Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Enhanced Perceptual Functioning – The Ugly

The paper Enhanced Perceptual Functioning in Autism: An Update, and Eight Principles of Autistic Perception (Mottron, Dawson, Soulières, Hubert, Burack, 2006) is one of the few autism research articles that attempts to get at the heart of what autism is, but I will be damned if I am going to recommend it to anyone after principle 8 was tacked on. Who on the team could possibly have been so wedded to his collection of 8x10 fMRI glossies that he had to insist on the inclusion of this clunker?

The discussion of principle 8 opens with a question: “How can a more local default orientation, superior discrimination of physical dimensions, enhanced autonomy of perceptual processes, and superior expertise effects be grounded in brain allocation and organization?” If the reply had come back, “It can’t,” then not only would the paper have tallied one readable sentence, it could have concluded on an effective and consistent note. But no, we cannot possibly have that, we cannot walk away without paying homage to the research community’s unbridled love for new toys. So instead of receiving a straightforward answer to principal 8’s opening question, the reader is subjected to three more run-on paragraphs of gobbledygook about double hierarchies and orthogonal cortex axes.

I have just about had it. This pervasive, dogmatic and blind-groping reliance upon brain imaging studies has now reached the point where it really needs to be raised to the level of a hypothesis:

The cost of any piece of neurometric equipment is inversely proportional to its overall human worth.

Here is what I managed to get out of principle 8. I managed to get out of it an idea for a practical application, the Feed-forward Dorso-ventral Occipiterior Activatitron—easily constructed out of spaghetti bowl, spark plug wires, and a heavy-duty truck battery. I volunteer to try it out on my own son. Plop it straight onto his head and he can be an autistic of the without overt speech type. One quarter turn and overt speech can be suddenly gained. One more quarter turn (to trigger the primary auditory cortex, you know) and Brian can develop into an Asperger type. But why stop there? Why not rotate straight on to a cure? Three quick spins, one tap of heels, and Brian can blossom as the second coming of Mother Teresa!

As bad as all this is, it is not even remotely the worst of it. The worst of it is that principle 8 butts right up against principle 7, with no one apparently realizing the two principles are diametrically opposed! It raises the question of how this paper was constructed. Did each member of the team contribute a favorite idea or two, with the final draft being copied and pasted? I can appreciate the team managed to keep the numbering in sequence, but really, I must point out that motleyhood is not a virtue.

To the Mottron team, I say, Boo. Boo. Many, many boos.

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