A review of Susan Greenfield’s “Mind Change”

I was asked to write a review of Susan Greenfield’s new book “Mind Change” for the October edition of Literary Review magazine which has just been published.

You can read the review in the print edition and I did have the full text posted here but the good folks at the magazine have also put it online to read in full, so do check it out at the link below.

Mind Change marshals many published sources to address these claims. However, this provides little scientific insight owing to Greenfield’s difficulty with synthesising the evidence in any meaningful sense, while she also makes some glaring mistakes in her interpretation of it. Although she makes much of her use of peer-reviewed evidence, surveys done by companies for marketing campaigns are often given the same weight as scientific studies and opinions from self-appointed pundits as those of specialists.

As an end-note, what’s most interesting is that Greenfield is essentially making an argument about public health but doesn’t really have the conceptual tools to do so and consequently doesn’t seem to understand how, and how strongly, to draw real world inferences from different types of evidence.

However, in terms of Greenfield’s evolution, she is at least tackling some of the relevant evidence, but this really isn’t up to a standard that merits any of the media attention it gets.

Link to review of “Mind Change”.

8 thoughts on “A review of Susan Greenfield’s “Mind Change””

  1. Hi there Vaughn and Tom,

    I have been an avid reader of the contents of Mind Hacks for the last few years, and enjoyably so. You provide a critical perspective in an age where pop culture media blow psychological and neuropsychological findings way out of proportion. I was curious as to your thoughts on the book “Suspicious Minds: How Culture Shapes Madness,” by Ian and Joel Gold ( http://www.amazon.ca/Suspicious-Minds-Culture-Shapes-Madness/dp/1439181551)

    May your light shine bright,


  2. A very restrained review. I would’ve observed that she seeks to nurture hatred, as well as to be controversial. She writes for the Daily Mail, after all.

  3. Great review.

    The argument about staring at the screen instead of holding someone’s hand makes me cringe. In part it’s because some of my fondest childhood memories involve spending time with my cousins… by playing console games or visiting gaming arcades.

    But also because I recently read Steven Pinker’s books on the history of violence – including a brief history of children’s games throughout time. Someone should tell Susan Greenfield that the sort of entertainment boys found for themselves throughout history in the pre-digital idea was pretty far from holding hands and breathing in sea air.

  4. I can’t help but wonder why the science-community vitriol towards this one woman. She’s certainly not the only scientist perpetuating the unsupported idea that video games are harmful, and though she may be the most high profile person, most of the time the science blogging community goes after dumb ideas instead of obsessing on one particular scientist. Then again outspoken women in male-dominated careers are often treated this way.

    1. I’m sorry, Emmy. I see your point, but Ms Greenfield has the very unscientific habit of duping her audience by telling the truth in a way that her audience won’t or can’t notice. For example, she once wrote in the Daily Mail that smoking one spliff causes permanent physical changes in the brain. Had she mentioned that simply laying down a new memory (for example) also causes such changes, I wouldn’t have a problem. By not placing her statement in context, she (knowingly?) alarmed and misinformed her audience. No high-profile ‘champion of science’ should be allowed to get away with such conduct, regardless of gender.

      1. It may be the perfect storm of timing, the topic, awareness of neuroscience issues and the press she gets for her recent publications. However, my point stands that there’s a hostile undercurrent of sexism towards female scientists and politicians right now, much of it directed towards her instead of the other male researchers making fools of themselves over this topic.

  5. ” there’s a hostile undercurrent of sexism towards female scientists and politicians” This is true, I think, and should be opposed by all right-minded British citizens. But Ms Greenfield makes demonstrably misleading and incorrect claims, and others do too. All of them should be challenged, regardless of gender. There are two issues intertwined here. Both are genuine, and both should be addressed.

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