Monday, May 17, 2010

Cause and Effect

Saw a story on NBC this morning in the waiting room at the doctor's office.  It was about a study which "shows a connection" between kids who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables having traces of pesticides in their urine and displaying symptoms of "ADHD".

Now their chief medical correspondent who was being interviewed on the show was very careful to avoid saying it was a cause-effect relationship, but focused on the "connection" and brought up the "concern".  She said, of course, that we should not stop feeding our kids fruits and vegetables.

But her recommendations were the same as one might expect from anti-corporate activists.  Buy locally, buy organic, family farms didn't use pesticides (really???), and the interesting quasi-religious idea that if it's out of season, maybe you shouldn't be eating it.

Nancy Snyderman (the correspondent) didn't do the study.   I looked her up to see if she was connected with one of these fronts for activist groups and found nothing (except that she went to High School with my wife!  But I never take anything for granted from the media anymore.  I know about press releases and journalists.) Seems to me that she's a physician turned physician/journalist.  The study, it appears, came from a Maryse Bouchard (Harvard/University of Quebec) who specializes in the study of environmental epidemiology of neurobehavioral disorders.

Now maybe Maryse is right about the connection.  But I have an academic background and I know a few things about scientific language and statistical studies.  And of course, what is being said here is that there appears to be a relationship and not that there is a cause/effect relationship.  But that's not the way it's being spun by our messianic media.

First note that apparently, we don't know what causes ADHD (disclosure: IMHO, it is caused by "diagnosis").

So I wonder if the study took this variable into account?

What else does it correlate with?  What is the nature of the parenting of a child whose parents are hyper-reactive to the latest health and safety studies on what you should feed your child to provide optimum health?  Are parents who feed their kids a lot of Healthy™ fruits and vegetables (now remember, I'm a big fan of fruits and vegetables myself) more likely to be the kind who fuss over every little thing? Might that "cause" ADHD? In other words, could the residual pesticide in fact be perfectly harmless to humans and the fact that kids who are fed more stuff that has these pesticides on them correlate with they type of parenting they are receiving, and is ADHD in fact a behavioral disorder brought about by sociological forces in homes that tend toward ... for lack of a better term, overparenting"?

Just a question.  But I think a legitimate one.


Cylar said...

Philmon, I agree with you on principle, but I'm rather suspicious of anyone who appears skeptical that ADD/ADHD exists at all. Online, I've run into a number of individuals on the Right (you would make three, in fact) who appear to have this view. Correct me if I'm wrong.

(Our pal Morgan is the 2nd, and Dr Mike Adams, Criminology Professor at UNC-Wilmington, is the first. I could be oversimplifying on all three counts, so again, correct me if I am mistaken.)

Anyway, in case that IS your position, let me assure you that the disorder is quite real. I'm in my mid-thirties now. I received such a diagnosis back in 1982 while in second grade.

This was many years before most people had heard of the disorder, before many drugs had been developed to combat it, and certainly before it became fashionable or convenient to diagnose it as a way of drugging-away normal little-boy Morgan frequently alleges.

I can tell you firsthand that it's nearly impossible for me, even as an adult, to focus on something that doesn't interest me. Medication helps some, but despite my best efforts, my mind keeps drifting off without my even realizing it. By the time I become aware that I'm daydreaming again, I have usually missed something critical. To compound matters, I become hyper-focused on whatever I'm doing that DOES interest me, to the point where I snap at anyone who interrupts me, however valid the interruption. This too is a common symptom of the disorder.

It is especially difficult to argue against the existence of the disorder, in those cases where some drug has been demonstrated to improve attention span and focus.

Once more, correct me if I'm wrong, but don't pretend that all cases of the disorder are phony or have some easily-explainable environmental cause.

philmon said...

Well ... let's just say I'm a skeptic, but I will allow that such an condition exists.

It's just that I, like Morgan, have observed that when you're a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, and this goes for psychologists and hyper-parents alike.

In a world where we've severely eroded the family structure and we're surrounded with tools and toys practically designed to distract, I think what a lot of these kids need is a heavy dose of structure and discipline.