There's an odd little thing that I'm not too fond of tucked away in the latest ECF monthly email.
It's on a Word document in an ECF email, so if you're a member you may have seen it already. Actually, if you're not a member you may also have seen it already, since you can read the whole thing here in a link from 2015.
Why the ECF are treating us to "an interesting article from John Foley around the definition of chess as a sport" is left unexplained, but it may be connected to a short line in the (less than interesting) piece which says
There is an emerging awareness of the effectiveness of chess in delaying the onset of Alzheimers.Should that look familiar, it may be because Jonathan wrote about it back in 2015, specifically here and here. Do read, or re-read his pieces, but to cut a couple of longer stories short, there is not "an emerging awareness of the effectiveness of chess in delaying the onset of Alzheimers" because there is no apparent evidence that it does.
Why are we talking about this again? I'm guessing it may be connected to a recent press release from the Health and Social Care Secretary on the subject of dementia.
I confess my heart sank on seeing the press release, not because it says anything that's wrong as such, but because it brings up the subject of "memory and thinking games" and of chess specifically, and experience leads me to believe that whenever chess and dementia are linked, people start saying things I'm not sure they ought to. The press release came out on Wednesday 5 December: this was Saturday 8.
And this was Tuesday 11.
The key line in the report might be this:
No studies have shown that brain training prevents dementia.The research, which (as the BBC says) "was undertaken by Dr Roger Staff at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the University of Aberdeen", can be read here, and I'd recommend it: among its conclusions is the following
Our results indicate that later life intervention to increase activity might not influence the trajectory of declinethough it does, perhaps importantly, say this:
The results also suggest that investment in problem solving throughout life could enhance cognitive performance, providing an individual with a higher cognitive point from which to decline.Or why not look at the study's own summary?
It should be added that the study is not about chess as such, and I don't think any of the participants was a player (though the game is mentioned offhand at the end of the study). So for all we know, chess could have some extraordinary mind-stimulating ability that other brain games lack. But a complete lack is what we have of evidence for that contention, which means that where the
effectiveness of chess in delaying the onset of Alzheimersis concerned, it stands at nil. Nothing. Nada. No claims to that effect can properly be made. Not by John Foley, not by anybody.
Now I said above that the DHSC press release mentions chess. It says:
In Brighton, the Dementia Action Alliance is partnering with Chess in Schools and Communities to give free chess lessons to older people, helping them keep their minds active while giving them opportunities to socialise.That's cool as far as it goes, nothing's been said or done that shouldn't. Everything's good. But in fact not everything, because what's this?
Taking part in higher cognitive activities such as chess has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia.You see what I meant about how as soon as chess and dementia are linked, people start saying things I'm not sure they ought to. In this instance, they definitely shouldn't do: the claim is nonsense, and the people making that claim are the people running the course that's promoted by the DHSC press release.
We're invited, if we wish to have further information, to contact Andrew Wallace, who by chance is the guy making the specious claim above. So I did, or tried to.
Dear Mr WallaceThat was on 6 December and I've not received a reply.
Sorry to bother you. My name is Justin Horton and I write about chess on a blog called Lost On Time.
Having seen the Secretary of State's statement yesterday, I came across this quote from yourself:
Taking part in higher cognitive activities such as chess has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia.
I'm aware of no definitive evidence for this claim where chess is concerned - are you able to tell me what was being referred to?
Since Chess in Schools and Communities are partners in this project, I'd hope they would have something to say about the irresponsible claims that are being made in connection with it.
I'd also hope the ECF will look twice before carrying further material from John Foley, who for some reason has seen fit to recycle an article from 2015 making a claim that couldn't be justified at the time and can't be justified now.
By all means, let's have chess promoted for old and young alike, I'm all in favour. But let's not have the promotion of chess accompanied by promises we know medical science can't keep.