Considerations on the Breach of The Statement on Open Science and Open Praxis

By David Nickles on Wednesday, 15 August 2018, hits: 26017

 Considerations on the Breach of the Statement on Open Science and Open Praxis with Psilocybin, MDMA, and Similar Substances


Parties Appearing to be in Breach: Rick Doblin, William A. Richards, MAPS

On August 4th, 2018, I authored an open letter with the intention of starting the important public discussion regarding whether folks with an interest in psychedelic research were witnessing a breach of The Statement on Open Science, based on the relationships we had been observing between a number of sanctioned psychedelic researchers and COMPASS Pathways. While the intention to host a discussion was explicitly stated, many signatories (including all parties alleged to be in breach) chose not to participate in this discussion. In the days following that letter, it has become apparent that there is a need for follow up discussion and elaboration with regards to the allegations of breach. As such, the following considerations are an attempt to make space for that discussion.




On the use of legalistic language

It is with profound trepidation that I find myself authoring a document in faux-legalese, as doing so presents a “less open” approach than would be preferred. However, given the ongoing semantic defenses currently in use to obfuscate important questions surrounding issues of sexual assault and misogyny within psychedelic spaces, as well as the failure to acknowledge the initial open letter on the part of any of the parties alleged to be in breach, I am resorting to this language in the hopes that it appropriately encapsulates the severity of the issues we are facing.

We, as a loose collective of assorted and varied communities with differing wants, needs, and experiences of reality (in some cases, quite literally!), are in the process of exploring alternatives to the coercive structures of hierarchical governance and regulatory apparatus. As such, this use of legalese is not to set a precedent for such language, but rather, to set the “legalistic end” of the spectrum, so that we may begin to move further and further away from such forms of coercive relationships and towards a more communal mode of holding each other accountable. Should there be future breaches, it is my sincere hope that future authors deformalize this language to the best of their abilities and according to the apparent realities of the situation at hand.


On the Non-Participation of Signatories in Public Discussions

It has become apparent that a significant percentage of signatories do not feel they can publicly comment on this matter for political reasons and/or due to fears over job security. The reality of our current position within late capitalism, and the understanding that everyone must do what they can (within reason) to secure food, clothes, and shelter means that this is not a surprising revelation. However, the notion that you can sign onto an ideological commitment and not defend it does not hold water.

I would suggest that there should be some discussion around creating an internal, confidential working group between all signatories in order to allow for these important discussions to take place. In the interest of transparency, I would request that if such a working group is formed, they present full summaries of any/all discussions, using whatever methods they feel appropriate to maintain individual anonymity. I do not wish to see anyone sacked for defending their principles and/or signature on The Statement. That said, The Statement is only meaningful if we are invested in defending it. We’re still learning how to make this all work, and I know it’s tough, but we all need to engage with these important matters.


On Spirit

While my open letter explicitly discarded the vast majority of The Statement in the interest of presenting the most airtight case for raising the question of breach (see: On the use of legalistic language), that is not “the spirit” in which The Statement was written. The Statement includes a preamble and four clauses which, taken individually and in-concert, present a clear understanding of “the spirit”: maintaining the material conditions necessary for “open science.” As such, understanding and acting in accordance with “the spirit” is of the utmost importance when signing The Statement.

Signing The Statement is an entirely voluntary act. Semantic wrangling and searching for loopholes are tactics best left to the “straight world” and its coercive institutions. As such, signatories should be expected to read the clauses with as broad and generous an understanding as possible. The Statement should be understood as a lens through which to focus critical understandings, in order to maintain the material conditions necessary for “open science,” rather than a rigid list of rules.


On Breach

The allegation of breach reflects a communal understanding that a signatory has failed to uphold the spirit of The Statement. The concept of “breach” has been commandeered from the legal jargon of the “straight world” in the hopes that it will convey the nature and severity of the allegations to the parties involved, not because of any desire to model legal frameworks (see: On the use of legalistic language).

The allegation of breach should be understood as making no claims with regards to the intent of a given signatory. Rather, it merely indicates the occurrence of a violation of the spirit or a specific clause of The Statement. Were the community to have evidence of an intentional breach of The Statement, I believe that should be considered fraud. At this point in time, no allegations of fraud have been offered, although that is not to say such considerations are without merit.


On Accountability vs Regulatory Bodies

Within psychedelic spaces, you are accountable to members of the associated psychedelic communities (at least). Regulatory bodies are inherently weaker than communities when it comes to questions of accountability, as they are subject to buyout, manipulation, and ossification in ways that dynamic community relations are not. As such, an engaged community is stronger than any regulatory apparatus one could hope for; as evidenced in the “straight world” when communities are threatened by outside actors and take action(s) to defend themselves.

Communal accountability inherently depends on the airing/resolving of grievances, interactions between psychedelic “stakeholders” (individuals within these communities) and the psychedelic institutions through which the signatories act, and the understanding that we are all directly accountable to each other, not to coercive apparatus that lies outside of us. We are the people who are invested in psychedelics and we are all accountable to each other.


On the Intentions of COMPASS

COMPASS is a venture capital (VC) backed for-profit company. As such, it operates according to the logic of capitalism. The potential “noble intentions” of those at the helm are irrelevant. Fortunately, this case appears to be relatively easy, as by all public accounts, George and Katya (the co-founders of COMPASS) sound like truly terrible people. However, future companies that enter this space may be steered by less apparently-reprehensible beings. It is important that we take note of that, right now, and acknowledge these realities so that we are prepared for future attempts to encroach upon these spaces by individuals who are more aware of how/why their presentation matters.


On Vertical Integration

Vertical integration refers to organizational structuring, wherein the supply chain of a company is entirely owned by that company. In the case of therapeutically-intended psychedelic compounds, this should be understood to mean control over everything from synthesis to therapy. Vertically-integrated companies inherently tend towards monopolies. In the “straight world,” regulatory apparatus are claimed to counter such tendencies, but case studies in “regulatory capture” demonstrate that such apparatus are frequently ineffective (see: On Accountability vs Regulatory Bodies).

Vertical integration and monopolization allow for the utilization of value-based pricing. Consider a hypothetical where current treatments for a person with depression may cost an insurer $10,000/yr. If a company can afford to sell psilocybin interventions for a person with depression to insurers for $2000/yr, yet has no competition, due to their vertically-integrated monopoly, they may instead offer to sell such interventions for $8000/yr. The insurer will run the numbers, realize it’s still cheaper to cover the psilocybin therapy rather than traditional therapies, and agree to the pricing. It’s a win-win, right?

Sure, it’s a win-win, but the public has been left out of the equation entirely and suffers for it. While the insurance companies pay less money and the psychedelic monopoly makes more money, we are the people paying insurance premiums. The insurance premiums for therapies that cost $2000/yr will almost unquestionably be lower than those that cost $8000/yr. As such, we would be forced to live with the privatization of benefits and the socialization of costs. This is commonplace in the “straight world” and such costs are viewed as “externalities” to companies making these business arrangements.

Corporations view externalities as irrelevant considerations in these types of economic calculations. And when numerous actors engage in such lack of consideration simultaneously, this generates systemic risk, or the likelihood of triggering severe instability within a society or economy. Poignant and cautionary examples of externalities and systemic risk are visible if one looks at the ongoing ecocide caused by industrial civilization (and Nixon’s creation of the EPA in an attempt to combat rampant pollution caused by industrial actors) or the 2008 global financial crisis (generated through the unethical sale of sketchy financial “products” and the lack of acknowledgement of the overall potential for insolvency such “products” introduced into global markets). 

Vertical integration is clearly not compatible with an open science ethos.


On Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property (IP) has no material basis. Information exists in people's minds and is predicated on humanity’s pre-existing collective understandings. Or, put another way, information can only be generated by a human being within a social context and therefore requires that social context in order to come into existence. Claims that information can be generated “independently” from social contexts are without merit. Understandings that might be claimed as “novel IP” require “standing on the shoulders of giants” and therefore reflect a collective, rather than individual, intellectual effort.

More practically, IP has been deployed by numerous corporations to prevent humanitarian developments and to artificially inflate profit margins, perhaps most notably in the pharmaceutical industry. As that industry is perhaps most-relevant to this discussion, such real-world histories must not be discounted. Additionally, the paternalistic and neocolonialist notions espoused by bioprospectors such as Chris Kilham with regards to the indigenous use of their own traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) indicate the coercive power and potential for cultural damage that IP presents within ethnobotanical and psychedelic contexts.

The only IP compatible with open science is that which is secured as open source IP, held by all, in defense against those who would remove it from the commons.


On Profits Over People

For-profit organizations aim to generate capital through their operations and are concerned with their own interests rather than public or communal interests. In the hopes of moving away from more formalized language, we might say they “put money over everything.”

With that said, venture capitalists and investors require a return on investment (RoI); that’s why they contribute capital in the first place. Getting an RoI requires having an exit strategy for getting investors’ money back out. This, in-turn, means either an initial public offering or IPO (selling shares of the company to the public to raise capital through which to replace the initial investments, and then some) or a Big Pharma Buyout (BPB).

In the scheme of psychedelic drug development, BPBs seem much more likely, but both are problematic. BPBs mean that all IP from the for-profit company will now be in the hands of the company that executed the BPB, including any patents, proprietary techniques, methods, technologies, and other property. Following the buyout, all IP falls under the sole dominion of the buyer and is off-limits to the rest of us (See: On intellectual property). This includes things like junk patents and exclusivity agreements with manufacturers, which have no humanitarian utility or value, but exist for the sole purpose of denying others access. The landscape that such approaches inherently suggest (and eventually reach) is fundamentally antithetical to the nature of the material realities that the spirit of The Statement attempts to secure.

Placing profits over people is clearly not compatible with an open science ethos.


On the Breach of The Statement by Rick Doblin, William A. Richards, and MAPS

1) COMPASS is unable to sign The Statement and therefore represents an inherently “bad actor” with regards to the material landscape of open science.

2) Given the structural nature of COMPASS, the desire of its staff to sign onto The Statement bears no relevance.

3) Given that the above-listed signatories are currently engaged in efforts to assist COMPASS in its activities, which are antithetical to The Statement, there is indisputable evidence that they are in breach of The Statement.

4) Given that the aforementioned parties have now been made aware of the manner of which they are in breach, any subsequent claimed ignorance should be viewed as willful and malicious.

I would suggest that there can be no question that the aforementioned entities are in breach of the Statement on Open Science and Open Praxis with Psilocybin, MDMA, and Similar Substances.


On Suggested Remedies

1) Drop COMPASS and cease and desist from any and all engagement with them.


2) Remove your signatures from The Statement and acknowledge that you are not invested in upholding the spirit of The Statement and the material conditions necessary for maintaining an environment of open science.


Thank you for your consideration.