Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is this guy for real? Baron-Cohen's latest book is a real urban legend!

The other night the kids and I much enjoyed watching a very corny and over-the-top horror movie. They had seen it before, so there were lots of "this bit coming up is really gross" moments. There was also some wonderful over-acting by one worldly-wise black hippie, complete with a decorated Kombi van and a blonde afro. I hadn't watched the movie from the beginning and I hadn't known what the title was, so I was rather surprised but amused when I noticed a succession of corny old urban legends in the plotline; parasites crawling out of skin lesions, a horrible sunbed accident, and I knew exactly what was going to happen when that dude took a leak on the electrified fence...... I later discovered that the name of this movie is Urban Legends: Bloody Mary.

I've had a bit of an unnatural interest in gory urban legends ever since my investigation of a hard-to-believe anecdote that was featured at the beginning of the most recent book by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen titled Zero degrees of empathy, but which goes by the title The science of evil in the US. That story about severed and surgically reversed hands is I believe an urban legend, but it appears that the professor has presented it to his readers as a true story in this book. I can hardly believe it, but it appears that this wasn't the only urban legend presented as true in Baron-Cohen's new book. On page six Baron-Cohen begins a section titled “Empathy erosion around the world” in chapter one with an atrocity anecdote that he states he was told by a local lady while he was a tourist in Nairobi in Kenya. This lady, Esther, claimed that she heard another woman who had been in a supermarket queue scream, because a man who had been behind her had cut off her finger in order to steal her wedding ring. Apparently Esther hadn’t explained why the ring thief hadn’t just taken the easier, less messy and less criminally liable option and simply tugged the unnamed African lady’s ring off her intact finger, perhaps using some butter from the dairy aisle for lubrication, and she also apparently hadn’t explained to Baron-Cohen how the thief had managed to sever a stranger’s finger bone in a crowded public place so quickly that he hadn’t been stopped from doing it. No sources are cited for this story. Baron-Cohen discussed this “shocking example of what one person can do to another” on page seven, discussing the theft with the implication that a knife had been used in this crime. Baron-Cohen discussed this story in a completely serious manner, citing it as an example of “...turning another person into (no more than) an object.” Baron-Cohen was not joking around in his discussion, and there is nothing to suggest that he did not believe this story, which is basically the same as a very old and well-known urban legend, or did not intend the reader to read this story as a true story. To place this account into context, in the section “Empathy erosion around the world” Baron-Cohen also recounts and discusses a number of atrocity/crime stories, including the true story of Josef Fritzl’s appalling sex crimes in Austria, a war atrocity against civilians from Uganda that cites a BBC news broadcast as a source, the genocide of at least a million Armenians by the Turks in the early twentieth century (known as “the Great Crime”), a not well-known but sadly true fact of history, and finally, an account of sickening war atrocities against civilians in the Congo that cited a traceable article from the Guardian newspaper as the source. Clearly this section is presented as a discussion of true stories, with the severed finger anecdote among other stories that certainly appear to be true.

Having already identified one prominently-placed story in Professor Baron-Cohen’s new book as an urban legend that is almost certainly not true, but which is presented as true by the professor, and already having similar suspicions about the African severed finger story in this book, I felt rather confronted by the truth the other night when I was enjoying a bit of late-night trash cinema, as the image of a hand with a severed ring finger flopped limply onto the screen (I think it might have been some time after that unwise young dude’s body was found with smoke wafting from its crotch). Confirmation that the severed finger story is a wide-spread and established urban legend is the recounting of it in a book of urban legends written by the academic and folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand "A possible offshoot of these legends is another, heard less frequently, concerning a woman who encounters a robber in the dressing room of a department store. In order to steal her diamond ring or gold wedding band, the robber cuts off her finger." (Brunvand 1984 p.92). In this interesting book I noticed that some anti-Semitic urban legends are also documented, which highlights what I find to be the strangest aspect of Prof. Baron-Cohen's apparently naive recounting of urban legends. Baron-Cohen has made reference to his own Jewish background and the Holocaust as a explanation for his interest in the subject of a lack of empathy, an ethnic background which I believe he shares with his famous cousin the comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen. In S. Baron-Cohen's movie Borat, the main character's uneducated belief in anti-Semitic urban legends and folklore is satirized. Prof. Baron-Cohen has a cousin who has ridiculed belief in horrible urban legends in a hugely popular movie and the professor still doesn't appear to have a clue on the subject?

Baron-Cohen hasn’t just done it once, he’s done it twice. He has offered an unsourced probable urban legend to his readers in a book as a true story to be taken very seriously. This is bizarre. This is most certainly not the type of thing that I’d expect to see in a book by any professor from any university, let alone one who is regarded as a world expert and is the director of a research centre that has received massive research grants from many charities over the years, at the most prestigious University of Cambridge.

In his ambitious new book Baron-Cohen sets out to explain the nature of human evil. If there is any academic or intellectual in the world who is fit to take on this intellectual challenge, it certainly isn’t some bloke who doesn’t have the common sense to be suspicious of probable urban legends, and who doesn’t have the good judgement and academic discipline to only use verifiable anecdotes as the centrepieces of serious discussion in a book, and who hasn’t anticipated that his credibility could be undermined by his use of stories that appear to be urban legends in serious written arguments. I expect a professor to be able to tell the difference between fiction and reality. Maybe I’m being a bit naive about professors, but I think something is seriously wrong here.

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2011) Urban Legends: Bloody Mary. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

A very horrible story that just can’t be ignored.
Lili Marlene
Incorrect Pleasures.

April 27th 2011

Brunvand, Jan Harold (1984) The choking doberman and other "new" urban legends. Penguin Books, 1984.

The New Republic is back!

Socrates' infamous blog The New Republic is back. Don't say I didn't warn you!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kids and labels and pills

“When you have got a kid with ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder and depression and anxiety disorder...what this says is not that he has got four disorders, but that there is something wrong with the kid and people haven’t properly understood what it is yet.”

This is a quote from the Australian child psychiatrist Jon Jureidini quoted in the book Speed Up & Sit Still by Martin Whitely MLA. I have published my review of that book at my other blog:

Speed Up & Sit Still by Martin Whitely – a review.
by Lili Marlene
June 29th 2011
Blond Ambition.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Those Nihilist Germans!

Dr Nihil? That's a very appropriate name for a German!

A German famous autistics list?

This looks as though it could be a German list of famous people who are or who could be autistic. It looks great, and includes lots of people who aren't on my list. Pity I can't read German.

by Dr. Nihil
Let's Get Freaky.

Lady Gaga on Letterman

"I can't wait to meet Lord Gaga!"

- David Letterman talking about Lady Gaga on his TV show

"I only liked the jacket, so I decided that's all I would wear."

- famous left-handed synaesthete superstar of music and fashion Lady Gaga on The Late Show With David Letterman, explaining why she goes around half-naked.

Lili's thought for the day

I so much enjoyed shopping at the winter sales among the past season's limp, baggy, gray, beige, dull brown and cream-coloured fashions - NOT!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

PLoS Biology, what is goin' on man?

It has been less than a fortnight since the publication in a major biology journal of a paper that Professor Simon Baron-Cohen has co-authored, and Michelle Dawson has already picked up a major blunder in it:

Michelle Dawson@autismcrisis (Twitter)!/autismcrisis

Baron-Cohen S, Lombardo MV, Auyeung B, Ashwin E, Chakrabarti B, et al. (2011) Why Are Autism Spectrum Conditions More Prevalent in Males? PLoS Biology. 9(6): e1001081. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001081

"A diagnosis of classic autism, unlike AS, also requires the presence of additional learning difficulties and language delay."


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Diagnostic Criteria for 299.00 Autistic Disorder

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Some interesting quotes from an interesting article

"Psychiatric diagnoses are getting closer and closer to the boundary of normal," he said. "Why?" I asked. "There's a societal push for conformity in all ways," he said. "There's less tolerance of difference.....

Part of the problem is the pharmaceutical industry. "It's very easy to set off a false epidemic in psychiatry," said Frances. "The drug companies have tremendous influence."

Bipolar kids: Victims of the 'madness industry'?
8th June 2011 by Jon Ronson
New Scientist.
print citation: June 4th 2011 Number 2815 p. 44-47.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lili's topical thought for the day

The family has really settled in, from refugees who came here with nothing but a trunk, to the next generation who like to say "F*** off, we're full". Happy World Refugee Day 2011!

Lili's next thought for the day

Good riddance to Borders bookshop. I guess going broke is just karma for a book shop that not so long ago devoted the best part of one level to Twilight books and associated junk.

Lili's thought for the day

Is it considered OK to re-use a control group from another study?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

So, really, what is a normal score on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test?

A while ago I noticed some interesting and potentially important discrepancies regarding scores reported by researchers for the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test ...... (the rest of introduction to be written sometime) What I have done here is to do my own meta-analysis of all of the eligible studies that I can find that include a normal control group or a group of healthy subjects in a normal, non-treated condition doing the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) (revised 2001) with 36 items. I have included some studies that used foreign language versions of this test with 36 items, but I have noted them and analysed their data separately. The point of all this is to establish with some authority what is a normal score on the RMET, and to investigate possible biasing effects of different versions and possible confounding influences like intelligence, socio-economic background or education levels. What I found was that at least one foreign version was probably easier than the original English version, that control groups consisting of university students tend to do better on the tests than control groups that are more representative of the general public, and that a normal score on this test isn't much higher than scores reported elsewhere as typical of autistic study subjects. Many questions must be asked about the RMET and the theories about empathy and autism that have informed the creation of this test, which has been very widely used by medical, psychiatric and psychological researchers.

Search method

Searched PubMed, the private ScienceDirect journal paper database, the search form for journal publications at the Autism Research Centre and the online archives of the journals Psychological Medicine and Personality and Individual Differences for terms such as “RMET” combined with “reading”, and “reading the mind in the eyes test” and “reading the mind in the eyes” or simply “reading”. I really have no idea how much of the relevant literature in psychology journals that isn’t covered by PubMed I’ve missed. If any readers know of any published studies that meet the criteria listed below, but which are not included here, I’d appreciate if you’d let me know the details.

Eligibility criteria and characteristics

Journal papers with a publication date before the publication date of the revised version of the test, 2001, were excluded.

The journal paper must include reporting of one or more studies that involved testing a control group of normal healthy adults or adolescents or a placebo group of normal healthy adult or adolescent study subjects with the revised Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test as described in the 2001 study PMID: 11280420 with 36 test items.

Reports of studies of children or reports of studies that used the child version of the RMET were excluded.

Reports of studies that used foreign language versions of the RMET test are included, but the version noted.

Reports of studies of timed and also untimed RMET testing are included, but timing is noted.

Reports of studies that used versions of the RMET test that had more or less than 36 items, or did not specify item number were excluded.

A mean score correct or incorrect or a mean percentage correct or incorrect for the RMET must be given for the control group or the normal healthy placebo group.

Any control group that has evidently been used in more than one study can only be included once.

Potentially eligible studies but not available or readable

PMID: 12101592 Senju et al 2002 in Japanese

PMID: 20677440 Tylec et al 2010 paper in Polish

PMID: 20712172 Nietlisbach et al 2010 HC=16 RMET negative finding re RMET

Eligible studies

PMID: 11280420 Baron-Cohen et al 2001 divided into 3 groups community N=122 (M=55 F=67) M=26.0 F=26.4 total mean=26.2 uni students n=103 (M=53 F=50) mean=28.0 IQ116 n=14 mean=30.9 graph 3 groups separately

PMID: 12559146 Richell et al 2003 Controls=18 non-psychopathic male prisoners screened RMET revised 36 (4 items excluded) mean=26.3

PMID: 15145468 Craig et al 2004 HC=16 (M=11 F=5) mean IQ 110.25 RMET 2000 36 mean=27.63

PMID: 16403703 Havet-Thomassin et al 2006 HC=17 (M=15 F=2) screened matched Uneducated RMET 36 French version Mean=27.6

PMID: 16916074 Meyer & Shean 2006 N=146 (M=51 F=95) BUT reduced to N=142 (outliers disc) mean=28.85

PMID: 16979876 Irani et al 2006 HC=10 screened matched uni=based RMET 2001 score est 80% =28.8

PMID: 17137561 Domes et al 2007 HC=30 all male screened RMET 2001 36 German version? Placebo mean=69.4 correct = 24.984

PMID: 18058213 Kaland et al 2008 HC=20 IQ122.7 RMET child and also adult 36 item tests used. adult test mean=28.10

PMID: 18774263 Hirao et al 2008 HC=20 (m=10 F=10) screened matched R-H educated IQ111.2 RMET 2001 36 not timed mean=67.6% =24.3

PMID: 19173104 Pardini, Nichelli 2009 HC=120 (sex ratio roughly =) screened uni educated sample RMET 2001 36 validated Italian version 4 mean scores for diff =no age groups 26.79 25.3 23.5 21.6 mean=24.3

PMID: 19470361 Smeets et al 2009 subjects=64 (M=32 F=32) (German?) uni students screened for physical illness RMET 2001 36 German version? male controls N=16 mean=0.79 low cort N=8 mean=0.83 high cort N=8 mean=0.80 female control N=16 mean=0.79 low cort N=8 mean= 0.84 high cort N=8 mean=0.71 weighted mean for all groups= 0.792 = 28.5

PMID: 19934046 Rodrigues et al 2009 GG phenotype n=47 uni students RMET 36 20.55% incorrect mean=28.6 correct

PMID: 19460187 Fertuck et al 2009 HC=25 part uni-based screened matched RMET 2001 36 mean=25.00

PMID: 19545579 Euteneuer et al 2009 HC=23 matched screened average edn, prob community sample RMET 2001 36 German version mean=19.91

PMID: 20026084 de Aachaval et al 2010 HC=20 RMET 2001 36 mean=27.3

PMID: 20452061 Schimansky et al 2010 HC=39 (roughly equal sex ratio) middle-class RMET 2001 36 mean=25.5

PMID: 20471104 Gooding et al 2010 HC=110 uni students, screened RMET 2001 36 timed mean=27.76

PMID: 20503068 Kirchner et al 2010 HC=21 (M=15 F=6) edn 13.8 years IQ 110.1 mean=25.1

PMID: 20538499 Bodden et al 2010 N=21 (M=15 F=6) screened educated RMET 63.6% =22.9

PMID: 20589713 Valla et al 2010 all subjects normal N=144 (m=65 f=79) uni students, screened RMET 2001 36 M mean=27.08 F mean=27.27 total mean=27.18

PMID: 20591417 Harrison, Tchanturia, Treasure 2010 HC=90 (female=90) screened est. IQ=113.27 years of edn.=15.94 RMET 36 untimed positive study 80.33% correct = score of 29

PMID: 20811770 Ahmed & Stephen Miller 2011 HC=123 (M=34% F=56%) uni-based pool RMET 2001 36 mean=27.28

PMID: 20919762 Girardi, Macpherson, Abrahams 2011 HC=20 (F=5 M=15) screened RMET 36 est. HC mean 25 correct

PMID: 21147235 Brune et al 2011 N=23 prob community average edn RMET 36 German version mean=19.91

PMID: 21205056 Kornreich et al 2011 HC=25 (M=17 F=8) RMET revised 36 French version mean=23

PMID: 21420177 Wolkenstein et al 2011 HC=20 screened RMET 2001 36 assumed to be German version %correct=65.56 =mean score=23.60

PMID: 21596443 Gooding & Pflum 2011 normal uni-based group n=68 (M=49 F=19) est high IQ RMET 2001 36 timed mean=27.2

Uzefovsky et al 2011 placebo group n=39 all male RMET 36 placebo group 9.74 errors =26.26 correct [This study report was part of a paper that included a number of reports of studies]

doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.06.010 Cook & Saucier 2010 subjects=88 (F=42 R-H=81) screened uni psych students RMET 2001 36 mean M=26.14 meanF=27.26 mean=26.7

doi:10.1016/j.paid.2006.06.009 Voracek & Dressler 2006 all subjects normal N=423 (F=217 M=206) looks like a genuine community sample (psych students excluded!) RMET 2001 36 German translation means male 22.35 female 23.31 mean=22.8

Ineligible studies

PMID: 11912109 Gregory et al 2002 RMET 1997
PMID: 14982254 Dorris et al 2004 RMET children’s version 28 item
PMID: 15919556 Dziobek et al 2005 RMET shortened 24 item version
PMID: 16477515 Golan et al 2006 no scores found for RMET
PMID: 17765214 Bull et al 2008 RMET 25 item
PMID: 18155447 Kettle et al 2008 no total means found
PMID: 18633782 Chapman et al 2006 RMET child version
PMID: 19048440 Shur et al 2008 RMET 1999 42 item
PMID: 19370436 Hallerback et al 2009 used 28 item and 24 item tweaked Swedish versions of the child version
PMID: 19451755 Szily, Keri 2009 no total score or % for RMET found
PMID: 19828142 Muller et al 2010 only 20 RMET photos used
PMID: 20102669 Harrison, Sullivan, Tchanturia, Treasure 2010 suspect that same control group as used for PMID: 20591417, don’t use (re-use) positive study
PMID: 20452047 Adler et al 2010 no clear report of RMET scores found
PMID: 20457166 Castelli et al 2010 not all 36 RMET used
PMID: 20545452 Geraci et al 2010 test Italian version 37 items
PMID: 20570111 Gibson et al 2010 no score for RMET found
PMID: 20889365 Tsuruya et al 2011 20 item Japanese version RMET
PMID: 21151817 Preisler et al 2010 reported RMET 2001 as having 40 questions
PMID: 21423444 Pincus et al 2010 Subjects did test in a scanner – not conditions comparable to normal testing
PMID: 21515640 Gunther Morr et al 2011 used adapted version of child version of RMET
PMID: 21641964 Luminet et al 2011 HC placebo group divided into LA and HA groups that scored differently in tests, but could not find total numbers for these groups.
doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.03.027 Ali & Chamorro-Premuzic 2010 no clear report of RMET scores found

Guidelines for judging elite or community control groups

If the control group are described as university students or undergraduates then that control group is in the elite group.

If a university is mentioned in conjunction with recruitment of controls then that control group is an elite control group.

If the control group are described as employees or are recruited through a place of work then that control group is in the elite group.

If the control group are described as having mean IQ or estimated mean IQ of 105 or above then that control group is in the elite group.

Mean years of education reported for control group can be used to categorize control group.

Clues as to social class can be used to categorize control group.

Prisoners are not an elite control group.

If there is specific reference to the control group being representative of the general population, or a community-based control group or excluding university students, then that control group is a community control group.

Separate control groups with differing characteristics used in the same study can be divided into elite and community categories if separate mean scores are given.

Weighted Means of:

all eligible studies 26.03061 total study control subjects 2046

French version of test only 24.86190 total study control subjects 42

definitely German version of test 22.69170 total study control subjects 466

Definitely non-German version 26.99245 total study control subjects 1486

non-elite control groups 23.61746 total study control subjects 603

non-elite control groups non-German studies 26.36306 total study control subjects 157

elite/uni student control groups 27.00085 total study control subjects 110

Many thanks to for the use of their Weighted Average Calculator

Copyright Lili Marlene 2011.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A quote from a novel by Janet Frame

"Philip and Anne lay, eyes alert, head between paws, waiting to pounce upon her words. Panicstricken, her ideas and words which would have supported them scuttled to the sheltering foliage of incoherence."

from the posthumously-published semi-autobiographical novel Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame

It reminds me of how much I love being at the centre of social interaction with people that I don't know well - NOT!

Lili's thought for the day

I wonder how long a person can last and how far they can go, powered with nothing much more than positive thinking?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Autist as ranga - an exciting new theory that makes a lot of sense to me

Conceptualizing the Autism Spectrum in Terms of Natural Selection and Behavioral Ecology: The Solitary Forager Hypothesis.
Jared Edward Reser
Evolutionary Psychology. – 2011. 9(2): 207-238

While Reser does not appear to have a terrifically positive view of autism, and has accepted some quite suspect truisms about autism uncritically, this theory has still got me excited. Reser is not the first person to propose that autism could be an evolutionary adaptation and a genetic variation of humanity of the same type of variation that gives rise to mammalian solitary animals that are closely related to social species. Reser is also not the first person to compare autistics with orangutans. I did both of these things way back in 2008 in my comments at this posting in my blog:

and before that in 2007 I half-jokingly compared autistics with a solitary species and a mammalian Australian animal, the most delightful Tasmanian Devil, in this post:

Let it be known, I thought of it first.

No, Lili is not a fanta-pants, but red hair does run in my family.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

McGorry hits back in The Australian

US no model for mental health
Patrick McGorry and Alison Yung
The Australian.
June 15, 2011.

Patrick McGorry returns fire in psychosis dispute
Sue Dunlevy
The Australian.
June 15, 2011.

Prof. McGorry has written that "The $400m focused on youth mental health and early psychosis has little to do with prevention and nothing to do with the "psychosis risk" windmill that Frances attacks." Well, if it is true that McGorry's services are little concerned with prevention and not concerned with identifying risk, why does the "about us" page at the website of EPPIC say this: "EPPIC also has a dedicated service for people thought to be at risk of developing a psychotic disorder, the PACE team." and why does it say this in the EPPIC clinical guidelines: "All individuals assessed as having an ‘at risk’ mental state are referred to the PACE clinic at EPPIC"? Seems to me that you lie like a rug, professor.

I thought it was a great joke that McGorry has tried to paint his critics as deniers with "vested interests" in the same league as climate change deniers and tobacco industry supporters. My readers should be very clear about who it is that has the vested interests and the beneficial relationship with powerful corporations. We're looking at you, doc.


EPPIC About Us

EPPIC Clinical Guidelines

Lili's next thought for the day

We really shouldn't be surprised that the Dalai Lama is an ignorant old coot who mistakenly thought our current PM is a man. Don't you know what things are like in Tibet?

Lili's thought for the day

Colorado was more of a bore than a store.

Jon Ronson interview on The Book Show today

Continuing the definite anti-psychiatry tend of late in my blog, I thought I'd let you know about this most fascinating interview with an author on Australian radio today:

Jon Ronson: The Psychopath Test.
Ramona Koval
The Book Show.
ABC Radio National 810am
15 June 2011

On the front page of today's Australian newspaper .....

US expert slams Patrick McGorry's psychosis model
EXCLUSIVE: Sue Dunlevy
The Australian
June 14, 2011.

and there is also this very recent article in an Australian medical professional magazine which apparently includes a critical quote from the former president of the Royal Australian College of Psychiatrists, Louise Newman, but unfortunately is only available for doctors to read:

McGorry's early intervention model slammed.
Australian Doctor.
June 14th 2011.

and there's also these:

Continuing Controversy On Australia's Mental Health Experiment: Seven questions for Dr McGorry.
Allen J. Francis
Psychology Today Blogs.
June 13, 2011

Australia's Reckless Experiment In Early Intervention: prevention that will do more harm than good.
Allen J. Francis
Psychology Today Blogs.
May 31, 2011

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Happy 90th Birthday Prince Philip!

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh is the United Kingdom's longest-serving consort to a monarch, and has also been making rude and insensitive remarks to people that he meets for many decades now. With all of that awkwardness, it is no wonder that he fits in so well within a family that has many left-handers.

Prince Philip's quotes have been raising eyebrows for years.
Global Toronto.
Thursday, June 9, 2011.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Did Philip fart?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

I'd just like to say that .....

I haven't forgotten my investigation into the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test that I have previously mentioned. I have the stuff at hand - I just need to find the time to give it a look, in my busy day.

Jon Ronson - a better alternative in pop psychology reading?

I've just had a quick look at a most fascinating and grimly amusing magazine article about what a dangerous joke the "profession" of psychiatry is and how it harms and misdiagnoses children in the United States (the name Jani comes to mind), and it also explores a theme that I've been exploring myself a lot of late - the issue of psychiatrists not being "up front" about professional conflicts of interest involving large pharmaceutical companies (reminds me of a bloke named Patrick). This dynamite article is by Jon Ronson and it can be found in the latest edition of New Scientist magazine.

Now that Mr Ronson has grabbed my undivided attention, I've just had a quick look at a review in Time magazine of his new book. It looks to me as though this book might be a much better choice to read than Baron-Cohen's recent pop psychology book, if you are in the mood to read about the psychology and neurology of those who genuinely do lack empathy. I love the way this writer doesn't beat around the bush about what really matters in these stories - money talks louder than science, and those who lack empathy appear to be designed to succeed in our corrupt capitalist world.

Bipolar kids: Victims of the 'madness industry'?
08 June 2011 by Jon Ronson
New Scientist.print citation: June 4th 2011 Number 2815 p. 44-47.

Mind Reading: When You Go Hunting for Psychopaths, They Turn Up Everywhere
By Maia Szalavitz
Friday, June 3, 2011

Monday, June 06, 2011

A quote from another loner

"All my support groups have a one member limit."

- Daria Morgendorffer, fictional character who could well be on the spectrum in addition to being very smart

The unparalleled wisdom of Daria.
Brett Smiley
MTV 6/1/11

Memorable fictional characters portraying autistic traits or themes

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Prof put on the spot - a recent interview with Professor Simon Baron-Cohen about his latest book

Kim Wombles has done a long and interesting email interview with the controversial Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor at Cambridge and a Director of the powerful and prestigious Autism Research Centre. This interview has been published at Science 2.0, which I'd never known about till now, and the interview has provoked many interesting comments.

I'm disappointed that Kim didn't question the professor about his disgraceful misrepresentation of people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, but I'm glad that some people did raise this point in some interesting comments following the article. Kim did get to put lots of other good and important questions to Baron-Cohen, including this one:

"The online autism community is very vocal (and fairly well in agreement, considering the wide divides usually tearing it apart) that you are incorrect in your belief that autistic people lack empathy (and theory of mind). How do you respond to that charge and what evidence do you have that people with ASDs have zero empathy?"

The prof responded with that old chestnut about us lucky autistics who can read and write and use the internet not being representative of really, genuinely, fully autistic, disabled people. We are supposed to go away and be quiet and feel grateful for what we have and feel ashamed that we dare to call ourselves autistic, despite the fact that we score well within autistic territory in the scoring guides to the many questionnaires that the professor has created that supposedly identify autism. But wouldn't real, genuinely disabled autistics be too disabled to read and complete these autism diagnosis questionniares? Well, why did the prof create them, then? This is confusing!

Then the professor went on to explain how autistic kiddies fail some supposed tests of "theory of mind" that are used by academics in research studies, as though this has any direct relevance to the popular, non-academic, real life conceptions of what empathy means.

Then, the professor pulled out the Dunning-Kruger Effect as an explanation of why the autistic community has rejected the characterization of autistics as devoid of empathy, without explicitly mentioning the name of this effect. We are too dumb to know how dumb we are. This effect is a real phenomenon, but does it apply to autistics and empathy? Baron-Cohen asserts that people can be a poor judge of their own level of empathy; "When it comes to empathy, self-report is highly unreliable. For this reason, I would always advise that results from the questionnaires like the EQ (the self-report version) should be corroborated by other independent sources of evidence." Makes me wonder what the point of the EQ is then. I've been wondering about this for many years, as I've done this questionnaire quite a few times over, and my score varies wildly according to what is going on in my social life at the time. One has to question the academic credibility of any researcher who would offer up such an unreliable instrument for serious consideration by the world of science. Is the problem a lack of ability to estimate my own quotient of empathy, or is the problem really the idea that empathy is a thing that can be possessed and measured, like measuring a cup-full of sugar? I'm got a serious suspicion that the Dunning-Kruger Effect, or maybe some good old-fashioned self-delusion is in effect when the prof makes an estimation of his own powers of empathy.

Then, the professor contradicted his own categorization of autistics as "zero empathy" people and admitted that maybe some autistic people have some empathy, and maybe some autistic people have lots of affective/emotional empathy and maybe some autistics can systemize their way to having an above-average standard of morals. With all this back-pedalling I'm sure the professor's leg muscles must be aching still. Did you notice how the professor did not resort to citing research study findings in his many attempts to answer this most important question? It the kind of thing that I'd have expected a Cambridge professor to do.

This is an exercise in what I'd call giving the interviewee enough rope with which to hang himself. This type of public hanging is an ugly, prolonged, tortuous thing to witness, but also strangely compelling. It is worth a read, as are the most fascinating journal papers that K. Wombles has listed at the end of the interview. Many thanks, Kim!

An Interview With Simon Baron-Cohen On Zero-Empathy, Autism, And Accountability
By Kim Wombles
Science 2.0
June 4th 2011.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Lili proposes that Pseudoscience Ratbag Fanatic Syndrome be included in the next edition of the DSM

When I woke up this morning I could scarcely believe my ears. On the radio news I was told that climate researchers in Australia are living in fear and enduring dire threats to their safety and the safety of their loved ones, because of fanatical nutbars who don't like their work. I thought "WHAT! That is insane! Who in our community is less deserving of this type of thing than some diligent academics and researchers working away on research that is highly unlikely to be dodgy or unethical, the type of research that only a total geek or an autistic "weather nut" might find interesting." My next thought was "That sounds just like the type of thing that those anti-vaccination nutbars in the US have been doing, to science researchers like Paul Offit." Then I realised that there are probably many interesting similarities between the fanatical, conspiracy-theorist, pseudoscience anti-vaccination crowd in the US and also operating in Australia, who believe that vaccines or environmental contaminants cause autism, and the climate change denier crowd. These movements appear to both involve some type of adult behavioural syndrome, which can attach itself to various types of pseudo-controversies in science, but which has followers displaying the same set of symptoms: a personality in which anger features prominently, suspicion of mainstream science, a suspicion of or alienation from mainstream education, a sense of personal victimization, and an uneducated but persistent interest in science. I really hate to have to write this, but I have a suspicion that at least some of these people might be adult autistics who are displaying the tragic effects of a lifetime of wasted energy and wasted intellectual talents combined with a profound alienation from the education system and society in general. We know for sure that large numbers of the anti-vax crowd in the US are first-degree relatives of people who have an autistic spectrum diagnosis, and that is I believe an important clue to the etiology of this troublesome behavioural syndrome. It also needs to be said that clearly there are many people who have financial interests who are involved in or are directing these movements, and there is nothing irrational about their behaviour - their only deficit is in ethics. These are the people who flog quack cures such as chelation to the parents who believe that their autistic kids have been poisoned by mercury. Shock jocks who grasp an audience by nurturing irrational anger and businesspeople who wish to avoid paying more taxes associated with climate change are also people who have a financial interest in these movements.

Unethical people will always be a blight on humanity, but could there be a cure for the irrational behavioural syndrome? I don't know if there can be any cure, but it could perhaps be prevented from developing if society in general would stop ejecting and rejecting autistic children and adults from the education system, from the workplace and from society in general. As my grandmother used to say - you reap what you sow. Linking these people with autism or some type of behavioural syndrome in no way excuses their reprehensible behaviour. At the end of the day we all have to take responsibility for our own choices, but I simply want to state that some people have a much diminished set of life choices from which to choose from, and this doesn't need to be the case. Illegal acts by sane persons (behavioural syndromes are not the same as insanity) should be punished by the law, but that doesn't solve the problem of alienation.

"One researcher told of receiving threats of sexual assault and violence against her children after her photograph appeared in a newspaper article promoting a community tree-planting day as a local action to mitigate climate change."

WHAT? Do I need to explain the insanity of this situation to any of my readers? I don't think so, it is pretty obvious and my readers are very smart people. Come to think of it, maybe I'm in danger from these denier fanatics as well, and my family. Individually most of my family members have featured in local newspapers doing environmental work projects in similar photos. I had no idea when I took the kids along to plant native re-vegetation in community environmental projects that I was risking provoking the ire of some climate change denier loon, and placing our lives at risk.

Can anyone please help me to understand why non-insane stuff like simple childhood autism, hair-pulling and stuttering have been included in the DSM, the American bible of psychiatry, while the well-known and long-established syndrome of fanatical attachment to pseudo-scientific opposition to sensible scientific interventions into serious scientific problems, like climate change or infectious disease, at times leading to illegal behaviour such as issuing death threats to meteorology researchers and vaccine researchers, is not and has never been included in any edition of the DSM? Perhaps I can agree with the fanatics on one point - that the modern world often doesn't make sense.

Climate of fear: scientists face death threats
04 Jun, 2011 12:00 AM
The Canberra Times.

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2011) Paul Offit. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

If Julian comes a knocking, you might want to think twice ....

Julian Assange is a bad houseguest!
by cjb
May 17th 2011
Things People Say About Julian Assange (blog)

Lili's thought for the day

Germy Germany.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Every child has the right

" play, to be happy, and to dream, the right to normal sleep of the night's season, the right to an education, that we may have an equality of opportunity for developing all that are in us of mind and heart."

- reclusive outsider artist Henry Darger on the rights of children

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2011) Henry Darger. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

A weather nut tries to explain

Why did the Chicago artist and writer Henry Darger faithfully record his observations of the weather every day for ten years? Darger was probably one of the strangest and most isolated writers or artists who ever lived. Darger reputedly wrote the world's longest work of fiction, so he was certainly an unusual individual. We cannot ask Henry what is the attraction of following weather trends, as he passed away long ago in 1973, but perhaps an understanding of the motivations behind Darger's weather watching habit is not completely beyond our grasp. There are other people who share Darger's fascination for meteorology. After all, someone must be watching The Weather Channel, and there are apparently folks who frequently consult the website of the Bureau of Meteorology ("the BOM") as a form of recreation. It all sounds pretty, pretty autistic to me. Try as he might, Phil Brown's efforts to explain his love of weather watching can only succeed up to a point. As a daily cloud-watcher I think I understand some elements of the appeal of this hobby, but I think it takes a certain type of mind to fully appreciate the joy of discerning the difference between a rain-bearing cloud and a pseudo-rain-bearing cloud.

First Person
ABC Radio National 810am

Confessions of a weather nut. Episode 1
Written by: Phil Brown
Read by: Phil Brown
First Person.
ABC Radio National
June 2nd 2011
Episode 1 of 1 Concludes June 2
Producer: Justine Sloane-Lees

Confessions of a weather nut.
Griffith Review. Edition 12: Hot Air
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by Phil Brown

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2011) Henry Darger. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.