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Monday, August 8, 2011

Does the Internet Cause Autism?

Martin Robbins writes at The Guardian about claims of a link between autism and the Internet, which have attracted media attention:

To her critics, Susan Greenfield is a loose cannon, using her influence to spread scare-stories about the influence of technology on the media as satirized in this blog last week. Her most recent comments in New Scientist, casually linking internet use with autism, angered Oxford neuropsychologist Dr. Dorothy Bishop, leading to a high-profile spat between the two.

Greenfield's defenders - and the scientist herself - say that she has been misrepresented, that sensationalist journalists may have distorted her measured attempts to prompt discussion and highlight gaps in research. Certainly headline writers have had a field day with her claims - a quick search of The Daily Mail finds:

Strong stuff, but the relationship between title and content in newspaper articles is often obscure, and in her interview with Frank Swain for New Scientist Greenfield declares (my emphasis)1:

"I didn't say, and I've been misquoted universally, that [technology] rots the brain and it's bad, I've never given value judgements, ever."

"I've never given value judgments, ever" is a pretty strong claim, so let's look at two newspaper articles penned by Greenfield herself. These are articles which she presumably either wrote, or was willing to put her name to. Here is a selection of quotes from them:


Our brains are "under threat", the 21st century is "doing damage" to our brains, we are already seeing "fragmentation of our culture." If Greenfield doesn't stand by this stuff - written under her byline - then she should make it very clear; because if these aren't value judgements about the negative impact of technology then I'm an Ewok.