Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Continued Saga of neurodiverse economist Tyler Cowen

Readers of autism gadfly remember yesterday I posted about the neurodiverse economist, Tyler Cowen and linked to a recent essay he wrote in my last post. I could not find his book Creating Your own Economy at Border’s but found it today at Barnes and Noble. With some regrets, I purchased a copy. If anyone who is close to sharing my views of neurodiversity wishes to read this book, I suggest you do so only if you have a pretty strong stomach and have not eaten anything 18 hours prior to reading. From reading the blurbs, Cowen seemed to be implying that he somehow was akin to autistics in his thought processes and he was also a colleague of alleged Aspie Vernon Smith at George Mason University. Other than that, I was not sure how his interest in autism and neurodiversity came about. It turns out he has a blog, , which was read by some persons with Asperger’s and he was advised that based on his writing style, he had an autistic way of thinking and he took this to heart. He emphasized that he believes that autistics have certain cognitive strengths and weakness and he wants to trivialize the problems of persons such as myself by stating that he is somehow akin to us. Even though he is a married Harvard trained Ph.D. in economics. He states the tired cliches of neurodiversity about how horrible it is that anyone would regard autism as a bad defect and how much it hurts the feelings of those with autism to think of themselves this way. He talks about the studies that I mentioned in my previous posts about the autistic strengths and weaknesses. I commented on the problems with his reasoning in my last post and won’t repeat that info here.
I was curious as to whether or not he would elaborate on the alleged autism of Economics nobel prize winner Vernon Smith, who as far as I could tell was only self-diagnosed by a Simon Baron Cohen AQ test which he took. Cowen concedes this in the book and so apparently Smith was never diagnosed as having AS by a clinician, though he is often given as an example of an autism success story by ND proponents. I also wondered about mathematician Richard Borcherds who is the other paragon of virtue extolled by club ND to prove autism can be a great gift. Apparently Borcherds, according to the book The Essential Difference, sought an ASD diagnosis from Simon Baron Cohen who would not give him one. Though Cowen mentions him in the shorter essay he is not at all mentioned in the book.
Cowen advocates schools teaching non-autistics, the "cognitive skills of autistics". One positive thing he cites are studies by researchers such as Deborah Fein who state that a substantial percentage of autistics may "recover spontaneously" or lose their diagnosis. This is an argument I have made against the costly and questionable autism treatments.
Michelle Dawson on one hand is described as a leading figure in autism research. He reports that growing up she had great difficulties learning how to speak meaningfully and cites her as an example of autistic cognitive strengths. Yet he states: Note that by most standards she would count as "very autistic" rather than as "mildly autistic" I can’t help wondering what Harold Doherty would think about this statement. If Dawson is very autistic, then who is mildly autistic? Where on the spectrum would Cowen put Conor Doherty or Sam Best or other nonverbal autistics?
He describes Amanda Baggs as not being able to talk yet writing more sharply than a ph.d., I can’t believe that Cowen does not know about the controversy surrounding Baggs diagnosis of autism yet he does not mention it in his book.
He makes out autistic persons he has encountered to be polite and the stereotypes of them being callous not true. I mean what planet is this guy on? Anyone who has seen the neurodiversity crowd on the internet that he writes about can see how cruel and nasty they are and what a bunch of vicious hatemongers exist within this group. He must know this, but conveniently omits this from his book.
One stereotype that I am glad that he debunks is autistics having no sense of humor. I believe I have a very good sense of humor and I enjoy jokes and comedy and such.
He writes about Sue Rubin (a person I am rather familiar with having met her and her parents), describing her as a highly intelligent autistic. He does not mention the fact that Sue is unable to speak and only communicates by using a keyboard, that at age 31 she is still going to Whittier college and is unable to work in any capacity. He trivializes her very severe autism by comparing it to the ordered thinking of Buddhists, stating that when Buddhists think the way Sue does, they are somehow enlightened but in Sue’s case, her similar modes of thinking and ordering things are pathological. I was flabbergasted to read that he was baffled as to why Sue Rubin was not given the same respect and put on the same pedestal as the Dalai Lama!!
He also states that autistic cognitive strengths can be utilized to help with unemployment and that there will be a demand for autistic employees based on these strengths in jobs such as niche jobs, math jobs and jobs requiring the stereotyped ability of attention to detail that autists have. If that is the case one must wonder about the reported 80% or so unemployment rate among autistics and others with similar disabilities.
Cowen also states the tired cliche that because autism is highly heritable and autistic traits have not died out they must have some sort of evolutionary advantage. While he may have considerable expertise in economics, the man shows his woeful ignorance of even the most rudimentary principals of genetics. The reason autism and autistic traits have stayed in the population is due to de novo mutations, not due to evolutionary advantage. (This ignorance is something he shares with fellow non-geneticists Temple Grandin and Simon Baron Cohen).
He also claims autistics will help with better political thinking, as certain studies by psychologist Rita Jordan have shown that autistics are less prone to stereotyping and rules of law. Well, my experiences are sure different than those described by Cowen in terms of the abuse and nasty discourse that I have constantly seen among anti-cure neurodiversity proponents over the several years that I have endured their barrage of insults on the internet. I do not believe autistics are more objective than nonautistics in spite of Cowen’s assertion. I do not agree with him that autistics are not prone to stereotyping. Based on my experiences with ND autistics, just the opposite would seem true.

Dr. Cowen: If you happen to read this post, I want to tell you that you are basing your observations about autism on stereotypes. On research using heavily skewed subject samples of autistics that are not representative of the population of autistics. The ND’s have disproportionate amounts of females and are a heavily skewed subset of autistics. You trivialize my very serious disability and my forced retirement in my early 50s and my inability to make a living in spite of your unfounded contentions that there are detail oriented jobs and math oriented jobs that autistics will just excel in. Your observations about autism are only that of an ivory tower/armchair expert. You want to trivialize the problems that at least some of us have by claiming to share a thought process similar to ours. You don’t know how lucky you are. Had you been autistic at a severity level that I have, you would not have been able to marry, have your children, become a college professor and publish all of your books. If you think that Michelle Dawson is an example of a "very autistic" person, then I must be an unfathomable basket case in your esteemed observation. I wonder who you would consider as having a mild case of autism. Something for you to think about.


Roger Kulp said...

"Where on the spectrum would Cowen put Conor Doherty or Sam Best or other nonverbal autistics?" I don't want to Google,but Conor Doherty came up a few months ago,over at left brain/right brain,and they all pretty much agreed he was retarded and not autistic.

But Ari Ne'eman was.

I wonder how many people who score highly on these AQ tests have ever had to deal with psychologists or other health care professionals wanting to put them in a home or institution against their wishes.

A comment on the blog reads:

Dear Mr. Cowen, re your piece on autism: I would have you know that the greatest genius of a currently living writer and dramatist, Peter Handke, is autistic: after doing as thorough a possible [for me] analysis of his capacities as a writer, and of the profound benefits and psychological wounds he acquired intrauterine and in childhood, his social ineptness and the autistic states that his extreme hypersensitivity bequeathes, of which we as sensitive readers can be the beneficiaries, would appear to be a differently arranged sets of brain stemcells, allowing of the growth of certain areas that are generally killed, or anyhow, too "socialized" by socialization processes. Something along those lines, explains the Mozarts, the Bachs the Handkes, the Beethovens, to stick just to the German realm, and that of course does not constitute an explanation, perhaps a setting of the viewing angle.

I may be a dumb,learning disabled "autie"(As opposed to one o' them smart aspie geniuses.),but I can't
heads or tails out of this comment.

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

You'd think a Harvard trained PhD would be smarter than this. This guy is a real piece of work. If a 21 year old who finished the 7th grade, earned her GED and has earned 30 hours of college credit at an online school can immediately spot the errors in his logic/thinking than you know something must be VERY wrong.

You'd think the ND crowd would be able to effectively argue against me, being quite uneducated and so young. But they CAN'T, which is more proof that ND is complete BS.

Anonymous said...

I would say you are really upset about this guy. He is a sign that the "neurodiversity movement" has convinced "the mainstream" and that you have not. You should think about why that is the case. I don't see signs of such a self-reflection in your post.

jonathan said...

Anonymous: The mainstream does not make one person. Tyler Cowen has no dog in the fight, i.e. no autism or child with autism. Most people who really either have autism or a close relative with autism think ND has as much credibility as the flat earth society.

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

He has a PhD from Harvard, is a college professor and has no disability so he can do things I cannot.

Maybe that is why.

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

"I don't see signs of such a self-reflection in your post."

"Self-reflection" is usually very difficult for people with autism.

SM69 said...

Hi Jonathan, I have not read the post in full sorry but picked up a few places points you are making that I feel need once more some clarification- Evolution- ASD traits have a lot of evolutionary advantages, focus, dedication, honesty, attention to details, visual thinking etc. This should bring a person more advantage to create, develop new technology, explore unknown ground. Which in turns should give him/her a sexual advantage as women are turned on by these traits because it would make sense to carry them along their own genes in their progeny. The fact that autism in more severe forms is unlikely to have any evolutionary advantages is does not affects the potentials milder traits have. These factors are independent, unless, as SBC states, ASxAS makes a more severe autism with no chance of having children/. This undoubtedly is true to some extent, but in my opinion does not account for the current rise in autism.

I was interested in that link which to me is near impenetrable. Can someone give me the gist of it, if that is possible?

Final, what did Alyric die of? That seems like a shock for me, even though I do not know much of this person. I have certainly heard of her. Was she old or something?


SM69 said...

One stereotype that I am glad that he debunks is autistics having no sense of humor. I believe I have a very good sense of humor and I enjoy jokes and comedy and such.

I thought it was well known and appreciated that Autistics can have very good sense of humour. Prof Michael Fitzgerarld, which you would probably dislike J, discussed this issue of humour at a Conference in London last October, organised by SBC. Most people who know AS children and adults would say the same, very good sense of humour, most professionals I have met, even the most conservatives ones, like Rita Jordan, would also say this. I think this is pretty much accepted.

My son who is much more severely autistic also has a very good sense of humour, he teases most of the time, one way or another, especially in non-verbal manners. Everybody likes him for this.

jonathan said...

Alyric died of some sort of cancer the word has it. I don't know how old she was.

Roger Kulp said...

I am thinking of an especially snide young man who used to post in the comment section of a lot of autism blogs under that name

Anonymous said...

I've discovered that when most Neurodiversity supporters can no longer intelligently argue with you they will just ignore you and retreat back to their little ND clique where they will simply talk about you and insult you.

Neurodiversity now has zero credibility in my eyes. I always thought Michelle Dawson was all for "science and ethics," but the way she still continues to support Amanda Baggs in spite of all of the evidence that she is a complete fraud tells me that she cares nothing about science and ethics but about fame and glory.