Scientist lambasted for remarks on fundamentalist religion

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An Oxford University researcher and neuroscientist has denied reports that she implied religious fundamen­talism may one day be treated as a cur­able mental illness, insisting that she has been “misreported.”

Dr Kathleen Taylor, who describes herself as a “freelance science writer affiliated to the Department of Physi­ology, Anatomy and Genetics, Univer­sity of Oxford,” supposedly made the comments speaking during a ques­tion and answer session at the Hay Festival in Wales on Wednesday. Her remarks about religious fundamen­talism were then reported by several major news outlets including the Times and the Huffington Post, where the story attracted tens of thousands of comments and shares on social me­dia sites.

Taylor was reported in the Times as having said at the festival, “One man’s positive can be another man’s nega­tive. One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as peo­ple who can be treated. Someone who has for example become radicalised to a cult ideology – we might stop see­ing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance.

“In many ways it could be a very positive thing because there are, no doubt, beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage.

“I am not just talking about the ob­vious candidates like radical Islam or some of the more extreme cults. I am talking about things like the belief that it is OK to beat your children.”

She was also reported as warning about the ethical concerns of such de­velopments, adding, “But, and here is where I worry about the positive ver­sus the negative, there are also huge libertarian implications for that as well.”

Taylor, speaking to Cherwell, claimed, “I have been misreported (it happens).”

She also clarified her position, say­ing, “I did not claim that religious fundamentalism was a mental illness that neuroscience would someday be able to cure.”

A full rebuttal and explanation is understood to be forthcoming later this week in the form of a public letter sent to the Observer.

This clarification, however, has done little to dampen the media reaction to her comments. Writing for the Guard­ian, Raymond Tallis said, “Studies that locate irreducibly social phenomena – such as ‘love’, the aesthetic sense, ‘wis­dom’ or ‘Muslim fundamentalism’ – in the function or dysfunction of bits of our brains are conceptually mis­conceived…It will not boil down to something a scan could pick up, such as over-activity in the brain’s Qur’an interpretation centre.”

No one from the Times or the Huff­ington Post Uk was available for comment.

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