Friday, January 28, 2011

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

Caitlin Rose - Own Side Now

Monday, January 24, 2011

Manuel Stimulation

Only just spotted at Occupied London, a very interesting interview with Manuel Castells, author of the Information Age trilogy briefly reviewed here. At the time of my review I described him as a "self-described neo-Marxist," but it seems from this article that he's moved closer to anarchism in recent years. Although I complained about the intrusiveness of the extensive documentation in the Information Age trilogy, the sociologist in me found his respect and advocacy for fieldwork and research in preference to theorizing very refreshing. He takes no prisoners in this interview either. Some highlights (selected as much for their tone as their content). Interviewer's questions in bold:

In 1903, Georg Simmel referred to the blasé attitude as the most typical psychological condition in the metropolis: “The psychological foundation, upon which the metropolitan individuality is erected, is the intensification of emotional life due to the swift and continuous shift of external and internal stimuli” (“The Metropolis and Mental Life”, included in Man Alone:  Alienation in Modern Society, Eric & Mary Josephson, 1962). In that way Simmel touched upon the results of this continuous shift of stimuli during the early development of the metropolis. His position brings to mind Walter Benjamin’s metropolitan shock as well as Bauman’s liquid modernity. They all highlight the importance retained in stable structures and relationships in the urban setting precisely at a time when these come under threat. Network technologies intensify the level of swift and shift of these stimuli, in turn intensifying the threat of rupture in stable relationships and structures. What is your position in relation to the said danger? What levels can the blasé phenomenon reach within the network condition (see for example the hikikomori phenomenon in Japan)? And how can the notion of community be defined today, amidst a fluid and network condition of constant shifts, swifts and transmutations?

I published a book in 1972, The Urban Question, to debunk what I called “the myth of the urban culture”. Although the book presented a Marxist framework that by and large I consider superseded, it did make a number of important points, this being one of them. Spatial forms per se do not produce certain psychological reactions or social behavior. The notion of community was ideological nostalgia, and most of the so-called effects of the metropolis were in fact characteristics linked to the expansion of capitalism, the individualization of relationships under the influence of market relationships, and the dissolution of traditional forms of association. Similarly today, my empirical studies on the Internet have shown that we do not have less but more sociability in a networked context, but it is a different kind of sociability, what is know as networked individualism. There are communities, but of different types, from instant communities of practice to self-defined communities of resistance or of projects. The major trend, supported but not caused by communication technologies, is the culture of autonomy and the ability of people to define their own projects and build their own communication networks. Most of the characterizations are built by contrast to a mythical view of the industrial society or of the traditional societies. Most sociological theory nowadays is based on words, not on observation.

. . .

When Hannah Arendt insists upon the importance of the presence of others for political action, she presupposes an in-between space, a political topos wherein freedom gains meaning – freedom as is visible in the eyes of others (e.g. in the agora, the polis). And when she touches upon the classic notion of the law (nomos) she reminds us this refers to the relationships between subjects and that these relationships require an in-between space in order to be articulated. In a network condition where the notion of space is liquefied, how can the political action in the presence of others exist? What type of in-between space is produced via network technologies and relationships?

This question is simply too complicated for me. Hannah Arendt is a normative philosopher, not an analyst. If you mean how network technologies enhance the chances for political action it is very simple: by increasing the chances for people to network with each other. Since state power and capital power is based on disconnecting people, workers, and citizens, so to make their common interests more opaque and their fighting chances less coordinated, anything that helps connection helps social change. You do not need fancy words to say that. Make things simple, they are usually more simple than our concepts. Some social scientists use abstraction to enhance their status rather than their knowledge.

. . .

An example highlighting the inversion of technology’s potentially liberating capacities: The demands of the autonomist movement (influenced by Deleuze and Guattari) for flexibility, ephemeral relations, nomadism etc. were absorbed and recuperated by capital and state formations in such ways, that today we witness the descendants of this movement organising against the precarity brought with the way of life it had itself demanded. This brings up, once again, the element of stability and continuity, this time at the level of social movement procedures. To what extent could it be argued that these demands were unbearable first and foremost for those who were the first to experimentally set them? And what space exists for redefining them today, when the technologies of information impose this liquid condition as an urban axiom built upon the importance of control and security?

No idea about what you mean about liquid condition, another of these fancy terms to say societies have changed (but were they solid earlier? When? How?) What we observe is that social movements are constructed around shared practices rather than formal organization, and around the capacity to connect global networks with local existence. Thus, networking technologies are a constitutive element of the new social movements, such as the movement for global justice or the environmental movement.

. . .

In an article published by Catalonia’s La Vanguardia, you argue that anarchism might seem to be “an ideology for the 21st century”. This is a very tempting proposition and yet, the following question emerges from it: Given that as you state yourself, it is the “old” anarchist doctrine that has become suitable for our time (after being ahead of its own), why is there a need to describe it as “neo-” anarchist? And secondly, if it is true that anarchism’s newly-found relevance is based more on a structural disposition, a failure of communist governments to absorb productive forces and equally of capitalism to prevent undermining the foundations of the nation-state that fed it: If anarchism’s relevance is being initiated by these structural failures, to what extent could we be talking of anarchism, rather than anarchy emerging? And crucially, how can social movements and civil society make sure that we head for one, rather than the other?

The main ideas of anarchism (anti-statism, freedom, communes, peace, international solidarity, rejection of bureaucratic organizations, love of nature, gender equality, and the like) are present today as they were in the 19th century. But similar ideas in an entirely different historical contexts have a somewhat different meaning, this is why I call it neo. The main proposition is that the new technological environment and the network society induce social and political conditions in which Marxist categories appear to be obsolete while the Anarchist themes resonate with current social movements. Anarchy is utopia, anarchism is ideology. Social movements are increasingly rooted in anarchist themes, even if they would not call themselves anarchists. However, what will be the historical outcome of the practice of these social movements is an open question.

. . .

When referred to your work is often distinguished in two distinct periods (the so-called “old” and “new” Castells). How do you feel about this distinction and further, about the often-found obligation in academia for one to retain a unchanged position throughout their career? How does that compare to one’s political orientations and possible changes to the latter?

I never think of myself as a theorist, and so I am just amused by this categorization. I am a researcher, a worker of social science research, and in different periods of my life I did different types of research, and used different methodologies, and different conceptual systems to understand what I was studying. And I keep doing the same now. So, it is normal that I change the conceptual framework because I evolve, my work evolves, and more importantly, the world evolves. When theory does not match reality, I throw away the theory rather than forcing useless concepts on the complexity of what we observe. But I find essential not to build closed theoretical systems with the only purpose to win a share in the intellectual market of social theory. I always go back to the drawing board. It is so much more fun to try to understand new social forms and processes than to play with words. Theorists are usually very boring chaps. Do not fall in such a trap. Live in your practice, not in your books. Stay close to the facts, ask your own questions, and build your own conceptual systems with whatever is useful to your work. Ignore words or concepts that even their authors only half understand. Escape from theory courses, the last refuge of the intellectual gentry. Look around you and try to understand the world as it is, your world. And keep changing. The day you stop changing you are basically dead. Life is change. We live in a world of zombies that were programmed not to change. This is true for science, and also for politics. A different matter is some basic values, decency, dignity, democracy, equality, solidarity, intellectual curiosity, search of truth, as you understand them. This should not change, you should stick to the good values you got when you were young, the moment of openness, hope, and generosity. But which politics reflects these values keeps changing all the time, and you keep changing in finding out about political options. Keep living, thus changing. This is what I tried to do. In research as in politics. So, there never was a young and old Castells, because there was never a Castells. There was, and there is, myself, me as a person and as a researcher, resisting any reification (ummm, another fancy word: I can do it too!)

Some video interviews and lectures by Castells can also be found on YouTube.

Friday, January 21, 2011

It's Friday. Let's Boogie! (Part 2)

Mala Vida @ Airport @ Nouvelle Vague

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!!

Go here.

Lost Text: David Brown Resigns from Solidarity

International Marxist-Humanist Organization Hobgoblin (formed last year by U.S. Marxist-Humanists, the London Corresponding Committee and representatives from Africa, Canada, India, and The Netherlands) have published a "lost text" from 1975 constituting a letter of resignation from Solidarity and a critique of the thought of Cornelius Castoriadis and Chris Pallis/Maurice Brinton by David Brown. The Collective's introductory explanation reads (I have corrected punctuation):

We publish for the first time the following text, written in 1975 as a letter to the membership of the Solidarity group – also known as ‘Solidarity For Workers Power’. This group was founded in 1960 by Chris Pallis, an eminent neurologist who wrote under the name “Maurice Brinton,” and Ken Weller, a young shop steward working in the motor industry. The group, initially known as Socialism Reaffirmed, published a journal, Agitator, which after six issues was renamed Solidarity. Both Brinton and Weller had previously been members of Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labour League, founded amidst the mass defections from the Communist Party after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. As Richard Abernethy put in an obituary for Chris Pallis in Hobgoblin in 2005,

“Solidarity punctured and deflated some favourite left-wing illusions. It recognised that there was no actually existing socialism, no worker’s states, in the world. Notwithstanding all differences between the Western capitalist bloc, the Eastern bloc ruled by Communist parties, and the Third World, the basic divide between rulers and ruled existed everywhere.”

The Solidarity group, despite never having much more than a hundred members, was influential, not least because Solidarity became the main conduit of the political theories of Cornelius Castoriadis aka Paul Cardan (1922-97), founder of Socialisme ou Barbarie in France.

The following resignation statement by Solidarity member David Brown was written at a time (1975) when the group was in decline, facing splits and having to deal with the fact that Castoriadis/Cardan had, following the demise of Socialisme ou Barbarie in 1965, moved to the Right. Brown was influenced by French ex-Bordigist Jacques Camatte, some of whose writings he translated, by the Russian value-theorist, I. I. Rubin, and by Karl Korsch, author of Marxism and Philosophy.

According to Brown, Castoriadis and Solidarity shared with the traditional left a restricted understanding of Marx’s ideas, not recognising the liberatory core of Marx’s Capital, and taking the shortcoming of the traditional left as grounds for breaking with Marx. Brown argues that Castoriadis, Brinton and the Solidarity group misunderstood the cardinal term of the Marx’s critique of political economy – value. Brown writes:

“The attack on the labour theory of value is only a prelude to a more general attack on the materialist conception of history. By reducing the general conception of the mode of production to mean technology and the word ‘determine’ to mean the same as ‘cause’, a simple transformation of Marxism into banality follows.”

Castoriadis had argued that,

"The revolutionary movement... must become the place (the only place in contemporary society, outside the factory) where... individuals learn about collective life, run their own affairs and fulfill and develop themselves, working for a common objective in reciprocal recognition."

Brown finds this position to be “entirely false,” and argues (following Jacques Camatte) that “all organisations are despotic” because, basing themselves on “critique of other organisations and individuals” they are “already” the conception of competitive capital.

Two of the editors of The Hobgoblin (Richard Abernethy and George Shaw) are former members of the Solidarity group. As Marxist-Humanists, we do not agree with a lot of the positions David Brown expressed in 1975. If the statement that “all organisations are despotic” means that all attempts to overcome atomization and individual isolation are doomed, then we certainly disagree, believing, as we do, in a philosophically-grounded alternative to capitalism – something Castoriadis, as a “positivist,” never even considered. Nor do we agree that “support for oppressed peoples” was part of the degeneration of Marxism (this in spite of Marx's own statements on Ireland, Poland etc), or saying that people who voted Labour in 1974 "voted for capitalism."

We are publishing this text not only because of its historical interest as a critique of a (dead) organization of the Left, once significant (and still influential “beyond the grave,” through the works of its theoreticians and the legacy of its activists) , but also because of the general theoretic questions it raises have, in the 21st century Left, not been surpassed.

The letter of resignation comes in two parts: "The Illusions of Solidarity" and "To the Membership of Solidarity (London) 1975."

The above-mentioned appreciations of Brinton by Shaw and Abernethy can be found here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Swell Maps

An article from the English-language edition of El País discusses the new Atlas of the Civil War in Catalonia, "a unique volume on this subject, filled with over 400 fascinating maps, that was five years in the making by a team at the International Historical Studies Center of Barcelona University."

Everything is documented with military precision, down to the road networks, the railroad lines and the cities' street names. Where does all this information come from, including the disheartening list of 70 high-ranking officials of the Catalan Army who plotted the coup on July 18, and the headquarters where they were stationed? Or the exact formation of the military columns, and even of the civilian columns that sprung up spontaneously with no support from any party? Or the map showing the location of all the banks in the Catalan capital?

and interestingly, if a little disconcertingly:

Seen from this bird's eye-view, the war seems different. Barcelona awoke in an insurrectionist mood on July 18, 1936, and it was only in the evening that there was a change of sides in the armed confrontations. There were air battles on July 19; readers can track the route followed by the hydroplanes of General Goded, which took off before receiving the order to bomb El Prat airport. The map of the fearsome checas (detention and torture centers) shows that most belonged to the anarchist federation CNT-FAI. The Catalan republican left (ERC) had two and the union UGT one.

Maps are not silent. At the Battle of the Ebro, the Fascist counteroffensive shows the existence of eight German and three Italian airfields. Another map details ships that were sunk near the Catalan coast. Most were merchant ships, and many were British. There are maps showing the 11 traveling libraries that the Generalitat sent out to soldiers on the Aragón front, as well as maps of the entertainment possibilities in a war-torn Barcelona, including three bullrings and two circus rings in 1938. There is nothing like this book elsewhere in Spain, although Segura notes that "the model could be exported."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thank You for the Music

In the December 9 issue of Rolling Stone, The Edge picks his post-punk playlist. I like the implied modesty of this one:

11. "Teenage Kicks" The Undertones, 1978

We did a kids' daytime TV show with the Undertones. It would have been for this, their first single, and for ours. And they were the same as us — snot-nosed, pimply teenagers. But they were writing great songs.

Yeah. Whereas . . .

One for the Plinth

Train, Mechanical, by Paul McCarthy, at L & M Arts, Los Angeles.

Reviewed by Jason Edward Kaufman

I never much cottoned to Paul McCarthy, but Train, Mechanical (2003-2010), part of “Paul McCarthy: Three Sculptures,” which inaugurates the new Los Angeles gallery of New York-based L & M Arts, has made me a reluctant fan. The grotesque sculpture is a robotic double image of George W. Bush copulating with a pig, just the sort of shock-schlock that McCarthy has made his stock in trade. While I generally have no patience for any of his slovenly garbage, this new work may well be a masterpiece of political agitprop: an appalling satire that captures as no other the revulsion and rage engendered worldwide by the long, dark tenure of our 43rd president.

The spectacle consists of a row of motorized, life-sized animatrons of Bush and hogs, their mechanical armatures covered with pink fleshlike resin. The Bush figures’ hips pump as their oversized heads turn from side to side, periodically spinning full circle, “Exorcist”-style, lips parting in orgasmic reverie. The daisy chain continues as the pigs in turn are penetrated in the ear by piglets. The ghastly contraption is set atop a metal frame containing the computerized machine that automates it. No need to belabor a close reading here: the figures, self-absorbed in bestial depravity, represent the utter debasement of statesmanship, democracy, and truth that marked the Bush years.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

On this weekend of derbies

First, a confession: Liverpool Football Club serve a special purpose in my life because they give me something to hate. A pantomime villain to boo and hiss, if you will. A Professor Fate to laugh at as they stumble from catastrophe to catastrophe. Let's be straight - that is the way of things these days in the city of my birth. The days of the "friendly derby" are no more, for reasons which are far too complicated to go into with this post.

That said, I found it impossible to resist the charms of Peter Lupson's Across the Park (sutitled Everton FC and Liverpool FC - Common Ground) because the reasons for the "friendly derby" are contained within its pages. The simple truth is that both clubs are linked historically in a way that perhaps no other clubs are, springing as they did from the same Methodist church side. Little did the Reverend Ben Chambers know, when in 1878 he formed a football team to keep the St Domingo church cricket team fit in the winters, that he was starting something which would bring twenty seven league titles to the city, shared between two illustrious clubs.

St Domingo soon changed their name to Everton FC and became founder members of the Football League in 1888, playing their home games at Anfield and winning the title at their third attempt. Soon, though, a dispute between the ambitious (and tory, not to mention Orangeman) John Houlding and the rest of the club led by (the liberal) George McMahon over rent - Houlding was renting the ground and subletting it the Everton - led to the Toffeemen upping sticks across the park to build a brand new stadium and leaving Houlding with a ground but no team. His solution was to draft in a scratch team of Scottish pros and, having been told by the Football League that he could not use the name Everton, Liverpool FC were formed in 1892.

Clearly, neither side was going to get over this bitter schism overnight but, in time, the ties between the clubs began to grow ever stronger, not least because of the great friendship between Everton chairman Will Cuff (who, as a lad, had watched St Domingo play their first games in Stanley Park) and his counterpart at Anfield, John McKenna.

Such was the healing of the rift that in 1902, when John Houlding died, Everton sent their own representatives to his funeral and flew their flags at half-mast at Goodison.

All of this, plus the many other connections between the clubs down the years through John Moores (who, Blue though he was, owned shares in both clubs) and his family, as well as the great communal grief and inter-club co-operation over the Hillsborough disaster and the Rhys Jones murder, is described in compelling detail by Lupson and even if it does have a bit of a "hey, can't we all just get on?" tone to it it is a thoroughly enjoyable and quite convincing read which would, I'm sure, be enjoyable for any fan of the English game to read. Even Villa fans.

I still want us to batter the red bastards tomorrow, of course.

Friday, January 14, 2011

It's Friday! Let's Boogie!!

Guster: "Stay with Me Jesus"
Director: Kathleen Judge

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reeling in the Ears: The Irish Top Ten 2010

The 2010 Irish Top Ten was somewhat delayed this year owing to the bad weather and the recession. Nevertheless, it has proved to be worth the wait, since all of this year's entries are home-grown, with the exception of the Thurles Male Voice Choir, most of whom are Welsh. There was some dismay expressed when this list appeared prematurely on Wikileaks at the absence of one or two of the nation's better-known and more widely acclaimed recording artists, but it's worth bearing in mind that this particular list comes courtesy of independent pirate station Raidio Siamsa (89.8 FM), whose listeners are nothing if not purists, and the slightest whiff of conglomerate approval or the imprimatur of the state broadcaster is enough to condemn any artist, in their eyes, to the Purgatory of corporate mediocrity, thereby disqualifying them from consideration. Thus, no Daniel O'Donnell, no Bono, no David McSavage. Here, instead, are the very best of last year's sea-green incorruptibles:

10: "Mommy, Drop the Gun," by Crystal Meth (Kimmage Music)

9: "Stop Calling Me Your Bird," by the Pigeon Holes (Phist the Lord Records)

8: "Smokeless Coalition," by Floorless Komplexxion (Hemi)

7: "Fuck Me, Fuck My Children," by Conditional Discharge (Xiao Long Bao)

6: "Hurling for Your Love," by The Thurles Male Voice Choir (GAA Official Audio Recordings)

5: "Nip Lip Bip, Nip Lip Bip Nip," by The Picky Eaters (Retro-Hetero-Metro)

4: "Dream Home in New England," by White Collar Clive and the Emigrant Solution (Drummbeat)

3: "Let Them Snort Coke," by Kill All Dee-jays (Deathrattle/Gerrymade)

2: "My Brown Trousers," by the Liquidity Problem (Loose)

and, by universal agreement,

1: "Death Before Bosco," by the Twittershit Spangles (Afternoon Wank)

You can find previous top tens here, here, here, here, and here.

Better Than Fine

I said recently, when reviewing Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender that there remains to be written a fantastic, comprehensive demolition of arguments for cognitively based sexual differences. Allow me to recommend Rebecca Jordan-Young's Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences. My problem with Fine's book was one of style rather than substance, but if this review is anything to go by, Jordan-Young's book may be the one to go to for clarity as well as comprehensiveness.

On a slightly related note, let me also recommend a couple of articles on the scientific method that recently landed on my desk: Jonah Lehrer, writing in The New Yorker magazine, discusses a phenomenon known as "the decline effect":

But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants: Davis has a forthcoming analysis demonstrating that the efficacy of antidepressants has gone down as much as threefold in recent decades.

For many scientists, the effect is especially troubling because of what it exposes about the scientific process. If replication is what separates the rigor of science from the squishiness of pseudoscience, where do we put all these rigorously validated findings that can no longer be proved? Which results should we believe? Francis Bacon, the early-modern philosopher and pioneer of the scientific method, once declared that experiments were essential, because they allowed us to “put nature to the question.” But it appears that nature often gives us different answers.

It's also worth reading Lehrer's follow-up blog, in which he responds to the letters that The New Yorker received about his article.

But even those theories that do get replicated are shadowed by uncertainty. After all, one of the more disturbing aspects of the decline effect is that many results we now believe to be false have been replicated numerous times. To take but one example I cited in the article: After fluctuating asymmetry, a widely publicized theory in evolutionary biology, was proposed in the early nineteen-nineties, nine of the first ten independent tests confirmed the theory. In fact, it took several years before an overwhelming majority of published papers began rejecting it. This raises the obvious problem: If false results can get replicated, then how do we demarcate science from pseudoscience? And how can we be sure that anything—even a multiply confirmed finding—is true?

The other article that caught my attention was this one by Benedict Carey in the New York Times on the publication of a research report in a psychology journal that claims to show the existence of ESP. The broader argument was what interested me.

For decades, some statisticians have argued that the standard technique used to analyze data in much of social science and medicine overstates many study findings — often by a lot. As a result, these experts say, the literature is littered with positive findings that do not pan out: “effective” therapies that are no better than a placebo; slight biases that do not affect behavior; brain-imaging correlations that are meaningless.

By incorporating statistical techniques that are now widely used in other sciences — genetics, economic modeling, even wildlife monitoring — social scientists can correct for such problems, saving themselves (and, ahem, science reporters) time, effort and embarrassment.

Although, of course, even if those results are replicated, it doesn't necessarily mean they're correct.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Thrill of the Kill (or Kill Your Pet Lion)

Ted Williams writes on the phenomenon of canned hunting in Audubon magazine.

It was at Lido’s Game Farm in Taghkanic, New York, that I finally participated in a “canned hunt.”

In most canned hunts tame or semi-tame game species, reared in captivity, are placed in enclosures of varying sizes, and the gate is opened for the client, who has been issued a guarantee of success. Canned hunts are great for folks on tight schedules or who lack energy or outdoor skills. Microchip transponder implants for game not immediately visible are available for the proprietor whose clients are on really tight schedules. And because trophies are plied with drugs, minerals, vitamins, specially processed feeds, and sometimes growth hormones, they are way bigger than anything available in the wild. Often the animals have names, and you pay in advance for the one you’d like to kill, selecting your trophy from a photo or directly from its cage. For example, Rachel, Bathsheba, Paul, John, and Matthew were pet African lions that would stroll over and lick their keepers’ hands before they were shot in Texas.

But Lido’s has pheasants only, so a guy named Dave threw them from a tower for a dozen of us to shoot. Some, diseased or wounded from past shoots, dropped to the ground. Other times we’d fire simultaneously, and the bird would exude feathers as if you’d shaken a slashed pillow in a nor’easter. Once someone shot while Dave was still holding the pheasant, and he screamed: “Hey, what you shooting at? Don’t never play games wid me!” The year was 1991, and I was on assignment for Audubon.

Provocative and Thoughtful

. . . is how Laurie Taylor describes the responses to the recent Thinking Allowed program on the absence of utopian thought in the world today. You can hear my contribution at 11 minutes 15 seconds.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Liza with a Die

Now we know who to blame:

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement?

A: My work on behalf of AIDS.

A brave, contrarian career move, when so many other celebrities were campaigning against AIDS. Or maybe she just needs a new agent.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Kill Your Pet Puppy

Nice to see a dissenting opinion:

A 2006 survey of Americans by the Pew Research Center, for instance, reported that living with a pet did not make people any happier. Similarly, a 2000 Australian study of mortality rates found no evidence that pet owners lived any longer than anyone else. And last year Dutch researchers concluded that companion animals had no effect on their owners’ physical or mental well-being. Worse, in 2006, epidemiologists in Finland reported that pet owners were more likely than non-pet owners to suffer from sciatica, kidney disease, arthritis, migraines, panic attacks, high blood pressure and depression.

This pattern of mixed results also holds true for the widely heralded notion that animals can cure various physical afflictions. For example, a study of people with chronic fatigue syndrome found that while pet owners believed that interacting with their pets relieved their symptoms, objective analysis revealed that they were just as tired, stressed, worried and unhappy as sufferers in a control group who had no pets. Similarly, a clinical trial of cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy found that interacting with therapy dogs did no more to enhance the participants’ morale than reading a book did.