A Fancy Headline, Does not a Study Make

by Nina Lorimor-Easley

You’ve probably seen it – the headline busting, social media stopping, magic lamp touting study completed by two laser physicists from the UK telling us that the cause and cure for dyslexia have been identified…it’s all due to a difference of retinal receptors.

First let me say, I’m with you, I wish it was true. I have two kiddos of my own for whom reading, writing and spelling is a struggle at best – nobody wants a magic dyslexia fix-it wand (or lamp, as the case may be) more than I. But don’t be sucked in. The study that was posted and gained so much media momentum barely has enough credence to be considered a scientific study, let alone to get the traction it got on a national stage. Slow news day? I’m not sure what happened, but oy vey, did folks jump on board with the story.

Some of the critical problems with this study:

  1. The lack of research that was done to isolate the populations – very little is known about these very small populations that were studied. Neither group was even identified as dyslexic readers, simply readers with unexpected reading weaknesses. And the populations themselves were quite small, 60 total between test and control. 40 per group (80 total) is typically considered a legitimate sample size for research purposes.
  2. A complete disregard for long-standing, quality, affirmed scientific research. Much of what the study was based on began with “facts” that go against a plethora of longitudinal research regarding dyslexia, what it is, what it impacts, and factors that are involved in it. There is extensive research from a wide variety of highly reputable sources and studies that tell us dyslexia is not a vision issue or impairment – that research, and its validity, does not simply go away because a small, poorly executed study says it should.
  3. There is no correlation between the findings and the key weaknesses that must be addressed with dyslexia – reading/writing. If research proclaims to find a “cure” for something, then the findings should at the very least be applied to the problem so results of the application can be recorded.

The damage that this study has done is wide in breadth and depth. We work very hard to convey that dyslexia is not a vision issue, and things like this in the headlines only work to corrode advocacy efforts. There is also no one thing that anyone can point to that “is” dyslexia. It is a spectrum of deficits combined in complexity and severity in every case. Information like this that hits the public eye only serves to lead people astray, give false hopes to many, and sets back advocacy efforts by years as it gives credence to many of the misunderstandings that we already fight.

I would urge each of you to be the voice of reason when things like this hit the news. If dyslexia was as easy as a magic lamp flashing light at us (so fast that you can’t detect it is flashing…by the way) then we would advocate for the purchase of magic lamps. We need to continue to sight strong, valid research that has existed for years. Continue to reiterate that dyslexia is a core language deficit, and that remediation is not magic – it takes hard work and dedication on the part of both educator and student. And most importantly, protect your students from even the slights misconception that their processing style is something that can be quickly and easily altered or “fixed” by a flashing light. The potential social and emotional damage of that message is staggering.

If you have questions about this study, or any study for that matter, please don’t ever hesitate to call us here at True Potential Education. If we aren’t familiar with a study you come across, we will study up and give you our feedback. I would also steer you to a response that Mark Sidenberg wrote on his blog regarding this particulate study, it can be found here: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=35144#more-35144

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