Saturday, April 29, 2006

Crackpot No. 2

The Stuttering Brain proudly presents the second winner of the prestigious "The Stuttering Brain's Crackpot Award": Stephen Hill aka Tony Blair II. (Click here for the first winner.)

The Stuttering Brain proudly declares in his eulogy:
"Stephen Hill is a creative genius of marketing per excellence. He managed to get into many UK newspapers by explaining how thinking about Tony Blair buying a burger helped him overcome his stutter. He claims "I would love to be able to report 95-100% success, however I believe it is more like 85%. To achieve fluency takes a lot of hard work and practice, unfortunately not all of my clients seem willing to put this effort in.", and with one stroke isolates himself from any criticism: if you dont succeed, you only have to blame yourself. The Stuttering Brain is convinced that Stephen Hill is misleading potential clients by claiming 85% success rate. His methods are also remarkable: "I achieved fluency by concentrating on how fluent people spoke. Therefore my method is speaking, thinking, and breathing how fluent people do." So the way to speak like normal people is to speak like normal people. WOW!

Please note, that Stephen Hill is not the son of the UK comedian, Benny Hill, whose most famous feats involved being chased by semi-naked young girls. He is not a comedian, but gets paid for advice by people desperate to get rid of their stuttering."

P.S. The award aims to name and shame people for outrageous claims about PDS, especially those that try to make money out of promises for a cure.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Adrian has suggested I should speak out on NLP/Neurosemantics. He wrote in his comment:

I would be interested in hearing your views on the application of NLP/Neurosemantics in the treatment of stuttering. These approaches to stuttering have become wildly popular in recent years. Well known NLP practitioner Tony Robbins has claimed to have cured stuttering in one session. Bob Bodenhamer of Neurosemantics has claimed to have cured stuttering in two phone sessions. These are lofty claims that I have a difficult time believing. The "therapy" is based on the idea that stuttering is a cognitive problem with no physical or neurological correlate and once you have your head screwed on straight you will be fluent.

...Here are some links to Bodenhamer's webpage:

Yes, Bodenhamer is on my watchlist! :-) He wrote an article in Speaking Out, and I am hoping to wrote a Letter to the Editor. I am short of time. To summarise, NLP/Neurosemantics or any other techniques like auto-suggestion and motivational techniques are very useful to change behaviour, and so are helpful in achieving more fluency. However, Bodenhamer and other practitioners are pushing it far too hard: see cure or we understand stuttering. His statement in Speaking Out on the nature of stuttering are ill informed and ignorant of the new research coming out. If it is all in the mind, so how come genetics matters. How come the brain scans of people who stutter are different? How come they are worse in dual tasks? More soon..

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Oren aka The JellyFishKiller has sent me an article describing a cure for stuttering. I have tried it, and it works very well!!!!! So this is going to be my last post.

Here is the screenshot of the article (author is Hazle Geniesse, University of Michigan)

(Credit goes to Oren's labmate Jay Bohland ( The article was published in 1935: Science, New Series, Vol. 82, No. 2135 (Nov. 29, 1935), p.518 )

Out of ideas

I am completely out of ideas for posts... :-)

Anyone has a suggestion?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Web experiments

Sorry, I am not posting a lot currently... I am out of ideas.

But, yesterday, I had an interesting idea! One of the biggest problems for researchers (in general and in stuttering) is to get enough people to participate in their experiments. Typically, you need between 10 and 20 people, and often one control group and one stuttering group. This is not easy, and you need to advertise your experiment, get 20-30 people to agree to participate, schedule 20-30 meetings, and do 20-30 experiment.

Why can you not do the experiments via the web? You can reach many more people, and 20-30 will always participate. The easiest experiments are questionaires: just create a webpage with a form structure and a database behind. This is a standard technique. But you can also do more sophisticated experiments. For example, the experimental subject uses a software where he needs to press some button or react to a visual stimuli. Such software can be written in Java, and using Java Web Start they run on your computer via your webbrowser.

But as with all interesting ideas, the idea is 5%, and 95% is implementation... :-)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Make a donation

You have probably noticed that I have installed a donation button.

I spend a lot of time and money researching and attending conferences as a self-financed researcher. There might be a few of you who want and have the means to support me. I am testing whether this could be a means of getting money. Any donation would go towards my new project. I want to create a website dedicated to stuttering research.

If you want to invest serious money in advancing stuttering research, please contact me under tom.weidig "@"! I'll be happy to advise.

P.S. Let's hope a few Sultans stutter or their kid stutter AND read my blog! There must be some who stutter! :-)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Carl explained?

So here is my possible interpretation of Carl's introspection: see last post, too.

...I've often noticed (through introspection) that when my mind races and I have a hard time focusing, I stutter;
When we are in a more emotional state, we have less control over our motor and cognitive functions. And we are more slaves of our emotions, which was very important for our survival thousands of years ago. Also, you are more likely to have a racing mind when you have a bad day. Even "normal" people stutter when under extreme stress or emotions, but we just have a very low threshold.

when I force myself to say one-word-after-another, cancelling all blocks with great deliberation, I seemingly stutter more badly for the first seconds, and then, if I allow my mind to slow down and go into synch with my speech, I'm completely fluent.
I have similar experiences.

1) What you describe, sounds like a transition from one system to another. You go from your old car, which is very slow, to your new car, at first, you are slower driving your new car as you need to get used to the new car. Or you fire a bad employee, and hire a good one, but it needs time for the good one to become more effective. Thus, the phenomena of it getting worse before getting better is a very very general phenomena.

2) The same phenomena will happen if you switch to singing, chorus reading, reading, voluntary stuttering, acting, speaking loud and so on: see what Per thinks here. You switch your focus to how you say things.

To summarise, you start out the day without thinking about how to speak, you focus on the message, you notice that you stutter, you switch to a different mode, this causes you initial problems, then you are fully tuned into the mode, and you are more fluent.

This is all at a very slow pace. If I continue with that, resisting my extremely strong urges to lose focus on a single thought-process, and see each word in my mind before I say it, it becomes easier within a few minutes, and I can speed up just a bit. If I continue this with various strangers throughout the day (also using breathing techniques), I'm almost completely fluent by the end of the day.
The more you are tuned into the mode, the easier it becomes. And also, you are less concerned by your speech, and you become more relaxed which also makes it easier.

The urge of the mind to skip back into its default, unfocused, stuttering "track" remains, but will presumably lessen or go away with time.
This is also a very general phenomena. Take eating chocolate or starting jogging. At first, it is hard, and then it become easier. But there is still an urge to go back, and eventually you succumb to it slowly but surely.

To summarise, what Carl describes are very general phenomena happening in many different non-stuttering situations. Though they are not very important from a science point of view. But the most important insight is to ask why he becomes more fluent in this new mode. And here there is one theory, revived by Per Alm, that we have two system: one unstable automatic speech and one normal for active-control-over-how-we-say-it speech.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Can introspection help?

Carl Joakim Gagnon has posted the following question:

I'd like a post on how you see the general relation between neuroscience and that oldest guide to how the mind works, introspection. Surely the only way to even design and understand experiments is coming at them from both angles?

...I've often noticed (through introspection) that when my mind races and I have a hard time focusing, I stutter; when I force myself to say one-word-after-another, cancelling all blocks with great deliberation, I seemingly stutter more badly for the first seconds, and then, if I allow my mind to slow down and go into synch with my speech, I'm completely fluent. This is all at a very slow pace. If I continue with that, resisting my extremely strong urges to lose focus on a single thought-process, and see each word in my mind before I say it, it becomes easier within a few minutes, and I can speed up just a bit. If I continue this with various strangers throughout the day (also using breathing techniques), I'm almost completely fluent by the end of the day. The urge of the mind to skip back into its default, unfocused, stuttering "track" remains, but will presumably lesson or go away with time.

So that's the introspection side of things. Any way to relate that first-hand report to neuroscience (to approach the problem from the other angle)?

Here are my views on the use of introspection or first-person reports.

1) There is no conflict whatsoever between a first-person experience (introspection) and a third-person science.

2) A first-person report is never wrong as long as the report only contains experiences. For example, no-one can tell you that your statement "I like Tom's blog", "I am not scared when I stutter", or "I like pink" is wrong.

3) Can you use such first-person reports in helping to advance third-person science? I always listen to first-person reports as they may offer food for thought and inspiration to look for new avenues. However, I am playing with the devil because even if you are a professionally trained thinker / scientist you will almost inevitably commit logical fallacies when trying to generalise the first-person report or your experience to a population.

4) To summarise, introspection of my own experience or a first-person reports can be a useful inspiration to construct theories, but they need to be tested with the scientific method.

5) Here are some of the pitfalls that I constantly encounter:

a. You cannot know whether an effect is present in all stutterers or only specific to the person who gives the first-person report. You can only find that out by doing a statistical analysis.

b. Reports might use the same words, but they might be different meaning. The words are very loosely defined. Your fear of a threat is not my fear of embarrassment. Your block is my slight hesitation.

c. Memories gets re-written every time they are re-called, and many memories are a mixture of a seed of true memory, and post-hoc interpretation.

d. Virtually always the reports are not actually reports of immediate experiences but a coherent story that your mind has woven from experiences and interpretation of what the gaps could be. The readers of first-person reports finds the untangling very difficult and tricky.

e. The greatest pitfall I see with introspection is the logical fallacy "Correlation is not necessarily causation". For example, "I started stuttering when my brother was born, and hated not being the focus of attention anymore" are factually correct, but for many this sounds like great evidence for a conflict between siblings being the cause of my stuttering". But I could also have written "I started stuttering [at age 3 at the age everyone starts stuttering]", "my brother was born [when I was age three which is not very surprising as parents have children at a 2-3 year interval], and "I hated not being the focus of attention anymore [like millions of other kids]". Now suddenly correlation between the three statements sounds like a coincidence and not like a casual link between them.

So to summarise, I use introspection or first-person reports for inspiration, but you are playing with the fire. And almost everyone that uses them gets burned. But luckily for them they don't notice the burns. :-)

Note: Some scientists refuse the use of introspection and first-person experiences as "impure science", but they are wrong. Playing with the fire can be highly insightful, if you are careful.

Friday, April 14, 2006

List of unsolved issues

I am currently editing a debate between Scott Yaruss and Mark Onslow. I want to share with you some of the questions that they have raised and are still unanswered by research.

Mark asked the following questions:

Why do repeated movements predominate at the onset of stuttering?

Why can stuttering be intractable for a lifetime?

Why do those who stutter have problems with tapping finger sequences?

Why do those who stutter have the problem while playing wind instruments?

Scott Yaruss has given an even longer list of questions with references. (Please note that especially the references are "from the top of his head")

Why does stuttering behavior start in children at a time of rapid expansion in linguistic, motoric, and temperamental aspects of their development (see the work of Conture, Yairi, and many others)?

Why do people who stutter react to stuttering in the way they do (see the work of Cooper, Manning, Murphy, Quesal, Sheehan, Williams, and others)?

Why does the occurrence of stuttering behavior seem to be so closely linked with aspects of language planning in both young children and adults (see the work of Bernstein Ratner, Conture, Hall, Howell, Logan, and others)?

More specifically, why are the loci of stuttering moments not distributed randomly with respect to linguistic, situational, and experiential variables (too many references to list)

What is the meaning, in particular, of the apparent linguistic associations in the loci of stuttering?

Why do people who stutter show differences in motoric stability (Smith) and linguistic processing, even when they are not engaged in speaking tasks (Weber-Fox) and why do these factors appear to interact?

Why do people who stutter show differences in neural functioning and possibly even structure (Blomgren, DeNil, Foundas, Fox, Ingham, Maguire, Riley, Watson, and others)?

What is the meaning of the temperamental differences between children who stutter and children who do not stutter that have recently been highlighted (Conture, Oyler, others)?

What of the fact that multiple loci seem to be implicated in genetic modeling of stuttering (Ambrose, Cox, Drayna, Felsenfeld, Yairi, and more)?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Covert working

Sorry, I have not been posting a lot over the last weeks. But, strangely enough my visitor numbers kept high. I have been busy working on my flat that I bought in Luxembourg-City. If you ever are close to Luxembourg, let me know and you are invited to stay at my place, but only if you are a stutterer, researcher, or (female) therapist! :-)

But I have also been busy working secretly in the background on stuttering research.

First, I am organsing a research plenary with talks and discussion forum at this year's British Stammering Association (BSA) conference in Telford. I was able to get leading researchers of different areas coming to Telford. I'll tell you more about this exciting event once the details are sorted out.

Second, I have been editing the debate between Scott Yaruss and Mark Onslow on therapy approaches to childhood stuttering. The debate will appear in Speaking Out, the BSA magazine. The editing took hours, but now I understand the arguments put forward much better! I'll probably post the debate on my blog piece-wise if the BSA editor gives his OK.

And finally, I am working on my presentation and proceeding contribution for IFA 2006 in Dublin. Here is the abstract I sent in


I discuss how best to do the statistical analysis of the outcome data of early childhood intervention. The natural recovery rate of dysfluent children significantly complicates the statistical study of the outcome data. I argue that the standard random control trial setup needs to be modified, because children are randomly assigned to the treatment or control group and by chance one group will have a higher natural recovery rate. I also point out other conceptual difficulties when using a randomized control trial setup. Finally, I suggest that there is no need for a control group, also because other studies have already determined the natural recovery rate.

But really it's a bit of nonsense to ask for an abstract months before the conference. I will only loosely stick to the abstract. Most researchers are writing the abstract before they write the presentation and paper!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Food and Stuttering

Stuttering has been linked to many different factors. Here is another one, from the post on the STUTT-L mailing list by Melinda Poland-Kayira, Graduate Student in Speech Pathology:

"When doing some research online, I came across a suggestion that sensitivity to certain foods affects stuttering, and if those foods are identified and eliminated, stuttering will reduce. The source of this suggestion was the blog of a woman who states that her son was a severe stutterer, and after eliminating problem foods from his diet, he no longer stuttered. She stated that food sensitivities can interfere with language processing.

I am familiar with gluten-free, casein-free diets recommended for children with autism; however, I was not aware of a diet to reduce stuttering. My question is: is anyone aware of any research that has been done to evaluate a correlation between diet and stuttering?"

It is possible that special diets influence the severity of stuttering by changing the general fitness of the brain, hormonal levels or neurotransmitter levels. Not sure by how much. But if such a diet existed, a medication could probably do the same.

But for the moment, I'll stick to my daily cholocate hit to ease the terrible suffering caused by stuttering... :-)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Interesting meetings on medication

Holger Stenzel sent me these interesting meeting dates on medication.

ASHA SID 4 Leadership Conference, May 31 - June 3, 2006, San Antonio, TX.
Blomgren, M. (2006). Pharmacologic treatments of stuttering: Recent research and current findings. Invited presentation.

46th Annual New Clinical Drug Evaluation Unit (NCDEU) Meeting, June 12-15, 2006, Boca Raton, FL.
Maguire, G., Riley, G., Franklin, D., Blomgren, M., Soni, P., Yaruss, S., Denko, T., Davis, L., Davis, A., Silverman, A., Sabounjian, L., & Shipley, J. (2006). Enhancing precision in clinical trials: Methodological issues in assessing the pharmacologic treatment of stuttering.

5TH WORLD CONGRESS ON FLUENCY DISORDERS, 25 – 28th July, 2006, Dublin, Ireland
Gerald Maguire, Glyndon Riley and David Franklin
Pharmacologic Strategies in the Treatment of Stuttering
Abstract: Stuttering is classified in the psychiatric nomenclature of DSM-IV. In spite of such, relatively little research has been conducted into possible psychopharmacologic treatments. Clinical trials utilizing double-blind, placebo-controlled designs have found that novel dopamine blocking agents are effective in reducing the severity of stuttering but are associated with significant side-effects. The most comprehensive pharmacologic trial to date in stuttering has recently been completed and evaluated the efficacy and safety of pagoclone, a novel nonbenzodiazepine GABA partial agonist with a unique mechanism and the potential to provide a favorable safety profile. Data from this multi-center, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial will be presented.

National Stuttering Association
Annual Conference 2006, June 28 - July 1, 2006 in Long Beach, California.
Keynote speaker:
Dr. Maguire will discuss with his fellow NSA members not only the latest in research investigating pharmacologic treatments for stuttering but also his own personal journey as a person who stutters.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Tom and The JellyFishKiller

I am back from skiing, and still alive! I love skiing...

Oren Civier, a graduate student at Boston University, just sent me a picture of us at the Oxford Disfluency Conference last summer. He also included a picture with him and Per Alm, but I prefer to put up the picture where I am on it! Sorry Per... it is not me it is my subcortical structures... ;-)

The Internet is such a wonderful invention. Especially when googling people. For example, I just found out that Oren is on Internet Chat and his nick name is JellyFishKiller! :-o Check this out. Apart from his morally suspicious jelly fish killings, he works on neural models for stuttering. (Here is the link to his publications. They are more mathematical.)

He asked me whether he should go to the IFA conference in Dublin or the speech motor control conference in Nijmengen. The difference between the two conference is that IFA 2006 is much broader and covers everything on stuttering: from personal experiences to hard-core science. The Nijmengen conference is only science and focussed on speech-motor control.