Monday, August 8, 2011

Wall Street Journal Blog on Autism and Internet Addiction

The Internet, Autism, and ‘Greenfieldisms’

The Oxford neuroscientist Susan Greenfield is concerned about childrens’ immersion in the world of video games and the Internet—to say the least. She has repeatedly said that technology is changing the brains of young people, most likely for the worse. When New Scientist recently asked her to cite some of the evidence for that claim, she replied:
There is lots of evidence, for example, the recent paper “Microstructure abnormalities in adolescents with internet addiction disorder” in the journal PLoS One. We know the human brain can change and the environment can change it.
There is an increase in people with autistic spectrum disorders. There are issues with happy-slapping, the rise in the appeal of Twitter—I think these show that people’s attitude to each other and themselves is changing.
It was the reference to autism that particularly set off one of Greenfield’s colleagues, the neuropsychologist Dorothy Bishop, who said that the last thing that parents of autistic children needed was more unfounded speculation about the origins of that disorder.
At which point Greenfield backpedaled, telling the Guardian that she wasn’t making a direct causal argument: “I point to the increase in autism and I point to Internet use. That’s all.”
Upon reading this—after lifting his head up from the keyboard where it had crashed—the science writer Carl Zimmer promptly coined the Twitter hashtag #Greenfieldism. His first contribution:
I point to the increase in esophageal cancer and I point to The Brady Bunch. That’s all.
Watch the meme take off (see also #Greenfieldisms).
Amid the riches, it’s unfair to single one out in particular, but here goes:
I point to the rise of Rebecca Black and the Greek sovereign debt crisis, that is all.
(This morning, the Guardian’s Martin Robbins looks at whether Bishop, Zimmer, and others have quoted Greenfield out of context or otherwise misrepresented her views. Short answer: no.)

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