About NeuroTribes

NeuroTribes is a blog by science journalist Steve Silberman. His articles and interviews have appeared in Wired, Nature, The New Yorker, Time, GQ, Salon, and other national publications, and have been featured on The Colbert Report. Steve has also been a guest on NPR’s RadioLab, The Greta Van Susteren Show, and CNBC’s MarketWatch. Steve was a senior editor of Wired’s pioneering website HotWired.com, the first reporter at Wired News (now Wired.com), and has been a contributing editor of Wired magazine since 1999. His in-depth features on autism in high-tech communities, the placebo effect in clinical trials, the war on amateur chemistry, the mind of neurologist Oliver Sacks, a cover-up of antibiotic-resistant infections among Iraq vets, and the high-tech search for missing Microsoft engineer Jim Gray have been nominated for National Magazine Awards and included in such anthologies as the Best Science and Nature Writing, Best Technology Writing, Best Business Writing, and Best Buddhist Writing of the year. Steve has also edited and co-produced box sets and DVDs by the Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills and Nash, and other groups, and was Allen Ginsberg’s teaching assistant at Naropa University. He lives in San Francisco with his husband Keith, a middle-school science teacher. An archive of Steve’s feature stories can be found here. Please follow him on Twitter at @stevesilberman.

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17 Responses to About NeuroTribes

  1. Barry Kort says:

    The “refrigerator mother” theory was utterly discredited long ago as an elaborate fraud

    Steve, the “refrigerator mother” theory is more properly characterized as a misconception.

    To call it a “fraud” is to suggest that Bettelheim knew the theory was bogus and intentionally undertook to deceive others. I don’t think you want to characterize it as an intentional, deliberate, and knowingly deceptive fraud. Rather it would be more accurate to simply say the theory was incorrect — a lamentable misconception.

    • Steve Silberman says:

      Barry: I used the word “fraud” as regards Bettelheim quite intentionally. See the biography “The Creation of Dr. B.”: http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/01/26/reviews/970126.boxer.html

      • Barry Kort says:

        Steve, there is an interesting exercise in one of Raymond Smullyan’s books on logic that I found quite arresting.

        You can find it here: “A puzzle of identical twins”

        http://www.cut-the-knot.org/impossible/brothers.shtml

        In the above version, one twin is accurate in all his beliefs and also truthfully asserts what he believes.

        The other twin is totally deluded in all his beliefs, but lies and reports the opposite of what he believes.

        The two brothers are nearly impossible to tell apart.

        Now the Bettelheim case would be the complement of that.

        On the one hand he could be deluded, but honestly reporting his erroneous beliefs. Or he could have accurate beliefs, but be a pathological liar.

        Again the two cases are nearly indistinguishable.

        Most people who have not studied logic with the likes of Raymond Smullyan would hypothesize they are dealing with a “Pathological Liar” who really knows the ground truth, and would not hypothesize the more subtle case of someone who is Hopelessly Deluded but honestly disclosing his otherwise delusional beliefs.

        According to Smullyan’s analysis there is a “trick question” that would reliably distinguish the two. Many of his famous logic puzzles are based on these paradoxical conundrums.

        So my point is that Bettelheim could be a pathological liar, or he could be self-deluded and it would take an expert to resolve which is the correct model.

        So, as a scientist, I would lay both hypotheses on the table and invite the skeptical reader to ponder whether the evidence favors one hypothesis over the other, and whether we have sufficient reliable evidence to resolve the puzzle.

  2. Hi — I was just reading your interview on WIRED and I wondered if your upcoming book or other work has ever examined ways in which intellectual disability (separate from autism) may offer some advantages — or at least be found to be compatible with a good life?

    I wondered if your study of different ways of thinking relates only to autism or is broader?

    I have a son with a rare genetic condition with many disabilities, including mild intellectual disability. The latter is often viewed in our culture as being a fate ‘worse than death’ — and yet my son is a very happy person.

    I liked what you had to say about how the focus needs to shift from ‘curing’ of conditions like autism or intellectual disability to intervention/support that ensures people lead rich lives.

    I’d love to know if your work looks at multiple ways of thinking, or is focused solely on autism?

    I produce a magazine on parenting kids with disabilities called BLOOM. We just posted an interview with Tammy Starr, the mother of Carly Fleishmann, the focus of the new book Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism. Her story has taught me a lot about how a lack of speech does not indicate a lack of a rich internal world.

    http://bloom-parentingkidswithdisabilities.blogspot.ca/2012/04/i-manage-carly-inc.html

  3. dann e bloom says:

    Steve, …..could you reply one way or another below? re one thing you need to consider, too, mate: Could Reading On Screens Be Inferior To Reading On Paper?
    Maybe.

    This is my personal POV, danny Bloom,
    Tufts 1971, researcher in Taiwan. but you might want to hear about it.

    See, Steve, there is a big issue that the tech biz and society has so far not faced up to,
    according to some neuroscientists who study the brain differences
    between reading on paper surfaces — think newspapers, magazines,
    book! — and reading off the glass screens of Nooks, Kindles and
    iPads. What leading experts in the field such as Anne Mangen in Norway
    and
    Maryanne Wolf at Tufts University say is that the fundamental
    differences between paper-reading and screen-reading might be so huge
    as to light up different regions of
    the reading brain and that these differences need to be studied more,
    especially with (f)MRi and PET brain scan research.

    It’s my personal hunch as an amateur neuroscientist, based on a
    lifetime of reading on paper and just a few years of reading off
    screens, that reading on paper surfaces
    is vastly superior for three important things: the brain’s processing
    of the text being read, the brain’s memory of the information and
    critical analysis of the inforrmation.

    I’m not talking here about the fun of flipping pages or the smell of
    paper or even the distractions of the screen’s hot links and sexy
    pictures — or that movie you’re watching on the side window while
    reading this blog. No, I’m saying that I believe, and that science will
    one day prove, that reading on paper is superior, brain-wise, to
    reading in a pixelated or
    E Ink world.

    At the heart of all my argument here, there is a
    luftmensch trying not only to understand reading, but also figure out
    the nuts and bolts that make up the human experience.

    Of course, I need to find out the real neural differences in brain
    chemistry regarding paper-reading and screen-reading.

    I find that, and I find the Nobel Prize.

    Gary Small at UCLA knows what I am talking about, Steve. In a Los
    Angeles Times interview last year, Dr Small was asked about this very
    issue and
    if he felt that screen-reading might replace paper-reading in the
    future. The UCLA maverick said that more studies need to be done on
    all this, but added: “The technology train has already left the
    station and there is no coming back.”

    I once asked book industry maven Mike Shatzkin about my rather
    eccentric views on all this, and he told me
    in an ensuing email: “You may very well be right about the differences
    between paper-reading and screen-reading, in trerms of
    brain chemistry, but just
    as nobody in the past heeded the calls that radiation and cancer might
    impact cellphone use, do you think makers of device readers will
    listen to you or
    even care if you are right?”

    I think Mike is right. Nobody’s going to listen to me, and what’s even
    worse, nobody cares. So goodbye, paper-reading; hello screen-reading,…..
    come what may! But I plan to read your book on paper, Steve, if that is okay. It sticks in my craw better –and deeper– that way…..

  4. Hi Steve,
    In your article on Steve Jobs, you mention that Stan Brakhage was a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I know that to be definitely not true. I took Stan’s first classes at U of Colorado and I was also a student of Trungpa, and Stan was not a student of Trungpa nor of Buddhism.
    Thanks,
    Daniel Berlin
    DanielBerlin.net

  5. Dear Steve,

    My name is Ashley Liening, and I am contacting you on behalf of Cengage Learning, a textbook publishing company. We would like to republish the following in our upcoming textbook, Opposing Viewpoints: Alternative Medicine:
    “Meet the Ethical Placebo: A Story that Heals.” If you could kindly email me back, I can send along our standard reprint permission form, which will provide a bit more information about our project.

    Thanks so much for your consideration, and I look forward to your reply.

    All the best,
    Ashley

  6. Danny Bloom says:

    Steve, …..one thing you need to consider, too, mate: Could Reading On Screens Be Inferior To Reading On Paper?
    Maybe.

    This is my personal POV, danny Bloom,
    Tufts 1971, researcher in Taiwan. but you might want to hear about it.

    See, Steve, there is a big issue that the tech biz and society has so far not faced up to,
    according to some neuroscientists who study the brain differences
    between reading on paper surfaces — think newspapers, magazines,
    book! — and reading off the glass screens of Nooks, Kindles and
    iPads. What leading experts in the field such as Anne Mangen in Norway
    and
    Maryanne Wolf at Tufts University say is that the fundamental
    differences between paper-reading and screen-reading might be so huge
    as to light up different regions of
    the reading brain and that these differences need to be studied more,
    especially with (f)MRi and PET brain scan research.

    It’s my personal hunch as an amateur neuroscientist, based on a
    lifetime of reading on paper and just a few years of reading off
    screens, that reading on paper surfaces
    is vastly superior for three important things: the brain’s processing
    of the text being read, the brain’s memory of the information and
    critical analysis of the inforrmation.

    I’m not talking here about the fun of flipping pages or the smell of
    paper or even the distractions of the screen’s hot links and sexy
    pictures — or that movie you’re watching on the side window while
    reading this blog. No, I’m saying that I believe, and that science will
    one day prove, that reading on paper is superior, brain-wise, to
    reading in a pixelated or
    E Ink world.

    At the heart of all my argument here, there is a
    luftmensch trying not only to understand reading, but also figure out
    the nuts and bolts that make up the human experience.

    Of course, I need to find out the real neural differences in brain
    chemistry regarding paper-reading and screen-reading.

    I find that, and I find the Nobel Prize.

    Gary Small at UCLA knows what I am talking about, Steve. In a Los
    Angeles Times interview last year, Dr Small was asked about this very
    issue and
    if he felt that screen-reading might replace paper-reading in the
    future. The UCLA maverick said that more studies need to be done on
    all this, but added: “The technology train has already left the
    station and there is no coming back.”

    I once asked book industry maven Mike Shatzkin about my rather
    eccentric views on all this, and he told me
    in an ensuing email: “You may very well be right about the differences
    between paper-reading and screen-reading, in trerms of
    brain chemistry, but just
    as nobody in the past heeded the calls that radiation and cancer might
    impact cellphone use, do you think makers of device readers will
    listen to you or
    even care if you are right?”

    I think Mike is right. Nobody’s going to listen to me, and what’s even
    worse, nobody cares. So goodbye, paper-reading; hello screen-reading,…..
    come what may! But I plan to read your book on paper, Steve, if that is okay. It sticks in my craw better –and deeper– that way…..

  7. Dave Hamilton says:

    I thought your interview with Ari lacked a balance that needs to be struck within the autistic community and it’s advocates . These groups really need to come together in a common cause if real progress is going to happen . Ari too often implies that nobody speaks for him and ASAN and creates a kind of bully pulpit where it becomes impossible to engage parents and people who may have another perspective . I’m all for autitistic people being included in the agenda that shapes their futures . I really am ! But who speaks for the countless others who often have no one but their parents and autistic advocates to do this ? Ari also sometimes implies that these forces are conspiring to supress us when in fact they are not .

    • Steve Silberman says:

      Dave, while feature articles often do need balance, what’s required of a Q&A interview is that the person being interviewed is allowed to express themselves clearly. If I did an Q&A with a legally married gay person about marriage equality, I would not be obliged to interrupt the interview to quote a fundamentalist saying that gays are “sinners.”

      That said, I completely agree with you that the national conversation around autism is overly polarized and contentious, which doesn’t help autistic people and the people who love them. I’ll do what I can to remedy that in my own way.

  8. Marc Rosen says:

    Been looking at some of your articles lately, and you’ve done wonders for both the autistic and GLBT communities through them. You might want to check out Perspectives as well now that it’s finally out (it even includes some of the poetry I read that night at Autreat).

  9. R Weldon Taylor says:

    I have recently completed a position paper that illuminates in detail the actual location, in space, where I have come to believe the human mind actually exists; after a half century of observation, examination, and consultation, as a classroom teacher, academic advisor, pastoral counselor, and ER crisis counselor, I have concluded that our image filled minds are generated as complex mental holograms by our equally complex functioning brains; my sense is that the human mind is not to be found in the structure of the brain, but rather in its function; I suggest that the working brain is generating an energy stream which is projecting sensory images into a mental imaging chamber comprised of the structural energy of the magnetic field that surrounds each of our physical bodies; I have indicated my blog address for you to read, print, copy, share, or shred as you see fit; I would of course appreciate any feedback; feel free to contact me at any time if you wish further information, explanation, or clarification at: revndoc@comcast.net ;
    Enjoy, Dr T

  10. I wish you had a Facebook page. I’m promoting your blog on mine, anyway! Thanks for what you do.

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