Saturday, October 29, 2011

A quote from a 2007 paper published in the Neurocase science journal

From the acknowledgements section:

"We are greateful to Martin Weitz and the production team of 'Brain Man' (Focus Productions) for introducing us to DT as part of their science documentary. This work was supported by the MRC, UK."

I notice that Karen Ammond from the marketing and publicity firm KBC Media wasn't mentioned, even though she was apparently an Associate Producer of that documentary. She was also engaged by Daniel Tammet, the subject of that journal paper, to represent his interests, since 2001. Is this really a science documentary or is it just a bit of sciency showbiz? The borderlands between entertainment and science is a place that is full of problems.

It looks like the joke is on you, MRC, UK!

There is a similar acknowledgement in the other journal paper about Tammet by the Baron-Cohen team published in 2007, in the Journal of Consciousness Studies:

"We are grateful to Martin Weitz for introducing us to DT..."


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. The fMRI study failed to find expected activity that would indicate synaesthesia, but did find activity consistent with the use of the memory technique known as “chunking”. Authors tried to explain findings with a claim that Tammet’s synaesthesia is a special type.]

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]


Anonymous said...

Baron-Cohen et al's paper "Savant memory in a man with colour form-number synaesthesia and asperger syndrome" has a similar comment:

"We are grateful to Martin Weitz for introducing us to DT..."

Mr Anon

Lili Marlene said...

Yes, that's true. That paper has acknowledgements at the end of the text, as is usual among journal papers. Martin Weitz (director of Brainman doco) thanked, Karen Ammond not mentioned. I guess we've got to assume that the researchers didn't know what Karen Ammond's regular job was.

I wonder whether they still feel grateful for being introduced to Mr Tammet. This story could be read as a cautionary tale about synaesthesia researchers lazily using self-selected study subjects for their research. This has been a major problem with synaesthesia research, and researchers are still doing studies on small samples of self-selected or partly self-selected samples of the synaesthete population, which makes their research really meaningless, because any difference between the non-synaesthete control group (who generally aren't as self-selected as the synaesthete group) and the synaesthete study subjects could be wholly due to idiosyncratic characteristics of people who take the initiative to volunteer for neuropsychology research.

Fortunately, there is an very easy way to check if a synaesthesia study has used a sample which is skewed due to self-selection - we know that the genuine sex ratio in synaesthetes is pretty much even, (thanks to the work of some UK synaesthesia researchers who aren't lazy dogs), but self-selected synaesthete groups are predominantly female, so if the synaesthete subjects described in a study paper are mostly female, and there is no assurance that the group was not self-selected, then the best thing to do with the study paper is screw it up and pop it in the bin. Sadly this will result in the disposal of research of some of the most eminent names in synaesthesia research today.