Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Greenfield shoots her mouth off again

"Social websites harm children's brains". She said much the same nearly a year ago -- with a similar lack of proof. She does have a research background in brain function but she is primarily a science popularizer and can be relied on to support the wisdom of the day -- which is why she has been much honoured in various ways.

Not long ago she was selling a "brain training program" called "Mindfit" but such programs have subsequently been found to be of very questionable use and may do more harm than good. She appears unaware of the contradiction of promoting a computer-based brain training program while otherwise warning of the harm that computer use does.

She has also bad-mouthed Larry Summers for his truth telling about mathematical ability and mocks Christians. So wait for the double-blind studies of social networking websites rather than trust the mere "fears" of this attention-seeker.

Social networking websites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young users, an eminent scientist has warned. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred. The claims from neuroscientist Susan Greenfield will make disturbing reading for the millions whose social lives depend on logging on to their favourite websites each day. But they will strike a chord with parents and teachers who complain that many youngsters lack the ability to communicate or concentrate away from their screens. [Given the dumbed-down education they get today, that has to be expected]

More than 150million use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, share photographs and videos and post regular updates of their movements and thoughts. A further six million have signed up to Twitter, the 'micro-blogging' service that lets users circulate text messages about themselves. But while the sites are popular - and extremely profitable - a growing number of psychologists and neuroscientists believe they may be doing more harm than good. Baroness Greenfield, an Oxford University neuroscientist and director of the Royal Institution, believes repeated exposure could effectively 'rewire' the brain.

Computer games and fast-paced TV shows were also a factor, she said. 'We know how small babies need constant reassurance that they exist,' she told the Mail yesterday. 'My fear is that these technologies are infantilising the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.'

Her comments echoed those she made during a House of Lords debate earlier this month. Then she argued that exposure to computer games, instant messaging, chat rooms and social networking sites could leave a generation with poor attention spans. 'I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,' she said.

Lady Greenfield told the Lords a teacher of 30 years had told her she had noticed a sharp decline in the ability of her pupils to understand others. 'It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations,' she said. She pointed out that autistic people, who usually find it hard to communicate, were particularly comfortable using computers.

'Of course, we do not know whether the current increase in autism is due more to increased awareness and diagnosis of autism, or whether it can - if there is a true increase - be in any way linked to an increased prevalence among people of spending time in screen relationships. Surely it is a point worth considering,' she added.

Psychologists have also argued that digital technology is changing the way we think. They point out that students no longer need to plan essays before starting to write - thanks to word processors they can edit as they go along. Satellite navigation systems have negated the need to decipher maps.

A study by the Broadcaster Audience Research Board found teenagers now spend seven-and-a-half hours a day in front of a screen.

Educational psychologist Jane Healy believes children should be kept away from computer games until they are seven. Most games only trigger the 'flight or fight' region of the brain, rather than the vital areas responsible for reasoning.

Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, said: 'We are seeing children's brain development damaged because they don't engage in the activity they have engaged in for millennia. 'I'm not against technology and computers. But before they start social networking, they need to learn to make real relationships with people.'


HIV gene therapy trial results seen as positive

Results from the first clinical trial of gene therapy in patients infected with HIV are reported online in the research journal Nature Medicine this week. The treatment appeared to safely increase the number of immune system cells normally attacked by the virus, said researchers. But the therapy wasn't found to significantly reduce the number of HIV viruses themselves in patients' bodies.

Gene therapy is a strategy involving introducing genes into patients through various means in order to replace defective genes or otherwise help the body fight illness. Gene therapy is an appealing option to treat AIDS and the virus responsible for it, HIV, the scientists who conducted the new study propose. That's because the therapy is seen as potentially a onceonly treatment that fights the virus, preserves the immune system and avoids lifetime antiretroviral therapy.

Ronald Mitsuyasu of the University of California, Los Angeles and colleagues completed the first randomized, controlled gene transfer clinical trial in 74 HIVinfected adults. About half the patients received blood stem cells carrying a a molecule called OZ1. The molecule contains a gene previously found to prevent viral replication by targeting two key HIV proteins.

OZ1 caused no adverse effects, the investigators said. Counts of CD4+ lymphocytesthe cell population that is depleted by HIVwent higher in the treated patients than in those who had received a placebo treatment with no actual therapy, the scientists said. The differences were found by 100 weeks into the trial. "This study indicates that celldelivered gene transfer is safe and biologically active in individuals with HIV and can be developed as a conventional therapeutic product," Mitsuyasu and colleagues wrote.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I rather suspect that Greenfield doesn't understand at all how online social networking really works. Interesting response: