Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stop Drugging Your Kids!

Ritalin Gone Wrong

 THREE million children in this country take drugs for problems in focusing. Toward the end of last year, many of their parents were deeply alarmed because there was a shortage of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that they considered absolutely essential to their children’s functioning.

But are these drugs really helping children? Should we really keep expanding the number of prescriptions filled?

In 30 years there has been a twentyfold increase in the consumption of drugs for attention-deficit disorder.

As a psychologist who has been studying the development of troubled children for more than 40 years, I believe we should be asking why we rely so heavily on these drugs.

Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems. The drugs can also have serious side effects, including stunting growth.

Sadly, few physicians and parents seem to be aware of what we have been learning about the lack of effectiveness of these drugs.

What gets publicized are short-term results and studies on brain differences among children. Indeed, there are a number of incontrovertible facts that seem at first glance to support medication. It is because of this partial foundation in reality that the problem with the current approach to treating children has been so difficult to see.

Back in the 1960s I, like most psychologists, believed that children with difficulty concentrating were suffering from a brain problem of genetic or otherwise inborn origin. Just as Type I diabetics need insulin to correct problems with their inborn biochemistry, these children were believed to require attention-deficit drugs to correct theirs. It turns out, however, that there is little to no evidence to support this theory.

In 1973, I reviewed the literature on drug treatment of children for The New England Journal of Medicine. Dozens of well-controlled studies showed that these drugs immediately improved children’s performance on repetitive tasks requiring concentration and diligence. I had conducted one of these studies myself. Teachers and parents also reported improved behavior in almost every short-term study. This spurred an increase in drug treatment and led many to conclude that the “brain deficit” hypothesis had been confirmed.

But questions continued to be raised, especially concerning the drugs’ mechanism of action and the durability of effects. Ritalin and Adderall, a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine, are stimulants. So why do they appear to calm children down? Some experts argued that because the brains of children with attention problems were different, the drugs had a mysterious paradoxical effect on them.

However, there really was no paradox. Versions of these drugs had been given to World War II radar operators to help them stay awake and focus on boring, repetitive tasks. And when we reviewed the literature on attention-deficit drugs again in 1990 we found that all children, whether they had attention problems or not, responded to stimulant drugs the same way. Moreover, while the drugs helped children settle down in class, they actually increased activity in the playground. Stimulants generally have the same effects for all children and adults. They enhance the ability to concentrate, especially on tasks that are not inherently interesting or when one is fatigued or bored, but they don’t improve broader learning abilities.

And just as in the many dieters who have used and abandoned similar drugs to lose weight, the effects of stimulants on children with attention problems fade after prolonged use. Some experts have argued that children with A.D.D. wouldn’t develop such tolerance because their brains were somehow different. But in fact, the loss of appetite and sleeplessness in children first prescribed attention-deficit drugs do fade, and, as we now know, so do the effects on behavior. They apparently develop a tolerance to the drug, and thus its efficacy disappears. Many parents who take their children off the drugs find that behavior worsens, which most likely confirms their belief that the drugs work. But the behavior worsens because the children’s bodies have become adapted to the drug. Adults may have similar reactions if they suddenly cut back on coffee, or stop smoking.

TO date, no study has found any long-term benefit of attention-deficit medication on academic performance, peer relationships or behavior problems, the very things we would most want to improve. Until recently, most studies of these drugs had not been properly randomized, and some of them had other methodological flaws.

But in 2009, findings were published from a well-controlled study that had been going on for more than a decade, and the results were very clear. The study randomly assigned almost 600 children with attention problems to four treatment conditions. Some received medication alone, some cognitive-behavior therapy alone, some medication plus therapy, and some were in a community-care control group that received no systematic treatment. At first this study suggested that medication, or medication plus therapy, produced the best results. However, after three years, these effects had faded, and by eight years there was no evidence that medication produced any academic or behavioral benefits.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It’s not about the system crushing individual expression, but about the power of an individual in the face of forces greater than himself...

One thing is clear — Ai Weiwei’s story could not be possible without the Internet.

Ai Weiwei: Evolution of a Dissident: The filmmaker Alison Klayman presents an exclusive look at Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and his struggle for the freedom of expression.


Published: January 22, 2012

 I have always believed that the story of the dissident artist Ai Weiwei is not about how censorship stifles creativity, but rather how one artist is able to work around such obstacles. It’s not about the system crushing individual expression, but about the power of an individual in the face of forces greater than himself. One thing is clear — Ai Weiwei’s story could not be possible without the Internet. We cannot imagine an Ai Weiwei without the megaphone of blogs and Twitter, without the ability to communicate instantaneously and connect to like-minded netizens around China and the globe.

Ai Weiwei told me recently that he thinks the government’s decision to detain him for 81 days last year and keep him under strict bail conditions ever since is completely related to his effective use of the Internet to communicate his views and exchange ideas with others.

He told me: “If not for my use of the Internet, I would just be an artist trying to put up a canvas in a gallery or a museum, which has almost no influence for the majority of society. It’s only because I acted on the Internet that the pressure comes. It made a lot of people feel scared, because they can never really stop my influence on the netizens.”

That’s why I made my first feature documentary, “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” — to record what happens when someone makes the choice to speak openly and provocatively and face down the consequences, as Ai Weiwei and so many other human rights lawyers, writers, activists and young netizens do every day in China. I hope to inspire new discussions about the role of art, social media, underground documentary and creative forms of resistance in our interconnected world.

Alison Klayman directed and produced the feature documentary, “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” which premieres at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Ms. Klayman lived in China from 2006 to 2010, working as a freelance journalist. She speaks Mandarin and Hebrew and is a graduate of Brown University.

This video was produced by independent filmmakers supported in part by the nonprofit Sundance Institute.


Friday, January 20, 2012

All of this is done in the name of the Torah and Jewish law!

Op-Ed Contributor - THE NEW YORK TIMES

Lechery, Immodesty and the Talmud - By DOV LINZER

Published: January 19, 2012

Last month, an innocent, modestly dressed 8-year-old girl, Naama Margolese, living in Beit Shemesh, described being spat on and vilified by religious extremists — all men — who believed that she did not dress modestly enough while walking past them to the religious school she attends. And more and more, public buses in Israel are enforcing gender segregation imposed by ultra-Orthodox riders in and near their neighborhoods. Woe to the girl or woman who refuses to move to the back of the bus.

This is part of a larger battle being waged in Israel between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of Israeli society over women’s place in society, over their very right to have a visible presence and to participate in the public sphere.

What is behind these deeply disturbing events? We are told that they arise from a religious concern about modesty, that women must be covered and sequestered so that men do not have improper sexual thoughts. It seems, then, that a religious tenet that begins with men’s sexual thoughts ends with men controlling women’s bodies.

This is not a problem unique to Judaism. But the Talmud, the basis for Jewish law, offers a perhaps surprising answer: It places the responsibility for controlling men’s licentious thoughts about women squarely on the men.

Put more plainly, the Talmud says: It’s your problem, sir; not hers.

The ultra-Orthodox men in Israel who are exerting control over women claim that they are honoring women. In effect they are saying: We do not treat women as sex objects as you in Western society do. Our women are about more than their bodies, and that is why their bodies must be fully covered.

In fact, though, their actions objectify and hyper-sexualize women. Think about it: By saying that all women must hide their bodies, they are saying that every woman is an object who can stir a man’s sexual thoughts. Thus, every woman who passes their field of vision is sized up on the basis of how much of her body is covered. She is not seen as a complete person, only as a potential inducement to sin.

Of course, once you judge a female human being only through a man’s sexualized imagination, you can turn even a modest 8-year-old girl into a seductress and a prostitute.

At heart, we are talking about a blame-the-victim mentality. It shifts the responsibility of managing a man’s sexual urges from himself to every woman he may or may not encounter. It is a cousin to the mentality behind the claim, “She was asking for it.”

So the responsibility is now on the women. To protect men from their sexual thoughts, women must remove their femininity from their public presence, ridding themselves of even the smallest evidence of their own sexuality.

All of this is done in the name of the Torah and Jewish law.

But it’s actually a complete perversion. The Talmud, the foundation of Jewish law, acknowledges that men can be sexually aroused by women and is indeed concerned with sexual thoughts and activity outside of marriage. But it does not tell women that men’s sexual urges are their responsibility. Rather, both the Talmud and the later codes of Jewish law make that demand of men.

It is forbidden for a man to gaze sexually at a woman, whether beautiful or ugly, married or unmarried, says the Talmud. Later Talmudic rabbis extended this ban even to “her smallest finger” and “her brightly colored clothing — even if they are drying on the wall.”

To make these the woman’s responsibility is to demand that Jewish women cover their hands, and that they not dry their clothes in public. No one has ever said this. At least not yet.

The Talmud tells the religious man, in effect: If you have a problem, you deal with it. It is the male gaze — the way men look at women — that needs to be desexualized, not women in public. The power to make sure men don’t see women as objects of sexual gratification lies within men’s — and only men’s — control.

Jewish tradition teaches men and women alike that they should be modest in their dress. But modesty is not defined by, or even primarily about, how much of one’s body is covered. It is about comportment and behavior. It is about recognizing that one need not be the center of attention. It is about embodying the prophet Micah’s call for modesty: learning “to walk humbly with your God.”

Eight-year-old Naama could teach her attackers a thing or two about modesty.

Dov Linzer, an Orthodox rabbi, is the dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.