Monday, February 28, 2011

No stuttering mice!

Currently, I am reading articles by science journalists in well-respected newspapers and magazines, telling us about the prospect of stuttering mice. And other highly inaccurate stuff.

I am nearly convinced that there will NOT be a stuttering mouse. The Drayna group claims that single mutations in one of three genes, forming part of a metabolic pathway, causes stuttering in nearly all cases. This finding needs to be replicated for me to believe it.

Consistent with their finding, they (or collaborators) plan to create mutations in mice, and see what is happening. They will most likely find subtle damage in some cell types in some brain regions, but they will not hear stuttering mice. People need to get away from the myth that a gene is coding for a special property. Genes deliver the instruction to create a protein, and in combination these genes can create complex molecules needed by the body. My theory is that the mutation only affects specific brain regions that happen to be responsible a stable communication between language and motor areas. Subtle damage to these regions leads to an unstable, low capacity speech system.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Quality of human discipline research

Ora writes
Beyond the familiar problems we've discussed - such as publication bias, the tendency to publish results which show something, anything, rather than nothing - we have the confounding effect of bad data.

Take a look at this NY Times article.  20 percent of the data is just wrong?!

Monday, February 21, 2011

From Freud to fMRI: Untangling the Mystery of Stuttering

There was a symposium on stuttering with Smith, Drayna, and de Nil organized by Nan Rantner.
This symposium will track current developments in the study of stuttering, the fruit of recent collaborations among researchers in the fields of genetics, speech motor control, and language processing. Until the past decade, much of the research into this common yet poorly understood communication disorder tended to be narrowly focused on accounts within a single discipline, from psychoanalysis to learning theory to articulatory control to hemispheric asymmetry. In this symposium, we will provide examples of the cross-disciplinary research that is changing consensus on the probable basis for stuttering. Recent advances in genetics, brain imaging, and speech motor control will be discussed in terms of their ramifications for better understanding this elusive disorder as well as treating it more effectively.
All are excellent scientists. However, they are foremost experimentalists and clinicians that work within their respective paradigm. Their challenge is to work on a cross-disciplinary theoretical framework on stuttering and I fear they will get slowed down due to a lack of 100% conceptual and theoretical rigour. I discussed with all of them. They are all bright, but no-one of them is an excellent theorist.They are very much in their experimental paradigm, and their talks suffer from 100% conceptual clarity. Ann Smith is the one with the clearest conceptual mind. But even she is in my view stuck in a single functional cause picture, as far as I remember from our short discussion at Oxford.

I find the mention of the name "Freud" in the title complete and utter kitsch. Why do we need to mention his name or work? Can we not focus on the here and now?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Different voice, no stuttering?

 An interesting self-report of a reader. I am wondering whether the change in voice in puberty affects stuttering. In a sense, the brain does not identify its own voice, and you might have the choral effect!! ;-) That's the first time, I hear this:
I've had MASSIVE fluctuations in stuttering around the time my voice changed. These were much more than a period of good or bad days. I was reduced to a complete absence of stuttering. I could not make myself stutter during these periods.

When I was going through puberty, I stopped stuttering for 2-3 months. I was reading fluently in class and I introduced myself in front of roughly 300 people. I was as surprised as my classmates and teacher were. I attribute this to my voice changing and I gradually relapsed. Around this same time I was becoming really popular so my confidence might have increased, but that might have been a side-effect of the fluency. As I was relapsing, the biggest change back to stuttering was when I got an ear infection, that caused fluid build up in my ears reducing my

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why apparent short-term success in Lidcombe treatment

Perti asks me a question about Lidcombe:
I am an SLP student who has been wondering about the Lidcombe program for a while [...] I've just been wondering about the Lidcombe success rates. How come the Jones et al (2005, British Medical Journal) had such a huge difference between the control group and the actual subjects. The field of stuttering is a complex one, as our professor said. One could fill a library with books that are all about stuttering and still none of them is absolutely right about it. The problem is that somehow they managed to pull off such a huge difference between the groups. The same incidents seems to occur with other studies as well like Miller et al (2009, American

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Yet again they make fun of us

A reader asked me to post this
Hi Tom,

This is a clip from last night's Celebrity Juice (show from the UK). The presenter made a disgusting reference to the King's Speech at the very beginning imitating a bad stammer for the audience to laugh....

The show starts with "Keith's Speech" in front of a microphone... "For the ffffffffffifth time in the lives of most of us there is a fffffffff celebrity juice, I call on you to stand calm as I sssssssssssssolemnly promise there will be no more rude fffffffffffffffffffffffffffff jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjokes". Then he stands up and is completely naked from the waist down with his penis on show although pixelated which isn't really the impotant part. The fact that he made fun of a bad stammer for the audience to laugh at the stammer was the unacceptable part.

I don't understand why there are people out there who think this is "entertaining" or "funny". If someone made the same fun of blacks or disabled people it would be considered of bad taste right? I looked at Youtube but they don't have the clip there unfortunately.

Making fun of stammerers in such a way is by no means acceptable or appropriate so could you post this on your blog and encourage people to send a complaint to ITV either by phone or email (, I have already sent mine.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The second cure of Martin Schwartz

At age 20, when I was an exchange student at Indiana University, I decided to do something against my stuttering. I went to the university book shop, and found a book by Martin Schwartz: The Airflow technique. (I think) I still remember that I was highly embarrassed to buy the book, I guess buying books on stuttering is a bit like buying condoms! The book cover promised the solution to all my questions: What is stuttering? How do I cure my stuttering? I read a very dramatic expose of Dr Schwartz's quest for knowledge. But the more I read, the less convinced I became about what he offered, especially because he came up with a theory, where I clearly saw that different interpretations of the data is possible, too. And he proclaims a cure.

Now nearly 20 years later, Dr Schwartz has a second cure! ;-) I am just wondering why he bothered to come up with a cure. Is one cure, the airflow technique, no enough?

HIS "National" Center for Stuttering has a recent press release: Breaking News: A Possible Cure For Stuttering. He claimed that Thiamine "cures" stuttering in 30% of people who stutter. I feel pretty miserable, because I have a ready post for a Crackpot Award, but I never posted it because he is not quite a crackpot. He is just a very bad scientist with excellent marketing and sales skills. If I include those, 50% of researchers would be crackpots!

So I am going to post the text here, and I leave it to my readers to rip apart the methodology. To all students,

Saturday, February 12, 2011

NSA Research Symposium

Here is the program of the research symposium of the National Stuttering Association on July 5th and 6th 2011.

I am a bit taken back by Jerry Maguire's talk title: Advancements in the pharmacologic treatment of stuttering! Advances? Pagoclone was hailed as the advance, and the first serious trial has not been successful as far as I can see. Of course, the outcome data has not published. I seriously hope that this will be done soon. I must say that the title is a smoke screen. Jerry would do better to tune down his rhetoric. The same is true for his book which is more of a propaganda book! We all admire his commitment and focus on finding a pharmaceutical treatment, but science only cares about facts and benefits from a neutral discussion. A sales pitch is misplaced at the NSA symposium.

I like the high numbers of group discussion. I hope that the discussions will be beyond the typical "Thank you very much for all your efforts. I was wondering whether", and be a though honest no-niceties no-consensus-seeking intellectual debate. The success of such discussions depend on the moderators.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Volunteers needed for a Boston-based study!

If you are able to get to Boston, please consider volunteering for a study:
The Speech Communication Group of Research Laboratory of Electronics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is looking for a volunteers who stutter to particpate in an NIH-funded research on persistent developmental stuttering. 

Inclusion criteria (apply to all):

1) You have persistent developmental stuttering (also known as stammering).
2) Age between 18 and 50.
3) No history of speech or language disorders, apart from stuttering.
4) No history of hearing disorders.
5) No history of neurological or movement disorders.
6) Speaks North American English as the first (native) language. First langauge refers to the language in which your parents spoke to you when you first started speaking as a child.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

!!!!!!!!!!!1000 posts!!!!!!!

This post is the 1001th post on TheStutteringBrain blog! We need to celebrate. When I was starting to write in 2005, I was not sure whether I would keep up with publishing but I did! I also have nearly 100 followers, and 20'000 page views per month.

Below is the graph of the evolution over time. You can see that the increase is relatively linear, but will probably level off in the next years. The numbers also depend on how many posts I write. But overall I am getting close to half a million visits to the blog.

A great majority of my readers are from the US, followed by the UK and Germany, but readers are from all around the world. I receive a few emails every week from readers from asking for advice to sending my interesting information what certain people or association privately do.

I am very likely the most popular and most read blog on stuttering. Number of awards received from stuttering community: ZERO. Number of awards received by Emily Blunt for saying: I stuttered. ONE. Number of people invited for key note speeches for being famous or rich, for talking about their miraculous recovery from mild stuttering, for scientific sloppiness or propagating crackpot ideas: TOO MANY. Number of emails received from readers thanking me and saying that they like my blog: HUNDREDS. Speaks volumes.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Crackpot Award for Dr Miriam Stoppard

TheStutteringBrain awards a Crackpot Award for Dr Miriam Stoppard for the outrageously uninformed article Stop stammering ruining your big speech in the Daily Mail.

Here is the laudatio:
According to Dr Stoppard's website, she "has been at the forefront of the revolution in health information since she began her writing and broadcasting career in the early 1970s." Her article on stuttering shows that she has not even made the effort to consult wikipedia on the causes and treatments of stuttering. Nor has she consulted with any expert on the field. But why should she? She is known by millions, and she is a real medical doctor.

She has acted in a highly irresponsible manner, which in our opinion has violated her own standards of ethics as a medical doctor, and misinformed the general public, parents, and patients on stuttering. As we do not want to waste our time on explaining line by line why she is terribly wrong, we refer to a response by the British Stammering Association.

We speculate that the only reason she wrote this article, despite her very glaring lack of insight or expertise on the matter, is an effort to keep in the limelight to sell her books and services.

Ask yourself: How can I trust Dr Stoppard for any advice on any health issue, if she got her advice so clearly wrong on stuttering. If she is sloppy on stuttering, is she sloppy on other issues as well? She has lost her credibility.

Crackpot Awards are given to people who make claims about stuttering that clearly violate scientific facts and express these views with crackpot-like confidence.

We are very grateful to The King's Speech for giving us the wonderful opportunity to out those unprofessional professionals.

NOTE on BSA's response:
Stammering is acquired - but we do know from recent genetics research that people who stammer are born with the predisposition and that it is highly unlikely that without this predisposition a child would begin to stammer.

I don't agree that "Stammering is acquired". Stammering occurs (or shows itself) at a certain point in development like you only notice that your engine has a flaw when driving at high speed. The neurobiological basis for stuttering was either already there from the start (i.e. genes), or in the course of development due to an incident, but well before the actual onset. It's like saying traffic jam is acquired in a city that has been growing too fast with appropriate planning.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Abnormal auditory system in people who stutter?

Here is the latest research finding on the stuttering brain. The Japanese scientists claim that people who stutter have abnormal auditory regions. I am a bit confused by this piece of research.
I also want to point out that this signal, if true, might not be the cause of stuttering directly. It could be that this abnormalities is responsible for non-recovery, but not for the cause of stuttering.

Neuroimage. 2011 Jan 11. [Epub ahead of print]

Spatiotemporal signatures of an abnormal auditory system in stuttering.

Department of Otolaryngology, Faculty of Medicine, Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan; Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, Faculty of Medicine, Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan.


People who stutter (PWS) can reduce their stuttering rates under masking noise and altered auditory feedback; such a response can be attributed to altered auditory input, which suggests that abnormal speech processing in PWS results from abnormal processing of auditory input. However, the details of this abnormal processing of basic auditory information remain unclear. In order to characterize such abnormalities, we examined the functional and structural changes in the auditory cortices of PWS by using a 306-channel magnetoencephalography system to assess auditory sensory gating (P50m suppression) and tonotopic organization. Additionally, we employed voxel-based morphometry to compare cortical gray matter (GM) volumes on structural MR images. PWS exhibited impaired left auditory sensory gating. The tonotopic organization in the right hemisphere of PWS is expanded compared with that of the controls. Furthermore, PWS showed a significant increase in the GM volume of the right superior temporal gyrus, consistent with the right tonotopic expansion. Accordingly, we suggest that PWS have impaired left auditory sensory gating during basic auditory input processing and that some error signals in the auditory cortex could result in abnormal speech processing. Functional and structural reorganization of the right auditory cortex appears to be a compensatory mechanism for impaired left auditory cortex function in PWS.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The real king's speech.


My dear friend Einar has sent me this link on the king's speech. Georg VI clearly has a stuttering problem, but I must say that he is handling it extremely well. He has long pauses to give him time, and he only starts struggling a few minutes into the speech. Watch from 5:55 onwards, you see the time if you go Full Screen. Despite his hesitations and visible struggle at times, his performance is clear and strong. Not like my performance on StutterTalk or yesterday when I gave a radio interview to be aired on Monday.

I am nearly convinced Firth was also working from this video as the secondaries ressemble those in the movie.
But I must say that the stuttering is more severe in the movie than at this public talk. However, I can very well imagine that his stuttering was more severe at times, and at times he was fluent.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Do we stutter alone in the universe?

Today, I want to talk about life on other planets.

The Kepler telescope has made a huge step in understanding the likelihood of extra-terrestrial lifeforms. The telescope is fine-tuned to look at the light-emission of stars, and detect fluctuations due to the passing of a planet in the foreground. They found 5 passings of Earth-size planets with acceptable temperature while observing 156'000 stars. So roughly at least 1/3 * 10^(-4) of all stars have one habitable planet.

The universe contains about 3*10^32 stars, so roughly 300'000'000'000'000'000'000'000'000'000'000 stars.

So we have about 10^28, i.e. 1'000'000'000'000'000'000'000, habitable stars in the universe.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The King's Speech review

I have finally watched The King's Speech, but not in the cinema. ;-) Here is my review:

The most interesting aspect for me was the relationship between the two men. Showing how even the king is very human and mortal. The movie was also interesting in playing with the class system that reigned in those days. But in a sense the movie also degraded the king. They applauded him for reading a speech that was written by other people. If I were king and people applauded me, I would be thinking: God Tom you are such a looser when people already get excited when you read a prepared speech!

I am not convinced that all the words put into the mouth of historical figures are very accurate, and could easily give a wrong view on history. I am also not convinced that Churchill told him about his speech impediment. I think the script would have benefited from leaving out a portrayal of Miss Simpson and Churchill.

In terms of the handicap arising from stuttering, the movie did an excellent job. Only a person who stutters/ed like David Seidler could have written such a script.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

PRESS RELEASE: Stuttering in Luxembourg

Together with friends from our informal support group in Luxembourg, I have just sent a press release about The King's Speech and the bad care for people who stutter in Luxembourg. The release went to all media, ministries, and political parties. Here are the documents. (In German, one of the official languages in Luxembourg, apart from Luxembourgish and French)

The King’s Speech, der Oscar-nominierte Film über den stotternden König Georg VI
Schlechte Versorgung für stotternde Kinder und Erwachsene in Luxemburg
Am 4. Februar kommt The King’s Speech in die luxemburgischen Kinos. Der Film handelt von der Freundschaft zwischen dem stotternden britischen König Georg VI und seinem Therapeuten Logue. Durch intensives Training gelingt es Georg VI, sein Stottern unter Kontrolle zu bringen, und mit beeindruckenden Reden gegen Nazi-Deutschland das britische Volk zusammenzuschweißen. The King’s Speech wurde 12 mal für einen Oscar nominiert.
Ca 5% aller Kleinkinder durchlaufen eine stotternde Phase, wenn sie Sprechen lernen, und ein Prozent aller Erwachsenen stottern. Stottern ist eine neurologische Störung, die auch vererbt werden kann. Durch temporäre Unfähigkeit, Gedanken in Sprechen zu verwandeln, kann eine starke Sekundärsymptomatik entstehen. Viele leiden zudem unter Sprechangst, Vermeidung von Sprechsituationen, Spott und Diskriminierung auf dem Arbeitsmarkt.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Excellent CBS News report on stuttering.

Check out this excellent CBS NEWS report on stuttering. (Thanks to Nathan for this link!)

Beautiful report where I agree with 100% of what is said, even the science bit. Anne Smith and Weber-Fox are interviewed and they did an excellent job. They are good scientists, and clear science communicators. And note they did not drum up the early-intervention myth of eradicating stuttering with conditioning.

Congratulation! We should give CBS News an award!