Greenfield once said playing Prokofiev at half speed would lead to depression, leading me to reply
so it's no surprise to anyone here she is now correlating the Internet and Autism. It seems to have surprised at least a few other people, though.
Her reasoning is pretty clear. Someone wrote in PLoS One that the brain changes and stuff. Sure, that isn't a peer reviewed article but it's a confirmation bias one, which is almost as good.
Instead of Twitter and Facebook, she instead longs for her childhood and zombie families sitting together in front of a television, I guess because when there was no Internet and more television there was less Autism. Jerry Mander probably wants to run over there and hit her in the knee with a crowbar (he is the author of "Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television" if you are not old, like me) after reading her opinion on how great TV is for families.
Really, there isn't much more to her argument. If that were the end of it, no big deal, everything changes our brains so she is technically correct. Your brain changed reading this blog and laughing at my Prokofiev joke. And it was in New Scientist. It isn't like people who care about science read New Scientist anyway, it is kind of the TMZ of science media.
So that alone was likely not what bothered journalist Carl Zimmer - much. Dr. Dorothy Bishop, a professor of neuropsychology at Oxford, was quite bothered, though. She wrote:
I was delighted when in 1994 you were selected to give the Royal Institution Christmas lectures - the first woman ever to be so honoured. The lectures were fun and informative and delivered with enthusiasm and charisma. Since then, however, I’ve been dismayed by the way in which your public communications have moved increasingly away from science.1994 was when she said that business about Prokofiev. I guess her thinking went downhill from there, with depressed babies and whatnot. Blaming the Internet for ADHD was apparently okay but blaming it for that and Autism was the final straw. I guess the fact that babies are not using Facebook and Twitter before they can even LOL or press the Like button was too much for Bishop. The Guardian wanted to get to the bottom of the whole business so they interviewed Greenfield, who said
"I point to the increase in autism and I point to internet use. That's all. Establishing a causal relationship is very hard but there are trends out there that we must think about. I have not said that internet use causes autism and I would apologise to any family who is upset by anything I have said."And that seems to have bothered Carl Zimmer quite a bit, and rightly so. How can that be all? Researchers are finally establishing that Autism is up because of broader diagnostic criteria and better diagnosing in general and someone credible comes along and says it is the Internet but then dismisses her statement with 'that is all'? Sure other researchers will be annoyed.
Zimmer, one of the most respected science journalists in the world, wasn't just annoyed, he was dismissive, and that is a far worse thing in the modern age. So on Twitter he invented a similar statement to her "I point to the increase in autism and I point to internet use. That's all" and called it a #Greenfieldism:
And it went from there, with people joining in and including bits like
And so on. Go to his column (if you don't already anyway - you really should) and read the rest but Greenfield has suffered a mighty blow. It's one thing to have people arguing about your work, that is a good thing, but when they are blatantly ridiculing you, you have descended into "not even wrong" territory and you can't be taken seriously at all. It's like being Dr. Oz or Deepak Chopra or any of the Four Horsemen Of The Alternative, Weil and Null being the other two; a real kiss of death in science.