The New York Times Silicon Valley technology reporter Matt Richtel won a Pulitzer Prize for his series “Driving While Distracted.” Good for him. Too bad his continued glaring, and even intentional, omission of ADHD in his subsequent reporting on similar topics has earned him a spot in The ADHD Roller Coaster Hall of Shame. (Yes. I know. He’ll be really upset to learn this.)
For any good reporter who dips the tiniest toe into the research, the evidence is clear about ADHD deficits’ adverse effect on driving safety.
Moreover, I have written to Richtel numerous times over the years explaining the substantial research in this area, as highlighted in my book chapter on the topic: “Driving to Destruction.” (Yes, many people with ADHD drive very well; when it comes to research, though, we’re talking significant trends within a group, not individuals.)
I have also invited him to sit in on our Silicon Valley Adult ADHD Salon in Palo Alto, so he could talk to his fellow Valleyites about their experience with ADHD. No response.
But how could anyone who’s written such a series never mention ADHD, even now as he makes the PBS-radio rounds promoting his new book? I consider that as reckless as distracted driving itself; as a reporter, he has withheld from the public information that could not only reduce traffic accidents but also even save lives.
(Yes, last year I gave his series an ADHD Roller Coaster Salute when posting notice of it here, for bringing attention to the dangers of distracted driving, but I had hoped by now that he’d at least give ADHD a nod.)
Now I am listening to Richtel talk about his new book, on the brain and technology, with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. Waiting. Waiting. Nope. No mention. Read his story in The New York Times today — “Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Dopamine” — and, good grief! He even quotes ADHD Expert Dr. John Ratey but not on ADHD! How can you write a story about digital devices and dopamine and not include a sentence on ADHD?
It’s true, ADHD is not the sole cause of “driving while distracted” or our culture’s increasingly problematic relationship with all things electronic (the subject of his book). It’s not exactly breaking news that the flood of dopamine that comes from overusing electronic gadgets isn’t good for anyone’s brain, ADHD or not. (The thinking is, simply put, this flood downregulates dopamine receptors and sets the pattern for addiction. See this post, in the context of orgasmic sex perhaps intensifying ADHD symptoms.)
But to pretend that all brains are created equally. And, to ignore the fact that some people —the ones with ADHD, most notably—are far more vulnerable to technology’s harmful effects? And in all places here in Silicon Valley, aka ADHD Central?
It reminds me of the time that the poet Robert Lowell, seated beside me at a dinner given by a college chancellor, turned to me and whispered, “There’s a conspicuous lack of alcohol at the chancellor’s home tonight.”
That is, there’s a conspicuous lack of ADHD in these stories.
I’m starting to wonder. Is Richtel’s refusal to ever mention ADHD when it is entirely appropriate because he is relying unduly on the cognitive scientists at Stanford (where the term ADHD is the neurocognitive equivalent of Voldemort, some say because its psychiatric cash cow is bi-polar disorder)? He surely cites Stanford research often enough.
Or, is it because he simply is acting egotistically, as do a startling number of academics, researchers, and book authors competing for grants, papers, and territory? I guess to a hot-shot reporter, looking for a big scoop, ADHD must sound so trite. So simple. So old news. Oh, perhaps even a Big Pharma invention. Yes, that’s the only possible interest The New York Times could have in ADHD, as history has shown us.
Whatever the reason, I find it irresponsible reporting. And dishonest. Therefore, it deserves a place in the ADHD Roller Coaster Hall of Shame. Sorry to welcome you, Matt. I hope you get the message some day and share it with your readers. Don’t you owe them that much?
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