Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Shame on you, Canberra Times / Sydney Morning Herald

Morris, Linda (2012) Nothing wrong with humble pi. Canberra Times. August 12th 2012.

"When, in 2004, Tammet stood before an audience at Oxford University's Museum of the History of Science to recite the 22,514 digits of pi, collecting a European record, he had the numbers printed on letter-sized sheets, a thousand digits to a page and perused them as a painter interprets light."

But.....wouldn't that have been cheating? WTF does Linda Morris, features writer for The Canberra Times think a recitation of the number Pi actually is? Just some person standing in front of a group of supervisors reading the number off a massive big print-out from some computer? What? What would that prove? What would be the point? Anyone could do such a thing. It's dumb enough that Linda has done what countless "journalists" have done before her - write an unskeptical and fawning interview article about Daniel Tammet/Corney, but she also clearly doesn't have the slightest idea what a Pi recitation is, and also shows complete ignorance of the existence of memory sport, memory strategies such as the "memory palace" otherwise known as the "method of loci", and of course, complete ignorance of Tammet's life before he changed his surname from Corney, including his years as a competitor in the World Memory Championships.

"Tammet's rare form of Asperger syndrome, diagnosed when he was 25, makes social interaction difficult but rendered this most astonishing feat of mental alacrity a relatively easy task. With characteristic understatement, Tammet concedes he has what others regard as a good memory, and lucked in with the type of mind that can easily recall birthdays, anniversaries and phone numbers."

Poor Linda clearly has no idea that currently there are a total of ninety-eight women and men ranked above Daniel Corney, who is Daniel Tammet before his name change, in the international ranking of the World Memory Championship. I'm sure that if Ms Morris had bothered to contact any one of those memory sport champions, they would have informed her that their memory feats are the result of the determined application of memory techniques, and are not  a natural consequence of Asperger syndrome, autism or some other type of mysterious savantism. But Linda didn't.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised to find such dumb-***kery published in The Canberra Times, because, as Mr Tammet the self-appointed numbers expert might well point out, the numbers predict that such unforgivably sloppy and stupid journalism will occur and even predominate in coverage of Daniel Tammet, just because of a process of elimination. Perhaps most journalists in the world suspect or know that there is something sus about Daniel Tammet.  The trouble is, they probably wouldn't be the journalists to seek or to be granted an interview with the man. The good journalists will probably not be represented at all among the set of journalists who have written about Tammet. They will be absent from the Tammet press article genre (but I'm sure they aren't losing sleep about it). I think it is fair to say that the journalist who most effectively publicized the truth about Tammet, book author Joshua Foer, initially had a good relationship with Tammet and most likely initially set out to write the same type of positive and ignorant piece about Tammet that is the usual thing. Foer was in two minds about publishing his skepticism about Tammet. I picked out a lot of sloppiness in the research about synaesthesia that went into Foer's chapter about Tammet, and with hindsight I don't think Foer is of a completely different league than other journalists who have written about Tammet. Garbage ( in science and neuroscience reporting) gets into print. Good stuff doesn't get written, except almost by accident. Great system we have here!

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