Thursday, January 27, 2011

Crackpot Award for Dr Martin Stephen

TheStutteringBrain awards Dr Martin Stephen a Crackpot Award for his article in the Independent:
The truth is that a stammer is psychological, not physiological. We're afraid to admit that, because it smacks of mental illness, a worry shown clearly by both partners in the marriage in The King's Speech. It's in the mind, a stammer, and comes from a massive feeling of inadequacy.
Dr Martin Stephen is High Master of St Paul's Boys' School, but he would do good to get outside his intellectual comfort zone: Dr Stephen is an expert on intellectually low demanding subjects like English literature, modern naval history and war poetry. Unfortunately, the world has become more complex and complicated. Science is difficult, but we understand much better the neurobiological and genetic basis of human speech.

He is a terrible example for his students. He should actually do what he probably preaches to his students: THINK BEFORE YOU WRITE, and DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

He clearly has not done his homework. To claim that stuttering is due to a massive feeling of inadequacy is completely wrong. And shows his lack of literature review on the subject.

Check scientific research or even just wikipedia! Or does he feel too sophisticated or intellectually confident in his abilities to look at it?

I know 100s of people who stutter who feel perfectly adequate in all respects except being able to say exactly what they want to say.You only have to talk or know me!

He gets extra points for
Yet I would argue that losing the ability to speak clearly is no less important to the development of a child than the loss of an arm or a leg, or the capacity to see or to hear.
 Please leave a comment and counter his non-scientific arguments: here.


Anonymous said...

I'm tired of people with no understanding of this disorder claiming to have all the answers. Even the people who do understand it don't have all the answers. Unlike the NLP people, at least this guy is not trying to treat stutterers.

Tom Weidig said...

That's true, he is only teaching our children! ;-)

VT said...

Hi Tom, thanks for the pointer to the article. I totally agree with you, although there is a fine line between the psychological and the physiological. Keeping fit for example is based on physiological factors, some of which like the release of endorphins also affect the thinking process. Motivation affects the amount of training one can have, etc, as do depressive states, with their known physiological causes (and treatments). One interesting aspect of KS was the attitude of Bertie, clearly influenced by his speech and creating a negative feedback loop on his fluency. I regret you consider humanities as intellectually low demanding subjects and feel that may alienate readers with less scientific background. Very interesting read in any case, as usual! I was wondering if you know anything about this Burgess system of speech as I couldn't find any information about it.

Tom Weidig said...

@VT: No doubt psychology and social factors play a big role in stuttering, but we stutter for a neurobiological reason.

Regarding humanities, the IQ of their graduates is considerably lower than natural sciences, philosophy, and economics. I often noticed that those people have crackpot theories, because they are just not trained to think scientifically but still think they are clever because of their degree.

VT said...

Interesting, I didn't expect that, is there a reference regarding these IQ comparisons? (I've been working in an arts department lately, where people think the same about most scientists ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about how valid IQ is, but I'm graduating soon with a BS in a science. After spending 6 months reading scientific articles and thinking about things scientifically, you never read anything the same way. Analyzing and forming arguments also becomes much easier. You begin to realize what evidence is meaningless, like your opinions on what is happening when the experimental evidence doesn't fit. (People in the humanities and ESPECIALLY teaching students even in the mathematics/sciences typically do not get this.)

Anonymous said...

Tom, I completely agree with your post, especially when you added the role of psychology and social factors, but I have to agree with VT and anonymous about people in humanities having considerably lower IQ. I do not know of and you did not mention some real research on this (and if you know some research, please consider only those who did not test just mathematical intelligence, but overall), so in the lack of hard proof please be very careful about stating something like that, and stop mixing training (and lack of training) in something with incapability... It sounds dangerously similar to the way of thinking of some of your crack-pots...

Joe said...

Incredible. The more I read this post, the most convinced that this blog has only two things to offer :
1) Ridicule and abuse of other people on the stuttering scene
2) No contrary explanation or orignal thought by Tom himself on the subject.

It's very easy to hurl mud at other people....and Tom does that regularly. It's easy to "award" them crackpot awards - but the only real crackpot here is Tom himself.

Ora said...

Joe: "this blog ... offer[s] ... No contrary explanation"

Tom can of course defend himself, if he cares to.

But on this specific point, it seems to me that that's precisely what Tom is doing in this case: he's offering a contrary explanation. Dr So-and-So writes "The truth is that a stammer is psychological, not physiological". Tom states the well-established contrary explanation: no, it's neurogenic.

Tom Weidig said...

@Re my comments on "intellectually low demanding": i shouldn't have opened this side story. just distracts from the main story.

but it's true in the same that humanities is easier to understand. Everyone can read Shakespeare and understand the essence, but few people understand quantum mechanics or general relativity.

Moreover, the SAT scores are much higher for natural sciences. see here:

Here is the list:

* 130.0 Physics
* 129.0 Mathematics
* 128.5 Computer Science
* 128.0 Economics
* 127.5 Chemical engineering
* 127.0 Material science
* 126.0 Electrical engineering
* 125.5 Mechanical engineering
* 125.0 Philosophy
* 124.0 Chemistry
* 123.0 Earth sciences
* 122.0 Industrial engineering
* 122.0 Civil engineering
* 121.5 Biology
* 120.1 English/literature
* 120.0 Religion/theology
* 119.8 Political science
* 119.7 History
* 118.0 Art history
* 117.7 Anthropology/archeology
* 116.5 Architecture
* 116.0 Business
* 115.0 Sociology
* 114.0 Psychology
* 114.0 Medicine
* 112.0 Communication
* 109.0 Education
* 106.0 Public administration

Tom Weidig said...


I have many times given my opinion, and every expert agrees on a neurobiological basis.

I have my own ideas, see here for example:

Harold said...

I normally just read your blog (which I enjoy) without posting comments, but I'm curious: what is the 'essence' of Shakespeare?

I wonder how many people could easily grasp Shakespeare's attitude to class, gender, the nature of language . . . just some of the debates addressed in the tens of thousands of articles and books that have tried to unpack the signficance of Shakepeare.

I don't want to go off topic but I find it HILARIOUS that you demonstrate the same intellectual flaws - making uninformed comments about something you evidently know little about - that you attack Mr Stephen for.

Anonymous said...

Because when you write about shakespeare you can say ANYTHING you want no matter how outrageous it is as long it is well presented and has pseudo-logical thoughts. Unlike shakespeare which literature people waste their lives making up shit about, you can't do that with stuttering.

Anonymous said...

Tom - I agree with Harold.

You may consider Shakespeare simple. But that's because your own understanding is limited. People who explore *any* subject in great depth require a sophisticated intelligence. You don't think it's difficult, because you don't see the difficulties.

A sophisticated understanding of literature, or linguistics, or religion, or psychology, or philosophy requires a broad knowledge of the field, and a deep understanding of the issues. No doubt physics calls for a different type of intelligence than literature, but they're no less demanding. Just different.

Pointing to the results of IQ test (IQ tests!) to prove your point seems naive and credulous. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the results of IQ tests, and even more reasons doubt the correlation between the test results and some posited notion of "intelligence". You're good at this kind of thing; you're an expert skeptic and can probably list these reasons better than any of us. But here are a few:

- What's "intelligence"? (blah blah blah, the whole big debate)
- A test tests precisely what it tests; to say that it tests something else (such as intelligence) requires a much better consensus on what intelligence is than we in fact have
- Who are the people who have taken the tests reported here? Are they equivalent cohorts?

And SAT tests? By the way, the link that you point to refers to GRE tests, not SAT tests. But who takes the GRE tests? Even assuming that there is some abstract thing such as intelligence that can in principle be measured, these GRE scores could merely prove that there are more intelligent people who take the GRE test and specialize in physics than there are who specialize in the "lower ranked" specialties. We have to consider selection bias before we can sensibly claim that these results have any objective meaning.

I'm not going to say it's laughable (Harold's "hilarious"). However (with all due respect to you as a physicist!) it certainly seems naive to look at the average scores you've offered and to claim that this really shows that professional physicists are smarter than experts in other fields.

Tom Weidig said...

@Last Anonym:

I don't want to go into this debate now. As I said it's a side story.

For me, mathematics and physics were by far the most intellectually challenging subjects.

I have also studied finance, accounting, and neuroscience. And it is just much much simpler. It has different challenges because the subject is more complex, but I understand very fast.

Also in debates with humanities, I clearly notice the drop off. It is rare to find good brains in these fields, but there are of course. And they have the same opinion!

VT said...

I agree it is a side comment and I regret to have mentioned it, even in one sentence! the only reason I did is because it *does* alienate many people from otherwise useful information. Anyway, that's also part of what makes the blog so entertaining. I find the SAT table interesting and it needs to be debated, but not here! Totally agreed with Harold, some literature articles show an incredible insight and a thought subtlety that goes way beyond the simple ability to abide to experimental results. Opinions of scientists on some topics are simplistic at best.

Anyway, it may matter a bit, what KS shows is that crackpots can solve problems and help immensely. I wouldn't go look for a physicist (or physician!) for help. Therefore I wondered whether anyone has some information about this Burgess method. Isn't it interesting that authority and credentials was an issue it the film itself? Wouldn't a purely physiological explanation be an excuse for avoiding time consuming therapy? Psychological approaches helped ME immensely, although didn't help achieve full fluency. The iceberg theory is there to explain why and Socrates (who would rank after Economists apparently) would say that we don't know that much about the topic anyway.

Hiten said...

Thanks for posting this Tom. It makes me wonder how many other people in the world have been jumping on the band wagon, giving inaccurate accounts of stuttering, during all The King's Speech media hype...

Pam said...

I probably do not have the intellectual capacity to compete and be heard in this conversation, as I am only a high school career counselor. I took the easy route in college and studied social work, which prepared me to work with people, which in my humble opinion, are far more complex to understand than quantam physics. In addition to being a high school career counselor with a background in social work, I also stutter, which adds more layers of complexity to my every day routines interacting with adolescents. They don't know what they want to wear tomorrow, let alone have any clue as to what their career pathways might be.
Some may wish to study Humanities or Science one day. I am more concerned with studies showing that 45% of undergraduates completing their second year in college have not made significant gains in critical thinking, reasoning, or writing skills, all of which are desolate predictors for our youth who will be tomorrows workforce and leaders. We need kids to be able to think, reason, and challenge assumptions in all aspects of the world, no matter what fields they study. Colleges are talking about doing away with SAT scores are pre-quisites for admisssions at least here in the US, and colleges are beginning to admit that they are "dumbing down" their expectations and eliminating rigor so that unprepared incoming freshman don't flunk out and make the colleges and universities look bad.
I may not have the IQ to understand physics, but I have enough intellect to deduce that our educational expectations are in a frightening place, and no matter who gets a "crackpot" award, we all as adults need to be concerned about what the world might look like in 20 years with young people who don't know how to ask "why not" and see the value in that. Hmmm . . . . I digressed, but so what, I am a woman, that's what we do, ramble on and on, huh!

preterosso said...

It also scares me that high profile educators can have so outdated and harmful attitudes to stuttering. Especially if this attitude brings humiliation and insecurity to stuttering children. Dr. Stephen is very likely to meet and interact with stuttering kis because it is much more widespread than one may think.

I have been working as a teacher in a high school for a couple of years myself and just in the past two years I met 5 stutterers. For comparison: I only saw 1 anorexic girl and 1 student with autism.

Leys Geddes said...

Letter in today's Independent newspaper, in which the original article appeared:

'Stammering genes found

I was delighted to read that Dr Stephen, headmaster of St Paul's, overcame his stammer and glad that he has pointed out how difficult life can be when you stammer (Education, 27 January). But he is wrong to say, "The truth is that a stammer is psychological, not physiological". By saying stammering is psychological, he helps perpetuate the false myth that it is somehow our own fault.

He, you, and your readers should know that stammering is a symptom of a condition in which the brain's neural circuits for speech have not wired normally. In addition, last year researchers said three genes have been identified as a source of stammering.

Leys Geddes'

Anonymous said...

Tom -

Please share with all of us the imperical & conclusive studies (titles) that have been completed proving beyond any doubt whatsoever that the disorder of stuttering is neurologically based.

You did say "every expert" agrees with your opinion regarding stuttering being neurologically based; could you provide a list of names re: your "every expert" that agrees with your opinion?

Tom Weidig said...


1) Twin studies show that stuttering has a high hereditary.

2) Genes have been discovered, leading to neurological abnormalities.

3) Structural abnormalities using MRI has been found.

4) Functional abnormalities have been found using fMRI and MEG.

You can find articles when searching in PubMed.

Ora said...


Adding to Tom's comment, see:

the links under "Etiology of Stuttering" here -

"What causes stuttering" -

Basic research -

Google "what causes stuttering" -

Anonymous said...

Tom & Ora -

Would you please share the names of "Every Expert" that agree with your opinion?

Ora said...

No. You can do the research as well as we can.

If you want to find out about something, use Google and research it. There's been lots of research on the causes of stuttering, and there's plenty of information on the Web. Just follow the links.

Anonymous said...

Professional information re: cause of stuttering.