Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

Professors emeriti can be likeable old bags of facts.

Seroquel XR / Quetiapine / Seroquel / Ketipinor: don't say you weren't warned!

This is an advertisement on YouTube from the US for a sustained-release version of the drug that was to be used in the aborted Australian NEURAPRO-Q trial on young patients. I'd normally never encourage my readers to access advertisements of pharmaceutical drugs, and the broadcasting of such material is, I believe, banned in Australia, but I think the rather long compulsory listing of potential side effects in this ad could have the opposite effect of promoting this rather scary product. To quote one wag who left a comment on the video at YouTube "You may end up dead, but at least you won't commit suicide."

Julian Assange's tart retort to Robert McClelland, Attorney-General of Australia

"Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland bemoans having his department being publicly caught out ratting out 23 Australians to the US embassy without due process. If Mr McClelland is unhappy about being caught out, perhaps he should consider cancelling my Australian passport again. It has not after all proven terribly useful to me the last 267 days of my detention without charge. Or perhaps he could do us all a favour - cancel his own passport and deport himself."

Nolan, Tanya (2011) Officials worry WikiLeaks could endanger lives. The World Today. ABC Radio National. August 31, 2011.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Neurocritic on McGorry and the prodromal controversy

The prominent blogger The Neurocritic has recently written a piece in response to the closing down of the NEURAPRO-Q drug trial that was to be conducted by the famous Australian psychiatrist Prof. Pat. McGorry. Can psychosis really be predicted in individual patients?

Drug Trials in 'At Risk' Youth
The Neurocritic
August 27, 2011

link to drug trial objection letter at The Age:

link to PDF of same from the Sydney Morning Herald:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

It is so disheartening to see that so many school principals are more influenced by the popular works of self-appointed management gurus than they are influenced by genuine scholarship and science.

Lili's random thought for the day

3's and 7's by the Queens of the Stone Age would be a surprising choice for funeral music.

Lili's further thought for the day

There is no need to agonize over what you write about a person whom you know couldn't be arsed reading your autobiography.

Lili's subsequent thought for the day

One only needs to have a deep knowledge in a few areas to be able to leave a young child with the impression that you are an omniscient being.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Lili's afterthought to a thought for the day

.....boys and autistics, that is.

The kids are still not alright

The young children are still pretty-much sorting themselves by sex when lining up. I've watched it happening. It is completely spontaneous. There is no instruction from any teacher.

I can still remember my own early years in primary school, when students were told by the teacher to line up in two separate lines, one for the girls and one for the boys. It's like were going back to the 1960s in a bloody time machine!

Lili's next thought for the day

How long will it be before we start asking boys to travel at the back of the bus?

Lili's thought for the day (a question actually)

Are all successful female social entrepeneurs dark-haired, overweight and inclined to dress in a colourful, flamboyant style? Do they need to have this set of characteristics to make them acceptable, non-threatening or likeable in the eyes of most other women?

Sex segregation in the oddest places....

I've just noticed that the speakers featured at the home page of the American conference talk organization TED are presented in a sex-segregated arrangement. There is a hint at what "idea" possibly might have inspired this layout in the misandry of one of the featured talks, the recently-posted one by Philip Zimbardo in which there is a negative slant on some apparent observations about differences between young males and young females. On the bright side, there are some quite interesting comments about Zimbardo's talk. I'm pleased that I'm not the only person who believes that misandry and sex segregation are NOT ideas worth spreading.

And another thing that I'd like to mention; the spellchecker at Blogger does not recognize the word "misandry" as a proper word. Hmmmm.

TED: ideas worth spreading.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'm none the wiser....

A few weeks ago I noticed an advertisement in the local press publicizing an event inviting feedback from local women (the implication being that men are not invited) about what they want from some local government-funded services that are for women only (for no obvious reason), and which, it appears, are provided by all-female staff.

I personally would not use such services for a number of reasons. I have philosophical objections to unnecessary sex segregation in any society or service or institution. In this day and age I doubt that males should need to be kept away from females to protect females in situations other than a public toilet, a change room, a prison or a psychiatric hospital. We live in a society in which it is perfectly legal and socially acceptable for a male doctor to deliver a baby or administer a pap smear or to manage the psychiatric care of a female patient. I don't see males as the problem and the removal of males as the solution, and gender isn't a major factor in me deciding who I'm afraid of, in most situations. I have always prefered to deal with males in social-type situations. Ever since my early childhood, all of my close friends have been either male or masculine lesbians, and I seem to generally get along better with males. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps it is something to do with me not naturally complying with gender stereotypes, and being resented or rejected by obediently complying females because of this, or simply me lacking interest in the types of things that most girls and women might naturally find fun. At this point of time it doesn't matter much whether nature or nurture is the basis of my preferences, the brute fact is that sex segregated services and social groups don't meet my needs and I don't like, and I refuse to join such organizations or to use such services.

So would I go along to this public meeting to complain that my taxes are being spent on services that I would never use? I have philosophical objections to attending a meeting that is only open to women, and quite honestly, I doubt that the objection of one person would change anything. Nevertheless, I did believe that I was at least owed an explanation of why these services, which are theoretically in place to meet my potential needs as a client, need to be set up in such a way that excludes me from using them. So I sent an email to the email address attached to the advertisement in the paper, asking politely why these services need to be for women only, and explaining that I personally object to sex segregated services. I wrote that I wouldn't be attending the event, and it should have been obvious why. It has been quite a while since I sent that email, and the event has been and gone, but I've received no reply.

I've had a poke around at the websites of the services that the public meeting was about. At each website I've found statements that attempt to explain or justify the single-sex status of the services. I'm informed that women are different to men biologically and also in gender roles and that this must be acknowledged. So? Do we want to change those gender roles, or are we happy to perpetuate them and celebrate them?, I wondered. I could find no explanation of why social and biological differences between men and women mean that services should be sex segregated. One of these services has an entire glossy online brochure justifying making a big deal over gender. It includes lots of statements and claims, but has no references to any evidence to back up those claims and statements. This is clearly not a part of society in which the evidence-based philosophy has made any progress.

So, there you have it. I'm none the wiser.

In the meantime, I'm still observing that in casual conversation with other mothers of school aged children, two popular beliefs about sex differences appear to be just as popular as they have ever been. I refer to the idea that parents of kindergarten-aged boys should seriously consider holding their son back a year in starting school because the child is male. It is my understanding that there is little, if any, evidence to back up the idea that males, or any children, benefit from being held back a year in their education, balanced with much well-documented evidence of a number of different potential harms from this intervention. The other popular belief is that young children differ markedly in behaviour and intellectual development due to biological sex differences. This one is still apparently top of the pops among the middle-class mummy set.

In the apparent absence of any convincing research-based evidence to support the idea of sex segregation in public services, and in light of the fact that sex integration appears to work just fine in many important areas of society (universities, hospitals, workplaces), combined with the ongoing popularity of the idea that there are profound biologically-based psychological differences between the sexes, I'm happy to asssume that the idea of single-sex only public services is nothing more than a fashion statement or an appeal to popular notions. This might be a lot of fun for some people, but is it a thing that our taxes should be spent on?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

Did the Dutch synaesthete painter Piet Mondrian ever imagine that his artistic creation might inspire the designs on swimming costumes worn by women and children in Australia seventy years in future, and that there would one day be a website titled "Fuck Yeah, Mondrian"?

Fuck Yeah, Mondrian.

What's goin' on with the kids?

The little children have been spontaneously segregating themselves by gender again, while lining up in one line during a school excursion, with most boys up one end, then a big block of girls, then a handful of those who apparently don't care, intermixed. I don't like it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Julian Assange on giftedness

A quote from a blog written by Julian Assange quoted in an article by Barbara Gunnell in the Griffith Review:

"A lesson which many gifted persons never learn as long as they live is that human beings in general are inherently very different from themselves in thought, in action, in general intention, and in interests. Many a reformer has died at the hands of a mob, which he was trying to improve in the belief that other human beings can and should enjoy what he enjoys. This is one of the most painful and difficult lessons that each gifted child must learn, if personal development is to proceed successfully...Failure to learn how to tolerate in a reasonable fashion the foolishness of others leads to bitterness, disillusionment, and misanthropy."

At least part of this text is the same as some text in a very interesting webpage about giftedness at the fascinating Sidis Archives, which is all about the famous child prodigy William James Sidis, who has been identified by one writer as autistic.

Gunnell, Barbara (2011) Rebel, public nuisance and dreamer. Griffith Review. Edition 32: Wicked Problems, Exquisite Dilemmas. Autumn, 2011.

Stacey's HighQ Page "The HighQ Community"
Sidis Archives.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Prof. Patrick McGorry in the shit again

The former Australian of the Year Prof. Patrick MCGorry is one of the professors of psychiatry whose work I'm more than a little bit concerned about. It looks like the forces of peer review have finally caught up with the professor and have thrown a spanner into his misguided plans. About time!

Prof. McGorry - worst news in a bad week for the former Australian of the Year.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Famous synaesthetes list gains weight

The highly respected Australian actor and Australian of the Year 2012 Geoffrey Rush, fame monster Lady Gaga, the abrasive Abstract painter Joan Mitchell, the brilliant Australian politician and jurist "Doc" Evatt, the enigmatic Syd Barrett, Beethoven, Sir Robert Cailliau, the charismatic and fun-loving physicist Richard Feynman, the witty Stephen Fry, the legendary Vincent van Gogh, Hockney, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Pythagoras, Sting, Tesla, Wagner, Wittgenstein, people who are so famous that they only need one name, all of these fascinating folks are listed in my list of famous synaesthetes or possible synaesthetes. Enjoy.

Famous synaesthetes or possible synesthetes: a list of amazing people with references.

Lili's thought for the day

The names "World Youth Week" and "World Youth Day" include no reference to the Catholic church. This is dishonesty.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Today's quote

The patrons of perfumery have always been considered the most civilized and refined people of the earth.

- G. W. Septimus Piesse, perfumer, brother of Charles Piesse the Colonial Secretary for Western Australia, and possibly a synaesthete

The "emperor of scent" Luca Turin - synaesthete or just very, very metaphorical?

Luca Turin is a Lebanon-born American biophysicist and perfume connoiseur who is a major proponent of the vibration theory of olfaction. I've had a look at some of the stuff that he has written about himself and perfumes, and it was a joy to discover that I'm not the only person in the world who takes the world of smell very seriously. I've got to congratulate Turin for writing a book of perfume reviews that is laugh-out-loud funny (to a pefume freak).

I believe there is a connection between my lifelong fascination with smells (good and bad) and my synaesthesia, a belief that is possibly supported by the fact that G. W. Septimus Piesse (brother of Charles Piesse, Colonial Secretary for Western Australia) was a perfumer who apparently had synaesthesia, and was discussed in the fascinating 2004 book about autism and synaesthesia Not Even Wrong by Paul Collins. In 1862 Piesse suggested that the sense of sound and smell are linked in the brain, which has led to the scientific concept of "smound", which rats apparently experience.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing, and I was recently rummaging through a pile of second-hand books for sale, and was pleased to discover a book about Luca Turin. I had previously read Turin's comparison of the smell of the classic fragrance Mitsouko with the sound of Brahms' music in an interview article about Turin in New Scientist magazine, but at the time didn't think this was sufficient as evidence of synaesthesia. Nevertheless, I thought it likely that Turin was a synaesthete, knowing that synaesthesia seems to be associated with exceptional sensory abilities, and Turin clearly has an exceptional nose. Now it appears that I've found evidence. In the biographical book about Luca Turin, The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr, on page 167 of the 2004 Arrow Books paperback edition there is a list of correspondences that Turin experiences (it appears reliably) between specific types of fragrances or commerical perfumes and types of music. For example Guerlain's Mitsouko and Brahms, Beethoven works with an angry tone and the smell of quinolenes, a chemical element of the smell of green peppers. I believe this could be a complex and new-to-science type of synaesthesia, possibly one of the experiences that are on a genuine borderline between metaphorical thinking and synaesthesia. I'd personally agree with many of Turin's associations. In this section of text Turin is quoted as describing a type of music in a possibly cross-sensory manner "The melon notes-helional, for example-strike me as the watery Debussy harmonies, the fourths." I think we all understand that some music can sound watery, but in exactly what way? Is this also synaesthesia?

Burr, Chandler (2002) The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Perfume, Obsession, and the Last Mystery of the Senses. New York: Random House, 2002.

Turin, Luca and Sanchez, Tania (2008) Perfumes: The Guide. Viking, 2008.

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2011) Luca Turin. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2011) Smound. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

O'Hare, Mick (2006) Interview: A nose for controversy. New Scientist. 18 November 2006. Issue 2578.

Collins, Paul (2004) Not even wrong. Bloomsbury, 2004.

Piesse, George William Septimus (1857) The Art of Perfumery: And Methods of Obtaining the Odors of Plants. Project Gutenberg. 2005.

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2011) Mitsouko (perfume). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The importance of misfits

This account of an episode in Australian political history gives a fascinating insight into the unusual and brilliant mind and personality of Doc Evatt, and I can think of no better demonstration of the importance of neurodiversity in any workplace.

How Herbert 'Doc' Evatt outwitted MI5.
Peter Wilson, Europe correspondent
The Australian
October 08, 2009.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

You just can't win when you're autistic!

It seems to me that the autistic study subjects actually performed better than the neurotypical controls in the pre and post-test phases of learning a complex social task in this study, but neverthless, because differences could be discerned in the functioning and structure of the autistics' brains, this is interpreted as evidence of some problem in the autistic brain that impairs learning. It seems to me that time and time again, reports of research on autism demonstrate that the problem with being autistic is much more about being different than with being incapable.

Sarah E. Schipul, Diane L. Williams, Timothy A. Keller, Nancy J. Minshew, and Marcel Adam Just (2011) Distinctive neural processes during learning in autism. Cerebral Cortex. in press.

Social parts of autistics' brains hyper-responsive when viewing facial expressions?

Gosh, this is so confusing! Isn't the conclusion in this study abstract the opposite of what we have been led to believe about autistics and face reading?

"Twenty-two adolescents with ASD and 20 healthy adolescents viewed facial expressions (happy, fearful, sad and neutral) that were briefly presented (250 ms) during functional MRI acquisition. To monitor attention, subjects pressed a button to identify the gender of each face."

"When group differences in attention to facial expressions were limited, adolescents with ASD showed greater activation in structures involved in socio-emotional processing."

Shih-Jen Weng, Melisa Carrasco, Johnna R. Swartz, Jillian Lee Wiggins, Nikhil Kurapati, Israel Liberzon, Susan Risi, Catherine Lord and Christopher S. Monk (2011)
Neural activation to emotional faces in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders.
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Volume 52, Issue 3, pages 296–305, March 2011. Article first published online: 7 OCT 2010 DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02317.x

The Baroness Susan Greenfield Fan Club - NOT!

It looks like the formidable Michelle Dawson has about as much time for Prof. Greenfield's trendy theories about computer use supposedly degrading mental faculties as I do. Some quotes from Dawson's Twitter feed:

"Thanks to Greenfield, how many real-life autistics will now be discouraged from pursuing their strong abilities in information technology?"

"Greenfield also implies that freeing autistics from the internet would change our brains (& "attitude") & make us nonautistic again. Right?"

Greenfield hasn't been limiting herself to insinuating that spending a lot of time at the keyboard can result in a cognitive profile that lacks a certain something in regard to the social life. She has come right out and suggested a possible causal link between the rise in internet use and the rise of autism in an interview that was published in New Scientist earlier this month, which is interesting, considering that she's supposed to be a Woman of Science, and this suggestion makes no scientific sense at all. Apparently Greenfield has said similar things about ADHD. Is this the same Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE who was until early this year the director of the prestigious Royal Institution? Really? In the UK there seems to be an inverse relationship between the prestige of a scientist and his or her endowment of common sense. In response to the Prof's attention-grabbing suggestion, Neuroskeptic has put forward an alternative hypothesis, which has given some people renewed hope that a simple cure for autism can be found:

Susan Greenfield Causes Autism.
by Neuroskeptic.
August 8th 2011

An open letter to Baroness Susan Greenfield.
by deevybee
August 4th 2011

Susan Greenfield: Living online is changing our brains.
by Frank Swain
New Scientist.
3rd August 2011
Issue 2823

Lili's thought for the day

So many people say they can't understand what is going on in England. I'll bet those people never read Theodore Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Panic - The Smiths

A Desire to Control the System: a list of notable politically-minded railway enthusiasts and/or peridromphiles

David Bragdon b. 1959
American politician in Oregon and New York, currently Director of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability for New York City, past president of Metro, an elected metropolitan planning organization. A train enthusiast with a long history of interest in public transportation systems, as a boy Bragdon wrote a booklet for the TriMet bus/rail mass transit agency in Oregon, about how to use the TriMet bus system.

Jack Dorsey b. 1976
American software designer who created Twitter and the founder and CEO of Square. Dorsey has a serious ambition to be the mayor of New York City. His net worth has been estimated at 300 million US dollars. A fascinating biographical article by David Kirkpatrick in Vanity Fair magazine described Dorsey's childhood obsession with city maps, railways, police cars, taxis and city transportation systems in general, which found an outlet in computer programing. Some quotes from Dorsey explain the appeal of his interest in city transportation: "I wanted to play with how the city worked, so I could see it." "What gets me really energized is thinking about activity within a city.....There's such a rush of energy constantly coursing through."

Tim Fischer AC b. 1946
Australian ex-politician, was the Deputy Prime Minister in the Howard Government from 1996 until he retired from Cabinet in 1999. Fischer was also the Trade Minister and leader of the National Party of Australia. He retired from Parliament in 2001, and is currently the Australian Ambassador to the Holy See. Fischer was nominated into this position by the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, from the other side of Australian politics. Fischer has been described as “a good bloke” by Rudd in a recent Twitter post. Fischer left politics in 2001 to spend time with his family, including a son diagnosed with autism. He has a reputation for being inarticulate but is a well-respected public figure. Fischer has been a railway enthusiast since childhood. Fischer was quoted in 1999: “…to some extent I had a very mild form of autism in my early years.” Fischer credited his autism as the cause of some “intense areas of study and interests” (Rees 2001 p.319). Tim Fischer has written a number of books on the themes of travel and transport, and his latest book is titled Trains Unlimited in the 21st Century. Fischer has shown enthusiasm for the Australian federal government's recent study of high-speed rail.

Simon Sheikh
National director of the Australian political organisation GetUp! This son of a migrant industrial chemist and inventor showed an interest in public life early, representing Australia as a youth representative at the 2007 CHOGM. Cheap rail travel was one enjoyable aspect of a hard early life: "At one point I had literally memorised the entire CityRail network."

William James Sidis 1898-1944
Sidis was most famous as a child prodigy. His IQ has been estimated as an incredible 300 points (compared to the normal IQ score of 100). He received a degree from Harvard College at 16 and taught mathematics at an institute at 17 but was treated poorly by his older students. Sidis was sentenced to imprisonment after taking part in a socialist demonstration but he was kept in his parents’ sanitorium where they threatened him with transfer to a mental institution. After his escape he kept a low profile and wrote books under pseudonyms. One of his works was a treatise on streetcar transfers and public transport usage. Sidis coined the term "peridromphile" to describe people like himself who are fascinated by streetcar systems and research on transportation. William Sidis was an atheist and during his life he learned to speak around forty languages. William Sidis and his intellectual father Boris have been identified as both possibly on the autistic spectrum in two books. William died at age 46 of a cerebral hemorrhage, the same illness that caused his father’s premature death.

And the rest...
Among those listed at the Wikipedia's "list of railfans" can be found Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Founder of the Republic of Turkey), Joe Biden (Vice President of the US), Harry S. Truman and a number of other politicians and leaders.


About or by David Bragdon
Bragdon, David (1974) The busrider's manual, or,: Everything you always wanted to know about Tri-Met, but didn't know who to ask. S.N., 1974.

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2011) David Bragdon. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

About Jack Dorsey
Kirkpatrick, David (2011) Twitter was act one. Vanity Fair. April 2011. p.120-123, 154-155.

About or by Tim Fischer
Cronk, David (2011) Tim Fischer visits Riverina to promote book. Train Holidays of the World. July 27th 2011.

Fischer, Tim (2011) Trains Unlimited in the 21st Century. HarperCollins, 2011.

Fischer `mildly autistic' as child (1999) The Newcastle Herald (includes the Central Coast Herald). Dec 14, 1999. Edition: Late, Section: News, pg. 5

McLeonard, Kieran (1999) Tim Fischer tells of life with autism. AM Archive. ABC Local Radio. 13th December 1999.

On the brink 1 – Tim Fischer. Life Matters. ABC Radio National. 13th December 1999.
[“The first of our series 'On the Brink', about the teenage years…” Fischer claimed to have had a degree of autism]

Rees, Peter (2001) The boy from Boree Creek: the Tim Fischer story. Allen and Unwin, 2001.
[parts can be read through Google Book Search]

Wright, Tony and Gray, Darren (1999) Fischer claims autistic links with his child. The Age (Melbourne). December 14th 1999. Edition: National, Section: News, pg. 3

About Simon Sheikh
One Plus One. ABCTV. June 3rd 2011.
[One of the interviews is Simon Sheikh interviewed by Virginia Haussegger]

Snow, Deborah (2010) So loudly they cannot be ignored. Sydney Morning Herald. June 19th 2010.

About William James Sidis
Fitzgerald, Michael and James, Ioan (2007) The mind of the mathematician. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

Lyons, Viktoria and Fitzgerald, Michael (2005) Asperger Syndrome - A Gift or a Curse? Nova Science Publishers Inc.

Sidis Archives.

Wallace, Amy (1986) The Prodigy: A Biography of William James Sidis, America's Greatest Child Prodigy. Dutton Adult, 1986.
[A fascinating read.]

About Famous Railfans
Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2011) List of railfans. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Lili's third thought for the day

If you need to get a tattoo or a bunch of piercings to show your individuality, I doubt that you ever had much of it in the first place.

Lili's second thought for the day

The colours of your alphabet must surely be as unique as your fingerprints.

Lili's thought for the day

A Woolworths supermarket at 9.00am Monday morning. No newspapers. No iced coffee. F***ing useless.

Interesting post at a neuroscientist's blog

Are we all sufferers of our own unique genetic syndromes? I'd always suspected as much.

Welcome to your genome.
by Dr Kevin Mitchell
Wiring the Brain.
August 3rd 2011

All That You Do - The Vines

Sounds like the soundtrack to a future airline advertisement to me.

The Curious Case of the Autistics Who Don't Really See Like Eagles: a reference list in chronological order

Ashwin E, Ashwin C, Rhydderch D, Howells J, Baron-Cohen S. (2009) Eagle-eyed visual acuity: an experimental investigation of enhanced perception in autism. Biological Psychiatry. 2009 Jan 1;65(1):17-21. Epub 2008 Jul 23.
["Individuals with ASC have significantly better visual acuity (20:7) compared with control subjects (20:13)—acuity so superior that it lies in the region reported for birds of prey."]

Crewther DP, Sutherland A (2009) The more he looked inside, the more piglet wasn't there: is autism really blessed with visual hyperacuity? Biological Psychiatry. 2009 Nov 15;66(10):e21-2. Epub 2009 Jun 27.
[Correspondence. "Thus, the estimates gained for both ASD and normal individuals were all extrapolations beyond the range of acuity value testable with that viewing distance." "The main conclusion of Ashwin et al., that the foveal cone density is higher...also does not bear up in comparison with the hawk eye....Thus, it seems that in nature, greater resolution is achieved by greater eyeball size,... than by closer packing. It is clear that the eyes of autistic individuals are not twice as large as normal." "It is possible that the large number of trials might have contributed to concentration lapses in the control subjects, widening the gap in this extrapolated estimation of acuity between normal subjects and autistic subjects."]

Bach, M. Dakin, SC (2009) Regarding "Eagle-eyed visual acuity: an experimental investigation of enhanced perception in autism". Biological Psychiatry. 2009 Nov 15;66(10):e19-20. Epub 2009 Jul 3.
[Correspondence. "Prompted by the highly counterintuitive nature of both these conclusions and the finding that inspired them, we have investigated the procedure employed by the authors of this study....We report that although there are real behavioural differences between ASD and control groups, technical limitations in the procedure used to measure acuity call into question the conclusion that people with ASD have higher visual acuity compared with unaffected individuals without the context of the experiment."]

Ashwin E, Ashwin C, Tavassoli T, Chakrabarti B, Baron-Cohen S. (2009) Eagle-eyed visual acuity in autism. Biological Psychiatry. 2009 Nov 15;66(10) e23-4. Epub 2009 Jul 3
[Correspondence. "We accept that the technical issues outlined in the commentary need to be resolved."]

Kéïta, Luc, Mottron, Laurent and Bertone, Armando (2010) Far visual acuity is unremarkable in autism: Do we need to focus on crowding? Autism Research. Vol 3 Issue 6 p.333-341 December 2010. Article first published online: 6 OCT 2010 DOI: 10.1002/aur.164
["...the expected crowding effect at one gap-size opening distance was evidenced for the control group only.....These results suggest that although far visual acuity is unremarkable in autism, altered local lateral connectivity within early perceptual areas underlying spatial information processing in autism is atypical."]

Bölte S, Schlitt S, Gapp V, Hainz D, Schirman S, Poustka F, Weber B, Freitag C, Ciaramidaro A, Walter H. (2011) A Close Eye on the Eagle-Eyed Visual Acuity Hypothesis of Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2011 Jun 10. [Epub ahead of print]
["This study could not confirm the eagle-eyed acuity hypothesis of ASD, or find evidence for a connection of VA and clinical phenotypes."]

Tavassoli T, Latham K, Bach M, Dakin SC, Baron-Cohen S. (2011) Psychophysical measures of visual acuity in autism spectrum conditions. Vision Research. 2011 Jun 16. [Epub ahead of print]
["Best corrected VA was significantly better than the initial habitual acuity in both groups, but adults with and without ASC did not differ on ETDRS or FrACT binocular VA." "We conclude that there is no experimental evidence for superior visual acuity in ASC."]

Marita Falkmer, Geoffrey W. Stuart, Henrik Danielsson, Staffan Bram, Mikael Lönebrink and Torbjörn Falkmer (2011) Visual Acuity in Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome: No Evidence for “Eagle-Eyed” Vision. Biological Psychiatry. In Press, Corrected Proof. Available online 31 August 2011. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.07.025

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Research? What research?

If psychiatry researchers such as Prof. P. McGorry were really, genuinely interested in discovering how to prevent psychotic mental illness such as schizophrenia from developing in adolescents and young adults, they wouldn't be mucking about with neuroleptic drugs, which have brain damage as one of their many harmful long-term side effects, they would surely be doing research studying synaesthesia. Why synaesthesia? Well, it appears that the biological process that possibly gives rise to synaesthesia, less pruning back of synapses than typically occurs during the normal developmental process of synaptic pruning in childhood, is something like the opposite of the biological process that is thought to give rise to schizophrenia, which is thought to be the result of over-pruning during the normal developmental process of synpatic pruning during adolescence and early adulthood. Synaesthesia appears to be the result of less pruning in childhood, while schizophrenia appears to be the result of too much pruning during the later pruning period. It seems obvious to me that schizophrenia/youth psychosis researchers should be interested in finding out what puts a brake on the pruning process, or what possibly protects synapses from being pruned in synaesthetes, because if they could treat youths who are genuinely at risk of developing schizophrenia with some treatment that puts the brakes on pruning they might possibly prevent schizophrenia from developing, if they really had a clue about identifying those "at risk".

Pruning isn't the only theory put forward to explain synaesthesia. There is also the theory that synaesthesia is the result of disinhibited feedback in the brain. I think this theory has nothing going for it these days. Studies have found structural differences between the brains of grapheme-colour synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes, so I consider the disinhibited feedback model mostly applicable to artificial drug-induced synaesthesia. I guess one could also theorize that the synaesthete brain ends up with more connections after pruning becuse it had a ridiculous amount of connectivity to begin with. Perhaps the opposite is also true of a pre-schizophrenic brain. Regardless of which theory one favours, I think there are good reasons to believe that synaesthesia might provide a clue or two about schizophrenia, as a condition that looks like the opposite.

So, are schizophrenia researchers all over synaesthetes like a rash, badgering them to volunteer as research participants or to fill in questionnaires and surveys? Nope. I'm a synaesthete and I've been very interested in the goings-on in the world of synesthesia research for many years now, and not once have I ever heard about research on synaesthesia or synaesthetes with the explicitly stated aim of gaining new understanding of schizophrenia. The present state of the art is that there are still some neurologists and doctors who have never heard of synaesthesia, and there is still a risk that doctors and psychiatrists can fail to understand that synaesthesia and psychosis/schizophrenia are different conditions, even though on a structural level these things look like opposites.

I would also expect that synaesthesia should also be of interest to dementia researchers. Is the synaesthete brain, with all of its extra connectivity, protected from any of the different types of brain-eroding dementia, or are synaesthetes more at risk for any age-related brain problems? Once again, I have never heard of any interest of this type from the world of medical research. Medical research is all about drugs. Drugs are where the money is. Patients can be convinced to experience placebo effects from drugs that have no useful function at all. Drug companies can't lose, and nothing is easier for a doctor to do than write out a prescription. Don't expect any genuine curiousity about what causes disease and death from this corrupt system.

Influential Australian psychiatists McGorry and Hickie accused of having conflicting interests

In a press article today two very influenctial Australian psychiatrists who are associated with the Headspace network of psychiatric drop-in services aimed at adolescents have been accused of having conflicting interests regarding their roles in advising the federal government. This is exactly what I've been arguing for months at this blog and at my other blog Blond Ambition, so it's nice to see the message getting out there.

One of the psychiatrists in question is Professor Ian Hickie from the Brain and Mind Research Institute who has advocated very successfully to make depression Australia's favourite mental disorder. I have to sit and think awhile to identify one adult person who I know who has not been self-diagnosed or medically diagnosed as a depressive. Practically everyone that I know is on anti-depressant drugs, even one of my kids' (child) friends. I never thought I'd hear a teacher at a parent-teacher interview evening declare that they are taking anti-depressant drugs to point out how tough their work schedule is, but this is Australia, and depression is the latest thing. This fad complete bullshit, of course, but the drug companies couldn't be happier about Australia's big bout of depression. Depression isn't Prof. Hickie's only professinal interest. Lately he has been appearing on the cute science show Catalyst on ABCTV and interviewed by the Australian online magazine The Conversation discussing melatonin and sleep and depression, and I was not the least surprised that the discussion ends with a plug for a drug, a drug that on close inspection, appears to be of doubtful effectiveness and with scary side-effects.

The other Australian psychiatrist criticised today is the former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry, who has had a profound influence on federal government mental health policy and is much admired by the political group GetUp!, and who has for many years had something of a professional obsession with the idea of early intervention for psychosis in adolescents. In the face of much serious criticism from professional peers in Australia and internationally, dire warnings that his plans will do more harm than good, and in the face of research evidence that does not appear to support his plans, McGorry ploughs on with the support of an unpopular and nervous federal government who are eager to jump onto any bandwagon that might bring any amount of new popularity. The thing that I dislike the most about McGorry is the way he pleases himself about the business of declaring conflicting interests in medical journal papers. In some papers for some journals he has given lengthy disclosures (the BMJ are such sticklers), while for others he declares nothing at all, which is just incredible. I've been told that Prof. Ian Hickie is just as bad, if not worse, a claim that I plan to research soon.

McGorry accused of conflict of interest.
by Jill Stark
Sydney Morning Herald.
August 7th 2011

Doctors in different headspace on suicide.
by Jill Stark
Sydney Morning Herald.
August 7th 2011

There's a pill for that....
by Lili Marlene
Blond Ambition
July 21st 011

Professor Patrick McGorry - too influential and too much influenced?
by Lili Marlene
Blond Ambition
May 27th 2011

Tasting the Universe - a fascinating book about synaesthesia and famous synaesthetes

I've recently been reading a book about synaesthesia from the US by Maureen Seaberg titled Tasting the Universe. The author is an American synaesthete journalist who has an interest in spirituality. At first I was quite put off by the new-agey feel of the book, because I'm not a new-agey type of person and I also don't like unnecessary mystification of synaesthesia, which I fear can make some synaesthetes feel like freaks or flakes, or look like freaks or flakes, but I've got to admit that there is a lot of very interesting stuff in this book. Seaberg has gotten around and interviewed many famous and interesting synesthetes and synaesthesia researchers, so if you have been drawn to my website due to an interest in the subject of famous synaesthetes, this is a book that I can certainly recommend to you. Famous people discussed and/or interviewed include the author Douglas Coupland, Billy Joel, Marilyn Monroe, Australian philosopher Prof. David Chalmers, Marian McPartland, Itzhak Perlman, Pharrell Williams, Sir Robert Cailliau, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Olivier Messiaen, Vincent van Gogh, Daniel Tammet, Bob Dylan, Ida Maria, Beethoven, Manu Katche and many others.

Seaberg, Maureen (2011) Tasting the universe: people who see colors in words and rainbows in symphonies: a spiritual and scientific exploration of synesthesia. New Page Books, 2011.

A big move in the world of synesthesia

The website of Sean Day Ph.D. could be described as the epicentre of the world of synaesthesia. Sean Day is the President of the American Synesthesia Association, a synesthete, a musician and an academic. He compliled the original list of famous synaesthetes, and he also runs the international email list The Synesthesia List. According to a book about synesthesia that I've recently been reading Dr Day likes to wear purple suits, and why not I ask.

When a website of this importance moves, we should promptly update our bookmarks and favourites. Find it here:


(I have got to get onto my technical issues and bring back colour to my blog. It's a crying shame to publish this post in black letters. Sorry.)

At home with Julian....

Hosting the world's best whistleblower.
Alexi Mostrous
The Times. The Weekend Australian.

August 06, 2011

Assange 'hunted' by women - landlord.
From: AAP
Herald Sun.
August 06, 2011.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

What baby-boomer bullshit that new Holden ad is - a classic Vines tune playing while some old codger plays about with a guitar, who looks like some bloke from Cold Chisel, that pack of overrated fossils. Ride is not a Cold Chisel song! Ride is from The Vines album Winning Days, which was released 20 years after Cold Chisel broke up.

Monday, August 01, 2011

A slap on the back for a snack food company

I'd like to send my warmest thanks to the Smith's Snackfood Company Limited, producers of Smith's potato crisps. If their crisps are labelled accurately, many of their lines, perhaps all for all I know, no longer contain palm oil, an ingredient that many people wish to avoid for health and ethical reasons. The expansion of palm oil plantations in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia are thought to be a major factor, along with logging, in the destruction of the habitats of the orangutan and other amazing endangered animals.

The pack of most delicious Smith's crisps that I have in front of me now has ingredient labelling that looks as though it gives a pretty-much full disclosure of what is in the product, unlike previous ingredient labelling that did not specify types of oils used. It appears that the Smith's Snackfood Company have not waited for the federal government to pass long-awaited legislation requiring the full labelling of foods, to their credit. It appears that competitors who produce Samboy crisps still do not specify what oils they use in their crisps, and I'd bet there is still palm oil in Samboy crisps. Samboy crisps taste terrible, so I'm not surprised that the manufacturer of that product don't seem to give a damn. Thank you so much, Smith's crisps people! I hope one day that the jokers who make Samboy chips will follow your good example!

Link to a story at the 7.30 TV current affairs show about deception, lack of disclosure and conflicting interests associated with logging and palm oil production replacing the habitats of the orangutan:

Zoos join fight to save endangered orangutans.
by Greg Hoy
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 03/08/2011