Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Short Term Memory Loss In Human Aging

I have yet to read Lewis Wolpert's treatise on ageing, but I imagine he might want to revisit his book and perhaps include a bit more on the chapter dealing with short-term memory loss.
But if someone else said it first, you should give them credit no matter your age

He himself, it has come out, must be a victim. Either that, or he's guilty of plagiarism, so let's give the poor old professor the benefit of the doubt.

You're Looking Very Well was published by Faber & Faber back in 2011 and proved to be a popular read in non-fiction. Mr. Wolpert covered various topics on getting old, but with a common touch. Unlike your average university professor, which he once was, his prose was readable by the general public. An amazing feat, when you consider the fact that his editorial experience was in peer-reviewed journals, a type of writing that would be far from readable to all but the target audience, and generally dry as dust.

Given his literary (if you can call it that) experience in scientific journals, where every other word is usually that of someone who went before and must, therefore, be accredited, you would expect Mr. Wolpert to know a thing or two about naming sources of his various paragraphs.

Usually, in journals, the place where the scientist draws conclusions is the result of the research, and is the new finding that will be acknowledged by other researchers. Where there are no credits, it must be the scientist speaking, offering up their notion of what they have discovered in company with what others have discovered.

So when you read You're Looking Very Well and you see paragraphs without footnotes leading to a glossary of sources, you could assume it was Mr. Wolpert's own thoughts and opinions you were reading.

As it turns out, you would be wrong.

The addled old man forgot to reference many of his sources, it has been discovered. Faber & Faber could not have known, of course, because who can afford an editor to probe scientific literature searching for certain word combinations? The cost of the resulting book would be astronomical and beyond the reach of the general public, making for a very limited run with little or no return.

It's a black eye for the professor, whose career has been remarkable. Now, as he approaches the end of his days, when he's doing his best to promote science to non-scientists, he stands accused of cheating, of stealing the words of others and making them appear to be his own.

In his defense, he mentions the fact that he likely forgot where he got the material from, and ended up not recalling what he had written and what he had copied off the internet.

Old people tend to forget things that have happened most recently. Some say it is because their heads are so crammed full of things accumulated over a lifetime that they've run out of storage space.

For Mr. Wolpert, the short-term memory loss of the elderly has become very real. And like growing old, it isn't pretty.

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