Middletown, New Jersey

No, I haven't traveled to Sofia, Dublin, or the Galapagos Islands. I'm spending the summer in the same place I spent fall, winter, and spring—in exciting Middletown, New Jersey. But things are looking up: yesterday I was able to take a walk. I walked about the distance of a city block, to the place where a stream travels under the road. There I rested for a while, leaning on the brick wall that forms the sides of the little bridge, looking down at the moving water and the lush vegetation that competes for space on the banks. The trees growing there are precariously balanced; occasionally one loses its hold and topples over, because the soil has been washed away from around its roots. Why, I wondered, don't all rivers carve out Grand Canyons?

I owe my improved mobility to a new drug called Bosentan. According to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, a randomized control trial showed Bosentan to be significantly more effective than the placebo in improving cardiopulmonary hemodynamics, exercise capacity, and time to clinical worsening. But the physician who informed me that I had been approved to get this drug also warned me not to get my hopes up: because it's so new, Bosentan has not yet been shown to extend the lifespan of patients who are sick enough to need it.

No one knows, when they begin writing a book, whether they will live long enough to complete it. But when the odds don't look good, one hesitates to commit oneself. In the past couple of years I have concentrated my energies (such as they are) on smaller things that I could be pretty sure of seeing through to completion. Though I've written a few journal articles and chapters for edited books, even that has come to seem too slow, and lately I've turned to the instant gratification of online publishing. At the end of May the last of my four essays on birth order was posted on The Nurture Assumption website (the link is on my Edge Bio page).

So now I'm between things. Deciding what to do next will be my job for the summer. The published studies of Bosentan show that people who take it can walk a bit farther and faster than those who are unlucky enough to get the placebo, but remain mute on the question of whether they can write a book.

My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to reveal what I have learned since the publication of The Nurture Assumption. That book was a challenge to academic psychology: prove to me that I'm wrong. Convince me that there is enough evidence for parental influence on child outcomes to make it scientifically justifiable to reject the null hypothesis of zero parental influence. Show me the data.

To tell the truth, I was expecting that the members of the academic establishment would be able to do it. I knew that the position I was taking—saying, in effect, that the null hypothesis is true—was an extreme one and that the advantage was on their side. So it came as a surprise when their efforts failed. I've looked carefully at the research findings that have been cited as evidence against my theory. Most are irrelevant or ambiguous. Of the three that appear to make the best case, two turned out not to exist, or at least have never been published in peer-reviewed journals (though the studies were supposedly done years ago). The third showed something quite different from what its proponents claimed; in fact, the results matched the predictions generated by my theory, not theirs.

Will I have time to tell my story of deception and illusion in academia? There are some tall trees, with roots still firmly in the bank, who are hoping I won't.


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