Friday, December 28, 2012

Fairy Queen syndrome?

Have you ever noticed that in a few individual ladies there seems to be a combination of a cute, girly voice, the kind of voice that you'd expect a Fairy Queen to have, and one of those personalities in which the predominant emotion seems to be amazement? Whenever one observes such women in conversation they manage to find something in it to be amazed about, with wide eyes and open mouths and exclamations of "Really?!", or a half-flirty look of surprise that wouldn't look out of place in a Benny Hill skit. What's going on there? The voices couldn't be faked, I couldn't make a sound like that to save my life, but perhaps the personalities are unconsciously designed to fit with gender stereotypes about girls and the girly voices? Or are they all signs of some fascinating genetic syndrome? 

Little Britain - "Ladies"

Looking for some light but thoughtful amusement?

my collection of fave quotes:
Quotes that caught Lili's eye

Monday, December 24, 2012

Lili's thought for the day

Hey, if I don't make it back here before Christmas, be sure to have a lovely day tomorrow, if you celebrate Christmas, and if you don't, have a lovely day anyway. 

How nice it wasn't to call up an old aunty, the one that I got to know the least over the years, and have one of those rambling chats that just keeps kicking along, only to discover that she's an unashamed racist. Tis the season for attempting to express disagreement gracefully. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Julian Assange speaking live now...

....from London.

Why isn't the ABC News 24 Channel broadcasting it? Because they wouldn't do any thing that Gillard wouldn't approve of.

News story about Assange's address:

Statement by Julian Assange after Six Months in Ecuadorian Embassy
Thursday December 20th, 19:00 GMT
(Not checked to delivery)

"Next year will be equally busy. Wikileaks already has well over a million documents to release. Documents that affect every country in the world. Every country in this world.

And in Australia an unelected Senator will be replaced by one that is elected."

Is that a reference to Foreign Minister Bob Carr? I'd so much love to see the back of that spineless, pretentious toad. Can't wait, Julian! 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lili's thought for the day

What does the story of the Landfill Harmonic tell us about human potential, musical talent and class and intelligence? Anything?

It appears that some families who live according to middle-class values can be found living on a landfill in Paraguay. Explain that, snobs! Explain that, Socialists!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Science-related books which Lili recommends

Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients by (Dr) Ben Goldacre 
If you will ever need to use a prescription drug or medical intervention, and I think that applies to all of us, you need to read this book. Important stuff by a credible author.

Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception by Claudia Hammond
This book includes the best bit of writing about synaesthesia that I've read all year. This section hits the spot because the author is herself a synaesthete, so she isn't just groping about in the dark when she writes on the subject, as most non-synaesthete writers do when tackling the subject, even respected synesthesia researchers. I also love Hammond's style of writing. I'm not sure exactly how, but it seems more original and fresh than most pop science writing. Great work Claudia!

Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners by Michael Erard
I'll forgive the author for mentioning Daniel Tammet without skepticism. There's plenty of more substantial and interesting descriptions of language geniuses in this book, including info on the disabled and probably autistic language savant Christopher, who has been the subject of other books, and the German diplomat, hyperpolyglot and specialist in Chinese languages Emil Krebs, who has also been the subject of speculation about the autistic spectrum. A very readable and interesting book. 

Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough: The Medical Lives of Famous Writers by (Dr) John J. Ross
If you are fascinated with diagnosing famous people with diseases of the body and conditions of the mind, this book will be right up your alley. The author is a doctor, and it seems pretty sensible. Many of the famous people discussed in this book can also be found in my lists of famous possible autistics and famous synaesthetes.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lili's fed up thought for the day

Is it time yet to sort out your horrible firearms problem in the United States? It's a huge issue, but a solution wont happen if you do nothing, again. 

No museum to honour Tesla in the United States? That's crazy!

"There is no Tesla museum in the United States, despite Tesla's extraordinary accomplishments."
Matthew Inman and colleagues have raised money to buy the land upon which genius Serbian-American electrical and mechanical engineer, physicist and inventor Nikola Tesla built his last laboratory, with the stated aim of eventually building a Tesla Museum on that site. We have Tesla to thank for the electrical system which is used all over the world, the system that powers my computer and probably your household. That is only one of the many hugely important inventions that were the creation of the enigmatic and under-recognized Tesla, who filed the first basic radio patent. I've read that Tesla also built and operated a quite dangerous earthquake machine, and was reputedly working on a death-ray machine. Haven't we all dreamed of inventing a death-ray machine? Well, Tesla was the type of genius who made impossible dreams happen.The unique and astoundingly clever Nikola Tesla is regarded as America’s greatest ever electrical engineer, but there is no Tesla Museum in the United States? WHAT? I know that Tesla is a national hero in the nation of his birth, Serbia, and his birthday is celebrated by Serbs all over the world, but that's Serbia. There needs to be a lasting monument to this amazing, world-changing synaesthete genius inventor of the modern world in the USA, and the UK and Australia. Unfortunately, it appears that the project that Inman's successful fundraising campaign has raised money for only includes plans for a Tesla exhibit within a regional technology and science centre named after Tesla, which is a great idea, but doesn't sound like quite the same thing as a Tesla museum. I understand that the whole thing is just a plan at this point in time, anyway. Tesla lives on in the hearts and minds of geeks, Serbs and somewhat cracked visionaries in every corner of the world. Make sure that your kids know who Tesla was!


Let's Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum. Indiegogo.
[this fund-raising campaign is now finished and was very successful]

Why Nikola Tesla was the greatest geek who ever lived. The Oatmeal.
[Read this, it's funny and probably true, except for the bit that says Tesla was insane. He wasn't insane and he didn't hallucinate, he was a genius synaesthete with an eidetic memory and hypersensitive senses, quite possibly Asperger syndrome and some OCD in later life. Thomas Edison was a c***!]

Thompson, Ben (2009) Nikola Tesla. The Badass of the Week.
[Read this too, it's also funny and probably true. Tesla is also featured in Thompson's first truly astounding book.]

Cheney, Margaret (2001) Tesla: Man Out of Time. Touchstone, 2001.

Aron, Jacob (2012) One minute with... Matthew Inman. New Scientist. September 1st 2012. number 2880 p.25.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Stark choices for Australian gifted students

"A concerning number of gifted students dumb themselves down to fit in at school, while those who don't may experience social isolation or even bullying"

- report of a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into intellectually gifted students

Read more:

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Some interesting findings from a study of the RMET from earlier this year

"The central finding of our study was that performance on the Eyes Test correlated to a surprising degree with verbal IQ and not with a more basic measure of face processing. We believe this finding has practical importance for considering the value of the Eyes Test as an instrument for studying individual differences in social cognition among adults. Further, we believe our results raise a question about the degree to which performance differences in this instrument reflect a relatively implicit mechanism."

"Considering the lack of any relationship between the Eyes Test and the CFMT in our sample, it is reasonable to question the lack of an explicit social emotional judgment in the CFMT as compared to the Eyes Test. However, given the profound social significance of the human face, even a very basic face-processing task could be expected to relate to broader social cognition."

The "Eyes Test" mentioned here is the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test developed by Baron-Cohen and team, and the "CFMT" is the "gold standard" in visual face memory testing developed by prosopagnosia researchers Duchaine and Nakayama. 

So, it helps to have a good vocabulary to be able to correctly identify the many obscure and minor emotions depicted and named in the RMET, and interpreting facial expressions and recognizing faces from memory are two entirely different cognitive skills. The RMET is a vocabulary test which an inarticulate person might be expected to have a disadvantage in performing, and performance in the RMET has apparently no relation to performance in a purely visual test of face perception. Who would have thought? 

Source of quotes:

Eric Peterson and Stephanie F. Miller
The Eyes Test as a Measure of Individual Differences: How much of the Variance Reflects Verbal IQ?
Frontiers in Psychology. 2012; 3: 220.
Published online 2012 July 5. Prepublished online 2012 April 27.doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00220 PMCID: PMC3389807

Friday, December 07, 2012

What’s the point of biography if the writer can’t be trusted to write the truth? My thoughts on Michael Schofield's book

There are so many great books that I haven’t read, with more being published every day, but my spare time is really quite limited, after my many parenting, housework and paid work duties are done, on top of all of the varied and numerous range of mostly preventable problems that take up my time and everyone’s time, as the result of well-paid people in our community not doing their jobs properly. There are so many great books and so little time, so why have I just spent time reading a book that I never had much regard for? My writing about Jani (Janni, January) Schofield, a young intellectually gifted American girl who has been diagnosed with child-onset schizophrenia and has also been placed at the centre of a mass-media circus by her parents, has been read by a great many people. It isn’t too far-fetched to think that my writing about Jani has been influential in some way to some degree. I feel some responsibility to continue my scrutiny and commentary in relation to Jani and her story as told by others, and to that end I had to read the book (titled January First) that Jani’s father Michael Schofield has written about his time as Jani’s father.

I refrain from calling this book a biography of Jani, and my judgement is mirrored by others. The subject heading on the back of the book categorizes Michael Schofield’s book as autobiography, presumably meaning it is a book about the author father, not the child, and the library that stocks the copy of the book that I borrowed and read has given it the Dewey number of 618.92898, a shelf location in libraries that is overwhelmingly taken up with books about children diagnosed with autism or Asperger syndrome, but which occasionally houses a book about schizophrenia in adolescents. It’s not really a book about Jani, it’s a book about the world that she unfortunately finds herself within, a world of medicalizing labels and parents who embrace them.  While I feel that I should look at the book and write about what I see, I also have no desire to help to publicise a book which I believe is the central element of Michael Schofield’s unethical plan to make money at the expense of his daughter. I didn’t buy a copy of the book; I borrowed a copy that had already been ordered by a library before I had placed my book request. I urge readers to also look to the library system rather than the bookstore should they feel curiosity to read for themselves.

I’m compelled to start my review of the book by outlining the many important things that this book does not offer. I’ve not set out to be perverse in taking this approach. The most remarkable and revealing aspect of this book is all the stuff that the author has chosen to leave out of it. Michael Schofield left out of this book an admission that he and Jani’s mother both hit Jani with considerable force on at least one occasion. This account was once published in his old blog, but was apparently not carried over to his new blog or his book, but many commentators have not forgotten what has been written and once existed in the public domain. I’m not one to take issue with a parent hitting a child. In a perfect world no one would hit anyone else, but we don’t live in a perfect world, and some little tykes do behave as though they are junior envoys from Hell. Of course, no parent or adult should beat the crap out of a young, small child, obviously, and I take issue with that, if it did happen. As a book reviewer my gravest objection to Michael Schofield’s omission of his account of him and wife attacking Jani is that it appears to be a part of a strategy to skew the truth in the writing of the book. Throughout the book there are descriptions of shocking violence by Jani, descriptions that frankly strain credulity because it is hard to understand how a grown man could be beat up and injured time and time again by a young child. Every time in these accounts of violence Michael took great pains to portray himself as taking great care to avoid harming or hurting Jani while defending himself and others from ferocious violence. In the book Michael Schofield portrayed himself as a fatherly punching-bag exercising a Ghandi-like avoidance of inflicting violence, but readers of his old blog might recall an admission that “…Susan and I both lost it and hit Jani as hard as we could.” There couldn’t be a bigger gulf between the way the author depicted his own behaviour in the old blog and in the book, and regardless of which account is closer to the truth, at least one account must be a conscious deception. Michael Schofield is a writer who cannot be trusted to give a true account. I don’t quite see the point in reading any book by this author as a work of non-fiction, as his account can’t be trusted, but at the same time, I’m quite dumbfounded that Schofield has included a lot of information in this book which I think reflects very badly on his and his wife’s parenting of Jani. Is this honesty, stupidity, lack of caring or a conscious cultivation of controversy? I see that this book has been given many positive reviews by Amazon customers and many readers still hold the author in high regard, so perhaps most readers are blind to the many issues that I see.

Another omission from the book which I was struck by is nothing in it about synaesthesia. It’s not mentioned as an alternative explanation for Jani’s “hallucinations”. It’s not mentioned as the only explanation of why the theme of items that are learned in a set sequence pervades Jani’s imaginary world through-and-through. Synaesthesia is not mentioned at all in this book. I don’t like to look as though I have tickets on myself, but I think my writing about synaesthesia as an explanation for many aspects of Jani’s apparent inner life is well-known enough that Michael Schofield must have been aware of synaesthesia as one of the many alternatives to schizophrenia as an explanation or diagnosis for Jani that have been offered by many writers on the internet. Schofield must have had some awareness of synaesthesia as a good explanation of his daughter’s unusual thoughts, but he chose to leave synaesthesia out of his book, but he did acknowledge autism, child abuse and demonic possession as alternative theories put forward by others. I think the author chose to leave synaesthesia out of his book because it is a convincing competing explanation of Jani’s supposed “hallucinations” that are the basis of her formal diagnosis of schizophrenia, and the Schofields favour child-onset schizophrenia as a label for their child, because the rarity of that diagnosis makes Jani seem more unique and special. In contrast, every second mother I meet seems to think one of her kids has a smidge of autism or Asperger syndrome, and synaesthesia researchers now acknowledge that synesthetes are something like one twentieth of humanity, hardly rare. If you wrote a book about your child’s Asperger syndrome or synaesthesia in 2012, the text would have to be something exceptional as a piece of literature to attract much interest and gain publication, but this book certainly isn’t that. If Jani wasn’t regarded as a scientific/medical curiosity this book would never be interesting enough to win commercial publication, rather like Daniel Tammet’s dreary autobiography, which no one would bother to read were it not for Tammet’ unique but questionable scientific status as an articulate savant. Jani’s reported IQ of 146 would make her rare and exceptional for a reason other than being a child schizophrenic, but there’s nothing particularly new about intellectual giftedness, and I’m sure the market for books about kids who are smarter than yours is a limited market indeed. The centre of this book is an exotic diagnosis, and without it, the book would be nothing.

The author has left a lot out of this book. In addition to not citing synaesthesia even once, I noticed that the many interesting and quite detailed descriptions of Jani’s inner world that can be found in media reports and videos on the internet aren’t hugely represented in the book, which is odd considering that the subtitle of the book is “a child’s descent into madness and her father’s struggle to save her”. Readers who aren’t convinced of the given explanations for Jani’s supposed madness might wish to read more about the “symptoms” and form their own opinions, but I don’t think that interest is encouraged. Many readers will simply be more interested in madness than some parent’s worthy struggle. This is politically incorrect, and it isn’t encouraged either. Another thing that cannot be found in the pages of this book is an explanation of why Jani’s parents decided to name her after a month of the year, and not a month that has a record of being used as a personal name. This is no trivial question. The reason why I have identified Jani as a synaesthete is her reported inner world that is populated by entities that all seem to have names that are concepts that are typically learned in set sequences, abstract concepts like numbers, days of the week, and even things like temperatures and planets. Jani’s thoughts appear to be dominated by such concepts, and schizophrenia as a diagnosis does not explain this at all. Synaesthesia is the only explanation for this important feature of Jani’s style of thinking. I believe Jani is a multi-synaesthete, including an ordinal-linguistic personification synaesthete, and as synaesthesia is an inherited condition, it is likely that one of her parents is one too. It seems just too much of a coincidence that Jani’s parents chose a month of the year as a name for her. Was synaesthesia the inspiration for Jani’s name? There is no answer in this book.

My theory is that this book has been cynically designed to provoke debate and discussion on a popular level, to gear it to the book club market. I’m not completely sure that this is a feature of book club books, as I’ve never been a member of one, but it stands to reason. I believe a book that engages this market will be a commercial winner, so I imagine that must be motivation enough for many writers to pursue this market. I can see that there is much material within this book that could provoke discussion of at least three topics that engage the popular mind. One is the tired old cliché that “there’s a fine line between genius and insanity”. Michael Schofield described in the book how Jani was IQ tested and found to have an IQ in the highly gifted range, this IQ score is repeated throughout the book, and the author also used the contentious word “genius” throughout the book. By the end of the book Jani will be diagnosed with child-onset schizophrenia. In the popular mind schizophrenia is often thought to be associated with genius, and there is a thread of scientific thinking that asserts a connection between psychosis and creativity, but I find it all unconvincing.

Another clichéd topic of discussion that I believe this book was designed to engage is the notion that children of today aren’t disciplined properly, and thus are brats. I find this idea tedious, especially when recounted by octogenerians, rednecks or people who would repeat any old guff just to make conversation, but the depiction in the book of the way that Jani’s parents raised her offers overwhelming evidence that any reader could appreciate, that her parents had utterly failed to understand or apply the concepts of discipline, self-discipline, personal responsibility or parental authority to their parenting of Jani. I’m sure most readers rejoiced on page 143 in which a doctor advised that Jani’s parents need to “Let her know that her behaviour is unacceptable” and Michael admits that “As soon as the violence started, we ran straight to a shrink. We never stood up to her.” Unfortunately, in the pages of the rest of the book there’s little evidence of the self-discipline, consistency, mental strength and sincere belief in the concept of personal responsibility that is required to effectively turn a neglected child into a socialized child. Michael Schofield’s understanding of disciplining a child seems to consist of little more that the catch-phrase “get tough”. Schofield applies methods of discipline to Jani at age six that most parents apply to toddlers. Is there are a limited critical period in a child’s development in which they can be socialized? I’m sure a child as bright as Jani would be able to sense the inconsistency, or at least experience a profound confusion, should her parents require her to start taking responsibility for her own actions, while still holding onto the belief that Jani has a devastating mental illness and is thus unable to assume responsibility for her own actions. Unless parents clearly delineate areas in which a supposedly impaired child can or cannot be held responsible for their own actions, they are simply trying to impose a regime of absurdity. There are very serious consequences when a parent tells a child they are insane or mentally disabled, a fact that seems to be under-appreciated by many parents today.

The third concept which I believe the book was designed to engage is speculation about the author and the nature of his relationship with Jani. I’m somewhat surprised that the author father was so open in the book about being accused of sexual abuse, about taking on the parental chore of bathing a girl-child, and also revealing his odd belief that he is the only person able to properly care for or understand Jani. By the end of the book the author’s concept of his relationship with Jani looks quite warped and odd, in my opinion. Sure enough, Jani has an IQ score and intellectual needs that are most unusual, but there are clubs and societies for gifted people and parents of gifted children, and I’m sure at least some other parents of gifted kids manage to find some kind of niche in the world for their children beyond a claustrophobic relationship with one interested parent.

I could regard this book as a good one because I have found much in it to confirm my previously-held beliefs about Jani, that she is a highly gifted, synaesthete and somewhat autistic child who is troubled because her educational needs have been severely neglected for a long time, and possibly also because of the horrible experiences and the destruction of her self-image that are the inevitable consequence of being cast in the role of psychiatric inpatient. Parental abuse could also be a factor. I could also regard this book as a bad one because it has added little that is new to my understanding of Jani and her story, above what I’ve read in many media reports and Michael Schofield’s blog. 

The biggest surprise in this book is the openness of the author in sharing information that confirmed my existing bad image of him as a father who failed his gifted daughter. By his own account the author spent countless hours trying to engage Jani in activities that he deemed to be intellectually stimulating, but on closer consideration there really is not a lot to nurture the mind of a gifted child in a cheap and impulsive life of television, fast-food, gender-stereotyped Disney toys and wandering between free and unexceptional activities geared to the simple desires of the masses such as zoos and playgrounds in retail and fast food businesses. What a trashy, commercialized world was offered to Jani. The book reads a bit like an infomercial, so peppered is it with business names. The author father stated his willingness to assume the role of home-schooling parent of a gifted child, but a therapist that the family were referred to by a paediatrician and who gave Jani an IQ test told them that “She needs to go to a gifted school” and then recommended one. Even though Jani proved that she could perform at a level high enough to score in the highly gifted range in an IQ test, by his own admission the author dismissed the idea of Jani gaining admission to that gifted school as an impossible dream and never gave his daughter the chance to even try for admission. It is also perfectly clear that Jani’s parents understood that Jani needed the company of other children with intellects that operated on her level, but there is nothing in this book to suggest that they made any attempt to contact any school, group or association geared to the needs of gifted kids that might have made that much-needed intervention possible. I know how hard things can be as a parent of gifted children, but they didn’t even try. The Schofields didn’t even do as much as regular parents do to get their child into the mainstream education system. On page 67 the author recounts the guilt he felt when he realised that they had both neglected to enrol Jani in school and it was a school day, and that was why there were no other kids her age at the playground. What the Hell kind of parents are these? Schofield could well have given this book the title of “Ruined potential: how we fought hard to get our highly gifted daughter admitted to psychiatric hospitals but never lifted a finger to get her a place in the school for the gifted that we knew she needed”. I’ll admit it’s quite a long title, but I think it really hits the spot, and after reading this book I very much feel like hitting something.

Another striking fact that can be found in this book is the admission that up till the end of 2007 Jani had never actually hit her infant brother Bodhi, even though most of the media and parent reports about Jani make much of the idea that her parents were living in two separate apartments to keep a violent daughter away from a vulnerable infant son. I found in the book only one description of Jani hitting her brother, a much less violent relationship than that between many siblings.

Setting aside the rights and wrongs of the book, one could ask whether it is an entertaining read for this summer or winter, depending on which end of our doomed planet you live on. The author is a teacher/lecturer of writing at a university, so one would expect the text would be constructed with a high level of competence. It is indeed an easy book to read, without any major flaws in the writing that are obvious to me, but what would I know? There are some pretentious writing devices including a neologism and a cute way of describing facial expressions which are both used often enough in the book to eventually draw attention to themselves. I was surprised that the book wasn’t written in a more creative style, because the many posts at the author’s blog that I’ve read are generally most pretentious, but I guess it might have been judged that a less artsy style was more appropriate or marketable for this book’s subject matter. There are many melodramatic flourishes written in italics in the text, enough to give me and some other readers concerns about the author’s mental health, but I suspect that these features might simply be typical of a genre that this book might fall into, and might be completely contrived. Like most truly awful things, unintentional humour can be found in this book. Jani’s mother Susan is depicted as having the unfortunate habit of identifying just about any crisis or problem as being the result of someone failing to take or respond to a psychiatric drug in a clinically correct manner. Jani is hitting her father! The meds aren’t working! Michael has lost it and he’s driving the car too fast! He forgot a dose of his meds! Thousands of protesters are rioting in Tahrir Square in Egypt! Their meds aren’t working! Is this the way that American mothers of today think? If this screwy perspective is typical, you people have major, major problems. I shudder to think what life will be like in the US when a generation of drugged kiddies reach adulthood. Good luck with that!

My verdict regarding this book – read it if you must, but for heaven’s sake, don’t buy it. Don’t be a part of the ethics-free and evidence-challenged industry of psychiatrists, therapists, drug companies, hospitals and miscellaneous business-people offering unproven services, and parents who depict themselves as martyr carers of mentally ill offspring while making a career out of it. Don’t fund this racket, because these bastards prey on children.

P. S. Discussion of Michael Schofield's admissions at his old blog about hitting Jani can be found here in a comment posted on August 21st 2012:

Lili's thought for the day

Human Rights Day is December 10th. What are you going to do for human rights?

Monday, December 03, 2012

Baron-Cohen calls this paper a "systematic review". Bulls***!

The "Reading the Mind in the Eyes" test: Systematic review of psychometric properties and a validation study in Italy.
Vellante M, Baron-Cohen S, Melis M, Marrone M, Petretto DR, Masala C, Preti A.
Cognitive Neuropsychiatry. 

Received: 23 Jan 2012
Accepted: 14 Aug 2012
Version of record first published: 30 Oct 2012
[Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 23106125

Take a look at the abstract (I'll have to go to a medical library to access the full text), and you will find that it's very clear that this paper is a single study, not a systematic review, as has been made famous by the Cochrane Collaboration and the evidence-based medicine movement. A systematic review, is a review (duh!) of the existing published and unpublished literature on a research question. A systematic review is a review of other research studies done in a systematic and very discerning manner, according to a set of internationally-recognized standards for judging good research. A systematic review also involves a very well-designed literature search requiring specialized knowledge of the journals, the relevant literature and librarianship. Don't believe me? Take a look at the definition of "systematic review" at the Wikipedia. The paper by Vellante, Baron-Cohen and others cited above appears to have none of the features of a systematic review. It looks like a paper outlining a single study involving 200 subjects, which may or may not be a study done in a scientific matter, but it wouldn't be a review. How dare Baron-Cohen and company appropriate the terminology of the internationally-respected evidence-based movement without the slightest care or regard!

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2012) Systematic review. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Not that theory again

I've noticed that the November issue of Scientific American magazine has an article in it by Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen about his assortative mating theory of autism and other things. Is the theory any more convincing now than it was when I wrote about it in September of last year? Doubt it.

Baron-Cohen is still asserting that there's a link between engineering and autism. You know, the smartest girl in our year when I was in high school went off to uni to study to be an engineer. I know another working-class engineer who came to engineering not through schooling or university, but by simply working with machines and making them work. Engineering is for smart people. Engineering is only for smart people. If you are going off to uni because your folks have lots of money and that is their expectation of you, despite you not really being the smartest kid in your year, maybe engineering is not for you, because when the bridge or road tunnel that you have designed collapses and kills lots of people, or the complicated machine that you installed and tested fails to ever work up to the required technical standard, you wont be able to bluff, talk or influence your way out of that little problem. Maybe a career in the arts or medicine might be more suitable, because no one can say with any certainty that an artistic venture failed, and doctors bury their mistakes. If you have an ancestor who made it as an engineer, you have a smart ancestor. Smarts run in the genes. You are more likely to be smart yourself, not just smart at making excuses or smart-looking or smartly-presented as the result of social advantages, but possessing genuine inborn smart. Kids with lots of inborn smart often become bored or impatient or disenchanted or openly contemptuous of their age peers who don't have the smarts. Gifted kids who don't get to meet other gifted kids can become loners or outsiders. They could even become so socially disinterested that they attract the label of "autistic", an autistic child or grandchild of an engineer or computer scientist or technician or academic....

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

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Lili's Christmas wish list

copies of both of the works of written pornography that were written or edited by the 1940s Hollywood film producer and probable synaesthete Val Lewton (just for the sake of scholarly research and curiosity you understand)

that my work supervisor be sacked for incompetence

that our PM be sacked for incompetence, or whatever

more time for pear cider

a safe place to live for the Tamil people of Sri Lanka

a Tesla Death Ray Machine to use on the people two houses down

musky drupes, freshly picked, perfect,

that creepy antique clock with the skeleton on top from the movie Nosferatu

more time for reading 

a new feminist revolution (because many of the prizes and promises from the last one have evaporated)

more time for writing

more time for poking at sea creatures in rock pools with the kids, on a morning when sunlight twinkles off the surface of sea

more support for my Smashwords ambitions

that all the shock jocks be retired to high-security nursing homes

a totally nice and democratic one-state solution in Israel/Palestine

the sun, the moon and the stars

Friday, November 30, 2012

A good outline of synaesthesia

I've just discovered a very good and authoritative article in an internet encyclopedia about synesthesia. It is a look at synaesthesia from the point of view of what it means to philosophy. 

Allen-Hermanson, Sean and Matey, Jennifer (2012) Synesthesia. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Lili's thought for the day

Heath, Heath, Heath with the teeth.

We need more equitable access to orthodontic dentistry in this country, because Heath don't deserve those teeth.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lili's political thought for the day

The Prime Minister has been looking a bit hot and bothered lately. I think Kevin should buy her a nice icy-cold raspberry slushie. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lili's managerial thought for the day

Let's add the frail anorexic with a personality disorder to the team. She's very keen to help with the heavy-lifting and quite the perfectionist.....

A little bit of CME (continuing medical education) for Jani's psychiatrists

The Smell of Green Thunder: How Does Synesthesia Differ from Hallucination? World Science Festival. November 2012.

What's the difference between synaesthesia and hallucination? The celebrity neurologist and best-selling author Dr Oliver Sacks explains in a short video. The differences are very easy to grasp - natural synesthesia is inborn, and pretty-much permanent and stable, while pathological or drug-induced forms of synaesthesia and hallucinations are not. Natural synaesthesia is stable in that the same associations hold, such as between a particular conceptual, motor or sensory trigger and a particular anomalous sensory or conceptual effect or experience. The bass guitar in a particular rock song will always trigger the experience of a very specific shade of teal, or the concept of the number 21 will always be associated with a particular personification that has a particular age, gender and personality traits.
Would I be right in stating that Jani Schofield's "hallucinations" are inborn, permanent and stable like synaesthesia? I'm not sure that anyone has bothered to check whether there are stable associations in Jani's reported experiences, but it's pretty clear that her distinctive way of thinking is inborn and permanent, like synaesthesia and unlike the vast majority of cases of schizophrenia. What is clear in Jani's case is that the alternative world that she experiences, which is held up repeatedly in media reports about Jani as evidence of florid hallucinatory schizophrenia, is in fact a world of imaginary friends which seems to have many characteristics in common with synaesthesia. As far as I know, at no time in the history of psychiatry has there been any theoretical confusion between the different phenomena of psychotic hallucination and childhood imaginary friends. To identify a child who has imaginary friends as a child displaying psychosis seems to me to be the stupidest, grossest clinical blunder, and to completely ignore the many obvious hints that synaesthesia is also an important element in Jani's psychology seems to me like inexcusable ignorance or deliberate omission.

I've got a few gripes and reservations about the video linked to below, but I think the main message is basically sound. The observations about synaesthesia by Dr Sacks need to considered in the light of the fact that he is not a synaesthete and thus has no first-hand understanding of the phenomenon. I object to the fallacy of forced choice in the summary about the video - "is synaesthesia hallucination or is it real?" I'm not sure whether this question is just plain stupid or is based on a questionable assumption about sensory experiences. In what sense are any of the sensory experiences of a non-synaesthete real? Are your ideas or experiences real? Being a synaesthete who knows that she is a synaesthete, I understand that many of my experiences are atypical, and some make no logical sense, but does that make them less real? Many non-synaesthetes identify an association between the word "bouba" and a shape that is rounded and lumpy, but is there any real link there, between a nonsensical word and a shape? Questions about what is real and what is not real are for philosophers to have a tug over. Can you be bothered?

One most disappointing aspect of the video was that the lady who posed the quite good question to Dr Sacks was informed and inspired by the first book written by Daniel Tammet, who claimed to have an extraordinary case of synaesthesia, among many other extraordinary claims. Sigh. It appears that the lady in the video is a synaesthete, but she observed that her synaesthesia is not as "dramatic" as other people's accounts of synaesthesia. Indeed. I've never seen or heard of any synaesthete claiming to have synaesthesia quite like Tammet's, with his coloured abstract mental landscapes that somehow encode long numbers and synaesthetic photisms that automatically reveal the solutions to difficult mental calculations. His synaesthesia is about as atypical as Jani's schizophrenia, which should make anyone wonder....

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Lili's thought for the day

I just want to know how a cross-eyed truck driver knows which white line is the real one. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lili's warning for the day

Black and Gold brand, as sold in IGA supermarkets in Australia, have been, maybe still are, selling "self-raising flour" that apparently has no raising agent in it. This is a big problem, because if you bake with this stuff you will not only have wasted money buying a sub-standard product, you will also have wasted money spent on all the other cake ingredients, and wasted time baking the cake, and wasted the opportunity to have the cake that you planned. I recently invented the lemon mudcake. I never intended to invent the lemon mudcake!

Bad cop, bad cop indeed

With the expensive and laughable failure of the prosecution's case in the Rayney Trial and the long-lingering question of bias and planting of evidence in murder investigations surrounding the WA police, a coroner roasting alive "thuggish" police officers from the NSW Police Force who caused the unnecessary and painful death of a misbehaving young tourist, the UK release of the book The Crime Factory by "Officer A" a British recruit to the WA police which apparently paints the WA police force in a very unattractive light, and very concerning allegations about police intimidation of a senior police whistleblower whose allegations about a police cover-up of child sex abuse in the Catholic church resulted in the Prime Minister ordering a wide-ranging Royal Commission into child sex abuse, the time is certainly right for a repeat of the 2002 Australian black comedy television series Bad Cop, Bad Cop, which features two very popular Australian actors, Dan Wyllie and Michael Caton. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lili's recurrent thought for the day

Just about every day for as long as I can remember, the refrain from myself and my other half is "How come this useless/corrupt/insane/vile dickwad has job security, while genuine people like us struggle get a start?"

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Lili's thought for the day

America has chosen the rich c*** with the grey lips over the rich c*** with hardly any lips. Life goes on. 

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Lili's worried thought for the day

Australia will soon have more working PR people than working journalists. God save us all. 

Nice quote

"I've always been a Groucho Marxist rather than the other kind, but..."
- Mark Colvin in his Andrew Olle Media Lecture

Lili's honest thought for the day

Nurture your child's brain, even before they are born, because the world of the smart person is an entirely different place to the world of the dunce. Bright teens have exciting adventures and teach themselves clever tricks that their dopey peers couldn't even begin to understand. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Popular fob-off lines of faceless bureaucrats

"He is in a meeting at the moment"

"She is on leave at the moment."

"We have no responsibilities in that area."

"That's a matter for the Department of XXXX, not this department."

"You can't prove that."

"We are too short-staffed to deal with this matter."

"That's a civil matter, not a matter for the department." 

"I'm going to terminate this call because we seem to be going in circles." 

"I don't see a role for the department in this case."

"That's only a historical event."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lili's jaded thought for the day

It's not that I've got an incredible eye for detail, it's just that I'm surrounded by people who are habitually sloppy, lazy or who have tragically underdeveloped visual cortexes. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Craig Nicholls needs to get off the mull

This has nothing to do with Asperger syndrome. There are countless other stories of young adults becoming violent towards parents as an element of a developing psychosis resulting from cannabis intoxication. They can't all be autistic, surely. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

You call it Asperger syndrome? I don't.

I've just seen a news story about Gary McKinnon. They say he has Asperger syndrome, and this is his excuse for whatever it is that he's done. No questioning of the idea of AS as an excuse. Britain seems to have an odd obsession with autism as an excuse for stuff. Maybe there are just a heap of Brits looking for excuses. I don't know, I live in Australia, but I do know that here depression is the fashionable all-purpose excuse. Only a handful of Australians have yet to get a prescription for anti-depression medications, and hubby and I are two of them. 

But does McKinnon really have AS? AS isn't officially synonymous with "genetic syndrome" or any specific genetic syndrome, so I guess he doesn't. He clearly does have some genetic syndrome. Just look at his face. It is a male version of the face of a very odd girl that I shared my high school years with. You could almost say we were friends, but I've got to admit that no one took her seriously enough to honestly say we had a genuine friendship with her. She was assertively annoying and not very bright academically. She was small and her face seemed to lack flesh. She had an irritating voice and cheerful elf-like personality that was uncannily similar to those of the Australian TV personality Andrew Denton. 

People put forward explanations for this girl. Her mother told people that she had been in grave danger as a baby, because she wouldn't feed. School friends noticed that her parents were old. Her computer-programmer father had been exposed to radiation during his war service. Everyone knew there was something up with this girl, beyond the variation between all individuals. Is this Asperger syndrome? No, it's clearly a very specific major deviation from the norm in physical development, probably genetic in cause. She physically had never been what you'd call normal. There's probably a name for it in some dusty old handbook of rare genetic conditions sitting on a shelf in a dark corner of a medical library. Gary McKinnon is clearly physically beyond normal too. Andrew Denton? What do you think? He's the most annoying man on Australian television, in the face of some very stiff competition. Gary McKinnon does not have Asperger syndrome. To say he does is just stupid and lazy and negligent. He has a genetic syndrome. Has anyone bothered to find out which one? 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tips and observations about Australian restraining orders and dealing effectively with nasty a***holes, from someone who knows only too well

Police and others sometimes recommend to people who have been assaulted or victimized in some way that they should pursue a restraining order (RO), with the promise that if any further incident or offense happens, the police response with be more prompt and set at a higher priority, and the police will be more able to prosecute the offender with something. This promise might be kept in some police districts, but might not be fulfilled in others. In our experience, an RO is only as good as the local police officers. A station full of cops who aren’t interested might not be magically transformed into a dynamic law enforcement machine should you get your piece of paper from the local court.

An RO might not be worth the time, the hassle, the rubbing-shoulders with riff-raff in court waiting rooms, the lost work time and the child care costs involved with getting a full RO. A full RO can involve a number of hearings and a trial. Some people hire lawyers to deal with such proceedings, which can be very expensive.

In the place where we live, the RO system is in great need of reform because it is still modeled on the “wife-beater” and other "love gone wrong" scenarios. Where we live the court forms and the procedures pertaining to ROs are suitable for domestic violence situations, but are in many ways inappropriate for other violence and victimization situations. The name and the residential address of the person to be restrained by the RO is required to begin the process of getting an RO. This should be no problem when the “villain” is a wife-beater, but getting a name and a home address can be nigh-impossible when the “villain” is an anonymous stooge acting on the behalf of some other person in a public place, or is a person known to the “victim” but has an address or name unknown to the “victim”. Police can be completely useless as help in obtaining such information, citing privacy laws that restrict them from divulging information that they might have at hand. The infamous Australian privacy laws are a thing to be reckoned with, but in our experience some people in positions of authority with access to information often want to help others who are seeking to get an RO and need to get information. There can be interesting situations in offices in which an authority figure gets up from a swivelling office chair, pointing and saying: “That file there on my desk might have some interesting information in it, and oh look, there’s also a note pad and a pen on my desk.” and then walks out of the room for a few moments….. Decent people don’t give a damn about the privacy of a***holes. There are things that you can do yourself to find information about people. Ask around and network. Most people want to help others who are in trouble, and some people simply wish to make trouble for a***holes, which is a completely admirable motivation. Municipal councils keep records of the owners of homes and properties in their city council area, and requests can be made for the names of people who own particular homes. A statutory declaration might be needed to access such information, and an owner of a property might not be the resident of the property. There's every chance that scummy people are renters, and the names of renters might require some investigation to obtain. You might find that real estate agents can help, but privacy issues might be a bar to that. Scummy people might also be the clients of various public housing programs. In your area there might be a telephone number or an office that you can contact with a complaint about the conduct of public housing tenants, but you might not get any information out of them. The most reliable information about the ownership of a house or residence might be the office of land titles in your state. You might need to pay a fee to access these records. Some folks still have their names and addresses in the white pages telephone directory, which is available in book and online formats.

Even if you do not wish to apply for a RO, it can be useful to get the correct name, address and possibly even phone number of the offender. Knowing that you know who they are and where they live should give pause for thought. I think it is possible that something like a placebo effect might account for any effectiveness of ROs, in that being served with an RO demonstrates to the offender that the "victim" now knows their name and address and is also motivated and able enough to take action against the offender through the legal system. If the offender is a minor (a child or adolescent under the age of 18) then presumably the parents of the offender will go though the experience of having police visit their home and serve the RO. Such an experience must surely be cause for concern, even for the most negligent parents.

Do not assume that you will have any privacy in a court hearing or trial pertaining to a RO. Legal hearings can be done in group sessions. The transcript of the hearing or trial might be a public document – check for your self – and the other party might be entitled to a copy of proceedings about them which were conducted in their absence.

You might find that in the place where you live it might be possible to get someone banned from the public transport system. Such a ban might not be completely enforceable, but it might be worth considering if there are safety issues regarding travel on public transport.

There are some ROs that compel the person that the RO is against to not enter or to leave immediately any bus or train that the person to be protected is on.

In the place where we live schools are completely able to deal with ROs between students, and the courts are able to tailor ROs to deal with students of the same age at the same school. Possibly some schools might not like to deal with such situations, but that’s tough.

There are different types of ROs in various countries and states of Australia – make your own inquiries about what is most suitable or obtainable for you.

Keep in mind the real possibility that the other party in the RO proceedings might fail to turn up in court for hearings.

The RO system is open to abuse, at least in the earlier stages of the process of getting a full RO. The process can be started, with an interim order involving an unpleasant visit from police to your home or workplace serving an order which is completely based on lies. As the process continues the vexatious applicant should either fail to pursue the order or lose credibility in court.

In our experience we have been given loads of conflicting and wrong advice about the legality of making sound recordings and video recordings, and the standards that need to be met for such recordings to be admissible as evidence in court. Some of this poor advice has been given by police officers. The value of recordings is certainly not limited to their use as legal evidence. There’s nothing like a good recording to convince others that some event actually did happen.

Court proceedings pertaining to ROs and the transcripts of such proceedings can be hilarious reading, and can also be very useful sources of information and possibly legal evidence. You might be entitled to a free transcript of proceedings about you that happened in your absence. Such proceedings might be particularly enlightening, as the other party might not realise that you can get a copy of the proceedings, and they might have said things that they wouldn’t have said in your presence.

In our experience police officers routinely make judgements that some offences are not worth pursuing in investigations because as a case it would not stand up in court. Police seem to view the courts as the problem, but our experience of the court system has generally been positive, and we feel better served by the law system than we do by law enforcement system.

You might have a full RO in place supposedly protecting you from some person, but God only knows what is in the police computer records system. Are their records kept up-to-date? Do the police officers know how to use the system and understand the information in the system? Is their computer network currently out to lunch?

Rather than seeking to have an RO issued to protect you from some nasty piece of work, you might find that you get more mileage from getting a good lawyer, or getting a weapon, an effective security system, or a sturdy pair of steel-capped boots. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Everything has a colour, for people like us

Lady Gaga has bought out a new fragrance which is the first perfume to have a black colour as a characteristic. Trust a synaesthete to combine colour and scent in a creative endeavour. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Synaesthesia, not hallucination

I noticed that there's an account of a synaesthete who lost her tickertape synaesthesia as a result of a brain injury, then missed it, and later regained it in one of the reviews of a new book by Oliver Sacks:

I find it a bit troubling that tickertape is given the term "hallucination" and discussed as though it is a worry, when in fact it is harmless synaesthesia. Now I'm curious about whether or not synaesthesia is covered in Sack's upcoming book titled "Hallucinations", and if it is, how is it categorized. I'm also wondering how a book due out next month can already have so many reviews at Amazon. 

Sunday, October 07, 2012

I'd like to question that assumption

"....mentalizing deficits, associated with the autistic spectrum and also commonly found in men more than in women, may undermine this intuitive support and reduce belief in a personal God."

This is a quote from the abstract of a paper that was published in PLoS One in May of this year (link below). I found the assertion that mentalizing deficits are "commonly found in men more than in women" to be cause for thought for a couple of reasons - the grammar of that quote renders the meaning of that statement unclear, and the claim that is apparently being made seems quite remarkable and questionable to me. I tried in vain to find evidence in the body of the paper supporting the idea that men (not boys) are more likely to be found to have mentalizing deficits than women. Which studies have found this to be true? What kind of testing measured these deficits? I think it says something about the times that we live in that such an assertion can slip into a journal paper, without reference to some study to back it up.

Norenzayan A, Gervais WM, Trzesniewski KH (2012) Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36880. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036880

Friday, October 05, 2012

Scary story from Scotland and Spain

Greenaway, Heather (2012) Dad defends wife who fled to Spain with son to stop Asperger's treatment turning him into 'zombie'. Daily Record. October 1st 2012.

The big question, which hasn't been asked in the story or in the comments, is whether or not the middle-aged son already identified as having Asperger syndrome really does have schizophrenia or psychosis. I'll bet he doesn't, but if he does, it is a fact that mind-deadening and dangerous drugs are pretty much all that medical psychiatry has to offer psychotic people. 

A good doctor confronted with a genuinely psychotic patient would not write a prescription for a drug as a first response. A genuinely professional doctor would first do endless medical tests at great expense to search for any of the countless physical illnesses that have psychosis as a symptom, and would also look into any recreational drug use that could be an underlying cause, but when was the last time that you ever met a doctor who would do half of that? Doctors like that are flukes, aberrations. The doctors that I know can't even be trusted to take a proper look at the results of tests that they already ordered themselves, in the few seconds that they spend reviewing the patient's medical records before or during a consultation. Quacks.