Monday, July 13, 2009

Repeat after me: the title "Doctor" does not make me a physician

So, I preordered Tyler Cowen's new book, and started reading it last night. The basic principle of the book, as I see it, is that the cognitive methods of autistic people make them well-suited to the emerging information economy. It's an interesting idea, and I can see the point he's making, and also the point (made by others) that autism is not an on-off thing, but rather a spectrum. But he enthuses a little too much, it seems to me - autistics, to his mind, seem to not merely be "not disabled" but practically ubermensch, the cognitive giants on whose shoulders the future will rest.

But it's his own self-identification with them leaves a sour taste for me. How would you react to someone who said to you,
"Hi, I spend all day every day sitting down. My chair has wheels on it. I have therefore diagnosed myself as paraplegic. Although I am a popular author and tenured professor, presumably with decent health care and income, I have not had an actual medical professional confirm my self-diagnosis. Having invested so much time and energy into researching and enthusing about paraplegia, it would be a shame to turn out to not be paraplegic. Did you know, lots of people through history were probably secretly paraplegics? (For example: There are lots of pictures of Jesus being carried around by other, bigger people or propped up on inanimate objects so that he didn't have to use his feet. Seems conclusive to me.) And now I'm going to tell you, as a paraplegic myself, that life as a paraplegic is not nearly as bad as everyone thinks. For one thing, we can walk."

OK, maybe I'm laying it on a bit thick. He's done his homework, and Temple Grandin apparently was happy with the book. And it is honestly an interesting read. But seriously, the first dozen or so pages would have been immensely improved by the line, "I consulted a medical professional, who confirmed the diagnosis of Asperger's." Instead, his narrative sounds like someone suggested he might have it, he researched it, and thought it was awesome.

Anyway, still reading (it really is a good book, snark aside, and his actual research-based points on the nature of autism and Asperger's are important and interesting) so I'll have to post later once I have something more concretely positive to say.

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