Monday, December 23, 2013

Lili's festive thought for the day

Too much sloth and gluttony will make you fat and unfit, and that can give you diabetes 2, and that can give you Alzheimer's dementia. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lili's next thought for the day

I thought about using the word "complaints" as a tag in this blog, but I thought again and realized that it would be redundant, as this whole blog is one great big never-ending collection of complaints. 

Lili's thought for the day

The summer holidays are upon us, and the world is raving about Morrissey's new Autobiography, and the book is in all the bookshops ready for the Christmas retail frenzy, and the state library service of New South Wales don't even appear to have the book on order, and South Australian public libraries appear to be waiting on only two copies? 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lili's unaustralian thought of the day

There is evidence that needless deaths of babies are happening in Australia's asylum-seeker detention centres, but the headline of this story reflects concern about mental health? How totally f***ed up are the moral priorities of Australians? We are more concerned about people's emotional reaction to unnecessary hardships than we are concerned about the actual hardships and injustices? And most Australians are happy for it all to happen as the policy of their government? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lili's flabbergasted thought of the day

Natasha Stott Despoja as Australia's new ambassador for women and girls is going to be touring around the world telling other countries that they aren't doing the right thing by women and girls? WHAAAAAAT? Australia has such a good record as a feminist nation that we have the moral authority to tell other countries how to treat women? In which parallel universe is this true?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Daniel Tammet explained in 2001 how you can get a MEGA memory

"People always ask me if I was born with this ability. The short answer is no."

No? Well then, I'm confused. I thought Daniel Tammet was an autistic synaesthete savant. Aren't those things that a person is born with? Something isn't right here.

One book about Daniel Tammet includes this and many many more links to enlightening information about Daniel Tammet. What is to be believed about Daniel Tammet? Not much, I'd say.

Daniel Tammet: the Boy with the Incredible Story

Monday, December 09, 2013

Lili's thought for the day

There are two kinds of people in this world; those who can abide Virginia Trioli and those who cannot. 

Asperger diagnosis does nothing to solve the mystery of Susan Boyle

The Scottish singer and pop culture legend Susan Boyle was reportedly diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (AS) a year ago. I am no longer convinced that Asperger syndrome is a useful or scientifically valid label, regardless of whether or not it is listed in the latest edition of the DSM,  So what am I to make of this latest celebrity AS disclosure? I think we are all open to believing that Boyle is markedly different in some way besides her extraordinary vocal ability and it is clear that there must be some reason why most of her life has been spent on the margins of society. 

It is reported that Boyle was deprived of oxygen at birth, was labelled as brain damaged and was bullied as a schoolgirl and was labelled as "simple" by her peers. I'm always skeptical about claims about brain damage as the result of birth trauma. Epidemiological research has debunked the popular idea that cerebral palsy is caused by birth trauma of oxygen deprivation at birth. If this were true then the incidence of this disorder would have dropped with the rise in popularity of caesarian section deliveries, but it hasn't. Genetics are now being considered as a possible cause. I've seen a number of anecdotal cases in which peculiarities in people are blamed on subtle brain damage due to birth complications when in fact the trait explained clearly runs in the family. Some parents apparently can't live with the idea that they have dickey genes and they passed these dickey genes on to a child. I can't rule out the possibility that Boyle has atypical genes, and her weight and slightly odd-looking face would be consistent with some kind of genetic syndrome, I know not which, but it couldn't be pervasively damaging if her IQ is really above average, as was recently claimed. 

What kind of disorder impairs a person socially but leaves intelligence not only spared but superior? It must be a selective or specific disorder, or a disorder in their social environment, or some combination of both. The idea that Boyle might be brain damaged appears to be debunked by the recently reported information that her IQ was tested and found to be above average, but there is the definite possibility that she has an inborn or acquired highly selective cognitive disability caused by genes or brain injury, because there are many such conditions. Science is still discovering new varieties of cognitive, perceptual, sensory or learning disabilities, and the list of known conditions is already long: dyslexia (there are at least two different types), dyscalculia, dysgraphia, prosopagnosia, auditory processing disorder, developmental topographical disorientation (DTD), amusia, time perception disorder or time agnosia, and disorders in perception of touch, taste or smell. Many of these conditions are compatible with a genuine high level of intelligence, but many of these conditions could also undermine social functioning enough to make the person with the disability appear to be stupid. I think it is certainly possible that Boyle has one or more of the known or unknown specific disorders (rule out amusia and ADP though), but we will probably never know because I doubt that her assessment for Asperger syndrome tested for many or any of these disorders, and if it did become apparent that she had one of them it is likely that it would have been seen as just one manifestation of the broad and mysterious diagnostic category known as Asperger syndrome. 

Susan Boyle has decided that the label of Asperger syndrome will serve her interests, and she has every right to further her own interests after having lived such a difficult and limited life before her rise to fame. An international community and an infrastructure of support can be unlocked with the key of an Asperger syndrome diagnosis, so this must be a very tempting choice. Boyle will be able to claim to be a disabled person while also being able to claim to have normal or high intelligence, because it is almost universally accepted that Asperger syndrome is a social disability that is consistent with normal or even gifted levels of intelligence. It is nice to see in a news report confirmation that Boyle is not mentally impaired, but for any sensible person this should be no surprise at all, because it would be impossible for Boyle to sing with such incredible ability if she was generally cognitively challenged. 

There are some important advantages to the Asperger syndrome label and most of us believe that Susan Boyle deserves to have some advantages in life, but I would argue that this label is not much more than the formalization and medicalization of existing beliefs and prejudices that marginalize some people. I would argue that an Asperger syndrome diagnosis is the replacement of informal social marginalization with formal social marginalization that comes with some protections and some advantages. An Asperger syndrome diagnosis might improve a person's quality of life and place in society, but this cannot change the fact that Asperger syndrome is an all-encompassing, vaguely defined and non-specific category with an unknown cause, and is thus virtually meaningless as an explanation or clinical/medical diagnostic category. Susan Boyle could well meet all of the clinical diagnostic criteria for "Asperger's Disease", but this still tells us virtually nothing about Susan Boyle. 

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Recent pop science or pop psychology books that Lili likes

The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science
by Will Storr
Storr travelled the world meeting all manner of crackpots, deniers and conspiracy theorists, including Lord Monckton and David Irving. I picked this book up thinking it was going to be another skeptical festival of condescention in which people who have eccentric and irrational beliefs are ridiculed, and there is a bit of that, but this book is clearly not a one-sided view of the skeptic versus eccentric war. The last chapter before the epilogue exposes the hero of the skeptics movement James Randi as a most unpleasant man who has displayed little regard for the truth. I was amazed to discover that evidently the skeptics couldn't be very skeptical at all, as they hold such an authority in high esteem. This book is worth your attention for that chapter alone, but I wish it had an index.

Blind Spot: Why We Fail to See the Solution Right in Front of Us
by Gordon Rugg and Joseph D'Agnese

I wrote a short review of this interesting book here:

Saving Normal: An Insider's Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life
by Allen Frances

Dr Frances was the head of the task force that produced the fourth DSM (the bible of American psychiatry), but he is now an outspoken and scathing critic of psychiatry as it is practiced in the US and around the world. Australians might know of Dr Frances as the most prominent critic of Prof Patrick McGorry. McGorry has influenced (some would say dictated) Australian federal government policy on mental health.

Will Mozart make my baby smart?
by Andrew Whitehouse

Associate Professor Andrew Whitehouse is the head of the Developmental Disorders Research Group at the prestigious Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, but don't be intimidated by that because this is a readable and enjoyable book for parents.

Far from the tree: Parents, Children And The Search For Identity
by Andrew Solomon

Solomon writes about families in which a child differs from the parents in some major way, and many interesting and complex states of being are discussed, including autism, being the child of rape and transgenderism. This book has a particular significance to me as this year I was saddened by the death of a young transgender woman who I knew and admired. This huge book is the ultimate compilation of true human interest stories. If this is to your taste it will keep you occupied for many hours. 

Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception
by Claudia Hammond

This book is one of the four winners of the 2013 book awards from the British Psychological Society. I like it because there's some interesting stuff in it about synaesthesia and it's written by a synaesthete who is a very capable science journalist and a psychologist. Claudia talks about her research on time-space synaesthesia in this podcast of the radio show Science for the People:

Daniel Tammet: the Boy with the Incredible Story
by Lili Marlene

Yes this is my book. I'm allowed to give my own book a plug, aren't I? Many people have known for a long time that the life story of the author, celebrity and performer of intellectual feats Daniel Tammet which has been told countless times in books, television and journal papers is incomplete in ways that matter and questionable in too many ways to count. Let me take you by the hand and show you the alternative story hiding in plain sight. Buy my book!

Lili's bemused thought of the day

You have a degree from which university? We both know it wasn't a university back in the days when we studied there. 

Lili's thought of the day

I'm sure the general state of humanity in South Africa will become so much worse now that Mandela is gone....

Man to man advice

These are the first of five fathering tips from "No 1 parenting educator" Michael Grose:

"1. Go on dates with your daughters.

 2. Have adventures with your sons."

But don't take your daughters along on adventures or go out for the evening with your sons! I'm not sure what would happen if you did these things, but the numero uno parenting educator doesn't advise it. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Memory sport champion explains savant tricks (apparently)

I have not read the book How to be Clever by memory sport legend Ben Pridmore, but it certainly sounds like an interesting read. Mr Pridmore has arguably more authority to teach and theorize about the workings of the human memory and the human mind than psychologists because he has proven many times that he knows how to make it work to do incredible things, because he has done it himself.

Lili's thought for the day

Alexander Downer is making me feel ashamed to be an Australian all over again.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Surprised? Really?

Popping the hood on synaesthesia – what’s going on in there?
by Dr Kevin Mitchell
Wiring the Brain.
November 3rd 2013.
"With this as background, we designed a neuroimaging study aimed at probing the functional involvement in the synaesthetic experience of areas with structural differences. What we found surprised us."

"When we looked more closely at the responses in these areas we found something really surprising. Two of them showed a clear difference in response to letters, but this was driven by a very strong reduction in activity in synaesthetes."

"Actually though, this finding is not completely novel – cortical deactivations were previously reported in response to synaesthesia-inducing stimuli in a PET study, some in the same areas we observe. Whether they have occurred in other fMRI studies is a little hard to know – experimental designs focusing on specific regions or looking specifically for positive differences may have missed these kinds of effects."

This Irish neuroscience and synaesthesia researcher was surprised to find deactivation in his synaesthesia study? If that's the case, he'd have to have a major gap in his knowledge of early synaesthesia research and also a major gap in his knowledge of popular writing on the subject. The pop psychology book The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Dr Richard Cytowic was I think the first book in the genre about synaesthesia and is a widely read book. The centrepiece of the book is a single case study, of Michael Watson, who is the synaesthete man who tasted shapes. The most exciting part of the book is the account of the "CBF" brain study by Dr Cytowic and Dr David Stump, of Mr Watson experiencing synaesthesia. What they found surprised them. 

"....the average blood flow in Michael's left hemisphere dropped to three times below the lowest acceptable limit of an average person's!" (Cytowic 1993 p.150)

"....the most important point is that instead of an increase in metabolism, which is what I expect with any kind of activation, your brain shows a profound decrease in cortical metabolism during synesthesia." (Cytowic 1993 p.151)

The appropriate time for a synaesthesia researcher being surprised about finding a localized decrease in brain activity associated with synaesthesia ended twenty years ago, in 1993. Dr Mitchell has never read the book? In 2013 Dr Mitchell should not have been particularly surprised by the results of his synaesthesia study. When a leading researcher in a field of study shows a basic lack of knowledge about the area that he specializes in, and it appears that other researchers in the field don't bother to even look for what is possibly a most distinctive and striking characteristic of the subject of their study (deactivation in synaesthesia) it really is time to ask questions about the quality of neuroscience research today. 

Lili's thought for the day

Funny how a book review at Richard Dawkin's foundation for whatever doesn't get around to mentioning the chapter in Will Storr's terrific book in which the skeptics' hero and champion of truth and science and all that stuff James Randi is exposed as a serial liar. It turns out that the skeptics aren't so skeptical and the hero doesn't deserve a place on any pedestal. If it looks like a cult and it sounds like a cult, it's a cult. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Lili's quote for the day

It's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.
- Mark Twain

I guess that is why Daniel Tammet's books sell so much more than my book about Daniel Tammet.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Lili's thought for the day

People from Headspace have been visiting the high school in which one of our children is a student. I know this because I saw an entry in an open visitor's book at the reception desk at the front office. I'm not pleased, I'm concerned. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Frightening report on the ABC about dangers of anti-psychotic drug Seroquel

Concerns grow over top-selling drug's side effects. 7.30.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 27/11/2013
Reporter: Louise Milligan

"....doctors are warning the drug is being massively overprescribed and the potentially dangerous side-effects are being ignored."

This is a shocking and important report. Nice work Louise. 

The drug Quetiapine (brand name Seroquel) stands out among other anti-psychotic drugs for two reasons: the astronomical increase in the rate of prescription of this drug in the last ten years in Australia far outstrips the rates of prescription of other anti-psychotic drugs, and the measured rate of cases of serious harm to patients from side-effects of the drug also far outstrip those of other anti-psychotic drugs. As if that is crazy enough, consider the fact that that this drug is also prescribed for depression even though it comes with an increased risk of suicide compared to other anti-psychotic drugs. Something must be seriously wrong with medicine in Australia when increased potential for harm sit alongside spectacular prescriber popularity. 

Grave concerns about side effects are by no means the only reason why this drug has been hitting the headlines in Australia in the last few years. Readers of this blog might recall that the celebrity psychiatrist Prof. Patrick McGorry tried to trial this drug on patients thought to be at risk of developing psychosis in 2011 in a trial that was known as the NEURAPRO-Q study, but that study was closed down following objections from McGorry’s international peers. The drug has also been the subject of a deluge of litigation in the United States, which should surprise no one. So why does this drug continue to elicit such huge popularity with Australian doctors, and is even sought after by some people as a drug of abuse? I think there’s no over-estimating the power of marketing and there’s no under-estimating the common sense of my fellow Australians. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Let's get together and shoot some fish!

The annual convention of the Australian Skeptics is about to begin  I expect a roomful of very smart and very educated people will spend a lot of time explaining and arguing about how silly it is to believe in crop circles, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, alternative health therapies, aliens in UFOs etc etc. Isn't that what they call "shooting fish in a barrel"? Is this really a wise use of valuable human resources? Or more to the point; what's the point? 

Some people are smart and educated and privileged. Some people are not so bright and haven't had much of an education and have had few opportunities for intellectual growth or for challenging established religious institutions. Poor people don't have the luxury of being able to openly challenge nonsensical religious or mystical beliefs, because they rely on church charities for the basic essentials of life, or they might be in such a situation in the future. Less privileged people often rely on church-owned job placement agencies to find work, or they might volunteer for a church-run enterprise because that is the only volunteering opportunity in their area, or they might work for a church-owned business such as a school or a hospital or a nursing home and wish to keep their job. How nice it would be to be privileged enough to be able to flip the bird at irrational belief systems. How nice it would be to be privileged enough to be an Australian Skeptic. Will the Australian Skeptics be working to remove churches from the provision of basic and essential welfare, education and health services, and replacing these with government-run secular services? I don't see that in the convention program. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lili's cynical thought for the day

You make your employees work very hard although you know perfectly well that many have painful injuries, and then you are shocked when you find that there's an illicit drug culture among your wage-slaves? Oh really? 

Lili's unimpressed thought for the day

As I sat down and noticed the big greasy smear on the rim of the glass of water at my place at the table I reflected; "Looks like I'm the only person at this interview who has a genuine eye for detail. What's new?"

Lili's question for the day

What did you do for World Toilet Day?

Lili's municipal thought for the day

Let's not pull the weeds out, let's spray them with chemicals instead.

Lili's thought for the day

Only a drug fiend would use the word "buzzing" to describe their mood.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

We need to keep this arsehole out of Australia


F*** you Enoch Adeboye, f*** you very much. Having a first name like Enoch should be reason alone to deny some fool a visa, but we certainly don't need some master-troublemaker who preaches hate against homosexual people and is a part of the international "witch-hunting" murder culture. I'm a champion of free speech, but I also know damn well that religious movements like this one are not about or in any way open to challenge, reasoned argument or rational debate; they are about self-indulgence, anti-rationality belief systems, emotion and the building and reinforcing of insular, exploitative and damaging communities. WE MOST CERTAINLY DO NOT NEED THIS STUFF IN AUSTRALIA.

Lili's puzzled thought of the day

The Conservatives in the UK appear to have a leader who cares more about human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, the rights of minority women and the rights of people who want to enter into a same-sex marriage than anyone on the left or the right of Australian federal politics. How does that work? 

Lili's thought for the day

If natural selection is do bloomin' wonderful, why are human arms barely adequate in length for bottom-wiping? 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kevin has left the building

This was the day when Kevin Rudd quit parliament. Kevin has left the building! In Canberra it has been quite a distraction. There have been emotional speeches, which is what you’d expect from politicians who make attention-seeking a profession. Today is as big a landmark as Rudd was unique and memorable as a Prime Minister of Australia, and I’m sure many will regard today as a sad day. I’m not wasting a lot pity on a leader who has failed to show moral and practical leadership in such important ways after previously demonstrating that he could do better. Rudd knew the utter importance of climate change, but he stunned the nation when he yielded to pressure from his party in 2010 and dumped his ETS plan into the too-hard basket. Rudd reversed John Howard’s temporary protection visa policy in 2008 and it looked as though we had a leader with the moral courage to treat asylum-seekers like humans, but a few years down the line in 2013 Rudd was one side of the “race to the bottom” with the execrable Tony Abbott to put in place the most punitive and illegal set of refugee policies. Rudd was Australia’s Foreign Minister at CHOGM 2011 in Perth, welcoming at least one war criminal as a valued guest in our country. It was enough to make any right-thinking person retch. I didn’t vote for Rudd or his party in any federal election that I can remember, including his landslide victory in 2007. As a rule I don’t vote for major political parties. My attitude towards things that are very popular is that they must be rubbish if they are simple enough for the common fool in the street to find them appealing. This attitude of mine applies equally to Hollywood movies, major political parties, number one hit tunes and the popular image of Kevin Rudd.

But that’s not to say that I’m not sad to see Rudd go. It seems a waste and Rudd made politics interesting for me in various ways. Life under the Rudd Government was interesting because things happened and changes were made. Rudd was constantly announcing something new on the box.  For too many years to recall I’ve been of the opinion that politicians don’t realty alter the course of history terribly much, at least in any positive way. I see current and historical events as largely driven by population demographics and technological innovation. This is why I think Rudd was extraordinary as a leader, because I believe that if someone less determined, intelligent and perceptive had been our leader during the GFC Australia would have been f***ed. Another thing that I liked about Rudd was the way he presented himself as a public figure. He is a highly intelligent person and he has never pretended to be otherwise. He wrote essays in an authoritative voice about important policy matters and moral issues and secured their publication in a magazine that anyone could buy from a suburban newsagency. He showed off his linguistic talents in public speeches. He owned up to being a “nerd” but he never apologized for being one (refusing to apologize for stuff was quite a habit of Rudd’s).  Unlike so many intellectually gifted people he did not yield to pressure to “hide his light under a bushel”.

I’m sure that many would agree that Rudd was an interesting public figure. Even though Rudd had an intense manner of speaking which appeared to be the product of genuine sentiments his political motives were far from obvious, and were the subject of controversial speculation. The psychobiographical essay about Rudd by biographer and journalist David Marr was identified as a factor that possibly led to Rudd’s 2010 removal as ALP leader and PM. At various times one gets the impression that Rudd’s biography and his internal world are obscured, different, difficult to interpret or painfully transparent. We know what a quivering chin means in a regular person, but what are we to make of the Rudd chin twitch? Watching Rudd can be rather like watching a squid in the sea; those dramatic ripples of ever-changing colours surely mean something about what the squid is thinking or feeling, but a squid is such a vastly different kind of creature that we can only guess about what the colours signify. I’m left with (we are left with) so many unanswered questions about our former two-times Prime Minister. Are our questions any less or more likely to be answered now? 

I’ve have some consolation that one of the questions about Rudd which most bothered me has recently been answered by a snippet of information found in a magazine. Some time in 2011 I started to realize that there is something visually interesting about Rudd’s eyes during press conferences. For quite a while I couldn’t identify exactly what it was, I just felt that I was looking at something unusual or extreme. In some photos of Rudd his eyes were clearly a drab pale grey colour. In others it looked like his eyes were dark. How is that possible? The colour of the irises cannot change. Once I figured it out it was so obvious. It was the pupils. The more convoluted, clever and pressured Rudd’s answers to the interrogations from a roomful of journalists the bigger his pupils became, one always more than the other. At times Rudd reminded me of a pet cat in a furious mood. I compared Rudd’s eyes with those of other pollies and celebrities in press conferences and I saw nothing similar. I hoped these eyes weren’t a sign of some health issue, medication side-effect  or drug habit, but I thought it more likely that it was just a sign that Rudd is a bit of an outlier in the way he is put together. Then I read in a magazine article that “it’s been known since the 1960s that the pupil dilates with mental effort”. That made sense. Rudd’s massive mydriasis was due to massive mental effort in situations which were the ultimate challenge of thinking on one’s feet. Rudd’s experience of public speaking can be traced back to his schooldays. He can converse in at least three languages. Perhaps he is an athlete of talking, a jock of the jawbone, with his cavernous pupils the equivalent of sweat on the brow of a champion runner. I think it is quite telling that the pupils of so many other politicians don’t appear to do a thing when they are making speeches or doing press conferences. Are they thinking or are they merely reciting a set of speaking points? Rudd was different. You could literally watch him thinking when he spoke. The fact that his speeches were impossible to follow didn’t seem to matter much, it was just nice to see a bit of cognition in action. I don’t expect to see it again for a very long time.

That was one question about Rudd answered, but I have so many more. I’ll never have the opportunity to interview Rudd, but if I did, these are the questions that I’d ask.

Those leaks…..?

Do you believe that non-Christians are inferior people or morally inferior?

Do you believe that atheists are inferior people or morally inferior?

According to a report released in 2011 Australia ranked 21st out of 29 OECD countries in employment participation rates for those with a disability. Since the 1980s your wife Therese Rein has been the principal of an Australia-based rehabilitation and welfare to work business which has grown into an international empire, and she is very wealthy. Does your wife accept any personal responsibility for the deplorable rate of employment of disabled Australians?

Do you believe that Hazara people and the Tamil people are only coming to Australia as economic refugees?

Was June 2010 a surprise?

It seems as though Christians are over-represented as Prime Ministers of Australia. Can you explain this?

What is your definition of the term “evidence-based”?

What do you think of Julia Gillard as a person?

What do you think were her motivations as a politician?

What do you think of Bob Hawke as a person?

What do you think of Julian Assange as a public figure?

What do you think of the late H. V. Evatt as a politician?

What’s with the planes?

Three hours sleep a night? How is that possible?

Do you use drugs to enhance cognition, promote alertness or to stay awake?

Do you use memory techniques?

What’s with the shoes? Do you have an issue with shoelaces?

Does she smile 24/7?

What colour is the letter E?

What next?

Friday, November 08, 2013

Did I mention that I've written three books?

You can buy them here. There's the book that I wrote about the real story of Daniel Tammet. The title of that one is Daniel Tammet: the Boy with the Incredible Story. There are two reasons why I need to warn you before recommending that you read this book. Firstly, if you are a fan of Daniel Tammet, be warned that you will find a mountain of evidence that will inevitably tarnish your image of this British-French celebrity who has become hugely famous for being a savant and an autobiographer. The second reason why I must warn you about reading my book is that if you have faith in science as a human endeavour and have faith in the peer review process as a guarantee of the reliability of arguments and research evidence presented in papers published in neuro-psychological journals, a reading of my book could launch you into a crisis of faith. Who knows what might happen then? You could go religious or something. Don't sue me if you do. 

The Tammet book was my third published work. To get the hang of this book-writing caper I warmed up with two previous projects. The Strange and Mysterious Life of Opal Whiteley was my first project, which I created just to master the techniques. This little book is about the American child prodigy, amateur naturalist, nature-writer, diarist, synaesthete, personifier of things, odd duck and imposter Opal Whiteley who rose to international fame in the 1920s. There's nothing particularly original in that biographical book, but it's a good introduction to the literature and documentaries about Whiteley and being an ebook it can be used to directly access many other openly accessible and free resources. My second book, The Mysterious Mind of Opal Whiteley: Four Unique Lives Compared, grew out of the first, and in that book I compare Whiteley with three other enigmatic famous personalities and an interesting fictional character created by one of those people. I guarantee that you will read a book similar to this book nowhere in this solar system or galaxy. It's an original, bursting with my own highly novel ideas and questions. There's more questions than answers in the book, but what else can you expect from a book that is about the minds of some interesting people? Everyone's mind is a mystery because you can't look into mine and I can't look into yours. And perhaps that is not such a bad thing, but you can read my books. If you have a credit card handy. 

Look again Professor Hoj

The ABC have made another report about the research misconduct scandal at the University of Queensland involving Prof. Bruce Murdoch,  Dr Caroline Barwood and the European Journal of Neurology. In a post at this blog from September I suggested that the University of Queensland's vice-chancellor Professor Peter Hoj should take a look at Tomas's comment on a post that I had written about the scandal and slack standards in science. Tomas had identified an error and an irregularity in another published study that had Murdoch and Barwood as authors, which were a definite indication that something was amiss with that paper and that study also, but the ABC has reported that Prof. Peter Hoj, who has taken on the task of investigating these matters, has found that "....a review of about 100 studies published by Dr Barwood and Professor Murdoch has so far found no evidence of incorrect or non-existent data." I think the professor hasn't looked too hard, and I expect that Tomas the extraordinary blog commentator might agree. Although Prof Hoj has overlooked some irregularities in one of the papers, he has reportedly identified other aspects of the work of Barwood and Murdoch that require investigation, possibly evidence of plagiarism. Considering that these Aussie academics have had the gall to make up a complete study and get it published in a legit science journal, I'm sure that they would hardly think twice about committing the common academic sin of plagiarism. Australian academic Dr Tracey Bretag who is not connected with the scandal has explained why these issues of scientific fraud are a problem for everyone; "We've also got issues around public safety, reporting data that is in fact not true which could have an impact on people's health and their treatment which is very serious......So you've got like a perfect storm."

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Lili's thought for the day

Google are celebrating the birthday of the bloke who invented the Rorschach Test. When you look into the ink blot, what do you see? I see bullcrap. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Lili's thought for the day

We know that priming is a powerful effect in human psychology. When a job-seeker writes job applications, CVs and resumes the job-hunter is repeatedly writing about how fabulous she or he is. So does this mean that long-term unemployment and active career-building both put one at risk of developing an inflated ego or a distorted self-image?  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Please! More truth and less lies about Sri Lanka, asylum-seekers and Tamils

It's a disgrace that the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) 2013 is scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka, with its long, ongoing and deplorable record of serious and large-scale human rights abuses. If you don't approve of this, now is the time to make your opposition heard.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Congratulations Claudia Hammond

The book Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception (Canongate) is one of the four winners of the 2013 book awards from the British Psychological Society. Time Warped by broadcaster, author, psychologist and synaesthete Claudia Hammond was the winner in the popular science category, and a well-deserving winner too in my opinion. I have written about this book previously at this blog, and I was particularly intrigued and impressed by discussion of synaesthesia.

Claudia Hammond interviewed on HuffPost Live:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The truth about psychiatric labelling of young people in Australia is shocking

I was shocked and horrified that this young man in dire need of career counselling and wise and sincere personal support was assessed as having some kind of psychotic mental illness. Fortunately, this is apparently only a training video. Unfortunately, this indefensible over-diagnosis is held up as professional best-practice. One can only wonder how much more "at risk" of psychosis Nick might have been judged to be if he'd been a religious person or a synaesthete.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why is this still happening?

Another big and fancy one-hundred-bucks-plus edited book by dozens of academics is coming onto the market soon. It appear that this book will include references by various authors to Daniel Tammet as a savant synaesthete that are apparently utterly lacking in scepticism, including a lengthy discussion of Tammet "DT" as the subject of serious case studies by Baron-Cohen and team. Why, why, why, why, why, why?

Spiller, Mary Jane and Jansari, Ashok S. Chapter 36: Synesthesia and savantism.
Simner, Julia and Hubbard, Edward M. (editors) Oxford handbook of synesthesia. Oxford University Press, UK December 2013, USA February 12th 2014.

It is probably worth pointing out that one of the editors of this new book, Dr Ed Hubbard, did a lot to give Daniel Tammet scientific legitimacy and publicity within the world of neuroscience even before Baron-Cohen;s studies of Tammet were published:

Azoulai, Shai, Hubbard, Ed and Ramachandran, V. S. (2005) Does synesthesia contribute to mathematical savant skills? Proceedings of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. 12, 69. 2005 Abstract No. B173. April 2005 New York City.,5&as_vis=1

Hubbard, Edward M., Azoulai, Shai, Mulvenna, Catherine, Sanders, Dana and Ramachandran, V. S. (2005) The Impact of Synesthesia on Memory and Creativity. Presented October 29th 2005 at American Synesthesia Association Inc Fifth Annual National Conference University of Texas Houston Medical School October 28-30, 2005.

Hubbard, Edward M., Azoulai, Shai and Ramachandran, V. S. (2006) The impact of number-shape synesthesia in a savant’s memory. Scheduled to be presented on April 22nd 2006 at UK Synaesthesia Association Annual General Meeting and Conference, London, April 22nd – 23rd 2006.

Hubbard, Edward (2006) Synaesthesia and memory. UK Synaesthesia Association Newsletter. June 8th 2006 Volume 2 Issue 3 p.2.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lili's political thought for the day

Nicola Roxon feels that she's justified in comprehensively dumping on her former boss Kevin Rudd, but I think she should be very ashamed of her own failure as Rudd's Health Minister to reverse a bad decision by Tony Abbott (as Howard Govt Health Minister) and remove a dangerous drug which has seriously harmed many children from the PBS. Even after Roxon was told of the risks and was also asked to take this drug off the PBS, she decided not to act. SHAME ROXON SHAME!

Strattera’s sad story by Martin Whitely

Friday, October 11, 2013

Did you see the first episode of "Redesign My Brain"? At first I thought it was pretty good, but now that I think about it.....

Did you see the first episode of Redesign My Brain featuring Todd Sampson? It was broadcast on the Australian ABC on Thursday night, and it's a series so more of it will be on this Thursday. You can probably catch up with the first episode thru the website of the series below, and find out more about the show at the website.

If you've come to this blog out of an interest in the unacknowledged and largely untold story of Daniel Tammet (which I wrote about one of my books), you should also take a look at the first episode od this series, because it is an introduction to the world of memory sport and memory techniques which Daniel Tammet was definitely a part of during the years 1999 and 2000, even though he didn't mention this in his autobiography. In a nutshell, the main story of the first episode is that Todd Sampson, an ABC television personality decides to turbo-boost his brain by doing brain training computer applications and also by learning the ancient and powerful "method of loci" memory technique from an Australian memory sport champion, and sets himself the goal of going off to London to compete in the World Memory Championship, which he does. Sampson speaks about how wonderfully healthy and alive the brain training makes him feel, which is quite reminiscent of every ad for a quack cure or brain tonic that you've ever read or viewed. The world of memory sport is shown in this episode, but you would need to have some insider knowledge and good face memory to pick out all of the memory sport identities who are shown briefly in this episode: Ray Keene, Tony Buzan, Dominic O'Brien and Ben Pridmore, who is briefly interviewed, or at least only shown briefly. As we know too well, interviews with memory sport identities can be edited out of science documentaries. As ever, Pridmore comes across as a most likeable and humble man despite his solid body of world-class mental achievement.

I never comment on anything without offering some form of criticism, because I'm just one of those negative, picky people who are bad for business, and for sure there are quite a few things that I don't like about Todd Sampson's series already. The most important objection is to the idea of "neural plasticity, which appears to be at the heart of this TV series and is promoted solidly. I just don't buy the idea that our own brains are potentially our own playthings to be moulded and modified at will, but of course my position cannot be absolute. Of course, I believe we can all to a degree learn new facts and new skills, but the fact also remains that some people can't or have great difficulty in learning particular skills and in performing certain cognitive tasks. If the brain does indeed change itself as the title of a popular book on neural plasticity suggests, why do we still have dyslexics, dyscalculics, prosopagnosics, adult stutterers, people with cerebral palsy, intellectually disabled people etc? What could the idea of brain plasticity possibly mean for a person who has unsuccessfully been trying to stop stuttering their whole life, with a past littered with quack cures and ineffective therapies? I think it all sounds like a cruel joke, designed to entertain the able and give them an excuse to dismiss people who have real cognitive problems.

Another thing that I don't like about the Redesign My Brain series is the way that Sampson has stolen or at least copied shamelessly without credit the premise of Joshua Foer's book Moonwalking With Einstein, by promoting himself as just a regular guy (not a savant or autistic or innately gifted person) who has applied his mind to memory techniques and then gone off to compete in a major international memory competition, which is pretty much what Foer did in his popular non-fiction book. Maybe I missed something, but I didn't notice Sampson acknowledge Foer or his book anywhere in the first episode, and although there are three pop psychology books recommended at the website of this series, none of them are Foer's book. I think Foer has every right to feel hard done by.

And I'd like to say something about one of those three pop psychology books which were cited at the website of this series. This series could be seen as one big promotion of the idea of brain plasticity or neural plasticity. One book above all has promoted this concept to the public, and it is one of the books cited by this series. I think the book is crap, and I've expressed this opinion over a number of years in various places. I'll admit that I've never read The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge from cover to cover, but this is because I simply refuse to read anything that looks like it is based on the long-discredited ideas of Sigmund Freud, and this book certainly has a Freudian stink about it, and when one looks into Dr Doidge's education and qualifications one can see where that came from. Doidge has a medical qualification in psychiatry, but it was apparently studied in tandem with psychoanalysis, which is just a fancy term for Freudian f***wittery. So an ABC television series cites a book that is a bit questionable. So what? Well, it isn't just this series. Over a span of years I've wondered why the ABC in many different media and programs has been quite aggressively promoting this book. The ABC has been shoving this most questionable book at the Australian public for a number of years now. When I think of all the many great and under-appreciated pop psychology and popular science books that our national public broadcaster could have been promoting instead I could cry. So what's the deal with the ABC and Dr Doidge's book? I thought the ABC wasn't supposed to run advertising, but it appears to me that the exposure that the ABC has given and is still giving to this book is disproportional, and I also think the series Redesign My Brain is a great big ad for vendors of brain training programs. Just take a look at the blurb at the head of the series's website: "It can turn an ordinary brain into a super brain in just three months. The fastest growing science on the planet, brain plasticity will revolutionize how we live in the future. It has the potential to cure learning and mental disorders, such as OCD, bipolar disorder, addiction, ADD, autism and some dementias." And the host of the series is an advertising executive. FFS ABC. I'm sure there is a conflict of interest story in here somewhere. Journalists?

Another thing that I object to in Sampson's series is the idea underlying the series that Sampson is just a regular guy who has improved his overall cognitive performance measurably by doing brain training. This idea is supported in data shown in the first episode, with Sampson doing some cognitive tests which were administered by some kind of expert, and his baseline results pre-brain-training were found to be average or just pretty good. My skepticism about this is for just the same reason why I've expressed skepticism about some of the cognitive tests that were administered to Daniel Tammet by supposed experts; there is no way to exclude the possibility of deliberate underperformance on tests. Prof. Baron-Cohen concluded that Tammet had a deficit in face recognition based on some interestingly inconsistent poor results in one test that he administered, in apparent ignorance of much evidence that Tammet has no problem with memorizing faces or interpreting facial expressions. Where's the proof that Tammet didn't deliberately underperform on that test? And why should viewers be assured that Sampson didn't underperform for his baseline tests? The viewer can only put their trust in Sampson, or not. Did I mention that Sampson is an advertising executive? Is there evidence that Sampson actually isn't cognitively the average guy that he is portrayed as in this episode? There's tons of evidence. I wish I could remember which reviewer mentioned that Sampson had gained early entry into university. Hardly an average achievement. A quick Google turns up a biographical story about Sampson from the Sydney Morning Herald from 2010 in which it is very clear that Sampson was never an average guy. One could say he was the stereotypical intellectually gifted kid gone bad, taking risks and living on the edge probably out of boredom. He was unexpectedly identified as intellectually gifted by testing at school: "An answer came in year 7, when an aptitude test launched him from the bottom class to the top." Read more: An average guy? My arse!

My last objection to this series (or at least the last one that occurs to me at this point of time) is that in the first episode there was no mention of Daniel Tammet, even though the main theme of the episode seemed to be debunking the central theme of Daniel Tammet's books and public persona - the idea that autistic savants can magically do cognitive feats that other people can only dream of. To be fair, in his second book Tammet wrote at times in a way that confusingly undermined his savant media image and promoted a self-help message, but the mass media of the world continue to portray Tammet as a mysteriously gifted autistic synaesthete savant, not a trained memory sportsman. Tammet is very famous and he did indeed compete in the World Memory Championship in London just like Sampson did in this episode, and the book by Joshua Foer which it appears Sampson has copied to a degree in this episode exposed Tammet in one chapter, but despite these many ways in which Tammet's story is related to the material covered in this episode, Tammet didn't rate a mention? Why I wonder.

Links that might be of interest:

Redesign My Brain (ABC website of the series)

Todd Sampson as guest on a Triple J radio show on Oct 9th 2013.

Preview: ABC’s Redesign my Brain with Todd Sampson. The Conversation.

Lumosity Ordered To Quit Claiming Their Games Make Users Smarter, Prevent Dementia.
Laura Northrup
January 5th 2016 Consumerist

Media Watch (ABC)

Lodge a complaint. ABC.

ABC Advisory Council

Redesign My Brain Episode 1 event page at Facebook

Mindful Media

Mindful Media on Facebook

Joshua Foer

Daniel Tammet: the Boy with the Incredible Story by Lili Marlene

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

I think you'll love this book (and it isn't my book)

If you've enjoyed reading at this blog and also in my book about Daniel Tammet about the past of Daniel Tammet or any of my other pieces of writing which dispute popular or expert views on cases and issues, then I think I've discovered a book that you will love to read.

Blind Spot: Why We Fail to See the Solution Right in Front of Us.
Dr. Gordon Rugg and Joseph D'Agnese

Why do I think my readers will enjoy this book? Let me list the reasons.

1. It is a book about identifying where expert and professional reasoning has gone wrong. These authors do not blindly accept everything that doctors or experts say or write. In my blog and my books I am also not afraid to question the experts and the doctors and the scientists.

2. Although the authors do not blindly respect expertise, they still respect science and rationality and reason and the kind of learning that goes on in universities. This book isn't a piece of junk science and it isn't something from the lunatic fringe. One of the authors is "head of the Knowledge Modelling Group at Keele University and a visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Open University" He gets his work published in peer-reviewed journals. In my blog and my books I also respect the ideas of science and learning, and I criticise the work of professors and researchers in the hope of improving and furthering science, not rubbishing the idea of scientific progress.

3. Autism is discussed in this book and accepted ideas and definitions of autism are disputed. In my blog autism is also a main theme, and I'm happy to pick fault with the way society thinks about this controversial concept.

4. This book is a book about solving mysteries, and it includes a detailed account of solving a mystery and also a new methodology for solving mysteries. Everyone loves a mystery! And everyone also loves to witness the unfolding of the solution of a mystery.

I'm sure there are many more reasons to love this book, but I've got things to do right now. Expect to see more added to this post, and go read the book!