Don’t blame the media this time, Professor

The history of psychiatry is littered with over-hyped claims for biological causes and treatments. Sceptical clinicians and the public often over-react by failing to acknowledge and put into practice more modest, but genuine, biomedical advances.

Now it seems to be happening again with ADD / ADHD. A large study appears to have shown that about one in seven children with ADHD have a genetic variant, while only one in fourteen apparently normal children have it.

But the senior author of the study has been widely quoted as stating “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.” This appears to be Professor Thapar’s real view, because the statement came from the press release (1), rather than an interview with a journalist trying to get a striking soundbite.

“What about the six out of seven who don’t have this genetic variant, and how come you can have the variant but not have ADHD?” has been the response, quite rightly, from journalists and commentators.

Whether poor use of words, or poor use of ordinary logic, either way Professor Thapar’s error must put some doubt over the study itself, although I would be surprised if other research centres fail to confirm the main findings over the next few years.

For me, another missed opportunity was the failure to highlight that these ADHD-linked variants were also strongly linked to learning disability (low IQ). Both children and adults with learning disability have poor access to diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders, including ADD / ADHD, in theUK.



(1) See, although I am not sure if this webpage from Cardiff University is identical to the Lancet press release, which appears to be closed to the public

[22nd May 2018…the press release has been removed]

This post is almost identical to my online comment (number 195) on the Blog of the BBC medical correspondent Fergus Walsh:

[22nd May 2018…all comments removed]

Published at on 1st October 2010; transferred to on 9th October 2011

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About Dr Neil MacFarlane MRCPsych

Independent Psychiatrist providing culturally informed mental health opinion, advice, and a few new facts. Based near London, UK. Main qualifications: BA MBBS MA MRCPsych.

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