Many years ago a study was published which found that children who had been verbally, emotionally or physically abused were likely to smoke cigarettes as adults. Forgive me for not providing a citation, but bear with me, because this study might as well be fictional, given where I’m going with this.
“Being mean and cruel to your kids turns them into cigarette smokers!” might have concluded some observers. “These kids were brats and their parents were not abusing them. They were administering tough love. These ‘bad’ kids were bound to smoke anyways.” other might have said.
It appeals to conventional American logic that stressed out kids grow up to carry those stresses into adulthood and seek solace in inhaled nicotine. But are these things really related? Can there be a causality established between those childhood experiences and adulthood nicotine addiction?
One of the things we’re learning in psychiatry and addiction medicine is that people tend to have a “drug of choice”. Prescription or illicit, all psychoactive drugs affect the brain in similar ways. Nicotine stimulates the frontal lobes – much like caffeine, methamphetamine and Ritalin do. Many people with ADD/ ADHD tend to be smokers because they are actually self-medicating. Their drug of choice lets them get through their day in a functional and productive way.
From personal experience, ADD/ADHD kids can be a challenge – to say the least. They do not pay attention, they forget your instruction and they fail to follow through. That can drive a parent batty. In fact, ADD/ADHD people are often conflict-driven. This also stimulates their frontal lobes. Some in the field say that ADD/ADHD kids actually thrive on this conflict and friction and the yelling is their stimulant.
It is entirely possible – at least in a portion of the cases studied for the publication – that the kids had ADD/ADHD and their parents had bad coping and parenting skills. That led to the yelling and the hitting. Along with the smoking it was a consequence of the same dysfunction. And the smoking was not likely caused by the childhood experiences.
While I am not postulating a revised interpretation of this research I do think that the way one asks a question dictates, or at least frames, the answer. That applies to data collection and analysis and interpretation. The latter depends on the original questions posed, what the investigators do and don’t know about the subject and – at times – their agenda (conscious or otherwise).
There is an incredible amount of wine-related research (in biology, medicine and economics) being conducted these days. For a number of reasons these studies are often sensationalized and I don’t think we can entirely absolve some authors of their role in that.
I’m not suggesting vast conspiracies in academia to affect public thinking and the course of history. For the most part, the people conducting research (be it wine-related, or physics or virology) tend to be good, honest, well-intentioned people. Besides just trying to survive by publishing, sometimes they look at the banal in novel ways. Occasionally, that yields breakthroughs. Often it adds to obscure, esoteric trivia that never sees the light of day.
However, there are also unintended interpretations and consequences of many investigations. To me, the surge in wine-related research of recent years is a double edged sword: Medicine can stand to gain much from investigating resveratrol, but those who forget that moderation is key can suffer gastritis, stomach ulcers and cirrhosis. We can learn about our senses and brain respond to wine and secondary cues about it, but the findings of such studies can be turned against the consumer resulting in overpriced bottles with eye-catching labels containing something which no longer resembles wine.
I am not calling for any action to stop or stifle any kind of research topics. But I do urge you to stop and think the next time you read a press release about some new wine-related research. Are the right dots being connected? Could other factors be at play? What implications does this research have for consumers? What consequences will it have for wine producers? Who stands to gain and who stands to lose if these results are interpreted a particular way?
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