ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside June 2006

Up the Lazy Creek

The more things change, the more they're not the same
Steve Mirsky



FRANK VERONSKY
I turned this column in very late. I just couldn't get started writing it. Low energy. You know how it is.

Fortunately, my editor can take no action against me, because my lateness, I was delighted to discover, was in fact brought about by a disease: I clearly suffer from "motivational deficiency disorder." The British Medical Journal, the praises of which were sung in this space in March, reported on this novel malaise in its April 1 issue. "Extreme laziness," the BMJ piece explains, "may have a medical basis, says a group of high-profile Australian scientists, describing a new condition called motivational deficiency disorder (MoDeD)." (MoDeD is most definitely not to be confused with Mos Def, who is clearly not a sufferer of MoDeD.)

The article went on to quote a Dr. Leth Argos as one of the discoverers of the disorder. The allusion to lethargy should have been the tip-off, even if you missed the date, that the article was an April Fools' joke. The MoDeD giveaway was the citing of a drug called Strivor, which was allegedly so successful in treating the disease that "one young man who could not leave his sofa is now working as an investment adviser." Talk about your dangerous side effects.

The prank, however, had a purpose: the piece was designed to bring attention to a conference on so-called disease mongering, the medicalization of ordinary conditions, which thereby opens markets for drugs to treat them as illnesses. The stunt, however, may have inadvertently demonstrated the existence of a true ailment. Because a quick search of the Internet reveals that numerous news outlets picked up the BMJ press release and ran it without a hint of skepticism. That's just motivationally deficient journalism.

In other factual news, hurricane season is here again, accompanied by reminders of the threat of terrorism so constant that the fear of a terrorist attack is probably itself a new malady. (Even though it's still heart disease, cancer or some driver on a bender or a cell phone that's probably going to get you.) But the obvious and dire need to be ready for emergencies notwithstanding, seven candidates for top jobs, including the directorship of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told the New York Times that they had removed themselves from consideration because they weren't sure the Bush administration was really serious about emergency management. (The acting director of FEMA, R. David Paulison, was eventually nominated for that top job.)

I bring this up only because Representative Harold Rogers of Kentucky, chair of the House subcommittee that controls the purse strings of the Department of Homeland Security and thus of FEMA, actually said, "Let the word go forth from this place that we want a permanent director of FEMA, and we want these regional directors and division directors to stop acting and be permanent. Because I want somebody responsible that we can turn to."

Rogers's use of the phrase "let the word go forth from this place" conjured up memories of another statement that began almost the same way. In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy said, "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world." In 45 years, "let the word go forth" has gone from introducing a sweeping summation of who we are and what we stand for to announcing frustration over the inability to find someone to run FEMA. Talk about motivational deficiency.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Dinosaurs

Get Total Access to our Digital Anthology

1,200 Articles

Order Now - Just $39! >

X

Email this Article

X