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Why look at stuttered speech?

Posted Mar 03 2009 12:00am
Look at this intriguing article from China. They seem to have found a genetic relationship between dopamine and stuttering. However, I am not geneticist, so I do not know exactly what the result means and whether the results are reliable or not. Maybe a reader can help us out?

Nan Fang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao. 2009 Mar;29(3):375-80.
Pan CH, Song LP, DU J, Lan J, Wu CM, Wu LJ, Lin L, Wang W.
Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China.

OBJECTIVE:
To explore the correlations of dopamine transporter gene (DAT) and dopamine D(2) receptor gene (DRD2) to stuttering. METHODS: To examine the correlations of the 5 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in dopaminergic gene (C252T, C1804T, and C1820T in DAT gene, and T1054C and C1072T in DRD(2) gene) to stuttering in Han Chinese individuals, a case-control study involving 112 patients with stuttering and 112 gender-matched controls was carried out. Genotyping was performed by a combined approach using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and pyrosequencing.

RESULTS:
C1804T showed no polymorphism in either the patients or the control subjects and was therefore excluded from the following analysis. The C allele frequency at C1072T site was significantly higher, but T allele frequency significantly lower in the stuttering group than in the control group. The patients had significantly higher CC and lower CT genotype frequencies than the control group. There were no significant differences in the allelic frequencies of C252T, C1820T and T1054C between the patients and the controls, suggesting a Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium at these 3 loci. CONCLUSION: The presence of the C allele at C1072T in DRD(2) gene is associated with increased susceptibility to stuttering in Han Chinese, whereas the T allele provides protection against the onset of stuttering.

Non-speech specific abnormalities

A reader points me to a new article  by Chang et al. from NIH which re-enforces evidence that there are non-speech specific abnormalities in the brain of people who stutter. Here is the abstract
Although stuttering is regarded as a speech-specific disorder, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that subtle abnormalities in the motor planning and execution of non-speech gestures exist in stuttering individuals.We hypothesized that people who stutter (PWS) would differ from fluent controls in their neural responses during motor planning and execution of both speech and non-speech gestures that had auditory targets. Using fMRI with sparse sampling, separate BOLD responses were measured for perception, planning, and fluent production of speech and non-speech vocal tract gestures. During both speech and non-speech perception and planning, PWS had less activation in the frontal and temporoparietal regions relative to controls. During speech and non-speech production, PWS had less activation than the controls in the left superior temporal gyrus (STG) and the left pre-motor areas (BA 6) but greater activation in the right STG, bilateral Heschl's gyrus (HG), insula, putamen, and precentral motor regions (BA 4). Differences in brain activation patterns between PWS and controls were greatest in females and less apparent in males. In conclusion, similar differences in PWS from the controls were found during speech and non-speech; during perception and planning they had reduced activation while during production they had increased activity in the auditory area on the right and decreased activation in the left sensorimotor regions. These results demonstrated that neural activation differences in PWS are not speech-specific.
The evidence for a neurological basis of stuttering is growing. And it does not seem to be restricted to speech function. But why are the abnormalities only showing up clearly at speech? Probably for two reasons: speech exacts a lot from the brain unlike other functions, and disturbed speech provokes a much greater response from the brain, the stutterers, and the environment. And the reponses lead to a feedback with words, events, and people being associated to stuttering behaviours and then these are triggering stuttering again.

More specific comments on the articles are coming soon.

I won the Area Contest!

I won the Area Contest with my speech ! I became first of the first and second places from all three club contests in Luxembourg. So now I am off to Paris on April 18th... Again I did stutter during my presentation but my stuttering was more than compensated by other aspects like meaning, impact, delivery, and body language.

Lies, damn lies, and causes

What do we mean by cause?

What causes a kid to start stuttering?

What causes a kid not to recover from stuttering?

What causes some people to stutter in a population and others not?

What causes a stutterer to stutter at this moment in time?

What causes me to stutter more or less?

What causes me to relapse after treatment?

What causes stuttering to run in families?

What causes stuttering in people without genetic transmission?

What causes us not to stutter when we sing or perform other fluency enhancing tasks?


Here are some fallacies you need to be aware of

1) Assumption that a single cause exists. The school shooting is due to violent video games and lax gun laws. But in fact many other different causes are in play here including depressed teenager, genetic propensity for suicide mission, long-term exposure to humiliation, too large school classes, in-attentive teachers, in-attentive parents, wrong friends, copying cats, general tendency of male teenage brains for aggressiveness and search for power play, and so on.

2) Failure to distinguish between multi-causal versus dominant cause with modulators. Often, there is a dominant cause which is modulated by different factors unrelated to the real cause. And it is misleading to call the modulators, causes. For example, fear in stutterers makes stuttering worse, but it is not the real cause but only has a modulating effect. Fear cannot be an independent cause because without a propensity to stutter you cannot fear situations. You have the same fear if you are obese, acne, and other issues. Of course, you could argue that after a while the fear is becoming "independent" and is caused stuttering without a propensity to stutter. However, I would argue that after treatment the fear is gone but it comes back only because there is still a propensity to stutter which lets fear to kick in again.

3) Failure to distinguish between proximate and ultimate cause. Why did he kill her? His brain send a message to his hand to take the knife and kill her. But the real cause was that he caught her without another man AND he is unable to control his anger.

4) Equating an observed relationship (correlation) with the cause. This is very very common. I explain this in this post .

I won my club's speech contest

Yesterday evening, I won my Toastmaster's club speech contest. I am going to post my speech here. I did stutter quite a bit, and of course at home I was completely fluent. But still they preferred my speech: I had a better meaning, more focus, and was better prepared than most. So take this as an example that we can be good presenters. Yes, stuttering is not helping at all, so we just need to be a bit better prepared, a bit more creative, and a bit more focused.
I had a dream

I had a dream - with an unexpected turn of events
A dream - that changed my attitude towards life
and might well change yours

Fellow toastmasters, honoured guests,

I was being chased
(not by beautiful women - unfortunately)
but by terrifying monsters
I was really scared. I was running for my life
And I came to a cliff
The sea 50 meters down below
The monsters came closer and closer
Oh my God! I was trapped!
Suddenly, I realized
Tom you are in the middle of a dream!
If you step over the cliff, you wont fall down,
Unless you imagine gravity to pull you down!
So I stepped over the cliff, walked on air and flew away.
leaving my monsters behind
I was so happy to have escaped. What a cool dream!
But why am I running away?
The monsters cannot really kill me.
It is a dream!
So I decided to face my monsters and fly back to the cliff.
Come on, monsters! Kill me!
As you can imagine, the monsters were a bit shocked!
But why am I scared of the monsters?
It is my dream. I decide!
So I took a sword.
And killed them!

How many times have we run away from a challenge and felt trapped?
Why didn't you apply for the job? I won't get it anyway..
Why didn't you talk to the cute girl at the party? She will reject me anyway...
Why didn't you speak out? No-one is interested in what I have to say...
But maybe you could have gotten the job, the girl, or people convinced.

Try. Try to face your challenges! Give it your best shot!
If you succeed, fantastic, you have beaten your monsters!
If you fail and the monsters killed you, at least you tried.
You don't have to tell yourself for the rest of your life: Why didn't I try? What if?

Yes, we can. We can suceed. Take Barak Obama.
He didn't say to himself: Oh, I have dark skin, so there is no point running for president!
Do not make yourself the victim. Be pro-active!

How many of us have been scared of public speaking?
We imagined the audiences turning into monsters chasing us.
But after a few presentations we enjoy talking in front of people.
In fact, it is impossible to get us off stage.
5 minutes, green lift, 6 minutes, amber light, 7 minutes, red light, and we talk and we talk...

Public speaking has been and still is a special challenge for me due to my stuttering.
When I am well-prepared and calm, I can be fluent.
But many times I am not...
I did everything to avoid talking in front of people.
Joining Toastmasters would have been like joining the devil.
My dream has changed my attitude towards my stuttering.
I realised that I do not have to run away.
I rather stand here in front of all you and stutter.
I rather face my monsters and be killed by them than being chased by them and remain silent.
Thanks to Toastmasters, I have faced my stuttering time and time again.
You see... Now it feels like... I am chasing the audience!

We all have our challenges. Try. Try to face them. Give it your best shot!
So tonite, I hope you dream of terrifying monsters chasing you.
You should not be scared of them, but they should be scared of you!

Colour picture of 1900s Russia

An off-topic post. Check out these cool colour pictures of 1900s Russia: see Wikimedia . And the Library of Congress  .

Response to a reader

I have to respond to a reader trying to highlight some of the fallacious thinking that pollutes clear thinking. Very important in my view. Focus on arguments not on the person who makes the argument!!!

It is completely irrelevant if someone is biased or not. The only important issue is the quality of the argument, and not who proposed it and whether the person is biased. It is a very very common fallacy. Even if I am 100% biased, a serial killer, or a fluent person, my argument does not suddenly become more or less valid. Watch political debate! For example, criticism on Israel policies in the US: someone makes a fair point, he is labelled an anti-Semite, and by default his argument is invalid because he is biased. Interestingly, the same fair point is made in Israel by Jews! As they cannot be labelled anti-Semites, these Jews are then labelled pacifists, dreamers or self-haters (induced by anti-Semite propaganda), and that's why the argument is invalid!

It is not relevant whether I have a MSc or PhD in neuroscience to comment on neuroscience. Watch my arguments not my background. If my lack of background leads to wrong conclusions, then you must have a valid counterargument. But I do take courses in neuroscience at the Open University in London. One is called Damaged Brains and Neural Networks , and the other is Biological Psychology  . And so far I have scored 75% in both essays without too much work.

It is not really relevant to the strength of an argument. But I have talked to many different scientists and therapists, and they often send me emails with new research.

Which debates? There are effectively no debates. Only 3-4 times did they make some comments after my talks at conferences, e.g.: "You are wrong, because the statistics have been calculated by a statistician." And after a few counter-arguments, they don't say anything any more. I am wondering why? In fact, many people argue with me, especially therapists who see that the claims from the trials do not fit their reality. But I would rather say that only 1% understand my arguments, and that is a problem.
And even if no-one agrees with me, I do not care. It does not invalidate my argument. I only change my mind if faced with a good counterarguments and not by social consensus pressure.
1000 different people per week read my blog. So where is the argument here? You want to make me feel bad? Greg just pointed out a funny story. It is you who doesn't get the subtleties! But I agree with you that Greg is only a semi-serious researcher but he is improving - reading my blog helps! I am sure there are some people laughing about me, but what they do not realise it that they are the fools, not me! I often get condescending comments and when I give counterarguments, they suddenly realise it is them who is the fool. They had not really considered the counterargument...
Again. Science is not about making friends. I am saying what is on my mind, and on the mind of many others who do not dare or cannot speak out. That's why they respect me. I have high respect for the argument itself, but I do not care about who the people are who make the arguments. And I also do not care whether people feel hurt about me telling them that they are talking non-sense.

Advice for presentations

An atypical post. I am trying to be constructive, for once! My Toastmaster experience has fine-tuned my maxims for better presentations. Hopefully of use for all, but especially of course for people who stutter:

What's your mission, sir? You need to focus your point of attack to get into your audience's brain; no point hitting with the flat hand. Ever wondered why a bullet kills but a ball thrown at you with the same energy doesn't? You need to know which mountains to climb to devise a route! Your four key messages guide you in your preparation, and provides the bones for the meat of your presentation. Ignore your brain's pleading for more messages, after all you are not here to tell the story of your life. Leave this shore to your diary or autobiography! Keep it concise.

As simple as possible. Everything: the words, the sentences, the images, the slides, and the arguments. Make your message and delivery as simple as possible but not simpler! You can't make a message simple enough for everyone in the audience? Then ignore. The message is not worth being talked about, maybe written about but not talked about... Lure them to your written words instead. Again, ignore your brain's pleading for more subtlety and more sophisticated sounding words, but no: You don't take into consideration the strength of the argument, but you consider the argument. Travel lightly in all respects!

! Audiences magically sap up our time for no apparent reasons. You need more time to deliver your speech than when rehearsing at home. Happens to everyone. You prepare at home, you are just on the time limit, and in front of the audience the time monster chases you. If you can speak for 7 minutes, cut your speech down to 5 minutes. Again, ignore the hard-breaking pleading of your brain. Those 2 minutes (of slides) you have left out are so so important. Please... No, leave me alone, they are not! Have you ever understood what the 10-seconds-per-slide man wanted to say? I haven't! Don't be our man!
Go into your speech with confidence of eternal time. Make as many long pregnant pauses as you want. Imagine sitting on a nice shady terrace over-looking the beach and chilling out. No hurry. This advice is especially important for people who stutter, because any time pressure makes us much worse.

The beginning of a talk should not be the place of hesitation. You need how to welcome them and what to say. If you prepare the first sentences by heart with nice pregnant pauses and practise them, you will have them in your system and you can act in confidence. At least, at the start you don't look like a fool! That's what we call progress!

Good Luck! Here are more goodies, but please take your time and digest mine first...

Recruitment has begun

The recruitment for the Phase IIb random control trial has started: check out the StutteringStudy website. Indevus in a joint venture with Teva will test Pagoclone as a stuttering medication. I have extensively posted on the issue: here  It took a very long time until Indevus found a partner, but finally they made it.

All US residents satisfying certain requirements can participate in the trial. Take the pre-screening test here .

If I were to live in the US, I would participate in the trial. First, I would help the researchers to get enough people together to make statistically valid statement, and thereby furthering our understanding of stuttering. Second, it is for free and probably all expenses paid! Third, it is a large scale trial so they have to adhere to high (safety) standards. Fourth, I am curious whether I experience a fluency effect.

Do not take the trial, if you are desperate for a complete cure. It will not happen. At best, you will see a significant decrease in stuttering which enables you to control your stuttering better and say what you really want to say. Do not take the trial, if you choose not to tell them about some medication or condition in fear of not being able to participate, you will distort the results and harm everyone. Do not take the trial, if you cannot handle the fact that after the trial you might not be able to continue on the medication. Do not take the trial, if you cannot handle that you might not see any fluency gains.

Finally, consistent with my image, I also need to be a bit critical! I object to their marketing pictures on the brochure to make potential participants happy. They are fake artificial pictures of a group of humans. They are all slim, beautiful, well-groomed, smiling, white-painted teeth and of course carefully counted for race balance to give the illusion of racial unity. But the website on the other hand is kept very neutral.

London and talking to Norbert at BSA

I was in London the last two days for business meetings but I also had a few "academic" meetings with intellectually interesting people. I keep to DNA discoverer Watson's maxim of avoiding boring people. Whenever possible I keep contact with my friends and ex-professors from my theoretical physics past life. So I was at my alma mater Imperial College London to hear the latest hype and gossip on searching for a unified theory and hear what has happened to various people. I also met up with two of my ex-professors. We discussed memes and their work on quantitative modelling of invention propagation. (I am currently writing a book on memes with a friend of mine who has a PhD in psychology and who is currently in Siberia. Strange, isn't it?) Then I visited a fellow Luxemburger who is finance/economics professor at London School of Economics. Apart from dissecting the current credit crunch and our usual complaining of Luxembourg culture and politics, we also talked about stuttering. I completely shocked him by switching to completely fluent calm assertive debating from my stuttering usual. It is a amazing how much a few longer pauses, a lower speech rate, and some control can make me fluent. On the first few words and sentences, he still seems confident of a quick collapse of this fluency glitch, but I kept on talking fluently and then I said provocatively: Isn't it amazing how much more assertive, calm and lucid I know come across? Have I shattered your image of me being a nervous and hesitant person? :-)

Of course, the intellectual climax was my visit to the offices of the British Stammering Association located in a slightly less glorious but lively area of London, and my chatting to Norbert Lieckfeldt, director of the BSA. We talked about many things, and about some people who we share common admiration (or not!). Here is a censored summary
  • He is reading my blog regularly and confirms its popularity and influence. He also said that static websites like the BSA are a bit outdated, and interaction is the spirit of the moment.
  • He also had a blog but stopped it. As BSA director, it is difficult to talk about many things. Also he has accountability whereas I do not; well only to my conscience - so to no-one really! We agreed that a better idea would be for the BSA to have a BSA blog with news and press release type posts and a comment section. So BSA staff get feedback from members and can interact more.
  • He mostly ignores my blog comments section now, because 1-2 people are making too outrageous comments. [I agree to some degree, but I also believe it is important that everyone can make arguments even if wrong. I rather know of someone saying I am an idiot because of X Y rather than not knowing about it. If some hate A, so is it not good for A to know of those people in order to evaluate whether they are right to some degree or not?]
  • He would prefer more on what is true as opposed to my focus on what is wrong for that is not helping him: he wants answers like most people. But I prefer no answer to sloppy answers. In any case, I will try to do focus more on what I believe is valid.
  • We talked a lot about early intervention: Lidcombe, other treatment approaches, and so on...
  • I pointed out to him that claims that kids who have a sudden onset are more likely to recover is an illusion. Their studies are faced with selection bias. They observe the kids that come to their clinic, and the sudden onsetters are there very soon after onset whereas the slow ones come much much later with their parents. So the real variable here is the duration the kid has stuttered; the longer ago the onset the less likely you recover.
  • We also talked about my low-capacity framework  . He seemed not to agree but I think he actually agrees but doesn't realise yet that it fits with his experience.

Leys against Google

Leys keeps on trying to convince google to change their policy on allowing advertisement on stuttering cure. It seems like ASHA is a bit timid speaking out and writing to Google, which seems to me unreasonable giving for example that their UK counterpart, Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists, has been far more courageous and decisive. Google seems to suggest that individual complains are more appropriate: see the letter by Leys.

A big issue is a lack of standards in reporting treatment success. For example, such standards exist in finance.

Tom, I thought you might be interested in another update on this story.

As I mentioned, John Bercow, the UK Member of Parliament who has just reviewed and reported very constructively to the Government on the state of speech services for children, has written to Google UK and received a reply from Matt Brittin, Country Director, UK. Mr Brittin’s main point was that if people don’t like these stammering cure ads on Google they should complain about them using the special form available on the Google website. John has asked for our views on his letter and we have responded as below. I’m sure John would be happy for you to publish as much of it as you might want.

You asked about ASHA, and I’m glad to say that we have now heard from them, and they are very supportive of the campaign. However they do not want to confront Google at the moment, so we have asked them to consider how they might lend their weight to this campaign.

Whilst, in our view, ethical standards may be low in several sectors of US advertising, that does not mean that similar standards should be allowed to apply to stuttering. Thus, whilst ’buyer beware’ may be an appropriate maxim for some US products, it’s not suitable for stuttering treatments. It’s worth remembering, too, that we are not just talking here about ads which are aimed at Americans, who are accustomed to advertising puffery, but ads which are aimed at the whole world - in which very few people think and behave like Americans.

We are sure that ASHA will agree that there is a need to tighten up standards, set its expert and well qualified members apart from the fraudsters and encourage a more professional attitude to stuttering treatments. And, in the longer term, of course, this Google issue is just one stop on the way to the greater objective, which is to rid the world of fraudsters. So this is a very good team to be on!

LEYS GEDDES

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Why look at stuttered speech?



I agree with Greg that studying stuttered speech is more or less time wasted! See here . It is a good example of what happens when people use quantitative tools without having any scientific common sense or vision. And I say it again, if you don't have a hard science background, do not work on quant stuff, you will fail. I would have tolerated such research decades ago, but not any more...

I mean just imagine we were to study the content of children pornography to find out what causes paedophilia. Yes, you can find a lot of "interesting" and intriguing patterns: what age, how many, what, who does what, and so on. But at the end of the day, it is sexual drive gone to the extreme crossing moral boundaries and hurting others, and crystallizing into behaviour depending on the environment, opportunity of the individual and culture...

Think of the drive as the water flowing and the forms into which water flows and freezes as the environment. Surely, studying the forms is not telling you anything about where the water came from?
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