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.
Neuroskeptic, part of Discover Magazine’s series of blogs, recently posted a review of a new book, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets. The book, written by Luke Dittrich who is himself the grandson of H.M.’s neurosurgeon, tells the story of the infamous case study of the patient now known to be Henry Molaison.
In the review Neuroskeptic focuses on three troubling aspects of H.M.’s story as discussed in the book. First, the psychosurgery performed on H.M. to address his epilepsy had no medical basis. Second, H.M.’s life was not nearly as sedate and content as it often portrayed and he threatened suicide at various points in time. Finally, the ethics of Suzanne Corkin’s longterm study of H.M. is thrown into doubt as, following the death of his parents, H.M. lacked a legal conservator to speak to his interests. This meant that H.M. himself provided consent for many of Corkin’s studies, though whether this can be understood as informed consent is doubtful. Moreover, the cousin eventually appointed conservator for H.M., it turns out, was not related to H.M. at all and simply provided blanket consent for Corkin’s tests of H.M.
Read Neuroskeptic’s full review online here.
For anyone in the Toronto area, an upcoming talk at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) may be of interest. On October 9th, at 6pm, Dr. Suzanne Corkin will be speaking on her recent book, Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, HM. Corkin spent decades studying the patient popularly known as H.M., who was revealed to be Henry Molaison after his death in 2008. (See AHP’s previous post on the fate of H.M.’s brain here.) Research with H.M., who was unable to form longterm memories following extensive brain surgery for epilepsy, was central to psychological work on how longterm memories are formed.
The event – sponsored by the Faculty of Health, York University, the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, and the Department of Psychology, University of Toronto – is free to attend but pre-registration is required. The Permanent Present Tense lecture is described as follows,
Dr. Suzanne Corkin is an esteemed memory expert and Professor Emerita of Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT (Cambridge, MA). Dr. Corkin is best known for her work with one of the most famous cases in medical history, the amnesic patient Henry Gustave Molaison. In her lecture, Dr. Corkin will speak about their nearly 50-year research partnership, which taught us much of what we know today about memory. Her lecture will be followed by a signing of her recent book, Permanent Present Tense, which documents the incredible story of H.M. and his groundbreaking contributions to the science of memory.