Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Greenfield shoots her mouth off again

"Social websites harm children's brains". She said much the same nearly a year ago -- with a similar lack of proof. She does have a research background in brain function but she is primarily a science popularizer and can be relied on to support the wisdom of the day -- which is why she has been much honoured in various ways.

Not long ago she was selling a "brain training program" called "Mindfit" but such programs have subsequently been found to be of very questionable use and may do more harm than good. She appears unaware of the contradiction of promoting a computer-based brain training program while otherwise warning of the harm that computer use does.

She has also bad-mouthed Larry Summers for his truth telling about mathematical ability and mocks Christians. So wait for the double-blind studies of social networking websites rather than trust the mere "fears" of this attention-seeker.

Social networking websites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young users, an eminent scientist has warned. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred. The claims from neuroscientist Susan Greenfield will make disturbing reading for the millions whose social lives depend on logging on to their favourite websites each day. But they will strike a chord with parents and teachers who complain that many youngsters lack the ability to communicate or concentrate away from their screens. [Given the dumbed-down education they get today, that has to be expected]

More than 150million use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, share photographs and videos and post regular updates of their movements and thoughts. A further six million have signed up to Twitter, the 'micro-blogging' service that lets users circulate text messages about themselves. But while the sites are popular - and extremely profitable - a growing number of psychologists and neuroscientists believe they may be doing more harm than good. Baroness Greenfield, an Oxford University neuroscientist and director of the Royal Institution, believes repeated exposure could effectively 'rewire' the brain.

Computer games and fast-paced TV shows were also a factor, she said. 'We know how small babies need constant reassurance that they exist,' she told the Mail yesterday. 'My fear is that these technologies are infantilising the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.'

Her comments echoed those she made during a House of Lords debate earlier this month. Then she argued that exposure to computer games, instant messaging, chat rooms and social networking sites could leave a generation with poor attention spans. 'I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,' she said.

Lady Greenfield told the Lords a teacher of 30 years had told her she had noticed a sharp decline in the ability of her pupils to understand others. 'It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations,' she said. She pointed out that autistic people, who usually find it hard to communicate, were particularly comfortable using computers.

'Of course, we do not know whether the current increase in autism is due more to increased awareness and diagnosis of autism, or whether it can - if there is a true increase - be in any way linked to an increased prevalence among people of spending time in screen relationships. Surely it is a point worth considering,' she added.

Psychologists have also argued that digital technology is changing the way we think. They point out that students no longer need to plan essays before starting to write - thanks to word processors they can edit as they go along. Satellite navigation systems have negated the need to decipher maps.

A study by the Broadcaster Audience Research Board found teenagers now spend seven-and-a-half hours a day in front of a screen.

Educational psychologist Jane Healy believes children should be kept away from computer games until they are seven. Most games only trigger the 'flight or fight' region of the brain, rather than the vital areas responsible for reasoning.

Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, said: 'We are seeing children's brain development damaged because they don't engage in the activity they have engaged in for millennia. 'I'm not against technology and computers. But before they start social networking, they need to learn to make real relationships with people.'


War hero defeated by NHS after hospital stay left him with three infections and fractured pelvis

He survived the vicious conflict with the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. But veteran Albert Marriott has been reduced to a wheelchair-bound shell by a spell in the care of the NHS. Mr Marriott, 90, was admitted to hospital after a fall at home. He then picked up superbugs Clostridium difficile, E.coli and MRSA - and fractured his pelvis in a fall from a hospital bed.

By the time he was finally released 20 months later and transferred to a nursing home, he was unable to even get dressed without help. There is little chance he will get better. His daughter, Sue Davies, 57, told how the independence her father once cherished had been 'taken away by the inadequate standards of cleanliness and care in the NHS' at two separate hospitals. He must now use his pension and savings - and may have to sell his home - to pay for his weekly 384 pounds care home bill.

Miss Davies said the family had made formal complaints about his care at both Clay Cross Hospital in Derbyshire and the Royal Chesterfield Hospital and may seek compensation. 'It has beaten him. He used to be active, read the papers and have a view on things and now he is a shell and does nothing,' she said. 'Hospital is a place you go in to be looked after, not where you go to get fractures and infections. It's so hard for him, he's a man of dignity and pride and I feel it's all been taken away from him.'

Mr Marriott fought in Burma during the World War II before working as a joiner. A father-of-two, with four grandchildren and three great grandchildren, he has lived alone since his wife Lillian died at 63 in 1981. In June 2007 he was bruised after a fall at home and was admitted for three weeks to Clay Cross community hospital. However, his health began to deteriorate. He developed pancreatitis and had to have a catheter because of other problems. He was then struck by the first of a series of infections and ended up going backwards and forwards between the two hospitals.

According to Miss Davies he had E.coli and C.diff at the same time. After a month of treatment in the Royal he was well enough to return to Clay Cross. But in January 2008 he fractured his pelvis falling from a bed and was sent back to the Royal. The fracture was missed by doctors, who believed he was simply bruised. Miss Davies said: 'He was in so much agony he was crying.' The pensioner was sent back to Clay Cross with morphine to help with the pain and two days later the fracture was diagnosed by another doctor and he was sent back to Chesterfield.

Once on the ward again his condition deteriorated fast. 'He was so poorly I was asked if I wanted him to be resuscitated if anything happened. He became delirious.' Miss Davies said she believes his deterioration was down to the infections. 'He looked like he was dying and we were told more or less that he was,' she added. She claimed he had another bout of C.diff and later had a minor MRSA infection too.

Eventually Mr Marriott was moved to a ward which had just had a 'deep clean' and his health improved. He went back to Clay Cross and after months of looking for a suitable nursing home he was discharged.

Miss Davies said: 'He can't do anything for himself now, apart from feed himself. The NHS hospitals are responsible for this and should pay for his care.' Tracy Allen of Derbyshire Community Health Services said: 'We are very sorry that Mr Marriott and his family feel that we have let him down.' She insisted he only had one episode of C.diff, was known to have E.coli 'on admission' and was 'colonised' with MRSA while in hospital. The Chesterfield Royal Hospital said Miss Davies' complaint would be investigated


Leading British Labour party politician to attack political correctness

Hazel Blears is to attack the "creeping tendency" of political correctness which has led to Christians being targeted for practising their beliefs. In a hard hitting speech, to be made in the last week of February, the Communities Secretary will suggest that the pendulum has "swung too far" in favour of not offending minorities. Her remarks will be seen as a thinly veiled attack on Harriet Harman, the Commons leader, who has made a series of left wing speeches and announcements in recent months about equal rights for minorities. Ms Harman has faced accusations of manoeuvring herself for the leadership if Labour loses the next election.

It comes after a community nurse, Caroline Petrie, was suspended from after offering to pray for a patient. The story led to widespread criticism of her employer, North Somerset Primary Care Trust, who later offered Mrs Petrie her job back.

Ms Blears, who last week called on jostling cabinet minsters to "get a grip", will say that public policy-makers are too anxious about offending people and need to be more robust in their approach. She will point to a number of judgements recently which she feels were spurned by an overzealous commitment to political correctness. A text of her speech, released to this paper, said: "This country is proud of our tradition of fair play and good manners, welcoming of diversity, tolerant of others. This is a great strength. "But the pendulum has swung too far. It seems that every week we hear a new story - the nurse suspended because she offered to pray for a patient, the school banning Christmas decorations, the town hall reluctant to fly the Union flag - about people getting into a panic because someone, somewhere, might get offended.

"Worse, at times leaders have been reluctant to challenge absolutely unacceptable behaviour - forced marriage, female genital mutilation, or homophobia - because they are concerned about upsetting people's cultural sensitivities. "This flies in the face of another of our traditions - open debate, rational inquiry, and plain old common sense. "We would do well to be a little less anxious and a little more robust."

Ms Blears will say that minority beliefs and traditions should not go unchallenged in Britain when they break the law or harm others. "There is a line when respect for other cultures is crossed and a universal morality should kick in."

The tough stance from the former Blairite comes as a number of female ministers are said to be considering standing against the left wing Ms Harman if she does go for the leadership. Yvette Cooper, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was said to be one minister approached to be a "stop Harman" candidate. However some Labour insiders believe this rumour may be an attempt to disrupt Ms Cooper's husband Ed Balls, a likely candidate in a leadership contest.


British Tories pledge to end police 'caution culture'

The Conservatives have pledged to end the "caution culture" in Britain's police forces and to ensure that all youths who carry out violent attacks are prosecuted. Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said he will stop the practice of simply warning youths who are involved in assaults and then sending them on their way. In his first announcement since taking over in the role, Mr Grayling said all those involved in violent attacks or found with knives in city centres would end up behind bars as part of a radical shake-up of policing planned by the Conservatives.

The pledge comes after it emerged that the number of young people given cautions by the police for indictable crimes, including robbery and other violent offences, has increased by 28 per cent in the last five years. Despite Labour promises to crack down on violent attacks, the number of assaults using a knife has risen starkly. Last week, two teenagers were stabbed to death in separate attacks within hours of each other in London.

Mr Grayling said: "If you are found carrying a knife, if you attack a stranger in the street, you should end up in the courts and then behind bars. You should not get a caution, or as I heard recently, a o65 penalty notice for carrying a three foot Samurai sword around. That must stop." Mr Grayling will outline plans this week to give police charging powers of their own so that they can charge youths in custody with offences such as carrying knives rather than referring the cases to prosecutors.

The Tories are also looking to change the police targets system so that issuing someone with a caution does not count as a crime solved, and a case taken to court counts as a bigger success than a caution. Currently, cautions and prosecutions are deemed equally successful outcomes to investigations. Mr Grayling said it was "madness" that cautions for violent attacks had more than doubled since 1998.

In 2007, 60 per cent of under 18s cautioned or convicted for an offence received only a caution, up from 56 per in 2003. There were 75,300 youths cautioned in 2007 compared to 58,600 in 2003. The cautioning rate has increased in all age groups. In 2007, 90 per cent of 10-11 year old offenders dealt with by police were cautioned, compared to 84 per cent in 2003. The rate of 12-14 years olds being cautioned is up by 29 per cent while the number of 15-17 year olds cautioned has increased by 10,000.

Mr Grayling said police were issuing cautions because it meant "case closed, a tick in the box, a crime solved for the official figures to be sent to the Home Office. "That's just not good enough. Giving someone a caution should not be a way of scoring an easy win in the case closed league table. "No wonder young offenders think they can get away with it. That must become a thing of the past."

Despite claiming that there has been an overall fall in the number of people caught carrying knives and that those found guilty of possessing knives were receiving longer sentences the Government has been unable to support this with official figures. The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith apologised to Parliament two months ago for the premature release of data suggesting that police were making headway against knife crime.

In October last year, the Home Office was forced to admit that serious violent crime is much worse than they had been claiming because police forces had been failing to record offences properly. A Home Office spokeswoman said: "As the Home Secretary announced last year, anyone over the age of 16 caught carrying a knife should expect to be prosecuted. Those using knives can expect to go to prison."



Britain's efforts to cut carbon emissions have been hampered by government infighting and a reluctance to stand up to industry, according to the UK's former climate change minister. Elliot Morley, head of the new energy and climate change select committee, said tensions between different government departments had undermined moves to cut greenhouse gas pollution. Policies to cut carbon and help the environment were dismissed inside Whitehall as "idealistic and not giving enough attention to the pragmatic needs of industry", he said.

In an interview with the Guardian, Morley, a minister in the environment department Defra from 2003 to 2006, said: "I think there has been a failure to get complete cross-government buy-in." He added: "Defra did its best, but unless you get action from all the other ministries including the Treasury, you're never going to get anywhere." Crucial changes to building standards to make homes more energy efficient were delayed because of industry lobbying, he said.

Last year's government restructure to form a new Department of Energy and Climate Change will make a "huge difference" but will not solve the problem. "No one department is going to be able to deliver the kind of change that we need."

He said government squabbling had derailed efforts to reduce UK carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2010 - a key Labour target from the 1997 manifesto which ministers have admitted they will miss. Carbon dioxide emissions have risen by 0.3% since Labour came to power, though Britain remains on track to meet a separate greenhouse gas target under the Kyoto protocol.

"It came down to this argument about the costs to industry, which is what the energy people thought was their priority," Morley said. "Defra would sometimes be presented as a department that was too idealistic and not giving enough attention to the pragmatic needs of industry."

Morley praised the UK's "ground breaking" climate change bill, which commits the government to binding carbon reduction targets, but said there had been significant failures elsewhere. "Why on earth are we still building hospitals without combined heat and power? The answer is the tendering process and the private finance initiative."

He said it was "impossible to say" if he lost his ministerial role because of his doubts over on nuclear power. He is "sceptical" that nuclear can deliver more power than renewables for the same cost.


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