Wednesday, September 28, 2011

No escape from gender segregation at the supermarket

It seems so unnecessary that foods and drinks should be assigned gender identities by advertising and marketing people. This kind of silliness makes about as much sense as my ordinal linguistic personification, which is a neurological quirk that gives rise to gender associations with inanimate objects and concepts that seem completely daft, but at least my OLP doesn't impose questionable ideas about sex differences into other people's experience of grocery shopping.

Are a dozen eggs in bright pink packaging with a girly-looking design in any way more suitable for the female consumer than a dozen eggs in more ordinary and gender-neutral packaging? What kind of woman (or man) needs or desires this product? Am I thought odd because I am often seen enjoying a brand of iced coffee that is the subject of advertising and promotional competitions that appear to be exclusively aimed at blue-collar men? I just like the taste of the stuff! I guess it's a good thing that I just don't give a damn.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Color Flight by Chris Wilder and Richard Louderback for Ed Kuepper's MFLL Project

This video clip reminds me a bit of Tim Burton does Willy Wonka, the Alice in Wonderland inspired Llamaland installation by Rose Skinner which was a part of the 2009 Awesome festival, my headache years, Dr. Phibes' Clockwork Wizards and of course, the at times synaesthetic Music For Len Lye (MFLL) project by Ed Kuepper which I saw a few years ago (was it Jeffrey Wegener playing those very loud drums?)

I love colour and I love music, and I especially love coloured music.

Lili stalked and courted by neurosexism in her daily life

Wherever I go, as cold as I must seem, I find myself as a party to conversations with other mothers in which the other Mum explains how her school student son is educationally incapable in some way by virtue of the fact that he's male. I swear I don't go looking for this stuff, it just keeps coming after me. It's as though the Secret Society of Mums Who Good-Naturedly Suffer Slightly FITH Sons is out to recruit me. Do fathers chat amongst themselves about how disabled their daughters are in the areas of logic and technology whenever they gather together? God, I hope not!

It's nice to get feedback

Did you see the latest comment on my recent Daniel Tammet article? My good friend Mr Anonymous.

This is a link to the webpage which Mr Anon make reference to:

Lili's thought for the day

Now that St Ann's Special School (Catholic) in South Australia is at the centre of a paedophile scandal, I'd say it's time to get a new school logo:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Unauthorized" autobiography - Assange again claims he's a bit autistic, and another work collaboration turns nasty

The king of whistleblowers Julian Assange has described himself as a weirdo and a bit autistic in a new "unauthorized autobiography". The new book was partly written by a ghostwriter, and there's a big, complicated acrimonious disagreement between Assange and the publisher. Relationships, personal and professional, don't seem to be a strong point for Assange.

McSmith, Andy (2011) An extraordinary story, lovely writing and a weirdo hero – what's not to like? Independent. 23 September 2011

Leigh, David, Ball, James, and Addley, Esther (2011) Julian Assange autobiography: why he didn't want it published. Guardian. 22 September 2011.

Assange, Julian (2011) Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography. Canongate, 2011.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Another Baron-Cohen autism-related theory looks like a real dog

In the fullness of time many of the theories and research tools relevant to autism that have been created by Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen and team from the University of Cambridge have not turned out to be nearly as wonderful as the media hype has suggested. Plenty of studies have failed to find evidence supportive of Baron-Cohen's ideas about psychological sex differences. The Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test has been used in many scientific studies, but during it's use the test's limitations have come to light. Even though Baron-Cohen's writing suggests that disability in reading facial expressions and face recognition are important elements of the autistic phenotype, researchers in these areas continue to discover autistic study subjects who have no disability in these areas. The Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), created in 2001 by Baron-Cohen and his team has been widely used for amateur self-diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, but a recent study has found that "The AQ-20 was only a weak predictor of ADOS-4 cases.", while there was found to be moderate agreement between clinical consensus diagnoses and ADOS-4 (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule module-4).

The assortative mating theory of autism is another brainchild of the professor. I believe this theory explains the apparent rise in autism spectrum condition diagnosis rates as the result of a combination of semi-autistic men and women who carry autism genes being more able in recent years to find gainful employment due to there being more technological jobs available that suit our autistic technical talents, along with the rise of the computer age, and these men and women carrying autism genes are supposedly now more able to meet each other and marry and breed together due to the concentration of geeky types in geographical concentrations of technological industries in places like "Silicon Valley".

If one breaks this down, there are supposedly two different effects happening - one is that autistics are theorized to be more able to have kids in the last few decades due to changes in the profile of employment options allowing the previously unemployable to find gainful work. I find this idea completely unconvincing, but I recognize that only a social science researcher could authoritatively say whether or not this idea is true. Technology has always been important to humankind, and I can cite many technological occupations which our family's female and male ancestors worked in. Engineering is not a new profession, and many of the housework chores, jobs and small business enterprises that women once did were technological in nature, so I don't believe that there is anything new about techies being able to make a buck.

Baron-Cohen also cites the scientifically accepted and quite long-established assortative mating effect as a factor behind the rise of autism diagnosis rates. Assortative mating is simply the tendency of similar people to marry. It apparently has been observed in many personality traits and mental health-related characteristics. Birds of a feather flock together. Assortative mating alone should in no way alter the rate of any disorder or mental feature in the population, as there are still the same absolute numbers of people marrying and having kids, regardless of who they settle down with. Assortative mating could only be relevant to increasing the rate of conditions if the conditions are the result of a recessive genetic inheritance pattern or something like this pattern in which two different genes which individually give rise to a similar trait or traits are by chance both inherited by one person, and the effects of both genes combine to produce a person with full autism or some other condition in full effect. To clarify, a recessive inheritance pattern is a pattern in which a gene "for" some condition is harmless or has no obvious effect in people who have ("carry") only one copy of the gene, but if a person has two copies of the gene an effect, which can be a bad effect, occurs in the person with two copies, presumably because the extra effect of a higher "dose" of the gene takes the individual over some biological threshold into a different or harmful state. So, for assortative mating to be important to the rate of autism in the population, autism would have to be inherited in a recessive pattern or something similar. So is it?

Remarkably little progress has been made in understanding the inheritance of autism, considering the huge amounts of money that have been spent to this end. This is because it appears that there are in fact many very different genotypes that can give rise to one supposedly unitary autism phenotype (the behavioural manifestation of autism). Instead of researching one genetic model of autism(s), researchers need to pursue many different models, and it appears that by far most of them do not operate in a classic recessive pattern. One model is in a dominant pattern, some types of autism result from single-gene mutations, some from chromosomal disorders, and epigenetic and imprinting models have been proposed. Some cases of autism are the result of spontaneous copy number variation mutations that arose only in that individual and weren't inherited from either parent. The word "recessive" does not appear even once in the Wikipedia's lengthy article about "heritability of autism". As far as I know, there is no recessive gene model of autism. I can see no good reason whatsoever why Baron-Cohen should assume that autism is inherited via a recessive pattern or something similar, and therefore I can't see how the assortative mating effect could be a significant or main genetic cause of elevated rates of autism diagnosis.

This isn't the only major problem with Baron-Cohen's assortative mating theory of autism. Many people would argue that there is no reason in the first place to feel a need to construct a theory to explain the rise in autism diagnosis rates, as it is only an error of measurement, and not a genuine raise in rates. Many professionals have argued that the only thing that has changed are diagnostic definitions of autism and related conditions, and changes in the motivations for parents to seek professional assessments for their children.

As if this all isn't enough reason to dismiss Baron-Cohen's theory as laughable, in a recent article about Baron-Cohen in Time magazine, a researcher who has actually done research into the assortative mating effect as it relates to the broader autistic phenotype, psychiatrist John Constantino, has reportedly stated that Baron-Cohen's theory doesn't explain the rise in autism diagnosis because "strong systemizers" as couples "....weren't having autistic kids at anywhere near the rate that would begin to account for the real rise we've seen in autism." (p.34 article by Warner in Time). I question the use of the word "real" in that article quote.

So, I would argue that the assortative mating theory of autism is just one more seriously misleading and invalid theory that Baron-Cohen has inflicted into the world-wide popular and scientific discourses about autism. A number of different types of harm might be done with this theory. The theory gives a false legitimacy to the false idea that autism rates are really rising, thus denying the reality of much of the social and personal history of autism and autistic families, which stretches back for many generations, and the idea of a modern surge in autism also adds fuel to the fire of fear that autism might be caused by modern environmental factors such as vaccinations, pollution, the internet or too much red cordial. Another type of harm caused by the professor's theory is the clear implication that some people shouldn't marry each other and some people shouldn't marry at all. I have no issue with individuals practicing eugenics in their own private lives, but there are many obvious dangers associated with eugenics as an issue of public policy imposed by institutions or experts upon individuals.

Another harm potentially caused by Baron-Cohen's brain-fart is the association in the popular mind of autism with the much-misunderstood concept of the "recessive gene". I'm not sure why, but many people have the idea that "recessive" genes are particularly sneaky, sinister things. The folklore is that these genes lie dormant in families but occasionally without warning they jump out of their hiding places to cause devastating rare genetic diseases. This is a bunch of crap, of course. Recessive genes associated with the more common recessive genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis or sickle-cell anemia do not cause disease in most of the people who have the gene, and the fact that these genes are widespread is an indication that these genes may have useful effects when one only is inherited (homozygote advantage), but try to tell that to anyone over thirty who wagged science in high school. Maybe the word "recessive" reminds people of inbred aristocrats with receding jaws, or something.

How many more silly, evidence-free theories from this celebrity academic are we going to have foist upon us? Why has this guy been taken so seriously for so long by the media and academia? What is wrong with the way that science is practiced in the 21st century?

Autism's Lone Wolf
by Judith Warner
Monday, Aug. 29, 2011,9171,2089358,00.html#ixzz1YBX2bp3Z

Validating two survey methods for identifying cases of autism spectrum disorder among adults in the community
T.S. McManusa, J. Smitha, F. J. Scotta, H. Meltzera, S. Purdona, T. Berneya, D. Tantama, J. Robinsona, J. Radleya and J. Bankarta
Psychological Medicine.
DOI: 10.1017/S0033291711001292
Published online: 29 July 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lili's next thought of the day

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a source of great self-confidence for many people, and the Placebo Effect is the powerhouse behind many of today's most popular new drugs.

Lili's thought for the day

That there is so much focus on the stuff that we physically consume says so much about the banality and the consumerism of popular culture in Australia in 2011.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Luria's "S" the synaesthete wasn't face-blind

This is an excerpt from two of my big lists - my famous synaesthetes list and my famous autistics list:

Solomon V. Shereshevskii 1886?-1958?

He was also known as “S”, "Shereshevsky", "Sherashevsky", “Sheresevsky”, “Cherechevski” and “Veniamin”. He was a Jewish Russian journalist, professional mnemonist (memory feat performer) in a stage show and had other jobs. He was married and had kids. He was famous as the subject of the classic case study The Mind of a Mnemonist: a Little Book About a Vast Memory by Russian neuropsychologist Alexander R. Luria (Luriia), Shereshevskii’s extraordinary eidetic memory is thought to have been aided by his synaesthesia, of which he had a number of different types including projector-type synaesthesia. Shereshevskii was a vividly visual thinker but he reported trouble remembering faces. It is important to note that it is far from clear from the scant second-hand description of Shereshevskii's experience of face perception whether his experience was like that of a prosopagnosic (person with a face recognition disability) or more typical of normal face perception, and scientific tests of face recognition did not exist in the age in which his case was explored. On page 127 Shereskevskii describes imagining "...a face familiar to me from childhood" and his recollections from his infancy include seeing his mother's face and recognizing his father's voice (p. 78). Shereshevskii was not blind to facial expressions, as some commentators have claimed, in fact he reported that facial expressions interfered with his ability to remember faces (p. 64 1987 HUP edition). His parents may have had unusual memory abilities and Luria described some of his siblings as "gifted individuals" (Luria 1968). Shereshevskii’s amazing mind has been discussed in relation to Asperger syndrome in a book and in a journal paper (Wilding & Valentine 1997, Wing 1981). Shereshevskii “seemed to have behaved not unlike someone with Asperger syndrome. Unfortunately, Luria did not give enough details to allow a diagnosis to be made” according to Asperger syndrome expert Lorna Wing (Wing 1981).

References about the most fascinating and amazing Solomon Shereshevskii

Elfakir, Abdelhadi (2005) Mémoire et autisme: de la neuropsychologie à la psychanalyse. Le cas de Cherechevski. I’Information Psychiatrique. Novembre 2005, Volume 81, Number 9, p.763-70.
[French paper that appears to be arguing that S. Shereshevskii was autistic]

Luria, A. R. & Solotaroff, Lynn (translator) (1968) The mind of a mnemonist: a little book about a vast memory. Jonathan Cape.
[Shereshevskii’s name is given as “S” in this book, the author’s name is sometimes spelt Aleksandr Luriia, autism/AS not mentioned but S’s synaesthesia and extraordinary memory abilities are fully docmented]

Wilding, John M. and Valentine, Elizabeth R. Superior memory. Psychology Press, 1997.
[partly available at Google Books]

Wing, Lorna (1981) Asperger syndrome: a clinical account. Psychological Medicine. 11, p.115-129.
[Shereshevskii mentioned as a possible case]

Yaro, Caroline and Ward, Jamie (2007) Searching for Shereshevskii: what is superior about the memory of synaesthetes? Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 2007 May;60(5):681-95.
[some discussion of Shereshevskii, and Figure 1 shows the many types of synaesthesia of his described by Luria, with page numbers given]

Lili's thought of the day

It's just September the tenth and I'm already so fed up with hearing about 9/11.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Lili's investigative thought for the day

The Ruddbot is from the same planet from which the "Doc Evatt" model was sent. They ironed out the flying anxiety issue in the newer model, but the minor problems with visual acuity, hair colour fading and the hair flicking tic remain.

Monday, September 05, 2011

60 Minutes reporter stuffs up and the name of hyperthymestic syndrome changed again but still no recognition from US of link with synaesthesia

Did you see 60 Minutes last night? I'm talking about the stupid and popular Australian version of the American show, which is also, no doubt, every bit as stupid and popular. It's a sad fact that stupid and popular inevitably go together. That's why I try to avoid best-selling books and blockbuster movies and television shows that are broadcast between 8.00pm to 10.30pm on commercial channels. But it is still a good idea to know what bent, twisted and horribly mutilated accounts of current affairs The Masses are watching. This is just about as far as I want to get to knowing what's inside the mind of the man in the street.

So I was watching 60 Minutes and I was surprised to see the return to Australian television of Jill Price, one of the most interesting famous synesthetes whom I have written about in my big list of famous synaesthetes. Price was featured in a story on the ABC's fairly stupid and popular science TV series Catalyst in 2009. Price became famous in 2006 as the subject of a neuropsychological case study which was written up in the medical journal Neurocase. She was identified by US researchers as the world's first identified case of a new syndrome of superior autobiographical memory which was then given the name "hyperthymestic syndrome". Since then, for some reason, the name of this syndrome has been changed twice. It went from "hyperthymestic syndrome" to "hyperthymesia" and now it's being labelled as "superior autobiographical memory". All of this name-changing is having the effect of fragmenting the modest but interesting body of literature that has accumulated about this interesting variant of memory savantism.

After my surprise at seeing Jill Price on the box again, I then failed to be amazed when I saw that some of the most interesting aspects of the science of Jill Price's case of hyperthymestic syndrome, her synaesthesia and synaesthesia's possible relationship with memory savant skills, were not reported by 60 Minutes. I had become accustomed to reading and viewing descriptions of the fascinating mind of Jill Price that completely overlook the obvious and interesting fact that she has time-space synaesthesia, formerly known as "number forms" or "number form synaesthesia". Last year's story about superior autobiographical memory on the US version of 60 Minutes failed to mention the link with synesthesia, and the reporter for Catalyst failed to mention that Price, their featured guest, is a synaesthete back in 2009. It's hard to believe that the academics who wrote the original 2006 medical journal paper that first described Price also failed to note that their case was a synaesthete, even though they described in detail the idiosyncratic layouts of her number forms for years and months in their paper. Jill Price also described these mental spatial forms in her 2008 autobiography. Given that a very old case study of an incredible memory savant "S" who also happened to have many different types of synaesthesia, which was written by the scientist Alexander Luria, is a very widely-read case study among psychology students, I'm amazed that all of these scientists failed to twig that Price might be, and indeed is, of the same type.

Both US and Australian 60 Minutes stories about superior autobiographical memory cite the part of the brain known as the caudate nucleus as enlarged in people who have the condition, but the reporter of the Australian story, Allison Langdon, managed to create a sensationalist exaggeration of the truth as a result of what seems to be a basic lack of mathematical knowledge. In the Australian story it is clamed that this part of the brain " enormous – up to seven times bigger than normal" while in the American CBS News version of the story a direct quote from the American academic who is researching the phenomenon is much closer to the truth, describing the caudate nucleus as "...perhaps up to seven or eight what's called standard deviations larger than normal. To understand what that means, if a man was seven or eight standard deviations taller than the height of the average man, he'd be ten feet tall. So we have some potentially whopping effects...". Yes, this is a whopping effect, but nowhere like as whopping as seven or eight times normal. It appears that we have a reporter working on one of Australia's highest rating current affairs television shows who doesn't know the difference between standard deviations and multiplication; basic high school maths. Are you surprised? I'm not surprised, just really sad. You see what I meant by "studid and popular"? I wasn't joking.

A 2009 USA Today story about Jill Price identified the caudate nucleus and also "...a part of the temporal lobe that stores facts, dates and events..." as enlarged in Jill Price's brain. The US 60 Minutes story also identified "the temporal lobe" as enlarged in people who have superior autobiographical memory. The temporal lobes have been found to be involved in some cases of synaesthesia (Cytowic's famous book described one such case), but I'm not aware of any cases of synesthesia that have been demonstrated to involve the caudate nucleus, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen - synaesthesia is an area of research that is still developing at a fast rate.

While many researchers and reporters have failed to note Jill Price's synaesthesia, which is an interesting aspect of one case of very superior autobiographical memory, some British researchers have given her synaesthesia the attention that it deserves. I can recommend their 2009 Cortex journal paper about savant-like abilities of some visuo-spatial synaesthetes as a good read for the nerdy and interested.

I look forward to reading the upcoming autobiographical book by the US actress Marilu Henner, who claims to also have a very superior autobiographical memory, popular and stupid as it may turn out to be.

References and Reading

CBS News (2010) The Gift of Endless Memory. 60 Minutes (US). December 19, 2010.

Elias, Marilyn (2009) MRIs reveal possible source of woman's super-memory. USA Today. January 28th 2009.

Henner, Marilu (not yet published) An Unforgettable Life. Simon & Schuster, to be published late 2011.

Langdon, Allison (reporter), Rice, Stephen (producer)(2011) Total recall. 60 Minutes (Australia). September 2nd 2011.

Parker, Elizabeth S., Cahill, Larry, & McGaugh, James L. (2006) A case of unusual autobiographical remembering. Neurocase. Volume 12 Issue 1 February 2006. p. 35 – 49.
["AJ" in this paper is Jill Price. Number form synesthesia described on page 42]

Phillips, Graham (2009) Unforgettable memories. Catalyst. ABC Television. March 19th 2009.

Price, Jill & Davis, Bart (2008) The woman who can't forget: the extraordinary story of living with the most remarkable memory known to science - a memoir. Free Press, May 2008.
[number form synesthesia described on pages 30-31]

Simner, Julia, Mayo, Neil, Spiller, Mary-Jane (2009) A foundation for savantism? Visuo-spatial synaesthetes present with cognitive benefits. Cortex. Volume 45, issue 10, November-December 2009, Pages 1246-1260.
["AJ" from the 2006 Neurocase paper, who is Jill Price, is discussed in this paper. "We suggest that time-space forms may be a necessary but not sufficient component of hyperthymestic syndrome, and that this latter may arise from the unification of two independent features that have co-incidentally co-occurred in case AJ." Other papers about this type of synaesthesia can be found in this journal issue.]

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The eagle-eyed autists debacle never ends

I'm indebted to Michelle Dawson and her most informative and at times entertaining tweets for the news that there is yet another study and paper in the works debunking the fanciful idea which originated from Baron-Cohen's Autism Research Centre, an institution that is gaining quite a reputation for silly ideas that don't pan out, that autistic people might have visual acuity comparable to birds of prey. This new paper is from Australian and Swedish researchers. Ya gotta laugh...

Visual Acuity in Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome: No Evidence for “Eagle-Eyed” Vision. Biological Psychiatry. Article in Press.

Michelle Dawson

The Curious Case of the Autistics Who Don't Really See Like Eagles: a reference list in chronological order

A question about eyes and a psychological theory

If non-verbal communication, including the communication of emotional and social information through the eyes and facial expressions is a thing that females are especially good at and naturally inclined to do, as is suggested by the theories about sex differences and empathy and social behaviour that have been popularized by autism researcher Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen, then why is the wearing of dark sunglasses which obscure the eyes and parts of the face so very popular among women these days? When I look around at gatherings of Australian middle-class mothers in their 30's and 40s in suburbs close to where I live, I see that the majority of them wear dark sunglasses when they are out and about in daily life, regardless of the weather or level of UV radiation. Don't they want to talk with their eyes? Why wont they let other people read their minds in their eyes? Aren't they keen to share, to participate socially and be emotionally open with a bit of non-verbal communication? Are they aloof or autistic or something? Why are they happy to have "the windows of the soul" obscured with dark tinting so much of the time?

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Baron-Cohen's last book more of a miss than a hit?

It's interesting to peruse the reader reviews at Amazon for Professor Simon Baron-Cohen's most recent book sold under the title Zero Degrees of Empathy in the UK and in the US released in June 2011 under the title Science of Evil. I get the impression that this book is not a huge hit either side of the Atlantic, despite the book being reviewed in some major UK newspapers. For the UK version there are only eleven reviews, most giving a rating of three stars or less, and for the US version only three reviews, one with a low two-star rating. Some quite interesting discussions have been triggered by the unfavourable reviews of Zero Degrees of Empathy, so at least we can say the book has, in some ways, provoked discussion, but often not in ways that reflect well on the book or the author. In some previous posts I have explained that Baron-Cohen has apparently presented not one but two unverified urban legends in his book as factual anecdotes that tell us something profound about human nature, which raises many pointed questions about the book and also about the author.

Contrast the weak reception to the professor's new book with what can be found at the Amazon page for another book on the subject of psychopaths that was released within a month of the publication of Baron-Cohen's book. I refer to Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, a book that I have recommended at my blog as a better alternative to Baron-Cohen's book for readers interested in the subject. One hundred and twelve readers have taken the time to write reviews of Ronson's book, the large majority rating it highly. So was I right, or was I right?

Zero Degrees of Empathy at Amazon:

The Psychopath Test at Amazon:

Lili's poignant thought for the day

The sound of regret in the voice of an old person who is on the way out is a sound that rings in the ear and repeats over and over in the mind.

Lili's late thought for the day

I reckon someone or some group has asked Gillard to step down -

It's a pity that Australia's first female PM was such a dud, because as a Deputy PM I thought she was pretty good, but that's not what she'll be remembered for.

Lili's thought from a few days ago

Fail Julia Fail! :-D

A nice quote from a synaesthete genius

"For a successful technology, nature must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

- Richard Feynman, famous physicist and also a synaesthete

I heard this quote today on The Science Show on the ABC's Radio National. Another biography of the legendary late scientist Feynman has been written, this time by the well-known science writer Lawrence Krauss, who was interviewed.

Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science. (Great Discoveries)
by Lawrence M. Krauss

Richard Feynman - one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century. Science Show. ABC Radio National. 3 September 2011.

Lili's next thought for the day

Has John Elder Robison always had a Temple Grandin accent?

Lili's thought for the day

She threw herself into life with great energy and enthusiasm, and life sometimes ended up a bit bruised and bent out of shape as a consequence.

Be different! Be cured! Make your bloody mind up!

That John Elder Robison, he's such a funny old duffer! One minute he's telling us to "be different" and the next he's raving on about some unproven supposed treatment for autism. You can't "be different" and also "be cured". Pick one, Mr Robison!