13/09/2011

All I can do...

A couple of years ago, Rachel Cohen-Ruttenberg wrote on her blog about Simon Baron-Cohen's claims regarding empathy and autism. You're wrong, she said. Autistic people do have empathy. In fact, they very often have too much, which leads to a sort of paralysis of response. What do you do when the outside world is seeping through every pore of your being? You just close down. Now, Rachel know what she's talking about: she's autistic herself. Also, her argument has the merit of making sense, whereas SBC's arguments only really hang together because they tie with well accepted cultural stereoptypes, such as: boys like cars and don't communicate. Girls like dolls and talk all the time.

But Simon Baron-Cohen is not a snob, no, not he. So he agreed not only to read Rachel's post, but to respond to it as a guest poster in a blog.

Unfortunately, as he is a scientist, his hands were somewhat tied. All the poor man can do is 'look at the evidence'. And that evidence points clearly in the opposite direction of Rachel's own experience or that of other autistic people writing for her blog "Autism and Empathy".

And that evidence is first rate: SBC has asked a lot of autistic people, non autistic people and their parents to fill in a questionaire, asking them how empathic they are! This questionaire even has a proper scientific name: the AQ for autism quotient. And the you can find it on the web to find out if you are autistic.

So sorry Rachel and every one else: we simply cannot disregard this evidence.

2 comments:

Lindsay said...

It's nice that he read her post, but he only seems to engage with part of it in his response.

He acknowledges what she says about her experiences --- and the experiences of every other autistic person she knows --- not matching up with the high-systemizing/low-empathizing model, but instead of thinking about how his model might be limited, and how to design experiments that get at more of the nuances of autistic cognition, he just draws an epistemological line in the sand. "Those are your anecdotal experiences; these are my empirical data. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree."

Sandrine said...

I would add that he's being horribly patronizing in doing so. And a bit deceitful too: no scientist just looks at the evidence. There's always going to be some theorizing to make sense of the evidence, and to design the experiments. Have you read anything by Cordelia Fine? She's great at putting SBC down a notch or two...

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