Alison Gopnik (author of one of my favorite books: The Scientist in the Crib) offers an excellent critique of Judith Warner's new book about medicating children. Gopnik's review is really well worth reading because of the clear distinction she makes between journalistic and scientific investigation, and the real questions we miss by not applying the scientific approach. Here's an excerpt:
It's a truth verging on a truism that journalism is about telling stories. But what exactly is it that narratives—good stories—do for us? Stories work because they explain important or unusual or compelling events in terms of our everyday psychology—the causal principles that we all understand by the time we are 4. A good journalist explains why the health care bill failed, for example, by telling us about the beliefs, desires, and emotions of the wavering senators.
But science isn't about applying the causal principles we know about. It's about discovering causal principles we don't know about. Psychological science, in particular, is about using evidence to find new and unexpected causal explanations for our actions and experiences. It's not about using our everyday psychological knowledge to explain what we do. When psychologists do that, we rightly accuse them of just telling us what we already know.
This is especially true when scientists are trying to explain the conditions we vaguely call "clinical" or "dysfunctional" or "pathological." After all, people aren't pathological when they are angry or frustrated or sad because of what they want or believe. They are pathological precisely when we can't explain their miseries in the normal way—when the successful author suddenly kills himself, or when the bright child with loving and concerned parents just can't read no matter how hard she tries. Clinical scientists try to use evidence to discover the less than obvious causal principles (his serotonin level was too low, she can't process language sounds) that can explain these events.
via slate.comRead the rest of the review if you are concerned about excessive use of medication to control children's behavior. The other key point is that science isn't about confirming common sense notions of causality, but about overcoming the limitations of said common sense and finding real causes. That's worth remembering.