May 16, 2017
Mental Health News, May 2017
In today’s world, many of us view science as something like an infallible religion. “Science says” or “research proves” are phrases that have an almost biblical-like quality, and are often used in a dogmatic manner to justify a particular worldview or belief system.
Although I am incredibly passionate about science (I am a cognitive neuroscientist after all!), I do understand that it has its limits. As something used and understood by fallible human beings, science is gift from God that we do not fully understand—we are, and will be, in the process of unwrapping this gift.
It is imperative that we approach science with a healthy degree of epistemological humility. We make mistakes, and we should constantly be aware that these mistakes have a real-world impact. Max Planck’s well-known quote that “science dies one funeral at a time” can, unfortunately, be taken literally. Human lives, and the lives of all living things, are often at stake in the game we call science.
One example of this real-world impact is recently published article on ADHD in the Lancet. In their findings, the researchers argued, incorrectly, that individuals diagnosed with ADHD have smaller brains. Robert Whitaker, Harvard professor, journalist and mental health advocate, and his Mad in America Foundation wrote a letter to the Lancet challenging the article’s findings and showing how the data was misinterpreted to portray people labelled with ADHD as somehow biologically deficient in terms of their brains, a finding that can have political and social ramifications for the individuals involved. These people are not numbers on a chart in a laboratory; they are human beings who have to deal with circumstances that are unique to them, and their difficulties should be understood in the context of their complex, multidimensional lives.
To learn more about the way science can be manipulated and misunderstood, watch epidemiologist Ben Goldacre’s TED talks on Bad Science and Bad Pharma, and Peter Gotszche’s talk on the manipulation of data in the field of psychiatry.
These findings should not, however, discourage us, nor should they taint our view of science in general. From penicillin, to the discovery that the brain can change (neuroplasticity), we have much to celebrate in the way of scientific knowledge. Science, after all, is a description of the HOW of God’s beautiful creation, and a way we can worship the magnificent nature of our Creator.