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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Autism in the Media: The Case of the Brain Scan

Another in a series of "revolutionary" developments in autism science:

The British National Health Service, however, emphasizes caution:

The study was carried out by researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College in London. Funded was provided by the Medical Research Council. The study was published in the (peer-reviewed) Journal of Neuroscience.

The study was widely reported in the media, with most stories relying on a press release and interviews to interpret the scientific data from the study. Few reports focused on the small size of the study or the need for further research on this method. The claim in the Daily Express, that autism can now be detected by a 15-minute brain scan, was incorrect.


In particular, it is necessary to clarify that this method can specifically differentiate between ASD and other neuro-developmental conditions. In addition, the implications of such a test for ASD would need careful consideration, including which people would be eligible for the test and whether it should be considered for use in children.

The researchers also note that:

  • Differences in scanners may have affected the ADHD classification.
  • The variation in accuracy between the right and left hemisphere needs further exploration.
  • The classification algorithm was only used on high-functioning adults with ASD, so it is not known whether it would produce the same results in other groups with more severe ASD.
  • The small sample size made it impossible to investigate possible brain differences between autism and Asperger’s syndrome.