Thursday, October 13, 2011

Daniel Tammet's Pi record - is there no end to the controversies associated with this man?

Daniel Tammet (accessed 2011) Pi World Ranking List.
["This was long time claimed as a European Record, as Daniel recited 22,514 decimal places. Unfortunately he made his first mistake at postion 2,965 and did not correct this error immediately and without outside help, but only after he was told that there was a mistake."]

Pi Memory Feat. (2008) University of Oxford.
[This page might seem like a very authoritative source, but one needs to keep in mind that another source has claimed that the event “was monitored by students from the department of mathematical sciences at Oxford Brookes University” (Lyall 2007), and that is a different university to the University of Oxford.]

Pi Record (2011) Optimnem: Daniel Tammet: the official website.

P.S. December 2011
I have added my annotations to the above links. Here's some more items in
chronological order in which Tammet's Pi recitation is mentioned or discussed:

How you can help: NSE events: Pi in the sky. (2004) National Society for Epilepsy.
This link is now redirects to another address, but a record of its content in June 2004 can still be accessed through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine
[I believe this piece could have been written before the actual event and left unedited, because it does not actually state the number 22,514 which is supposed to be Tammet's actual record: "A Kent man has succeeded in his attempt to set a new British and European record by using his incredible memory to recall the mathematical constant Pi (3.141...) to over 22,500 decimal places." Another quote from the webpage: “Daniel was part of a research study on prodigious mental ability at London's Institute of Neurology. The data appeared in the new year 2003 edition of the prestigious neuro-scientific magazine 'Nature'.” This certainly would have been the “Routes to Remembering” study by Maguire, Valentine, Wilding and Kapur.]

Marsh, Stefanie (2004) Learn these 500 digits of pi by heart. That is about 2% of what this man can remember. Times, The March 13th 2004 Section: Home news, p.5. Accession number 7EH3642629466.
[I accessed this thru the Australian/New Zealand Reference Centre at EBSCOhost. A breathless article promoting Tammet’s Pi recitation to be held the next day. A quite lengthy and detailed article considering it is about an event not yet held. A target figure of 22,500 for the number of decimal places is cited for Tammet’s Pi recitation. The venue is the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University. March explains that Tamet’s mnemonic ability is “abnormal” and due to him being “one of only a handful of “acquired savants”” as a result of epilepsy at age 3. Tammet claims to be not autistic, but the journalist claims he exhibits some “symptoms”. There is discussion of Tammet’s supposed peculiarities of thought and behaviour. “Epilepsy and schizophrenia both run in the family.” After this quote there is a description of visual experiences which could be interpreted as schizophrenia hallucinations or as synaesthesia, but which I don’t think are typical of either. Tammet does not appear to like being asked to account for how he does his memory feats: “Because I am not autistic, people expect me to be more accountable than I want to be” “I can no more explain what I can do and the limits of my ability than anyone else. I do not need to prove myself.” At the end of this article is a link to the National Society for Epilepsy's page about Tammet's Pi recitation.]

Keene, Ray (2004) Freak of nature? More like hard work. Times, The, March 13th 2004. Section: Home news, p.5. EBSCOHost Accession number 7EH2135809642
[This appears to have been a companion article beside the article by Stefanie Marsh anticipating Tammet's Pi recitation, possibly included to add a necessary balance to the newspaper's coverage of the story. The author Raymond Keene OBE is an English chess Grandmaster, a long-time organizer of the World Memory Championships (which Tammet competed in before his name change), and has been the chess correspondent for The Times since 1985. Although Tammet is not mentioned in this article, Keene does debunk the notion that superior intellectual skills can be the result of injury at a young age, which is a lot like Tammet's explanation for his memorization and calculation skills, and his supposed synaesthesia, as the result of an epileptic fit in his toddler years. Keene recounts past achievements in the memorization of Pi and explains that these achievements are done using ancient memory techniques.]

New Pi record. (2004) Times, The March 15th 2004. Section: Home news, p. 14.
[No writer is cited for this one paragraph article reporting that “Daniel Tammet smashed the European record for Pi recollection, reciting 22,514 decimals from memory...” It seems odd that the promotional article about this event was much longer and detailed, while the article reporting what actually happened is brief and anonymous.]

Big slice of pi sets new record. BBC News. March 15th 2004.
[“It literally took me a few weeks to learn the number, and that was backwards as well as forwards, it wasn't a problem for me at all.” “The National Society for Epilepsy (NSE) is now set to submit proof of the feat to the Guinness Book of Records for it to be confirmed as a record.” I have contacted Guinness World Records and have been advised that there is nothing in their database under "Daniel Tammet".]

Pi-man sets record. Age, The. Fairfax Digital. March 16th 2004.
[Synaesthesia is not mentioned in this article in which Tammet is presented as a non-autistic savant who had epilepsy as a child, and who cannot drive, ride a bike or swim. Some quotes from the article: “...It literally took me a few weeks to learn the number...” “Tammet is listed by United States expert Dr Darold Treffert .... as one of only 25 savants in the world.” “Unlike autistic savants, Tammet is able to lead a normal life and...” “His skills have been featured in the scientific journal Nature and he has appeared at the World Mental Skills Championship in London.”]

Feat more than Pi in the sky. (2004) MX. March 16th 2004. Edition: 1 – Melbourne. Section: News, p.9. Accession number: 200403161009180739.
[Same as the Herald Sun report of March 17th 2004]

A fair slice of Pi. (2004) Herald Sun (Melbourne). March 17th 2004
Edition: 1 – First. Section: News, p.7. Accession number: 200403171007282512.
[Writer not named. This report did not even give the exact number of the record: “A REAL life Rain Man said he was exhausted yesterday after counting his way into the record books by reciting the number pi to more than 22,500 decimal places.”]

The Boy with the Incredible Brain. (2005) Focus Productions (Bristol UK)/Discovery Science Channel for five.
[A 47 minute “documentary” that is believed to have been screened in the UK as an episode in the Extraordinary People television series. This show is apparently not identical to the 60 minute 2005 “documentary” Brainman, but is generally the same thing. Film of Tammet’s Pi recitation is shown. IMDB lists Karen Ammond from the major PR company KBC Media as an associate producer of Brainman. Ammond was engaged by Tammet way back in 2001 to represent him. According to Tammet’s website Optimnem Brainman/The Boy with the Incredible Brain won a Royal Television Society award in December 2005, a claim which appears to be untrue, but the doco was nominated for this award.]

Holden, Constance (2005) Coloured memory. Science. April 22nd 2005 Vol. 308 Issue 5721, p.492.
[A brief and puzzlingly late report of Tammet’s Pi recitation in 2004, also reporting that Tammet had been tested by V. Ramachandran and team, which “now plans to investigate the multiplication skills of Tammet.” I wonder what happened to that project?]

Conan, Neal (2007) A Look at an Autistic Savant's Brilliant Mind. Talk of the Nation. NPR. January 15th 2007.
[Tammet and US autism researcher Dr Ami Klin interviewed on talk show with callers also asking questions. “Pi is one of my favorite numbers. I devote a chapter in the book to it. I have a peculiar claim to fame with the number pi. I hold the European record for reciting the number pi to 22,514 decimal places at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford in 2004 on pi day - 3/14 - March 14th. And it took five hours to recite from start to finish. There were mathematicians to check the digits to make sure that I was accurate.”]

Lyall, Sarah (2007) Brainman, at Rest in His Oasis. New York Times. February 15th 2007.
[about Tammet’s Pi recitation: “The recitation took place at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, lasted five hours and nine minutes and was monitored by students from the department of mathematical sciences at Oxford Brookes University. Mr. Tammet made no mistakes.” Oxford Brookes Uni is apparently a different uni than the University of Oxford, but located close by. The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford is a department of the University of Oxford, so there were apparently two different unis involved in Tammet’s Pi recitation event.]

Ward, Jamie (2008) The frog who croaked blue: synesthesia and the mixing of the senses. Routledge, 2008.
[Author a UK synaesthesia researcher. Dr Ward has communicated directly with Tammet, but his writing about Tammet in this book is not an interview format, and it appears that the quotes and material from Tammet in this book are excerpts from Tammet’s first book. Ward states that “...Daniel Tammet broke the European record for reciting 22,514 digits of pi without error...” (Ward 2008 p.110).

Sansom, Ian (2009) Another slice of pi. Guardian. February 14th 2009.
[A somewhat critical book review of Tammet’s second autobiography which is otherwise typical of media stories about Tammet: no expression of scepticism about any aspect of Tammet’s story, cites 22,514th decimal place as Tammet’s Pi record and no mention of Tammet’s name change or his pre-name change activities.]

Seaberg, Maureen (2011) Tasting the universe: people who see colors in words and rainbows in symphonies: a spiritual and scientific exploration of synesthesia. New Page Books, 2011.
[Author an American synaesthete journalist with an interest in spirituality. Many famous synaesthetes discussed and/or interviewed including Daniel Tammet. Seaberg makes a hash of reporting Tammet’s supposed Pi record “...he was famously able to memorise the number Pi to 22,500 places-and even more in recent times” (Seaberg 2011 p.158). Two different Pi record attempts by Tammet? He stopped at 22,500 decimal places? I don’t think so.]


Anonymous said...

The claim on the pi world ranking list that he had made a mistake is a very recent change - up until a few weeks ago the pi world ranking list site listed Tammet's record as uncontested. I haven't seen any other information on this alleged mistake - certainly, it was not reported publicly at the time.

Mr Anon

Lili Marlene said...

If you look at this page alone, you wouldn't know there was any issue:

It's confusing, and I'm frustrated by the lack of info about who is behind this website.

I was stunned when I discovered this.

Anonymous said...

You could try contacting the webmaster of the site to ask about the source of his information - there is a contact link on the page. The pi world rankings site had been left unmaintained for several years (with a message that this was due to ill health), but just recently it's had lots of updates.

Certainly, Tammet's European record was widely publicised at the time, including in a press release by the University of Oxford, where the record attempt took place.

Mr Anon

Lili Marlene said...

So you know that this website has been around for quite a long time? Do you think it's genuine?

I'm amazed at all the things I'm discovering about Tammet.

I should say that even if he can only claim a record for recounting Pi to a bit short of three thousand places, that is a feat that I can barely imagine is possible. I'm still hugely impressed.