Talk:Oliver Sacks

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Pubmed link[edit]

I oppose the use of PubMed search instructions as a link. They simply return everything written by someone called O. Sacks. Tomorrow, someone called Orville Sacks may publish something in an obscure journal and get confused with the great Oliver. There must be an online bibliography that does not use PubMed. JFW | T@lk 13:36, 12 May 2005 (UTC)

Pubmed searches often have false positives in (e.g. Sacks O, returns Orville Sacks and Oliver Sacks), but is this really a good reason for not having them? IMHO, the number of useful hits from such a search outweighs their disadvantages. Lord.lucan 16:39, 13 May 2005 (UTC)

Fine, have it your way, but I maintain that sending search instructions to a search engine is not a job for an encyclopedia. You may find a similar discussion I've held on Talk:Hematoma. JFW | T@lk 22:03, 14 May 2005 (UTC)

The Island of the Colour-blind[edit]

The Island of the Colour-blind is not really about the chamorans but about the pingelapese on an atol about 1000 miles away....

In the book he goes to several different places in that part of the world.--PaulWicks 10:58, 7 August 2006 (UTC)

There were two parts two the book. One was about the colorblind people on Pingelap, and the other was about Lytico-Bodig on Guam. 16:05, 13 July 2007 (UTC)


I started to clean up this article (which is in very poor shape), and the first thing I found was a copyvio of the Guardian article, so there may be deeper problems. SandyGeorgia (Talk) 04:18, 5 July 2008 (UTC)

It is indeed in poor shape. We owe this fine man a better article.--Father Goose (talk) 08:20, 5 July 2008 (UTC)


Incidentally, I removed that "questionable aspects" link because it has almost nothing to do with Oliver Sacks the person. The "1985 report" it references is apparently The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and it is already mentioned that article.--Father Goose (talk) 08:53, 5 July 2008 (UTC)

I'm still uncomfortable with this issue, and I've raised it at Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_view/Noticeboard#Oliver_Sacks. Criticism of one of his books in a "letter to the editor" of a journal... fine in the article about the book, but WP:UNDUE in the article about the author, IMO.--Father Goose (talk) 03:22, 10 August 2008 (UTC)
To provide broader context, then, I've added three more sources. SandyGeorgia (Talk) 05:04, 10 August 2008 (UTC)
I tweaked the wording a bit to make it clearer that there are only a few people who have criticized Sacks. I think the bit about the letter to the editor should stay, because this sort of issue is very important to people who really care about the science. The link wasn't working when I tried it, though. Looie496 (talk) 17:17, 10 August 2008 (UTC)
Thanks for the feedback; I corrected some punctuation, and commented out the courtesy link to the full text of the journal letter (which can still be found via the journal). I left the links in comments in case they return or show up in the internet archive. Of course, there is more criticism of his work, but it's not necessary to include all of it, and I don't really want to pay for journal access (Jstor, etc.) just to add a bit more; as long as we've given some coverage of the issues to provide balance, the article is good enough (now that the copyvios are under control). SandyGeorgia (Talk) 17:37, 10 August 2008 (UTC)

Sources not included lest anyone is interested in further work on the section:

  • Verlager, Alicia (August 2006). "Decloaking Disability: Images of Disability and Technology in Science Fiction Media" (Masters' thesis). Retrieved 2008-08-10. "However, Sacks's use of his preoccupation with people with disabilities as the foundation for his professional career has led many disability advocates to compare him to P. T. Barnum, whose own professional career (and its subsequent monetary profit) was based to a large degree upon his employment of PWD as 'freaks.' ... Note also the science fiction aspect to the title of Sacks's book, which frames the disabled people he writes about as 'aliens' from a different planet. One issue in the dynamic of the expert who appoints himself as the official storyteller of the experience of disability is that both the professional and financial success of the storyteller often rely upon his framing of the disabled characters as extraordinary, freakish, or abnormal. This is what disability studies scholars and disability advocates term the 'medicalization of disability' (Linton 1998, 1-2)." 
  • Cassuto, Leonard (June 2000). "Oliver Sacks: The P.T. Barnum of the Postmodern World?". American Quarterly (subscription required) (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 52 (2): pp. 326–333. 
  • Linton S (September 1, 1998). "Disability Studies/Not Disability Studies". Disability & Society (subscription required) 13 (4): pp. 525–539.  Unknown parameter |publihser= ignored (help)

SandyGeorgia (Talk) 18:02, 10 August 2008 (UTC)

I've now added the two that are available online, so we now have two sentences of criticism in the entire article, seven citations. Further additions probably requires subscription access to other journals. SandyGeorgia (Talk) 18:54, 10 August 2008 (UTC)
The balance and coverage is quite good now. I appreciate the work you've done very much.--Father Goose (talk) 07:58, 11 August 2008 (UTC)
With the additional sentence you just added (the spoof), the paragraph seems out of balance to me now. Can someone locate a key positive critical review of his work overall, to re-balance? Out of time today, SandyGeorgia (Talk) 14:08, 11 August 2008 (UTC)
Howzat?--Father Goose (talk) 10:15, 12 August 2008 (UTC)
Better. Because the article is now better balanced in terms of literary and medical/disability criticism, I wouldn't oppose moving the letter to the editor to the book article, if you want to do that. It does create a rather strange flow. SandyGeorgia (Talk) 16:51, 12 August 2008 (UTC)
Separately, I must say that I still find the "letter to the editor" out of place in this article. (By the way, the PDF was only temporarily unavailable: [1].) All it does is suggest that Sacks may have misremembered details of his interaction with the twins -- "Although I do not doubt... that the report was a basically true story..." We don't need a sentence highlighting that Sacks made an error in one of his books if this is not a general criticism of his writing.--Father Goose (talk) 10:15, 12 August 2008 (UTC)
All I can say is that to me as a scientist, the difference between "basically a true story" and "completely a true story" is pretty large. Medical journals generally don't publish letters to the editor lightly. If there is a consensus to drop the sentence here, I won't fight against it, but my opinion is that this item is important enough to stay. Looie496 (talk) 17:09, 12 August 2008 (UTC)
Then maybe Jbmurray (who edited today) can improve the flow; it's a bit awkward now. I'm fine either way (and thanks for providing the initial Shakespeare source, Jb; I didn't have access to the journal, so couldn't cite it). SandyGeorgia (Talk) 17:23, 12 August 2008 (UTC)
I've looked at the letter, and agree that this should go. It's really a very minor piece of criticism indeed. --jbmurray (talkcontribs) 17:45, 12 August 2008 (UTC)
Well, now that I've got Sandy on board, I'll move it to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (actually, it's already there, but I'll reword it). Putting it in the general criticisms section in this article seems to cast a pall over all his work for a relatively small error in one of his books. It is definitely of interest to the Mistook (heh) article, though.--Father Goose (talk) 20:24, 12 August 2008 (UTC)
Actually, now I've moved it and downplayed it somewhat, it's probably OK to stay. It would be nice to have a more substantive assessment, however, of the medical community's response to his work. --jbmurray (talkcontribs) 20:31, 12 August 2008 (UTC)
If there were such an assessment, I would support putting in. But in moving the Yamaguchi item to the front of the paragraph, I think its importance was intensified, not downplayed, and now it's been generalized into "criticism by the medical community". This discussion of it has produced a solid "criticism" section in the article, and for that I'm very happy, but the Yamaguchi letter is not general criticism of Sacks or his writing, and retaining it here seems to compel editors to generalize it in that way, which lurches into WP:UNDUE. I'll leave it in Mistook, remove it from here.--Father Goose (talk) 20:49, 12 August 2008 (UTC)

Don't you know? Article and Letter do not exactly match those in the everyday word usage. Some journals label scientific articles as Letter. Also see Reply by Yamaguchi in the same journal issue, and you will see Sacks was refuted.-- (talk) 16:09, 15 August 2008 (UTC)

Okay, I've read the "reply" letter and re-read the first letter. In the first, Yamaguchi focuses on the fact that Sacks' book of primes could not have been a complete listing of all primes up to 10 digits. However, Sacks did not claim that he had such a book, just that he had a book of primes that did have any primes larger than 10 digits.
In the second letter, Yamaguchi refutes Snyder's response letter to some degree, but still not Sacks. He says that it's up to Sacks to prove that a book of primes was available in 1966; I'd be willing to bet that Sacks had Derrick Norman Lehmer's List of Prime Numbers from 1 to 10,006,721, which contains at least one 8-digit prime and could have easily contained a 10-digit prime in the introduction (see review). None of this suggests that any aspect of Sacks' account was inaccurate.
It does leave the door open that Sacks' account was factually accurate but still misrepresented the twins' number abilities. Yamaguchi addresses this at the end of his second letter, and that's the part that finally turns up something interesting. None of what's in either letter shows that Sacks was lying, or even necessarily exaggerating, just that the twins' priming ability was not necessarily as exact as Sacks presumed it was based on his limited experience with them. Thus all that really should be said is not "Sacks lied" or even exaggerated, but maybe that he formed an impression of the twins' abilities that was not quite borne out by subsequent research. That's a pretty limited criticism -- too limited to belong in Sacks' bio, I think, though it does belong in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.--Father Goose (talk) 08:06, 16 August 2008 (UTC)

How about the twin's 10 digit number which Sacks confirmed as a prime? Sacks lied here. Experts on autism already dismiss Sacks' this report. (Incidentally, Snyder's use of the word "priming" is wrong.-- (talk) 13:29, 16 August 2008 (UTC)

Hey, let's tone it down a bit -- there's no need for a word like "lied". The question is whether Sacks was sloppy, for example by misremembering 10,xxx,xxx as a 10 digit number. I haven't seen anything here to indicate deliberate deception. Looie496 (talk) 16:14, 16 August 2008 (UTC)
Sacks doesn't even say that the twins spoke a 10-digit number (they leapt from 6 to 9 to 12; he interjected one 8-digit and one 10-digit prime), nor does he explicitly say that he checked anything other than their initial 6-digit primes.--Father Goose (talk) 00:58, 17 August 2008 (UTC)

You should see how many divisions are necessary for confirming primality of 10 digit as compared to 8 digit numbers. Very different. In addition, even without explicit description, that's simply misleading and many books describe "the twins said 20 digit primes". Scientific value of the report was lost.-- (talk) 05:43, 17 August 2008 (UTC)

9,500 divisions are needed to confirm 10 digit numbers, 3,400 divisions are needed to confirm 9 digit numbers, 1,200 for 8 digit numbers. Sacks says plainly that he couldn't check their 20-digit primes, so any book that says so is wrong through no fault of Sacks.
Such details are of interest to the Man Who Mistook article, but turning all this into "Sacks has faced criticism in the medical community" is an overgeneralization. Show me more than one criticism before you can cry "medical community". Further, since when are Sacks' books "scientific reports"? They're literary stories about his experiences as a neurologist. Are you telling me the scientific community doesn't know the difference? Is that Sacks' fault, or theirs?--Father Goose (talk) 10:24, 17 August 2008 (UTC)

Whether it's medical, scientific, news or sports, reporting must be accurate.

I don't mind continue discussing, although this discussion is contributing little to improving the main text.-- (talk) 07:21, 18 August 2008 (UTC)

Need help[edit]

I can't solve this problem by edit-warring with 125, nor apparently is further discussion going to be effective. My basic assertion has been the same throughout: this criticism of Sacks' story about the twins is very limited, but it being spun into something far too large, such as "criticism in the medical community" or even "Sacks lied". As far as I can tell, Sacks has more support than criticism in both the medical and disability communities -- and for the time being, the only criticism of the medical community that's been put forward is Yamaguchi's critique of Sacks' story about the twins.

Are there more scientific or medical criticisms of Sacks out there? If they can be presented as a group, then it would have some weight, and I would in fact support putting them in this article. But I think the Yamaguchi critique by itself is too limited to belong in a general summary of criticism Sacks has faced. Again, I have always supported its mention in the Man Who Mistook His Wife article, as it is criticism specific to that book, but not something that should be elevated into a criticism of Sacks in general.

For those who have participated in this discussion or have been watching it, can I ask you to sound off here? Is the Yamaguchi letter enough of a criticism of Sacks himself to belong in this article, his biography? Is it appropriately neutral to say "Sacks has faced criticism in the medical and disability studies communities" when the criticism is coming from what to me looks like just a few individuals within those communities? Please do help me here.--Father Goose (talk) 09:12, 18 August 2008 (UTC)

My reading is that the article as-is provides the reader with a view of some of the criticisms levelled (of which the "freak show" is of MUCH greater significant than quibbling about primes) and provides sources if they want to follow them up in more detail. There is a quote you could use re: the former criticism by the way, which is "I would hope that a reading of what I write shows respect and appreciation, not any wish to expose or exhibit for the thrill," he sighs, "but it's a delicate business." from this interview: One thing I was surprised to see absent in here was mention of his personal life, which others have commented upon as being unusual. There is also nothing on more recent books such as Uncle Tungsten (which I have not read). As a footnote (and in declaring my interests) I will mention that I did once write to Dr Sacks a note about ALS on Guam via email; he replied some time later with a letter typed out on a typewriter thanking me for drawing his attention to the fact that ALS patients can get cognitive dysfunction. If anyone is interested I think we could probably get this bio up to a higher standard than "start class"?--PaulWicks (talk) 10:13, 18 August 2008 (UTC)
I encourage you to edit the article. In particular, I think your quote would go a long way toward balancing that paragraph. Also I'd like to reiterate what I wrote earlier: to a scientist, the primes issue is important because it addresses the extent to which Sacks can be trusted to get details right. The "freak show" criticism, on the other hand, seems very misguided: I find it hard to understand how anybody can read his books without seeing that his purpose is to give us insight into how the mind works, not to make fun of patients. Looie496 (talk) 15:57, 18 August 2008 (UTC)

In the previous versions, the letter was in the External Links, with no mention in the text. Later versions mentioned the letter as "skeptical view". You can revert the present version to these earlier wording.-- (talk) 13:38, 18 August 2008 (UTC)

I preferred the last version written by User:Jbmurray, which was balanced and accurate. IP 125, please read WP:SOAP, WP:NOR and WP:NOTAFORUM, and in particular, please read WP:BLP; I share FatherGoose's frustration. SandyGeorgia (Talk) 16:01, 18 August 2008 (UTC)

Speech Impedement?[edit]

Does he have a speech impedement, or is there some accent in England where he comes from where they pronounce r as w? Readers of this article want to know. Chrisrus (talk) 06:14, 18 June 2010 (UTC)

Readers come here looking for this information, but are not told. Why is this, has the issue never been addressed? If there is no problem discussing his face-blindness, why would there be a problem with him haveing a simple speech impediment? But I noticed several other Englishmen, Terry Jones, for example, that also seems to substitute W for R, albeit not in the initial position of a word, just in the middle. Where is his accent from? Is it regional, or a "school" accent, and is his "Welease Wodger!" way of speaking a characteristic of the way he was taught that it was proper to speak, or is it just that he has a speech impediment, as most Americans would probably assume. I know it's not normal in England to say "wheelie" for "really", but I also know that even though it's a small country the situation with accents and dialects is extreemly complicated and numerous there, as opposed to the five-to-ten or so noticable accents we have in North America. Is it a case of him having the same problem as Elmer Fudd, or just an obscure unusual English accent? Readers want to know! Chrisrus (talk) 17:03, 18 August 2011 (UTC)

Face blindness?[edit]

Hello, all! I just saw a short news story on CNN with Oliver Sacks revealing that he is "face blind". Would this be relevant? I believe it would be because he is a world-renowned neurologist who has an incredibly rare neurological condition. I will try to find the sources in print. Lilly (talk) 16:30, 9 January 2011 (UTC)

  • Update here are the sources including one written by Sacks himself:

Source 1 (this one is by Sacks) Source 2 — Preceding unsigned comment added by Lilly granger (talkcontribs) 16:36, 9 January 2011 (UTC)

Prosopagnosia is not incredibly rare for those on the autistic spectrum. I can't find the article where Sacks speculatively outs himself as autistic. Worth mentioning if someone can find it, imo. (talk) 02:41, 21 July 2011 (UTC)
Um, the article has said this for some time: "For his entire life Sacks has had a condition known as prosopagnosia or face blindness.Prosopagnosia: Oliver Sacks' Battle with "Face Blindness"." Martinevans123 (talk) 07:25, 21 July 2011 (UTC)


Shouldn't the article be Dr. Oliver Sacks? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:40, 11 January 2012 (UTC)

Not according to WP:MOS. Thanks Martinevans123 (talk) 21:43, 11 January 2012 (UTC)

Man Without Words[edit]

Hello I am with a group doing a project on the book A Man Without Words by Susan Schaller. Oliver Sacks wrote the forward for this book and there is no mention of it on his page. I am a bit new to Wiki so I am unsure whether a forward qualifies compared to larger works, but the book is right up his alley. A few members of my group are reading the book and I can find out more about the contents of the forward and whether it seems relevant or not. Huxley1860 (talk) 20:45, 6 March 2012 (UTC)

Yes certainly, a foreword is usually notable, but especially if the book itself has its own article. It should probably go in that article first, but could also be usefully added here. In fact I now see that book article (it's about a 27 year old deaf man whom Schaller teaches how to speak for the first time) already mentions Sacks. Thanks. Martinevans123 (talk) 21:12, 6 March 2012 (UTC)
Should we put in... A Man Without Words (1991) (forward)? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Huxley1860 (talkcontribs) 04:39, 13 March 2012 (UTC)

If you wish to include this, then you should include ALL the cases where Sacks contributed forewords.(Incidentally, clearly that book at least partially contains exaggeration)-- (talk) 02:21, 24 March 2012 (UTC)

So how many are there? Will they swamp the article? I'd suggest that each be considered on its own merits This one seems notable as it has its own article. And I'm pretty sure there are many works, which have their own article here, but whidh also "at least partially contain exaggeration". If you have a concern perhaps you should discuss at the Talk page there? Thanks Martinevans123 (talk) 08:45, 24 March 2012 (UTC)

Hallucinations (2012)[edit]

Sacks' new book will be published in November: Sacks, O., 2012 Hallucinations, Knopf, ISBN 978-0-307-95724-5. I had assumed that (provided the author's name was spelled correctly!) anything with an ISBN could be added to an article, whether actually published yet or not. What is Wikipedia policy on this? Should it just be mentioned in the article text, or instead be listed under a new section headed "Forthcoming publications"? Thanks. Martinevans123 (talk) 13:53, 30 June 2012 (UTC)

Now added and has its own article. Martinevans123 (talk) 17:07, 27 December 2012 (UTC)


"Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE (born 9 July 1933), is a British-American biologist,.." What is the justification for this statement? Thanks. Martinevans123 (talk) 17:06, 27 December 2012 (UTC)

What do you mean? Are you disputing the British bit or the American bit? He was born in Britain, is still a British citizen (no idea whether he's taken American citizenship too), and has lived in the USA for nearly fifty years, although he still appears to visit Britain quite a lot. He's certainly British, but America is his adopted home. -- Necrothesp (talk) 16:45, 7 January 2014 (UTC)
I'm still rather unclear what the criteria are for having dual nationality. I thought one had to "take American citizenship" or some such, to legally "become an American". Or hold two passports? Or does 50 years residence automtically qualify one? Or does Sacks refer to himself as a British-Amercian? I was lookinf for a reliable source for the claim, not just our own personal opinions. Thanks. Martinevans123 (talk) 16:24, 4 April 2014 (UTC)

Adding to his list of works[edit]

Hello everyone this is my first time editing a Wikipedia page and I am very excited! I wanted to add a snippet about Oliver Sacks' new book Hallucinations. Here is my proposed edit:

In November 2012 Oliver Sacks released his latest book, Hallucinations. In this work Sacks takes a look into why ordinary people can sometimes experience hallucinations and removes the stigma placed behind the word. He explains, “Hallucinations don’t belong wholly to the insane. Much more commonly, they are linked to sensory deprivation, intoxication, illness or injury.” [1] . Sacks writes about the not so well known phenomenon called Charles Bonnet Syndrome, which has been found to occur in elderly people who have lost their eyesight. The book has been described by Entertainment Weekly as, “Elegant… An absorbing plunge into a mystery of the mind,”[2]


  1. ^ Sacks, Oliver. "Hallucinations". 
  2. ^ Lee, Stephan. "Book Review: Hallucinations". Retrieved 09/2012.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)

I would greatly appreciate your criticism! --Dberezowski (talk) 13:59, 18 April 2014 (UTC)