at the bottom of these simian vignettes catches the eye, and, in those contemplative loo moments, piques an interest for further research.  It’s a fleeting urge, seconds later flushed from thought – the cycle repeating with each visit. I guess that’s how I only now know why Monkey Brand “WON’T WASH CLOTHES“.

Monkey Brand Advert (Photo: Tim Jones)
‘Won’t Wash Clothes’ Monkey Brand Advert (Photo of original print in Tim Jones’s collection)

Now, spotting these chunks of the real thing at the Museum of London has shocked me out of lavatorial mind-lock and prompted an evening of Googling proper research.

Monkey Brand Soap at the Museum of London Photo: Tim Jones
Monkey Brand Soap at the Museum of London (Photo: Tim Jones)

Never mind the technical stuff on soap making, which in the detail is surprisingly thin on the ground for this brand, digging around reveals a keen interest by social and cultural historians, public relations types, and advertising scholars.  They’ve dissected the what, why, and wherefore of a marketing strategy curiously underpinned by these pseudo-human creatures.

Monkey Brand Advert (Photo: Tim Jones)
Monkey Brand Advert ‘The Graphic’ Christmas Number 1897 (Photo of original print in Tim Jones’s collection)

Essentially, the gist of these socio-cultural and commercial analyses is that the monkey was used (consciously and unconsciously) as symbolic commentary with respect to contemporary issues around race, gender and class; representing an idea of change in the Victorian mind that went beyond the obvious clean-dirty associations.  The tens of different Monkey Brand ads produced at this time – and that you can easily find floating around the web today – are a semiotician’s dream.  For more on this aspect, check out this post at the ‘Notes on the arts and visual culture blog’, and this essay (pdf file) ‘Soft Soaping Empire’.

Back at the technical front, it seems the reason Monkey Brand ‘won’t wash clothes’ was because it was loaded with an abrasive mineral – probably pumice (volcanic ash) – which would almost certainly put a hole through your favourite bib and tucker.  Pumice contains shock-cooled glassy particles, consistent with the abrasive properties of the soap.   I thought it might have been alkaline, acidic, or poisonous – but apparently not so.  And while mostly used on dirty grates and rusty bicycles, there’s a hint of an endorsement for use as an occasional toothpaste, although this story from 1908, of an old lady wearing a hole through her denture plate, suggests that’s not such a good idea.  Ah, the good old days.

So maybe it’s called Monkey Brand because it’s scratchy, and monkeys scratch themselves – right?  So much for my valuable addition to Monkey Brand research.

You can still get something along the lines today: like this LAVA soap, with ‘Pumice Power’ no less.  Fantastic: “The hand cleaner of choice for do-it-yourselfers, coal miners, and oil rig workers“.  Just hope they rinse well before pawing their iPads.

Get serious (Wikicommons)

I was a young kid in the 60’s, when the only pads we knew were of the Brillo variety, but I don’t remember having pumice impregnated soap around.  Although I’m a bit confused thanks to a conversation I had with my mum when I was an embryo (well,  five or six), involving a bar of soap and her talking about ‘lava’, when what she probably said was ‘lather’.  Then again, I must have got this ever-youthful complexion from somewhere.

Steven Pinker in conversation with A.C.Grayling at the Wellcome Collection

I’m conscious the blog has a science-celeb Picture Posty feel of late; but remember: (a) there have been an unusual number of cool events in London the past couple of weeks, (b) you like this stuff :-P, (c) someone’s got to do it.

Steven Pinker at the Wellcome Collection (Photo:Tim Jones)
Steven Pinker at the Wellcome Collection (Photo:Tim Jones)

More importantly, you need to know tonight’s conversation with Anthony Grayling and Steven Pinker at the Wellcome Collection was quite excellent, and it’s well worth catching the BBC World Service broadcast of the event on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day: details here.

A.C.Grayling at the Wellcome Collection (Photo:Tim Jones)
A.C.Grayling at the Wellcome Collection (Photo:Tim Jones)

The Pinker canon of academic and popular science writing covers broad ground: from the ‘Stuff of Thought‘s analysis of language and the (amazingly dull sounding but actually very interesting) irregular verbs, through the controversial nature-nurture territory of the ‘Blank Slate‘, to pontification on the (relative) demise of global violence in the recent ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature‘.

Tonight, Grayling steered the Canadian psychologist through the whole smash in about 80 minutes, including a good twenty minutes or more of intelligent audience questions.  The proceedings were introduced as part of the ‘Exchanges at the Frontier’ series by Wellcome’s lead on public programmes Ken Arnold, and Charlie Taylor for the BBC.

Watch out for the broadcast; but as usual here’s a few facts, quotes, stuff-that-I-remember-or-jotted-down, mindless ramblings, as a taster:

The first part of the conversation was about language.  Discussing a generic mental model of how we use metaphor in day-to-day speech, Pinker used the example of  ‘grasping an idea’, ‘getting across’ an idea, to ‘unpack’ an idea – asking us to take the underlying metaphor as a little marble in a box.  The box here is language, we communicate by sending the box, we open the box, the marble inside is the meaning. (Re communication and meaning, also check out my post on James Gleick’s The Information re Claude Shannon, and follow your nose from there.)

Steven Pinker and A.C.Grayling in conversation at the Wellcome Collection (Photo:Tim Jones)
Steven Pinker and A.C.Grayling in conversation at the Wellcome Collection (Photo:Tim Jones)

On another tack, Pinker linked our tendency for profanity – swearing – to the emotional parts of our brain (rather than the rational/cognitive) and activation of the ancient mammalian ‘rage circuit’ – as likely to be triggered by stubbing our toe or sitting on a cat (in which case from the cat’s perspective).  The cat yowls to startle an attacker; our evolutionary hangover induces a good old-fashioned “F***!” (In deference to the BBC he didn’t say it quite like that).

A round of audience questions on language: “Gentleman in the russet tee-shirt” (in the nicest possible way, Grayling is very good at this), and we’re on to subtlties of the mind.  Pinker elaborates his Blank Slate quote “The conscious mind – the self or soul – is a spin doctor, not the commander-in-chief” with reference to how we lie to ourselves (we do), as a means of sounding more convincing when we lie to others: a kind of practice for consistency.  (Pinker referred to Robert Triver’s on this theme, who’s views are expanded here in the Guardian.)

Answering a related audience question on the necessity of language for introspection (e.g. in babies with no language yet), Pinker referenced the ‘default network’: simply put, what your brain is doing when you’re not really thinking on anything in particular.  This seems pretty key, that we can think unconsciously and experience concepts without language.  And while I take Pinker’s point that children must have some non-language dependent cognitive ability to be able to adopt a language in the first place, I suspect there’s a lot we don’t know.

Moving to his latest focus – violence –  Pinker contrasts our violent impulses (e.g. predation, rage) with a counter-tendency for self-control: the infrastructure for his latest book’s broader thesis of inner demons versus better angels.   The ensuing discussion on murder, ideological violence and sadism (an acquired taste, like chili peppers) is probably best left for your Christmas Eve listening.

So what happens when the better angels pull ahead of the pesky demons?

Pinker says we get a general decline in violence.  One that he can illustrate with statistics of murder rates, wars, attrocities – you name it – it’s declined; not necessarily in absolute terms, but on a pro-rata basis for a given population (in the book Pinker explains why this might be a sensible way of measuring things).

Graphs aside though, with all the turbulence in the world today (economic and otherwise), the thrust of the wind-up Q&A was around how permanent this new low-violence regime might be.  Encouragingly – just what we’ll need at Christmas – Pinker suggests Greece won’t in fact be going to war with Germany anytime soon [despite everything], and, likewise, the USA and China will be cool (think: “they make all our stuff, we owe them too much”).

So.  For the most part. We can.  Relax.


(p.s. I asked my own question on how the observed virtuous developments in culture and human nature might somehow express (or have been expressed) in our biology, whether through  genetics or epigenetics, and got a good answer from Pinker. They’re bound to broadcast that bit, but if they don’t I’ll expand in a future post). Update:  [they did here]



Book Review: Humanity 2.0 What it Means to be Human, Past, Present and Future. by Steve Fuller

Paperback: 280 pages

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (6 Oct 2011)

Language English

ISBN-10: 0230233430

ISBN-13: 978-0230233430

Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 13.8 x 2.2 cm


Imagine a future world where technology lets us control our own destiny, enhance our physical and mental performance, extend our lives – perhaps indefinately. How will we come to see ourselves as human beings?  What will it mean to  be human? And how can we manage it all for the common good.

This is the world of Humanity 2.0, and the subject of a new book from Warwick University Professor of Sociology Steve Fuller.

I have to say up front this is the first of Fuller’s books I’ve read through cover to cover, and frankly it was quite a challenge.  Whether it’s the sociologist’s writing style or the somewhat discordant mix of practical and theological content, extracting what Fuller is really trying to say, his thesis if you like, was an uphill job.  To his credit, Fuller has made a series of six short videos summarising his content, and which I’ve added to the end of this post.  They came too late for me, but you’re advised to watch them before reading the book.

That said, I want here to give an overview of the content and critique a few areas particularly where I have issues.

Fuller wants to create egalitarian policy for the development and implementation of transhumanist technologies, and justify sociology’s seat at the multi-disciplinary table that will deliver it.  It’s the laudable focus of his Chapter 3.

But his broader agenda is to dethrone what he sees as a prevailing hegemony of Neo-Darwinism (essentially what Darwin knew plus our knowledge of molecular genetics) and get an alternative variant of intelligent design (I.D.) taught in school science classes; p180:

…the most controversial aspect of my position, namely, that the active promotion of a certain broadly Abrahamic theological perspective is necessary to motivate students to undertake lives in science and to support those who decide to do so.

He’s accordingly raised his game by developing a brand of I.D. better suited to the task as he sees it; p177:

As a true social constructivist, I see myself as one of the constructors of intelligent design theory.  I am not simply remarking from the sidelines about what others have done or are doing, as a historian or journalist might.  Rather I am making a front-line contribution to defining the theory’s identity.

although it’s not clear how much of this is driven from  heart-felt conviction.  Variously describing himself as a Secular Humanist, Humanist, and now Transhumanist, in this Guardian interview  from 2006 he appeared not to favour I.D., but felt it deserved a “fair run for its money”; apparently backing any horse, however lame, that will run against Neo-Darwinism.

Fuller’s appeal to I.D. in Humanity 2.0 is itself ambiguous: he uses the term variously in contexts related to a recognisable deity, p187:

I have been quite open about identifying the ‘intelligence’ of intelligent design with the mind of a version of the Abrahamic God into which the scientist aspires to enter by virtue of having been created in imago dei.

then more in relation to nature, as in his discussion around civic religion, p182:

But what remains specifically ‘religious’ about ‘civic religion’? Two aspects: (1) Science’s findings are framed in terms of the larger significance of things, nature’s ‘intelligent design’, if you will. (2) Science’s pursuit requires a particular species of faith – namely, perseverence in the face of adversity – given science’s rather contestable balance sheet in registering goods and harms….

The former quote is consistent with Fuller’s broader counter to Neo-Darwinism, my reading of which can be summed up as (i.e. my words):

Those committed to a Neo-Darwinist world view are aligned with a historical tradition that decrees we can never know a god who is different from us in kind.  Such people are uninterested in science or technology beyond that required for a continued existence with their fellow animals in a sustainably snug microcosm.  They likewise have no interest in the science and technology of a transhumanist agenda.

It’s never quite clear whether Fuller is projecting God’s image onto man, or man onto God – a model more in line with his version of secular humanism as described in the aforementioned Guardian interview: “human beings at the centre of reality, creating God in their image and likeness” and “taking control of evolution”.   With I.D. tied up with hardcore Creationism in the US, however inappropriately from Fuller’s perspective (he doesn’t support Creationism), some clarification would be helpful.

Coming to structure and content.  The first two chapters major on the idea of human ‘distinctiveness’, or that which makes us uniquely human, discussed in the frame of race and  religion aligned with various biological and theological perspectives from the past, present, and future.  Chapter two specifically defines world views broadly corresponding to ‘naturalistic’ Neo-Darwinism, and a divinely-inspired alternative.

Where naturalistics see themselves “embedded” at one with nature, animals like any others emerging from a process of evolution with natural selection, the divinely-inspired are special: fundamentally separate and above animals, they recognise God because he is an intelligently-designing technician as they are, intent on preserving the essence of their specialness – their humanity.  Traditionally they’d look to do that in soul form, but now have an eye to the alternatives future transhumanist technologies might offer.  All a bit sci-fi for now, but think of uploading thoughts, memories, consciousness to a microchip, robot, clone, hive-mind, or whatever.

Chapter three’s more grounded ‘Policy Blueprint’ centres around the so-called Converging Technologies Agenda (CTA) for the delivery, management, and regulation of technologies for human enhancement, or transhumanism; so: Nanotechnology, Information Technology, Biotechnology and Cognitive Sciences working together under Fuller’s favoured policy regime of ‘anticipatory governance’.

Although more a check-list than a roadmap – I’m still uncertain of the next steps, there’s interesting discussion here on topics like the substantive PR task of selling transhumanist ideas to a CT-sceptical public (think nanotech), use of IT-style early-end-user-involvement to progress it, and the role for media and science communication.

We can expect issues around personal risk and willingness to participate in enhancement technology trials.  Fuller points to the danger of CT perceived as hollow rebranding (again, echos of Nanotech’s relation to chemistry), and questions around standards and norms for developments and applications: e.g. would we take a nanotech or medical lead in a medical situation using that technology?   There are also emerging and diverse management philosophies to accommodate or rationalise; so the USA taking a more ROI-focused, proactionary, human performance emphasis, hands off approach; while Europe favours a precautionary, state-controlling, human welfare emphasis.

For Fuller, sociology’s egalitarian pedigree, manifest in the Welfare State, qualifies its latent contribution.  And with funding for CT industries biased to the private sector, it looks like the common man is going to need a champion.  No centrally driven, government funded, benevolent upgrade for the species this.  The portents are rather for increasing societal inequality and differentiation: a position Fuller contrasts with the public-focused ‘common good’ research environment of the Cold War.  Cynically, and outside any higher moral ambition, CTA could simply serve as a ‘techno-fix’ for over-population or other pressures on the Welfare State, forcing us to work harder and longer for our deferred pensions – no thanks, or getting us off the hook of our ecological responsibilities.

It’s all scary stuff. When we’re popping cogno-enhancers over the cornflakes, and little Jimmy’s off to college by the grace of his cerebral implant, and your investment-banker neighbours have signed up for the latest ‘life-doubler’ programme; one wonders what will qualify us to live, never mind defining our humanity.  That’s me fantasising,  but drug-based cogno-enhancement is here, and Fuller’s born “always already disabled” scenario could happen, hitting hardest the under-priviledged and those who don’t want, or can’t afford, the latest upgrades.

Chapters four and five are a return to theology and full-on Neo-Darwinist bashing, which is a shame given I suspect there is so much more to say in the vein of Chapter three.

Various off-shoots and mini-theses sprout off the core agenda, like discussion on the debt owed to religion by Science and both the Secularist and Enlightenment movements for their existence, albeit with a concession the influence has waned:

..even if it is true that all supernaturally motivated scientific insights are eventually absorbed into the naturalistic worldview, it does not follow either that the supernaturalism was unnecessary or that naturalism is the final word.

Newton appears as the quintessential religiously motivated scientist, which is fair enough provided we remember back then he had only religion to explain anything.  It’s interesting to ask what sort of science a modern-day Newton might pursue.  Would he be one of Fuller’s Neo-Darwinists for whom ‘God differs in kind’, causing him to eschew all impractical science like cosmology, particle physics and String Theory?

I do struggle with this idea that scientists can’t, won’t, or won’t want to do fancy science unless they turn all ‘intelligent design’.  It’s saying we have to be designed in order to aspire to knowledge or value truth.  Or that because Neo-Darwinists wouldn’t recognise God if they found him curled up in the 10th dimension, they wouldn’t bother with String Theory.

Yet scientists, many of whom are Neo-Darwinists, do that kind of science – big time!  So what is it – force of habit?   Well why not?  Maybe we enjoy all that Brian Cox ‘wonders’ stuff because of an evolutionary misfire: a historic brain artifact associated with some evolved inquisitive tendency for practical survival.  We do fancy science, we make a discovery, we revel in our dopamine spike, we do more fancy science.  Simples. That’s why scientists are such fun folk to have around.

Fuller might see that as a reductionist, even nihilistic, worldview.   He’s said that when Darwin killed God he also killed man, or the only part of man that matters – his humanity.  And this is why despite presenting his arguments in a frame of reasoned academic detachment, I’m coming round to thinking Fuller’s propositions are at end religious plain and simple – even if the religion is his own science-flavoured brand.  He ‘feels’ there is no humanity without god, so we must have god.


If you’re not used to reading sociology texts, which I’m not, Humanity 2.0 is hard going.

It should be clear by now that Humanity 2.0’s high-tech cover art conceals a heavy theological edge with pervasive references to intelligent design in the context of an anti-Neo-Darwinism agenda.  And that’s a shame because it distracts from the more diverse, and frankly more interesting, material also there in plenty for those with open minds.

There’s nothing wrong with theological arguments per se, but mixing rational policy debate with what many will see as off-the-wall, politically charged, I.D. rhetoric is a mistake that’s likely to destructively provoke the very individuals and organisations Fuller should be onboarding to secure sociology’s role in the transhumanist agenda.


Quote you can talk outside your area of expertise

Humanity 2.0 – Introduction (What is Humanity 2.0?) from Virtual Futures on Vimeo.

Humanity 2.0 – Chapter 01 (Humanity Poised Between Biology and Ideology) from Virtual Futures on Vimeo.

Humanity 2.0 – Chapter 02 (Defining the Human: The Always Ready – Or Never To Be – Object of the Social Sciences?) from Virtual Futures on Vimeo.

Humanity 2.0 – Chapter 03 (A Policy Blueprint for Humanity 2.0: The Converging Technologies Agenda) from Virtual Futures on Vimeo.

Humanity 2.0 – Chapter 04 (A Theology 2.0 for Humanity 2.0: Thinking Outside the Neo-Darwinian Box) from Virtual Futures on Vimeo.

Humanity 2.0 – Chapter 05 (Conclusion: In Search of Humanity 2.0’s Moral Horizon – Or, How to Suffer Smart in the 21st Century from Virtual Futures on Vimeo.


Other reviews of Humanity 2.o

Angela Saini, New Humanist

Julian Baggini at the FT

BioCentre 31/10/11

Steven Poole, Guardian 18/11/11

THE  Kristrún Gunnarsdóttir  1/3/12