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Is the Internet Rewiring our Brains?

I’ve written before about the influence of Internet use on our brain functions:

» Digital Overload
» Is Google Making us Stoopid

The BBC now adds to the debate with an upcoming episode of their documentary series The Virtual Revolution. The Telegraph has done a piece on it:

» Students brains ‘rewired’ by the internet.

An excerpt:

“Documentary presenter and social psychologist Dr Aleks Krotoski said: ‘It seems pretty clear that, for good or ill, the younger generation is being remoulded by the web.

‘Facebook’s feedback loops are revolutionising how they relate.

‘There is empirical evidence now that information overload and associative thinking may be reshaping how they think.’”

I still haven’t made up my mind whether time spent online is good or bad for me. I do sometimes have difficulty with concentrating on large pieces of text. But whether this is because my brain function has been affected by time spent online, or the text in question is just mind-destroyingly boring, I can’t say. A bit of both, perhaps.

And if the Internet is rewiring my brain, I’m doomed anyway. My whole career is based online, and I like it too much to change tracks and do something offline.

World, Meet Your Browser

You know, I really want to distrust Google. They’re so pervasive and omniscient, I would really love to see them as the Big Bad Bully of the internet world.

But they keep doing these superb things that make it very hard to conjure even a mild dislike for them. They shower web geeks like me with free tools such as Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Website Optimizer, Conversion Optimizer, Internet Stats, and so much more…. And all for free!

Today Google launched a website aimed not at technophiliac internet addicts like yours truly, but at every day users. You know, people who don’t know what SEO means, how to change the homepage of their browser, or even know what a browser is:

This is undoubtedly part of their insidious masterplan to rule the world, but if this is how they plan to rule it, I say let them!

Beware the spinal trap

In support of Simon Singh in the libel case against him, many blogs and websites are reposting his April 2008 anti-chiropractic Guardian article “Beware the spinal trap”. This blog is one of them:


Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that ’99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae’. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: ‘Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.’

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher. If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.


Please sign the statement to keep libel laws out of science.

Here Be Dragons

Brian Dunning from Skeptoid put together a great 40-minute video that serves as “an introduction to critical thinking”, as the video’s subtitle goes. It’s a great video but be warned: it’ll probably confront you with some superstition or pseudo-scientific belief of your own. Not even the sturdiest skeptics are immune to expertly wielded logical fallacies.

IMS Masterclass

Early this week the second segment of the Internet Marketing Strategy masterclass at Nyenrode was held. I was once again privileged enough to be there. This masterclass is turning out to be a superb, inspiring training that is not only providing me with lots of great ideas, but also offers some valuable tools for me to take discussions in my work environment about internet strategy to the next level.

Like the first segment, the second segment was graced with several special guest presenters. In the first segment we had the honor of welcoming Marjolijn Kamphuis (MTV Networks) and Yuri van Geest (Mobile Monday) among others, and this week our special guests were Roland van der Vorst (THEY) and Pim Betist (SellaBand). All presentations were packed full of wonderful ideas and inspiring moments.

Below is the presentation from Marjolijn about user generated content.

What do you make?

After googling the fellow in a recent post of Ren’s, I came across this little gem:

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  • Filed under: education, video
  • ‘Intelligent’ Design

    Is anyone else thoroughly amused by the ongoing Intelligent Design debate in the US? I say let them teach that crap in public schools, it will only help make American kids more ignorant, giving them a greater disadvantage on the world’s scientific podium. In due time the US will cease to be the world’s inventor and will turn into an uneducated backwater nation that depends on other countries to provide them with cutting-edge technology to survive.

    So let’s hear it for Intelligent Design, the true mark of America’s educational decline.

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     Adamus
    Adamus is the online identity of Barry Adams. A Dutchman living in Northern Ireland, Barry / Adamus is an internet fanatic, skeptic, technophile, gamer, and geek.

    On this personal blog he provides his unpolished view of the world and its insanities.

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