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October 17, 1977

Reductio ad Absurdum

JAMA. 1977;238(16):1761. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03280170055031

Recently, H. Bruce Collier wrote:

I should like to record my opposition to the use of "reduction" to mean "decrease,..." A professional chemist hesitates when he reads "reduction of ATP." Does this mean addition of electrons or decrease in concentration? And what is one to make of "reduction of reduced glucagon," which appeared recently in a biochemical journal? I have long thought that the opposite of "increase" was "decrease," but now it appears to be "reduction."1

Chemists are not alone in this perplexity. Similar bafflement haunts biologists, psychologists, philosophers, and artists. "Reduction" has meanings and shades of meanings that are not always immediately apparent.

To the psychologist, "reduction" may connote an analysis of motivation, which reduces it to its instinctive elements, as in psychoanalysis. Alternatively, the term may refer to the behavioristic school of psychology, which interprets behavior in terms of operant conditioning.

To the biologist, "reduction" indicates a