I think it was irresponsible of the Irish Times to declare that stuttering was genetic. Like all the other papers who mindlessly regurgitated what is essentially a bit of PR. From the article (which is from February last year):
The discovery is not a full explanation — only about 9 per cent of stutterers have the defect. However, he suspects more will emerge.
The Irish Times article describes how the genes discussed were only found in 9% of people studied. That's less than 1 in 10. If you were testing for possible causes of an illness and found a specific chemical in 1 person out of 10, would that be common enough for you to deem that specific chemical the cause of everyone's problem? Including
the 9 people out of 10 who don't have that specific chemical present ?
Yet this is what this article asserts with the ridiculously sensational headline. The scientist may indeed be 'sure more will emerge', but does that mean they actually will? Well it's two years on and we haven't seen any more articles. The truth is, scientists are just as prone to bias, expectation and error as any other human being. He wasn't acting scientifically if he really said he was "sure" he would find something when he had no evidence of it.
Well maybe they will, but I've googled the scientist's name and found this article from February 2010
. The article shows that they used a statistically insignificant number of people for their tests, about 600 people in total - many of whom were from the same family, so any genetic abnormalities may just be familial. Though they found the same genes in some
stutterers who did not have family ties, and they didn't find any of these particular genes in non-stutters, nonetheless, the number of non-stutterers tested is statistically insignificant at 300 people and the low numbers mean the sample is much more prone to bias.
From the article:
“The brain actually looks different in people who stutter compared with those that don’t.”
Looks different how? It doesn't specify in the article or the National Institute of Health website. It's either in terms of genetics or in terms of the activity/composition of the brain. Well if they're talking about the first, that means nothing only that the brain looks different because it has the genes which have already been mentioned were present in 9% of those people. If they're talking about activity/composition, which is not by any means necessarily related to genetics, a person's brain activity and composition will change depending on what they're doing.
If they're a london cabby, a marathon runner, a chess player, a hunter, a singer or a stammerer, their brain may be measurably different to 'normal' people in tests. This is not because they were born that way, but because our brain is like a muscle in that it will adapt no matter what it is we're doing or experiencing in our lives. It's not by any means indicative of anything other than what we've been up to or have had happening to us - and the brain is incredibly plastic, it can
The other thing this article fails to explain is why some people are able to 'grow out' of stuttering from their early years to their latter years. If it's genetic, surely everyone would be stuck with it? So at the very least the suggestion of this article that 'stuttering is in the genes' can't possibly be true for everyone.. At best we can say some
stammering is genetic, though even that is questionable given this particular bit of research.
Other aspects which the article fails to address, is why anticipation, fear and all the other 'psychological' issues under the 'tip of the iceberg' of stuttering can cause or at least add to blocks when stuttering. When these issues are solved, blocks can reduce significantly.
And lastly, what about the thousands of people who stutter who don't
have stutterers in their family?
Newspapers are guilty of regurgitating unverified 'facts' (whether political, scientific or otherwise) for the sake of selling papers and filling space on a deadline. They love half-baked science publications because they are always 'newsworthy', they contain topical factoids. We all love 'facts', even when (as in this case) the facts in question may be spurious. There was a time when 'fact' meant something was indisputably true, but now it just means a bit of information that is asserted without any evidence. Many facts today are patently false. For example the 'fact' that we only use 10% of our brains. Nearly everyone has heard that one, and most people believe it, but it's absolutely false. It is a fact that has been regurgitated and repeated in the newspapers, then 'self-help' books, and so on, till it became part of our 'common sense'. Once it gets there, it becomes unquestionable. For this reason, any scientific study published on a newspaper should be treated with scepticism, and we should avoid taking things as 'fact' just because we read the headline on a newspaper.
You might think I'm being dramatic, but the implication of this article were it to be believed, is that all people who stutter are stuck with what they have right now and that's that. But how do we know that for sure? What about all the people who find benefit from addressing the stuff 'under the iceberg' ? If they believed what they had was genetic so tough luck, would they investigate possible options for improving stuttering? If not, they would miss out on any potential improvement to their ability to communicate. So these kind of articles are damaging, as far as I can see. Many people know improvement is possible. And there are people who have experienced a 'cure', though that seems presently to be elusive for most.