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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Scathing Critique of the "Inflammatory Disease" Hypothesis

 At the Philadelphia Inquirer, Michael Yudell offers a scathing critique of a new hypothesis about autism causation:
At quick glance, a recent opinion article in the New York Times by writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff, claiming that “perhaps one-third, and very likely more” of autism cases look like a brain-damaging inflammatory disease caused by a parasite deficiency that “begins in the womb,” offers interesting insight into the science of autism causation. Researchers around the world are hard at work trying to decipher the puzzle that is autism, and Velasquez-Manoff draws attention to some of their work.
But upon closer inspection the article’s claims about the causes of autism and its possible treatments and cures are not an accurate reflection of the best state of the science, may generate widespread misinformation among a public impatient for answers, and should caution us about how to present ideas about a disorder that has witnessed the communication of so much bad information. (For me, this is more than just another blog post. The history of autism, and the impact of poor communication about the disorder to the public, is one of my research interests and the subject of a book that is in the works. A paper I led examining the challenges of communicating autism risk was just published online ahead of print in the journal Autism.)

If the commentary had simply claimed that research is examining the possibility that autism is a brain-damaging inflammatory disease and that it might be caused by a changing microbial environment to which humans are poorly adapted, there would be little controversy here. There is research around the world examining these very issues. But Velasquez-Manoff, a journalist who has a new book out this week titled An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases, makes claims that are inaccurate and in some cases simply untrue, leaving readers of one of the most distinguished opinion sections in the world with a false impression of autism causation and a possible cure.

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