Are you feeling guilty? You ought to be if you like your gin and tonic. For according to the headlines, “Gin lovers are all massive psychopaths, according to experts”. Mind that word “massive”. Take a good look in the mirror. Right now.
The article has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook.
However, this is a great example of the synergy of publicity-hungry scientists and clickbait journalism. Our story begins in Austria, at the University of Innsbruck. Two researchers in social psychology published an article in the journal Appetite titled “Individual differences in bitter taste preferences are associated with antisocial personality traits”.
It would be unfair to heap all the blame on yellow journalism. The article’s abstract says that two studies indicated that “that bitter taste preferences are positively associated with malevolent personality traits, with the most robust relation to everyday sadism and psychopathy” and demonstrated “a robust relation between increased enjoyment of bitter foods and heightened sadistic proclivities”.
The authors did not mention gin and tonic, but it did not require much imagination on the journalist’s part to find an example of a bitter drink. The popularity of bitter beverages like coffee and beer – overlooked by the Austrian researchers -- suggests that the world is swarming with psychopaths.
So it’s hard to know of which we should be more suspicious: journalists, social psychologists or the publish-or-perish imperative.
In the 19th Century a statue of Tanonius Marcellinus, consul of Campania (now the region around Naples) was unearthed in the town of Benevento. It bore a remarkable inscription, one which may be unique in the history of Western Civilization. It described him as a “most worthy patron, on account of the good deeds which rescued the population from endless boredom”.
Boredom -- taedium in Latin -- will soon be a reason to be euthanised in the Netherlands, as we report below. Of course it won’t be a spur of the moment decision. There will be a bit of boring paperwork to fill out first and some boring interviews to be endured, but in the end you get your needle.
It’s hard to understand why Dutch politicians think that this is a good thing. The worthy consul Tanonius Marcellinus was memorialized for rescuing his people from boredom with good deeds, not with lethal injections. Isn’t that the proper role of governments: to foster a society in which people feel glad to be alive?
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