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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Retraction of "Autism Tsunami"

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss evaluationdiagnosis, and the uncertainty of prevalence estimates.

Conflicts of interest and methodological issues sully a study published 18 July in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, autism researchers say.

The researchers on the study — which attempts to forecast autism prevalence and related costs in the United States in 2060 — all have connections to organizations that wrongly tie autism to vaccines, critics note, a conflict of interest that none of the researchers adequately disclosed.

The lead investigator, Mark Blaxill, is editor-at-large of Age of Autism, a website that promotes distrust of vaccinations and the long-debunked link between vaccines and autism. Blaxill has made national news for his anti-vaccine views.

Co-investigator Toby Rogers is a political economist who has written for the Children’s Health Defense Fund, a website that seeks to discredit vaccine safety; co-investigator Cynthia Nevison, research associate at the University of Colorado, is a former board member of SafeMinds, an organization that has sought to link vaccines to autism.

“It’s abundantly clear that this paper doesn’t follow the journal’s policies,” says David Mandell, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at University of Pennsylvania and editor-in-chief of the journal Autism. “If you reference the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders’ conflict-of-interest guidelines, it says that certain ideological commitments and personal beliefs, personal relationships, all those things have to also be disclosed.”

“I receive no income for writing articles in Age of Autism over the years, so obviously that is not a conflict,” Blaxill wrote to Spectrum in response to Mandell’s comments.

The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders has retracted a 2021 article, 
"Autism Tsunami: The Impact of Rising Prevalence on the Societal Cost of Autism in the United States," by Mark Blaxill, Toby Rogers & Cynthia Nevison

The Publisher and the Editors-in-Chief are retracting this article. After publication concerns were raised with respect to the methodology used in this article. Post-publication review by a number of experts in the field has confirmed the following:
  • Misrepresentation of the incidence of autism and insufficient attention given to various other factors that might account for apparent changes in rates
  • Use of unrepresentative data
  • No valid justification for the mechanisms proposed for prevention
  • Arbitrary and insufficiently justified use of the birth cohort 1931 as an origin for the time trend
  • Use of higher estimates and assumptions that inflated costs, together with failure to consider discrete events that occurred in referent years, including changes in definitions, alternative surveillance methods, and alternative explanations which may have contributed to changes in diagnosis.
  • In addition, the Conflict of Interest statement does not accurately reflect the non-financial interests of the authors.
The Editors-in Chief therefore no longer has confidence in the conclusions presented. Mark Blaxill, Toby Rogers and Cynthia Nevison disagree with this retraction.