Tag Archives: Henry Molaison

Laura Stark’s Review of Patient H.M. in Science

As part of our continuing coverage of the controversy that has erupted over Luke Dittrich’s recently released Patient H.M., we bring to your attention a just released review of the book in Science. In her review, Laura Stark provides a welcome perspective on Dittrich’s work, especially in relation to his portrayal of Suzanne Corkin. As Stark writes,

It seems inevitable that the book will be compared to the patient biography The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. But, while Dittrich is an exceptional writer, he focuses his talents in the last half of his book on a takedown of rival author Suzanne Corkin, missing opportunities to turn his own family story into one of more universal scope….

Dittrich only reveals at the end that Corkin was writing her own book on H.M., which recasts his story up to that point in a new light. It helps make sense of his eagerness to see her actions as personal slights, character flaws, and bad science rather than symptoms of broken systems. It is a pity, because his sense of personal grievance narrows him into a story about a uniquely menacing scientist rather than a universal story of the legal and institutional ties that bind even well-intentioned people.

The review is out from behind Science‘s paywall and can be read in full here.

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Controversy Brewing over Suzanne Corkin and Patient H.M.

Henry Molaison (know as H.M. in much of the published literature)

As we recently reported on AHP a new book on the infamous case study of H.M. has subjected this work to increasing scrutiny, especially with respect to the actions of psychologist Suzanne Corkin, chief H.M. researcher who also served as gatekeeper of other researchers’ access to H.M. Corkin died in May of this year, while H.M. (now known to be Henry Molaison) died in 2008.

Backlash against Luke Dittrich and his book, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets, has been growing since a lengthy piece adapted from the book appeared in the New York Times Magazine last week. (Further pieces on Dittrich’s book can be found on Psychology Today and the NYTMag’s Science of Us, among many other sources.) Particularly controversial have been three points: (1) reports that Corkin destroyed the records related to H.M.; (2) claims that Corkin suppressed reports of an additional lesion in H.M.’s brain; and (3) questions regarding the appropriateness of appointing a a non-relative as H.M.’s conservator.

Dr. James DiCarlo, head of the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, has written a letter to the New York Times disputing these claims. Additionally, reports are circulating that a group of roughly 200 neuroscientists have written to the Times claiming that Dittrich’s work “contains important errors, misinterpretations of scientific disputes, and unfair characterizations of an MIT neuroscientist who did groundbreaking research on human memory” (from here; also see here and here for more). The letter signed by this group can be read in full here.

In response to DiCarlo’s claims Dittrich has written a post for Medium outlining his position and evidence regarding each claim. Included in Dittrich’s post is a 7-minute audio clip from an  interview he conducted with Corkin wherein she can be heard asserting that records concerning H.M. were destroyed. The audio can be heard here.

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Explore the Atlas of HM’s Brain at the Brain Observatory

The Brain Observatory at the University of California San Diego, directed by Jacopo Annese, has made available as part of its Digital Brain Library an atlas of H.M.’s brain. H.M., now known to be Henry Molaison, is one of the best known case studies in memory research. Molaison experienced profound amnesia following a bilateral medial temporal lobectomy and was subsequently studied for more than 50 years. Following his death in 2008, Molaison’s brain was donated to science and sectioned into more than 2400 slices (right), a procedure that was aired live on the web (see a previous AHP post on this process here). As described on the site,

In December 2009, Annese and his team at The Brain Observatory dissected H.M.’s brain into 2,401 thin tissue slices that have been preserved cryogenically in serial order. The collection was meant to support the histological examination of the brain and to better understand the neurological basis of human memory function. While the brain was being sliced, we collected an unabridged series of digital images of the surface of the block each corresponding to individual tissue sections. These images were archived and used to create a 3-D model of the whole brain. A regular series of sections through the brain was stained and digitized at a resolution of 0.37 microns per pixel to reveal cellular-level features. These virtual sections, a matching series of anatomically delineated images, and data from postmortem MRI of the specimen were combined into an atlas of patient H.M.’s brain.

The atlas was conceived as a web-accessible resource to support collaboration and retrospective studies.

Project HM can be explored in full here.

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