Who do you trust? John Belushi got it right. Most academics get it wrong.
Everyone in academia knows just what a symposium is. At least they think they know. Have you read Plato’s Dialogues? One was named Symposium. Yes, the Greeks had a word for it: a drunken party. I could have heard much more intelligent talk at an Animal House toga party than I heard at a medical symposium held at Vanderbilt University.
Back in early 2007, I think it was, I attended an all-day symposium at Vandy on genetics and psychiatry. Thankfully, I could only stay for the morning sessions. A physician from UCLA was scheduled to speak first, so that he could catch a flight back to Los Angeles. (He caused me to be embarrassed to admit that UCLA is one of my many alma maters.)
If the speaker had realized how ridiculous his presentation was, he might have left for the airport without bothering to wait for his introduction. I shouldn’t have given you any warning. I should have just related the story and let your jaw involuntarily drop.
He began with the required posture of humility. He stated that the subject of genetics in psychiatry, or vice versa, lacked credibility. He then proceeded to provide proof, however unintentionally, that the lack of credibility was merited.
The speaker was telling us about the research he and his compatriots had been carrying on in a remote valley in Nicaragua. This area was selected because it was assumed that the genetic pool would be stable, without the intrusion of genes from outside sources. That seemed a fair assumption and useful element of the proposed study.
He droned on. The slides of pictures and graphs were insufficiently exciting to overcome the developing sugar lows from the breakfast pastries. The images were barely adequate in size for the back row. My Baptist upbringing seems to continue to dominate my seating preferences.
The graphs related to his research of the incidence of schizophrenia in family histories. All of a sudden one particular graph struck me as odd. I almost laughed out loud. Why was everyone not filled with mirth? There was absolutely no reaction from the audience, other than my stifled laughter.
I turned to the young lady, a medical student, seated next to me. Whispering, I asked her if she noticed anything odd about the graph on the screen. She didn’t. I asked her to count the number of generations represented. She counted. Her answer exactly matched my count.
Seven. There were seven generations supposedly represented on that slide. Seven?
This valley was chosen for its remoteness. How many doctors had visited this valley six or seven generations back? How many psychiatrists? How many generations of DNA samples had been taken?
Most estimates of the frequency of schizophrenia range from one to one and one-half percent of the population. I did not think to make a count of those designated as being with or without a diagnosis of schizophrenia quickly enough. My guesstimate at the time was that it was close to 20 percent. I have never heard of such a concentration from any other source. Depression, I might be willing to accept such a frequency. Schizophrenia, no way.
If I, in my semi-somnolent state, could so quickly catch this absurdity, was no one else in the room awake? Had the speaker and his colleagues had insufficient months to catch this little problem?
This is what passes for scholarly research in the scientific backwaters of UCLA and Vanderbilt. Actually, after reading more medical studies than is healthy over the past 18 years, I can vouch for the fact that 2-3 percent at most can qualify as scholarly, scientific or research. Harvard or Podunk, it makes no difference.
These “researchers” are commonly MDs, rather than having been trained in research. They arrogate to themselves such appellations. They flatter themselves that they are doing science. Beyond those conceits, most are merely hired lackeys of the drug lords.
What I have just related is not some rare anomaly. It is far more representative than we would prefer to think. Whatever the letters following their names, whatever the presumed prestige of the institutions with which they are affiliated, most are incompetent wannabes.
Just remember, these are the people into whose hands you put your health, well-being and life. Take no aspirin and call me in the morning.