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Earlier this year, a friend linked me to an article on “Binaural Beats.” Having never heard of them before, I read the article with curiosity. In the article, it said that there was this specific type of music called “Binaural Beats” that have been shown to connect with brain waves in a specific way that leads to greater relaxation.
I then did a brief overview of the scholar sources on Google Scholar and found that this claim was supported.
The article went on to say that this type of music is being sold because it has a drug effect, teenagers are using it for the drug effect, and that the drug effect is addictive. The article had a clearly threatening tone to it, and in fact, described the “risk” of binaural beats as “sinister.”
None of that was supported in any of the research I found.
Now the same friend has sent me an article from the Huffington Post, describing a recent study that found that 20% of college students have Personality Disorders. I can’t do significant background research on this article though, as it doesn’t cite the original study at all. I am, however, highly skeptical of those numbers given that the general population prevalence tops out at about 3% of any specific Personality Disorder and tops out around the reported 20% in inpatient psychiatric units (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
If this it is true that 20% of the college population has a Personality Disorder, then there may be a problem with sloppy and over-zealous diagnosis and/or the conceptualization of Personality disorders. However, I have not arrived at that conclusion.
I more buy into the idea that Huffington Post is not a scholarly source. As a news source, a source motivated to sell advertising space, it should be read as a source to sell advertising space. It’s entertaining, it might compel further research, but it has an angle.
Everyone has an angle, everyone has a product to sell, and everyone has an agenda. Being a conscientious consumer of research means knowing this and responding accordingly. One of the first things I recall learning in middle school research was not to consider any webpage with the suffix “.com” a legitimate source, or if you do read it, be aware that it is a commercial site designed to make money.
However, it is increasingly clear to me that not everyone has the same sort of awareness when it comes to pursuing knowledge, specifically on the Internet. We know that news programs love scandal. What’s more scandalous than saying that all of your kids are using drugs while you think they’re listening to music, or your bright and shiny college student likely has a chronic and inflexible mental illness that leads to clinically significant distress and/or impairment? I understand that America is capitalistic and everyone has the right to make a buck, but at the cost of inducing unneeded and frankly, damaging, drama?
My question, dear readers, is where does the responsibility lie for responsibly communicating research, especially in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Unlike medicine, mental illness is socially constructed and defined, so in inducing scandal, do commercial agencies compel reconstructions of mental illness? Which is worse, withholding information so it is effectively communicated by people who understand the whole context of it and the information is less likely be misused/abused? Or using an open-source, Creative Commons approach that allows for both the evolution of the product/information and misuse/abuse and flawed conclusions?
I don’t know where I lie on this stuff, but I do know that the misuse of research really bothers me. At the end of the day, I know that people concerned about mental and medical health issues conducting searches on the Internet are often vulnerable. However, I also am highly wary of any inkling of the “Ministry of Truth.”
Everyone has an agenda. When capitalism, human vulnerabilities and research intersect, whose agenda wins?
American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (text revision). Washington, DC: Author.