Challenging the Cultural Responsibility of Scientific Research

This past December, I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Jonathan Flint (a current UCLA professor in psychiatry and behavioral science) speak about the correlation between genetics and depression. It was exciting for me because I often wonder if there is a biological reason why some cultural populations show a greater prevalence in a particular condition than others. Dr. Flint shared numerous research results from studies conducted in the UK and US. Some research revealed a discovery of genetic markers that could be linked to depression, while others found evidence that genetics — as well as other indicators — was a catalyst for depression. However’, the most stunning piece of knowledge Dr. Flint imparted was the following:  There is bias in the results of empirical research.

Specifically, there is an overlooked influence that creates an intense pressure for scientists to deliver positive results to their hypothesis: funding. To be transparent, this bias does not mean that the integrity of experiments and research is jeopardized; but this does begin to address one of the concerns regarding why similar researches conducted in completely different nations sometimes produce conflicting results. Essentially, Dr. Flint’s bottom line when discussing the analysis of DNA and its relation to depression is as follows: “The nice thing about genetics is that it is hypothesis free –make no assumption about what genes do — what we’re saying is the general effect; but the bad thing about genetics is that it doesn’t generate any hypothesis…you’re then forced with a lot of work trying to understand what the gene does.”

So, what should the key takeaway be for us in the behavioral health field?  Do your own research. But more, than this, take action by writing an op-ed to the prestigious scientific journals that publish the research producing positive results. Encouraging social responsibility is the goal, so questions that challenge the researcher’s’ choices of sample size and population demographics, as well as who has funded the research will go the distance in helping to improve cultural responsibility on a local and national scale.

Chenece Blackshear, ODE