Friday, 19 October 2012


No, not the kids

I don't know what to say. This morning BBC radio awoke me with the latest neuro-news, sounding egregious even by the standards. I staggered to the computer and found that this was no waking nightmare  – and that it was easy to get confused by the simultaneous publication of two quite distinct studies, coincidentally, of course.   One of these turned out to be fairly harmless stuff – the other renders me speechless still.


Judge for yourself:

I read that sixty percent of inmates in young offenders' institutions self-report having experienced brain injury.

This is followed by lots of stuff about brains, very little self doubt, and clarion calls for action ('key action points' on neuro-developmental disability within a mental health structure).

Harmless? Well no worse than a lot of what in 2012 seems currently within a range of public and academic acceptability (i.e. not regarded as risible), stated in the terms of reductionist biologism.

Equally coincidentally, I have just picked up a copy of Ben Goldacre's Bad Science.


This also hails from the strange world of the 'neuro-developmental'. This word means relating to human mental developmental but with the suffix 'neuro-' added, bringing with it intellectual baggage and closing intellectual doors. What does this pervasive prefix mean? I think that it means something like this. 'There's something wrong in a child's development and we and all right-thinking people know, no great burden of proof needed here, that this is caused by something the matter with the brain. Nuff said. Anything else is, well, of at least  peripheral importance. I think that this is what this means.

Name some 'neuro-developmental' conditions? Quite a jumble, some varyingly neuro-, and possibly also varyingly developmental too.

Learning Disability
           Specific Learning Difficulties
           Communication Disorders
           Autistic Spectrum Disorders
           Traumatic Brain Injury
           Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders

Then I read the report's' definition of 'learning disability' –

A learning disability is defined by three criteria: an IQ score of less than 70; significant difficulties with everyday tasks; and onset prior to adulthood.

My mind began to grind it gears (figure of speech, joke, irony!). Would even undergraduates get away with using such disputable tosh unchallenged as an inclusion criterion for 'neuro-' in a context such as this? Could they then continue on up the academic tree knowing no better? This is 2012. Have there been no better models than naïve biologism?

It is not just the social-welfare and the criminal justice systems that are not working? The academic system too must be seriously dysfunctional.

Again, check for yourself:

You will see that this report is published by a state agency, the Office of the Children's Commissioner. What reactionary political agenda, conscious or otherwise, is being pursued here? I see more calls for bureau-professional action, more health, more job-creation.

I did a quick check to see whether Arnold Sameroff is still active and regarded in the United States. He is. To hard, too inconvenient for this context. And as for the much-trumpeted Vygotskii, no chance.

I know that it is deeply unfashionable to do so, but I thought of I. V. Stalin's Decree against Paedological Perversions in the People's Commissariat of Education. Bedtime soon and still speechless, I can go to bed and dream...


Goldacre, B. (2009) Bad Science, London, Fourth Estate

Hughes, N. et al. (2012) Nobody made the connection: the prevalence of neurodisability in young people who offend, London, Children's Commissioner, October

Sameroff, A. J., Chandler, M. J. (1975). Reproductive risk and the continuum of caretaker casualty. In F. D. Horowitz (ed.), Review of child development research (Vol. 4). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
('one of the 20 studies that revolutionalised child psychology')

Williams, H. (2012) Repairing shattered lives: brain injury and its implications for criminal justice, Transition to Adulthood, October



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