Oxford academic and peer faces criticism for Internet “scaremongering”

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A Labour peer and Oxford University academic has been criticised for “misleading” claims about the effects of children’s Internet use.

Baroness Susan Greenfield has often spoken publicly about the dangers of technology. In a 2009 speech in the House of Lords she speculated that computer use might be linked to ADHD, argued that it was “worth considering” the possibility of a link between autism and “spending time in screen relationships”, and concluded that “the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity”. More recently, her book Mind Change drew connections between social media use and the development of “autistic-like traits”.

But three of her academic colleagues have taken to the pages of the British Medical Journal to criticise both her views and her use of her “media profile” to exert “an exaggerated impact on public debate”.

In their opinion piece, Professor Dorothy Bishop and Dr Andrew Przybylski of Oxford, and Dr Vaughan Bell of University College London, point to a lack of peer reviewed evidence to substantiate Baroness Greenfield’s claims.

Through appearances, interviews and a recent book, Susan Greenfield has promoted the idea that internet use and computer games can have harmful effects on the brain, emotions and behaviour.

Despite repeated calls for her to publish these claims in the peer reviewed scientific literature, where clinical researchers can check how well they are supported by evidence this has not happened.

Notably Greenfield has speculated that online interaction might be a trigger for autism or autistic-like traits. This claim has no basis in scientific evidence and is entirely implausible in light of what we know of autism as a neurodevelopmental condition that can be first diagnosed in the preschool years.

Her claims are misleading to the public, unhelpful to parents and potentially stigmatising to people with autism.

For more information, see: Oxford academics at war over dangers of the internet – The Telegraph

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