NOVEMBER 30, 2004. This morning, I found a good example of medical writing for analysis.
Because, over the long-term, medical writing about research tends to be PR, and PR is effective for planting ideas and images in the minds of both the public and the medical professionals.
These ideas then substitute for facts.
So you get people saying, "Well, they just made a breakthrough in depression. See, it's really all about brain chemistry."
You might think, "Well, of course it's about brain chemistry. Everyone knows that."
Yeah, well, everyone knows it because that idea has been pounded into our heads through articles and ads over the last 20 years.
The example I'm using today comes from an MSNBC article about bipolar disease, otherwise labeled manic-depression. Like all other so-called mental disorders, bipolar has never been proven to exist as a distinct disease or disorder entity. No common root chemical or biological cause has been IDed for bipolar.
Which is why researchers keep looking for one---although they would never admit bipolar is so far just a fiction and a hope and a maybe.
The first thing to look at in the MSNBC article is the admission that the chemical brain abnormalities found by researchers MAY BE the pot of gold they are looking for. May be. Suggests. Could be.
Then you ask yourself, what other group could get such an article in the mainstream press? If a group of nutritional doctors from Nevada---instead of the Mayo Clinic cited by MSNBC---said a vitamin B deficiency may be the key contributor to anxiety disorder-----would the pronouncement get printed?
Certain medical centers and government medical spokespeople have a monopoly on may be and suggests and could be and hope so.
That's pretty fantastic, when you think about it. How would you like to be able to get your ideas trumpeted by NBC on the basis that you believe they're true?
Next, the article states that the Mayo Clinic researchers found, not one, but five different brain chemicals in a small group of people previously diagnosed with bipolar disease---five chemicals whose levels differed from those in people not diagnosed with bipolar.
So there are five variables. That's obviously not a breakthrough or anything close to it. It's not even significant. It's another may be.
Next, look for where this study was published. Oh, wait. It was delivered by Mayo Clinic researchers as a report at a medical conference.
Where will it be published, if anywhere? No details on that.
So there was no outside review of the data or the procedures used before this report was made at the conference.
Science is supposed to work by multiple confirmations (or rejections) of the results obtained by the original researchers. Obviously, this has not happened. Science is based on distrust not trust of original findings.
Science is not groveling before an oral report delivered by the Mayo Clinic team.
Finally, we get a pearl about how many Americans suffer from bipolar disease, according to the US government National Institute of Mental Health. A whopping 2.3 million. How was that arrived at? There is no lab test for bipolar, so 2.3 million is an extrapolation from eyeball/interview diagnoses laid on by psychiatrists. About as reliable as inferring the number of auto accidents in America on a given day by sitting above the Indy Speedway and counting dings and bumps.
However, the PR thrust of the MSNBC piece is effective. Subliminally, more people will now assume that researchers have a good handle on the brain-chemical cause of something called bipolar disease.
Underlying this whole mess is the presumption---driven home by countless press releases and articles and TV interviews---that mental disorders are all the result of brain malfunctions.
That's the big PR op.
Well, it sort of fits, doesn't it? Mental disorder. Brain. The brain is a mental organ.
It fits until you see a very jittery child who was diagnosed with ADHD get better after the kid stops eating foods laced with dyes and food coloring s and preservatives .
My goodness. You mean? The cure had nothing to do with giving a drug aimed at reconfiguring a brain neurotransmitter?
Here is the MSNBC piece:
Study shows chemical abnormalities visible in victims' brains
Updated: 9:36 a.m. ET Nov. 30, 2004
CHICAGO - Bipolar disorder, a sometimes misdiagnosed mental illness characterized by wide emotional swings, may be identifiable by chemical abnormalities visible in victims’ brains, researchers said on Tuesday.
Detailed brain scans performed on 42 adults, half of whom had been previously diagnosed as bipolar, showed consistently different levels of five chemicals in areas of the brain that control behavior, movement, vision, reading and sensory information, they said.
The Mayo Clinic study used a high-power magnetic resonance imaging scanner that had twice the magnetic field strength of scanners previously used to examine the brains of bipolar patients.
“Bipolar disorder is challenging to diagnose because individuals can cover up the symptoms of the illness or may recognize only their depression, not the manic phase of the disorder,” Mayo Clinic radiologist John Port said in a report delivered to the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
“The psychiatric community clearly needs a tool to help diagnose bipolar disorder,” he said.
The types of therapy used with bipolar disorder differ from those employed to fight depression, so a correct diagnosis is important, Port said. Most diagnoses are made based on conversations with the patient.
Roughly 2.3 million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.