Sunday, January 26, 2003

# Posted 10:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COULD YOU REPEAT THAT? Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a neurological condition, not a liberal conspiracy. In a classic case of ideology overwhelming science, almost every major coservative voice in the media -- The National Review, The Weekly Standard, Rush Limbaugh, Thomas Sowell, Policy Review, Phyllis Schlafly, Jonah Goldberg, Frank Fukuyama, and more -- have declared that ADD and its cure, Ritalin, are what has resulted from the liberal desire to medicate childhood and emasculate American boys.

What makes the TNR expose of this trend so intriguing is that it is written by a conservative and cites sources -- most of them medical experts -- who are also conservative. And then it ends by making a conservative case for the seriousness of ADD and the value of Ritalin. As the author explains, ADD medication
"reflects and reinforces conservative values. For one thing, [these medications] increase personal responsibility by removing an excuse that children (and their parents) can fall back on to explain misbehavior and poor performance...Moreover, unlike liberals, who tend to downplay differences between the sexes, conservatives are inclined to believe that there are substantial physiological differences-- differences such as boys' greater tendency to suffer ADHD."
There are a number of lessons to be taken from the Ritalin debate. First is the way in which the partisan media can become an echo chamber reinforcing prejudices on each side of the liberal-conservative divide. (Regular visitors will know that this is not a disingenuous attack on the conservative media, since I am a constant and vocal critic of liberal media bias.)

Second, pundits need to take special care in addressing the relationship between science and public policy, since it is all too easy to let simple applications of ideology substitute for the hard work of scientific research.

Third -- and most important from my personal perspective -- is recognition of the fact that no individual knows enough about enough issues to avoid becoming reliant on ideology as a guide. We all have our own prejudices, and errors are inevitable. As such, the best test of objectivity may be whether one is honest enough to admit one's mistakes and try to do better next time.

This point has personal significance for (aspiring?) centrists such as myself, since we have no ideology to guide us. Uncomfortable with the confident statements of pundits on both left and right, centrists are often most liable to become cynics. But that I am not. I believe that a better effort can be made, and that the media has a long way to go before it can claim that human imperfection is the only thing standing in the way of fairer reporting.
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