Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Please! More truth and less lies about Sri Lanka, asylum-seekers and Tamils

It's a disgrace that the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) 2013 is scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka, with its long, ongoing and deplorable record of serious and large-scale human rights abuses. If you don't approve of this, now is the time to make your opposition heard.



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Congratulations Claudia Hammond

The book Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception (Canongate) is one of the four winners of the 2013 book awards from the British Psychological Society. Time Warped by broadcaster, author, psychologist and synaesthete Claudia Hammond was the winner in the popular science category, and a well-deserving winner too in my opinion. I have written about this book previously at this blog, and I was particularly intrigued and impressed by discussion of synaesthesia.

Claudia Hammond interviewed on HuffPost Live:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The truth about psychiatric labelling of young people in Australia is shocking

I was shocked and horrified that this young man in dire need of career counselling and wise and sincere personal support was assessed as having some kind of psychotic mental illness. Fortunately, this is apparently only a training video. Unfortunately, this indefensible over-diagnosis is held up as professional best-practice. One can only wonder how much more "at risk" of psychosis Nick might have been judged to be if he'd been a religious person or a synaesthete.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why is this still happening?

Another big and fancy one-hundred-bucks-plus edited book by dozens of academics is coming onto the market soon. It appear that this book will include references by various authors to Daniel Tammet as a savant synaesthete that are apparently utterly lacking in scepticism, including a lengthy discussion of Tammet "DT" as the subject of serious case studies by Baron-Cohen and team. Why, why, why, why, why, why?

Spiller, Mary Jane and Jansari, Ashok S. Chapter 36: Synesthesia and savantism.
Simner, Julia and Hubbard, Edward M. (editors) Oxford handbook of synesthesia. Oxford University Press, UK December 2013, USA February 12th 2014.

It is probably worth pointing out that one of the editors of this new book, Dr Ed Hubbard, did a lot to give Daniel Tammet scientific legitimacy and publicity within the world of neuroscience even before Baron-Cohen;s studies of Tammet were published:

Azoulai, Shai, Hubbard, Ed and Ramachandran, V. S. (2005) Does synesthesia contribute to mathematical savant skills? Proceedings of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. 12, 69. 2005 Abstract No. B173. April 2005 New York City.


Hubbard, Edward M., Azoulai, Shai, Mulvenna, Catherine, Sanders, Dana and Ramachandran, V. S. (2005) The Impact of Synesthesia on Memory and Creativity. Presented October 29th 2005 at American Synesthesia Association Inc Fifth Annual National Conference University of Texas Houston Medical School October 28-30, 2005.

Hubbard, Edward M., Azoulai, Shai and Ramachandran, V. S. (2006) The impact of number-shape synesthesia in a savant’s memory. Scheduled to be presented on April 22nd 2006 at UK Synaesthesia Association Annual General Meeting and Conference, London, April 22nd – 23rd 2006.

Hubbard, Edward (2006) Synaesthesia and memory. UK Synaesthesia Association Newsletter. June 8th 2006 Volume 2 Issue 3 p.2.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lili's political thought for the day

Nicola Roxon feels that she's justified in comprehensively dumping on her former boss Kevin Rudd, but I think she should be very ashamed of her own failure as Rudd's Health Minister to reverse a bad decision by Tony Abbott (as Howard Govt Health Minister) and remove a dangerous drug which has seriously harmed many children from the PBS. Even after Roxon was told of the risks and was also asked to take this drug off the PBS, she decided not to act. SHAME ROXON SHAME!

Strattera’s sad story by Martin Whitely

Friday, October 11, 2013

Did you see the first episode of "Redesign My Brain"? At first I thought it was pretty good, but now that I think about it.....

Did you see the first episode of Redesign My Brain featuring Todd Sampson? It was broadcast on the Australian ABC on Thursday night, and it's a series so more of it will be on this Thursday. You can probably catch up with the first episode thru the website of the series below, and find out more about the show at the website. http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/redesign-my-brain-with-todd-sampson/

If you've come to this blog out of an interest in the unacknowledged and largely untold story of Daniel Tammet (which I wrote about one of my books), you should also take a look at the first episode od this series, because it is an introduction to the world of memory sport and memory techniques which Daniel Tammet was definitely a part of during the years 1999 and 2000, even though he didn't mention this in his autobiography. In a nutshell, the main story of the first episode is that Todd Sampson, an ABC television personality decides to turbo-boost his brain by doing brain training computer applications and also by learning the ancient and powerful "method of loci" memory technique from an Australian memory sport champion, and sets himself the goal of going off to London to compete in the World Memory Championship, which he does. Sampson speaks about how wonderfully healthy and alive the brain training makes him feel, which is quite reminiscent of every ad for a quack cure or brain tonic that you've ever read or viewed. The world of memory sport is shown in this episode, but you would need to have some insider knowledge and good face memory to pick out all of the memory sport identities who are shown briefly in this episode: Ray Keene, Tony Buzan, Dominic O'Brien and Ben Pridmore, who is briefly interviewed, or at least only shown briefly. As we know too well, interviews with memory sport identities can be edited out of science documentaries. As ever, Pridmore comes across as a most likeable and humble man despite his solid body of world-class mental achievement.

I never comment on anything without offering some form of criticism, because I'm just one of those negative, picky people who are bad for business, and for sure there are quite a few things that I don't like about Todd Sampson's series already. The most important objection is to the idea of "neural plasticity, which appears to be at the heart of this TV series and is promoted solidly. I just don't buy the idea that our own brains are potentially our own playthings to be moulded and modified at will, but of course my position cannot be absolute. Of course, I believe we can all to a degree learn new facts and new skills, but the fact also remains that some people can't or have great difficulty in learning particular skills and in performing certain cognitive tasks. If the brain does indeed change itself as the title of a popular book on neural plasticity suggests, why do we still have dyslexics, dyscalculics, prosopagnosics, adult stutterers, people with cerebral palsy, intellectually disabled people etc? What could the idea of brain plasticity possibly mean for a person who has unsuccessfully been trying to stop stuttering their whole life, with a past littered with quack cures and ineffective therapies? I think it all sounds like a cruel joke, designed to entertain the able and give them an excuse to dismiss people who have real cognitive problems.

Another thing that I don't like about the Redesign My Brain series is the way that Sampson has stolen or at least copied shamelessly without credit the premise of Joshua Foer's book Moonwalking With Einstein, by promoting himself as just a regular guy (not a savant or autistic or innately gifted person) who has applied his mind to memory techniques and then gone off to compete in a major international memory competition, which is pretty much what Foer did in his popular non-fiction book. Maybe I missed something, but I didn't notice Sampson acknowledge Foer or his book anywhere in the first episode, and although there are three pop psychology books recommended at the website of this series, none of them are Foer's book. I think Foer has every right to feel hard done by.

And I'd like to say something about one of those three pop psychology books which were cited at the website of this series. This series could be seen as one big promotion of the idea of brain plasticity or neural plasticity. One book above all has promoted this concept to the public, and it is one of the books cited by this series. I think the book is crap, and I've expressed this opinion over a number of years in various places. I'll admit that I've never read The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge from cover to cover, but this is because I simply refuse to read anything that looks like it is based on the long-discredited ideas of Sigmund Freud, and this book certainly has a Freudian stink about it, and when one looks into Dr Doidge's education and qualifications one can see where that came from. Doidge has a medical qualification in psychiatry, but it was apparently studied in tandem with psychoanalysis, which is just a fancy term for Freudian f***wittery. So an ABC television series cites a book that is a bit questionable. So what? Well, it isn't just this series. Over a span of years I've wondered why the ABC in many different media and programs has been quite aggressively promoting this book. The ABC has been shoving this most questionable book at the Australian public for a number of years now. When I think of all the many great and under-appreciated pop psychology and popular science books that our national public broadcaster could have been promoting instead I could cry. So what's the deal with the ABC and Dr Doidge's book? I thought the ABC wasn't supposed to run advertising, but it appears to me that the exposure that the ABC has given and is still giving to this book is disproportional, and I also think the series Redesign My Brain is a great big ad for vendors of brain training programs. Just take a look at the blurb at the head of the series's website: "It can turn an ordinary brain into a super brain in just three months. The fastest growing science on the planet, brain plasticity will revolutionize how we live in the future. It has the potential to cure learning and mental disorders, such as OCD, bipolar disorder, addiction, ADD, autism and some dementias." And the host of the series is an advertising executive. FFS ABC. I'm sure there is a conflict of interest story in here somewhere. Journalists?

Another thing that I object to in Sampson's series is the idea underlying the series that Sampson is just a regular guy who has improved his overall cognitive performance measurably by doing brain training. This idea is supported in data shown in the first episode, with Sampson doing some cognitive tests which were administered by some kind of expert, and his baseline results pre-brain-training were found to be average or just pretty good. My skepticism about this is for just the same reason why I've expressed skepticism about some of the cognitive tests that were administered to Daniel Tammet by supposed experts; there is no way to exclude the possibility of deliberate underperformance on tests. Prof. Baron-Cohen concluded that Tammet had a deficit in face recognition based on some interestingly inconsistent poor results in one test that he administered, in apparent ignorance of much evidence that Tammet has no problem with memorizing faces or interpreting facial expressions. Where's the proof that Tammet didn't deliberately underperform on that test? And why should viewers be assured that Sampson didn't underperform for his baseline tests? The viewer can only put their trust in Sampson, or not. Did I mention that Sampson is an advertising executive? Is there evidence that Sampson actually isn't cognitively the average guy that he is portrayed as in this episode? There's tons of evidence. I wish I could remember which reviewer mentioned that Sampson had gained early entry into university. Hardly an average achievement. A quick Google turns up a biographical story about Sampson from the Sydney Morning Herald from 2010 in which it is very clear that Sampson was never an average guy. One could say he was the stereotypical intellectually gifted kid gone bad, taking risks and living on the edge probably out of boredom. He was unexpectedly identified as intellectually gifted by testing at school: "An answer came in year 7, when an aptitude test launched him from the bottom class to the top." Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/a-head-for-the-hard-sell-20101112-17rag.html#ixzz2hTjDWu4L An average guy? My arse!

My last objection to this series (or at least the last one that occurs to me at this point of time) is that in the first episode there was no mention of Daniel Tammet, even though the main theme of the episode seemed to be debunking the central theme of Daniel Tammet's books and public persona - the idea that autistic savants can magically do cognitive feats that other people can only dream of. To be fair, in his second book Tammet wrote at times in a way that confusingly undermined his savant media image and promoted a self-help message, but the mass media of the world continue to portray Tammet as a mysteriously gifted autistic synaesthete savant, not a trained memory sportsman. Tammet is very famous and he did indeed compete in the World Memory Championship in London just like Sampson did in this episode, and the book by Joshua Foer which it appears Sampson has copied to a degree in this episode exposed Tammet in one chapter, but despite these many ways in which Tammet's story is related to the material covered in this episode, Tammet didn't rate a mention? Why I wonder.

Links that might be of interest:

Redesign My Brain (ABC website of the series)

Todd Sampson as guest on a Triple J radio show on Oct 9th 2013.

Preview: ABC’s Redesign my Brain with Todd Sampson. The Conversation.

Lumosity Ordered To Quit Claiming Their Games Make Users Smarter, Prevent Dementia.
Laura Northrup
January 5th 2016 Consumerist

Media Watch (ABC)

Lodge a complaint. ABC.

ABC Advisory Council

Redesign My Brain Episode 1 event page at Facebook

Mindful Media

Mindful Media on Facebook

Joshua Foer

Daniel Tammet: the Boy with the Incredible Story by Lili Marlene

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

I think you'll love this book (and it isn't my book)

If you've enjoyed reading at this blog and also in my book about Daniel Tammet about the past of Daniel Tammet or any of my other pieces of writing which dispute popular or expert views on cases and issues, then I think I've discovered a book that you will love to read.

Blind Spot: Why We Fail to See the Solution Right in Front of Us.
Dr. Gordon Rugg and Joseph D'Agnese

Why do I think my readers will enjoy this book? Let me list the reasons.

1. It is a book about identifying where expert and professional reasoning has gone wrong. These authors do not blindly accept everything that doctors or experts say or write. In my blog and my books I am also not afraid to question the experts and the doctors and the scientists.

2. Although the authors do not blindly respect expertise, they still respect science and rationality and reason and the kind of learning that goes on in universities. This book isn't a piece of junk science and it isn't something from the lunatic fringe. One of the authors is "head of the Knowledge Modelling Group at Keele University and a visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Open University" He gets his work published in peer-reviewed journals. In my blog and my books I also respect the ideas of science and learning, and I criticise the work of professors and researchers in the hope of improving and furthering science, not rubbishing the idea of scientific progress.

3. Autism is discussed in this book and accepted ideas and definitions of autism are disputed. In my blog autism is also a main theme, and I'm happy to pick fault with the way society thinks about this controversial concept.

4. This book is a book about solving mysteries, and it includes a detailed account of solving a mystery and also a new methodology for solving mysteries. Everyone loves a mystery! And everyone also loves to witness the unfolding of the solution of a mystery.

I'm sure there are many more reasons to love this book, but I've got things to do right now. Expect to see more added to this post, and go read the book!