Archive for the ‘science reporting’ Category

New idea: Kids with attention deficit disorder are just late bloomers.

This is not being said (at least outright) by some major news outlets like ABC and Time, although the public is jumping on it.

To their (minimal) credit, Time even noted that the study has not been peer reviewed (meaning no one other than the researchers has yet evaluated their work, and it should not yet be being reported as fact), and a number of news outlets are even reporting that the study only found that about half the kids catch up to their peers.

An article in the NY Times even mentioned the fact that the study wasn’t about ADHD. Not the article on the front page, but an article in the opinion section, in which the author reports actually contacting the researcher to verify their findings.

Greg J. Duncan, a professor in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University and the lead author of the school study, was somewhat mystified that his research – which attempted to understand the links between kindergarteners’ math, reading, attention-paying and “socioemotional” skills and their later academic achievement – was being discussed in the same breath with ADHD at all. The study, he said, wasn’t “about clinical levels of attention problems.”

This was true. Duncan’s research didn’t measure the effect of ADHD on future achievement; in fact, it made no mention of ADHD at all.

As a quick note: Often kids with developmental disabilities have delayed maturation of skills/abilities (and often don’t catch up entirely). This is one of the core impairments in kids with autism or Asperger’s. Delay in maturation doesn’t necessarily mean things will turn out fine if you just wait. What it does mean is that children with delays like this are hitting developmental and social milestones unevenly. As a (possibly more extreme) example, someone who doesn’t learn to speak until they’re nine – even if they catch up to normal levels by the time they’re 18 – is not going to have the same set of educational or social experiences that their normally-developing peers do.

I store interesting things up for when I have time to post, but I’m too jaded today to do anything but criticize them.

Finding a single gene causing schizophrenia? May be being misunderstood by the science writer – people have been looking for years and years for a (meaning one single) gene that causes bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc., and it’s much more likely that multiple genes are in play. And the body of the article doesn’t talk about a single gene, just the leader into the article.
ADD is not overdiagnosed. They define “overdiagnosed” as the number of people mistakenly diagnosed with ADD exceeding the number of people who have ADD but no diagnosis. While evidence does suggest it’s underdiagnosed much more often than overdiagnosed, by this definition you could misdiagnose the entire population of several countries with ADD, while failing to diagnose the population of substantially more (let’s say 10) countries with ADD (and failing to diagnose anyone properly at all). I think a lot of people would still be justifiably concerned with overdiagnosis, were that the case. (And I think that’s what a lot of people are thinking of when they mean “overdiagnosis” – how many people don’t have ADD and get diagnosed with it.)

Cardiovascular disease, not suicide, is the #1 killer of the mentally ill. That sounds pretty counterintuitive until you realize that cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer in the U.S. Although I don’t want to minimize the damage caused by cardiovascular disease, the appropriate comparison here is the ratio of mentally ill with cardiovascular disease to the general population with cardiovascular disease, versus the mentally ill/non-mentally ill ratio for suicide.

Losing 25 to 30 years of life (on average) compared to the general population is still pretty scary, though. I’m not jaded about that. I would think it might be better in countries that don’t require you to have a job with benefits to get good medical insurance, rather than the crappy jobs that many people with severe mental illness get, if they’re able to hold one down at all. But I don’t know that.