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Transcript: Hunters, Farmers, ADHD and Pharma Rant, Apr 03 2007

Thom spent a considerable amount of time covering several news stories (see the 'today's show' thread or 'stack' page for details), on the question, 'Is big business taking over psychology to the point that it's harming America?'

Part of that rant concerned ADHD and Thom’s hunter farmer metaphor, and this is the transcript of that part.

Thom's "Hunters, Farmers, ADHD and pharma" rant 3 April 2007

Thom spent a considerable amount of time covering several news stories (see the 'today's show' thread or 'stack' page for details), on the question, 'Is big business taking over psychology to the point that it's harming America?'

Part of that rant concerned ADHD and Thom’s hunter farmer metaphor, and here’s the transcript of that part:

Now, I would be the first to acknowledge that there are some people, and some children for that matter, who are so dysfunctional in this society that they need alternatives. And frankly, I think the best alternatives are things like alternative school environments or home school environments or things like that, but those are not options for many families, and the downside of failure is huge. Kids who can't function in our public schools, and I would argue that our schools, by and large, are not designed in a way that is universally user friendly. It's particularly not friendly for ADD kids. Kids who can't function in those schools, you know, the downside of failure can be a lifetime of disaster. And if medication can prevent them from failing, then I'm not universally opposed to it. Let me just put that right out there. This is not an anti medication screed.

But speaking as the father of a kid who was diagnosed with ADHD, as somebody who, you know, one of my brothers was diagnosed with it and was on Ritalin for years, somebody who probably would have been diagnosed with it if instead I wasn't earlier diagnosed as gifted and so I was put in these fast track programs literally in the second grade. And as a consequence of that, you know, could do pretty much as I wanted as fast as I could. And, you know, this was all because Sputnik went up and Eisenhower freaked out and threw all kinds of money in education, and said, 'Let's identify the next generation of scientists'. And I think, frankly, that saved my life. But then, you know, within 15 years or so, we were off to the Vietnam war and all that funding for gifted kids' special education went away. We're investing less than one tenth of 1% of federal education dollars on gifted kids. Which is not to say that we shouldn't be investing money in kids who are struggling, in learning disabled kids, but it's like, you know, 'where are our priorities? And, instead, we've got a lot of kids who are really smart sitting in class bored silly and acting out because they're bored and they're being given pharmaceuticals. And I have, you know, some substantial concerns about that.

I think that there's a fundamental difference in the wiring of some of us. Back in the late 80s, early 90s, when one of our kids was diagnosed with ADHD and told that he would never basically amount to anything, and should learn how to be an auto mechanic and that his dream of being a marine biologist, he should just throw away, cause 'ADHD kids don't do well in college' is what the psychologist told him in front of Louise and I; in front of his parents. This one of our children who's finishing his master's degree right now, by the way in ecology, a field related to marine biology.

But back when that happened, I sat down and thought, you know, what could this could this be? You know, these three cardinal characteristics of impulsivity, easy distractibility, and a need to have high levels of arousal, or stimulation? How could this be useful? And one night I was laying in bed reading Scientific American to try and get myself to sleep, because I'm a really light sleeper and if I read something really boring at night it puts me to sleep and Scientific American maybe one time out of, you know, 9 times out of 10 the articles are really nice boring articles.

And I was reading this article about the genetics of wheat and rice, and they talked about how the agricultural revolution changed everything, then thousand years ago. We went from being hunter gatherers to farmers. And I thought, 'gee, if I was a hunter gatherer, I'd need to be districtable. I'd need to be noticing everything around me in the forest because that flash of light over there might be my lunch; it might be the rabbit that's going to be my lunch. Or, it might be the bear that wants to make me its lunch'. So, that scanning behavior in the classroom becomes an asset in the hunting gathering society. That impulsivity, quick decision making - if you're chasing a rabbit through the forest and a deer runs by, you can't sit down and do a risk-benefit analysis; you've got to make an instant decision. That impulsivity would be an asset in the hunting gathering world.

And that need for high stimulation; the person who wakes up in the morning and says, 'you know, what sounds like fun, going out there with these things that want to eat me as much as I want to eat them, and finding lunch'. That person would be ideally adapted.

Somebody who had the opposite characteristics would be a failure in a hunting gathering society, but they would succeed in a farming society, where they're picking bugs off plants all day long: very, very focused, you know, not willing to take risks, and not easily distracted. And so I came up with this theory of hunters and farmers and wrote a book about it: ADD: A Different Perception, and Time magazine did a story on it, and that led to 6 more books.

But anyhow, bottom line here, is big business taking over psychology to the point that it's harming America?

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