Sunday, March 15, 2015

One big fail - a major corporate recruitment assessment company sponsored the event that built the reputation of a man with a hidden past

SHL Group is a company that offers tests and questionnaires relevant to personality, abilities and aptitudes for use in recruitment selection by companies and government bodies all around the world. Their list of clients includes ANZ, Coca Cola, Oxfam, Qantas, Vodafone, Nissan, KPMGColes and NASA. SHL Group were also the sponsors of Daniel Tammet's now-controversial 2004 "Pi in the Sky" memory record event to raise funds for the National Society for Epilepsy in the UK. One source is currently claiming that the memory record was not really broken by Tammet in 2004 even though press and official sources from the time claimed that the European/British record for memorizing Pi had been broken. 

Money raised by the event was to go toward a new leaflet from the NSE about epilepsy and memory, which is quite an irony considering that this event was a feat of memory that was publicized as being the result of extraordinary mental powers mysteriously created by an early childhood seizure suffered by Tammet, while the currently-available leaflet about epilepsy and memory from the NSE (now the Epilepsy Society) only discusses memory problems and strategies to help deal with memory difficulties

Expressions of skepticism about claims that Tammet has mysterious savant memory and calculation abilities date back many years, with figures from the memory sport community asserting that Tammet, who competed in memory championships in 1999 and 2000 under his original name of Daniel Corney, used much the same memory techniques as other competitors. Daniel Tammet is clever with numbers but his story never did add up, but that didn't stop a major company, whose business it is today to decide whether countless job applicants get an interview, from sponsoring the event that created Tammet's international reputation as a "genius" and a "savant". I'd say that was one gigantic failure of SHL to identify an issue with the talent.

My book about Daniel Tammet:


Anonymous said...

In defence of SHL, I can't see they have done anything wrong.

There's no dispute that Tammet successfully memorised pi (the only dispute is on whether he made a relatively small mistake in the recitation, which might or might not count as an issue depending on the rules used). There is also no dispute that Tammet was epileptic.

I can't see anything very wrong with what SHL did - as far as I can make out, their role was to provide some invigilation for the record attempt, and sponsorship of £1,000 to the National Society for Epilepsy, which is a perfectly worthy cause.

I think criticism of SHL misses the mark. They have done nothing seriously wrong, whereas others - Tammet's promoters, publishers, and the scientists and media - are guilty of far worse.


Lili Marlene said...

I don't see the alleged error in the Pi record attempt as a small thing, because whenever a person breaks a record, or is recognized as breaking a record, they take that record away from the previous record-holder. To unjustifiably claim a record is definitely not a "victimless crime".

The question of whether or not SHL made a boo-boo raises the question of who was actually in charge of the record attempt. The NSE? In this media story their spokesman wasn't even even named:
Interesting to note that the University of Oxford have put their page about the event behind a wall. After all the attention that I've paid to the event, I don't think I ever identified one person or organization who was identified as in charge of the event, and perhaps that is the problem, no one accountable. But the event must have been some person's idea to begin with. Tammet's publicist? Tammet?

Lili Marlene said...

It might be correct that SHL did not play a big role in what was wrong with the Daniel Tammet story (but they did provide the funding for the event that made DT's reputation), but look at what they do in 2015, all over the world they are playing at the job of judging the suitability of countless job applicants using methodologies and tests that are supposed to uncover the real truth about people, and are anything but open and accountable to the people being "processed", while only 10 years ago they endorsed a famous figure who turned out to be a real surprise package. I have no regard for large and powerful companies who don't live up to their PR.