Tuesday, 10 June 2014

How the good people of Loveclough (sic) closed a care home for young mentally ill people


Earlier this year ago a care home accommodating four young and vulnerable mentally-ill residents was opened on Penny Lodge Lane, Loveclough, in Rossendale, Lancashire.  Mentally ill people are more likely to be discriminated against, insulted, abused, spat on, punched, kicked and robbed by the rest of the population than most other people.  Clearly, for this reason we should be concerned that they are properly looked after and protected from such dangers by caring and well-trained staff.  As it happens, the circumstances of the four residents were such that they were provided with 24-hour care, so they should have been safe.  But that didn’t stop the local populace from having a go.  After two months of a torrent of abusive emails to the home (with references to ‘schizophrenics’ and ‘paedophiles’), threatening messages left on staff cars, and staff being accosted in the street, the owners of the home have had enough and are moving to a new location (Rossendale Free Press, 6.6.14).  The final kick in the groin came from Nicola May, the Conservative candidate in the local council elections, whose election leaflet stated, ‘I’m just not sure that placing this facility in the middle of an estate full of family homes is the right thing to do’.  ‘We don’t know what kind of people are going to be there’, she recently told the Free Press. 
According to Mr Graeme Proctor, owner of Prospects Supported Living which ran the home, ‘We specifically chose a property on Penny Lodge Lane...as we felt it would have the right community spirit…’  

Monday, 10 March 2014

Dyslexia

Professor Julian Elliott of Durham University’s School of Education and Dr Elena Grigorenko, of the Yale School of Medicine have just had a book published entitled ‘The Dyslexia Debate’:


Professor Elliott recently gave an interview on Radio 4 in which he summarised the main findings in the book, which reviews evidence in the fields of education, genetics, neuroscience and psychology. 

As soon as Professor Elliott’s interview was over, I felt a sudden urge to rush up to my attic, lock myself in, stick my fingers in my ears, and remain in this position for the rest of the week.  You see, I was anticipating a verbal explosion from all sorts of quarters, either in agreement with or in protest against what people believed to be Professor Elliott’s claims without having properly listened to them.   

The main thesis of the book is that a minority of children, for various reasons that do not include lack of intelligence, experience great difficulty learning to read and write; that these children should be given all the help necessary to overcome or mitigate this problem; but that saying that these children are ‘suffering from dyslexia’ is of questionable scientific validity, as are the numerous screening tests that purport to diagnosis this ‘condition’, and may not be helpful for children as a whole who struggle with their literacy. 

Cue for parents of children diagnosed with dyslexia to personally abuse Professor Elliott in the media for saying that their offspring don’t have genuine difficulties and for certain newspaper columnists to praise him for saying likewise. 

Having not yet read the ‘The Dyslexia Debate’ I shall reserve judgement on it.  However, I find that there is nothing controversial in what the professor has said in his exposition of the book’s contents and, though lacking the extent and depth of knowledge of the authors, I myself made similar observations based on my own experience:


It is also worth visiting:


One observation I would like to add is that the more remedies there are on the market for a diagnosed condition, the more our suspicions should be aroused about the utility and authenticity of the diagnosis.  There are indeed many treatments whose proponents claim are capable of curing dyslexia. 

Consider the example of a headache.  There are many treatments or cures for a headache, orthodox and otherwise, because a headache is a problem and not a diagnosis.  Once you have made the diagnosis – that the headache is due to, say, a viral infection, high blood pressure, cerebrovascular disease, food poisoning, or noisy kids – then the range of effective remedies narrows down considerably, sometimes even to just one. Even in medicine, this distinction is lost, and the urge to put impressive-sounding diagnostic labels on problems, (labels that are usually just another way of describing the presenting complaints) can be irresistible - see ‘Spurious syndromes: we create disease by giving every illness a name’ at:

In psychiatry and clinical psychology this malaise is rampant.

One final comment: investigating whether the brains or the genes of ‘dyslexic’ children are different from those of the rest of us is of benefit only to the careers of those doing the research.  It is of no help to the children concerned.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

A thought experiment on ‘personal identity'

To understand this thought experiment it is important to accept the premise (temporarily, if you disagree with it) that conscious experience is solely the outcome of activity of the brain.  There is nothing in addition to this, such as a soul or spirit (though of course much of conscious experience is derived from sensory input from the external world).  The human brain and nervous system are structured in such a way as to make possible this activity.  When the brain cannot engage in this activity we are no longer conscious.  Therefore when we die there is eternal oblivion.
Now imagine that right now you are participating in a laboratory experiment in which a scientist has wired your brain up to a machine that is precisely equivalent to your brain (maybe another physiological brain or maybe a computer) and this machine is detecting and replicating exactly all the activity of your brain.  
Since we have assumed that conscious experience is the outcome of activity of the brain and nothing in addition, then we can reasonably assume that the machine is experiencing consciousness and that its conscious experiences must be exactly the same as yours (what it sees, hears, feels, thinks, remembers, etc.).
Now ask yourself these questions:
Am I --- (your name) or am I the machine?
Can the scientist or anyone else help me answer this question?
When the scientist announces that the machine is to be turned off, do I want this to happen?
When the scientist announces that the machine has been turned off, what will be my reaction, if any?
All answers and discussion are welcome, either in the ‘Comments’ section below or direct to me by email.  

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Tyranny of the Professions


We are all indebted to professionals.  The ‘professionals’ that I have especially in mind are those people who work in political, educational, healthcare, welfare, legal and other services.  Through their knowledge, expertise and commitment, they help us when we are in need, they make our lives easier, safer and more fulfilling, and they smooth the way forward for us to achieve our potentials and our goals in life.  The same may be said for managerial and administrative staff in private organisations such as financial and commercial enterprises.

But could it not also be this? That rather than assist us they can too often be a hindrance?  That without their intervention we can sometimes make a better job of things by ourselves?  That they may even at times undermine our own ability and confidence to determine what is in our best interests and carry out what is required (and if necessary learn how to)?  That some may be no more ‘experts’ in what they do than non-professionals or people simply possessed of reasonable intelligence and common sense?  Is it possible that too often their own needs take precedence over those of the people who are supposed to be benefitting from their attention?  And could it not be that there are just too many of them?

Is it reasonable to speak of a modern ‘tyranny’, one that is having a malign effect on our society, and which we may call ‘the tyranny of the professionals’?  Indeed, my current pipedream is to have a book published entitled The Tyranny of the Professions.  Another apposite title would be Disabling Professions, but a book of that name already exists, authored by Ivan Illich and others (London: Marion Bowers, 1977; accessible online at:


I seriously invite anyone who feels an immediate and strong affinity to this title to consider joining me in my enterprise.