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Thursday, August 13, 2015

How Bogus Theories Mislead and Stigmatize

In The Politics of Autism, I enumerate some of the purported causes of the condition.  At The Telegraph, Sarah Knapton writes:
A leading Oxford University academic has come under attack from colleagues for continuing to warn that the internet causes brain damage and autism in children, despite no evidence to support the claims.

In a blunt opinion piece published in the British Medical Journal, Professor Dorothy Bishop of Oxford, Dr Vaughan Bell of University College London and Dr Andrew Przybylski also of Oxford, accuse Baroness Susan Greenfield of misleading the public and confusing parents with her views.

For years the Labour peer has warned that technology, social media and video games are damaging developing brains. Her recent book Mind Change links short attention spans and social isolation and even autism to the rise of the internet.

But Professor Bishop, Dr Bell and Dr Przybylski say there is no evidence to back any of her claims and point out that research shows gaming is beneficial to young minds, while social networks help teenagers build friendship groups.

“Through appearances, interviews and a recent book, Susan Greenfield has promoted the idea that internet use and computer games can have harmful effects on the brain, emotions and behaviour,” they write in the BMJ.

“Despite repeated calls for her to publish these claims in the peer reviewed scientific literature, where clinical researchers can check how well they are supported by evidence this has not happened.
From the editorial:
Notably, Greenfield has speculated that online interaction might be a “trigger” for autism or “autistic-like traits.”1This claim has no basis in scientific evidence and is entirely implausible in light of what we know of autism as a neurodevelopmental condition that can be first diagnosed in the preschool years. Her claims are misleading to the public, unhelpful to parents, and potentially stigmatising to people with autism.
1. Greenfield S. Mind change: how digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains. Rider, 2014.
The last line of this passage is noteworthy, as it acknowledges the problem of stigma.