Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Zero degrees of credibility

If you want to sell a new pop psychology book or promote a social cause or a welfare-oriented charity, one thing that you need to do is to capture the imagination of large numbers of the type of person who might be interested in your socially-oriented project. I can think of no better way to grab the attention, arouse the emotions and capture the imagination of inquisitive people-oriented types than to start your presentation with a striking atrocity story, preferentially one with a female victim, and then follow-through with talk about empathy and neuroscience, two hot topics. Last November I saw this strategy employed very effectively in an interview on the ABC’s interview TV show One Plus One, in an interview with Camila Batmanghelidjh. Batmanghelidjh is a British businesswoman, charity leader and according to the ABC, a psychotherapist. Towards the beginning of the interview she recounted an extraordinary story about a girl becoming an “elective mute” as the result of either this girl or her sister (it is not completely clear from the recounting) being deliberately electrocuted by an abusive step-father who was said to have wired the child up to mains power. If Camila’s outfit hadn't already caught the viewers’ eyes, that story certainly would have caught their ears and their imaginations.

The strategy of grabbing the public’s attention at the outset with a memorable atrocity anecdote followed by discussion of empathy and neuroscience has recently been employed twice by the author of a new pop psychology book, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen from Cambridge University in the UK, in an article that has publicized his book, and also right at the beginning of the book itself. The title of the book in the UK is Zero Degrees of Empathy published by Allen Lane and in the US it was published by Basic Books under the title The Science of Evil. Baron-Cohen has recently written and spoken about two Nazi atrocity anecdotes, but it is the story about an alleged grotesque operation on hands that I am particularly interested in. This is Baron-Cohen’s account as published on April 9th 2011 in New Scientist, a weekly UK-based science magazine:

“As a child growing up in a Jewish family, my father told me that the Nazis had turned Jews into lampshades, and about what had happened to the mother of one of his former girlfriends. When my father met Mrs Goldblatt he was shocked to see that her hands were reversed. The Nazis had severed her hands and reattached them so that if she put her hands out palm down, her thumbs were on the outside and her little fingers on the inside.”

In this interview article Baron-Cohen went on to discuss empathy, cruelty and neuroscience. This anecdote was also recounted by another author reviewing Baron-Cohen’s book at the UK’s Independent newspaper. The anecdote was given a most prominent place in Baron-Cohen’s recent book, taking up most of the second paragraph of page one:

“My father also told me about one of his former girlfriends, Ruth Goldblatt,i whose mother had survived a concentration camp. He had been introduced to the mother and was shocked to discover that her hands were reversed. Nazi scientists had severed Mrs Goldblatt’s hands, switched them around and sewn them on again so that, if she put her hands out palms down, her thumbs were on the outside her little fingers were on the inside.”

Only the most obsessive, detail-oriented reader is likely to uncover the truth about the Goldblatts, buried in the notes section on page 144 at the back of the book, that there is in fact no Ruth Goldblatt whose mother is Mrs Goldblatt with reversed hands:

“Her name has been anonymized as I have not been able to trace her to seek her consent for her real name to be used.”

At the risk of being branded a Holocaust denier (which I most certainly am not), I feel compelled to state that I have doubts about the truth of Baron-Cohen’s anecdote about the Jewish lady with the reversed hands, and I believe that if a person of Baron-Cohen’s standing and influence, as a professor working at two different departments at Cambridge University, one of the world’s most prestigious universities, and the Director of that University's Autism Research Centre, and an international authority on autism and the author of influential psychology books for professional and popular readerships, has showcased an untrue story in his writing, then a lot of things must be thrown into question.

Why do I have doubts about the anecdote? My main reason for skepticism is that I simply find the story hard to believe. Although I only have knowledge of the human body that was gained from being top of my class in high school human biology classes, I do wonder how the operation described could have been possible. Normal medical transplant operations do not reattach limbs the wrong way around, as is described in the anecdote. I have looked at diagrams of the human wrist and forearm, and I doubt that it would be possible to connect the arteries, veins, nerves and tendons the wrong way around so that they could match up and work and the patient survive with alive hands. I believe there are also two bones in the forearm that would need to mesh, the radius and the ulna, which are not symmetrical and which pivot around each other. I would imagine that a hand transplant would be very complex and technically demanding operation when attaching one hand the right way around. I have a hard time getting my mind around how this operation would have been done twice over, in an anatomical mismatch, by some quack who would work for the Nazis, in a concentration camp in the 1940s. Wouldn't this kind of job require a skilled surgical team, or two?

I am not a doctor, so my opinion cannot have much authority, so I thought the best way to find out if this anecdote is even possible is to ask a qualified medical doctor who is a surgeon. Just to be sure that the doctor was an authoritative professional with current knowledge, I decided to ask a doctor who teaches about surgery at a highly-regarded university, and who has published papers. I contacted just such a person (whose name or details I will not divulge) and I outlined the anecdote describing it as an atrocity but not explicitly setting it in the Nazi era, in the hope that the story would be considered from a solely technical angle. He replied that he thought that it “sounds like nonsense”. This is an interesting comment, but it is not a statement that the anecdote isn’t possible, so I had to assume that the story remained within the realm of possibility.

I thought it couldn’t hurt to put this question in front of a larger group of people for opinions and consideration. As this was basically a scientific question, I thought a popular forum with the apparent purpose of answering scientific questions from members of the public would be a good place to expose this question. Once again I described the anecdote without the historical context, at the ‘Dr Karl’s Self Service Science Forum”, which is run by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), described as “Australia's most popular online science forum”. As far as I can tell, my question never got through the moderation process and was never posted. I was not surprised, as I’ve had dealings with this forum before. Thanks for nothing, guys. Could I have my eight cents a day back, please?

It almost goes without saying that I did a lot of Googling in my search for any information or opinions about this anecdote. As I hadn’t yet obtained a copy of Baron-Cohen’s new book, I didn’t know that Goldblatt was a fictitious name. I wasn’t surprised to find some forum discussions of the anecdote as described in New Scientist, with virtually no serious informed discussion centred on the anecdote itself. One discussion group result in a Google search looked promising, but it had been taken down when I clicked on the link, and Google’s cached page of it had also gone to the twilight zone. It bothers me that people who appear to be Neo-Nazis have made great mileage out of the reversed-hands story. Because it does so much resemble an urban legend it has been held up as an example of a Holocaust story that is said to be untrue, and most predictably this has been cited by Neo-Nazis as evidence supporting their holocaust denial positions. This is a sorry spectacle to behold.

Right from the start I too had suspected this anecdote was an urban legend, as I could see that it has many of the hallmarks of apocryphal stories – it is sensational, it does not include details that can actually be traced, it is not a first-hand account, it is hard to believe and it is very similar to an older atrocity anecdote that I had heard many years ago, and which I had found hard to believe at the time, even though I was a mere slip of a girl back then. People who make a serious study of urban legends note that they are often recycled stories that have a long history in various forms and incarnations. The horrible anecdote that I had heard of in the 1970s was about the terrible reign of the African dictator Idi Amin. As that story goes, to get revenge on one of his wives, named Kay, who had an abortion, the all-powerful dictator Amin had ordered doctors to have her feet chopped off and reattached with the feet reversed. It was not specified whether she survived this operation or died, so the image is left in the mind of the listener of some poor woman walking around with her big toes on the outside.

I did a bit of Googling to research this anecdote, to check whether it was indeed an apocryphal story, and I dug up the story pretty much in the form of the story that I’d heard, and I also found what appears to be an account of the truth of the matter. It appears that the story was not true, but it was based very loosely on real events. I am happy to describe the Idi Amin story that I heard in the 1970s as an urban legend. Was the very similar Mrs Goldblatt story also one? I tried to join an international forum that supposedly examines urban legends, to solicit the views of people who possibly had some expertise in the area of urban legends, but my application for membership to this closeted society met with no response. Thanks for nothing, guys.

Now that I have read in Baron-Cohen’s book that he admits that he was not able to trace the source of his reversed limb story and that the names “Ruth Goldblatt” and “Mrs Goldblatt” were made up by Baron-Cohen and are not potentially traceable details of the story, I’m more sceptical than ever about the truth of this anecdote. The fact that I’ve also turned up a number of reversed limb atrocity stories without even looking for them through Google, some of them known to be unreliable, also adds to my scepticism.

In the process of my quest for the truth about the reversed-hands anecdote, I've almost gained expertise in reversed-limb or extremities urban myths, and one thing that seems to be true is that in general these stories are untrue embellishments of real historical events - Idi Amin did really do many terrible things, but it appears that the reversed-feet story about his late wife Kay is untrue. Delphine LaLaurie apparently did do many terrible things to African-American people in New Orleans in the 1800s, but the story about her deliberately reattaching limbs incorrectly was most probably a fictional embellishment. Similarly, no sane, educated adult disputes that the Holocaust happened, or that the Nazis murdered massive numbers of civilians in death camps during WWII, but the story about the Jewish lady with reversed hands is nevertheless a bit hard to believe.

Why have I gone to all of this trouble to try to uncover the truth of this matter? I believe it is a serious problem that a man who is regarded as a world-class authority on autism, who tells the world what autism is and what type of people autistic people are, is happy to showcase an extraordinary story that he admits he has not verified with his own eyes and which includes false identifying information, in his own book that is about important matters of science, and also in a science magazine with major international standing. I cannot reconcile the idea that a scientific authority can display such a casual attitude towards the truth. If I assume that Baron-Cohen in good faith has believed this story but has not bothered to verify it, that indicates either a very sloppy or a contemptuous attitude towards verifying the truth, hardly qualities that I would expect to find in a professor from Cambridge and the director of a research organization. It would also indicate a naivety or a lack of knowledge in not realising how closely his anecdote resembles an apocryphal story, necessitating proper investigation and verification. If it turns out that the story is a medically impossible apocryphal story, presenting it as fact would call into question Baron-Cohen’s judgement, his basic common sense, and also his suitability for his position as a professor in a department of psychiatry, which is a medical specialty. The truth of this matter is not a minor detail, it is a reflection of the man who has spread this story, and we need to know exactly what type of man this is.

While researching something else I've come across a copy of the 2005 edition of the Guinness World Records and on page 21 is a paragraph giving the essential details of the world's "first hand transplant", with an accompanying photo of the patient Australian Clint Hallam with his creepy mismatched replacement hand. According to this authoritative annual book, this first hand transplant was done in France in 1998 by an international team of eight surgeons in an operation that took fourteen hours. There is now no doubt in my mind that the reversed-hands transplant anecdote recounted as fact on page one of both UK and US editions of Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen's latest book is untrue, impossible, and an absurd urban legend that would only be unreservedly believed by a child or perhaps by an adult who lacks education or has some odd cognitive deficit that causes a lack critical faculties. Why has a Cambridge professor with a considerable international reputation put such a thoroughly bizarre and ridiculous thing at the very beginning of his book? Does he believe it himself, or does he have a contempt for his readers in which he is happy to treat them as though they are idiots, or does he think the truth of a prosopsition is an unimportant consideration? How could such a piece of nonsense as a reversed-hands urban legend have been allowed by book editors an
d also book publishers to make it into print as a true anecdote in a supposedly non-fiction book? Why has this bizarre matter not been mentioned in any of the published reviews of the book that I have read? Am I the only person who has actually read the beginning of the book and thought about it in any seriousness? How is it that I, an unpaid blogger with no background in publishing or science beyond a very old degree in applied science, has noticed that a Cambridge professor has put a piece of nonsense at the beginning of his book, while presumably the professor, his book editor, his publishers in the UK and also in the US, and all of the many professional book reviewers who have written reviews of this book which have been published in some of the world's most respected newspapers, have all presumably been unable to detect a very bizarre and obvious problem with this book? How do so many people get paid for not doing their job? How can I get a job like that?

Links and References

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2011) Zero degrees of empathy. Allen Lane (Penguin), 2011.

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2011) The science of evil: on empathy and the origins of cruelty. Basic Books, 2011.
[US version of the above book]

Else, Liz (2011) The man who would banish evil. New Scientist. Number 2807 April 9th 2011. p. 32-33. Online title: Simon Baron-Cohen: I want to banish evil.

Faber, Judy (2007) Idi Amin's Son Criticizes Biopic. CBS News. Feb. 21, 2007.

[A horrible variation of the Idi Amin’s wife urban legend]

Guinnes World Records Ltd (2005) Guinness world records 2005. Guinness World Records Ltd, 2005.

Idi Amin dies.

[The article “Amin's Foot Soldiers” appears to debunk the Idi Amin’s wife urban legend.]

One Plus One - Friday 19 November

[story about Camila Batmanghelidjh followed by another story]

Top 10 most evil humans.

[An unreliable source with some severed and reattached limb atrocity stories.]

Witchalls, Clint (2011) Why a lack of empathy is the root of all evil. Independent. 5 April 2011.


Adelaide Dupont said...

Zero degrees of empathy, all right.

It shows, if nothing else, how empathy can be manipulated.

And some of the closely allied emotions, like disgust and curiosity.

It also tells you how we value an embodied body. Do you think Egyptian mummies, though arousing great interest and curiosity, would have the same reaction? (and atrocities possibly done to them).

I have seen Last King of Scotland as a matter of fact.

About the Jewish woman who had her hands reversed: the ulna and the other part (the radius) of the wrist/hand got me.

And the hot female victim was there in Amin's story. Kay the medical practitioner?

Urban legends! Read the sceptic website yesterday which describes suburban myths, which might be smaller in their scale...

And isn't theory of mind about false beliefs and understanding them?

Lili Marlene said...

Do you remember how the story of Idi Amin's wife Kay was depicted in the movie The Last King of Scotland?

Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

Very nice. Maybe Baron-Cohen is a guppy caught up in a world not of his making.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. I can be a REAL guppy. But I'm not seen as an authority.

Lili Marlene said...

To err is human, but I think we should have rather high expectations for a professor in two departments at the University of Cambridge.

Lili Marlene said...

I'm sorry, Justthisguy, but I don't think this is the place for a comment about personal conflicts that are not directly relevant to this article, and that could also be interpreted as anti-Semitic. I'm sure you will understand.

Justthisguy said...

Yes, I do understand.

"that could also be interpreted as anti-Semitic." That is, whether they are actually anti-Semitic or not, we are required to be scaredy-cats on the subject, these days.

Lili Marlene said...

I'm not having a go at this boffin because of his ethnic background, and I'd like to forget personal spats and focus on the topic of my post. I think that is all the explanation that you should need.

Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

I think he IS caught in a world not of his own making. He is a protege of Uta Frith, of the TOM fame. I could have read her when my baby was first diagnosed but I found her boring as hell, and useless. But she is seen as an "authority", a real Bettleheim of autism.

We don't owe her, or Tony Atwood, or any of her protege's anything. They may have changed the world, but not in a good way for autistics. (She was in a wike on Psychology of psychiatry or something I came across last week, in a time-line, and her theory was deified like in the 1980's. If you go to her twitter, you will see access to her papers. I was not surprised to see SBC, but Atwood, I was...) WTF, I guess I'm jealous. AND PISSED, that my son is seen as mentally ill because of idiots like her. Let's get back to the REAL AUTISM...

Then again, I could be as full of shit as them...but being nobody, who give a FRA what I think, except my mama.

Actually, if you want to get personal, which I don't, but if you did...SBC is a really geeky looking guy, most probably on the spectrum. It's kinda like the pot calling the kettle black.

Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

A. Atwood, I'd suppose, is Anthony Atwood.

I haven't read through this, but SBC is here....

I's a conspiracy!!!!!!!!

Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

Aw, fudge, Lili Marlene...You have created a monster in me.

Lookie heah, Dr. Frith admits to being "a little autistic." I told myself I wouldn't link to this because your royal dumbass here had a little to say, and it's probably stupid.

she's obsessed with this cognitive thing because millions of kids who think differently are being medicalized,psychoanalyzed, disablised, ...and parent's are gonna call bullshit one day...hopefully before it's too late for their children.

You ever heard the saying "an expert is someone from out of town?" It's true.

Ef it...I'm obsessed with thie, and I'm beginning to feel a little creepy about it. I wouldn't give a shit, but these people are effing with my son. Making a living off of demonizing children and then rationalizing it because it is science.

Jesus, I need a chill pill.

Lili Marlene said...

I'm only 1/3 way thru a mountain of hand-washing, but I've had a very quick look at the Frith piece at SFARI that R. B. linked to, and it doesn't impress me, but I do have to give Frith the credit for translating Hans Asperger's paper - the most important thing she ever did.

Quote from Frith:
"There is a huge amount of data [about autism]: for recognition of emotion in faces alone, there are more than 40 papers."

Yes, and the numbers in them don't add up! I've recently had a look at a shitload of studies of the RMET, and the findings of many of these studies appear to be biased by bloating up the scores for the normal control groups by using highly-educated controls to do a test that appears to be correlated with IQ. And the conclusions in most of these studies most likely conflict with the Enhanced Perceptual Functioning Model of Autism, which is the model that I'm interested in at the moment.

Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

The numbers mean what we want them to mean....blech...

Bradley said...

I just purchased Baron-Cohen's book and had to stop reading after the second paragraph to check the veracity of his switched hands claim. Noting that I have no specific education in the subject, I agree that it does seem incredibly unlikely.

That being said, his presentation of the "experiment" doesn't necessarily imply that he believes it. It is more-so presented as a memorable story from his childhood that illuminated the extent to which humans are capable objectifying one another.

In the end, even though the truth of the statement is tacitly implied, I don't think it rises to the level whereby the rest of the author's work is impugned.

Perhaps one should contact the author to get a more precise opinion?

Lili Marlene said...

I'm not sure what I'd want to ask the author. It seems plain enough that a Cambridge professor in a medical/scientific discipline has written a non-fiction book in a scientific area and also given an interview with a science magazine in which he has presented a story without any cautions or qualifications as true, and that story appears to be both untrue and medically impossible. The professor chose to showcase this very unlikely story, so it must reflect back upon his scientific and intellectual reputation if it is ridiculously implausible. He never warned his readers about the possibility that it is an urban legend or put any part of the story in quotatioin marks. He could and should have, or even better, not used the story.

Bradley wrote:
"That being said, his presentation of the "experiment" doesn't necessarily imply that he believes it. It is more-so presented as a memorable story from his childhood that illuminated the extent to which humans are capable objectifying one another."

Whether or not he believes it is an important consideration, but regardless, he has invited his readers to believe it, and he shouldn't have without first checking the truth of the story himself, by locating better evidence of the story than family folklore.

Lili Marlene said...

In a way I'm glad that Prof. Baron-Cohen has made this blunder by telling this extraordinary story, because it prompted me to look into his study background, which was interesting for what it lacks. As far as I can tell, he has no medical degree at all, just psychology, clinical psychology and "Human Sciences" which is as far as I can tell very much humanities and very soft science indeed. I'm absolutely amazed that an academic with his study background can have such a long and prestigious career in autism, an area that has for a very long time belonged to the world of psychiatry, which is a medical specialty. I believe that any practicing psychiatrist is a qualified medical doctor with medical training, because they have the professional power to prescribe medications and they must also be able to recognize when the root cause of an apparent mental illness is a medical illness, as can happen. It all seems very strange to me.

Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

Methinks the emperor wears no clothes.

Lili Marlene said...

I've just been having another look at that book, and it just gets worse.... This boffin appears to give credence to tales told by tour guides! Every tour guide I've ever encountered was full of nonsense, chicanery and sometimes a really bad fake Aussie accent. The professor needs some tips about humans, a very tricky and untrustworthy species.

Lili Marlene said...

Baron-Cohen's team aren't the only team researching synaesthesia genes, and I think we should be asking why these researchers are so keen to find the genotypes for a condition that is not considered to be a disorder.

Robin P Clarke said...

But Baron-Cohen has now put his name to a truly ginormous fiction, published in the Lancet no less, and this time about the very subject on which he is (supposed to be?) the world's leading expert.
Read his paper and my demolition of it here.
He still hasn't replied a word about it even to my signed-for letter. But someone did get my comment removed from the paper's PubMed index page as being supposedly inappropriate.

Lili Marlene said...

If you are not a researcher at a university (I can't tell because your profile is private) then I'm not surprised that you've had something removed from PubMed Commons or publication of a comment denied, as last time I checked it was not an open forum of science, it was reserved for ppl who have jobs as researchers, as is also the case with Research Gate, which is only open to researchers attached to institutions. I see that your piece made it through to PubPeer, though:

Lili Marlene said...

I'm not sure about republishing someone else's contribution to a private correspondence, or the content of such a piece of communication.

Lili Marlene said...

I haven't read the paper yet, but SB-C and co should cite published research showing a constant rate of ASC among a wide range of different age groups to support the premise of their paper. If they haven't done this then they haven't even justified the question their paper asks, let along their answer to that question.

It is very often the case in science that research projects that attempt to solve mysteries or questions fail one by one not because of the quality of the research, but because the question itself was idiotic. This is why we are still waiting, so many millions of dollars in research funding later, for an explanation of what autism is and what causes it and how to cure it. A dumb question cannot lead to a clever answer, but a dumb question will continue to be asked if the dumb question is linked to lots and lots of research funding.

Robin P Clarke said...

Thanks for your reply here.

"If you are not a researcher at a university ..... then I'm not surprised that you've had something removed from PubMed Commons or publication of a comment denied, as last time I checked it was not an open forum of science, it was reserved for ppl who have jobs as researchers,"

But you checked incorrectly. Anyone who has an article listed in PubMed can open a PubMed Commons account. I opened an account myself and posted my comment there, then a person or persons decided they didn't like to see my comment there so they complained about it.

"as is also the case with Research Gate,"

Again not so. As far as I can determine anyone can join or at least could when I joined. Meanwhile amusing to see that the comment that's been censored from PubMed has been mirrored by PeerPub without even asking me!

"This is why we are still waiting, so many millions of dollars in research funding later, for an explanation of what autism is and what causes it and how to cure it."

Not so. The reason you are still waiting is because the utterly corrupted "peer review" system has for a decade prevented my own papers from being published, and meanwhile incompetents (or worse) have been carrying on for decades as if the following had never been published let alone in a peer-reviewed PsycInfo-indexed journal:

Meanwhile defective work such as this "lost generation" thing increasingly divert away from the actual facts of the matter, towards corporately-convenient fictions instead.

Robin P Clarke said...

I'm not sure about republishing someone else's contribution to a private correspondence, or the content of such a piece of communication.

Whereas I am sure. The reason being that in a civilised society the default assumption is that people are not talking secrets to one another but being honestly open. If society was reconfigured to a default of presumed secrecy (such that everyone had to constantly say "this chat isn't secret by the way"), society would collapse within hours. The modern preoccupation with "confidentiality" and "privacy" is an aspect of the unworthy pseudo-ethics invented for the convenience of antisocial corrupt corporations and regimes, defending themselves against honesty.

Robin P Clarke said...

Further to my last comment - There are of course some instances where an expectation of confidentiality can be assumed even without explicit request. But Meng-Chuan's emailed rationale in attempted defence of his published review was clearly not one of such. Generally-speaking there is far too much preoccupation with suppressing of communication rather than facilitating it, and the only reason for it is because free speech and transparency are the enemy of criminality.

Lili Marlene said...

Mr/Ms Clarke, you have an article listed in PubMed but you complain that your papers aren't getting published. Sounds contradictory.

As you do I wish for more freedom of speech and greater opportunities to excercise it. Blogs are an amazing gift to folks like us who wish to share our ideas with the world unmediated, but it is too easy to dismiss or overlook the content of a blog written under a pen name, as I write.

You write articles about supposed dangers of dental amalgam, while most dentists that I've been a client of (and there have been quite a few) have been seriously incompetent and/or unethical, happy to whack a filling onto an abscess, happy to accept big money for fillings that don't last a week, not even offering a refund or an apology. Aussie doctors and medical specialists seem just as professional, in my experience. You appear to have led a sheltered life, lots of time to scour the world for tiny shreds of evidence incriminating mercury and vaccines. I fully support your right to think and to publish. I wish you would do much, much more with it.

Lili Marlene said...

Don't expect that you will ever get your stuff published in Molecular Autism, now that you've expressed such a lack of respect for Baron-Cohen. He's too busy getting his own papers published in the journal to have time to consider your stuff:

Robin P Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lili Marlene said...

How a REAL double-hand-transplant happens:

Robin P Clarke said...

Yes, that did remind me of your thing here. But the comparison is even bigger because at least they are doing it the right way round there, whereas B-C's fiction would entail some seriously weird criss-crossing of veins and nerves and bones and tendons.

Lili Marlene said...

Here's some questions for any takers. Did any scientist or academic ever express amazement or ridicule or objection to the clearly absurd anecdote at the beginning of the professor's book? Are books written for a non-scholarly readership supposed to be immune from peer-review? If so, why?

Anonymous said...

Haha, good question Lili.
In my experience, professional scientists/academics are very cautious about commenting on each others' work. They will occasionally give faint praise, but usually only for those who are of "high status" (or their own rising stars). Saying anything negative or critical tends to occur only in notorious controversies such as whether statins are useful or whether sugar is unhealthy, and then only in non-personal terms of whether this latest study is strong or weak evidence. The thing is, such professionals prosper by building collaborative networks of potential work colleagues, and criticising such prospects or getting a reputation for criticising is harmful to career.

"Peer review" generally takes place anonymously and privately.

Unknown said...

You asked the best questions right at the end of this article.

How COULD such a thing slip past all the proofreaders, scientists,publishers, reviewers, etc?

Simply examine the backgrounds of these people, and determine if they might have a common agenda.

Because its just as impossible for such an urban legend to slip past everyone, as it is for good ol "backward hands" Goldblatt to even exist.

Ori Klein said...

Someone asked in a forum how is it that it happened that Africans were so hated in America of old to the point where they had postcards drawn with many hanged black people on them.
I likened it to the Nazis and how they viewed the Jews and went to google up some testimony from a Nazi soldier I recall reading long ago that put it in exact words of how they became desensitized and dehumanized the Jews which then justified any atrocity done to them, as they were not being perceived as humans.

Anyway, came upon some website with the Goldblatt story. I admit, I was very skeptical myself.
While not a physician by any measure, I do possess the most rudimentary knowledge of human biology and this just made no sense to me what-so-ever.
So I googled for that now...and found this place.

While I don't have any evidence for that anecdote, and indeed it seems that it is a fabrication, towards what end I have no idea and it does seem most odd that Baron-Cohen, a well-accomplished man of science who even took time to contribute to the project which exposes the feminist agenda fraud, would have done such a thing.

However, I did get a steep reminder that the Nazis did infact conduct many wonky amputation-happy experiments.,pseudo-medical-experiments-in-hitlers-concentration-camps

So while it does sound quite the tale of the fantastic realm, it may have some shreds of truth.

Lili Marlene said...

Hello Ori,

I apologise for the long delay in approving your comment. I've been busy of late.

I'm curious as to what is the website where you found mention of the Goldblatt story? In the footnote on page 144 Baron-Cohen's claim that the name Goldblatt is "anonymised" suggests that he invented the name, but I do wonder whether the name is simply an unverified name from an established anecdote. If the name Goldblatt is used elsewhere either the source of the anecdote is Baron-Cohen, or Baron-Cohen has lied about anonymising the name and has either unethically used an unverified name in an unverified story without asking permission of any family of the person in the anecdote, or he's made the whole thing up.

I'm well aware of Nazi atrocities done in the name of science and the horrible acts that can be made possible by dehumanisation. In Australia we have recently had some ranges in a remote place renamed with a name from our first-nations people from the name of King Leopold of Belgium, who was responsible for millions of deaths of Africans. There has also been a push for many years to rename other roads and localities that were named after other historical white men who killed or displaced brown locals. For sure, I'm not fan of racists, Nazis or purveyors of anti-Semitic ideology or conspiracy theories. I believe that unfortunately Baron-Cohen's book does not help the situation but in fact is fodder for anti-Semites, because it is dishonest and implausible science. For a professor who heads a research facility that gets millions in funding from governments and charities, I expect very, very much more than "some shreds of truth".

Cheers, Lili.

Lili Marlene said...

Is it possible that the Goldblatt story was originally made up to explain a congenital hand deformity, such as a radial club hand, which would might have had a big social stigma associated with it in the mid-20th century?