March 26th, 2008

The demon-haunted world (Part II: autism)

[Part I.]

Science is certainly far from infallible. That’s especially true of studies related to human beings, on whom any sort of research is notoriously difficult to perform and evaluate. The variables are myriad and uncontrollable, and ethics ordinarily prevents the sort of callous manipulation of subjects that would yield somewhat better results.

When evaluating a disease or syndrome, it helps if the vector of disease is singly determined. This is rarer than one thinks; even in diseases caused by microbes, for example, in which exposure to the microbe is a necessary cause of the illness, it is rarely a sufficient cause. There’s the poorly-understood problem of resistance—why do some people come down with the disease when exposed and others do not?

And even many problems that seem to have a strong genetic component (schizophrenia comes to mind) commonly have only about 50% concordance in identical twins, which indicates that some unknown environmental factor or factors must account for half the variance.

The scientific method was a triumph of human thought, but it took a while to develop because certain things about it are counterintuitive. It requires that we suspend judgment on the causes of a phenomenon even though we may think we can come to conclusions about it on the evidence of our eyes. But often the results run counter to what we would have predicted based on observations and/or intuition. And sometimes, of course, research yields incorrect or ambiguous results because of methodological or observational problems.

And so we come to the case of the autism epidemic. Statistics indicate that the incidence of autism has increased dramatically in the last twenty years or so, most particularly since the early 1990s. Autism is a complex syndrome of disordered childhood development marked by a variety of delays and oddities, a plethora of subcategories, an unknown etiology, lack of a cure, disagreement on the best treatments, and a decades-long history (reversed only recently and imperfectly) of blaming the parents.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this particular set of circumstances would lead not only to frustration for parents and professionals alike, but to a tremendous drive to explain what’s happening and what to do about it. But typical of research with human subjects, studies of autism have a long way to go before reaching that particular goal.

Patients and their families have access to a great deal more information these days than previously. Medicine was once limited in most cases to giving comfort and offering a prediction as to the course of the illness; no one knew a whole lot. Then, as knowledge advanced and treatment improved, the doctor became a sort of oracle proclaiming from on high about a source of extremely esoteric knowledge. The patient needed to follow and not to question.

In recent decades this has changed. Patients’ rights have become greater, and access to information has been revolutionized by the internet. Some patients may be so overwhelmed by the choices and responsibilities facing them that they wish their doctors would tell them exactly what to do more often. But most people seem pleased with their new power and knowledge.

I’m in favor of this greater knowledge on the part of patients. But I’m also aware that evaluating medical research is difficult enough for professionals, and can be especially difficult for lay people. It’s not that it requires such enormous intelligence, but it usually requires an understanding of research methods and statistics—and their pitfalls—that ordinarily only comes with a certain amount of specialized training.

For example, in order to get my undergraduate degree in psychology from a university that specialized in research rather than clinical work I had to take a course in statistics and several in research methods. I also had to design and perform a small research project of my own. Then, at the Master’s level, it happened again: a much more complicated course in statistics, one in research ethics, another in evaluating research, and then the design of a far more rigorous study (this one didn’t have to be performed, but it had to be planned in such detail that it could have been).

Even then, I’m no expert on the subject. But all that background gave me more ability to analyze research involving human subjects than I would otherwise have possessed, and more knowledge on the subject than the average person.

There is no question that there is an autism epidemic if one studies the figures. But there’s also no question that diagnosis of the syndrome has changed utterly from what it used to be. “Autism” is now a very big tent. Not only that, but services have expanded exponentially since the early 90s, providing further impetus for the diagnosis of those who formerly would not have received the label, in order for them to be eligible for the benefits they need.

An indication of how difficult it is (and how misleading it can be) to try to compare pre-1990′s statistics to current ones is the change in how statistics are compiled:

In 1990, Congress added the word “autism” as a separate disability category to a federal law that guarantees special education services, and Education Department regulations have included a separate definition of autism since 1992. Before that, children with autism were counted under other disabling conditions, such as mental retardation, said Jim Bradshaw, an education department spokesman.

And yes, just as one might expect, as autism diagnoses have risen, mental retardation diagnoses have declined.

Parents faced with the difficulty of wading through the stress and confusion of labels, treatments, and prognoses naturally turn to other parents, support groups, and the internet and other reading matter. This represents progress, too; in earlier times, parents were very much alone with their sorrows and their challenges (see Clara Claiborne Park’s remarkable book The Seige for a description of what this used to be like, written by the mother of a profoundly autistic child during the 1960s).

Many parents of autistic children are understandably frustrated not only by the difficulties of dealing with their troubled children, but by epidemiologists who question even the existence of the epidemic. How could it not be real? Anyone with a brain can see the profound increase in incidence. What’s wrong with these doctors, anyway?

As commenter TalkinKamel, parent of a child diagnosed with autism, has written in a comment here:

Unfortunately, whether or not there is a real epidemic (I incline towards this view), or whether it’s simply something else, or even just increased diagnosis—-all three of these are depressing prospects.

If there is an epidemic of autism, or something very like autism, then what is causing it, and can anything be done about it?

If it’s an increase in diagnosis, this raises troubling questions about the medical industry’s competence: are, say, educable mentally retarded kids being thrown in with the truly autistic, because it’s just easier to lump them all in together?…Either way it’s troubling, and I’m afraid I have little faith in the experts being able to sort it out, or come up with a solution.

My response is that the entire world of autism is troubling, and although it’s natural to wish for solutions it’s more realistic to expect them to come only slowly and laboriously. It does make a difference, however, in the long struggle towards more effective treatment and even prevention, to know what is actually happening—real epidemic or statistical artifact?—so that precious time, money, and energy is not wasted in efforts directed at the wrong target.

Vaccines are a common focus of concern. As I wrote in Part I, their very success in eradicating (at least for the time being) the diseases they were designed to combat has made their use seem arbitrary, unnecessary, and dispensable, and has made the small but real risks inherent in receiving them seem less bearable. It happens to also be the case that the MMR vaccine is commonly administered at around the time in emotional and cognitive development that many children who are autistic begin to show the signs of their illness. That leads to many reports that a decline began or was noticed after vaccination, and this leads to the understandable conclusion that the vaccine was responsible.

Correlation, of course, is not causation; that’s one of the hallmarks of the scientific method. Nor is simultaneity. Both can be coincidences, or the result of other causes occurring at the same time. But to tease out the truth is not an easy task.

I am not going to present all the pros and cons of the research involved; that would require a book. But I will say that, having read a good deal of it, I come down fairly strongly at this point on the side of thinking the epidemic is almost entirely an artifact of statistics and diagnostic changes. In this I am helped by the fact that most epidemiologists—the experts most likely to be able to come to conclusions on this topic—agree (and the just-linked NY Times article is one of the best summaries on the topic, for those who would like to do some reading on their own.)

The problem of better diagnosis vs. actual increase in incidence is hardly limited to autism, by the way, although autism is an especially good example of the dilemma.

Another excellent article summarizes the issues in the autism epidemic controversy, stating:

Tellingly, around three-quarters of all diagnoses of autism today are for Asperger’s and PDD-NOS, both of which are much less severe than the autism of old….[T]here are other reasons to believe that autism is simply being diagnosed more often now than in the past. One is the “Rain Man effect” – the huge increase in the public awareness of autism following the 1988 film starring Dustin Hoffman. Awareness has also increased massively among healthcare workers….Another factor is that one of the stigmas of autism has largely disappeared….Finally, while some parents still have to fight for help for their autistic children, far more services are now available. This has encouraged doctors to label borderline or ambiguous cases as autism…

[A]n epidemiological study carried out in the 1980s simply cannot be compared with one done last week. There will be so many differences in diagnostic procedures and in the willingness of doctors and parents to label a child autistic that comparisons are meaningless….

As an example of the type of data that leads people to believe the epidemic is real, and the sort of research required to tease out whether this might be true or not, the article offers the following study, among others:

Perhaps the strongest case against the “better diagnosis” theory is that, if true, there should be a “hidden hoard” of autistic adults who were never properly diagnosed in childhood. To parent Richard Miles, this is compelling. “My doctor cannot believe that he could have missed so many cases in the past,” he says. But Taylor disagrees. As a former general practitioner, he says there are many children today diagnosed with autism who would not have been labelled as such in the past.

This view is difficult to substantiate, but in 2001 a team led by Helen Heussler of Nottingham University, UK, had a crack. They re-examined the data from a 1970 survey of 13,135 British children. The original survey found just five autistic children, but using modern diagnostic criteria Heussler’s team found a hidden hoard of 56. That’s over a tenfold rise in numbers, which puts the California figures in perspective. Heussler and her colleagues concluded that “estimates from the early 1970s may have seriously underestimated the prevalence”.

And then there’s this, concerning the vaccine connection:

A recent study from Japan may prove the final nail in the coffin for the MMR theory. It found that diagnosed cases in that country continued to rise even after the triple jab was withdrawn.

Science is no panacea, although we might want it to be. Medicine doesn’t usually progress by leaps and bounds. More often it limps along, or meanders, or moves in fits and starts. But the general course is in the direction of greater knowledge, slow though the accretion of that knowledge may be, desperate though the desire for more immediate answers.

In the meantime, we must be very careful not to expect too much of science—and, in our frustration with it, trust too much in hypotheses and explanations that don’t hold up under scrutiny. The irony is that, imperfect though science is, it is still the best tool we have right now for finding the answers we seek.

55 Responses to “The demon-haunted world (Part II: autism)”

  1. DC Says:

    My theory is that seeing disturbing things on TV can traumatize young minds and drive them inward.

  2. Sergey Says:

    Another explanation is that the prevalence of autoimmune diseases, like asthma and nettle-rash, as well as frequency of allergic reactions to some foods in children also raised dramatically in two last decades. This is noteworthy because the almost only lethal complication of measles now are brain swelling and encephalitis of purely autoimmune nature.

  3. Vanderleun Says:

    I was struck by “as autism diagnoses have risen, mental retardation diagnoses have declined.” This may well couple with the Rainman effect. After all, it is probably more acceptable to say one’s child is autistic than that he or she is retarded.

  4. John Says:

    In relation to the “better diagnosis” theory, I can tell you that there are large caches of adults that have Asperger’s or PDD-NOS, but have adapted to be able to fit in well enough. Children with an autistic spectrum disorder grow up to be adults with ASD. They’re easy to find, just go to any tech company or college engineering dept and you’ll hardly be able to find anyone that isn’t somewhere on the spectrum.

    Many times when a child is diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder, it is common to find that at least one of the parents also exhibits symptoms, or did as a child. They would have probably been diagnosis if they were a child today.

    Also, Dr. Asperger’s work from the 1940′s was not translated to English until the 1990′s so there was very little understanding of the condition in this country until recently.

  5. Sergey Says:

    Except for Rainman film, may be, the best description of autism is contained in Hans Kristian Anderssen classic “Snow Queen”. The boy abducted by Snow Queen is taken away into her icy kingdom, where in icy grotto he again and again is trying to assemble from ice fragments the word “infinity”, never satisfied by result, and when his loving sister after long and dangerous travel found him, he paid to her no attention and continue his awkward pursuit. This is a powerfull imagery, so clinically accurate, that I believe it was based on personal experience.

  6. Uh-huh Says:

    My youngest brother is autistic. He started showing the classic signs at 1 1/2 – 2 years old I’m told, before that he was a normal and happy babbling toddler. Then total shutdown, he lost the language skills he was starting to develop and tuned out the world.
    His symptoms occurred just about the same time she became sick — she ended up away in the hospital for months. When she came back the smiling little boy who’d pester for “Tookies” (his baby word for cookies) was gone, replaced by this violent screaming dervish who flapped his hand in front of his face or twirled a string constantly.
    This was in the late 1960′s when the whole “refrigerator mother” theory was still the rage, well at least with the doctors she took him to, so she blamed herself — It was her fault, though not deliberately. She had just been away too long at the hospital.
    Later when that theory fell out of vogue she still blamed herself, it must have been that long car trip she took while she was pregnant with him she’d say, it must have caused him damage. And she would give anything in the world for him to come up and smile and ask for a “Tookie” again.

    Question– I remember doing some research on autism back in the early 80′s before “Rain Man” and the whole explosion of autism diagnosis happening, then it seemed to occur in 3x’s as many males as females. When it did occur in females it was usually more severe. Is that still considered the case now?

  7. Gringo Says:

    Augusten Burroughs, a.k.a. Christopher Robison, published a best selling
    autobiography Running With Scissors which discusses his older brother John. Burrough’s book spends a fair amount of time describing his older brother’s idiosyncrasies. At the end of the book Burroughs reveals that in later years his older brother was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
    Burrough’s brother ,John Elder Robison , recently published Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s. He appears to have had a fairly successful and interesting, albeit somewhat unconventional, life.

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    Uh-huh: there are still many more boys than girls diagnosed. I’ve never come across the assertion that the girls are more seriously affected, however.

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    Sergey: strange that you mention “The Snow Queen.” It has always been one of my favorite fairy tales. I read it again and again when I was young. When I grew up, I felt it described a child who was mentally disturbed, but my diagnosis for the boy (Kay) was that he had severe depression. Autism might fit too, however, now that you mention it.

    I always thought depression because of the description of the piece of magic mirror that got stuck in his eye:

    [The mirror had] the power of causing all that was good and beautiful when it was reflected therein, to look poor and mean; but that which was good-for-nothing and looked ugly was shown magnified and increased in ugliness.

    After the mirror shatters into pieces:

    …now it worked much more evil than before; for some of these pieces were hardly so large as a grain of sand, and they flew about in the wide world, and when they got into people’s eyes, there they stayed; and then people saw everything perverted, or only had an eye for that which was evil. This happened because the very smallest bit had the same power which the whole mirror had possessed. Some persons even got a splinter in their heart, and then it made one shudder, for their heart became like a lump of ice.

    Come to think of it, that last sentence could also be a description of the psychopath.

  10. nyomythus Says:

    Police: Girl Dies After Parents Pray for Healing Instead of Seeking Medical Help,2933,341574,00.html

    Don’t deny the root cause and you’ll begin to see the problem and the solution.

  11. OmegaPaladin Says:


    Yeah, yeah, you hate religious people. We all know that. Can we actually discuss the topic at hand now?


    I was pinned down as having Asperger’s fairly late in childhood after many other attempts at a diagnosis. What’s funny is that I would probably be nearly a perfect case. It’s not a serious disability, and I could imagine that it and other mild ASDs were just viewed as personality quirks and social misfits in the past.


    I’d agree with that. There is certainly some overlap between geeks and ASD sufferers. In fact, I would wonder how of the “sufferers” would actually turn down a cure.

  12. TalkinKamel Says:

    And, meanwhile, those of with kids who have real problems still don’t have any answers. And nobody has the answers. There’s certainly lots of amusing speculation here: maybe one parent was really autistic, and just didn’t get diagnosed? Maybe it’s asthma, or nettle disease, or something to do with the Snow Queen? Or maybe all those autistic kids are actually mentally retarded. Or depressed. Or whatever.

    Neo, so far from having too much faith in science, at this point, I confess, I have practically none. Don’t you see how pathetic this is? This is a profession so muddled in its thinking, it can’t decide whether it’s got an epidemic or just too many statistics on its hands. Meanwhile, it doesn’t have a clue as to how to help kids like my son.

    My attitude at this point is, I’ll listen when they actually come up with something: an actual theory, a hypotheses, and when they actually nail down what autism really is, and what it isn’t. Until then, it’s all as much a fairy tale as Anderson’s Snow Queen.

  13. TalkinKamel Says:

    And I quite agree that any progress will be slow and laborious—assuming there will be any progress at all, which I am seriously beginning to doubt. And, at any rate, any discoveries will probably come too late to help my son.

  14. TalkinKamel Says:

    And DS, your comment about young minds being traumatized by things they see on TV (to the point of autism?) is almost as silly as Tatterdemelian’s remark that my son’s problems are all in my head. (He’s actually a Shakespearean orator, and fluent in six languages; I’m just imaging his problems, you see.)

    I’m leaving now, before all the theories being churned out manage to get even more ridiculous.

  15. TalkinKamel Says:

    As for the lack of retardation diagnoses. . . the official estimate is that at least two-thirds of all autistic children are also mentally retarded. So it’s there, they’ve just added autism to it.

  16. Gringo Says:

    the official estimate is that at least two-thirds of all autistic children are also mentally retarded.

    Given the lower level of response to the environment- call it what you will- that both autistic and mentally retarded persons exhibit, it is not surprising there is an overlap.

    Which is not to say that all autistic children exhibit lowered verbalization etc., but many do. There is an overlap, but not a complete intersection, as you point out.

  17. colagirl Says:

    Sergey, that’s a fascinating interpretation of the Snow Queen story. I’d never thought of it that way before, but it adds a whole extra layer of meaning to the classic fairy tale.

    Neo-neo, put me down on the “hidden hoard” side of the equation. There are a few academics I know, all in highly technical areas of my field, who I am sure that if they had been born today, they would be diagnosed with Asperger’s if not some other autistic disorder. One in particular, whom I work with a great deal (I call him the “Mad Scientist”), shows almost all the signs of being an Aspie and is known in the department for being strange and extremely difficult to work with interpersonally.

  18. Truth Says:


  19. sergey Says:

    According Wiki (I know, it is not always accurate), autism is characterised by obsessive-compulsive behavior, repetitive actions completely detached from actual situation and rather abstract in their nature, like arranging objects in some geometrical pattern. This behavior is also rigid and persistent. Depression has many forms, but in most cases emotional response to environment is not dumped, it simply becomes predominantly negative, patient can become even more agitated, or centered on his own conscience with lots of negative emotions. Desensitizing and emotional detachment not only from external world, but from own self too, is more indicative of autism than depression. That is why I tend to see Kay’s behavior as autistic, not as depressive.

  20. sergey Says:

    And yes, a good half of my colleagues-mathematicians, often geeks with peculiar personal habits and gestures, and myself too, can be diagnosed Asperger by modern diagnostic criteria.

  21. sergey Says:

    Medicine and psychiatry in particular are still more arts than sciences. Desperate attempts are made to make them more scientific, and while I strongly support them, I rather sceptical about attainability of this goal. So-called humanitarian disciplines are not sciences at all, and even animal biology, with much less restrictions on experimentation, to large extent is humanitarian discipline, too. Applicability of scientific method to humans is an open question, and in many fields my intuitive assessment is that it is not applicable. The most infomative tool of psychology is introspection, which certainly is not a scientific method.

  22. DC Says:

    Just to clarify for anyone upset by my comment. I’m talking about a supposed epidemic of cases that were missed because they are not severe. Perhaps the trauma early in life that did not exist before recent times is enough to make marginal cases more obvious. I would think that susceptibility to autism would be genetic, no doubt in my mind about that.

  23. Dishman Says:

    I’m an Aspie.
    I worked for years in Silicon Valley, with some rather obvious indicators, and nobody batted an eye. The only reason I found out was that I had some questions regarding my social skills.

    Headhunters could probably give a good number for how many technical people are Aspie. My sense is that it’s common for Headhunters to encounter Aspies. The ones I dealt with all made social interaction easy for me, so they seemed to have experience.

  24. Dishman Says:

    At least 3 and possibly all 4 of my grandparents would have been diagnosed Aspie by today’s standards.

  25. SteveH Says:

    Not to diminish this troubling phenomenon, but aren’t we all “afflicted” when it comes down to the brass tacks?

    Seems to me that all human characteristics come in the form of tradeoffs. If you excel in sports, chances are you’re not so great at math. If you have great social skills, chances are you’re not so good at delving in to tedious research.

    I’m just sayin…

  26. nyomythus Says:

    I don’t hate religious people, far from it.

  27. Tatterdemalian Says:

    Science literally can not ever have all the answers. Alan Turing proved this with not just scientific but mathematical certainty.

    If you want comfort when there are no answers, I’d suggest turning to Jesus. Science is cold and hard; any science that isn’t, is a fakery intended to manipulate you.

  28. Tatterdemalian Says:

    When everyone is autistic, nobody will be. Problem solved, then?

  29. SteveH Says:

    The success of science is turning out to be its own worst enemy. Just look at the unrealistic pedestal society has placed it on.

    We actually think it possesses the ability to peer 100 years in the future (see global warming fiasco).

    We’re heading in the direction of thinking all human suffering and death is preventable. Whereas when someone dies in a category 3 hurricane, the implication is that miraculous science controlled by an omniscient govt was simply withheld for monetary reasons (see Katrina)

  30. nyomythus Says:

    It’s sad to see that neoconservatism, at least here, is so infiltrated by a faith-based wing of the religious right, all the right foreign policy for the wrong reasons, it’s something I suspected some time back, which is why I’ve stepped back from this label. It’s not the label that’s important, moral principle is.

  31. Uh-huh Says:

    Nyomythus: wtf do your posts have to do with Neo’s original post? Is it my lack of coffee today, because I’m not seeing the connection.

  32. Sergey Says:

    In my experience, general public can not adequately appreciate neither virtues of scientific method nor its inherent limitations, so, at least in Russia, becomes more and more sceptical about it, turning to magical thinking instead of, or, in more educated circles, overestimates its capabilities in realms that are completely out of reach of any science, contemporary or future. Some militant anti-theists like Richard Dawkins or Vitalij Ginsburg only make things worse, by their Nobel prize authority, asserting weird claims on ability of science resolve metaphisical problems. These guys never read Kantian arguments from “Critique of Pure Reason”, or do not understand them.

  33. neo-neocon Says:

    sergey: although I feel a bit silly arguing about the diagnosis of a character in a fairy tale, there are still reasons why I think depression fits what Kay is exhibiting. The description of the effects of the mirror in the eye—that all things that were formerly bright and beautiful are now ugly—is not devoid of emotion or human relating, it is a description of a predominantly negative affect/emotion.

    I think Hans Christian Anderson is actually describing both depression and autism here, at different points in the story. Since it’s not a clinical case study, I guess we’ll allow him to do that. I’ve often wondered, though, what personal experience he might have had that led him to write about this.

  34. nyomythus Says:

    Faith-based rejections of science, and more specifically a resistance to inoculating children from disease, and the corollary to this being irresponsible parenting, is striking a nerve on this topic, one that is obviously too emotional to discuss in a completely open way.

    People here have actually said the following:

    TalkinKamel — Neo, so far from having too much faith in science, at this point, I confess, I have practically none. Don’t you see how pathetic this is? This is a profession so muddled in its thinking, it can’t decide whether it’s got an epidemic or just too many statistics on its hands. Meanwhile, it doesn’t have a clue as to how to help kids like my son.

    Sergey — Medicine and psychiatry in particular are still more arts than sciences.
    Tatterdemalian — Science literally can not ever have all the answers. Alan Turing proved this with not just scientific but mathematical certainty. If you want comfort when there are no answers, I’d suggest turning to Jesus. Science is cold and hard; any science that isn’t, is a fakery intended to manipulate you. (Me: Well, what are our alternatives?)
    SteveH — The success of science is turning out to be its own worst enemy. Just look at the unrealistic pedestal society has placed it on.

  35. TalkinKamel Says:

    Sure, Tatterdemelian, the problem will then be solved! No problem at all!

    Problems, after all, exist only in one’s own mind. If you tell them to go away, they will.

  36. Uh-huh Says:

    Faith based rejection of science isn’t exactly what Neo was talking about re: Autism.

    Science didn’t really have a handle on what exactly autism is, or it’s causes. Now Science has redefined autism to include Aperger’s as ‘autism lite’, if you will, and is still no closer.

    The classic form of childhood autism seemed to strike toddlers at the age when they were getting their MMR shots so a connection was made by many parents. Personally I think that it’s coincidence, but it was a valid question to raise.

    I don’t recall the original crowd of “Don’t give my kids shots cause it causes autism” folks as being from the “faith based wing of the religious right” — They seemed to be more from the “hip young yuppie set” at the time.

    It’s seemed to more a case of science not having answers, so folks looking for alternate science to explain things.

  37. Uh-huh Says:

    I really can’t type today, time to go find that coffee.

    I’ll leave Nyomythus to bash all us crazy right wingers who don’t believe in science in peace.

  38. Tatterdemalian Says:

    Nyomythus, pretending that the need for religion should be excised from the human psyche is not much different than TalkinKamel’s pretense that science should be eliminated for the crime of self-imposed imperfection. People need both religion and reason to prosper, so much so that denying them one or the other leads people to create a twisted mockery of whatever is absent from their lives out of whatever they have available. Deprive people of religion, and they instead idolize mere mortals, forming cults of personality that became the downfall of the great atheist governments of the 20th century. Deprive people of reason, and they turn to superstition and witch hunts to solve their more secular problems.

    I suggest turning to Jesus because Christianity seems to be the strongest religion that can adapt to scientific progress in the world today. Feel free to try whatever you like; even atheism really is a religion itself, though one so wrapped in self-deception that only non-atheists can perceive how intolerant atheists are toward the unbelievers in godlessness.

  39. nyomythus Says:

    Faith based rejection of science isn’t exactly what Neo was talking about re: Autism. I know but it’s what ppl here are talking about.

  40. nyomythus Says:

    People need both religion and reason to prosper
    I’ll push that door open with you up the the notion in that it’s simply where we are. I don’t hate religious people, I don’t. I not saying let the world be done with religion, it’s not going to happen any time or any time soon. I’m just saying look at faith as one major aspect, a root cause, to why people reject science. Science to many theist is not the will of god but a rejection of, or lose of faith in, divine intervention, this is evident on the Left and the Right. This sort of rejection of modernity is what’s going to loop neoconservative in with paleoconservative (and their brthern on the far Left) — don’t allow a rejection of science to attenuate the moral supremacy of why Classical Liberalism and Neoconservatism share a moral alliance.

  41. Sergey Says:

    Actually, these home schoolers do not reject science, they reject negation of parental authority by overreaching state. They understand that schools can demand their pupils be vaccinated, just as I do; so they choose alternative lifestyle, making this procedure unnecessary. And yes, elimination of the need to collect many children of the same age in one room greatly reduces probability of epidemics. This is why I hope that in future homeschooling will be the main type of education, as it was only 150 years ago. In Internet age this is convenient and effective, promoting real diversity and reestablishing parental authority.

  42. Sergey Says:

    Again, this is not the science they reject, but absurd and arrogant claims of scientism, so emphatically promoted by anti-theists. But these claims are supported by education establishment, alienating in the process so many parents. This is cultural war, and it will ravage untill “progressives” lay down their weapons and really, without hypocrisy, embrace diversity.

  43. SteveH Says:

    I don’t see a problem with science. I see a problem with a lot of scientist.

    They’re in a discipline that requires unbiased objectivity. Yet when it comes to the idea of a transcended creator, they reveal themselves to be some of the most radical subjectivist on the planet.

  44. Gringo Says:

    An interesting thread. Some people may have misinterpreted what others said, but interesting nonetheless. Interesting about all who added in about Aspberger’s. It would appear that Autism is the equal opportunity syndrome, as it can be found in high achievers as well as in the mentally retarded.

  45. TalkinKamel Says:

    As I said earlier, the majority of autistic kids are diagnosed as being retarded as well—so the retardation diagnosis hasn’t gone away, it’s just been tacked onto autism.

    I’m not really familiar with Asperger’s; from what I’ve heard, it’s victims are far more verbal, and can be more easily integrated into society than those with more classic autistic symptoms. It might be more useful (though it will never happen) to put “Asperger’s” in a separate category all its own, rather than lumping it in with autism.

    As for retardation, since so many intelligence tests rely, at least to some extent, on verbal ability, language impaired kids are usually going to score low on them.

    For those who are interested, you might want to check out the Autism Speaks website. They’re debating this very subject, and many others pertinent to the whole autism question.

    And Neo, I honestly wouldn’t put too much trust in tests done in foreign countries, such as Japan; as somebody on the Autism Speaks website pointed out, those involved can’t be subpoened, for evidence. (Are there some American based references you can use?)

  46. TalkinKamel Says:

    Quite a few of the people who home school at my church pulled their kids out of public school because of science—the kids weren’t being taught any! (Or they were being taught completely incorrect stuff, such as the sun revolves around the earth.)

    Given the lousy state of the local schools, I can actually believe this. Science education seems to have been given up for studies in pollution, and recycling.

  47. Jacob Says:

    A question for the commentariat:
    A girl in my family was diagnosed with autism, I don’t know which kind of autism, but it’s not very severe, though it’s unmistakable. (She’s now about 6 or 7 years old).
    Her mother is known to have used drugs during the pregnancy.
    Could there be any connection ? Does anyone know about a connection between drug use and birth defects ?
    Could the epidemic have to do with drug use ?

  48. Mike G in Corvallis Says:

    I had a fascinating conversation with a biochemistry professor at UC San Diego three or four years ago, and she told me about some important research I’d never heard of. She’s doing research on proteins — their structures, interactions, and roles in the body. It’s been known for about a decade that certain proteins that control fetal neurological development also are involved in the immune system’s response to infections. (One system “co-opting” proteins used by another system for a different purpose is not uncommon in evolutionary biology; in this case we don’t know which came first.) Anyway, these proteins apparently can cross the placental and blood-brain barriers. A pregnant woman’s immune response to a viral infection may alter the development of her unborn child’s brain. There may not be any single cause of autism, but this looks like a pretty big risk factor.

    Ladies, if you’re pregnant, do everything you can to avoid getting a viral infection in your second trimester. I’d also avoid getting a flu shot or other vaccination at that time.

    For more info, see:

  49. sergey Says:

    Vaccination involves no less risk of autoimmune reactions than any viral infection. Both often cause neurological damage. No clinical trials can exclude rare complications, because sample sizes in clinical trials are always much less than numbers of treated by widely used medications. Often it take years to establish a link between some new drug and a rare complication, especially if this drug is used almost by everybody. The list of examples is quite long.

  50. TalkinKamel Says:

    Jacob, if the mother did, indeed, do drugs, then the child might well be suffering from the effects of those, and not autism (though the school she goes to might try to get her labeled “autistic” so they can get more state funding.)

    As for autism itself—I think it’s really a good idea to cease any and all speculation on it, for the time being: protiens, immune system, genetics, diet, allergies, drugs, vaccinations, the Snow Queen, whatever.

    No one really has any actual answers, and this blizzard of pseudo-fact and speculation does absolutely nothing to help parents who are trying to find answers. It’s all too vague, and confusing. Parents are always told to do their own research (and stop bothering their poor, oppressed M.D.—hey, their kid’s problems are probably just imaginary anyway, right?) but the amount of often contradictory babble out there, and the time it takes to wade through oceans of info-c***p about diets, drugs, vaccines and it’s-all-in-your-head—not to mention the idiot groups that now want to treat autism as a special minority group with special rights, like the deaf—it’s a waste of time and precious energy. Nobody has any answers. Let’s stop pretending that they do.

    If parents can’t get real help, they at least shouldn’t have to plow through reams of nonsense.

    So please—until there are some real answers, I think there should be an all-encompassing sock stuffed in the speculation. It helps nothing.

    One might want to spare some sympathy for parents of autistic kids—yes, refusing vaccinations could be dangerous, but, on the other hand, they’re latching onto the one thing out there they sort’ve makes sense (and, don’t forget, we’re already letting floods of unvaccinated illegal immigrants cross the border every day, a bigger threat than Yuppies nervous about vaccinating their kids.) Yes, it’s hysteria, but it’s hysteria the medical industry is tacitly encouraging by washing its hands of the matter. and turning everything over to the “helping” industries. And, as I just said, the endless, senseless speculation does no good at all. Find some real answers, then, maybe, something can be done. Until then, everybody shut up.

  51. Jacob Says:

    Thanks TalkinKamel. Got your point. My question probably wasn’t very bright.

  52. Kate Says:


    I know this is a sore subject for you, but has the term Angelman’s Syndrome ever been mentioned in the evaluations of your son?

    I’m not a doctor or anything like it – but I know the parents of a child with Angelman’s and their troubles with dealing with it. It’s an extremely rare problem that few people know exists – and more to the point in your case, though there is no cure – it’s characterized by a happy disposition, and an almost complete lack of language ability.

    Again, I’m coming to this late and I’ve got no idea if this fits your son’s situation or not, and I apologize in advance if all I do is add to your problems.



  53. Sandy Says:

    Please go to this site and watch a video interview with a woman whose son was healed of autism. God still does miracles.

  54. Babara Kueny Says:

    Congratulations, your article was reprinted to Harvard University, visit

  55. Benedict Rentfro Says:

    Today, considering the fast way of life that everyone leads, credit cards have a big demand throughout the economy. Persons coming from every discipline are using credit card and people who not using the credit cards have arranged to apply for even one. Thanks for expressing your ideas about credit cards.

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