Careful with the axe Eu-gene

Hi all

I am in a hotel lobby using a local wi-fi connection that does not like Firefox or Blogger. So I am responding to Joseph’s latest offering on the Geiers here. Please read the original.  

This is all to the good. But I must point out that all this does is debunk the Geiers’ evidence for an epidemic linked to thimerosal in vaccines.

We must still be open to the possibility that there has been an increase in the incidence of autism and that environmental factors may be involved.

My reason for wanting to defend the environmental element to autism is to counteract those (eu)geneticists who hope to offer a genetic test for autism while ignoring the impact of the environment on outcomes for autistic people. Abortion is cheaper than social reform :-(

22 thoughts on “Careful with the axe Eu-gene

  1. Hi Mike,

    I think most good scientifically-minded thinkers are going to be open to ANY possibility (whether it’s about true prevalence or etiology), as long as that possibility doesn’t require a leap of faith (supported only by shoddy science, anecdote, pseudo-science, etc.). It’s entirely possible that there is an extremely complex set of potential combinations of environmental factors and genetics which will take years of research to understand (a tough reality for many for sure).

    I also think it possible that genetic testing does not necessarily have to conclude with abortion. It could lead to early intervention (in the form of family-based education) at a much earlier point in a child’s life than it does today. If that early intervention included education about true nature of the cause/cure hype and associated treatments, it could help a lot of families pursue true advocacy and enabling. No doubt this may be a difficult mindset for the masses though…ideas?

  2. DoC,

    Genetic testing doesn’t have to end with abortion, but it probably will. Look at Down Syndrome. (See Estee’s blog for that data.)

    Regardless of whether or not genetic testing for autism goes the way you (and I) are hoping it will, I think it is important that the information you are talking about be provided to all parents upon diagnosis. The difficult part is how much there is to process all at once, but I think that if parents were given a comprehensive collection of information and resources, then once they’re able to think about just what, exactly, they’re going to do, they’ll have what they need in order to make an informed decision.

    …Actually, I think anyone who is diagnosed with anything should be given such a package. It would have really helped me when I was diagnosed last year, though I’d already done a lot of reading.

  3. Hi Mike. I agree that environmental factors are involved; there have been tremendous changes in the social environment in recent years. Not long ago, most mothers didn’t work outside the home, divorces were rare, many families stayed in the same house throughout their kids’ childhood, and life in general was simpler and more predictable.

    I think what’s happening is that we always have had about the same percentage of genetically autistic folks, but their behavioral quirks went largely unnoticed when they were children because their families led quieter and calmer lives. Now their kids, who have inherited their genes, can’t handle the stresses of the modern world and develop behavior problems that the parents didn’t have.

    I’m not arguing that all mothers of autistic children should stay at home, but we do need to be aware of the extent to which a child’s environment influences behavior.

  4. Mike,

    Genetic testing will probably be the next fight, but there are some roadblocks to genetic testing that will make it nearly impossible in my opinion:

    1) Autism is not 100% heritable. The best possible test will give false positives for classic autism 40% of the time, and for a broad spectrum (including perhaps Einstein and Gates) 10% of the time.

    2) Autism is about as heritable as personality or intelligence. Finding genes for it should be just as difficult as finding genes for personality or intelligence.

    3) Researchers are having a difficult time linking alleles to autism. There are way too many alleles involved and they are (not surprisingly) prevalent in the general population.

    4) Autism is a spectrum that blends into the general population. The boundary between autism and normality is not well understood, and this gives an idea of how complex the genetics and other factors must be.

  5. The reason I think it’s important to debunk the Geiers is that they are basically saying that autistics across the board are mercury poisoned people. And the impact of these assertions on our kids is non-trivial in my opinion.

  6. Hi Mike. I agree that environmental factors are involved; there have been tremendous changes in the social environment in recent years. Not long ago, most mothers didn’t work outside the home, divorces were rare, many families stayed in the same house throughout their kids’ childhood, and life in general was simpler and more predictable.

    That sounds dangerously like Refrigerator Mother or the theory from autismhysteria.blogspot.com. But it’s true that psychogenic triggers have been overlooked after Refrigerator Mother fell out of favor. Stress, for example, is a pretty obvious “trigger” for autistics. The kinds of things that make one twin autistic and the other twin Asperger probably have to do with everyday life experience, and not necessarily poisons, viruses or injuries.

  7. Joseph, to clarify, I wasn’t talking about lack of affection from parents (Refrigerator Mother) but about the stresses and transitions involved in being taken to day care. Some kids do just fine in day care, while others get stressed out and behave accordingly. A stressed out autistic kid is much more likely to get a diagnosis than a quiet and well-behaved autistic kid.

  8. Some kids do just fine in day care, while others get stressed out and behave accordingly.

    I think school can cause some PTSD in autistic kids. We put my son in a school/daycare at 2, before he got a diagnosis. It was horrible for him. I believe autistic kids should not go to school this early and it might even be better to have them homeschooled. Unfortunately, parents may not know the child is on the spectrum until the child is put in school.

  9. So you got the Wifi to work then :)

    If there are more people in the world then there is bound to be more autism so long as we are not murdered before birth or otherwise eliminated by lack of proper medical care, and what have you.

    The real reason for the increase in Autism is because it is a new category and therefore it is a media/cultural phenomenon that this one time empty category must be filled if we are not to end up with more descriptions of what autism is than there are people to be diagnosed according to them.

  10. The data is consistent with a lack of an epidemic, but at the same time Mike is right that there must be some explanation for autism not being 100% heritable. It could be due to phenocopies (mercury poisoning being a possible phenocopy), or it could be due to environmental triggers. With that said, I don’t think any human behavior could ever be 100% heritable.

  11. What are people's thoughts on epigenetics? I come from a very weak scientific background. But as I understand it there is some evidence for environmental events to cause heritable changes to DNA that affect sons and grandsons. I read a report in New Scientist which set me thinking. What if there has been a growth in autism, not an epidemic but a real increase all the same? The Second World War, nuclear testing, massive changes in life style, emissions of toxins into the atmosphere, pesticides, flame retardents – lots of environmental insults to our collectivegene pool.

    We are changing the planet. :-( Perhaps we are changing ourselves. I have no idea if this has any relevance to autism. Please feel free to offer corrections and chastise me for my ignorance :-)

  12. Hi Mike
    Well, I am a student of epigenetics. I have found some links that for me were important in the topic to understand

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetic

    http://www.dnaftb.org/dnaftb/33/concept/index.html
    Here if you click on animations there are very clear explanations
    About importance of epigenetics in autism (I think that in the future a more important role would be evident but this is a personal opinion)

    http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/abstract/174/3/341

    [....]some preliminary evidence supports a
    model that incorporates both genetic and epigenetic contributions
    in the causation of autism.102 Autism has been linked
    to the region on chromosome 15 that is responsible for
    Prader–Willi syndrome and Angelman syndrome…
    These results suggest that MECP2 deficiency plays a role in
    chromosome organization in the developing brain in autism,
    Rett syndrome and several other neurodevelopmental disorders

    You can find here more info
    http://www.kevinleitch.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?id=72

    Hope this is interesting for you Mike. Do not worry please about your supposed ignorance, why must you know about in first place if you are not a researcher in the topic or a researcher in general in Chemistry or Biology?
    For me, you opened my mind to another point of view and make me think about myself and my attitudes about several points. In my humble opinion I am a continuous student if I have the open mind and heart to hear and to learn, related to personal experiences of life, different than mine. If we construct a place of productive exchange of opinions and reflexions, we all can help others in different ways.
    Thank YOU for your help.
    María Luján

  13. I’ve been thinking a lot about the heritability. I think we have the only real case of classic autism recorded in either my family or my husband’s family in our older son, but there have been traits of autism in both our families. Looking at traits, in fact, I’m amazed that my parents didn’t have a child with classic autism, although I’m sure the probability would have increased if they’d had more than 2 children.

  14. If tommorow we were to say that behavior x + gene y + astrological sign z = new category q there would be ipso facto an infinite rise in condition q tommorrow. and if a second person is found to match this new descriptor/artefact, then there would be a hundred percent increase on the day before.

    If ten are found the following week, then you get my drift I hope. Obervation in no wise predicts an absolute figure because what is not seen remains not seen and therefore unquantified even though it may well exist like the supposed mysterios dark matter in the Universe.

    genetics as a science, indeed all sciences are no more than phenomena based upon the cognitive and behavioral tendencies of there practitioners. The scientific method exists for no other reason than that is the way things are done, because of the way our minds work, all our minds (except mine of course) (note the linguistic fallacy in the use of “our” there) (no I bet you didn’t)

  15. hi Lorenzo

    I missed the linguistic fallacy. But I spotted the post modern fallacy that objective knowledge is impossible. The scientific method offers the most reliable path to objective knowledge about the universe. It is also the best way to debunk some of the crackpot theories about autism that are blighting people’s lives.

  16. Post modernism is no fallacy, the fallacy is in your assuming that there is any way to judge that it is such in your subjective judgement, for how can you be sure other than by faith in science that there are things beyond your individual perception, stars you cannot see, radiation you are unaware of.

    The animals that are reported to thrive in the exclusion zone of Chernobyl are blissfully unaware of what science tells us, that it is a bad place to dwell, and as a result of that they are doing better than before because we with our “superior”science and epistemology are not bothering them

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/1061703.stm

    granted I have to swallow my solipsistic self belief and take the say so of a somewhat suspect media to inform me of that not having verified it for myself.

    But otherwise I think I might be stuck tree counting in Berkeley’s forest.

  17. He gets around.

    I am presenting a paper on the post modernist deconstruction of the social model of disability in September complete with criticisms of the current models anglo centric linguistic fallacy.

    Not sure where the Bishop fits in with that, but he will :)

    meanwhile blog this, the duck turns queens evidence :-o

    http://www.news-medical.net/?id=17020

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