Reading this will affect your brain

Baroness Susan Greenfield has been spouting off some bad neuroscience, I'm afraid. She's on an anti-social-networking-software, anti-computer-games, anti-computer crusade that sounds a bit familiar — it's just like the anti-TV tirades I've heard for 40-some years — and a little bit new — computers are bad because they are "changing the workings of the brain". Ooooh.

But to put that in perspective, the brain is a plastic organ that is supposed to rewire itself in response to experience. It's what they do. The alternative is to have a fixed reaction pattern that doesn't improve itself, which would be far worse. Greenfield is throwing around neuroscientific jargon to scare people.

So yes, using computers all the time and chatting in the comments sections of weird web sites will modify the circuitry of the brain and have consequences that will affect the way you think. Maybe I should put a disclaimer on the text boxes on this site. However, there are events that will scramble your brains even more: for example, falling in love. I don't want to imagine the frantic rewiring that has to go on inside your head in response to that, or the way it can change the way you see the entire rest of the world, for good or bad, for the whole of your life.

Or, for an even more sweeping event that had distinct evolutionary consequences, look at the effect of changing from a hunter-gatherer mode of existence, to an agrarian/urban and modern way of life. We get less exercise because of that, suffer from near-sightedness, increased the incidence of infectious disease, and warped our whole pattern of activity in radical ways. Not only do neural pathways have to develop in different ways to cope with different environments, but there was almost certainly selection for urban-compatible brains—people have died of the effects of that shift. Will Baroness Greenfield give up her book-writin', lecturin' ways to fire-harden a pointy stick, don a burlap bag, and dedicate her life to hunting rabbits?

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The alternative is to have a fixed reaction pattern that doesn't improve itself

You mean like Greenfield?

Hey, how about setting up a chat room? I find that changes my brain much more than reading or posting comments. It's more addictive. It's bloody hard to find intelligent people to chat with. Even your creationists are above average.

Maybe chat decreases the average level of brain function, though . . .

By Invigilator (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Although, to give TV people some credit, some studies in the '70s did show it increased the risk of ADD if you watched a lot of it while you were young. But in general, I agree.

And on that subject, my father had a really old book called Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander (seriously, that was his name). Out of the four, three were rather crackpotish, the only one not (in my opinion) an argument of what TV will always be used for: advertising.

By nixscripter (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

She should not dedicate her life to hunting rabbits. Indeed, nobody should ever hunt, harm, or tease rabbits. Rabbits should only be loved and hugged and fed and kept warm and safe and free to love and lust and achieve their dreams of fluffy happiness and prosperity.

By Naked Bunny wi… (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

"It's unnatural, in my view, sah. Not in favour of unnatural things."
"You mean you eat your food raw and sleep in a tree?"

Hey, how about setting up a chat room?

Anyone ever use that IRC chatroom???

So yes, using computers all the time and chatting in the comments sections of weird web sites will modify the circuitry of the brain and have consequences that will affect the way you think.

Are you sure? Why would it? Why cant it just,say,train my brain to interact,think,learn,inspire me,like a walk through the local botanical garden or the next travel overseas,or the next good book might do?

By Rorschach (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

My brain is so warped that if it bent any further I'd be normal.

I've often wondered what people who go on this type of "crusade"
intend to do.

One could make the argument that we are too smart for our own good, but not smart enough to know it, but stating odd generalities like computers are messing up the wiring of our brains is not the way to get people to take your side.

Furthermore, I do agree with the points made in the article (other things affect our Brains in more drastic ways).

By Dan E. Stelle (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

SC,OM "Look to the left! :)"

I looked to the left and found the Random Quote from an 1985 essay by Salam Rushdie. A little googling and I found that the essay is included in Rushdie's "Imaginary Homelands" a collection of essays and other writing.

Not being familiar with his writings, it looks like i will have to start reading him.

I just hope that reading Rushie won't start "changing the workings of the brain" in me!

WARNING: Exercise may cause lasting changes to your physique.

By Jafafa Hots (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Perhaps she can't understand computers and social networking sites and is too old to learn.

Would that excuse work in a Court of Law? "Sorry, M'lud, I'm guilty but insane, my brain having been irretrievably warped by daily exposure to Pharyngula."

By Happy Tentacles (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

You mean like Greenfield?

I read this as 'Garfield', which is appropriate.

She's a Ladybaron.
Now that's what I call unnatural.

(Go on, give us a feel of yer ermine, luv).

By dustbubble (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Feh, wait 'til I upload my consciousness into a computer. How's THAT for changing the workings of the brain?

Michael Faraday must be turning in his grave.

Pseudoscience and media go hand in hand. I'm reminded of Herr Doktor Fredric Wertham, who helped spark off the anti-comics crusade -- based on "studies" that were largely vigorous assertion and pop psychology. And then there were the anti-rock and roll psychologists, anti video game psychologists, etc. All following their fearless forbear Sigmund Freud's strategy of "make stuff up and shout it loudly and people will believe it."

In this case she seems to be a cheap fraud, too. "...I just happen to sell a product that alleviates this problem." Oh, well. Her victims will get what they deserve, even if she doesn't.

and another thing

Not only do neural pathways have to develop in different ways to cope with different environments, but there was almost certainly selection for urban-compatible brains—people have died of the effects of that shift.

As anyone who commutes by car can testify, regrettably.

Dyslexia, dyspraxia and red/green colourblindness, for starters, are some of the things that might make driving rather more tricky than it ought to be. In a horribly unfair way, of course.

Not normally problem if your "nature" dictates that your real job is (for instance) poking large herbivores with sticks until they give up, or ambushing shellfish.

By dustbubble (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I'd rather have my brain scrambled by Pharyngula than by love (at least if the small emotions my small heart has bothered me with are anything to go by).

What is the evolutionary explenation for myopia? I didn't realise there was one. I just had to get new specs again last year. I thought I was old enough that those damn eyes'd have stopped changing. (At least they're equally bad now.)

http://ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/fail…

Interesting.

Not terribly surprising, though. Neither herbicide-resistant corn nor herbicide-resistant soy nor insect-resistant corn are even meant to increase potential yields, and the approaching of the real to the potential yield must really be practically maxed out by now, in modern industrial farming with all its fertilizers and pesticides. All that really still has an influence on the real yield, I suppose, is the weather, or should I say the climate.

By David Marjanović, OM (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I thought I was old enough that those damn eyes'd have stopped changing.

They never stop changing, they just change slower. And don't forget the loss of elasticity of the lens with age, so you will need bi/trifocals down the line (I just got trifocals).

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Not terribly surprising, though. Neither herbicide-resistant corn nor herbicide-resistant soy nor insect-resistant corn are even meant to increase potential yields,

They're meant to increase operational yields, and the report argues that they have not been successful in doing so. (It points out that potential yields have been greatly improved through traditional breeding techniques, while GE hasn't been successful in this area and additionally offers problematic aspects.)

and the approaching of the real to the potential yield must really be practically maxed out by now, in modern industrial farming with all its fertilizers and pesticides. All that really still has an influence on the real yield, I suppose, is the weather, or should I say the climate.

I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Did you read the actual report at the link there?

http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/failure-to-…

The discussion of organic and agro-ecological methods, comparative yield improvements, and public policy (especially with regard to agriculture in poor countries)?

[Sorry - I'm off to see MAJeff (yay!), so can't comment more till later/tomorrow.]

Ben Goldacre's weekly "Bad Science" column in today's edition of the Guardian newspaper was devoted to Susan Greenfield's excursion into pseudoscience:

http://www.badscience.net/2009/05/professor-baroness-susan-greenfield-c…

He points out that only a couple of years ago, she was a shill for a computer game called MindFit which purported to make you smarter.

He concludes:

Let us be clear. It is possible that much of the Baroness’s output on this topic is speculative flim flam, dressed up in an unnecessarily expensive and sciencey “gloss”. And perhaps it is dangerous and unhelpful for one of our most prominent science communicators, whose stated aim is to improve the public’s understanding of science, to appear repeatedly in the media making wild headline-grabbing claims, with minimal evidence, all the while telling us repeatedly that they are a scientist.

By David Harper (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

One can only assume that the Baronette would also object to my habit of reading whilst watching TV. [I was a radio baby; I hardly ever watch a show, so reading with the eyes and listening with the ears works. I do look up on occasion, I admit, but seldom for more than a minute or two.] Oh, and talking to my sweetie in interstitial moments. Not to mention the cat on my shoulder grooming my hair. All that brain-changing stuff happening at once<?i>!!

Her implication that computer use might be a cause of autism makes no sense whatsoever - most children are diagnosed long before they come near a computer. Might as well blame radio waves from the baby-monitor or fetal ultrasounds. My Offspring played Sesame Street games when he was two; the only effect was to boost him to second-grade maths level in kindergarten.

By DominEditrix (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Professor Myers, once again I am obliged to correct your use of British titles. She is not "Baroness Susan Greenfield". Unlike "Sir" or "Dame", peerage titles cannot be used before the first name.

Rather, she is just Baroness Greenfield (or, in full, The Right Honourable Susan Greenfield, the Baroness Greenfield).

She may be an idiot (I don't know, I've never heard of her before), but please, please, please get the title right. It's horrifically painful when Americans screw up British titles; and since you're a well-known and respected blogger, many people will read this and assume your usage is correct - thereby contributing to the vast number of people in the world who have an erroneous understanding of the correct styles and forms of address for members of the British peerage.

Think about how you feel when you see public figures repeating common misconceptions about evolutionary biology, therefore inadvertently spreading misinformation. That's how I feel when I see public figures getting British titles muddled up.

They never stop changing, they just change slower. And don't forget the loss of elasticity of the lens with age, so you will need bi/trifocals down the line (I just got trifocals).

Well, .75 diopter over two years isn't slow to me. I've had years without any change before that.

And please don't make me think of more expenses.

To clarify, for the avoidance of any doubt:

Knighthoods, damehoods and baronetcies are used before the first name: "Sir John Smith" or "Dame Jane Smith".

However, peerage titles are used before the last name only; so if John Smith becomes a Baron, he becomes, in full, "the Right Honourable John Smith, the Baron Smith of X in the county of Y", and should be referred to in normal speech as either "Lord Smith" or "Baron Smith" (both are correct).

Likewise, Susan Greenfield, when she received a life peerage, became "the Right Honourable Susan Greenfield, the Baroness Greenfield of Otmoor in the County of Oxfordshire", and should be referred to in normal speech merely as "Baroness Greenfield". (The style "Lady Greenfield" would be correct only if she were the wife of a substantive peer; as she is a suo jure peeress, "Baroness Greenfield" is the only acceptable style.)

Sorry to be pedantic. But it's a field I find absolutely fascinating, and it frustrates me when people get it wrong.

She's hit upon a problem that isn't new.

By The Dark Avenger (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

There are those for whom if would be nice if reading this blog could effect a brain.

By Don Smith, FCD (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

That the Templeton can fling about multi-million dollar grants is one of the great injustices of the world that convinces me that there is no god.

From Dr. DitchDawkins's link:

In January 2005 the US-based John Templeton Foundation gave a $2,000,000 research grant for Susan to form the Oxford Centre for Science of the Mind which is dedicated to cutting-edge interdisciplinary work drawing on pharmacology, human anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, theology and philosophy.

uh..."theology"?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WhuikFY1Pg

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Sven-

Hilarious.

I'm saving that link. It's the perfect reply to anyone mixing theology with science.

Walton, what about people who ideologically opposed to such titles?

What about the Welsh AM Leanne Wood, who was made to leave the Assembly chamber because she called the Queen "Mrs Windsor"?

By Alex Deam (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Almost on topic: Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf.
The author is a professor at Tufts University in
Boston. As a minor side note in a book which is mainly
about how literacy changed the structure of the brain,
she expresses some doubt about the value of automatically
googling everything. Hypertext causes the wrong sort of
reading, in her opinion. Well, maybe.

By Katorcey Keensit (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

You want to change your brain? Try playing Guitar Hero. ;-)

The last line of your post reminded me (for obvious reasons if you know the story) of the ending of Battlestar Gallactica.

And PZ@37: Mine is Bill Gates, and how people insist on crediting him with being a programmer or a businessman, neither of which are true.

What about the Welsh AM Leanne Wood, who was made to leave the Assembly chamber because she called the Queen "Mrs Windsor"?

Obviously Ms. Wood is wrong to call HM The Queen "Mrs. Windsor." HM is married to HRH Prince Phillip Mountbatten. So Ms. Wood should have referred to The Queen as "Mrs. Mountbatten."

Sorry to be pedantic. But it's a field I find absolutely banal, and I don't really care if people get it wrong.

By 'Tis Himself (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Oh No!

My neurotransmiters are at it again in my synaptic clefts!

They are binding to receptors!

Look out!

Here comes.....

...a thought!

By NewEnglandBob (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Will Baroness Greenfield give up her book-writin', lecturin' ways to fire-harden a pointy stick, don a burlap bag, and dedicate her life to hunting rabbits?

Two thoughts. You may just be projecting an all too real situation for many should the current economic condition not vastly improve soon.

And if that does end up being the case, I will start promoting you as a true prophet. Every sentence in your post will be numbered for cross reference and the last paragraph excerpted here will likely be referred to as the last quatrain in your post today.

Enjoy.

By The Tim Channel (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Walton, what about people who ideologically opposed to such titles?

Then they should feel free to ignore them completely; if you see fit, I have no problem with you calling her Professor, Dr, or Mrs Greenfield rather than Baroness Greenfield. Freedom of speech, and all that.

But what one shouldn't do is attempt to use a peerage title and get it wrong. Either call her Baroness Greenfield, or leave the title out altogether.

I really don't think that Professor Myers keeps mangling British titles as a form of political protest; I think he's doing it because he's an American, and most Americans (and a depressingly large number of Brits) simply have no idea how peerage titles work.

Opposition to televsion often seems to me to be little more than elitism

Exactly. That was what motivated the anti comic book crusaders, the anti rock-and-roll crusaders, the anti videogame crusaders, and so forth. Their whole premise is that some form of media is "better" than others; i.e.: they conveniently forget the ribald crowd-pleasers of Shakespeare's plays or the verbosity of Dumas or Cooper.

I believe "snot-headed assholes" is the term for them but I'm not up on my labelling.

he's an American, and most Americans (and a depressingly large number of Brits) simply have no idea how peerage titles work.

Speaking of the which, Walton, how did dinner with His Viscountness go?

By 'Tis Himself (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

HM is married to HRH Prince Phillip Mountbatten.

Eurgh. His title - as thirty seconds on Wikipedia would tell you - is HRH the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. For short, it is permissible to refer to him as "Prince Philip." Or, if you really desire to parade your anti-monarchist tendencies, call him "Mr Mountbatten" (or even "Admiral of the Fleet Mountbatten", which would also be correct).

But you cannot mix-and-match parts of someone's title and string them together however you like. That is simply not how it works. This is an ancient and noble field of endeavour which was in the process of being refined long before your country was a gleam in the Pilgrim Fathers' eyes. Getting it deliberately wrong - when it takes five minutes to learn how it works - is inexcusable, and it really depresses me that the vast majority of people don't seem to give a damn.

In case you couldn't tell, I'm deliberately being a little pompous. I'm not really this much of an arse in real life. :-)

Speaking of the which, Walton, how did dinner with His Viscountness go?

He's a very strange character. Incredibly intelligent and with an astonishing memory - he delivered his whole talk about climate science with no notes, since the Union failed to provide a projector. He can reel off facts and figures and studies that I could never remember. But I get the impression he's something of a conspiracy theorist, and he has some weird ideas.

*peeks at Walton's comment, smiles*

It's true, Walton. The vast majority of people do not give a damn about the conventionalized but arbitrary proper rules of reference to the British Peerage and Royalty. We really don't; even the tiny subset of us that is intelligent and educated. If I may, let me suggest reflection on just why it means so much to you.

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Obviously Ms. Wood is wrong to call HM The Queen "Mrs. Windsor." HM is married to HRH Prince Phillip Mountbatten. So Ms. Wood should have referred to The Queen as "Mrs. Mountbatten."

But, of course, they only adopted Mountbatten in 1917 because of anti-German sentiment during WW1; prior to that, they were Battenbergs, so “Frau Battenberg” is even better again :o)

By Emmet, OM (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

The creobots around are almost proud of there scientific ignorance, since it doesn't mean anything to them anyway, and I, at least, find that offensive.

Similarly, displaying ignorance about a system of titles that you don't care about is similarly offensive, not because of any offense given, but because it's offensive to see someone proud of their ignorance.

I'm an Aussie, those titles mean nothing to me, but Walton's right: avoid misuse lest you display your ignorance.

Do you really think that, here in the 21st Century, ignorance of science is equivalent to ignorance of arbitrary rules of proper usage for British peerage titles?

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

When IQ was going up (Flynn), Neisser's theory was that it was all the visual processing we have to do, parsing TV/movies/ads, etc.

I say "when" just because I think I saw a news item somewhere that IQ had stopped going up. If that's right, clearly it's because twittering is fighting web advertising for control of our brains.

14 Keensit:

That book (Proust... ), and her podcast with Ginger Campbell, are what
instantly came to my mind on reading this post. I haven't bothered
reading this particular Baroness, because she probably is an idiot, but
there is some evidence that current culture is changing at least the
developing brain (that is, a single maturing brain, not evolving over
generations) in ways that make humans less able to process long
and complex information streams, such as a novel, or even a long
journal article.

I've noticed this same change in myself, which is annoying, since I'm
trying to research how the brain works, but it is due to acute
brain injury and not to developmental change. If this is something
like the world will look to the next generation of kids, it's pretty
terrifying. I've gone from a voracious reader of 3-4 books/month
to only reading 3-4 books in the 2.5 years since my injury. I just
don't seem to "get" or enjoy long texts any more. I have some hope
for me, though, since I have a massive library, a wife who enjoys
reading, and memories of enjoying reading in the past.

I won't say that the short attention span generation will be the end of
complex thought and especially the communication of complex
thought, but I wonder. I'm certainly not complaining about general
changes in the brain, but this particular cultural change in the
developing brain is something from which I don't yet see many good
potential consequences.

By BubbaRich (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

nixscripter @ #4 wrote:

some studies in the '70s did show it increased the risk of ADD if you watched a lot of it while you were young.

Correlation is not causation.

I can think of several reasons watching a lot of TV might be correlated with ADHD other than the conclusion that you seem to have drawn: that the TV watching increases the risk of a child's developing ADHD.

Maybe kids with ADHD just enjoy the stimulation of TV more than their peers.

Maybe kids with ADHD have exhausted parents who find the TV as one of the few activity that will keep their ADHD children engaged long enough that the parent can do some chores around the home.

Maybe, since there appears to be a genetic component to ADHD, ADHD kids may have an ADHD parent who has difficulty organizing activities other than TV watching. The TV is fast, easy, and almost always available.

If there's an ADHD expert who is of the opinion that TV watching (or video gaming, which is also correlated with ADHD) causes, or increases the risk of developing, ADHD, I haven't come across him/her.

Maybe kids with ADHD have exhausted parents who find the TV as one of the few activity that will keep their ADHD children engaged long enough that the parent can do some chores around the home.

I can tell you my single mother probably subscribed to this for a while and I was and to some extent am ADHD but that is still cum hoc propter ergo hoc. I'm sure there are other reasons that feed into it.

make humans less able to process long and complex information streams, such as a novel, or even a long journal article.

Coincidentally, this occurs just at the moment in time when it is far less necessary and/or useful and/or important for humans to do those things. Do you think perhaps this is evidence of intelligent design?

Let's call her Baroness Rottenbrain.

I'm familiar with the urban thing; I think living in the city is like living in a roach colony - far too crowded and noisy with all those disease-laden people spreading their germs about. I'm all for more urban sprawl, living closer to your workplace, and reducing the population of the planet.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

(rolls eyes)

While it is always unwise to blame the tool rather than the tool maker---witness the standard gun nut's bumper sticker about what it is that kills people----I have to say that as a high school teacher, I am deeply troubled by the glaring differences between the kids I teach now and the kids I taught just ten years ago.

We are raising a generation that is experience-rich but relationship-poor. Text messaging and Facebook sites feed a powerful need in young people to connect to social groups, but they do so in an almost semi-anonymous way that tends to supplant, rather than supplement their ability to build real human relationships. These kids are getting wired up differently at a very early age, and I do not see the long-term consequences of this in a blase' light. Just as there may be a critical window for language development, there may be a critical window for certain kinds of social skills, and even if there isn't, the costs on me as an educator in dealing with increasing numbers of kids unable to directly communicate with each other is substantial.

Susan Greenfield has accepted a two million dollar grant from the Templeton Foundation.

Dr. Dawkins, as the link you provide explains, Greenfield did so in order to found a research program in neuroscience at Oxford. This program is described as 'multidisciplinary' and apparently includes non-scientists, including theologians. Some may find this last fact troubling, but I don't believe there are any strings attached from the Templeton Foundation as to what the outcome of the research program should be. I think it's worth noting that the Templeton people shelled out a lot of money for studies that showed prayer was ineffective.

That would seem at first to put egg on their face, the kind of result that ideologically-driven folk would attempt to suppress. They don't seem to want to do that. I see no evidence that the latter has taken place, or that Harvard Medical School or the other institutions that participated in the study were in any way coopted by a non-scientific agenda.

Dr. Dawkins, it strikes me as imprudent to conclude without evidence that Greenfield's Oxford group is any way coopted by accepting funding from the Templeton people. I suspect that it was not your intention to suggest otherwise, and I hope you will forgive my cheekiness for pointing out that your brief gloss within this post, within this particular forum, could be misread in this way.

If anyone knows anything about the doings of Greenfield's Oxford group that has a bearing on her claims as reported here, though, I'd love to hear about it.

I've found Greenfield's armwaving pabulum unimpressive in the past (we had here here in Adelaide as "thinker in residence" for a year), but gave her the benefit of the doubt given her impressive qualifications. No more! The abuse of priviledge cited in the link wrt promoting overpriced computer games and now the Templeton grant referred to above place her firmly in the ranks of the woolly brained. We often complain how poorly the media reports science, is it any wonder they err when self important pseudo intellectuals like this deliberately manipulate it in a tawdry attempt to further their own careers.

@echidna #54

"The creobots around are almost proud of there scientific ignorance, since it doesn't mean anything to them anyway, and I, at least, find that offensive."

I find the misuse of their, they're and there far more offensive than the misuse of inane epithets which serve no purpose save for the vanity of it's holder.

By SteveSteverson… (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

my heroes--the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis. Hubble has done more to debunk our knowledge of god than anything i can think of.

By genesgalore (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

Love certainly has changed my thinking a lot. "Frantic" really does seem like a good word. I notice other things; I focus differently; I react stronger to some things and weaker to other things.

I'm still a misanthrope, but people in general seem less important now. I have also obtained a sense of "plan" or "direction" that I didn't experience before.

I'm only nearly one year into the process, so I should still change further. I'm excited about how I'll be another three years from now.

By Svlad Cjelli (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

Emmet, OM #53

But, of course, they only adopted Mountbatten in 1917 because of anti-German sentiment during WW1; prior to that, they were Battenbergs

The way Admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg was hounded from office as First Sea Lord was disgusting. Battenberg was born in Austria, not Germany, and came to Britain before he was 14. He became an naturalized British citizen and joined the Royal Navy at 14. His career was eventful and rose steadily through the ranks almost in spite of having a title. He was a thorough, skilled, intelligent professional naval officer, as shown by his invention of the Battenberg Course Indicator. He was recommended for the post of First Sea Lord by Jackie Fisher, even though Battenberg was careful to stay out of the Fisher-Beresford feud and he was not a member of the Fish Pond. In December 1911, Louis did go to the Admiralty but as Second rather than First Sea Lord.

In 1912 the First Sea Lord, Sir Francis Bridgeman, retired due to poor health and Battenberg assumed the senior uniformed post. In that capacity, he was responsible to the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill for the readiness of the fleet and the preparation of naval strategy, as well as the development of a scheme for state insurance of merchant vessels in times of war, which was to prove essential in preventing prohibitive insurance rates that would have stifled British trade. On the eve of World War I Churchill and Battenberg made the crucial decision to cancel the scheduled dispersal of the fleet following practice maneuvers in order to preserve the Royal Navy's battle readiness.

At the outbreak of World War I, Lord Charles Beresford, resentful that Battenberg had the job that Beresford wanted quite desperately, inflamed anti-German prejudice so greatly that Battenberg was forced to resign. He spent the rest of the war in retirement, writing a book about medals and decorations. Beresford, much to his dismay, was not made First Sea Lord. Instead, his arch-rival Lord Fisher resumed the position.

Battenberg was a third cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm II (King George V was Wilhelm's first cousin). However Battenberg thoroughly disliked Wilhelm. As Churchill pointed out in a speech to the House of Commons, Battenberg was a Royal Naval officer before Germany existed as a country.

Battenberg died in 1921. His son, Louis Mountbatten, Earl of Burma, was also First Sea Lord. Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip, is Battenberg's grandson.

By 'Tis Himself (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

Walton,

The point of using a name is to identify someone. "Baroness Susan Greenfield" identifies Greenfield successfully. As it happens, I probably know how the British peerage system works almost as well as you do owing to a childhood fascination with such things - and I don't give a fuck if people get it wrong. It's not important. As someone said, you should reflect on why you do find it important. I think it tells us your "libertarianism" is probably a passing phase, and by the time you're 25, you'll be a "young fogey".

Greenfield undoubtedly has considerable scientific achievements to her credit, but her unscientific and tiresomely priggish interventions on drugs, computers etc. exhausted her credit balance some time ago.

By Knockgoats (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

#65
I find the misuse of their, they're and there far more offensive than the misuse of inane epithets which serve no purpose save for the vanity of it's holder.

The irony, it tickles.

Walton:

please, please, please get the title right

In that case, shouldn't it be The Right Honourable Professor The Baroness Greenfield CBE?

Don't take Walton as representative of the British in this respect. I don't know anyone who is as up tight as Walton about this pathetic anachronism.

Don't take Walton as representative of the British in this respect. I don't know anyone who is as up tight as Walton about this pathetic anachronism.

Damn straight.

By Alex Deam (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

As you rightly point out, PZ, neurological plasticity is one of the things that makes Homo Sapiens unique, and it is essential to our "advanced" behavior, achievements, etc. If she wants to bitch about that, she better go all the way back to when we sprouted big toes, began walking upright, narrowed our hips, and started giving birth to premature primates with thin, un-fused skulls.

The ignorance.