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Does Mass Media Inhibit Critical Thinking Skills?

By November 30, 2003November 7th, 2020law practice, wisdom

On TV the other day there was a story about whether doctors in the United States over diagnose ADD and ADHD in children. The number of kids who are on Ritalin and Adderall has climbed in the past decade or so, and so the question is whether that’s because more kids have ADD these days, or because it’s being more readily prescribed.

The story began by profiling a doctor (I forget his name) who said there definitely is over diagnosis of ADD and ADHD. He was quoted as saying “I’m not saying that there are no valid cases of ADD, but just that some of the kids receiving this diagnosis aren’t truly in need of medication.”

I was paying close attention to how he phrased his statement because I knew what was going to happen next.

Then the story shifted to B-roll footage of a small kid playing peacefully with some blocks. The voiceover was from his mom who described how her son used to be incapable of concentrating, but now that he was taking Ritalin he was fine.

Then the dad came in and confirmed this. Finally, the mom was shown on camera emphasizing that, for her son, medication was the only solution.

The segment then cut over to the network anchor and the chief medical correspondent, who confirmed that some kids truly need medication. There was no attempt to address the issue of whether some kids might be taking medication unncessarily.

If you weren’t paying close attention (and most people don’t when they watch TV), you’d come away with the impression that the question about over diagnosis had been answered, and the answer was that ADD is not over diagnosed.

The mainstream media is not purposefully trying to retard our critical thinking skills, but that’s the outcome. Creating video stories is time-consuming. And they want to “tell both sides of the story.”

Maybe if they had more time they’d find a case of a child that arguably didn’t need ADD medication, but then that would imply the parents weren’t doing their job. Even if they did spotlight a child with marginal ADD, they’d still need to establish that maybe some doctors don’t think that ADD is over diagnosed.

It follows the classic TV story formula: make the story easy to tell, and easy to understand, and don’t sweat small disconnect that inhibits critical reasoning skills.

As Upton Sinclair once said, “it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

So think about this: does the media make more money from letting people argue about things that don’t need as much debate if they could be explained better?

Use your critical thinking skills to decide for yourself.

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  • Lee says:

    Interesting perspective. As an engineer, I tend to see things that are presented by the media in a different light. I try to filter out any editorial content from the stories presented and see if there is anything of value remaining.

  • Bryan says:

    Interesting post Ernie. I don't know that I disagree with you. However, I am currently reading an interesting book that argues that our mass media (I am just through the TV section so far, he has not addressed news) is actually improving our thinking skills. The book is Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson.

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