Sacks, Memory and Reparations


NY ReviewUnsurprisingly, the latest piece by Oliver Sacks in The New York Review of Books is brilliant.  My intent is not to do a review of his review, but to point out the art of the essay in which one begins with a premise, and then finds support for it from various sources.  It is entirely possible, as in the null hypothesis, that one begins with a premise and ends up with an essay that rejects the notion entertained at the outset.  In the course of research, you may simply be surprised by the strength of arguments that undermine your premise.  In this particular case, on the fallability of memory, Sacks cites some interesting examples of authors and artists who copied the work of others.  The principal question is whether the copying was done wittingly or unwittingly.  Because memory is tinged by processes at a subconscious level despite our efforts to raise them to consciousness, we may honestly think we have created something original when using portions of music or writing that have influenced us.  Remember the song, My Sweet Lord by George Harrison?

Oliver notes that a judge ruled Harrison plagiarized the song from Ronnie Mack, who created it for The Chiffons years earlier in the form of He’s So Fine.  He may not have done it deliberately, but that makes him no less guilty of copying someone else’s work without proper attribution or permission.

If you need further convincing, someone took the time to mix them side-by-side.

This issue has been on my mind for some time, resurrected lately because of the continuing education seminars I do with OTs, PTs, SLPs, Educators, and Optometrists.  I’ve blogged about it many times before, and that is whether or not the pattern by certain Ophthalmologists to deny the substance of optometric vision therapy, and then to publish or support research purporting to discover the same principles, constitutes plagiarism.  Plagiarism is defined as stealing and passing off the ideas or words of another as one’s own, without crediting the source.

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This isn’t merely an issue of proper attribution of intellectual property.  It’s a far deeper matter than dates back at least to my professional experiences over the past 35 years, and from discussion with older colleagues much earlier.  Nor does it merely reflect indifference of organized Ophthalmology, and some of its more vocal practitioners toward recognizing the merits of optometric vision therapy.  Much like the policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics last year regarding the efficacy and advisability of Sensory Integration Therapy by OTs, select physicians and organizations have actively tried to discredit optometric vision therapy.  However, in recent years, a number of research articles have been published in Ophthalmology journals supporting the functional deficits that occur when binocular vision is compromised.  They include reading deficits, eye-hand coordination deficits, and spatial judgement for more generalized motor tasks.  The glaring omission in these articles is the lack of attribution of these observations to the many optometric articles and textbooks that have embodied these principles, observations, and research.  Have these researchers been influenced by concepts about which they have read, but merely forgotten the source?  That speaks directly to whether these omissions reflect willful or unintended ignorance of the subject matter.

We do not need pediatric or ophthalmologic imprimatur to support the credibility of what we accomplish through optometric vision therapy any more than OTs need a pediatric pat-on-the-head for the validity of sensory integration therapy.  It is fair to say that we are kindred spirits with OTs more than ever now that the AAP has issued its proclamation about the dubious nature of SI therapy.  However, if one considers the war waged against Optometry and VT through the years, and there were a truce signaled by the burgeoning support for functional deficits in strabismus and amblyopia in ophthalmologic literature, an impartial judge would award reparations on two counts:

1) To optometrists who have pioneered vision therapy principles and procedures who were smeared in the marketplace by physicians claiming therapy to be bogus.

2) To patients who were left to struggle because of #1.

At the very least, an apology would be in order.  But we’ll settle for appropriate attribution as ophthalmology continues to publish literature supportive of the principles of vision therapy.

3 thoughts on “Sacks, Memory and Reparations

  1. It is truly unfortunate that medicine in general has been so rigid in accepting any therapies not practiced by them. When our son was in medical school (he is now a neurologist) he would frequently call saying “I know this isn’t true but tell me again why”. Unfortunately, the individuals that suffer from this “shortsightedness” on the part of medicine in general, are the patients needing help. Hopefully time and more education as well as more interaction will address some of these issues and the patients seeking help will benefit.

    • He is now opart of the neurology team and discusses options with his patients/parents. The bigger question is how can we supply more OD’s to fill the need!!!!!!!!!! We should talk about this more. It is nice to have Billy and Suzanne close instead of a continent away – they live in Mountain Lakes and that is really nice for me! He shares his own story with patients (his third or fourth grade teacher contacted us quite concerned that he was ” slow”. You can imagine how that went over with Bill!!!

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