Thursday, October 06, 2011

A list of researchers who have apparently studied Daniel Tammet (formerly known as Daniel Corney)

Julian Asher

Chris Ashwin

Shai Azoulai

Simon Baron-Cohen

Jac / Jaclyn Billington

Daniel Bor

Edward Hubbard

Narinder Kapur

Eleanor Maguire

Gary Morgan

V.S. Ramachandran (A 2005 article in Science reported 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?)

Neil Smith

Darold Treffert

Ianthi Tsimpli

Elizabeth Valentine

Sally Wheelwright

John M. Wilding

Bencie Woll

(Dr Jamie Ward the UK synasthesia researcher wrote about Tammet in his book The Frog Who Croaked Blue and evidently had a discussion with Tammet, but I've found no evidence that Ward studied Tammet formally.)

(Prof. Allan Snyder in Australia has commented on Tammet as a case of savantism but I don't think he has studied Tammet first-hand)

(a quote from page 230 of the book Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer: "When Anders Ericsson invited Daniel to visit FSU to be tested according to his own exacting standards, Daniel said he was too busy to make the trip.")

(a quote from a review of one of Tammet's books in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders: "He also contributes to our knowledge base by volunteering to participate in dozens of brain studies." Where have these "dozens" of brain studies been published?)


Maguire, Eleanor A., Valentine, Elizabeth R., Wilding, John M. & Kapur, Narinder (2002-3) Routes to remembering: the brains behind superior memory. Nature Neuroscience. Volume 6 Number 1 January 2003 p.90-95.
Published online: 16 December 2002 doi:10.1038/nn988

Holden, Constance (2005) Coloured memory. Science. April 22nd 2005 Vol. 308 Issue 5721, p.492.

Azoulai, Shai, Hubbard, Ed, & Ramachandran, V. S. (accessed 2011) Does synesthesia contribute to mathematical savant skills?,5&as_vis=1 [Publication date unknown, possibly a conference talk summary. A 2010 paper by A. Louise Murray gives this citation for this paper: “J Cog Neurosci Supt 69 (2005), p.1.” which appears to be incorrect.]

Baron-Cohen S, Bor D, Billington J, Asher JE, Wheelwright S and Ashwin C. (2007) Savant Memory in a Man with Colour Form-Number Synaesthesia and Asperger Syndrome. Journal of Consciousness Studies. volume 14, number 9-10, September-October 2007, p. 237-251.
["DT", the subject of this study, is explicitly identified in the paper as Daniel Tammet]

Bor, D, Billington, J, Baron-Cohen, S. (2007) Savant memory for digits in a case of synaesthesia and Asperger syndrome is related to hyperactivity in the lateral prefrontal cortex. Neurocase. 2007 Oct;13(5):311-9.
[Unfortunately this revealing paper remains behind a paywall. Daniel Tammet is definitely the subject of this study, named “DT” in this paper.]

Ward, Jamie (2008) The frog who croaked blue: synesthesia and the mixing of the senses. Routledge, 2008.

VanBergeijk, Ernst (2009-2010) Daniel Tammet: Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Published online: 3 September 2009. October 2010 Volume 40 Issue 10 p.1293. DOI 10.1007/s10803-009-0868-3
[This is a brief and sychophantic book review which includes some highly unlikely claims; that synaesthesia is a rare condition; that Tammet learned Icelandic in only four days and that Tammet was at the time of publication “volunteering to participate in dozens of brain studies.” I can only assume that the vast majority of those brain studies must be still unpublished, because I have only been able to find records of a few.]

Smith, Neil, Tsimpli, Ianthi, Morgan, Gary and Woll, Bencie (2011) The Signs of a Savant: Language Against the Odds. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
[Tammet has been the subject of studies by some of the authors of this book. Discussion of Tammet can be found on p.151-2]

Treffert, Darold (accessed 2011) Daniel Tammet - Brainman: "Numbers are my friends". Wisconsin Medical Society.

[This is a page about Tammet, whom the “savant syndrome” expert Dr Treffert has met. Treffert describes results from him testing Tammet, but I a not aware of any pulbished formal study of Tammet by Treffert.]

Foer, Joshua (2011) Moonwalking with Einstein: the art and science of remembering everything. Allen Lane/Penguin, 2011.
[includes a chapter about Tammet in which Tammet’s achievements in the World Memory Championship under his original name of Daniel Corney in 1999 and 2000 are discussed, Tammet’s synaesthesia and savantism are questioned and the author considers whether Tammet’s remarkable talents are best explained as the result of training]


Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to get the authors of the "Routes to remembering" study to comment on Tammet, which is something they have never done (indeed, they may never have realised the famous Daniel Tammet, and the Daniel Corney who they studied, are the same person).

Somewhere, sitting in a dusty filing cabinet in London, there should be the results of his face recognition tests, descriptions of his debrief on how he did his mnemonics, and the brain scan results - all from the time before he claimed to be a savant.

It would be very interesting reading!

Lili Marlene said...

It surely would be interesting reading, but I'm pretty sure it will never be released. It is the usual thing for researchers to promise to maintain confidentiality of their study subjects. This is why Tammet was referred to as "DT" in two studies and "Arithmos" in the study by Ramachandran and co. But on the other hand, in the study published in the journal of consciousness studies, the authors of the study chose to break their confidentiality regarding the study subject's identity because he wrote an autobiography and also agreed to take part in a TV doco. I guess there is an implication that Tammet broke the confidentiality of that study, so the researchers felt no need to preserve it further. I guess this is a bit of a grey area.

Apparently Tammet once did publish on his own website that he had won a gold medal in the 2000 "memory olympics" in London, and as a result was "was subsequently invited to London’s Institute of Neurology to undergo tests for a landmark study of prodigious mental ability. The summarized data, co-written by some of Britain’s leading brain scientists, appeared in the New Year 2003 edition of the highly prestigious Nature neuro-scientific magazine.” This is taken from D. Treffert's website, and is supposed to be originally from Tammet's website, but I don't think its there now. I believe this is enough to argue that Tammet himself has broken the confidentiality of the "Routes to remembering" study, but it would be nice to be able to find the original page at Optimnem archived. Whether or not the academics who did that study would want to cause a stir by breaking confidentiality from their side of the study is another issue.

One thing to be cautious about re the testing of face memory done in the Routes to Remembering study is that I doubt that the test used stands up to contemporary clinical standards of testing of face recognition becuse the photos used included hair. Researchers who specialise in prosopagnosia and face perception created a test, the CFMT, which includes only faces and nothing else in the picture, because people who really couldn't recognize faces could sometimes get good scores on some of the older tests by remembering stuff in the pictures that aren't faces. See here:
If Tammet is a smart, memory-savvy bloke who has a genuine face disability it is possible that he could have used this type of strategy in less face-specific tests to get a deceptively good score.

Anonymous said...

I agree that confidentiality concerns mean that the Routes for Remembering data will probably never be released. Unless... Tammet himself gave his permission. If he is genuine, this would be a straightforward way for him to help prove his doubters wrong, and contribute to scientific understanding of his abilities. Given that he has publicly mentioned his participation in this study, it might not be unreasonable to ask him to do this.

I agree with your comments on many face memory tests being poorly controlled. This is especially so for the memory championships event. Indeed, from the perspective of trained memorisers, I don't think the face recognition per se is that important to the "names and faces" event in the world memory championships. In my experience, remembering the names is at least as hard as remembering the faces, and most memorisers would rely on features in the photographs such as hair colour, spectacles, age etc to identify each person.

Thus the inconsistency in his face memory performance could be explained. What is suspicious is that he hasn't explained it - it seems very strange to claim in interviews that he has enormous trouble recognising faces, while neglecting to mention that he has won a world championship gold medal in memorising names and faces.

Lili Marlene said...

"Given that he has publicly mentioned his participation in this study, it might not be unreasonable to ask him to do this." You are referring to what Tammet apparently once wrote at his own website?

I agree that it we have the right to question Tammet's silence regarding his achievements in the Names and Faces event, and for that matter, all of the adventures that he got up to under his old surname. I'd be genuinely interested in his explanation of the names and faces. I'm sure he believed that his name change would act as a barrier to inquiry, and for his purposes it has. He has made his money.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Bor has an interesting new blog, with an excellent posting and discussion on shortcomings in neuroscience.

It would be interesting to raise the Daniel Tammet case with him there - he was one of the key researchers to have studied Tammet, and his blog postings suggest he has a constructive attitude to criticism of science findings.

Lili Marlene said...

Thanks for the tip - his blog is very worthwhile and readable. I guess he must be promoting a new book.

Anonymous said...

An interesting read on Daniel Bor's blog


Lili Marlene said...

Thanks for the tip Tomas. Bor's blog has been unexpectedly good.

Anonymous said...

I'm now having a discussion with Daniel Bor in the comments here:


Lili Marlene said...

Thanks for keeping me in the loop, Tomas. Will look at it when I get the chance. Hope that is soon!