Friday, 4 November 2011

I Hate Susan Adele Greenfield

With A Vengeance

I think I've despised her since puberty. Mine, not hers. Which was of course some decades ago, and it certainly feels so long, and the hatred so matured, since first I saw her interviewed on some godforsakenly neurological or psychological subject or another. In an age of great expositors, of scientific enlightenment and the engagement of the public, of TV with James Burke, Jacob Bronowski, Carl Sagan, Patrick Moore, Nigel Calder... it seemed perfectly clear to me, from my viewpoint of almost complete ignorance of the subject, that she was winging it. Faking it. Had absolutely no clue what she was talking about. Was doing nothing more than trot off her own personal preconceptions and prejudices, representing these as scientific fact. Cod philosophy claptrap about consciousness and identity.

Now I am delighted to discover that all this time, almost everyone else with an opinion about her has been quietly in agreement with mine. Quietly, because she seems also to be one ferociously litigious bitch.

Recently sacked - sorry, wishful thinking there - recently made redundant (January 2010) from her job as Director of the Royal Institution, for having driven that esteemed charity into a £3M debt crisis and near bankruptcy with her ineffective £22M renovation of its still unpopular Albemarle Street wine bar, her response was to sue the world's oldest independent research body for supposed "sex discrimination". And win an out-of-court settlement, what's worse. At least the lawyers had the decency to prevent her blabbing about it, otherwise she might have continued badmouthing the Institution's venerated custodians to this day, milking it for publicity - she has just written her first novel, you see. Appropriately enough, given her press profile (see below), it's a work of fiction about the effects of technology on the mind.

In fact, the abolition of the post of Director was the only legal means anyone could find of getting rid of her. So if you grew up as I did, watching faithfully each year's Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, and if you wondered why at the turn of the millennium they took a swerve from their rightful home on BBC Two, wandering aimlessly and destitute through Channel 4, Channel Five, More4 and BBC Four, begging for commercial scraps while their resources and their scale, if not their scope, dwindled; well, now you know precisely whose catastrophic mismanagement was to blame for their woes.

Retractable Roof and Patio

Greenfield sold off the institution's entire £15m Mayfair property portfolio to raise funds. At the same time as the wine bar fiasco, a flat she used was refurbished with a retractable roof and patio. She got her arse kicked out of that: "The flat only came with the post," said an RI representative, "[and] she is no longer in the post, so it would be inappropriate if she used it." To her credit perhaps, she did not even try to defend herself at the time, saying only "Redundancy is supposed to be about the post, not the person. So my personal performance should not be relevant." A resolution proposed by her supporters that would have led to the replacement of the RI's council, paving the way for her return as director, was defeated by an overwhelming margin. On BBC Radio 4's Today programme she squirmed: "I was charge of the organisation and I was the person who had the vision. The financial decisions were collective." Last August she told the London Evening Standard's Sophie Goodchild, her epitaph would be “She knew herself, and had a laugh.”

Yet for me, the worst slight of all is that the bogie herself presented the Institution's 1994 lectures. This was in my view an unspeakable act of scientific and cultural vandalism, to daub her all-cursed name on so pristine a list stretching back to Michael Faraday (pictured), their 1825 initiator. A list containing too my contemporary heroes of science and technology: Desmond Morris, Bernard Lovell, Eric Laithwaite, Richard L Gregory, George Porter, John Napier, David Attenborough, Heinz Wolff, Carl Sagan, Lewis Wolpert, Richard Dawkins and Ian Stewart, to name only some of the presenters I've personally enjoyed over the years.

The Greenfield and her demented slobbering have naturally had a well documented exposure in the gullible press. She has been responsible for a rash of scare stories spouting baseless drivel about the dangers of the Internet and video games, like the Daily Mail's Social websites harm children's brains: chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist or Computer games leave children with 'dementia' warns top neurologist, or the Telegraph's Baroness Susan Greenfield: society should wake up to harmful effects of internet or Computers could be fuelling obesity crisis, says Baroness Susan Greenfield. Serious claims, backed up by absolutely no published research.

Hypocrisy and Fraud

Why then does she promote these "harmful" games for her own personal financial gain? That reeks not merely of a Carol Vorderman-like level of hypocrisy, but of fraud. For example, out of three studies that she claims prove the £88 game MindFit improves mental abilities, two had "basic design flaws" (no control group, the most fundamental scientific defect of all), while the third failed to show the game was any more effective a mental stimulation than playing Tetris. Maybe she's not actually a scientist at all. Writing in The Guardian, Doctor Ben Goldacre has wondered why she has never formally written up and published her claims of imagined technological harm, with evidence to back them, rather than continuing to use the media as a platform for her pet hypotheses on technology's evils:
Baroness Greenfield has a theory that computers – which are extremely widespread – pose a serious environmental hazard to children. She therefore has a clear duty to her peers, and more importantly to the public, to present this theory clearly and formally in an academic journal, with the evidence, so that her scientific peers can assess the threat.
Greenfield's response was to liken Goldacre to certain epidemiologists who denied that smoking causes cancer. "That seems to me to be simply offensive, and unhelpful", he comments. Sounds to me more like the raving of some mad third world dictator, than the output you'd expect from our most eminent female scientist. But I think Ben, who has had her in his telescopic sights for some time, dealt her a killer blow today, when on his primary blog Bad Science he asked again, this time getting both slashdotted and echoed on Boing Boing:
Why, in over 5 years of appearing in the media raising these grave worries, has Professor Greenfield of Oxford University never simply published the claims in an academic paper?
Which reminds me, Ben's on QI tonight, so I'll have to curtail my torrential diatribe at this point. Baroness Greenfield: in my humble opinion, you are a disgrace to your profession, to science, to neuroscience and pharmacology, to writing, and to broadcasting; an embarrassment to the peerage; an ugly carbuncle upon the arse of the British Empire; and a poisonous force for evil, ignorance, and prejudice in our world. Either STFU, or DIAF.

Pictures of Greenfield and Faraday courtesy of Wikipedia.

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