(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…

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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