Notorious Paedophile Reads Neuroskeptic

By Neuroskeptic | January 5, 2013 10:42 am

There’s been controversy in the UK over an article published in the Guardian that’s regarded as being pro-child abuse.

In particular, the newspaper has taken flak for quoting Tom O’Carroll, a self-confessed paedophile and advocate for the right of people to be one. Amongst other things he’s written a book about Michael Jackson. At least this week, until the next one comes along, he is Britain’s most notorious paedophile.

Now oddly enough, I recently had an encounter with O’Carroll, although I didn’t know who he was at the time. Here’s the tale…

A few weeks ago, I got an out-of-the-blue email from a Neuroskeptic reader (as happens often), from someone saying he’d tried to leave a comment on this post but it was rejected for being too long.

O’Carroll (for it was he) wanted to know whether I agreed with his reservations about some research on “Cerebral white matter deficiencies in pedophilic men“, and specifically on this statement by the paper’s author:

One must consider carefully whether the brain differences we detected [i.e. reduced white matter volume in particular areas] cause pedophilia or whether some aspect of being pedophilic caused the brain differences

Although it is now known that certain brain structures respond to environmental stimulation, such as the motor cortex, there is no evidence that such stimulation causes any changes in the superior fronto-occipital fasciculus or right arcuate fasciculus (the brain regions in which pedophiles and nonpedophiles differ).

Moreover, the brain regions we identified are extremely large, and no previous research has ever found changes in such large regions of the brain. As an analogy, physical exercise will generally stimulate one’s muscle tissue to grow, but one would not grow an extra arm; neurological changes occur only in a very specific manner.

O’Carroll thought that this is a misleading analogy, because the brain could be plastic in ways we don’t yet understand. I agreed. We just don’t know enough about the brain, yet, to say that the observed white matter changes can’t possibly be responses to experiences.

Several recent studies found that experience and learning can change adult human white matter structure. The changes observed were fairly small, but then these studies were fairly short, so they don’t define the upper limit of what’s possible over time.

These results are not without critics of their own, and I’m on the fence about whether white matter is plastic at all, but my point is, it’s an open question. So comparing the idea of white matter plasticity to ‘growing an extra arm’ is overstatement – and it would be, whether the topic was paedophilia or anything else.

Now, as I said, I hadn’t heard of Tom O’Carroll at the time, and I assumed he had a purely academic interest in the matter, as an piece of oversold neuroscience. But now, thanks to the Guardian drama, I realize that…

Britain’s most notorious paedophile reads Neuroskeptic.


On that macabre note, I’ve often wondered whether James Eagan Holmes, the Aurora, Colorado Batman shooter, ever visited this blog. It’s possible: he was a neuroscience undergraduate and later PhD student over the time Neuroskeptic‘s been going.

There have been 574 visits from Aurora, Colorado, where Holmes was doing his PhD, since 2008. I’ll never know whether he was one of them, but the idea that he might have been is pretty creepy.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: bad neuroscience, blogging, law, media, politics
  • nerkul

    Creepy rather than factual and maybe slightly interesting? I suggest you not get emotionally involved with trivia.

  • Neuroskeptic

    Interesting certainly, but also creepy. I mean Holmes is evil, or whatever you want to call it, incarnate. And the idea he was on here… feels a bit like he was staring right into me.

  • Jayarava

    Having a blog invites readers from all across the bell curve to read your thoughts. You just never know whether they might be outside 3 SDs, and often you can't tell from what they write in comments. And most readers *never* comment.

    Interesting the way you abandon science as a model in your response to the comment above and resort to a much vaguer language and conceptual framework. You almost appear to be invoking the supernatural.

  • Origamipicker

    I agree with the previous commenters. Having a (rather successful) blog inevitably means you attract a large readership from all across the spectrum. There will be criminals/madmen who are also scientists and so even if they don't read your blog, it is very likely that they will read many of the same papers, perhaps even yours. It's what you get from inhabiting this little planet of ours at the same time and sharing the same interests and profession. I wouldn't get too wound up about it.

    For whatever it's worth, I can assure you that I'm mostly normal, at least as far as those aspects are concerned ;>)

  • Grubblaren

    Can the difference in white matter be related to your previous post about vbm?

  • Neuroskeptic

    Could be!

  • Jude

    Is Holmes evil or is he mentally ill? If you're mentally ill, can you still be evil? Or did he commit evil because his brain is screwed up, thereby making the act evil but the person just another schizophrenic (or whatever he is)? Maybe it's because I live in Colorado that I ask these questions. Since he was from California, he might also have read your blog before he made it to Colorado. Just saying. By the way, I just tried playing the captcha because I couldn't figure it out–now THAT is creepy.

  • Lisa

    Even notorious misanthropes like me read your blog :-)
    What do you care who reads your stuff? How could it possible have any reflection on you? You NT's are weird.

  • Black book doc


    Martin Seligman, a former president of the American Psychological Association, is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “What You Can Change and What You Can’t.”

    ///(…) the craziness of evil people almost never comes close to explaining their crimes. Would Lanza have murdered had he not been full of hate, had he not had a very narrow moral circle? (…) Crazy people and evil people can commit mass murder, and they always do it with guns. (…)///

    Can somebody with a good command of English write to the man through the Whasington Post that sometimes “crazy people and evil people” mass murder can occur through the bombing of an Oaklahoma public building?

    And also let him now that sometimes hallucinatory orders or felt situations are difficult to resist ( I had a client who almost killed his grand-father explaining that he had seen the old man transforming in a wolf able to kill him and the grand-mother on the spot if he had not react to defend himself and the poor old lady and it tooks several days for him to get the shadow of a doubt about what had happened to his poor brain )?

  • Black Book doc

    The important point is wether Holmes read antipsychiatrists'blog urging him not to take his psychiatrist's treatment if any:

    By the way Liza,

    Mr Holmes has shown that he didn't need guns and was able to make bombs.

    Sheer luck for some that he was not killed on the spot at the massacre and could tell the police about the explosive devices in his appartment for a start.



No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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