Pubdate: Fri, 08 Jan 1999 Date: 01/08/1999 Source: Harper's Magazine (US) Author: Stephen Sweet Joshua Shenk's insightful analysis would have been even more resonant had he considered the way in which so many of our current diseases are socially constructed. A classic study by the sociologist Peter Conrad suggests that the maker of Ritalin marketed to physicians "hyperkinesis" as a disease before marketing their cure to the same audience. The medicalization of rambunctiousness has proven to be a tremendously profitable business, with profound consequences on how schools respond to inattentive children. The same type of causality holds true for the slightly less alarming but still dreaded disease advanced by Listerine advertisements, "halitosis," otherwise known as bad breath. When mass marketing of pharmaceuticals is commonplace, increasingly, invention is the mother of necessity. Stephen Sweet Ithaca, N.Y.