You can lead some folks to knowledge, but you can’t make them think.
Consider these headlines:
“Study finds ‘ADHD genetic link'” – BBC
ADHD is ‘in a child’s genes’ – Daily Mail
“Don’t Blame Hyperactivity on Bad Parenting” – Bloomberg
“ADHD: Blame Genes, Not Parenting” – Newser
“Bad behaviour down to genes, not poor parenting” – New Zealand Herald
“Research dispels ADHD ‘bad behaviour’ myth” – WalesOnline
“Study finds ADHD linked to genes, not poor parenting” – The Money Times
I know headlines are supposed to grab your attention and you can expect them to be a little economical with the truth, but this wasn’t just uneconomical, it was Giveaway Day at the bank. It was as reckless with the truth as an ADHD episode.
Never have the findings of a scientific study been so mindlessly distorted. Oh wait, I forgot about global warming (silly me). The study, headed by Professor Anita Thapar of the MRC Centre in Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University, examined around 300 children diagnosed with ADHD and just over a thousand in a control group. They discovered duplicated or deleted bits of DNA in 15% of the ADHD children, compared with 7% in the control group. Amazingly, Thapar concluded: “Now we can say with confidence that ADHD is a genetic disease and that the brains of children with this condition develop differently to those of other children.” The Lancet press release claimed that the study “is the first to find direct evidence that ADHD is a genetic disorder”.
Clearly, the genetic pattern is not relevant in 85% of cases! It is not even the complete determinant for those children who display the genetic abnormality. Thapar acknowledges that a complex mix of genetic makeup and environmental factors determines the susceptibility to ADHD, even in these children.
So how did all the science journalists fail to report this accurately? What will they conclude next? How long before we get headlines like: “With nine women pregnant, you can get a baby in a month”?