Saturday, January 18, 2014

Is there an inverse relationship between credibility and popularity in neuroscience books pitched at a general readership?

"He uses this lifelong passion for neurology to strip away the falsehoods." This is a quote from a rave reader review at Amazon of the new book We Are Our Brains: A Neurobiography of the Brain, from the Womb to Alzheimer's by Dick Swaab, who is a Dutch physician and a past director of the Dutch Institute for Brain Research, but I have been advised in a comment to this blog that the book includes unsceptical discussion of Daniel Tammet, who is arguably the most sus neuropsychological case study subject in the history of neuroscience. A quick search of the book's contents via Amazon seems to confirm this tip. Tammet is discussed in this book in the section on savants. What were you thinking, Dick Swaab?

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to see Prof. Dick Swaab giving Tammet positive or uncritical coverage in his book. They have both appeared at least once on the same TV show, and it is probably a fair comment that they both complement the fame of the other in Dutch popular culture. I think this is one reason why so many so-called journalists, scientists and television personalities have failed to blow the whistle on Tammet - because his established fame casts a rosy glow on anyone who appears beside him in the mass media.

Unfortunately, it appears that a clip of the TV episode detailed below is no longer available for viewing on the internet. Notably, Tammet's appearance on this show provided a stunning clue in plain sight that his repeated claims of being impaired in face recognition are questionable. 

Below is a small excerpt from my fabulous book Daniel Tammet: the Boy with the Incredible Story.

Pauw and Witteman. Season 2, Episode 16 Episode #2.16 Broadcast September 24th 2007.
[Tammet appeared on this Dutch current affairs talk show. Other guests test Tammet’s ability to give days of the week for past dates, and later on he asks questions about himself. Tammet is interviewed in English and segments of the Brainman doco are shown and discussed. The Dutch professor of neurobiology Dick Swaab is part of the discussion, speaking in Dutch and holding a model of a brain. At around 30 minutes Tammet explains how he knew that he was in love for the first time, by quoting what is supposed to be a passage from the children’s book The Little Prince “Love is when you look in a sea of a million faces, and you see only one face, then you know that you are in love.”]

No comments: