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TV Really Might Cause Autism 619

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the cause-and-effect dept.
Alien54 writes "Cornell University researchers are reporting what appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching by children under the age of 3. The researchers studied autism incidence in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. They found that as cable television became common in California and Pennsylvania beginning around 1980, childhood autism rose more in the counties that had cable than in the counties that did not. They further found that in all the Western states, the more time toddlers spent in front of the television, the more likely they were to exhibit symptoms of autism disorders. The Cornell study represents a potential bombshell in the autism debate."
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TV Really Might Cause Autism

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  • by NalosLayor (958307) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:25AM (#16464993)
    It's for the children! Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children! FORGET IT! Ban electricity! For the children! For the children!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:32AM (#16465039)
      You dolt! The answer is obviously to ban children...
      • Or just s/autism/slashdotism/
        Oh, wait...
        • by peterarm (95041) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @06:02AM (#16465529) Homepage
          don't substitute, merge: Slashdautism
          • by Raffaello (230287) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @10:35AM (#16468531)
            From the paper: If, for example, one compares the US Department of Education's reported number of school-aged
            children diagnosed with autism in 1999-2000 with the similar figure for 2003-2004, one sees that
            over those four years the reported number has more than doubled.


            Does anybody really think that the rates of autism really doubled in this time period. Isn't it far more likely that the rate of diagnosis simply went up. What would cause parents to become aware of this unusual condition called autism? Maybe they saw a segment about it on TV?

            Isn't it simply possible that autism rates are correlated with TV watching because many americans get much of their information about the larger world by watching TV, and therefore the higher the rates of TV watching (determined in this study by looking at cable installation rates and precipitation rates - people watch more TV when it's rainy out ) mean higher rates of awareness of autism as a condition to ask your child's doctor about? So now, instead of being diagnosed as retarded, the child is diagnosed as autistic because the child's parents saw a segment about autism on cable TV on a rainy day.
            • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @11:27AM (#16469651)
              Well, this has already been fairly thoroughly investigated, and while there is some evidence that diagnosis is up, that definitely doesn't account for the increases that've been seen...

              Besides, I think if your 8-year old child couldn't speak, or make eye contact, and generally preferred banging his/her hands to interacting with you in any fashion, you'd probably know something was wrong (even without Donahue telling you, or whatever the hell people watched in the early 80s), and get them to a doctor.

              The first few years of life are pretty critical for neural development; a lot of 'thermostats' in the brain are set during this time, and it really isn't that hard to imagine that activities performed for several hours a day might have some influence on these processes.
            • by Pragmatix (688158)
              Or perhaps children who have autism or autism like tendancies have a greater affinity for TV, so they spend more time watching it?
            • by mpapet (761907) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @12:30PM (#16471153) Homepage
              Does anybody really think that the rates of autism really doubled in this time period. Isn't it far more likely that the rate of diagnosis simply went up. What would cause parents to become aware of this unusual condition called autism? Maybe they saw a segment about it on TV?

              1. Something is WRONG with your child when they are autistic. You know there is because she/he doesn't act normally. A minimally responsible parent figures out what it is.

              2. The medical condition of autism is well-defined. It doesn't just visit the child like a common cold. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/autism.cfm [nih.gov] and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism [wikipedia.org]

              3. "retarded" is not a medical condition. That is the social term for a host of developmental problems.

              people watch more TV when it's rainy out
              This is the West. It doesn't rain much... There's no excuse for watching more TV other than babysitting your child for you. I'll go further than that and say there is no reason for children to watch television until at least 5. But this means parents have to raise their children. So it's an unpopular opinion.

              Please consider your opinions in this matter as poorly constructed as the science you claim is flawed.
            • by skintigh2 (456496) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @12:59PM (#16471785)
              "Does anybody really think that the rates of autism really doubled in this time period. Isn't it far more likely that the rate of diagnosis simply went up. What would cause parents to become aware of this unusual condition called autism? Maybe they saw a segment about it on TV?"

              No. I read some studies on this a few years ago and that was ruled out. Better testing was assumed to be the cause of some huge spikes in CA among geeks who had children (cue "geek disease" headlines) but was ruled out.

              I have seen some powerful correlations with the introduction of mercury-using vaccines in countries like China, and correlations with being downwind of coal-fired power plants that release mercury. And I have seen studies refuting this.

              Whatever the cause, it is real, and the increase it is there.
    • Re:OMG! BAN TV! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:37AM (#16465069)
      OMG! BAN TV!


      Would that be so bad really? I gave up on TV years ago and haven't really missed it. The decent stuff comes out on dvds anyway, the occasional funny/interesting clip can be found on youtube and for everything else there is bittorrent.

      Imo TV is just a way to sell ads - and apparently that can be accomplished by showing low quality, stupid, "show-me-your-tits", "the-sky-is-falling" undiluted crap... or maybe I'm just getting old.

      *posting anonymously as not to be identified as being old and angry:)
      • Re:OMG! BAN TV! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:00AM (#16465199)
        I gave up on TV years ago

        No, you didn't. You still watch TV, you just use different hardware. This has some advantages (fewer ads, less 'TV network' crap), but it's still TV.
        • Re:OMG! BAN TV! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by tomknight (190939) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:13AM (#16465279) Homepage Journal
          I disagree. TV (television) is based on broadcasting, watching DVDs etc isn't.
          Okay, that's a little petty, but here's a real difference - people without TVs choose what to watch, when to watch it. People with TVs so often just sit down in front of it and then vegitate, accepting whatever crap is shovelled to them. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there (yourself included?) who will then jump up and shout "But I only turn it on when there's something I really want to watch!" The difference is that people without TVs choose to watch less - they are generally more selective. Speaking for myself, I have a lot of fun times with my wife and daughter - playing games, reading books, talking. I kind of feel sorry for people who miss out on that sort of thing because "There's something really good on TV".

          • Re:OMG! BAN TV! (Score:5, Interesting)

            by nospam007 (722110) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:47AM (#16465459)
            Ditto here. I'm sure Amazon likes it because I read much, much more since I ditched the TV.
            My set was broken and so I asked my wife to call the TV-guy. She said, you watch it more than I so why don't you call him?
            After a couple of months, when still nobody had called, I ditched it and put a bookshelf in its place.
            Never regretted it.
            More sex, more talking, more reading, more workouts, more movie-going, more hiking, more biking, more everything.
            TV is really time-stealer and when you at last are hooked to a TV-show, the idiots cancel it!

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              Out of interest, how much TV do people here watch? I see maybe an hour a week if I'm lucky on a real TV although I watch perhaps another 1-2 hours a week on my laptop during my daily commute. I've seen surveys where they ask how many hours a day you watch and some go up to 18 hours or more. Say it ain't so?
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by miyako (632510)
                Personally, I can give you three answers to this question, depending on how you define "watch tv". Although I have a television set, it is used exclusively for video games and DVDs. I have watched maybe 1 hour of television on a television in the last several months, and even then that was because I wasn't at home and had nothing else to do. As for watching television shows on DVD or that I've downloaded, I would say probably about 40 minutes a day (about the length of a 1 hour show without ads). This i
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Roblimo (357)
                I currently watch one - two NFL football games per week in season, and between two and three hours (minus PVR ad-skip time of 20% or so) per week year-round, mostly shows my wife wants to watch and I watch with her to be sociable.

                Put it this way: I have a small TV in my office that I haven't had on in the last two years except during a few major news events.

                Years ago, when I had my limo *and* wrote freelance, people asked me how I managed to keep such a hectic schedule. The answer was simple: I didn't watch
            • by mgabrys_sf (951552) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:17AM (#16466405) Journal
              WAIT WAIT wait wait wait - hold it hold it hold it - hold EVERYTHING - EXCUSE me?

              Did you say "More sex"?

              Oh shit - don't you DARE let that one get out into the general public - the empire might collapse!
            • Re:OMG! BAN TV! (Score:5, Interesting)

              by orangesquid (79734) <orangesquidNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @09:05AM (#16466929) Homepage Journal
              Let's suppose that there are three types of children: N, A, and pA. A kids are autistic no matter what. N kids are never autistic. pA kids may or may not realize full autism. Suppose that the amount of time that pA kids get to interact with society is an important factor in whether they develop normally (like an N child) or in an autistic manner (like an A child).

              Here's a thought experiment. We have three populations, P1, P2, and P3, which all have the same constituency of N, A, pA. As the children age, we can re-categorize pA children as either N or A. P1 will be our control group: they will interact with society and watch a little bit of television. P2 will be like P1, but be exposed to more TV. P3 will model lazy parenting: the children won't get much social interaction, and the only thing they have to pass the time is TV, so they'll get a lot of it.

              If watching too much TV can promote autism, P2 will have many pA -> A. OTOH, if it's a lack of exposure to social interaction that causes underdevelopment of brain circuitry that regulates social interaction, P2 should resemble P1 and P3 will have many pA -> A.

              Even if there is a very strong temporal link between two variables, correlation and causation are tricky. You can't always say, "The reason that my alarm clock goes off in the morning is because the sun rises in the sky," even if you can point to some region where the sun is obscured by the terrain and people don't use alarm clocks.

              I would love for non-interactive, advertisement-soaked, eye-candy-filled, dumbed-down media to be less prevalent. When Internet access began to be ubiquitous, I got excited, but then I saw and heard all of the media companies wanting to turn the Internet into a new form of TV.

              I know, my examples have bad analogies, poor metaphors, logical flaws, et caetera. But I hope someone gets my point. Lots of people think "pot makes you stupid" -- but maybe it's just that stupid people enjoy pot more than intelligent people do, which could explain statistics.

              Basically, there are correlations, relationships, and patterns EVERYWHERE. However, it's very rare that someone knows exactly WHY something is happening. If we knew exactly how something happened, usually it would make it trivial to manipulate.
              • by pizzaman100 (588500) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @10:03AM (#16467893) Journal
                Basically, there are correlations, relationships, and patterns EVERYWHERE. However, it's very rare that someone knows exactly WHY something is happening.

                Unless you're an attorney specializing in tort law. Then you know exactly why. And the answer is whoever has the deepest pockets. Now how long until the first class action lawsuit is filed against the cable companies? :)

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by hcdejong (561314)
            The difference is that people without TVs choose to watch less - they are generally more selective.

            Generally, yes. But it's entirely possible to have a TV and a cable subscription, and still be selective. Thanks to the VCR, I don't have to conform to the broadcast schedule, and I get to skip the ads. I hardly watch anything 'live' these days.

            I suspect we're arguing about semantics, though. IMO, 'watching TV' encompasses anything you do with a TV set, this includes watching DVD movies, but also TV programme
            • Re:OMG! BAN TV! (Score:4, Informative)

              by twistedsymphony (956982) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:30AM (#16466527) Homepage
              I don't really think the argument is as much about semantics as you think it is. But you are correct that it comes down to how you define it. Personally I think the act of "watching TV" under debate here is the act of sitting down and watching cable live for an extended period of time. Even if you're sitting down at a particular time to watch a particular show you like.

              There is something fundamentally different about the experience when the network dictates when you watch, and dictate what you watch during the commercial breaks. How often do people hang around after the show just because? How many people have a 20 to 30 minutes to kill before the show so they turn the TV on early and watch whatever is on in the mean time?

              I think a majority of people who "watch TV" basically just sit down and accept whatever is on. It's a distinctly different activity then pre-recording a show using a DVR or VCR, or watching a file on your PC or on DVD. Some TVs show do generally have worthwhile entertainment that can spark intellectual discussions with friends and family, perhaps even some introspect. But viewing it on the networks schedule you map out a larger portion of your time, you're subject to the massive amount of FUD in advertising (which IMO is where most of the real evil resides), and you're often tempted into watching just another half hour, just another half hour, just another half hour.

              When people say "watching TV" they're typically referring to "watching network TV" Anything else is just video entertainment... but that's another argument altogether.

              Basically when watching it "live" as you say then you're molding your life around the TV show, as opposed to putting the TV show where it best fits into your life. It fundamentally changes the role TV plays in your life reguardless of what shows you're watching.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by fyngyrz (762201) *

              There's no difference between watching CSI on cable or as a downloaded file.

              Actually, it is quite possible that there is a significant difference. Television refresh rates (30 Hz per interlaced frame in the USA, 25 Hz in some other countries) are much lower than typical monitors (60 Hz, non-interlaced, or higher) and furthermore, MPEG and other encodings result in an entirely different set of artifacts and display update rates and distributions than does broadcast television.

              The assumption underlyi

        • by walnutmon (988223)
          Just because they are both sources of video and sound doesn't mean they are the same. There is a big difference between a flow of programming selected to sell advertising space and viewing what you deem usefull to yourself. Do some people use multimedia online like TV? Sure. The other way around, not so much. I watch TV, only stuff that I DVR though. It usually fills one of two needs for me. Art or information. I never use TV as a distraction or a time killer. I prefer active entertainment to passi
        • by walnutmon (988223)
          There is certainly a difference besides the hardware.

          One is a source of active entertainment, the other a source of passive entertainment. It is the flow of carefully selected programming aimed at keeping attention and selling very expensive advertising space that makes TV somewhat hazardous. And before someone jumps on me with "but they do the same thing online too!", yes, you CAN use the internet in the same way, to an extent, but it is not as likely.

          When they say TV causes autism, they are not refering
          • Re:OMG! BAN TV! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Tony Hoyle (11698) <tmh@nodomain.org> on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @06:23AM (#16465659) Homepage
            PVRs remove this problem of course... A 3 year old might have difficulty even with Tivo though.

            There's a growing trend of sitting the child in the front of a childrens channel then forgetting about them.. the TV becomes the babysitter. That's the key to the problem - the parent isn't interacting with the child.. in fact its only social contact is through wierd blokes in brightly coloured bird costumes who sing a lot..

            • Re:OMG! BAN TV! (Score:4, Insightful)

              by beckerist (985855) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @09:20AM (#16467175) Homepage
              I think it's easy to blame TV's for "creating autism" or whatever, but think about it: You have a screaming child that, regardless of what you do as a parent, is never EVER soothed by ANYTHING. This child won't talk, at least coherently. This child only eats 20% of what you put in front of him or her, and won't stop crying when in the shower, bath, bed, school, store, car... After 20 straight hours of screams you set them in front of the TV............hear that? Peace and quiet!

              I think the fact that the TV is something that Autistic individuals can relate to IS NOT EVEN CLOSE to the same as the TV being responsible for it! Try living with someone who's Autistic, you'd be amazed at the variance in attitude between "TV Time" and "life."
            • by JonTurner (178845) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @11:02AM (#16469071) Journal
              My suspicion is that the problem is due to the (over) stimulation of the visual centers in very young children. Have you noticed how incredibly brief the duration of one camera shot is in modern TV? Barely 5 seconds. SECONDS! The point-of-view is constantly shifting from one camera to another, and it's common with children's programming to have a hand-held camera that bobs and sways in order to keep the show "interesting" and increase concentration. Add to that the visual effects and zoom/fades/transitions plus all the audio crap and it's a miracle any child emerges with his brain intact.

              Go watch a classic episode of I Love Lucy or The Honeymooner's or The Twilight Zone. It's not uncommon for one camera shot to last four minutes. And at that point in time (I'm thinking 1960s and earlier) it was common to listen to dramas on the radio -- Green Lantern, Lone Ranger, The Strangler, etc. -- so the listener was actively involved in building mental imagery. Kids who have been raised on a steady diet of modern tv don't have the patience for old-fashioned TV or stories (or, for that matter, conversations requiring well-developed listening skills)... it's too "boring." (IMO, their brains aren't well adapted to concentrate for that period of time and they find it tiring and/or difficult.)
  • by SniperClops (776236) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:26AM (#16464999)
    What about internet use, with sites such as youtube, will that cause autism as well?
    • All tubes (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      All tubes causes autism, so internet as well...
      Dunno about TFTs
    • by kahei (466208) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:56AM (#16465169) Homepage

      Other way around. Being dysfunctional in the first place causes increased MySpace and YouTube use.

      And, uh, I guess it also causes Slashdot posts such as this one.
    • by eric76 (679787)
      I was talking to someone who works with autistic children just last week.

      One thing he told me was that it was his impression that a much higher than expected percentage of autistic children had computer professionals as parents.

      Of course, where he lives and works has a higher percentage of computer professionals than usual. I don't know if he took that into account.
  • by MostAwesomeDude (980382) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:27AM (#16465003) Homepage
    Well, cable television was becoming more prevalent, yes, but wasn't detection of autism and recognition of its status as a disorder also becoming more acknoledged?

    Oh, and exactly what debate is there about autism? I think I missed something here.
    • by Rix (54095)
      It's doubtfull there would be a correlation between autism recognition in doctors and cable TV availability.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by tomknight (190939)
        I think the increase is due to the public awareness of autism, leading them to suggest to the doctor that this might be the problem. It's not unknown for the doctor not to know what the problem is until it's been pointed out to them. This is especially true for the less usual problems that a general practitioner might encounter.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        "It's doubtfull there would be a correlation between autism recognition in doctors and cable TV availability."

        Which is why studies are done, so there is at least a control, or at least comparison between groups.

        I could equally say you are full of bunk. Early on, cable TV often entered growing markets, as population density increases it becomes more economically viable to run the lines. This may correlate very well with a rise in the number of health care providers in a given area. Here in Pennsylvania, d
    • by gameforge (965493) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:29AM (#16465365) Journal
      Autism is the next ADD.

      Here's how I see it:

      ADD started out being kinda rare, and only those kids with the obvious behavior problems were diagnosed with ADD; Ritilin seemed effective for them.

      Ten or so years later, any kid who tapped their foot during breakfast got a mouthful of Ritilin on their way out the door. EVERYBODY had ADD (and the former behavior issue became known as ADHD).

      Now, finally, ADD is more common than brown eyes (in the US anyway), but thankfully kiddy speed (Ritilin) is only generally prescribed for ADHD. That's good; it keeps the high schoolers from chopping it up and snorting it (seen it done by numerous people). ADD is now a disease of convenience; it's actually normal to have ten projects going at once, each of which is 1/3 done. It's also normal to finish one before you move on to the next. Neither behaviors are affected by Ritilin at all, trust me. But if you need an excuse for your bad grades, your kid's bad grades, your excessive passion and/or ambition for anything, by all means, get yourself some ADD.

      Ten years ago, Autistic kids were incredibly rare. They were almost like Albino's - that rare. They were kids who were horribly sensitive to noise (you talking quietly sounds like a scream); they were generally mute; very emotionally sensitive; and in many cases, very gifted & talented (my mom's doctor's kid is REALLY Autistic... despite sensitivity to sound, he can play the piano like George Gershwin, no shit).

      Today, if you seem shy on some days, you are Autistic. Now I can't really see excessive TV under (or over) the age of 3 resulting in shyness (I'm actually lying).

      You see, TV doesn't cause Autism, medical professionals constitute Autism with the severity of the symptoms they choose to interpret as Autism. If you're 3, and you're ever so mildly reluctant to smile at the doc that day, and loud noise makes you cry (still makes me cry & I'm 24), you're probably running the word Autism through his brain, if not asking for a "referral to a specialist" (and hence a statistic as an Autistic case). I mean, I'm sure it's a little more involved, but that's the impression that I get at least.

      I mean Cornell University, okay, I suppose. This kind of news IMMEDIATELY makes me suspicious of the drug companies. It's like they want everyone to expect their kid to become autistic in five years when their new Autism pez comes out. But, Cornell ain't a drug company, right, so I dunno...
      • by Xiph1980 (944189) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @06:21AM (#16465639)
        Although I agree with you on the overdiagnosing of various "mental diseases" it can very well also be allergies manifesting them in these ways.
        I'm allergic to (well, not really allergic, but hypersensitive) sugar and various related sweeteners like glucose etc. Before this was known I couldn't handle any criticism, loud noises etc etc. Used to cry a lot (the real heavy tantrums) and everything. I guess I could've been diagnosed with a million mental disorders, however luckily my parents found out it was an oversensitivity towards sugars and a type of foodcoloring.
        Now I'm perfectly fine. No moodswings anymore etc. Still nuts as hell though, but who defined "normal" anyway. :p

        There are more and more artificial stuff (artificial aroma's, food colorings, added sweeteners, preservatives etc. etc.) mixed with the things we eat, and it's shown that allergies or hypersensitivities towards these ingredients can cause all kinds of weird stuff with someone's personality, without causing real visible allergic reactions.
        Diagnosing these types of allergies is also difficult because stopping to eat these types of foods doesn't usually have an immediate effect. It's not an on/off switch, but the effects are reduced gradually so it can be very difficult to quickly see wether or not someone is allergic (opposed to the acute reactions testable by those armscratch tests).

        Most likely though it's a mix of factors.... a bit of television, a bit of allergies, and a bit of overactivity of the doctors :)
      • by bwalling (195998) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @06:41AM (#16465773) Homepage
        The reports of overdiagnosis of ADD/ADHD are way overblown. Yes, it happened/happens, but it's not as if pills are just stuffed into kids, and the fact that there is some overdiagnosis is no reason to doubt the existence of a condition or to disparage anyone that truly has it by exaggerating statements of overdiagnosis and minimizing any real effects of the condition.
        Neither behaviors are affected by Ritilin at all, trust me.

        Sounds like perhaps you don't have ADD if the drugs didn't work for you. Your sole experience is not scientific proof. I know plenty of people that are helped by the medication (I don't know any kids, just adults). And besides, the meds aren't going to finish your work for you, they're going to help with the mental block that's preventing you from doing so.
      • by 11223 (201561) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:10AM (#16466329)
        Autism is not a binary condition. There is a range of disorders called Autism Spectrum Disorders that range from Asperger's Syndrome to the low-functioning Autism that you cover.

        Each of these manifests itself differently. Having an Autism Spectrum Disorder implies some level of impairment in social functioning, but where you are on the spectrum indicates how much desire you have to engage in social interactions at all.

        I think the greater knowledge of the spectrum disorders in the medical community has led to the greater incidence of diagnosis. It may also be the case that the incidence of autism is increasing, though I would be surprised if TV was the cause. Simon Baron Cohen [autismresearchcentre.com] (he's Sascha's cousin) has theorized that Autism represents an extremely systematizing mind, and that kind of mind (in my experience) tends to shy away from the disordered chaos of TV and towards systems and obsessions (trains, cars, computers, etc.)

        If a diagnosis is provided with the intent of helping the child learn how to cope with social situations better, I don't see anything wrong with it. While I am opposed to the search for a "cure" for a spectrum disorder that also includes a number of functioning, intelligent, and unique individuals, I feel that social interaction strategies can be learned and applied to help children with autism learn to communicate and function better. If our goal is to help each child (or adult) to learn how to accomplish the things they want to do, then I don't see how greater awareness is a problem, even if there is some amount of bandwagoning that goes on.
      • by Pflipp (130638) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:13AM (#16466355)
        The problem I am having with the way things are going, is that Autism is suggested to be a lifetime handicap, while the different kinds of people that are labeled "autistic" these days may well have a simple development delay -- which can be treated.

        I, myself, am known to panic under stress, resulting in somewhat manic-depressive behaviour (I get intensely absorbed in whatever it is I am doing, or I show signs of depression) combined with tension problems. People are trying to see if the label fits me as we speak.

        But whenever I go to the library to get information on Autism, I recognize so little about myself there. For instance, I am not rigid at all; I dislike talking about exact topics; I have a vivid imagination.

        There may well be an interesting theoretical causality, but it doesn't help me much. I haven't had any advice or help whatsoever from the shrinks -- only tests, tests, tests, and more to come (it takes a very long time to check for autism) -- and the books on the subject don't help me manage myself.

        Instead, I have learned a lot from reading about bipolar II, and managed, with much effort, to stabilize my mood so that I can think clearly again.

        I insisted on intake that I learned about the underlying cause of my problems, so that I could learn to manage them, so you may say that I have caused my own problem. What frustrates me more, however, is that I have also had to solve it myself with so little help from the experts.
    • Many medical trials make use of randomisation between control and treatment groups.

      This study makes use of a natural randomisation. Some counties received cable television before others - the pattern of this is essentially random for the purposes of this experiment and likely to be uncorrelated with the incidence of autism. They demonstrate that those counties that had more access to cable TV had higher autism rates. Similarly, they look at the correlation between bad weather (and consequently higher TV vie
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rasilon (18267)
      The sensationalistic version of the debate is "Does Autism actually exist?", which is kept alive by the fact that the simplistic answer is quite likely to be "no" which runs counter to most people's observation.

      But that's the problem with simplifying the dabate to that level -- the answer seems entirely wrong. The question should be something like "Is there a single epidemiology behind the colletion of symptoms known generically as Autism? Or is Autism a too-generalised term used to cover a number of unre
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rvw (755107)
      How about the idea that autistic children like to watch TV more than "normal" children? These children are very sensitive to repetition. First you have all the daily shows at a regular time. Then the medium TV by itself is repetitive, the frequency of the display. I read somewhere that this really does more than you realize. (Think of McLuhan's "The medium is the message".)
  • by The Great Pretender (975978) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:29AM (#16465017)
    oh that's A.D.D., what was this post about?
  • Argh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by tkittel (619119) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:35AM (#16465059)
    Damn, I read that as "TV Really Might Cause Atheism".

    How disappointing!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Trailer Trash (60756)
      Damn, I read that as "TV Really Might Cause Atheism".

      As a Christian myself, let me assure you that tv preachers definitely have that effect on me.

  • Say it with me... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:35AM (#16465061)
    Everyone, let's say this together. Come on, I want everyone to join in. Let's all yell it at the top of our lungs until the media hears us. Ready? Here we go:

    CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION!
    CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION!
    CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION!

    Now stop reporting on every correlation between disease X and social variable Y as though it were somehow equivalent to a randomized double-blind study on the effects of Y on X. Thank you.
    • by EraserMouseMan (847479) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:06AM (#16465237)
      To help people understand this better, I think we should run a TV special about correlation and causation.
    • by packeteer (566398)
      If you blindly believe that corrolation does not mean causation then you need to stop considering nearly any study done. Obviously there is no smoking gun cause to autism but you can't throw out all evidence from studies just becuase we cant explain the results yet.
      • by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:33AM (#16465383)
        There is no 'blindly' about it. I don't usually yell this, but I'm going to quote the GPP for truth, here.

        "CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION!"

        Correlation may show signs that they are related. It may even show extremely strong, almost irrefutable signs. But it never proves it. Everyone that screams this saying knows this.

        If you really think higher correlation means causation, take a look at venganza.org again. The correlation between the lack of pirates and global warming is approaching 'certainty'. It's obvious to anyone with half a brain that the lack of pirates does not cause global warming. But the correlation is extremely strong.

        Of course it sometimes happens that there is causation that is causing the correlation. That's just common sense, too. But it's a logical fallacy to believe that correlation means causation.

        Some light reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_implies_c ausation [wikipedia.org]

        And BTW, the study could EASILY be backwards. Maybe autistic children make parents move to towns with cable. It's just as likely, from the given facts.
        • by peterarm (95041) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @06:36AM (#16465737) Homepage
          In Canada we have warning labels on cigarette packs. Big warning labels. Cigarettes cause cancer, etc. So, naturally, some dollar store entrepreneur creates fake warning labels.

          Anyway, when I was a stereotypical angry young philosophy student, I thought it would be fun to make my own fake warning labels to put on my cigarette packs. So, who did I turn to? Hume, of course.

          So, my cigarette packs had a big warning: "Correlation Does Not Imply Causation" on them. I thought it was a good joke, by philosophy joke standards anyway.

          Now, I knew perfectly well that in this case even though it did not imply it, it was in fact true. Of course cigarretes caused cancer. In many cases correlation is, um, correlated with causation. But I was 18 so I didn't care; I thought it was funny.

          What a joke.

          So, the point is: correlation is a start. If there is a correlation, you should look for ways to establish whether causation exists or not.

          Now, you usually cannot do real proper experiments on humans with smoking (starting with a large random set of non-smokers, making half of them smoke their entire lives, and seeing how many of each group died of cancer). The ethics boards at the university wouldn't approve ;-)

          So, do you just give up and say "thank you for smoking" or "well, we'll never prove anything according to David Hume then". No, you don't. There are statistical tools like factor analysis which let people smarter than me figure out how much of A is (probably) caused by B, etc.

          Anyway, I have a 2 year old son now, and stuff I thought was funny at 18 is certainly not funny anymore over a decade later. I quit smoking. I certainly wouldn't give my son a cigarette, ever.

          However, if there is a strong correlation between TV and autism, I have to wonder whether I am in effect doing something similar. What if further anaylsis proves (as much as you can prove anything) that it is indeed a cause?

          What would I have done??

          [yeah, yeah, there's a mountain of evidence in one of the cases vs. one study in another ... it's obviously not a perfect analogy, but I've been debugging way too long to care]

          "Correlation Does Not Imply Causation" does not mean act insanely. You have only ever seen gravity by correlation, but you still believe in it. (Yes you do. Wipe that smirk off your face.)

          Now, coincidentally, I also cancelled cable TV after reading Gregg Easterbrook's original Slate article. Obligatory blog whoring: I blogged about it at http://peterarmstrong.com/articles/2006/10/08/rage -against-the-mighty-machines-day-9-of-no-tv [peterarmstrong.com].

          Do I think there is conclusive, Hume-would-be-proud proof that TV causes autism. No.

          Do I think that TV is good for young children?

          Would I give my 2 year old son a cigarette?
          • So, my cigarette packs had a big warning: "Correlation Does Not Imply Causation" on them. I thought it was a good joke, by philosophy joke standards anyway.

            It's worth noting that lung cancer rates only exploded post-WWII. People had been smoking for thousands of years, but lung cancer was a relative unknown.

            The change was that some years before manure, which had been used for fertilizer on the tobacco plants, was requisitioned for the war effort (gunpowder, explosives or whatever). Tobacco companies had t
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          What lack of pirates?

          There are pirates out there sailing the seas. Quite a few of them.

          It's not easy to find news articles about pirates, since the word has been stolen by the media to denote copyright infringers, however there are some [bbc.co.uk] news [bbc.co.uk] articles [bbc.co.uk] out there.

          Additionally since piracy usually happens in international waters outside of the legal juristiction of any country there are rarely any prosecutions.
      • by DrYak (748999) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @06:38AM (#16465751) Homepage
        If you blindly believe that corrolation does not mean causation then you need to stop considering nearly any study done.


        Correlation is need to proove causation. But by itself alone it doesn't implie it. Other finding are necessary like models that explains WHY such causality should be expected (What's the biochemistry involved ?). Or see Koch's postulate [wikipedia.org] : expremients that proove that by adding/removing the candidate cause ou can somewhat control the effect.

        Obviously there is no smoking gun cause to autism but you can't throw out all evidence from studies just becuase we cant explain the results yet.


        But on the other hand some mecanism is partially known. Also there are finding pointing to the fact that autism is associated and may be caused by some abnormal brain wiring that already happen in utero, thus debunking the old "it's-the-mother's-relationship-fault" supposed cause. Also if it start that early in the developpement, later exposure to the TV is less likely to be the main causing factor.

        And in this case I think it's clearly a case of pure correlation that depend on an additionnal common cause. From what I've understood during my studies (got a degree in medecine) and what I've observed (one of my brothers has autism) : one of the caracteristics of an autist is being much less capable to anticipate or to cope with complex not easily predicted event. In this case the TV is reassuringly predictible : once turned it just plays the show. No complex social interraction required. And also, if wired to a VCR or DVD player, the TV can always play that specific shows that the autist knows and can correctly anticipate, etc...

        TV isn't a cause *of* autism. But, the cognitive mecanism that are specific of autism, also happen to find the TV very reassuring.
    • by Don_dumb (927108)
      You beat me to it, Autism could explain why more kids were watching TV than engaging with others as well as vice versa and also there could be a third factor that causes both. .

      Just an idea but could the number of good doctors (ie more likely to diagnose Autism) and cable TV take up be caused by the affluence of the community as opposed to each other?

      Also the media jumping at causes of Autism can be very dangerous, here in the UK only a few years ago people began to stop using the combined Measles, Mumps
    • by nucal (561664) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:44AM (#16465443)
      CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION!

      I think that the study itself really drives this point home. If you read the actual paper (PDF file) [cornell.edu] a major part of their case is:

      1) When the weather is lousy, children watch more television
      2) Places with a lot of rain and snow have more autistic children

      I'd imagine that when the weather is bad, children also are more likely to use umbrellas. Therefore, by their logic, umbrellas cause autism.
    • The paper is titled "DOES TELEVISION CAUSE AUTISM?"

      The abstract claims: "Our precipitation tests indicate that just under forty percent of autism diagnoses in the three states studied is the result of television watching due to precipitation, while our cable tests indicate that approximately seventeen percent of the growth in autism in California and Pennsylvania during the 1970s and 1980s is due to the growth of cable television."

      (my emphasis)

      Neither Slashdot's editors nor posters, nor "the media

    • Re:Say it with me... (Score:4, Informative)

      by nwbvt (768631) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:00AM (#16466257)

      And here is another one I want everyone to repeat:

      'MIGHT' DOES NOT EQUAL 'DOES'!
      'MIGHT' DOES NOT EQUAL 'DOES'!
      'MIGHT' DOES NOT EQUAL 'DOES'!

      The title of this article is "TV Really Might Cause Autism". Who the hell is reporting that it is the cause? Who is claiming that this statistically significant relationship is equal to a 'randomized double-blind study'? And how exactly do you propose one do a 'randomized double-blind study' on autism anyways? The problem isn't that studies like this that present statistical relationships make the news, it is that people for some reason fail to read words like "might", "may", or "possibly" and instead read a certainity which no one claimed existed.

  • by krajo (824554) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:36AM (#16465065)
    I love how the quote at the bottom of the page is:

    "Toddlers are the stormtroopers of the Lord of Entropy."

    I guess not anymore, huh?

  • by cyclop (780354) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:38AM (#16465079) Homepage Journal

    I call bullshit.

    That is, it is entirely possible (and plausible) that a correlation exists. However I'd interpret it in the reverse way. That is, the study shows just that children born with autism are more likely to spend time watching TV (knowing the features of autism, this is entirely possible).

    Moreover, the existence of a correlation does not show necessarily a cause-effect relationship. Do you remember Lisa Simpson showing Homer a rock that protected from tigers?

    This kind of papers are what my collegues call "scientific pornography" -papers thrown up just to stir up controversy, but based on very fragile assumptions and with a few data inflated as much as possible. Quite a common occurrence, sadly, these days.

    • by arivanov (12034) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:49AM (#16465131) Homepage
      Both authors are not members of the medical profession. Graduate school of management. Bleah... Move along...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Fnkmaster (89084)
        They are health economists (well, one of them is, and the other is an economist). Health economists do these kind of large scale public health studies all the time. They are using statistics and economics to investigate issues of public health concern, not looking for medical explanations of causes.

        If you look at the paper itself, the title may be provocative, but what they are actually doing is what health economists generally do in their research.

        Also - the way they are doing their analysis seems (to me
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I'd interpret it in the reverse way. That is, the study shows just that children born with autism are more likely to spend time watching TV (knowing the features of autism, this is entirely possible).

      And your explanation for why more children being born with autism increases the incidence of cable?

      A statistically significant correlation between cable TV rollout and autism could mean one of four things: -

      1) Cable TV causes autism. A feasible, if unsupported, hypothesis.

      2) Autism creates a demand for cable TV
    • And I say hold that knee-jerk.

      They make use of a natural randomisation between control and treatment groups. Some areas had access to cable TV before others. Those areas had higher rates of autism. Similarly, some areas had worse weather than others (and thus higher rates of TV viewership) and had higher rates of autism. Thus, this is not a simple case of correlation means correlation. This is a so-called 'natural experiment' where the randomisation between control and treatment groups is provided by natura
  • Content (Score:2, Insightful)

    by foldingstock (945985)
    Perhaps the problem is not Television, but rather, the quality of the shows catching children's interests. I highly doubt educational tv is causing autism. The content on channels like nickelodeon, disny, and even MTV is highly lacking. The method of constantly changing frames and displaying lots or colors does keep someone watching, but it makes it hard to concentrate. Could this be the cause?
    • Interesting to mention constantly changing data. I, for one, cannot watch a lot of music videos and even movies these days because the flash cuts literally hurt my eyes. What the hell is this stimulus doing to kids? Another recent paper investigates autism as a failure to properly develop 'mirror neuron' systems in the brain that can model behavior of other people. If a child is saturated in quick-cut data that maybe spins past too fast and drives the brain to misdevelop, perhaps a lot of TV could indeed t
  • Let's see... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NNKK (218503) <nknight@runawaynet.com> on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:40AM (#16465101) Homepage
    Could there POSSIBLY be other factors at work?

    How about the increased understanding of and accurate diagnosis of autism and autism-related disorders around that time?

    How about the repetitive nature of television programming, especially kids shows, appealing to autistics as a source of consistency and comfort?

    How about the fact that the places getting cable were also the places getting elevated concentrations of geeks, who seem to have genetic quirks that have this tendancy to result in autism-like disorders? Could that POSSIBLY have ANYTHING to do with a rise in autism in Washington, _Oregon_, and *CALIFORNIA*?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KokorHekkus (986906)

      Could there POSSIBLY be other factors at work?

      A much more interesting study show that the age of the father might be a factor. From the BBC article:

      ...The UK and US researchers examined data on 132,271 children and said those born to men over 40 were six times more at risk than those born to men under 30....

      Source:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/5313874.s tm [bbc.co.uk]

      Now, I haven't found any easily accessible figures on how the age of the fathers has changed over the years but I'd hazard a guess that it woul

  • Damn TV, you've ruined my imagination, just like you've ruined my ability to... uh...
  • As far as I can tell, none of the people involved in this study has any background in medical research:

    From TFA:

    DOES TELEVISION CAUSE AUTISM?
    by:
    Michael Waldman
    Johnson Graduate School of Management
    Cornell University

    Sean Nicholson
    Policy Analysis and Management
    Cornell University and NBER

    Nodir Adilov
    Department of Economics
    Indiana University-Purdue University
    Nodir's vita

    Now, don't misunderstand me: they may have very interesting things to say, but IMHO, a solid background in medicine and especially autism should

    • by Skippy_kangaroo (850507) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:02AM (#16465209)
      NO!

      A solid background in statistics is required to launch a bombshell like this. It is likely that these authors have that background.

      Furthermore, economists (which one of the authors would seem to be based on his affiliation) are well trained in methods of robustly detecting effects in non-experimental data (such as this); whereas medical researchers are typically more involved with experimental data. Experimental data is much easier to deal with than non-experimental data. Indeed, one could argue that these sorts of studies are more likely to be carried out properly by economists trained in dealing with this sort of data.

      The important aspect of this is that there was a natural experiment carried out where some counties received cable television and others didn't. Provided the counties that received cable television did so for essentially random reasons, this data is the equivalent of a randomised experimental trial. As such, the standard argument that correlation does not prove causation is much weaker. There might well be a third factor at work here, but hold those knee-jerk reactions. One needs to be a good statistician to detect these correlations - medical researchers can work out the reasons later.
      • by Fex303 (557896) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:42AM (#16465431)
        NO! A solid background in statistics is required to launch a bombshell like this. It is likely that these authors have that background.

        This idea that all one needs to understand is statistics in order to comment on a scientific discipline is incorrect. Analysis of statistics is important, but in order to draw conclusions from them, one really has to understand the field they are being made in. It is a common issue with economists who tend to view the numbers as the be all and end all without understanding where they have come from and what the greater issues at play around the numbers might be.

        Provided the counties that received cable television did so for essentially random reasons, this data is the equivalent of a randomised experimental trial.
        That's such an idiotic assumption that it essentially destroys the research on its own. Genuine randomness is incredibly important is selecting participants for any sort of psychological experiment, and I can think of a number of reasons off the top of head why there would be a correlation between the availability of cable TV and incidence of autism.

        For example, increased wealth makes cable TV a viable business to set up, but also allows parents to pay to have autistic children treated resulting an increased number of reported cases. Alternately, cable TV may only be launched in areas with a certain level of technological uptake.

        There's also a theory that autism rates increase when technologically minded people start gathering together at workplaces (therefore breeding, therefore passing on (and concentrating) their autistic-related genes). There's another potential explanation for the correlation.

        This is certainly not a study that psychologists would credit as being worthwhile, which highlights why people should have some idea why they're talking about before dropping bombshells like this.

      • consequences (Score:3, Interesting)

        I see a number of posts debating the methods of data collection and what it could possibly mean. The real work that must be done now is to investigate these claims and investigate possible mechanisms. If this claim is true, there are going to be rather intense repurcussions. My money? It's not the television itself, it is the non-interactive world that it produces.

        Autism is on the rise http://www.fightingautism.org/idea/autism.php [fightingautism.org]. My mother is a school nurse and she's noticed a large increase in the size o
  • Bhutan (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zouden (232738) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @04:57AM (#16465179)
    The Himalayan country of Bhutan [wikipedia.org] only started recieving television in 1999. This was followed by a drastic increase in crime (including murder) [guardian.co.uk] in the tiny nation. It would be interesting to see if there's also an increase in autism, as this study would suggest.
  • ...but over here in the UK we had broadcast TV for ages before we had cable. I'd guess you guys over there Is there something special about cable TV that would contribute to autism? Over and above the programming content I mean, which I assume didn't change all that drastically at the introduction of cable (except for the public access stuff we find so amusing over here!)
  • How ironic that an 'Overbooked Benefit for Autism Education' may itself be the cause of authism.. In case you are a cat and have missed it here's [youtube.com] a clip.
  • by jandersen (462034) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:28AM (#16465359)
    Before anybody starts jeering stupidly and making wise about this subject, perhaps people should read this article from Scientific American: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&colI D=1&articleID=000B7F38-893D-152E-88E283414B7F0000 [sciam.com]

    Now for some of the usual comments people tend to spew out:

    Correlation is not causation

    This is true - but correlation indicates that there MAY BE a causation. Thus, when things are strongly correlated and there are other reasons to suspect a causal connection, it is well worth researching further.

    Increased awareness

    Perhaps 'increased awareness' of autism means that we discover more cases that were not previously recognised? Perhaps, but I don't think it is very likely. Full-blown autism is not something you overlook. It is a serious disorder that in most cases means lifelong disability, and it is unlike any other psychiatric disorder. The increased awareness, I suspect, mostly means that now we spot more of the milder cases, but it is not my impression that this is what this research is about.

    So why is it that people on this list are hostile to the idea that maybe TV can contribute to the emergence of autism? My guess is that this is because people on the list tend to be heavy consumers of passive entertainment, like TV and computer games; you don't want to hear that it may be bad for you.

    If you have read the article I referred to above, you will know that autism probably has a lot to do with the development of 'mirror neurons' in the brain; a neural system that makes us able to imitate what other people do. Like all neural systems, the mirror neurons need to be trained, and TV is probably not a very good role model for that, at least not if you are already weak in this area. So it is actually quite reasonable to suspect that watching too much TV at an early age may contribute to the development of autism.
    • by radja (58949)
      --
      Perhaps 'increased awareness' of autism means that we discover more cases that were not previously recognised? Perhaps, but I don't think it is very likely. Full-blown autism is not something you overlook.
      --

      fullblown, classical autism isn't overlooked but other autism spectrum disorders like ADD, ADHD and asperger's syndrome (I was diagnosed with asperger's at 31) come to light a lot more often. asperger's was hardly even known when I was a kid. there has been quite a lot of research into autism spectrum
  • by Bazman (4849) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:28AM (#16465361) Journal
    The MMR vaccine:

    http://www.badscience.net/?p=249 [badscience.net]

  • There is a question here of why there is correlation in the first place. If it isn't the causation factor, what factor is causing the rise of autism that just happens to correlate with the rise of television viewing in these areas?
  • My neice (now 12) is autistic. Whether it is coincidence or not, shortly after her dose of thermosil, she stopped talking and relating. She can talk a bit, knows the alphabet, etc, but her using them is very rare and pretty much only at her discretion.

    It's very hard to connect with her. To get her attention 95% of the time is just about impossible, television on the other hand, has no problem. It's one of the few things that can always get her attention. I've always wondered if it's something of a signal pr
  • (Cue 'rain man' quotes).

    From the study:
    Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey, we first establish that the amount of television a young child watches is positively related to the amount of precipitation in the child's community. This suggests that, if television is a trigger for autism, then autism should be more prevalent in communities that receive substantial precipitation. We then look at county-level autism data for three states - California, Oregon, and Washington - characteriz
  • by cherokee158 (701472) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @07:50AM (#16466181)
    The word Autism is a catchall for a wide spectrum of disorders, from severly impaired kids to the fashionably diagnosed little darlings belonging to attention-starved suburban housewives, which tends to muddy the diagnostic waters a bit. Most seriously Autistic children manifest symptons almost from birth. Despite what some parents claim as a regression during the toddler years, I suspect kids are born with it. It's simply difficult to diagnose a child with a psychological disorder before they are old enough to even walk or talk.

    If you want a controlled study, here it is: I have two children, by the same wife. One is perfectly normal. The other is autistic. I suspected there was something wrong with the Autistic one by the time he was nine months old. (Most babies love to be held. This one was completely hyper, and would squirm out of everyone's arms as soon as he was physically capable of it. He rarely slept. He walked early, but displayed odd mannerisms. While many toddlers are fascinated by television, he manifested no interest in watching it at that age at all.) But he was not diagnosed until he was three, because there was very little diagnostic criteria to go one. Babies really don't do much other than cry, eat, sleep and poop.

    They both watched plenty of TV by the time they were three. Just like I did in the sixties. They are 10 and 11 now. I taught the eldest to read the usual way, and he is a voracious reader. He still loves TV. And video games. And fart jokes, and every other thing a normal eleven year old loves. He's still not autistic. The youngest, the Autistic one, would rarely sit still for a story. He liked to flip through books, but didn't want to be read to. He can read now, though. Know why? I turned the English subtitles on whenever he watched his favorite DVD's.

    He learned to read watching television.

    This study is bunk. It's not a theory. It's more like the plot to Halloween III.

  • by TheMohel (143568) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:00AM (#16466261) Homepage

    As a pediatrician trained in child development (and the parent of an autistic teenager), I've got a strong interest and background in this, and I can tell you quite plainly that the paper is crap.

    This is a spectacularly good example of really stupid statistical games. I only skimmed it (Acrobat Reader blew up on me as I tried to save it, and I'll get another copy later), but these people did the following amazing things:

    1. Accept as fact that autism itself is increasing (as opposed to the diagnosis of autism). This is possible, but contentious and somewhat controversial. I'll spare you the full story, but the general opinion is that while the disorder is more common than it once was, changes in diagnosis (and benefits for diagnosis) make it hard to do more than guess at the actual rate of increase.

    2. Consider de novo a hypothesis "that early childhood television watching is an important trigger for the onset of autism." They do note that nobody else has bothered to consider this, but don't spend much time wondering why. Apparently, they're special. Perhaps because nobody has measured this in a useful manner? They do admit this, but they find a solution!

    3. Because there are no good numbers for early television watching, they use precipitation as a proxy for television watching. Apparently, if it rains, you're likely inside with the tube on. They do show a strong positive correlation between rainfall and autism. Yep, that's right - rain causes autism.

    4. But wait - it can't be the rain, it has to be the television! That's what we started trying to prove, anyway, so it's important to stay focused. They try it another way: they consider the availability of cable. They show that autism correlates with the availability of cable. No, really, it does. Of course, diagnosis of a LOT of chronic developmental syndromes increases with affluence, because of the increased availability of medical care and the reduction in "grab-bag" diagnoses like "mental retardation". But still, it must be the cable.

    5. Having neatly done all the "proof" they require, they then proceed to tear the numbers apart and "prove" that 40% of autism in California is triggered by early television watching, while only 17% is triggered in PA. Why, we don't know, but it appears that rain, or cable, or maybe just TV is more powerful in CA than in PA. Or something like that.

    I don't have time for a complete fisking right now, but I may do it later. Aside from the basic methodologic errors (confusing correlation with causation, adopting a highly questionable proxy indicator without validating it, and spending almost no time ruling out confounding factors or tainted data), there remain the dozens of smaller tactical problems that should have sidelined this turkey. I assume the peer reviewers, if there are any, were on drugs.

    This paper will be a bombshell, all right. I'll use it over and over again as I explain to medical students and colleagues that you don't have to have much in the way of actual brains to write a scientific paper. Or, as I said about another paper in journal club once, "the font is nice, and I like the layout of the tables. It's a shame the actual science is such garbage."

    • by GlobalEcho (26240) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @11:54AM (#16470307)
      ...and here we have another M.D. who thinks he knows something about science. I wish medical schools would concentrate less on memorization and more on critical thinking skills, especially with respect to statistical studies.

      This is a spectacularly good example of really stupid statistical games.

      In actuality, the paper is a good example of the way in which social research can take advantage of natural experiments.

      I only skimmed it...

      Then why write with such unwarranted authority and in such certain terms about its contents and conclusions?

      Aside from the basic methodologic errors (confusing correlation with causation, adopting a highly questionable proxy indicator without validating it, and spending almost no time ruling out confounding factors or tainted data), there remain the dozens of smaller tactical problems...

      They made none of the errors you list. I would like to think you might have realized this had you bothered (as I did) to actually read the paper, but based on the evidence of your post, I would be reckless to assume that.
  • by pwizard2 (920421) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @10:15AM (#16468101)
    I wish I'd gotten in here sooner. I am officially diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, and I spent most of my childhood without TV. Even though I had to entertain myself in other ways such as reading, and indulging different hobbies (having several obsessive hobbies is in itself an autistic trait) I still turned out the way I did. The only way that TV could affect someone in this way is if they were already genetically or developmentally predisposed to it (or EVERYONE would be autistic, since nearly every kid watches TV in developed countries) Also, it pisses me off when people try to "cure" autism. It's not some disease that I have, it's a part of who I am. If it were possible to remove all of my autistic traits, I wouldn't be the same person after said process was done. Autism is just a different way of seeing the world and interpreting things around me, and even though people mean well, the fact that they would want to override who I am and attempt to make me like they are does kind of insult me.
  • huh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Daddy3 (1013639) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @02:18PM (#16473445)
    My son has high functioning autism and his symptoms showed long before he started watching tv. Rates are increasing because there is better diagnosis information available to the doctors-origionally they were clumped as mentally disabled or retarded. To say TV is causing autism is a farce IMHO. We have actually used video games to increase my sons ability to cross over midline. He is very proficient playing games. There is real science going on now that has located a gene that may be the link to why it happens. They are trying to manipulate that gene into mice to see what different outside influences trigger autism. They will test mercury in that study since it has been used in vaccines for babies. Yes they "concluded" that it is not causing autism in other studies but why did the manufacturer of the vaccine get congress to make a law excluding manufacturers from liability? There is too much misguided studies on autism-I feel the gene route will be the one that will give the best answers.
  • by descil (119554) <teraten&hotmail,com> on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @03:17PM (#16474455)
    Correllation does not equate causation. That's all that needs to be said about this experiment.

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