Neurodiversity: Many mental 'deficits' are really hidden strengths
The more diverse minds we have, the better we are as a population.
Heather Heying: Neurodiversity is a pretty new term, and I’m grateful—very grateful for it.
It gets to something that is absolutely real and has been hard to discuss before it existed.
That said, I’m not sure I have a perfect definition. It recognizes a fact that we are not singular, that we are not all identical, that we have a variation of brains, of connectivity, of aptitudes, of weaknesses, of blind spots, and of sensitivities, and of capabilities.
People on the autism spectrum who are very functional, in my experience, tend to have extraordinary analytical skills and also often, actually, insight into social interactions so long as they’re not the ones participating.
And so you have, I’ve had a number of autistic students actually point out to me dynamics that were emerging in classrooms that I hadn’t yet seen, and once they were pointed out I could see, and these are the same students who have a very hard time recognizing when it is or is not time to speak or get up or walk through the middle of the classroom and such.
There are a number of ways to be neurodiverse.
We have names for some conditions that actually represent ends of continuum.
Dyslexia is a big one. These are going to sound like they’re coming out of left field, but color blindness, left-handedness... in each of those cases being what in evolutionary biology we call the non-dominant phenotype.
Sorry. I’m a lefty. That’s the one of those that I belong to as a group. And about ten percent of people across all cultures (that have been studied) are left-handed. It’s a persistent, stable, rare phenotype, which suggests that it’s adaptive, that it’s persistent, it’s complex, and it provides the different wiring of the brain associated with being a left-hander provides benefit in the social group in which left-handers show up.
I mean we can put together analyses for why being a left-hander might allow you to approach a physical problem differently than a right-hander would have a harder time solving, but the different wiring of the brain allows for different approaches as well.
Similarly with color blindness that it might be really easy to say, “Well, okay, that just is going to give you some ability to see past color and to see patterns that aren’t color based,” perhaps, but I suspect that there’s wiring in the brain that is associated with color blindness that also allows for enhanced abilities that are different from those who are color-sighted.
Dyslexia for sure. Dyslexia is obviously a very modern condition because writing is a very modern condition. So as an evolutionary biologist when I say modern I mean thousands of years. So dyslexia is modern in terms of thousands of years, and language was always about sound and never about writing until recently, and so the lessened ability—it’s almost never an inability, but the lessened ability—to process written symbols into meaning in your head looks to me like it’s a trade-off relationship with the ability to engage in real time and speech. And that’s not to say that all of us can’t learn through practice to be better at any number of these skills, but that being born with what the world is calling a deficit is almost always going to exist in a trade-off relationship with some often hidden strength.
Color-blindness. Left-handedness. Dyslexia. Autism. These are all different ways in which the brain is rewired differently than the norm. But Heather Heying, evolutionary biologist and former Professor at Evergreen State College, is saying that these so-called differences are really strengths. For example, she relays us a story about her autistic students being far more adept at spotting social dynamics emerging in the classroom, long before non-autistic students. And left-handed people are often way more creative than their righty counterparts. Evolution might suggest that we need these differences to be stronger as a whole. Be sure to follow Heather on twitter: @HeatherEHeying and through her website, heatherheying.com. Heather is brought to you today by Amway. Amway believes that diversity and inclusion are essential to the growth and prosperity of today’s companies. When woven into every aspect of the talent life cycle, companies committed to diversity and inclusion are the best equipped to innovate, improve brand image, and drive performance.
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Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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