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Medicine United Kingdom Science

Oxford Professor Taken To Task For Linking Internet Use To Autism 247

esocid writes with excerpts from a piece written by Ben Goldacre of The Guardian: "Baroness Susan Greenfield, Professor of pharmacology at Oxford, apparently announced that computer games are causing dementia in children. ... Two months ago the same professor linked internet use with the rise in autism diagnoses (not for the first time), then pulled back when autism charities and an Oxford professor of psychology raised concerns. ... When I raised concerns, she said I was like the epidemiologists who denied that smoking caused cancer. Other critics find themselves derided as sexist in the media. If a scientist sidesteps their scientific peers, and chooses to take an apparently changeable, frightening, and technical scientific case directly to the public, then that is a deliberate decision, and one that can't realistically go unnoticed. ... I think these serious scientific concerns belong, at least once, in a clear scientific paper. I don't see how this suggestion is inappropriate, or impudent, and in all seriousness, I can't see an argument against it."
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Oxford Professor Taken To Task For Linking Internet Use To Autism

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 06, 2011 @01:56AM (#37963554)

    Without reading the article, I reasonably expect this is the reason for "games, internet, or some other couch potato activity increasing autism..."

    - Many people who we would usually call geeks or nerds have a topic fetish, by removing other distractions they can focus on that. Autistic individuals tend to do the same, they focus on specific topics and are rather anti-social in situations that have nothing to do with their topic fetish. -

    But you see, you can classify pretty much everyone as having some autism spectrum disorder (oh god aspergers, absolutely nobody really has that) because they want a label and excuse to be dysfunctional and anti-social and remain on welfare.

    On the latter half of the 60 minutes program with the Steve Jobs Biography stuff, they were talking about how iPads can improve REAL autistic individuals ability to communicate (they don't speak.) They showed near the end that the brain of someone with autism has a "kink" or "bend" near the base of the brain responsible for speech. You can learn to speak if this area is "broken", but the brain wires more "capacity" to it. You can't say games cause brain damage, hence autism, so directly linking it is absurdity. Autism is a genetic "programming" bug that mis-allocates brain neurons because of less bandwidth availability. Speech is apparently low priority on our ability to survive. An analogy is that a regular brain has a 64bit address bus to the CPU, I/O and RAM, but an autistic individual has only a 32bit bus to the I/O, so more latency is the result.

    Autistic individuals can actually do work, they just require work that is "brain busy" like sorting/organizing things that fits their interests. Because they become distracted if their eyes are taken off the work, it has to be something that is easily focused on.

    Or at least that is what I got out of the program. I'm not a doctor, and I don't pretend to be one.

  • by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @02:19AM (#37963616)

    .... a genetically based disability. I swear some of these people are just off the wall clueless. A more accurate statement would be "Heavy screen time stunts social skills". It certainly doesn't cause autism though.

  • Wow. Just... Wow. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by macs4all ( 973270 ) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @02:42AM (#37963674)
    It sure looks like Oxford's standards are slipping.

    Perhaps the actual thing that is happening is that Autism is this decade's Disease du Jour, and like ADHD before it, is being overdiagnosed at a truly frightening rate.

    But just wait until the next DSM comes out. We'll ALL be diagnose-able with SOME sort of mental disorder []. So, at that point, maybe nutjobs like BARONESS von Greenfield will eventually be "right" (at least according to the increasingly out-of-their-ever-lovin'-minds psychiatric community).
  • It's backwards (Score:5, Interesting)

    by symbolset ( 646467 ) * on Sunday November 06, 2011 @03:28AM (#37963778) Journal

    Near as I can tell it's the aspies causing the games, not the other way around. If the game's not inhumanly complex and impossible for mere mortals to complete it's savaged in the press before it's even launched, and a commercial failure. You have to have perfect recall and reflexes that border on precognition to play some of these games. It's been like this for something like fifteen years. I couldn't beat Zelda on the Nintendo 64 even now.

    Maybe I'm just old and slow. Games aren't my thing. My eight year old son used to laugh at my feeble gaming skills in Unreal Tournament. Now and the he'd let me snipe him just so I'd continue to play. When he got tired of killing me he would just follow me around and if I turned about suddenly, wax me on the spot. He's voting now - not the online poll, gamer ranking kind of voting - he's Of Age. I've got a second grader that regularly slays me on some Wii Mario game, when I'm really trying. Maybe it's just me. I think I'm an above average guy, but what these kids can do - it scares me.

    I was introduced to computers in what's now called "middle school" but back then was called "junior high". Back then a computer was a pretty serious thing, demanding respect and training before you approached it. I was precocious, and got in this game early. Now it's an environmental thing. My youngest was online, playing games at two years old. My first grandson adored Angry Birds on my phone and Android tablet at 18 months. My oldest son, just now 18, types 150 wpm on the crappiest keyboard available - not because he's deliberately trained for that specialty, but because the keyboard is how he's communicated for as long as he's been talking to people. The keyboard is his tongue.

  • Re:+1 parent post (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Slashdot Assistant ( 2336034 ) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @07:21AM (#37964346)
    A tl;dr coming your way.

    It's really a double-edged knife. My parents went through a messy divorce, which was probably one of the reasons I ended-up spending a lot of my childhood hidden away in my room, playing around with computers. It has upsides and downsides.

    It left me with somewhat stunted social skills, and difficulties in forming relationships. Those have improved, but I don't think they'll ever be as good as they should be. The short attention-span and habit of obsessing with a task were lessened when I took the time to understand how they were affecting my life. In work, I tend to occupy a position somewhere between visionary and mad scientist. I'm very good an analyzing problems and building processes and tools to fix them. The communication issues remain because I don't always realize how my way of thinking gives the wrong impression. i.e. a large staff meeting is not always the best time to lurch in to a very theoretical thought process. Colleagues are entertained though when I get that giddy schoolboy look on my face as I begin describing how x problem can be solved, and how it'll give us x results while saving x amount of money.

    I don't think I'd like to have changed things back then. I would however wish that I'd become more self-aware earlier in life. I would have screwed around fewer people with my selfish and obsessive behavior - myself included. I would have had more success earlier in my career if I'd better understood how to present my ideas to people.

    I completely agree that technology should not be a babysitter. Technology, like anything else, should complement life, not rule it. Books are even more important than before; the Internet is not a place where an unsupervised child can be expected to learn reading comprehension. Just like with any relationship, it's about engagement and interest. If a kid is playing WoW it really should not be difficult for the parent to know the basics of what they're doing, even if they have no interest in playing it. They'd quickly learn that it's a very socially-driven thing, and in some cases quite addictive. My parents didn't really understand computers, so they probably assumed that I was learning stuff while I was locked away in my room. I did a fair bit of hacking around, but it was mostly playing games. The former contributed to my technical and problem-solving abilities I have now, which from a job perspective means that the initiatives I take have probably more than paid my salary in the past year, on top of the main work I do. There remain social problems, albeit not as many as there used to be. I would have benefited from my parents just taking more time to get me out of that room.
  • Re:Autism... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kaiidth ( 104315 ) on Sunday November 06, 2011 @08:53AM (#37964610)

    Greenfield actually was made redundant from her directorship at the Royal Institution in 2010.

    It was suggested at the time that, "She became a bit too convinced of her own infallibility" and whilst, "She is an intelligent, lively and interesting person [...] the level of recognition is a bit out of proportion to what she has actually achieved in science." Her love for designer clothes and appearing in places like Vogue raised a few eyebrows.

    "Self-promoting celebrity" is not an unusual description. If you were starting a collection of crackpots, you could do worse than starting here.

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault