An Open Letter Regarding The Statement on Open Science and Open Praxis

By David Nickles on Wednesday, 15 August 2018, hits: 816

Originally posted on David Nickles' FB page. FB was chosen for the sole purpose of reaching out to signatories.

Hi All,

Many of you don’t know me, but my hope is that that won’t matter for the purposes of this discussion. Essentially, I’ve tried to tag everyone who signed onto the “Statement on Open Science and Open Praxis with Psilocybin, MDMA, and Similar Substances.” If there are folks who use pseudonyms or who I may have missed, please feel free to tag them so that they might participate in this discussion. The reason I’ve tagged you all is that I have questions regarding the statement.

The statement includes the following text:
“From generations of practitioners and researchers before us, we have received knowledge about these substances, their risks, and ways to use them constructively. In turn, we accept the call to use that knowledge for the common good and to share freely whatever related knowledge we may discover or develop.

Therefore, in this work, we commit to the following principles. If we engage with consultants, contractors, or suppliers, we will do so in ways that uphold these principles.

We will place the common good above private gain, and we will work for the welfare of the individuals and communities served.

Please note that I have chosen to exclude the vast majority of the text as well as the Chacruna press release, which can be found at: http://chacruna.net/cooperation-over-competition-statement…/. While I feel these excluded sections are important in order to understand “the spirit” of the statement, I am concerned by semantic tactics certain sanctioned researchers have recently deployed to sidestep questions of misogyny in psychedelic spaces.

To preemptively avoid attempts at semantic gymnastics, I have stripped out most of the statement, even though the omitted parts provide the full context for its spirit. Consider point 3 on “Open science and open praxis,” which states, “We will not withhold, nor will we require others to withhold, materials or knowledge…” Technically, a signatory might claim that they can assist organizations who are withholding materials or knowledge because the signatory is neither withholding, nor requiring others to withhold, but simply aiding and abetting an organization that is doing so. I do not know if anyone would attempt to make such an argument, I simply wanted to avoid that potential for distraction.

It is my hope that by framing these questions in as narrow a manner as possible and limiting my questions only to that language in the statement which I feel explicitly covers the currently unfolding situation between COMPASS and MAPS, we can have a serious conversation around whether or not we are currently witnessing a breach of commitment on the part of MAPS.

So here is the question I would like to pose to you all, as signatories:

Does signing onto the "Statement of Open Science" and then providing material aid, logistical support, or other important resources/input to organizations who actively refuse to “place the common good above private gain,” and, “work for the welfare of the individuals and communities served” present a breach of commitment?

If not, why not? Doesn’t engaging in such behavior ultimately lead us down the same path as not signing the statement in the first place? If there is a difference, can you articulate what that difference is?

Consider the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which states that signatories may not, “in any way assist, encourage or induce any non-nuclear-weapon state in the manufacture or acquisition of a nuclear weapon.” A major component of the NPT is that you don't get to sign it and then go teach other countries how to manufacture nukes and claim your hands are clean. The point is *non-proliferation*, not leveraging public relations.

Similarly, it seems to me that if an organization signs the Statement of Open Science and then starts collaborating with an organization that refuses to “place the common good above private gain” and “work for the welfare of the individuals and communities served,” they are in breach of the statement. As I understand it, the point of the statement is to secure certain material conditions (namely, an ethos of open science, collaboration, and mutual aid) for the landscape of sanctioned psychedelic research, not to engage in virtue signaling or public relations campaigns.

To be clear, I am asking you, as signatories, if you think that MAPS is acting in contravention of the “Statement on Open Science and Open Praxis with Psilocybin, MDMA, and Similar Substances” by providing support to COMPASS. I have my own opinions, and I know many others in the community have theirs, but I think this is a moment where it would be incredibly beneficial to know what *you all* think, as you are the people who have chosen to sign this document, thereby giving it legitimacy within the context of psychedelic research.

I am raising these questions as someone who has contributed to extensive underground research efforts that would *literally* have been impossible without collaboration, mutual aid, and an atmosphere of open science that was actively invested in removing, rather than erecting, barriers to research.

I've presented this research at MAPS-affiliated events to a number of you and your peers. Many of you have expressed enthusiasm and/or gratitude for the phytochemical analyses and other information that, somehow, only a group of underground degenerates utilizing horizontal organizational structures and open science approaches was able to compile. From this, I assume you have at least some consideration of the underground research landscape. Under a for-profit model, those of us who are already operating on shoe-string budgets, with no hope of grant funding for the work we are doing will suffer many of the same fates you all fear, only at a faster rate and outside of the small spotlight currently shining on sanctioned psychedelic research.

The unfortunate reality is that underground (and other non-institutional, community) voices have never mattered to the institutions as much as yours. So, in the interest of open science and the spirit of psychonautic exploration, I’m requesting some serious engagement with these questions around this statement that you have all signed. Not just because I believe that it is your responsibility as signatories, but because those of us outside of sanctioned psychedelic research positions lack the perceived legitimacy and authority to do so. I understand that doing this publicly may feel difficult, but you’ve already signed the statement, so you’ve already taken a public stand. Transparency is important. I believe your awareness of this is implicitly acknowledged by your signatures.

What do you think? Does MAPS’ decision to collaborate with COMPASS present a breach of commitment? Are you willing to discuss this?

Thank you for taking the time to read this, for your dedication to an open science approach, and for your commitment to working with compounds that many of us feel are of dire importance when considering the current existential threats humanity is facing from itself. I look forward to following this discussion.

Edit: Please see http://csp.org/open for the reference copy of the statement.