Problematic Professional: Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen

Simon Baron-Cohen is a cognitive neuroscientist and is a professor at Psychology and Psychiatry departments at the University of Cambridge and Fellow at Trinity College in Cambridge. He is the director of the Autism Research Center (ARC) in Cambridge, UK.

Baron-Cohen was born on August 15, 1958. He married Bridget Lindley, who was a family right4s lawyer. They met in Oxford in 1987. She had died from breast cancer in 2016. His children names are Sam Baron, Robin Lindley-Baron and Kate Lindley-Baron.

He received a BA degree in Human Sciences from New College in Oxford. He also holds a MPhil in Clinical Psychology from the Institute of Psychiatry from King’s College in London. He earned his PhD in Psychology from the University College London under the supervision of Uta Frith.

Baron-Cohen is the author of Mindblindness, The Essential Difference, Prenatal Testosterone in Mind , Zero Degrees of Empathy, Autism and Asperger Syndrome: The Facts, Mind Reading, and The Transporters. He has edited scholarly papers such as Understanding Other Minds.

Baron-Cohen has published over 600 peer reviewed scientific articles. They contributed to gendering autism and synesthesia research.

Three influential theories:

mind blindness theory of autism (1985)

Baron-Cohen presents this as a modem of evolution and development of mind reading. He says that typical people mindread all the time, effortlessly, automatically and mostly unconsciously. It is the natural way humans interpret, predict and participate in social behavior and communication.
He states that autistic children “suffer from mindblindless” as a result of selective impairment in mind reading. According to Baron-Cohen, autistic children see the word as devoid of mental things.
Baron-Cohen developed a theory that argues that specific neurocognitive mechanisms have evolved that allow people to mindread and make sense of a actions, to interpret gazes and meaningful and to decode “the language of the eyes.”
This theory has been disproven by this study:
For this study, Morton Ann Gernsbacker and Melanie Yergeau review empirical evidence that fails to support the claim that autistic people are uniquely impaired. It also fails to support the theory that all autistic people are universally impaired, on theory of mind tasks.
The researchers highlighted that seminal theory of mind findings have failed to replicate. They have documented many instances in which theory of mind tasks fail to predict autistic traits, social interaction and empathy. They summarized a large body of data, collected by researchers working outside the theory of mind rubric, that fail to support assertions made by researchers working inside the theory of mind rubric.
They concluded that the claim that autistic people lack a theory of mind is empirically questionable and societally harmful.

Prenatal sex steroid theory of autism (1997)

The theory states:
Autism affects more males than females. One candidate biological mechanism for this is prenatal sex steroid hormones. 
4 lines of evidence:
  1. Testing if testosterone, measured in the womb, is associated with autistic traits
  2. Testing if elevated prenatal sex steroid levels are associated with autism
  3. Testing if proxies of prenatal sex steroid levels in autistic people are also atypical
  4. Testing if post natal sex steroid hormones are elevated
This is where the theory of link of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is linked to autism. One thing he did not consider. PCOS is a common comorbidy among autistics. One feature of PCOS is elevated Testosterone. He took that fact and used it unethically.
Another fact that he failed to explore. AFAB autistics often miss being diagnosed as children or often misdiagnosed. Women are no less likely to be autistic, the majority present differently. Not saying all but a good majority do.
This is where Baron Cohen wants to develop a prenatal test for autism so the parents can have a choice to abort the autistic baby and therefore eliminating and preventing autism.
He takes it one step further. According to Baron-Cohen, men are more likely to major in math based programs in College. Using this statistic, he theorizes because in his mind autism is a male disability, the “autism gene” could help with math skills. If you are lost, it does not make any sense. You either want to eliminate autism or you want to use the autism gene. It cannot be both.

Empathizing systemizing theory of typical sex difference (2002)

The empathizing-systemizing (E-S) theory of typical sex differences suggest that individuals may be classified based on empathy and systemizing. An extension of the E-S theory, the extreme male brain theory, suggests that autistic people on average have a shift towards a more masculinized brain along the E-S dimensions. Both theories have been investigated in small sample sizes. This does not allow it to generalize.
Baron Cohen founded the first adult autism clinic in the UK in 1999. They have seen over 1,000 people. He has addressed the United Nations on Autism Awareness Day in 2017 on Autism and Human rights (ironic isn’t it?).
Baron Cohen is a fellow of the British Psychological Society, the British Academy, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and the American Psychological Association. He is the Vice President of the National Autistic Society and was the president of the International Society for Autism Research (OSAR 2017-19). He was the chair of the NICE guideline development group for autism (adults) ad the chair of the Psychology section of the British Academy.
Baron Cohen is the co-editor in chief for Molecular Autism and is a National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Senior Investigator. He is the principal investigator of the Wellcome Trust funded award investigating the genetics of autism in collaboration with the Sanger Centre.
Baron Cohen serves as a scientific advisor, trustee or patron for several autism charities including:
  • Autism Research Trust
  • the Cambridge Autism Centre of Excellence
  • Auticon

Spectrum 10k

Baron Cohen is leading the Spectrum 10k project. Its aim is to collect DNA from 10,000 autistic people to identify genetic and environmental factors that contribute to autism and related conditions. Another blog post on this project will be coming.

5 thoughts on “Problematic Professional: Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen

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