PROPOSED: Cognitive tests for the MSM!


Times piece triggers request:
Is it time for a cognitive test for the upper-end mainstream press corps?

The unusual suggestion was triggered by a flawed analysis piece in today's New York Times. In hard copy, the piece appears on page A11, the first page of the paper's National section.

The piece was written by Gina Kolata, a highly experienced science reporter. On line, Kolata's report appears beneath this headline:
"Trump Passed a Cognitive Exam. What Does That Really Mean?"
Finally! Finally, or so we assumed, the New York Times would establish a basic point:

The Times would explain that the (rather basic) cognitive test the president aced is not a psychiatric assessment. Or at least, so we assumed.

The Times had already mangled this key distinction on at least three occasions. We assumed Kolata would articulate this basic point as she explained what that cognitive exam "really means."

Alas! Kolata made no attempt to articulate this point. Instead, it fell to a New York Times reader to clarify this basic point. He does so in a letter in this morning's Times. We present the letter as it appears in today's hard-copy Times:

Re “After Exam, President Is Found to Be of Sound Mind and Body” (front page, Jan. 17):

It is worth noting that while a cognitive test such as the Montreal Cognitive Assessment that was used to test President Trump can detect signs of dementia, it in no way rules out most other mental illnesses, including major ones and especially personality disorders that some have speculated the president may suffer from.

I do not know whether Mr. Trump suffers from a mental disorder, but to imply that a normal score on a cognitive exam in any way rules this out would be like saying that if someone had a normal cardiac exam that would rule out the possibility of diabetes.


The writer is a physician.
Indeed! This letter writer establishes the key distinction. Let's say it again, nice and clear:

"While a cognitive test can detect signs of dementia, it in no way rules out most other mental illnesses."

This isn't a difficult point. That said, the Times had already mangled this point in Gail Collins' Thursday op-ed column, then again in yesterday's guest column by Michael Goldfarb, an NPR alum.

Each column claimed or suggested that the test of cognition ruled out the possibility of mental illness. These were extremely dumb claims. Remarkably, Kolata skipped this basic point in her analysis piece.

By way of contrast, the Philly physician articulated this basic distinction with ease. Meanwhile, might we note a pitiful point about the way the physician's letter is presented?

On line, the letter links to this January 17 news report from the Times' front page. That said, it isn't clear if the Philly physician is criticizing that report.

In the body of his letter, the physician suggests that someone has "implied" that Trump's performance on the cognition test "rules out" the possibility that he "suffers from a mental disorder." But his letter, as presented, doesn't say who may have made that suggestion.

In fact, that front-page news report made that very suggestion. The problem started right in its opening paragraph:
SHEAR AND ALTMAN (1/17/18): President Trump’s White House physician said Tuesday that the president received a perfect score on a cognitive test designed to screen for neurological impairment, which the military doctor said was evidence that Mr. Trump does not suffer from mental issues that prevent him from functioning in office.
We're sorry, but that cognitive test is not a test of various possible "mental issues." Lead reporter Michael Shear muddied this point in his opening paragraph, then did so again later in his report.

"Can anybody here play this game?" So Casey Stengel once asked. With complete and total seriousness, we ask the same question of the "rational animals" who write for this puzzling newspaper.

On at least three occasions, the Times has now suggested that last week's test of cognition was a psychiatric test. This morning, the paper's science reporter passed on the chance to straighten this out, even as a letter writer articulated this key distinction with ease.

How is it possible that major upper-end journalists persistently function so poorly? We can't necessarily answer that question, but extremely poor cognitive functioning has long been a basic part of our upper-end journalism, with disastrous results.

Most simply put: this may simply be the best our journalists are able to do. That physician was able to establish a point which has persistently gone over the heads of our journalists.

We started this site twenty years ago in part because of this problem. Was the Gingrich Medicare plan merely "slowing the rate at which the program would grow?" Or was Gingrich actually proposing "Medicare cuts?"

For two solid years, this basic matter was too much for our journalists to handle. That said, they'd never been able to explain the way the Social Security trust fund actually works.

Persistently, they're overwhelmed by almost any statistical matter. They're completely unable to handle test scores. So too with issues of lead exposure, or with the much larger question of health care spending and costs.

Can our species do better on a regular basis? There's no clear sign that it can.

Still coming, though postponed now until Monday:

How it looks when a vaunted "Rhodes scholar" clowns.


  1. This is a rare "face news" incident where the mistake makes Trump look better. You can bet that this example won't be included in the 2nd annual Fake News awards.

    1. Nothing can make Trump look better. He just shut down the government for no good reason.

  2. This "mental illness" line of inquiry is distasteful but not unprecedented and is still happening to Putin critics in Russia.

    Russian historian who exposed Stalin's crimes faces enforced psychiatric testing

    Dmitriev’s lawyer, Viktor Anufriev, told Reuters on Tuesday he had written to the supreme court of Karelia, the region where his client is being tried, to appeal against the court order.

    “He’s already been through one (psychiatric) test. The conclusions were fine, no evidence of deviance was found, and the results were not contested by prosecutors,” said Anufriev.

    “This (latest testing) was ordered illegally.”

    Dmitriev was flown to Moscow at the end of last year to be evaluated at a psychiatric clinic, the Serbsky Centre, that was infamous in Soviet times for providing false testimony to allow the authorities to lock up dissidents in psychiatric facilities."

    1. The solution is not to ignore mental illness. In the US, mental illness was used as an excuse to incarcerate people who were not actually mentally ill. As a result we have laws protecting individuals while still permitting those who need help with mental illness to receive that help.

      It is entirely possible that Trump is mentally ill. It is also possible he is not. Without an assessment, we don't know what is true about him. The same applies to physical illness, especially conditions that might interfere with performance of his job. The statement made by Trump's doctor, full of obvious lies, doesn't reassure the public, especially when juxtaposed with reports that he spends most of his day in bed and examples of him having to ride a cart while his peers walked at meetings in Europe.

      The public's right to know is not equivalent to dictators locking up private citizens on pretexts alleging mental illness.

    2. Trump's doctor was chosen by Obama to be the White House physician. He sees Trump every day. I would trust his evaluation a lot more than various allegations and rumors spread by Trump's enemies.

      In principle it would be great if we could make sure our President wasn't mentally ill. In practice, I don't think this is possible. First of all, psychiatrists don't necessarily agree on their diagnoses. There's lots of judgment. Second, it would give too much power to the evaluating psychiatrist, who might be swayed by political convictions.

    3. So you get a panel of psychiatrists.

    4. Panel of Psychiatrists would become the fourth branch of government. Maybe they should be elected by the voters.

    5. Though they too will purchased by the corporate plutocrats who have bought the rest of our government and all of our mass media.

    6. Ultimate solution is impeachment.

  3. "it in no way rules out most other mental illnesses"

    Sure, but why does this need to be stated, addressed?

    You know, likewise, it's entirely possible that Bob Somerby is an enthusiastic practitioner of bestiality.

    And, just off the top my head, here are a few even more likely possibilities: Obama was born in Kenya, Bill Clinton is a serial rapist, and his wife is a psycho-murderer. Should I continue?

    1. Face it, Somerby is a lib-zombie.

    2. Nah. Clearly, he's suffering a mild case of TDS, but he still appears to be alive, and has lucid moments.

      All things considered, he's a peach of a liberal, and I'm not writing him off.

    3. Anyone who suggests that someone who calls Hillary Clinton a "psychotic witch" or "crooked Hillary" suffers from Clinton Derangement Syndrome, is simply a "lib zombie."

    4. One's a zombie when one sounds like a zombie; when one's comments exhibit zero intelligence.

    5. Mao dear, personally, I'm a stable genius, have been one for years.

    6. Good fer ya, dear. You are special.

    7. "One's a zombie when one sounds like a zombie; when one's comments exhibit zero intelligence."

      Like commenting that totally in the bag for the Establishment, Donald Trump is "anti-Establishment"? Quit chewing my large intestine, Mao.

  4. One hypothesized problem with Trump has been incipient dementia. The test administered showed that he does not have moderate or severe dementia. It is not a valid screening assessment for mild cognitive impairment, including early stages of Alzheimer's. It misses such cases.

    The test administered has nothing to do with other forms of mental illness or hypothesized causes of impairment. He doesn't get a clean bill of health for any of them -- just for moderate dementia.

    Since some people have speculated that Trump has been abusing various kinds of drugs, I'd like to see the results of a toxicology screening. For one thing, he shouldn't be taking Ambien at all because it impairs cognition while it is in a person's system and would prevent him from taking 3 am calls related to national security. For another, some have suggested he is abusing cocaine. Propecia isn't a good idea either.

    Trump is lying about his health, just as he has lied about so many other things. It is hard for me to believe that Congress doesn't care about this, but for some reason they are unwilling to do anything to protect the American people.

    1. Ambien causes parasomnia which means people can wake up and do things (in a form of sleep walking) and not remember it later. People sleep walk, sleep eat, sleep buy things on the internet, etc. Sleep tweet or sleep call North Korea.

  5. The Times isn't the only one making this mistake. e.g., this cartoon has a caption, "He just got word that the President is sane."

  6. The Chinese Ministry of Defense says Mr Trump’s ships should not make waves in the South China Sea.

  7. Replies
    1. Bless you, Greg. Belly laughs are purportedly good for your health. I *erk*

    2. Some techniques I picked up on the Nile river.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Whatever floats your boat, homie

  9. If Trump is sane and stable, the rest of us are crazy and scatter brained.

  10. I'll never get back the 25 seconds it took to scan this post.

  11. Bob, what you seem to be unable to process is the fact the corporate owned MSM does not exist to clarify issues for citizens, its job is to stoke the mass confusion that keeps a plutocracy in power. We live in a plutocracy. Plutocracy must be destroyed. Everything will worsen until it is---everything.

  12. “Can our species do better on a regular basis? There's no clear sign that it can.”

    It absolutely can’t if it is ruled by a plutocracy. When a species allows a few to ruin the lives of everyone else at varying rates, that species will degrade into barbarism and eventual suicide.

  13. The article also had to be published in English or French and pertain to MSM or