No “Aha” Moments Here…

No “Aha” Moments Here…

Last week, the following research headline ran in EurekAlert!, a science news outlet produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS):

“Parents of children with complex medical conditions more likely to have mental health issues”

You don’t say.

Unfortunately, obvious research headers like this one are not uncommon. They seem to be increasingly normative. Now, my goal in considering this research is not to invoke snickering or eye rolling (though that was my automatic reaction, initially). My goal is to invoke inquiry and curiosity about why the ‘research machine’ appears to be generating these sorts of outputs at accelerating rates.

Without getting into the methodological weeds of this study, what follows is intended as a superficial reflection about the function of this work.

Let us put ourselves in the minds of the researchers and the funders, and make some educated guesses about the hypotheses and rationales underlying their decisions & practices.

To begin, what do you think our underlying research question was in this case?

Maybe it was something to the tune of, “What is the relationship between complex medical conditions in children and the mental health of their families/parents?”

That’s like asking the question, “What is the relationship between punching my boyfriend in the face while telling him he has a small penis every single day and the quality of life of my boyfriend


“What is the relationship between individuals experiencing chronic fear & agitated psychosis and the wellbeing of their family members

I’m not sure that I can lay claim to anything with certainty, and even though to answer these questions in the absence of systematically collecting data would be castigated as mere speculation or intuition, I’m fairly comfortable with making some bets here.

The original journal article upon which the EurekAlert! headline is based, states that evidence suggests that the likelihood of poor mental health in parents of children with complex medical conditions (CMC) is higher relative to their non-CMC parent counterparts. The authors conclude that future research is needed in order to identify, develop, and implement tools & strategies to support these parents….Again, no shit.

My pressing question is, did they really need to put the time, energy, and money into demonstrating this idea empirically?

Sometimes, aren’t counterfactual thinking, reasoning, active inference, and just being a sentient human, enough?

Is there really a need to mine for evidence to support the incredibly obvious relationship here?

I suspect that you would be hard pressed to find a person unable to generate a conceptual model that accounts for this relationship. Again, this begs the question, “why the need to empirically demonstrate this?”.

My speculation, which could be shared by others, is that this publication sets up more future funding potential.

But really, of all the phenomena about which you want to empirically investigate, this fits the bill? That is not to say that resources should not be allocated towards this problem. Of course, this calls for thought, attention, engagement and development. But the need to “empirically” establish that this is a problem in the first place – that seems unnecessary.

How can we change the structure of the academic-medical-community system such that it does not function to generate all of this intellectual noise? Or, if it really isn’t noise, please help me to understand the supposed utility of this investigation and others like it.


Bayer ND, Wang H, Yu JA, Kuo DZ, Halterman JS, Li Y. A National Mental Health Profile of Parents of Children With Medical Complexity. Pediatrics. 2021 Jun 21:e2020023358. doi: Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34155129.

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