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(Some) New Yorker articles are bogus

Scarecrow-or-strawmanI love reading the New Yorker. I have written before about bogus brain games, and about bogus brain training claims. We have published a 10-question checklist to help consumers make informed decisions.

All this is to say I was surprised to read a recent New Yorker blog article titled “Brain games are bogus.” If you are going to make such strong claims, you need to back them up with serious due diligence and analysis, and explain to readers what you can support and what you can’t, so they can make informed decisions, comparing option A to B and to C. Which the writer didn’t even try to do, choosing to tell an entertaining one-sided story, and throwing out the baby with the bath water along the way. (One of the companies mentioned in the article, Cogmed, just released this response.)

I would need a few thousand words to dispel the misconceptions and misinformation in the New Yorker article, so I won’t try here (book is coming!). Instead, I encourage readers to read the original article and Cogmed’s response and, above all, to spend time reading in detail what three resources of much higher rigor and importance have to say about cognitive training and brain training, compared to other alternatives available today:

Update (04/15/13): Scott Barry Kaufman just took the time to write a thoughtful article titled In Defense of Working Memory Training (SciAm blog).

It is questionable media “analysis” that inspired me a few years ago to include, as one of the Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains, this one:

  • Don’t Out­source Your Brain. Not to media per­son­al­i­ties, not to politi­cians, not to your smart neigh­bour… Make your own deci­sions, and mis­takes. And learn from them. That way, you are train­ing your brain, not your neighbour’s.

The state-of-the-art today, given that some forms of brain training seem to work and some (or many) don’t, is to ask, “what are the specific conditions under which brain training is more likely to translate into real-world benefits?” This is why we included this session in our 2012 virtual conference:

10.15–11.30am. Cog­ni­tive train­ing vs. videogames vs. biofeed­back: what “con­di­tions” seem to influ­ence trans­fer from train­ing to real life ben­e­fit? As a num­ber of non-invasive tech­nolo­gies get increased main­stream use, it is impor­tant to exam­ine which “con­di­tions” seem to medi­ate trans­fer from train­ing to real life benefit.

  • Dr. C. Shawn Green, Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor, Uni­ver­sity of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Dr. Adam Gaz­za­ley, Direc­tor of the Neu­ro­science Imag­ing Cen­ter, UCSF
  • Dr. Henry Mah­ncke, CEO, Posit Science
  • Mod­er­ated by: Brian Mossop, Com­mu­nity Edi­tor, Wired

To be continued…

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