Pictures: Worth a Thousand Words?

Here’s one of those memes you see all the time on Facebook. It purports to give you some information, in this case about genetically modified foods.

The eight “most common” GMO foods, it says, implying that there are a zillion others.

It doesn’t say that those are pretty close to all the GMO foods currently on the market, with just a few exceptions (papayas, one strain of rice, and one type of potato).

It also pictures sweet corn, which is rarely if ever GMO (I believe there is only one type on the market and it’s not selling well), instead of field corn which is almost all GMO. Sweet corn is more photogenic, I suppose.

And from what I can find out, squashes constitute a very small portion of the American diet in the first place, and genetically modified squash occupies an even smaller niche. Zucchini tend to take over the garden without any help from science.

But the point is that this meme has some truth in it, and it also is misleading. Typical for these types of memes, regardless of the subject matter.

First off, this is interesting because the source is “Rivers of Justice.” This is the group that held a conference at Camille’s church – the one she never mentioned.

And calling post-traumatic stress disorder a “worship disorder” is simply beyond silly.

But Amena McShea’s remark (at the bottom in the commentary) that “We can prove that PTSD is a biological fact” is also a bit of a stretch.

When I saw this, I thought, “Really?”

That’s sort of what I do. I look at GMO memes and say, “Really?” and then I look at this and say “Really?”  I’m a skeptic.

So I blew up the meme so I could read the itty-bitty little letters over on the right above the photos. It says “De Bellis et al, 1999.” That’s the name of scientist who did the study they are citing in the meme.

I looked up the study, finding an article that Dr. De Bellis (name spelled variously as De Bellis, DeBellis, and Debellis – take your pick) wrote summarizing the findings. [Note: the site requires registration in order to read the whole thing.]

Turns out that Dr. De Bellis isn’t quite so adamant as Amena McShea about the results of his studies.  Here are some quotes:

Child abuse experiences may cause delays or deficits in a child’s ability to achieve age-appropriate behavioral, cognitive and emotional regulation.
This is fairly typical.  “May cause” stuff. That sort of qualifying language is expected. But then he goes on to tell us this:
There is little research on the neurobiological effects of trauma and PTSD in developing children.

Okay, that’s not a good sign.  “Little research” means just that.  It means hardly anyone has studied this stuff. The more something is studied, the more likely the results are to be accurate, or if inaccurate, for us to know that.

Then he tells us about two studies. One involved 28 subjects (two different types) who had urine collected and they found that there were “significant” differences between the subjects and the controls in the excretion of substances that indicated PTSD.

The second study involved 44 subjects (plus controls) and this is the one with the brain scans that indicated differences with children with PTSD.

That’s proof, isn’t it?  It’s proof, I tell you.

Isn’t it, Dr. De Bellis?

Although causation cannot be proven because these findings were based on a cross-sectional analysis, the data are intriguing and may have important social policy and treatment implications.

What does he mean by “cross-sectional analysis”?  He means that the studies were snapshots. One-time events. Urine specimens taken for a brief period of time. One MRI.

Dr. De Bellis ends this article like this:

Accordingly, prospective longitudinal studies in developmental traumatology are critical to this development of early interventions to attenuate the psychobiological dysregulation and adverse effects on brain development that are associated with maltreatment.

What’s a “longitudinal study”?  It’s a study done over a very long period of time – months, years.

In short, Dr. De Bellis is saying that these two studies are interesting (they are) and probably point to the need for more, longer, better studies (absolutely yes).

What they do not do is prove anything at all.

From the people who told us when I was a girl that eating margarine was healthier than butter and that smoking cigarettes would make you sexier (not dead) to the guys who tell you that you really, really need to have the timing belt replaced in your car ($650—what in the hell is a timing belt in the first place—turns out a timing belt is really important, but you may or may not need another one) or the dentist who insists that you absolutely “need” to have six cavities filled (40 years ago%mdash;all six teeth are fine and were never filled)—you just can’t believe everything you hear.

This is a pretty decent book on the subject.

Oh, and yeah, PTSD is not a “worship disorder,” but anyone with half a brain already knows that.


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