Life is simple. We make it difficult.
We take simple circumstances and attach meaning to them. We look to define things instead of letting them simply be. One of the ways that we attach meaning, believing that this meaning is credible, is by quoting “science”. Trouble is, science is not perfect, not foolproof, and definitely not absolute. Relying on “science” can be incredibly misleading and have a devastating impact especially when we incorrectly believe that all results that scientific processes produce are credible. They’re not.
It is foolish to put absolute trust in a system where absolute proof is known to be nearly impossible. Even when their findings gain acceptance from their peers, scientists know that their results are considered valid only until such time as they are disproven in a future study or experiment. Every published experiment carries a footnote explaining its “statistical significance”; a disclaimer, so to speak, acknowledging that the results obtained are valid only for the sample studied. (If only the media would ensure this was understood instead of reporting each finding as factual.)
As if science wasn’t imperfect enough already, add to the equation the human element, with its ego and ulterior motives, and the cloudy water gets even more muddied. In fairness, there are many, many scientists out there doing incredible work and I salute them and their dedication. With or without breakthrough results, I believe that the vast majority of scientists are largely selfless and pursuing their work for most, if not all, of the right reasons. However, as the famous quote explains, one bad apple spoils the bunch. Unfortunately, one is a severe understatement.
When I was in elementary school, I obsessed over hockey boxscores. Every morning after a hockey game, I would take a piece of loose-leaf, lined paper, a black Pilot Fineliner pen and a copy of the sports section. I recopied the boxscore over and over until I got it absolutely right. One spelling mistake or poorly written letter and that piece of paper found itself crumpled on the floor beneath wherever I was sitting. I would take a new paper and start from the beginning. There’s no question that my behaviour was obsessive and likely related to a perception that errors and failing were unacceptable. Was this behaviour indicative of a disorder or simply of an idiosyncratic 9-year-old boy?
I focused completely on this activity but rarely succeeded in giving the same attention to most of my teachers. Back then, no one thought twice about it. Today, many kids (and even adults) who exhibit the same behaviours are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Based on what? The majority of the “symptoms” tend to have a completely rational explanation. When does simple disinterest or lack of a challenge in class turn into a disorder that “requires” medication to treat it?
Comedian Carlos Mencia has a reputation for calling things as he sees them and never beats around the bush. While ranting about the lowering of educational standards in schools, he remarks:
“And then people started coming up with diseases… “my son can’t pay attention because he has attention deficit disorder” – which is a bullshit disease that they made up in the 1980’s for your f**ked up kids that are eeeehh (groan-like unintelligent sound referring to a stupid person) and you don’t want to admit it.”
He sums up his views with a pointed conclusion:
“A.D.D. my ass, that’s a bullshit disease! If it didn’t exist when I was a kid then (expletive) it’s not real!”
I think he’s right on.
ADD or ADHD, they’re just fancy scientific-sounding terms to say that the person doesn’t pay attention. Instead of seeing this as a made-up condition, people are buying into it for self-serving reasons. Parents want a diagnosis that explains their child’s behaviour, excuses the kid’s problems and shortcomings and ignores any possibility that the parents’ child-rearing decisions had anything to do with it. People want a diagnosis that makes everyone “feel” good (read: tell them that it’s not their fault) but truth isn’t invited to the party.
It’s nothing more than a crutch. This diagnosis, for too many, is akin to patronizing them and treating them like incapable babies. Essentially, the patient and, in the case of a child, their parents hear “you have a legitimate medical problem and there’s nothing you can do about it.” From that point on, any issue with attention is met with the excuse “I have ADD”. (read: it’s not my fault, I can’t do better, or don’t expect much of me.)
We might even be teaching our children to be unfocused. These days, many North American children grow up with more toys than they have time to play with. We’re teaching them to not spend more than a few minutes at a time (if that long) on one task/activity before moving on to the next one.
Doctors dole out Ritalin like candy and society is left to deal with kids who are medicated to the point of artificial attention. Patients rely on the meds and “deal with it” rather than doing something about it. Worse, if patients see “positive” results with the medication, they will actually begin to believe that medication is the only viable solution, causing them to be addicted to the drug. Consider please that treating the symptoms while ignoring the root cause of the problem is never an effective long-term solution.
Perhaps, using the basis of neuroplasticity (as previously described), a more appropriate, more effective treatment would be to work with patients, invite them to take responsibility for their levels of attention and train them, using exercises and practice, to “heal” themselves over time.
This approach would actually respect people’s abilities and empower them to deal with issues that hold them back in their lives. However, the preferred approach to attention issues continues to focus on medication. The reason might lie (pun intended) in the ulterior motives I mentioned earlier. To respect people, to empower them, to teach them, would all lead to less profit for pharmaceutical companies who count on drug sales to boost their bottom lines, even if the drugs are treating phony “disorders” that we are naturally equipped to deal with. Unfortunately, it will likely take a protest on a global scale to effect these kinds of changes. Overeager and simple-minded doctors all over the world have discovered that an ADD/ADHD diagnosis is a quick and painless way to make their patient feel better (by absolving them of all responsibility) and then moving on to the next billable patient.
ADD and ADHD aren’t the only examples of made-up disorders. “Antisocial personality disorder” is the scientific term that could be more honestly expressed as “he/she is awkward around other people”, but we’re too polite for that. We convince ourselves that seeing people as “sick” and pitying them is more honourable than risking ill feelings, challenging their beliefs and teaching them to help themselves.
We cannot give scientists free rein to make stuff up, because the most vulnerable among us will unquestioningly consume it as fact. In 1998, a British study linked the vaccine for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) to childhood autism. As a result, millions of parents in Britain, Canada, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand decided against vaccinating their child, leading to millions of unprotected children. The British Medical Journal recently disclosed new details into this how this “study” was fraudulent and, not surprisingly, once again ulterior motives are at the forefront. The journal notes that, beyond the laughably small number of subjects (8) that the findings were based on, the whole study had been skewed in advance, as the patients in the study had been recruited via campaigners already opposed to the MMR vaccine.
I believe that the more we repeat a lie, the more likely we are to eventually believe it to be the truth. This week, AFTER it was revealed that this 1998 British study was branded “a crafted attempt to deceive” and “an elaborate fraud” among the gravest of charges in medical research, polls conducted in various North American cities suggest that news that the study was completely unscientific and that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism will encourage very few parents who previously opposed the vaccine to change their minds.
It appears that the damage is already done. The lie got to the people and they ate it up. Those with ulterior motives are the epitome of selfishness. They don’t think twice about the consequences of their actions and could care less about who they hurt on the road to getting what they want.
When will we learn? When we’re fed information, feel free to take a bite. But, before you swallow, make sure to chew it well and, if it tastes funny, spit it out!