Thursday, December 29, 2011

Don’t believe everything you read in a book: an incomplete list of books that are about, are by or mention Daniel Tammet, in chronological order

Tammet, Daniel (2006) Born on a blue day: a memoir of Asperger’s and an extraordinary mind. Hodder & Stoughton. 2006.
[I think it is interesting that Karen Ammond who is the founder and president of the publicity company KBC Media which Tammet engaged to represent him in 2001 and was also an associate producer of the science-themed “documentary” Brainman (released in 2005), which brought Tammet to the attention of some British neuroscience researchers and launched him into fame as a celebrity neuropsychiatry case, is thanked by name in the acknowledgements section of the US 2007 Free Press edition of this book, but was not mentioned in the acknowledgements in the 2006 UK Hodder and Stoughton first edition. Ammond’s acknowledgement in the US edition is separate to Tammet’s acknowledgement of people described as the “team behind the Brainman documentary”. Is Ammond’s full role in Tammet’s career a sensitive subject?]

Treffert, Darold A. (2006) Extraordinary people: understanding savant syndrome., February 14th 2006.
[A brief outline of Tammet’s life story can be found in the epilogue in this 2006 edition]

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. Amongst his discussion of Tammet Dr Ward explains that extraordinary memory feats can be performed with the use of the method of loci, and it is clear from the details in this paragraph that Ward has read the “Routes to Remembering” study by Maguire, Valentine, Wilding and Kapur but disappointingly Dr Ward shows no awareness that Tammet was one of the subjects of that study (Ward 2008 p.113), and Ward shows no scepticism about Tammet’s self-account. Ward states that “...Daniel Tammet broke the European record for reciting 22,514 digits of pi without error...” (Ward 2008 p.110). One person has claimed this is untrue. Another quote from Ward's book: “As with other people with autism, he is little interested in faces and he believes that his memory for faces is poor.” Had Ward known that Tammet was one of the subjects tested for face memory in the "Routes to Remebering" study, and had performed brilliantly in a World Memory Championship competition in 2000 in a task titled "names and faces" Ward might have been sceptical about Tammet's claims of a deficit in face memory.]

Murray, Stuart (2008) Representing autism: culture, narrative, fascination. Liverpool University Press, 15/07/2008
[Tammet is discussed over a number of pages. Although Murray does not question the truth of Tammet’s autobiographical story, he does compare representations of Tammet in the Brainman “documentary” and Tammet’s first autobiography with fictional representations of autism in the movie Rain Man and the novel by Mark Haddon The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time “For all Tammet’s achievements, it is the backdrop of fiction, and the expectations produced by such fiction, that appears as his immediate context.” (p.92)]

Zacharias, Karen Spears (2008) Where’s your Jesus now? Zondervan, 26/08/2008.
[Tammet’s synaesthesia is referred to a number of times in this rambling and personal book about religion.]

Tammet, Daniel (2009) Embracing the wide sky: a tour across the horizons of the mind. Free Press, January 2009.
[The title of the German version of this book translates as “Clouds springer: from a genius autistic learning”. This book is a wide-ranging and light discussion of various areas of psychology, with some autobiographical info. On pages 73–74 of the Hodder & Stoughton edition Tammet explains in detail how memorization using chunking and a hierarchical structure is done, while also claiming that his mind does this spontaneously. On page 40 Tammet wrote that his IQ score was found to be 150 in testing by "a qualified educational psychologist" which he undertook as a part of his own inquiry into IQ testing, Tammet claiming this was the first time he had done an IQ test. Tammet's claims in this book are not consistent with information known about Tammet. In 2002 Tammet was one of the World Memory Championship (WMC) participants who volunteered as subjects in the “Routes to Remembering” study by Maguire et al, which had various tests of cognition as a part of the study. A quote from pages 90-91 of that study: "The superior memorizers were not exceptional in their performance on tests of general cognitive ability..." It is hard to imagine how an individual capable on attaining an IQ score of 150 could have gone unnoticed in this study of only ten superior memorizers and ten matched normal controls. Face recognition was also tested in this study, the WMC competitors as a group performing slightly better than controls and I found no note of any face recognition difficulties in any of the participants in this study, which conflicts with Tammet's assertion on page 61 of his book Embracing the Wide Sky that he has "great difficulty remembering faces". A possible explanation for this contradiction is that the test used in the study might be open to the use of non-face features for identification, thus possibly failing to identify prosopagnosia. Tammet has claimed to have synaesthesia in both of his books and it is generally accepted by media people that Tammet is a synesthete, but there is nothing in the "Routes to Remembering" study to indicate that any of the study subjects had synaesthesia, but we don't know if it would necessarily have been picked up by those investigators. Tammet does appear to have mentioned in the study having epilepsy as a child, as this is noted in the study.]

Williams, Mary E. (2009) Epilepsy. Greenhaven Press, 16/10/2009.
[Series title Perspectives on Diseases and Disorders. Tammet is discussed on a number of pages.]

Veague, Heather Barrnett, Collins, Christine and Levitt, Pat (2009) Autism. Infobase Publishing, 01/12/2009
[Tammet is cited as an example of an autistic savant in this eBook, with a profile of him on page 9.]

Brown, Julie (2010) Writers on the spectrum: how autism and Asperger syndrome have influenced literary writing. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 15/01/2010
[Tammet is discussed in a number of places in this book, on page 149 laughably described as a mathematician.]

Plotnik, Rod and Kouyoumdjian, Haig (2010) Introduction to psychology. Cengage Learning, 19/03/2010.
[Yes, Daniel Tammet has made his way into a psychology textbook. Tammet is profiled as an example of “incredible memory” on page 239.]

Happe, Francesca and Frith, Uta (2010) Autism and talent. Oxford University Press, 13/5/2010.
[Tammet discussed in a number of places in this book of essays by autism researchers based on papers published in a 2009 special edition of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.]

Kaufman, James C. and Sternberg, Robert J. (2010) The Cambridge handbook of creativity. Cambridge University Press, 30/08/2010.
[Tammet is discussed as a savant on page 399]

Robinson, Andrew (2010) Sudden Genius?: The Gradual Path to Creative Breakthroughs. Oxford University Press, September 16th 2010.
[Tammet is discussed over a number of pages]

Treffert, Darold A. (2010) Islands of genius: the bountiful mind of the autistic, acquired, and sudden savant. Jessica Kingsley, 2010.
[Has a foreword by Daniel Tammet. Many famous and well-known autistic savants are written about and Tammet is included as one of this group. A surprisingly vacuous book, given the interesting subject matter. Clearly written for a popular and not professional or academic readership.]

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 “...we tested him on a variety of spoken languages...”, “He is reasonably fluent in Lithuanian, Spanish, Romanian, Esperanto and Welsh; he has some knowledge of French and German;...” It is interesting that Tammet is described as only having “some knowledge” of French and German considering that Tammet reported getting A grades in both languages in his GCSE in Born on a Blue Day (p.107 Free Press/Simon and Schuster ed, p.117 in Hodder and Stoughton ed), and Tammet promotes his own online language courses in French and Spanish from his own website Optimnem, and was reported in 2009 to have learned German in a week (Bethge 2009). In this book Tammet’s learning of British Sign Language was studied and compared with the disabled language savant Christopher, and was found to be different in some respects. Tammet's account of his participation in research studies with authors of this book can be found on pages 167 and 221 of the Simon and Schuster/Free Press 2007 edition of Born on a Blue Day, or on pages 181 and 237 of the 2006 Hodder and Stoughton edition.]

Geary, James (2011) I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World. HarperCollins, 08/02/2011.
[Tammet is discussed as an autistic savant exceptional for being an autistic who is able to understand metaphors.]

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2011) Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty. Allen Lane, April 2011.
[Tammet is discussed on two pages of this bizarrely ill-conceived book by the Cambridge professor who initially gave Tammet’s legend credibility with some other scientists by describing Tammet in two journal papers. This book begins on a very strange note by presenting a medically impossible urban legend as a factual anecdote.]

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2011) The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty. Basic Books, May 31, 2011.
[The US version of Zero Degrees of Empathy. Tammet is discussed on two pages of this bizarrely ill-conceived book by the Cambridge professor who initially gave Tammet’s legend credibility with some other scientists by describing Tammet in two journal papers. This book begins on a very strange note by presenting a medically impossible urban legend as a factual anecdote.]

Sternberg, Robert J. and Kaufman, Scott Barry (2011) The Cambridge handbook of intelligence. Cambridge University Press, 30/06/2011.
[Tammet is mentioned in an uncritical manner on a number of pages of this book]

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, who is interviewed and given a completely uncritical and unsceptical treatment. Seaberg breathlessly described Tammet as “another living genius, synesthete savant Daniel Tammet” (Seaberg 2011 p.252). 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. Seaberg gives one of a few recent reports of Tammet working on writing fiction (Seaberg 2011 166-167).]

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]

Erard, Michael (2012) Babel no more: the search for the world's most extraordinary language learners. Free Press, January 10, 2012.
[Tammet’s story recounted on one page]

Unpublished or upcoming books by Tammet

Tammet, Daniel (2010) Fragments of heaven. Hodder General Publishing Division, 2010. ISBN 0340961376, 9780340961377. 288 pages. Subjects: religion, Christian life, spiritual growth.

Tammet, Daniel (2012) Thinking by numbers. UK publisher: Hodder General Publishing Division, US publisher: Little Brown, 2012. ISBN 1444737406, 9781444737400. 288 pages.

......and a different list of some books about synaesthesia and/or neuropsychology that appear to be Tammet-free

Van Campen, Cretien (2007) The Hidden Sense: synesthesia in art and science. The MIT Press; 1 edition, October 31, 2007.
[I could find no references to Tammet in this book’s index and a partial search by Google Books]

Cytowic, Richard E. and Eagleman, David M. (2009) Wednesday is indigo blue: discovering the brain of synesthesia. The MIT Press; 1 edition, February 27, 2009.
[I’m pretty sure there is no mention of Daniel Tammet, Daniel Corney or DT in this book, but an endorsement of this book from Tammet is featured at the publisher's page for the book and also at David Eagleman's page about the book ]

The books of Oliver Sacks?


Laura said...

I completely agree that Simon Baron-Cohen is hardly an "expert" on autistic individuals, despite having been the very man to have diagnosed Mr. Tammet. I believe that Baron-Cohen is also responsible for convincing Tammet that he struggles with facial recognition, when it is clear that he does not.

Regarding Oliver Sacks, you may recall the case study from The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat about the savant twins who could instantly count the number of matches dropped from a matchbox. In Tammet's second book, he criticises this assumption that the twins could instantly count the matches, and mentions that this is not something he himself can do. I believe that Tammet may have corresponded directly with Sacks as an amateur researcher rather than as a possible case study.

Lili Marlene said...

In the paper about Tammet by Baron-Cohen and co that was published in 2007 in the Journal of Consciousness Studies it clearly says that Tammet was tested for face memory, and was found to have performed at only the level that might be obtained by guessing for the faces that he had previously been shown, but performed with 69% accuracy for identifying faces that he hadn't previously been shown. From these results Baron-Cohen et all concluded that Tammet had face memory impairment. There is an effect in which setting up negative expectations can bring down a person's test performance, but Tammet is hardly likely to have been vulnerable to any such suggestions from S B-C, considering that Tammet in the year 2000 apparently won a gold medal in the WMC for the "names and faces" event.

I find the difference between Tammet's results in that testing for faces previously seen and faces not seen interesting. This is something that I've discussed with an acquaintance who is a professional medical researcher. She reckons that the difference isn't statistically significant, which means that difference could be due to chance, so I guess if my acquaintance is right it means nothing, but if it were significant I would wonder how Tammet could have gotten different scores if he had really been unable to tell the difference between a face previously seen and a new face. My acquaintance put forward the idea that Tammet had been employing a strategy to indicate that any face that seems unfamiliar is unknown, thus getting more correct scores for the foil faces. But if Tammet had been emplying this strategy consistently while having very poor face memory, surely the bias towards identifying foil faces correctly would be much more pronounced. THe fact that we can take away from this is that it is a shocking oversight that Baron-Cohen and co failed to explain these results, and to note the difference in scores and to state whether or not the difference is significant, because any sensible person would look at those scores and ask "If Tammet has no face memory, then how can he give differing scores for familiar and unfamiliar faces, if ALL faces genuinely look unfamiliar to him?"

Lili Marlene said...

Regarding Sacks, we can speculate all we like, but can never know what Sacks thinks of Tammet untill he says or writes something, and I've been unable to find any such thing. Please let me know if you find any writing or interview from Sacks about Tammet.

All I can see is Tammet writing a particularly tart criticism of the work of Sacks in one of his books, combined with a striking absence of writing about Tammet by Sacks. Why wouldn't I wonder if the two are related?

THe idea of people being instantly able to see the number of scattered objects is not fanciful, I believe. I recall seeing research on innate abilities at number sense in normal people in which it was found that normal people can do this, to a degree.

Anonymous said...

In this source, Tammet gives the origin of the name "Tammet" as Estonian rather than Finnish:

"I first saw 'Tammet' online. It means oak tree in Estonian, and I liked that association. Besides, I've always had a love of Estonian. Such a vowel rich language."

Mr Anon

Anonymous said...

As you say, the book "Wednesday is Indigo Blue" does not appear to mention Tammet. However, the endorsements used to promote the book suggest that this may not have been because of scepticism of Tammet:

"A fascinating survey of the enormous variety and creativity of the synesthetic mind."
—Daniel Tammet, synesthete and author of Born on a Blue Day

Mr Anon

Lili Marlene said...

That is disappointing. There is the possiblity that Tammet endorsement was added to the book's publisher page by the publisher's marketing ppl without the consent of both authors. David Eagleman must be happy to publicize an endorement from Tammet:
I wonder whether Tammet was sent a free review copy of the book when it first came out?

Accepting an endorsement is not the same as reciprocating an endorsement.

Lili Marlene said...

It doesn't surprise me that van Campen appears to be the only high-profile figure in the world of synaesthesia research who has kept a distance from the Tammet story. I like the man and I like his book.