Comments on comments

Will have to admit that this blog has been taking the comment week thing a little too far. Comments are the topic du jour here. And we’ve been evilly giving into temptation amusing ourselves by playing about a bit with the views of some people who post on Pharyngula

We usually get sane and supportive feedback here, with some reasonable dissent and the odd headcase. In fact, a dull longwinded diatribe here often gets a comment that covers the same thing in a witty couple of lines.

Comments on blogs can be much more interesting than the posts. Literally thousands of times I’ve read a brilliant post somewhere and never thought to comment. (Ditto, replacing brilliant with crap)

I often can’t even comment when I try. On some sites, you need to register before you can comment or they have those irritating Blogger comments things that insist on a user ID and password. Plus a bleeding Captcha.

The Context
Somehow, my name became mud to some fellow commenters on Pharyngula. The original post was some innocuous thing on ADHD therapy. Something about the whole topic seems to send rationality out of the window. I am not going to repeat it all here. It’s an insanely tedious thread with upwards of 60-odd comments at this moment.

No one seemed to understand what anyone else was actually saying. Very few seemed to have taken even introductory lessons in English comprehension. People were ganging up to savage one commenter -“caledonian” – paying less than no attention to what s/he actually said and charging down so many logical back alleys that I had to doublecheck the URL to establish that I wasn”t in some southern baptist college’s logic class.

This “caledonian” has some reasonable doubts about the efficacy and scientific bias of psychiatry and the logic of its disease model. Surely a respectable point of view that you could agree or disagree with. I didn’t realise that there was a war and that anything that smells of Thomas Szasz’s work was now considered exactly equivalent to scientology, because scientologists allegedly admire Szasz.

Caledonian explained his/her views quite clearly, in the course of two whole long strings of comments in separate blogs. Barely one of the people growling against him/her could follow a coherent argument. (This may explain why the ancient greeks regarded the study of rhetoric and logic to be a necessary part of education.) Caledonian’s forthright equation of scientology with the extremes of nonsense just confused people, who had already assumed he must be a scientologist.

I thought my first post was just a mild suggestion that the posts that equated an adult drinking coffee with giving a child ritalin were mistaken. People with kids diagnosed with ADD or ADHD or whatever, were deeply offended by my initial casual comment, taking it as a personal attack, attributing opinions to me that I hadn’t expressed and don’t hold.

The response

Person x took this as me attacking them personally for getting their kid treated. (Duh?) This got a furious response. (scientologist, wacko, plus a wierd and barely comprehensible reference to this being like racism, because I had implied that it might be OK in some really serious cases.)

I replied with a mildly sarcastic comment, part of which suggested that one person’s experience didn’t constitute all data. (… sarcastic, because that’s who I am. Maybe there is a pharmaceutical cure for sarcasm but I haven’t found it, to my cost…) I was feeling bad at just increasing their guilt by saying what they didn’t want to hear. All the same, if something is true, it’s true. If not, they could explain where I was mistaken. Socratic dialogue, and all that. Otherwise, “if they don’t in some way agree with me about the truth, why so defensive?” an evil demon whispered in my ear…..

There’s a fair bit more than these bits that I can’t resist posting here.

Heather, you and your ilk are the ones claiming that kids are being wildly overmedicated. I thought I was asking that you prove that your postive claim is true. To date all in this thread there are 1 anecdotal case (w/ claim of 2 kids) for and numerous cases against. Now, I do know that anecdote is not the singular of data, but I’m not the one wildly running around saying ‘the meds are coming, the meds are coming’. We parents and/or sufferers get pretty damn tired of those of you out there that aren’t really all that familiar with the situation stigmatizing us unfairly.

And how do we know that you aren’t just a scientologist wacko in your concern troll attitude about “Oh, the poor little kids don’t have a choice”? That implies that we parents aren’t concerned about our kids and won’t attempt to do the best for them and you get to move forward your anti-anti-psychotic agenda. Oh? You don’t like the stigma of being labelled a wacko scientologist? Now imagine that being the default assumption about everyone who spoke up against any (neuro)medication of kids. That is the equivalent stigmatization that we get — put yourself in our shoes and imagine that assumption we medicate simply because our child acts out a bit when in fact it is a last resort for a serious condition. We lived with the hyperness for years. But in a modern society you must succeed in school to make any gain in life — it’s just a fact. He’s a bright kid (tested into the gifted-talented program at the same time that he was put into special ed for learning disabilities) but if he can’t sit still and concentrate he’ll never be able to make use of those abilities. Sorry, but your type creates a hostile environment for us. Yes, there probably are those that do medicate unnecessarily but why should that be the default assumption?

Heather, you’ve had numerous example of people here pointing out that “doping [them] to fit their environment” was a good thing. Now, sure there are borderline cases and cases that aren’t cut-and-dried, but can’t we just assume that in general those making the decision (individual, parents, doctors) are doing so in the best interest of the individual? You keep implying that the assumption should be the other way — and I don’t get the hostility. As other have pointed out we don’t skip taking pain medication or getting glasses for those conditions. And work on the reading comprehension. I didn’t claim the arguments were racist themselves … but analogous to the common “I’m not a racist, but…” phrasing that often precedes a racist statement, i.e., “I’m not against medication in absolutely all cases, but…” and then proceeds to claim that it is wrong in general with no indication that there really are any justifiable cases.

I reread my post, No it definitely didnt say anything like what they thought I was saying. I must have expressed myself really badly. Hostile? Well, yes I was ever so mildly hostile in the sarcastic bit. I had to reread my post half a dozen times my head to clear away the idea that I was presenting myself as an anti-drug, even anti-medicine lunatic, faking compassion for kids to peddle my evil views. My concern troll views? Well, shit. I admit, I think people can be pretty crazy in how they treat their kids – I don’t exempt myself. I think it’s aresponsibility of a parent to actually take the kid’s views into account though.

Note, I don’t say – These posters include people who think it’s reasonable to put so much pressure on their kids or to have experienced so much pressure in their own childhood – that they cite inattention, daydreaming and failure to recite the alphabet consistently at 5 as signs of neurological disorder. Because, this will clearly get the whole site fuming….
(And make them think that I don’t believe that some kids do have genuine neuroloigical disorders.)

But, it’s not that I’m not thinking “A.S Neill, woulds’t thou were living at this hour” or correctly quoted words to that effect. This whole supernanny, adults are always right thing makes em furious. I remember when I was kid I was often right. As an adult I am very often wrong. Some people have kids who really shouldn’t be allowed within ten kilometers of unformed human beings. I am thinking not just of the Phelps or the Falwells here. But, just for the sake of argument, would you trust the Phelps and the Falwells to always make wise decisions about the best interests of their offspring?

TW got in on the act when I drew his attention to it. He made some obvious reference to a made up number of people who were medicating their kids unnecessarily. He even stated quite clearly, that he’s made up the numbers, because this was what everyone else thought was an acceptable argument.

He made some contribution to the debate to the effect that two working parents, endless social pressure for parents and kids to succeed, etc, were maybe connected to the huge increase in diagnoses.

Red rag to bull time….

The comment posters completely ignored the bit with him saying that these figures were made up. His serious argument about factors that might make it harder for kids and parents to cope was interpreted as him having blamed “working mothers” for ADHD.

Fed up with taunting them, he finally posted a measured and polite reply. This will probably get taken by somebody as him saying “Scientology is great. If only those pesky females weren’t going out to work but were at home praying with their kids, there would be no mental problems” and the thread will become an endless waste of 0s and 1s.

(Actually since reading this, I’ve Googled about Ritalin and found lots of sites where people campaign about not medicating kids, partly putting the sort of arguments I did. I guess they assumed that I belong to one of those organisations, so the talk of “my ilk” and so on makes some sort of sense now, I guess…)

Yes, it’s bad to taunt people for a cheap laugh. Still….

Little terrors

A 16 June New Scientist piece about children and ADHD talks perfect sense, well, that’s in my opinion – but bear in mind I am never wrong.

The opinion piece is by Dorothy Rowe, entitled Children are not mad or bad, they are just scared .

She makes the point that scared children can easily be diagnosed as having mental illnesseses, because adults don’t see that the kids are just exhibiting fear.

ADHD is not a diagnosis most mature adults face. Children, on the other hand, are being diagnosed with it in their millions. In the US nearly 4 million people, mostly children and young adults, are being prescribed amphetaminelike drugs for ADHD (New Scientist, 1 April 2006, p 8). The number of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder has also risen astronomically, according to child psychiatrist Gabrielle Carlson and colleague Joseph Blader at Stony Brook University, New York. They say that while in 1996 just 13 out of every 100,000 children in the US were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, by 2004 the figure had leapt more than fivefold to 73 in 100,000. They also showed that of children diagnosed with a psychiatric condition in 1996, 1 in 10 were bipolar, compared with 4 out of 10 in 2004 (New Scientist, 19 May, p 6).

These are pretty monstrous figures. Children bi-polar, for Freya’s sake? Doesn’t that mean excited at times and miserable at times. As kids are?

I really like this article because the author actually has the face to say a truth that is becoming increasingly rare to hear.

In saying this I have broken a powerful rule: namely, that parents and those in loco parentis must not be criticised. If a child behaves badly, the child is at fault. If she or he can’t be regarded as naughty and be punished, she or he must be mad, and the madness treated with drugs, the effects of which on thedeveloping brain are still largely unknown. ….
Diagnosing children with ADHD or bipolar disorder requires collusion. Parents and doctors must agree the fault is in the child. So parents fail to mention their own economic, social or personal problems, or underplay them, while doctors don’t ask because they lack the skills and resources to help the parents. Thus parents can go on believing they are good parents faced with an inherently flawed child, and doctors that they are good doctors. The child continues to be afraid.

Parents are so scared of being seen as “bad parents” that they become incapable of admitting any failures at all. It takes courage to examine one’s own actions and identify where we might be making mistakes. It is much easier to assume the child is somehow “wrong”. And being “sick” seems so much more modern and tolerant than seeing an angry kid as intrinsically wicked (the Victorian view) – although it has the same effect of invalidating the kid’s experience.

In the mid-twentieth century, it became customary to blame parents for every psychological ill experieneced by their offspring. The (bi-polar style :-D) pendulum has now swung the other way and we seem intent, as a society, on denying all the needs of children and forcing them to fit uncomplaining into the adult-dominated world, as soon as they take their first breath.

It is good to hear someone actually saying that adults are indeed scary to kids. The adult world is scary. The way we ALL behave to our kids is going to frighten them sometimes.

However, some people are truly terrifying. If their kids are confused as a result of realising that, maybe we could start paying a bit of attention.