Update: Baroness Greenfield, a perspective by Susan Blackmore

I am a huge fan of Susan Blackmore. So although I wasn't going to post anything further on the firing of Baroness Greenfield from the Royal Institution, when I saw that she had written an opinion about the situation for the Guardian, I changed my mind. Those who do not harbor an irrational fondness for the blogs of various British Neuroscientists, might be unaware of the rocky relationship between Baroness Greenfield and the scientific community of the UK. Although Baroness Greenfield was a dynamic leader, she held rather unfortunate scientific beliefs that her position allowed her to air publicly.

As I have not been long acquainted with the Baroness, I wil allow Susan Blackmore, who has known her 40 years, to explain the situation.

I highly recommend reading the whole opinion piece,  but here are her ending paragraphs, where she gives an example of one of the instances where Baroness Greenfield loudly promoted scientifically unfounded opinions.

Then there are her dire warnings about the harms of playing computer games. This story would be funny if it were not so serious. I heard her speak last summer at the Cheltenham Science Festival, where the brochure described her "outspoken views. Praised and criticised in equal measure". There she claimed that our brains could be physically damaged by playing too many computer games. Ironically, she was simultaneously promoting her own commercial brand of brain-training device – "MindFit" – basically a simple computer game advertised as "based on scientific studies of the adaptability of the adult human brain" and "clinically proven to help you think faster, focus better and remember more". When I was recently asked to write about the evidence for brain-training games of this sort, I learned that there is no proper peer-reviewed evidence to suggest that any of them, including her own, actually improve brain function any more than playing Scrabble, chess or other computer games. And to cap it all, there is now evidence that playing fast-moving, first-person perspective computer games improves reaction times and some measures of intelligence. So she has been endorsing one unproven computer product while claiming that others do harm.

I applaud Susan for her dynamism and her many successes, but I wish she had behaved more like a real scientist.

Goodbye to a not-so-good-scientist. By Susan Blackmore


Astra Bryant

Astra Bryant is a graduate of the Stanford Neuroscience PhD program in the labs of Drs. Eric Knudsen and John Huguenard. She used in vitro slice electrophysiology to study the cellular and synaptic mechanisms linking cholinergic signaling and gamma oscillations – two processes critical for the control of gaze and attention, which are disrupted in many psychiatric disorders. She is a senior editor and the webmaster of the NeuWrite West Neuroblog