Saturday, April 30, 2011

Neurocriticism of neurobigotry grabbing attention

Congratulations to The Neurocritic, whose recent blog post exposing the untruth of some outrageous things that Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen has recently been writing about people who have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder appears in the top ten of results of a Google search on the name of the professor, and congratulations to Michelle Dawson who was apparently the first person to notice the surprising apparent inconsistency between the professor's negative characterization of people with BPD and a body of evidence in the literature about BPD and the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test results.

Simon Baron-Cohen, Empathy, and the Atrocities in Afghanistan.
The Neurocritic
March 30, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

Lili's next thought for the day

That cute little ginger-haired flower-girl who had her hands clasped over her ears when the crowd was cheering - get her onto the top of a waiting list immediately for sensory integration therapy!

Lili's thought for the day

William and Kate look pretty annoyed that the Archbishop of Canterbury's eyebrows stole the show.

Still having technical issues

I'm still having technical issues with my blog, hence still no colours in by posts. Sorry. Maybe synaesthete readers could listen to music while reading my blog to make up for the lack of colour. Just a suggestion.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lili's thought of the day

One of the amusing things about being the parent of kids who go to gifted and talented programs is getting to meet little boys who are like miniature Bob Carrs.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Zero degrees of credibility

If you want to sell a new pop psychology book or promote a social cause or a welfare-oriented charity, one thing that you need to do is to capture the imagination of large numbers of the type of person who might be interested in your socially-oriented project. I can think of no better way to grab the attention, arouse the emotions and capture the imagination of inquisitive people-oriented types than to start your presentation with a striking atrocity story, preferentially one with a female victim, and then follow-through with talk about empathy and neuroscience, two hot topics. Last November I saw this strategy employed very effectively in an interview on the ABC’s interview TV show One Plus One, in an interview with Camila Batmanghelidjh. Batmanghelidjh is a British businesswoman, charity leader and according to the ABC, a psychotherapist. Towards the beginning of the interview she recounted an extraordinary story about a girl becoming an “elective mute” as the result of either this girl or her sister (it is not completely clear from the recounting) being deliberately electrocuted by an abusive step-father who was said to have wired the child up to mains power. If Camila’s outfit hadn't already caught the viewers’ eyes, that story certainly would have caught their ears and their imaginations.

The strategy of grabbing the public’s attention at the outset with a memorable atrocity anecdote followed by discussion of empathy and neuroscience has recently been employed twice by the author of a new pop psychology book, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen from Cambridge University in the UK, in an article that has publicized his book, and also right at the beginning of the book itself. The title of the book in the UK is Zero Degrees of Empathy published by Allen Lane and in the US it was published by Basic Books under the title The Science of Evil. Baron-Cohen has recently written and spoken about two Nazi atrocity anecdotes, but it is the story about an alleged grotesque operation on hands that I am particularly interested in. This is Baron-Cohen’s account as published on April 9th 2011 in New Scientist, a weekly UK-based science magazine:

“As a child growing up in a Jewish family, my father told me that the Nazis had turned Jews into lampshades, and about what had happened to the mother of one of his former girlfriends. When my father met Mrs Goldblatt he was shocked to see that her hands were reversed. The Nazis had severed her hands and reattached them so that if she put her hands out palm down, her thumbs were on the outside and her little fingers on the inside.”

In this interview article Baron-Cohen went on to discuss empathy, cruelty and neuroscience. This anecdote was also recounted by another author reviewing Baron-Cohen’s book at the UK’s Independent newspaper. The anecdote was given a most prominent place in Baron-Cohen’s recent book, taking up most of the second paragraph of page one:

“My father also told me about one of his former girlfriends, Ruth Goldblatt,i whose mother had survived a concentration camp. He had been introduced to the mother and was shocked to discover that her hands were reversed. Nazi scientists had severed Mrs Goldblatt’s hands, switched them around and sewn them on again so that, if she put her hands out palms down, her thumbs were on the outside her little fingers were on the inside.”

Only the most obsessive, detail-oriented reader is likely to uncover the truth about the Goldblatts, buried in the notes section on page 144 at the back of the book, that there is in fact no Ruth Goldblatt whose mother is Mrs Goldblatt with reversed hands:

“Her name has been anonymized as I have not been able to trace her to seek her consent for her real name to be used.”

At the risk of being branded a Holocaust denier (which I most certainly am not), I feel compelled to state that I have doubts about the truth of Baron-Cohen’s anecdote about the Jewish lady with the reversed hands, and I believe that if a person of Baron-Cohen’s standing and influence, as a professor working at two different departments at Cambridge University, one of the world’s most prestigious universities, and the Director of that University's Autism Research Centre, and an international authority on autism and the author of influential psychology books for professional and popular readerships, has showcased an untrue story in his writing, then a lot of things must be thrown into question.

Why do I have doubts about the anecdote? My main reason for skepticism is that I simply find the story hard to believe. Although I only have knowledge of the human body that was gained from being top of my class in high school human biology classes, I do wonder how the operation described could have been possible. Normal medical transplant operations do not reattach limbs the wrong way around, as is described in the anecdote. I have looked at diagrams of the human wrist and forearm, and I doubt that it would be possible to connect the arteries, veins, nerves and tendons the wrong way around so that they could match up and work and the patient survive with alive hands. I believe there are also two bones in the forearm that would need to mesh, the radius and the ulna, which are not symmetrical and which pivot around each other. I would imagine that a hand transplant would be very complex and technically demanding operation when attaching one hand the right way around. I have a hard time getting my mind around how this operation would have been done twice over, in an anatomical mismatch, by some quack who would work for the Nazis, in a concentration camp in the 1940s. Wouldn't this kind of job require a skilled surgical team, or two?

I am not a doctor, so my opinion cannot have much authority, so I thought the best way to find out if this anecdote is even possible is to ask a qualified medical doctor who is a surgeon. Just to be sure that the doctor was an authoritative professional with current knowledge, I decided to ask a doctor who teaches about surgery at a highly-regarded university, and who has published papers. I contacted just such a person (whose name or details I will not divulge) and I outlined the anecdote describing it as an atrocity but not explicitly setting it in the Nazi era, in the hope that the story would be considered from a solely technical angle. He replied that he thought that it “sounds like nonsense”. This is an interesting comment, but it is not a statement that the anecdote isn’t possible, so I had to assume that the story remained within the realm of possibility.

I thought it couldn’t hurt to put this question in front of a larger group of people for opinions and consideration. As this was basically a scientific question, I thought a popular forum with the apparent purpose of answering scientific questions from members of the public would be a good place to expose this question. Once again I described the anecdote without the historical context, at the ‘Dr Karl’s Self Service Science Forum”, which is run by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), described as “Australia's most popular online science forum”. As far as I can tell, my question never got through the moderation process and was never posted. I was not surprised, as I’ve had dealings with this forum before. Thanks for nothing, guys. Could I have my eight cents a day back, please?

It almost goes without saying that I did a lot of Googling in my search for any information or opinions about this anecdote. As I hadn’t yet obtained a copy of Baron-Cohen’s new book, I didn’t know that Goldblatt was a fictitious name. I wasn’t surprised to find some forum discussions of the anecdote as described in New Scientist, with virtually no serious informed discussion centred on the anecdote itself. One discussion group result in a Google search looked promising, but it had been taken down when I clicked on the link, and Google’s cached page of it had also gone to the twilight zone. It bothers me that people who appear to be Neo-Nazis have made great mileage out of the reversed-hands story. Because it does so much resemble an urban legend it has been held up as an example of a Holocaust story that is said to be untrue, and most predictably this has been cited by Neo-Nazis as evidence supporting their holocaust denial positions. This is a sorry spectacle to behold.

Right from the start I too had suspected this anecdote was an urban legend, as I could see that it has many of the hallmarks of apocryphal stories – it is sensational, it does not include details that can actually be traced, it is not a first-hand account, it is hard to believe and it is very similar to an older atrocity anecdote that I had heard many years ago, and which I had found hard to believe at the time, even though I was a mere slip of a girl back then. People who make a serious study of urban legends note that they are often recycled stories that have a long history in various forms and incarnations. The horrible anecdote that I had heard of in the 1970s was about the terrible reign of the African dictator Idi Amin. As that story goes, to get revenge on one of his wives, named Kay, who had an abortion, the all-powerful dictator Amin had ordered doctors to have her feet chopped off and reattached with the feet reversed. It was not specified whether she survived this operation or died, so the image is left in the mind of the listener of some poor woman walking around with her big toes on the outside.

I did a bit of Googling to research this anecdote, to check whether it was indeed an apocryphal story, and I dug up the story pretty much in the form of the story that I’d heard, and I also found what appears to be an account of the truth of the matter. It appears that the story was not true, but it was based very loosely on real events. I am happy to describe the Idi Amin story that I heard in the 1970s as an urban legend. Was the very similar Mrs Goldblatt story also one? I tried to join an international forum that supposedly examines urban legends, to solicit the views of people who possibly had some expertise in the area of urban legends, but my application for membership to this closeted society met with no response. Thanks for nothing, guys.

Now that I have read in Baron-Cohen’s book that he admits that he was not able to trace the source of his reversed limb story and that the names “Ruth Goldblatt” and “Mrs Goldblatt” were made up by Baron-Cohen and are not potentially traceable details of the story, I’m more sceptical than ever about the truth of this anecdote. The fact that I’ve also turned up a number of reversed limb atrocity stories without even looking for them through Google, some of them known to be unreliable, also adds to my scepticism.

In the process of my quest for the truth about the reversed-hands anecdote, I've almost gained expertise in reversed-limb or extremities urban myths, and one thing that seems to be true is that in general these stories are untrue embellishments of real historical events - Idi Amin did really do many terrible things, but it appears that the reversed-feet story about his late wife Kay is untrue. Delphine LaLaurie apparently did do many terrible things to African-American people in New Orleans in the 1800s, but the story about her deliberately reattaching limbs incorrectly was most probably a fictional embellishment. Similarly, no sane, educated adult disputes that the Holocaust happened, or that the Nazis murdered massive numbers of civilians in death camps during WWII, but the story about the Jewish lady with reversed hands is nevertheless a bit hard to believe.

Why have I gone to all of this trouble to try to uncover the truth of this matter? I believe it is a serious problem that a man who is regarded as a world-class authority on autism, who tells the world what autism is and what type of people autistic people are, is happy to showcase an extraordinary story that he admits he has not verified with his own eyes and which includes false identifying information, in his own book that is about important matters of science, and also in a science magazine with major international standing. I cannot reconcile the idea that a scientific authority can display such a casual attitude towards the truth. If I assume that Baron-Cohen in good faith has believed this story but has not bothered to verify it, that indicates either a very sloppy or a contemptuous attitude towards verifying the truth, hardly qualities that I would expect to find in a professor from Cambridge and the director of a research organization. It would also indicate a naivety or a lack of knowledge in not realising how closely his anecdote resembles an apocryphal story, necessitating proper investigation and verification. If it turns out that the story is a medically impossible apocryphal story, presenting it as fact would call into question Baron-Cohen’s judgement, his basic common sense, and also his suitability for his position as a professor in a department of psychiatry, which is a medical specialty. The truth of this matter is not a minor detail, it is a reflection of the man who has spread this story, and we need to know exactly what type of man this is.

While researching something else I've come across a copy of the 2005 edition of the Guinness World Records and on page 21 is a paragraph giving the essential details of the world's "first hand transplant", with an accompanying photo of the patient Australian Clint Hallam with his creepy mismatched replacement hand. According to this authoritative annual book, this first hand transplant was done in France in 1998 by an international team of eight surgeons in an operation that took fourteen hours. There is now no doubt in my mind that the reversed-hands transplant anecdote recounted as fact on page one of both UK and US editions of Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen's latest book is untrue, impossible, and an absurd urban legend that would only be unreservedly believed by a child or perhaps by an adult who lacks education or has some odd cognitive deficit that causes a lack critical faculties. Why has a Cambridge professor with a considerable international reputation put such a thoroughly bizarre and ridiculous thing at the very beginning of his book? Does he believe it himself, or does he have a contempt for his readers in which he is happy to treat them as though they are idiots, or does he think the truth of a prosopsition is an unimportant consideration? How could such a piece of nonsense as a reversed-hands urban legend have been allowed by book editors an
d also book publishers to make it into print as a true anecdote in a supposedly non-fiction book? Why has this bizarre matter not been mentioned in any of the published reviews of the book that I have read? Am I the only person who has actually read the beginning of the book and thought about it in any seriousness? How is it that I, an unpaid blogger with no background in publishing or science beyond a very old degree in applied science, has noticed that a Cambridge professor has put a piece of nonsense at the beginning of his book, while presumably the professor, his book editor, his publishers in the UK and also in the US, and all of the many professional book reviewers who have written reviews of this book which have been published in some of the world's most respected newspapers, have all presumably been unable to detect a very bizarre and obvious problem with this book? How do so many people get paid for not doing their job? How can I get a job like that?

Links and References

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2011) Zero degrees of empathy. Allen Lane (Penguin), 2011.

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2011) The science of evil: on empathy and the origins of cruelty. Basic Books, 2011.
[US version of the above book]

Else, Liz (2011) The man who would banish evil. New Scientist. Number 2807 April 9th 2011. p. 32-33. Online title: Simon Baron-Cohen: I want to banish evil.

Faber, Judy (2007) Idi Amin's Son Criticizes Biopic. CBS News. Feb. 21, 2007.

[A horrible variation of the Idi Amin’s wife urban legend]

Guinnes World Records Ltd (2005) Guinness world records 2005. Guinness World Records Ltd, 2005.

Idi Amin dies.

[The article “Amin's Foot Soldiers” appears to debunk the Idi Amin’s wife urban legend.]

One Plus One - Friday 19 November

[story about Camila Batmanghelidjh followed by another story]

Top 10 most evil humans.

[An unreliable source with some severed and reattached limb atrocity stories.]

Witchalls, Clint (2011) Why a lack of empathy is the root of all evil. Independent. 5 April 2011.


"ABC's Chaser wedding coverage gagged by Buckingham Palace"

Stephen Brook
From:The Australian
April 27, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Still more technical problems

Today I've discovered that there are still many things in Blogger that aren't working with the latest Internet Explorer. I am able to post new articles, but they have no colour and there are many frequently-used features that do not work. This is why my blog is less colourful than usual.

Just a little bit reductionist don't you think?

I've recently got a hold of Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen's latest attempt to mine the market in pop psychology books (and what a rich and easy vein that is), and it includes a chapter titled "The Empathy Gene". In all seriousness, this professor seems to be taking the position that if people appear to lack empathy (and judging by his past writings on the subject the prof defines empathy in any way that suits his purposes at the time), and their lack of empathy cannot be explained by environmental influences in childhood, then we must assume that there is something wrong with their gene or genes for empathy. This academic seems to believe that writing as a scientist means he must forget or deny the existence of human free will or moral choices or present environmental influences or character or education or socialization or contemporary cultural influences - we are just wind-up robots playing out the effects of our good or bad childhood experiences and our genes, and a concept as complex and as difficult to define as empathy (and I am sure that this sloppy s*** of a professor has still never made any serious attempt to define empathy, having read his last book on the subject) can be determined pretty much wholly by genetics. Do you buy that? I don't buy that, and I recommend that you don't buy the book.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Problem solvered!

It appears that the latest version of Internet Explorer is not compatible with Blogger, this problem giving rise to the strange situation in which functionality of the whole blog appears to work just fine, but the "Publish Post" button becomes completely inactive. My technical consultant has not been able to explain the odd specificity of this problem. In all of the years that I have been blogging with various blog hosts I have never had this type of problem before. I have seen absolutely nothing on my dashboard of any of my blogs to note or explain this problem, so be warned!

Lili's thought of the day

Another prince marrying another anorexic - I've seen it all before.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

Autism is NOT a spectrum, it is a diverse group of syndromes that are caused by different things. If there is any spectrum at all in autism it might be the varying degrees of resemblance to the classic behavioural phenotype of autism, from very close resemblance to only a partial resemblance.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

W. H. Auden did not write this

God may reduce you
on Judgement Day
to tears of shame
reciting by heart
the blog posts you would
have written, had
your life been good.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Probing Glenn Gould documentary on the box this afternoon

Genius Within: The Inner Life Of Glenn Gould

It is on ABC1 today at 3.00pm (Sunday April 17th 2011)

This is the Gould doco that was released in some cinemas recently. I believe it includes an interview with the woman who was the love of the famous eccentric Canadian autistic pianists's life, and who lived with him for years.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fiona Stanley study finds important differences between intellectual disability and autism

Helen Leonard, Emma Glasson, Natasha Nassar, Andrew Whitehouse, Ami Bebbington, Jenny Bourke, Peter Jacoby, Glenys Dixon, Eva Malacova, Carol Bower, Fiona Stanley
Autism and Intellectual Disability Are Differentially Related to Sociodemographic Background at Birth.
Received: January 8, 2011; Accepted: February 11, 2011; Published: March 30, 2011.

"This is the first population-based study of ASD to examine comprehensively the association of a range of sociodemographic effects according to the presence or absence of ID and provide comparisons with children diagnosed either solely with ID or without ASD or ID. Most previous research has investigated ASD as a single entity and, despite inconsistent findings, has rarely evaluated whether the presence of ID might modify any association. This is important given recent concerns that there may be some diagnostic accretion to ASD from ID and a potential change in the characteristics of ASD children over time."

"The profiles for the four categories examined, mild-moderate ID, severe ID, ASD without ID and ASD with ID varied considerably ..."

My interpretation of this study is that it shows that autism without intellectual disability is a different type of condition than intellectual disability (ID) or autism combined with intellectual disability. Pure autism was found to be associated with economic advantage, while mild-moderate ID was associated with increasing social disadvantage. Autism can be found with ID, but it is not a type of ID. It looks to me as though mild ID (which I presume is likely to be less genetic and more preventable than severe ID) is an underdevelopment that is the result of a poor environment, while pure autism looks like it is a type of enhanced or different development that could be the result of genes that are more likely to be found in the advantaged end of the social heap, that can give rise to autism or an autism diagnosis in males but not so much in females, or alternately pure autism could be the result of enhanced development that is the result of an advantaged environment. Is autism associated with intellectual giftedness? This important question is completely beyond the range of things investigated by this study, but an answer to this question would do a lot to explain the findings of this study.

"This was demonstrated clearly with increased odds of ASD without ID amongst older mothers aged 35 years and over (odds ratio (OR) = 1.69 [CI: 1.18, 2.43]), first born infants (OR = 2.78; [CI: 1.67, 4.54]), male infants (OR = 6.57 [CI: 4.87, 8.87]) and increasing socioeconomic advantage. In contrast, mild-moderate ID was associated with younger mothers aged less than 20 years (OR = 1.88 [CI: 1.57, 2.25]), paternal age greater than 40 years (OR = 1.59 [CI: 1.36, 1.86]), Australian-born and Aboriginal mothers (OR = 1.60 [CI: 1.41, 1.82]), increasing birth order and increasing social disadvantage (OR = 2.56 [CI: 2.27, 2.97])."

"The different risk profiles observed between groups may be related to aetiological differences or ascertainment factors or both."

What does "aetiological mean? It means to do with the cause of a condition.

"We suggest that the different risk profiles we have observed for maternal and paternal age for ASD with ID and ASD without ID represent aetiological differences for the two groups. Alternatively, as demonstrated best by sex ratio and birth order, the group with ASD with ID may represent a dilution of the pure ASD phenotype (i.e. ASD without ID). In either of these scenarios, we should caution about the repercussions for analysis and interpretation of combining such groups in epidemiological and genetic investigations."

So ASD with ID and ASD without ID are different things and it is possible that these different conditions are caused by different factors. Intelligent autistic people have every right to feel angry and offended if treated in the way that one might treat an intellectually disabled person. Knowing that a person is autistic tells you nothing about the level of intelligence of that person, in fact, I know of another study that has found that autistic people are less likely than non-autistic people to have an average IQ. So this means that knowing that a person is autistic should be a warning against making any type of assumptions about IQ based on an autism label.

"...parents are playing a greater role in seeking and securing an ASD diagnosis for their children, especially when, as in Western Australia, there are financial incentives to do so."

Something to bear in mind before believing nonsense about an "autism epidemic". Autism stats can be influenced by social factors.

"We nevertheless acknowledge limitations such as the difficulty in adequately assessing cognitive function in children with ASD. We therefore conservatively restricted our group of children with ASD without ID to those who, based on assessment information, we were confident did not have an IQ deficit. Any misclassification of this group would have meant that we may have underestimated some of the differences we identified."

Knowing that autistic intelligence can be significantly underestimated, it would seem to be reasonable to assume that the group of children with ASD without ID could well have been underestimated.

So, I think there are many messages that can be taken away from this study, and the most important one is the message that autism is not one thing. Autism with and without ID are different types of things that could well have entirely different causes. Any so-called autism expert (such as an academic researcher or a clinician or an autistic person who has taken on the role of a first-hand autism expert) who speaks of "autism" and not "autisms" or types of autism is no expert. Any so-called autism expert who offers a grand theory to explain autism, as though it is one thing with one cause, is no expert at all. Any so-called autism expert who fails to caution about the heterogeneity of autism and the likelihood that there are different types of autism with entirely different causes, is no expert. Any so-called autism expert who speaks of the factors that give rise to "autism" exclusively in terms of deprivations and disadvantages is an idiot who isn't even worth listening to. And any autism researcher who ignores differences in intelligence is an incompetent. Don't say I didn't warn you!

I think this study is also a warning against sweeping statements from any political or personal perspective about whether we should or should not seek to cure or prevent autism. I believe that parents have the right to seek to protect their child against anything that might significantly impair the intelligence of their child, although not all would choose to exercise that right. I also believe it would be a crime to seek to purge from the human gene pool variants of autism that increase or diversify human intellectual capacities, as I believe many variants do. The picture is a complex one, so simplistic and uninformed responses to the many questions surrounding autism should no longer be tolerated.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lili's other thought for the day

It's always amusing when a high-profile conservative politician has a rellie who is as camp as a row of tents. Do they catch up at Christmas-time, I wonder?

Lili's thought for the day

Nick Drake would surely be rolling in his grave if he could hear his music being used in that corny coffee ad.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Julian Assange looking rough in interview on Australian TV

I've just watched the (edited) interview of Julian Assange by Leigh Sales on the ABCTV show 7.30, formerly known as The 7.30 Report. I was a bit surprised at Assange's appearance - his face was covered in blemishes, his hair was a mess and he needed a shave. Assange has never been particularly normal in the way he presents himself, but I thought he looked rougher than usual. He blinked a lot, which is normal for Assange.

Assange's rather dramatic question for our Prime Minister Julia Gillard that was delivered a while ago on the ABCTV show Q & A was discussed.

I noticed that Assange mispronounced the name of the ALP powerbroker Mark Arbib, pronouncing it as "Ardib". Perhaps this is a hint at why Assange is such an unusual person. Assange is a poor speller. He admits this himself: "I live a broad intellectual life. I'm good at a lot of things, except for spelling." (Barrowclough 2010). I'm not sure exactly how bad his spelling is, but I know that in some cases of dyslexia, an inability to properly perceive the difference between the sound of phonemes is thought to be the root of the problem. Mixing up the sounds of consonants is a typical error made by such dyslexics, sounds such as "D" and "B". Could Assange possibly be one of those genuis dyslexics that some pop psychology book writers love to write about? Most of them are also thought to be autistic by other writers. Whatever the case, he's a most unusual person.

The full interview will be available some time soon at the website of the 7.30.


Barrowclough, Nikki (2010) The secret life of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Sydney Morning Herald. May 22, 2010.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Every vote counts! Please help, it's easy

Please vote for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), an international network that represents the true interests of autistic people and has actual autistic people in leading positions, as your favoured autism nonprofit organization for a possible corporate donation.

Autism Awareness Month/CafePress/SurveyMonkey

Dave Graney the outsider

Dave Graney launches his memoirs
Reporter: Hamish Fitzsimmons
Broadcast: 08/04/2011

Some statistically sound but not completely accurate advice for a poet

"In your otherwise beautiful poem, one verse reads,

Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.

... If this were true, the population of the world would be at a standstill. In truth, the rate of birth is slightly in excess of that of death. I would suggest:

Every moment dies a man,
Every moment 1 1/16 is born.

Strictly speaking, the actual figure is so long I cannot get it into a line, but I believe the figure 1 1/16 will be sufficiently accurate for poetry."

- Charles Babbage's advice for poet Alfred Tennyson.

Charles Babbage FRS was a philosopher, a mathematician, an engineer, an inventor and a bit of an eccentric and curmudgeon. He designed the "difference engine', which was the first mechanical computer, so he is regarded as the "father of the computer". Babbage's brain was preserved and the separate halves of his brain are on display at two different London science museums. If you'd like to see his whole brain I guess you could make a day of it.

Babbage is one of the 175 famous people who are in this most huge and interesting list:

A referenced list of 175 famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum

Friday, April 08, 2011

John Pilger discussing whistleblowing with Assange on TV on Sunday?

On Sunday April 10th 2011 on SBS1 on Australian TV a documentary by veteran politically-left Australian journalist John Pilger titled Revealing the hidden truths of war: the war you don't see will be broadcast. I believe this documentary includes an interview or discussion between Julian Assange and Pilger.

I believe John Pilger will be one of many speakers at a Marxism conference in Melbourne in April. Cordelia Fine will also be speaking at this conference. Fine is the author of the book Delusions of gender, and a prominent critic of some of the ideas championed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, who is regarded as an autism expert. Fine is an Australia-based academic psychologist who has studied at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK, and has done research at the ANU, Macquarie University and the University of Melbourne, an impressive CV if ever I saw one!

Friday, April 01, 2011

Vines in free concert?

I've just been watching The Vines on Video Hits. Craig Nicholls was being interviewed by Dylan, discussing the creation of great album cover artwork and the band's current logo, and the destruction of musical instruments. The Vines new single was shown, of course, and its a sure hit. The song lyrics floating around in the video looked a bit like tickertape synaesthesia to me. Very neurodiverse. It's a little bit scary to have one of Nicholls' WAAAAAAAAAAAAAs coming at you in space!

I believe The Vines will be on the lineup playing at the concert for the National Youth Week 2011 in Melbourne, and I think it might be a free event. Wish I could be there! The band certainly look the part - Nicholls still looks like a youth even though he is in his thirties.

National Youth Week


Lili's epic thought continues this morning

Regarding that amazing discovery, about a biological mechanism that I believe could be the origin of at least two different types of genetic autism, that I wrote about yesterday, it just gets better. I was catching up on reading through some back issues of New Scientist and there it was - a little story in that magazine about an interesting study that uncovered an interesting new fact about medicine/biology that has been written up in a science journal paper. The new fact uncovered in this article explained and confirmed my scientific insight. It was one of those moments! The sex ratios in autism could very well be explained, although there is one seemingly paradoxical fact about sex ratios that I have yet to find an explanation for. My theory fits like a glove with the idea of autism as an ancient evolutionary adaptation to an unfavourable environment, which is the icing on the cake. So many autistics seem to be born into the mindset of a person under seige. When things get really tough, complex social connections break down and society atomizes. Just ask anyone who has actually survived a war zone caused by political insanity. This doesn't mean that autism is amenable to counselling, it just gives a hint at how some types came about and why they exist.

I think it was the philosopher Karl Popper who had the bright idea that all truly scientific theories are testable and have the potential to be disproved. My theory could very easily be put to the test in studies of simple design, and could be shown wrong in doing so.

It really does pay to keep an eye on the details of autistic people that one knows in real life, and the details of the lives of famous autistics, and it also pays to read about science in an unstructured serendipitous manner.

When I first read the science mag article and realised where it fit into my ideas, I wondered if this was anything like the way the autistic scientist Sir Isaac Newton felt when he was discovering the laws of physics but keeping history's most amazing secrets to himself. So many strange things that I had thought were connected do seem to be connected. Incredible things are all around us, waiting to be seen and understood. Just live your life with eyes that really see and a curious mind.

More Assange in The Monthly

The lastest edition of The Monthly magazine has another article about Julian Assange. The April 2011 issue has an essay by Guy Rundle about aspects of Assange's not-at-all-private life that have caused so much legal trouble of late. I haven't read it yet, but clearly all kinds of icky, messy things are covered in this essay. It looks like it is available to read in full for free from that magazine's website.

Lili's bonus thought for the day

A simple change of attitude can sometimes be a major calamity.

Lili's extra thought for the day

Is a sense of personal isolation an important element of the psychology of high achievement? I have compiled a huge list of famous and important people who are thought to be on the autistic spectrum, but can you think of any great or famous identical twins worth mentioning (who are not also autistic)?

Lili's next thought for the day

So often it feels as though I'm not talking to a person, I'm just talking to politeness.

Lili's thought for the day

If the central character in the movie gets reincarnated, you are probably watching Bollywood not Hollywood.