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Reblogged:Autism Cases Track Organic Food Sales

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But, as scientists know, correlation does not imply causation.

Over at the Genetic Literacy Project, Arvind Suresh debunks the idea that the increase in autism cases over the past couple of decades might be due to vaccines, or GMOs paired with glyphosate. In fact, he argues that there is a solid explanation for the increase.

But before getting to that explanation, Suresh recaps the sordid beginnings of such scares in the case of research fraud that kicked off the original vaccine scare, and briefly addresses the more recent claims about GMOs-glyphosate.

The latter he does in part by pointing out the absurdity of cherry-picking data, finding spurious correlations, and running with them. The title of this post comes from my favorite of the graphs he generated or found, which shows a correlation between organic food sales and cases of autism diagnosed between between 1998 and 2008 with a p-value of 0.9971.

Once the debunkery is over comes what may prove anti-climactic for the reader: The real explanation is that the increase is a statistical artifact. Suresh a quotes a 2015 story from Forbes on this:
certified_for_suckers.jpg
Organic food is a rip-off, but it does not cause autism. (Image by Kenny Eliason, via Unsplash, license.)
In Denmark in particular, the diagnostic criteria for autism expanded in 1994 to include a spectrum of disorders with a broader list of symptoms, thereby widening the definition of autism. Then in 1995, national data tracking began to include diagnoses made from outpatient patient visits rather than just diagnoses of those admitted to a healthcare facility.

...

Changes in reporting practices can account for most (60 percent) of the increase in the observed prevalence of ASDs [Autism Spectrum Disorders --ed] in children born from 1980 through 1991 in Denmark. Hence, the study supports the argument that the apparent increase in ASDs in recent years is in large part attributable to changes in reporting practices.
Suresh notes that these criteria changed "in every country that has seen soaring autism rates."

I seem to recall hearing about this at some point, but the fact that there are evidently many people who go on pushing the vaccine and glyphosate narratives makes me appreciate what the good folks at the Genetic Literacy Project are doing.

There are doubtless plenty of people out there who lack strong scientific backgrounds, have been conditioned by our dominant culture to fear technology and corporations, and are also swamped by bad information. Nevertheless, they can be reached with good data, sound reasoning against crackpot theories, and solid, more scientific thinking.

-- CAV

Updates

Today
: (1) Changed rates to cases in title. (2) Fixed some grammatical errors in the last paragraph.

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Part of the reason for increases in autism diagnoses, I suspect, is simply that it's become a fashionable diagnosis, like gender dysphoria and ADD. Fifty years ago it was hypoglycemia. It will always be something.

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