Oliver James vs Genetics

Rather a nasty spat on the Today programme this am; the issue being that of a paper on the genetics in Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, published online in the Lancet. The paper had found a slightly increased risk of ADHD with a particular genetic pattern. Having this pattern did not necessarily lead to autism. Children with autism did not necessarily have this particular genetic code. In fact, 57 out of 366 children with ADHD (15%) had the abnormality versus 78 out of 1047 controls (7%) without ADHD.

James, interviewed with one of the researchers, seemed upset that a genetic link was being puported. His position seemed to be that ADHD is caused by enviromental and parent/family factors rather than by genetic factors.

Life, though, is not so simple. This research does not prove that genes cause autism. But neither does it prove that genes are not a risk factor. The truth is likely to be much messier: some genes may raise a risk that enviromental factors make it easier  to trigger a disorder. Genes are likely to be modulated by the enviroment; some genes will be harder to modulate than others.

I believe that a lot of genetic research has been overhyped and overpromoted. I also think that trying to dismiss genes as a risk factor or contributor to disease is to go against the evidence. I do not think it is helpful to families not to acknowledge the complexity and difficulty in finding ’cause and effect’ . I suspect that we are only just starting to unravel our understanding of what we know.

James, incidentally, also does ‘celebrity profiles’ e.g. “And almost a year after Fry’s highly publicized nervous breakdown, how likely is he to crack up again?” I find that kind of language when talking about mental illness rather unhelpful.

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