Confessions of an American Doctor by Max Kepler

Book Summary

In 2005, I was arrested by agents from both the US Postal Service and the Food and Drug Administration for the importation of illegal human growth hormone and botulinum toxin (Botox) from China.

At the time of my arrest, I was a thirty-seven year old Harvard graduate with medical and post-doctoral degrees. I attended one of the finest residency and fellowship training programs in the world at the University of California, San Francisco. I played two sports in college, earned awards at every level of education and training, had wonderful friends and a beautiful three-year-old daughter. Having grown up the son of a restaurant manager and a housewife, I had transcended the humble beginnings of a small Midwestern town to become the quintessential American Dream.

Or so I thought.

But with my arrest on felony importation charges, everything I had worked so hard for was swept away and the entire trajectory of my life was indelibly altered. I would embark on a three year battle not only for my medical license, but also for my freedom. This journey would lead to intense personal introspection, and in that process, I would discover with ugliness, there was also beauty, and with punishment, mercy.

There are many reasons I have written this manuscript, with one of the most important being that I hoped my story would resonate with others who have gone through difficult circumstances as a consequence of a dark side of their personality. With this book, I hope to inspire others to accept and embrace the good and bad, while continually striving for improved self-understanding and acceptance.

I have changed names primarily for legal purposes, but the facts are unchanged. Although the events described in the book occurred more than ten years ago, I think about them nearly every day. The shame and humiliation are ever-present. Any simple Google search of my name reveals the truth, and that truth has affected me over and over, despite the years, as it probably should. As the judge told me that day in a federal courtroom, “You have betrayed the public’s trust.”

This is my confessional.

Buy on Amazon – http://amzn.to/2tcoKre

San Francisco Book Review – 4 Stars

Confessions of an American Doctor is a true account of a doctor in the United States. The author has used different names to respect of the privacy of his patients and peers.

The novel opens with the arrest of Dr. Max Kepler, a rheumatologist by profession. As he is being handcuffed, the events of the previous few months flash before his eyes. He then writes a detailed account of his past, leading up to his venture into cosmetology and anti-aging clinics.

Divorced and bored with his job at Cade County Hospital, he partners up with Lance, who promises him a partnership in a startup, and together they work on medicine aimed for hair growth. Starting with that, they then foray into hormone supplementation as well as Botox and Mesotherapy. Using loopholes in the medical system of the US and the FDA, they manage to bypass standard checks as well as to use substandard compounds imported from China. Lance leads him to meet a range of businessmen interested in financing their projects. Dr. Kepler is too excited at the prospect of incoming money, and he doesn’t bother doing background checks on the sources of funds. He opens a wellness clinic by the name of Forever Lithe, which branches out to multiple locations across the country. He administers Botox, Mesotherapy, and other anti-aging and cosmetology treatments, eventually resulting in a healthy number of patients.

He has an idea that Lance supplies hormones and anabolic steroids to professional athletes, but he feels unconcerned as he is not directly supplying them. They become cautious when their supplies of human growth hormone from China are intercepted at US Customs.

Dr. Kepler didn’t bother doing a background check on Lance, and eventually, Lance’s shady past catches up with him. Lance is subsequently arrested on account of his import and illegal use of human growth hormone for anti-aging purposes on his patients, and his court proceedings are recounted as well. Read on to find out if he feels he is guilty of his crime and what will be the future of his venture with Lance.

The author has given a detailed account of his childhood, relationships, and his struggles through medical education. He also explains the uses of all the hormones they created in labs, which shows his thorough knowledge of pharmacology. His detailed understanding of the medical system of the United States and the loopholes which led to them getting away with using substandard medicines on patients have been described really well. This novel is a treat to read for medical students and current physicians of any country.

Reviewed By: Rabiya Jawed

https://sanfranciscobookreview.com/product/confessions-of-an-american-doctor/

Clockwork Strange: Into The Whirlwind by Dale McInnes

Clockwork Strange: Into The Whirlwind by Dale McInnes

Story Summary:

A North American novel inspired by Karel Zeman’s 1955 children’s classic tale Cesta Do Praveku Our first novel begins in 1943 with the disappearance of nine children and their three puppies on a prairie farm when they discover a door to long extinct alien worlds. Their story is one of awe and exploration. It is told as two simultaneous stories, one of the repercussions on the family farm community 25 years later, and the other of how the children struggle to survive their first alien environmental ice age encounter. It is the very first time that the concept of ‘deep time’ will be told through the eyes of children [for both the children and the young adults] and kept as scientifically accurate as a good story can be told. This is the North American Debut of a prehistoric ALICE IN WONDERLAND chronicle of deep time, wherein WONDERLAND is as real as the children who tumble into it.

http://amzn.to/2tGExCj

San Francisco Book Review:

From an author who had experienced the open space needed for a child’s imagination to truly blossom while growing up on a farm in Manitoba, Canada, Clockwork Strange: Into the Whirlwind by Dale McInnes is the first of a series of science fiction books that children will, no doubt, enjoy. Adults, meanwhile, shouldn’t hesitate to read this book at all. It brings back long-slumbering memories of a time when magic was indeed a possibility.

Albert Morley, a man of the early-to-middle twentieth century, is a crazy man, according to some. His sister-in-law isn’t overly fond of him, but really the only thing that’s wrong with him is that he had experienced something extraordinary as a child thanks to a mysterious caboose. For twenty years, Albert had been gone. Nothing had changed upon his return. Now, years later, the caboose has done it’s magic again. Nine kids and three little dogs vanish, never to be seen again.

What happened to these kids and their three little dogs reaches many ears, but what many don’t know is that these kids have been taken to a world and time where everything is big and dangerous. Cats, wolves, mammoths–everything’s big. Armed with writings that can be found in Albert’s diary, the kids have to figure out a way to survive.

Of the nine kids, Daniel assumes the leadership role. When important decisions have to be made, his voice is the one that will most likely be heard. The puppies are out of harm’s way most of the time. The kids use the knowledge from what they see as an added tool to survive. They learn to adapt to their surroundings and do what it takes to survive even when the decisions they have to make become as tough as the mammoth hides they have to cut from mammoth carcasses. Children will love the characters in this book for their bravery in the face of terrifying circumstances and will learn a thing or two about teamwork and smart strategies to fend of predators of the wild.

I did like what the author primarily tried to do and that was to write a story so that readers could experience the less technologically-ridden world of the 1930s to 1950s through the eyes of a child. Childhood is filled with magic. McInnes scatters it about freely in this book. My wish is that McInnes made the absence of the kids more emotionally relatable as we do get to follow the Morley clan back in the real world in the years after the incident with the caboose.

Reviewed By: Benjamin Ookami

https://sanfranciscobookreview.com/product/clockwork-strange-into-the-whirlwind/

Are music festivals doing enough to tackle sexual assault?

Reports of rape and other attacks are on the rise but, from grassroots groups to industry efforts, measures are being undertaken to keep attendees safe

Festival season is a time of joy, sunburn and sloshing about in muddy fields. However, this booming industry which attracts millions of attendees each year and contributed to the 4bn revenues generated by the UKs live music industry in 2016 has a dark side. From family-oriented Latitude to the largely tweenage V festival, few British festivals seem to be immune from allegations of rape and sexual assault. Between 2014 and 2016, eight sexual assaults were reported at Reading festival, a post-GCSE venue for many teens. In 2013, a male nurse was convicted of attacking two women in the medical tent at Wilderness. Just last week, police announced that inquiries continue regarding a sexual assault on a bridge close to Glastonburys Silver Hayes dance field, and an alleged assault by a security guard at London one-dayer Lovebox has also been well publicised.

While many attacks happen out of the way of the main arenas of such events, others occur in the thick of the festival; in 2011, a 15-year-old alleged that she had been raped close to the main stage of Bestival on the Isle of Wight. I was also at the festival that year, and while thankfully I had a safe trip, I was flashed as I exited a toilet, again close to the main stage. Along with more serious cases, the incident compounded my fear that maybe festivals werent the safe, escapist realms I had hoped they were.

It is not an issue exclusive to Britain, either; earlier this month, news outlets around the world reported on a spate of sexual violence at Swedens largest festival, Brvalla, which has been cancelled for next year after allegations of four rapes and 23 related attacks. In response, the comedian Emma Knyckare announced her intention to hold a man-free rock festival. Answering her critics, who claimed that this amounted to anti-male discrimination, Knyckare told the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet that since it seems to be OK to discriminate against women all the time, maybe its OK to shut out men for three days?

But is banning men from festivals really the way to deal with things? This is a question I put to Fiona Stewart, the managing director and owner of the Brecon Beacons-based Green Man festival. As the countrys only female festival-owner, Stewart has had to find her place within a male-dominated industry over the years, first heading up the Big Chill. Womens safety is a subject she feels strongly about. Im not really into any kind of exclusive situation anywhere, Stewart says of Knyckares plan, before adding that she does understand how that specific case may have necessitated a more hardline approach. I would be sympathetic to the people whove created that [rule], because they must feel under tremendous pressure.

Fiona
Fiona Stewart, the owner of Green Man festival. Photograph: Sarah Brimley

As for security at her own festival, Stewart oversees the whole operation, carefully choosing who will work on the ground from a number of different organisations. Green Man has got quite a gentle reputation, but with anything like this its actually pretty robust and vigorous. We have a very proactive attitude towards assault, she says. Its not a reactive thing. She assures me that if I were to find myself alone at the festival at 2am, there would be lighting, security points and stewards within easy reach. Whether as a result of her measures or happy coincidence, reported assaults at Green Man are virtually nil.

If Stewart represents an industry view, then Girls Against is very much the voice of grassroots efforts. The group which campaigns on and offline for increased festival and gig safety comprises teenage girls from across the UK, such as Bea Bennister, who has just finished her A-levels. She tells me the groups most important endeavour since forming in 2015 was being a part of the Safer Spaces Campaign, run by the Association for Independent Festivals (AIF) and launched this May. As part of the initiative, Girls Against helped them to instigate a 24-hour blackout on festivals websites and social media to raise awareness of sexual assault, as well as implementing a new safety charter (its tenets: Zero Tolerance to Sexual Assault. Hands Off Unless Consent. Dont Be a Bystander). Among the signatories were Bestival, Secret Garden Party, Boomtown Fair and End of the Road.

While it was a project that caught the medias attention, Bennister is focused not just on prevention but also on what to do once someone has been the victim of an attack, adding that she finds it increasingly important that we continue to work as a support system to help victims and guide them in their next steps after an assault.

Glastonbury festival offered only a brief response to my questions on its strategies for preventing any attacks, directing me to a webpage where the advice was limited to keep with friends and avoid dark areas. But the festival drew praise this year for helping someone find their feet again after an assault. In a blogpost that racked up thousands of shares on Twitter, entitled An open letter to Glastonbury, from a victim, Laura Whitehurst detailed how the organisers of the festival had helped her to attend this years edition, after she was sexually assaulted by people she had planned to go with. As well as making special arrangements for her travel and camping, she was also given a letter that allowed her access to extra help from security if required. Ending her letter of thanks, she said that the organisers had made me feel like a survivor again.

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More security training could be one of the solutions. Photograph: Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Although cases such as this and the AIF campaign are moves in the right direction, there is still more to be done. There is definitely room for improvement, says Bennister. It is clear that proper security training needs to be the big push, but it is increasingly difficult to contact these companies, let alone get them to agree to more training. I think festival organisers are unsure what to suggest, so stay with friends and move if you feel uncomfortable are common solutions that may not be helpful in all situations.

As for Stewart, she stresses that everyone has their part to play in making sure festivals are safe environments, founded on a culture of respect. I dont see this as a male or female issue issue, I see this as a human issue.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jul/25/music-festivals-sexual-assault-rape-safe

Lucia Zarate By Cecilia Velastegui

Story summary:

Lucia Zárate is based on the poignant, real-life odyssey of the world’s smallest woman. Pretty and gregarious, Lucia Zárate was just twenty inches tall. A celebrity after her ‘display’ at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition, Lucia’s extraordinary, heartbreaking story is one of exploitation by greedy sideshow hucksters and a fishbowl existence on the road, from New York to Victorian London. We follow the adventures of diminutive Lucia Zárate and her devoted governess as they grapple with life and death, finding joy and adventure in their bumpy sideshow journey of more than fourteen years. This is an artfully balanced novel that is a mesmerizing tale of survival, resilience, and the uplifting force of friendship.

Forward Review:

The sad life story of the diminutive Lucia Zárate is intriguing and informative.

Cecilia Velástegui’s historical novel, Lucia Zárate, chronicles the extraordinary life of the tiniest person who ever lived. The opening pages, lyrical and riveting, paint Mexico with vivid brushstrokes, bringing the sights, sounds, and smells of Veracruz and its vanilla bean industry to life.

Like all historical fiction, Lucia Zárate plaits fact and fancy. Lucia Zárate (January 2, 1864–January 15, 1890) holds the Guinness World Record as the smallest human, measuring twenty-one inches tall and weighing less than five pounds at seventeen years of age. Velástegui describes her as “a wisp of a girl, a perfect and miniature thing, whose singular appearance and sparkling personality were as unique as the cherished fragrance of Veracruz vanilla.” Despite her diminutive size, she “spread the velvet folds and lace frills of her gowns in such a way that she extended her personal space in a wide circle all around her.”

Incorporated into the fictitious elements are actual newspaper accounts of Lucia’s nineteenth-century tour of America and Europe. Sometimes these factual reports are artfully woven into the tale; other times, not. As a result, the book wavers between pure history and historical fiction, never landing squarely on either one.

Lucia’s story is told primarily from the vantage point of her governess, Zoila. When Zoila realizes she must extricate herself from her village’s internecine vanilla bean trade skirmishes, as well as from the rumors swirling around her own perhaps-nefarious actions, she tucks a vial of her beloved Felipe’s salvaged blood between her ample breasts and heads out. She secures a position as governess for the improbably tiny Lucia, whose parents have contracted for their daughter to perform in human curiosity sideshows. Zoila accompanies the Lilliputian girl on the decade-long tour, with visits to domestic and foreign heads of state, as well as considerable time spent among seedy denizens and gawking voyeurs.

Lucia and Zoila are well-drawn and complex figures; their emotions ebb and flow according to the particular circumstances they encounter, making them believable characters. Other individuals, however, are less fully developed; they include slimy carnival hucksters, cruel freak-show managers, and greedy parents who want to live in luxury, financed on the back of their tiny treasure of a daughter. Aside from Zoila and Lucia, not one compassionate or multifaceted individual appears in the story. Well-rounded supporting characters would have made the fictive elements more credible.

This sad life story is intriguing and informative. Velástegui’s sensitive descriptions of humans with a variety of deformities and odd conditions is commendable, as is her condemnation of their abominable treatment in nineteenth-century sideshows. Lucia Zárate should appeal to people interested in the human psyche, and those drawn to history should appreciate the author’s adherence to carefully researched historical details. Also, young adults with sophisticated vocabularies should enjoy this book.

Available on Amazon – http://amzn.to/2suSKPT

Author Bio:

Cecilia Velástegui’s historical novels have received international awards: LUCIA ZARATE (2017) is a finalist for Best Historical Fiction and is in competition with an international, literary giant: Arturo Pérez Reverte. Her novel PARISIAN PROMISES won the Paris Book Award (2015), MISSING IN MACHU PICCHU (2014) won first place in the International Latino Book Awards, the nation’s oldest Hispanic literary awards, TRACES OF BLISS (2013) was selected by the Association of American Publishers to the National Book Club, and GATHERING THE INDIGO MAIDENS (2012) was a runner up for the Mariposa Prize. Her children’s bilingual fables were endorsed by the SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, and were finalists for the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year.

Cecilia has a graduate degree from the University of Southern California, is a former Marriage and Family Therapist, has traveled to more than 100 countries and speaks four languages. She serves on the board of directors of several cultural and educational institutions.

Jane Austen teen author before her time

Far from being the epitome of genteel propriety, her earliest fiction reveals an anarchic spirit with a disdain for authority to match any modern adolescent

Teenagers had not yet been invented in the late 1780s, when the young Jane Austen began her authorial career. But the people she chose to write about in her earliest known fiction display all the classic traits of modern adolescents on the loose: showing off, binge drinking, stealing, violence, hysteria. There are intense friendships, wild love affairs and, not infrequently, utter contempt for the older generation.

Austens Victorian biographers preferred to date her career from the appearance of her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, when she was 35. They shaped the image of her as a cheerful, if pious and solitary, writer who penned her works quietly and covertly at home under the pseudonym A Lady.

But such an image is startlingly at odds with the riotous crime scene that is Austens teenage writing, produced to be enjoyed and performed by close family and friends. The early works remain to this day somewhat under the radar even of her biggest fans, partly because the first substantial collection did not appear in print until 1922, more than a century after her death.

You can see why they might have been an embarrassment to Austens family; at first glance, these tales have little in common with her elegant later fiction. One heroine, Anna Parker, coolly announces in a letter to her friend that, having murdered her father and mother: I am now going to murder my Sister. All the characters are essentially motiveless: they feast, kill, insult and charge across estates and countryside with seeming impunity, armed with a stock of blithe compliments and self-regard (which is, often, enough to get away with anything).

The young Jane did not entrust her secret crushes or private longings to a diary (as far as we know). Rather, her supremely confident early writings are directed outwards, narrating either an excess of action or the complete absence of it. We are told of the alcoholic hero of Jack and Alice, who doesnt appear in the story, that he never did anything worth mentioning. Another story announces, in passing, that tragedy is not worth reading. Theyre cartoonish and full of in-jokes; written by an author already anticipating the enjoyment of her friends and family.

There are many references to the pulp fiction that was then devoured by the whole Austen clan and most likely by the male teenage boarders living with them, pupils of the cash-strapped Reverend George Austen. The young Jane joyously adopted its extravagances, cliches and improbabilities, using names like Laurina, Polydore and Jezalinda (her adult fiction restricts itself to solidly English names like George, Emma and Anne). There are bold sentiments, such as: It is my greatest boast that I have incurred the Displeasure of my Father! There are lurching coincidences of plot: Oh Heavens, (exclaimed I) is it possible that I should so unexpectedly be surrounded by my nearest Relations and Connections? These frantic mini-novels reveal how Austen used the genre fiction of her day to train herself in the parts and rules of novel writing: do characters need to be believable? Do their actions need motives? How unhinged and random can action be and still make sense?

Schoolroom textbooks, another target, are dissected to expose the woeful limitations of education for girls at the time: a little geography, history and advice on household management. The spoof History of England, By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian is remarkable for its understanding of the notion that all history is interpreted, and written from bias of some kind. Austen was just 15 when she wrote the stories, following geographically ignorant characters on crazy journeys from Bedfordshire to Middlesex via south Wales. With their narcissistic disregard for moral codes, her characters reject the manuals of instruction that were the staple of girls education at the time. The young Jane was leading a battalion of unruly teenage girls in open contention with the models of the Georgian classroom.

Austen was a teenager in the same years that Mary Wollstonecraft was linking female education to the pressing need for political reform. In her 1792 story Kitty, or the Bower, the 16-year-old Jane wrote about social and sexual politics with a candour she would never again match. Kitty Peterson, her young heroine, could easily be mistaken for Wollstonecraft herself in full flow: But do you call it lucky, for a Girl of Genius & Feeling to be sent in quest of a Husband to Bengal, to be married there to a Man of whose Disposition she has no opportunity of judging till her Judgement is of no use to her, who may be a Tyrant, or a Fool or both for what she knows to the Contrary. Do you call that fortunate?

The clever, funny stories that make up the teenage writings are a dramatic counter to the disciplined, psychological realism that Austen developed in her adult fiction. But traces of their freakishness and wit survive: in Sense and Sensibility, when Elinor Dashwood requests a stiff drink in the face of her sister Mariannes hysterics (If you will give me leave, I will drink the wine myself); or in Elizabeth Bennets unladylike energy in Pride and Prejudice, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles on her way to Netherfield Park. It is at such moments that the voice of a young troublemaker returns to make herself heard.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/18/jane-austen-teen-author-before-her-time

How economics became a religion | John Rapley

The long read: Its moral code promises salvation, its high priests uphold their orthodoxy. But perhaps too many of its doctrines are taken on faith

Although Britain has an established church, few of us today pay it much mind. We follow an even more powerful religion, around which we have oriented our lives: economics. Think about it. Economics offers a comprehensive doctrine with a moral code promising adherents salvation in this world; an ideology so compelling that the faithful remake whole societies to conform to its demands. It has its gnostics, mystics and magicians who conjure money out of thin air, using spells such as derivative or structured investment vehicle. And, like the old religions it has displaced, it has its prophets, reformists, moralists and above all, its high priests who uphold orthodoxy in the face of heresy.

Over time, successive economists slid into the role we had removed from the churchmen: giving us guidance on how to reach a promised land of material abundance and endless contentment. For a long time, they seemed to deliver on that promise, succeeding in a way few other religions had ever done, our incomes rising thousands of times over and delivering a cornucopia bursting with new inventions, cures and delights.

This was our heaven, and richly did we reward the economic priesthood, with status, wealth and power to shape our societies according to their vision. At the end of the 20th century, amid an economic boom that saw the western economies become richer than humanity had ever known, economics seemed to have conquered the globe. With nearly every country on the planet adhering to the same free-market playbook, and with university students flocking to do degrees in the subject, economics seemed to be attaining the goal that had eluded every other religious doctrine in history: converting the entire planet to its creed.

Yet if history teaches anything, its that whenever economists feel certain that they have found the holy grail of endless peace and prosperity, the end of the present regime is nigh. On the eve of the 1929 Wall Street crash, the American economist Irving Fisher advised people to go out and buy shares; in the 1960s, Keynesian economists said there would never be another recession because they had perfected the tools of demand management.

The 2008 crash was no different. Five years earlier, on 4 January 2003, the Nobel laureate Robert Lucas had delivered a triumphal presidential address to the American Economics Association. Reminding his colleagues that macroeconomics had been born in the depression precisely to try to prevent another such disaster ever recurring, he declared that he and his colleagues had reached their own end of history: Macroeconomics in this original sense has succeeded, he instructed the conclave. Its central problem of depression prevention has been solved.

No sooner do we persuade ourselves that the economic priesthood has finally broken the old curse than it comes back to haunt us all: pride always goes before a fall. Since the crash of 2008, most of us have watched our living standards decline. Meanwhile, the priesthood seemed to withdraw to the cloisters, bickering over who got it wrong. Not surprisingly, our faith in the experts has dissipated.

Hubris, never a particularly good thing, can be especially dangerous in economics, because its scholars dont just observe the laws of nature; they help make them. If the government, guided by its priesthood, changes the incentive-structure of society to align with the assumption that people behave selfishly, for instance, then lo and behold, people will start to do just that. They are rewarded for doing so and penalised for doing otherwise. If you are educated to believe greed is good, then you will be more likely to live accordingly.

The hubris in economics came not from a moral failing among economists, but from a false conviction: the belief that theirs was a science. It neither is nor can be one, and has always operated more like a church. You just have to look at its history to realise that.


The American Economic Association,to which Robert Lucas gave his address, was created in 1885, just when economics was starting to define itself as a distinct discipline. At its first meeting, the associations founders proposed a platform that declared: The conflict of labour and capital has brought to the front a vast number of social problems whose solution is impossible without the united efforts of church, state and science. It would be a long path from that beginning to the market evangelism of recent decades.

Yet even at that time, such social activism provoked controversy. One of the AEAs founders, Henry Carter Adams, subsequently delivered an address at Cornell University in which he defended free speech for radicals and accused industrialists of stoking xenophobia to distract workers from their mistreatment. Unknown to him, the New York lumber king and Cornell benefactor Henry Sage was in the audience. As soon as the lecture was done, Sage stormed into the university presidents office and insisted: This man must go; he is sapping the foundations of our society. When Adamss tenure was subsequently blocked, he agreed to moderate his views. Accordingly, the final draft of the AEA platform expunged the reference to laissez-faire economics as being unsafe in politics and unsound in morals.

Trinity
Economics has always operated more like a church Trinity Church seen from Wall Street. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

So was set a pattern that has persisted to this day. Powerful political interests which historically have included not only rich industrialists, but electorates as well helped to shape the canon of economics, which was then enforced by its scholarly community.

Once a principle is established as orthodox, its observance is enforced in much the same way that a religious doctrine maintains its integrity: by repressing or simply eschewing heresies. In Purity and Danger, the anthropologist Mary Douglas observed the way taboos functioned to help humans impose order on a seemingly disordered, chaotic world. The premises of conventional economics havent functioned all that differently. Robert Lucas once noted approvingly that by the late 20th century, economics had so effectively purged itself of Keynesianism that the audience start(ed) to whisper and giggle to one another when anyone expressed a Keynesian idea at a seminar. Such responses served to remind practitioners of the taboos of economics: a gentle nudge to a young academic that such shibboleths might not sound so good before a tenure committee. This preoccupation with order and coherence may be less a function of the method than of its practitioners. Studies of personality traits common to various disciplines have discovered that economics, like engineering, tends to attract people with an unusually strong preference for order, and a distaste for ambiguity.

The irony is that, in its determination to make itself a science that can reach hard and fast conclusions, economics has had to dispense with scientific method at times. For starters, it rests on a set of premises about the world not as it is, but as economists would like it to be. Just as any religious service includes a profession of faith, membership in the priesthood of economics entails certain core convictions about human nature. Among other things, most economists believe that we humans are self-interested, rational, essentially individualistic, and prefer more money to less. These articles of faith are taken as self-evident. Back in the 1930s, the great economist Lionel Robbins described his profession in a way that has stood ever since as a cardinal rule for millions of economists. The fields basic premises came from deduction from simple assumptions reflecting very elementary facts of general experience and as such were as universal as the laws of mathematics or mechanics, and as little capable of suspension.

Deducing laws from premises deemed eternal and beyond question is a time-honoured method. For thousands of years, monks in medieval monasteries built a vast corpus of scholarship doing just that, using a method perfected by Thomas Aquinas known as scholasticism. However, this is not the method used by scientists, who tend to require assumptions to be tested empirically before a theory can be built out of them.

But, economists will maintain, this is precisely what they themselves do what sets them apart from the monks is that they must still test their hypotheses against the evidence. Well, yes, but this statement is actually more problematic than many mainstream economists may realise. Physicists resolve their debates by looking at the data, upon which they by and large agree. The data used by economists, however, is much more disputed. When, for example, Robert Lucas insisted that Eugene Famas efficient-markets hypothesis which maintains that since a free market collates all available information to traders, the prices it yields can never be wrong held true despite a flood of criticism, he did so with as much conviction and supporting evidence as his fellow economist Robert Shiller had mustered in rejecting the hypothesis. When the Swedish central bank had to decide who would win the 2013 Nobel prize in economics, it was torn between Shillers claim that markets frequently got the price wrong and Famas insistence that markets always got the price right. Thus it opted to split the difference and gave both men the medal a bit of Solomonic wisdom that would have elicited howls of laughter had it been a science prize. In economic theory, very often, you believe what you want to believe and as with any act of faith, your choice of heads or tails will as likely reflect sentimental predisposition as scientific assessment.

Its no mystery why the data used by economists and other social scientists so rarely throws up incontestable answers: it is human data. Unlike people, subatomic particles dont lie on opinion surveys or change their minds about things. Mindful of that difference, at his own presidential address to the American Economic Association nearly a half-century ago, another Nobel laureate, Wassily Leontief, struck a modest tone. He reminded his audience that the data used by economists differed greatly from that used by physicists or biologists. For the latter, he cautioned, the magnitude of most parameters is practically constant, whereas the observations in economics were constantly changing. Data sets had to be regularly updated to remain useful. Some data was just simply bad. Collecting and analysing the data requires civil servants with a high degree of skill and a good deal of time, which less economically developed countries may not have in abundance. So, for example, in 2010 alone, Ghanas government which probably has one of the better data-gathering capacities in Africa recalculated its economic output by 60%. Testing your hypothesis before and after that kind of revision would lead to entirely different results.

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The data used by economists rarely throws up incontestable answers traders at the New York Stock Exchange in October 2008. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Leontief wanted economists to spend more time getting to know their data, and less time in mathematical modelling. However, as he ruefully admitted, the trend was already going in the opposite direction. Today, the economist who wanders into a village to get a deeper sense of what the data reveals is a rare creature. Once an economic model is ready to be tested, number-crunching ends up being done largely at computers plugged into large databases. Its not a method that fully satisfies a sceptic. For, just as you can find a quotation in the Bible that will justify almost any behaviour, you can find human data to support almost any statement you want to make about the way the world works.

Thats why ideas in economics can go in and out of fashion. The progress of science is generally linear. As new research confirms or replaces existing theories, one generation builds upon the next. Economics, however, moves in cycles. A given doctrine can rise, fall and then later rise again. Thats because economists dont confirm their theories in quite the same way physicists do, by just looking at the evidence. Instead, much as happens with preachers who gather a congregation, a school rises by building a following among both politicians and the wider public.

For example, Milton Friedman was one of the most influential economists of the late 20th century. But he had been around for decades before he got much of a hearing. He might well have remained a marginal figure had it not been that politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were sold on his belief in the virtue of a free market. They sold that idea to the public, got elected, then remade society according to those designs. An economist who gets a following gets a pulpit. Although scientists, in contrast, might appeal to public opinion to boost their careers or attract research funds, outside of pseudo-sciences, they dont win support for their theories in this way.

However, if you think describing economics as a religion debunks it, youre wrong. We need economics. It can be it has been a force for tremendous good. But only if we keep its purpose in mind, and always remember what it can and cant do.


The Irish have been known to describetheir notionally Catholic land as one where a thin Christian veneer was painted over an ancient paganism. The same might be said of our own adherence to todays neoliberal orthodoxy, which stresses individual liberty, limited government and the free market. Despite outward observance of a well-entrenched doctrine, we havent fully transformed into the economic animals we are meant to be. Like the Christian who attends church but doesnt always keep the commandments, we behave as economic theory predicts only when it suits us. Contrary to the tenets of orthodox economists, contemporary research suggests that, rather than seeking always to maximise our personal gain, humans still remain reasonably altruistic and selfless. Nor is it clear that the endless accumulation of wealth always makes us happier. And when we do make decisions, especially those to do with matters of principle, we seem not to engage in the sort of rational utility-maximizing calculus that orthodox economic models take as a given. The truth is, in much of our daily life we dont fit the model all that well.

For decades, neoliberal evangelists replied to such objections by saying it was incumbent on us all to adapt to the model, which was held to be immutable one recalls Bill Clintons depiction of neoliberal globalisation, for instance, as a force of nature. And yet, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the consequent recession, there has been a turn against globalisation across much of the west. More broadly, there has been a wide repudiation of the experts, most notably in the 2016 US election and Brexit referendum.

It would be tempting for anyone who belongs to the expert class, and to the priesthood of economics, to dismiss such behaviour as a clash between faith and facts, in which the facts are bound to win in the end. In truth, the clash was between two rival faiths in effect, two distinct moral tales. So enamoured had the so-called experts become with their scientific authority that they blinded themselves to the fact that their own narrative of scientific progress was embedded in a moral tale. It happened to be a narrative that had a happy ending for those who told it, for it perpetuated the story of their own relatively comfortable position as the reward of life in a meritocratic society that blessed people for their skills and flexibility. That narrative made no room for the losers of this order, whose resentments were derided as being a reflection of their boorish and retrograde character which is to say, their fundamental vice. The best this moral tale could offer everyone else was incremental adaptation to an order whose caste system had become calcified. For an audience yearning for a happy ending, this was bound to be a tale of woe.

The failure of this grand narrative is not, however, a reason for students of economics to dispense with narratives altogether. Narratives will remain an inescapable part of the human sciences for the simple reason that they are inescapable for humans. Its funny that so few economists get this, because businesses do. As the Nobel laureates George Akerlof and Robert Shiller write in their recent book, Phishing for Phools, marketers use them all the time, weaving stories in the hopes that we will place ourselves in them and be persuaded to buy what they are selling. Akerlof and Shiller contend that the idea that free markets work perfectly, and the idea that big government is the cause of so many of our problems, are part of a story that is actually misleading people into adjusting their behaviour in order to fit the plot. They thus believe storytelling is a new variable for economics, since the mental frames that underlie peoples decisions are shaped by the stories they tell themselves.

Economists arguably do their best work when they take the stories we have given them, and advise us on how we can help them to come true. Such agnosticism demands a humility that was lacking in economic orthodoxy in recent years. Nevertheless, economists dont have to abandon their traditions if they are to overcome the failings of a narrative that has been rejected. Rather they can look within their own history to find a method that avoids the evangelical certainty of orthodoxy.

In his 1971 presidential address to the American Economic Association, Wassily Leontief counselled against the dangers of self-satisfaction. He noted that although economics was starting to ride the crest of intellectual respectability an uneasy feeling about the present state of our discipline has been growing in some of us who have watched its unprecedented development over the last three decades.

Noting that pure theory was making economics more remote from day-to-day reality, he said the problem lay in the palpable inadequacy of the scientific means of using mathematical approaches to address mundane concerns. So much time went into model-construction that the assumptions on which the models were based became an afterthought. But, he warned a warning that the sub-prime booms fascination with mathematical models, and the busts subsequent revelation of their flaws, now reveals to have been prophetic it is precisely the empirical validity of these assumptions on which the usefulness of the entire exercise depends.

Leontief thought that economics departments were increasingly hiring and promoting young economists who wanted to build pure models with little empirical relevance. Even when they did empirical analysis, Leontief said economists seldom took any interest in the meaning or value of their data. He thus called for economists to explore their assumptions and data by conducting social, demographic and anthropological work, and said economics needed to work more closely with other disciplines.

Leontiefs call for humility some 40 years ago stands as a reminder that the same religions that can speak up for human freedom and dignity when in opposition, can become obsessed with their rightness and the need to purge others of their wickedness once they attain power. When the church retains its distance from power, and a modest expectation about what it can achieve, it can stir our minds to envision new possibilities and even new worlds. Once economists apply this kind of sceptical scientific method to a human realm in which ultimate reality may never be fully discernible, they will probably find themselves retreating from dogmatism in their claims.

Paradoxically, therefore, as economics becomes more truly scientific, it will become less of a science. Acknowledging these limitations will free it to serve us once more.

Main image: Maxian/Getty/iStockphoto/Guardian Design

This is an edited extract from Twilight of the Money Gods: Economics as a Religion and How it all Went Wrong by John Rapley, published by Simon & Schuster on 13 July at 20. To order a copy for 17, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/jul/11/how-economics-became-a-religion

Museum risks wrath of Inuit with display from tragic Arctic voyage

Exhibition may solve riddle of Franklins lost expedition

After 165 years under icy seas, the lost secrets of Sir John Franklins doomed British Arctic expedition in search of the North-West Passage are to form the centrepiece of a major London exhibition, Death in the Ice. But who really owns these salvaged artefacts?

This weekend it has emerged that the historic items painstakingly retrieved from the wreck of HMS Erebus, one of Franklins two lost expeditionary vessels, were taken without permission from waters now owned by the Inuit people in Canada.

In 2014 the sunken wreck of the Erebus was found lying in a part of the Arctic Ocean that belongs to Canadas vast northernmost territory, Nunavut. A document made public in Canada in the past fortnight reveals that the premier of Nunavut has since protested directly to Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, about the actions of scientists working with the curators of the exhibition, which opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, south London, on 14 July.

In his formal letter of complaint, released at the request of a Canadian journalist, the premier, Peter Taptuna, argues that the contents of the Erebus are rightfully owned by his region and by the Inuit Heritage Trust. The letter alleges that Parks Canada, a government agency, ignored the fact the ship was submerged in Nunavuts internal waters when it removed the artefacts. This was unfortunate and inconsistent with past practice, it adds.

A spokeswoman for the National Maritime Museum said the new show would give visitors a clear sense of the role played by the Inuit in the original search for Franklin. It features Inuit oral histories relating to European exploration of the North-West Passage and many Inuit artefacts, including objects made using materials specifically from the Franklin expedition and other European sources. The stories of these items provide clues to the fate of Franklins men.

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A diver surveys items from the Erebus. Photograph: Thierry Boyer/Parcs Canada

The London museums senior exhibitions curator, Claire Warrior, has also told the Canadian press that the role of Inuit will be highlighted. The enduring links between Britain and Nunavut will lie at its heart, she said, adding that her museum has no long-term claims on any of the artefacts.

Taptunas letter was sent last autumn, a few weeks after the sensational discovery of Franklins second ship, HMS Terror, in waters nearby. Since 2002, according to Taptuna, Canada has followed Nunavut regulations when searching for the lost ships and has not claimed title in specimens until the discovery of HMS Erebus in 2014. The premier also said his government now expected Canadian officials to consult and elaborate with our officials regarding the enforcement measures that will be employed at HMS Terror site.

For its part, Parks Canada maintains that both wrecks and their contents are still British property. The agency also cites a 1997 international memorandum of understanding between Canada and Britain that specifies that upon discovery the United Kingdom will transfer ownership of recovered artefacts to Canada, with the exception of gold items.

Among the well-preserved and often poignant items recovered from the Erebus are the ships bell, part of its wheel, several belaying pins, china plates, a cannon and a ceramic pot labelled anchovy paste.

The Greenwich show, which is jointly curated with the Canadian Museum of History, is set to solve many of the mysteries surrounding the 1845 expedition, which ended in tragedy and, most sensationally, in suspected cannibalism. A 59-year-old veteran of the seas, Franklin had sailed into the Arctic with 128 men on two Royal Navy ships in an attempt to find the North-West Passage the elusive trade route from Europe to Asia. Yet in 1848 both crews were forced to abandon ship to try to walk to safety when ice blocked their route. No survivors made it home.

Disputed Inuit claims that the desperate British survivors of the ships finally resorted to cannibalism will be examined in one section of the exhibition. A sign will warn visitors who wish to avoid these displays. The report, brought back to Britain in 1854, was controversial at the time, with Charles Dickens leaping to the defence of the explorers, but analysis of bones found on the surrounding terrain has suggested cannibalism is a real possibility.

Map of Franklin’s exhibition

It is handled with sensitivity and respect for the members of the expedition and their descendants, said a spokeswoman for the Greenwich museum. There are also reproductions of bones in the exhibition which show the difference between animal bite marks and evidence of cannibalism. We do also say in the exhibition labels that forensic evidence corroborates the Inuit testimonies of cannibalism.

The director of the Canadian Museum of History has given fresh weight to the Inuit contribution, recently announcing that the government of Nunavut and the Inuit Heritage Trust are collaborating with curators. It was Inuit knowledge that first revealed to European searchers where the expedition had become trapped and where its officers and men had struggled and failed to survive.

Inuit knowledge was to come to the fore again 150 years later when it helped direct modern marine archaeologists to the area around King William Island, close to the wrecks locations.

The exhibition will go to a Canadian museum in Ottawa in March next year. Discussions about building a visitor and research centre in Nunavut are also going ahead.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/01/franklin-arctic-voyage-tragic-inuit-wrath-museum