Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The real Phineas Gage?

This Slate article is worth a read. Gage may not have been the man we make him out to be. Take home lesson: don't believe what you read in textbooks or review articles, especially if there is strong consensus. Question everything and check original sources for yourself.

1 comment:

jsmagnuson said...

I didn't actually find the Slate piece very illuminating, and has a really distasteful "look how scientists hide the truth to protect their own views" slant. I have never had the impression that any sources, including textbooks I've used (e.g., Gazzaniga's Cognitive Neuroscience), overstate or sensationalize the case in the egregious way the Slate article claims. Details of changes in Gage's behavior were corroborated by multiple sources. Clearly, executive function and affective control were altered by the accident, and his life was much less stable after the accident. His job as a carriage driver in Chile makes one think, but of course, we don't know if he already knew how to drive before the accident. If we suddenly learned he was able to (still) play a violin or (still) play a game like tennis after the accident, this would not require the complete reconceptualization the author and his source suggest is needed. Contra the cherry-picked quotes in the article, Damasio's book is actually very detailed, uses extensive quotes from primary sources -- and explicitly indicates when he takes "scientific license" ("While they wait, I imagine, he says..."). If we suddenly learned that those who knew Gage best reported a complete recovery and doctors and scientists had suppressed that information, well, that would be news.