Just a drive-by rant... I know that I could spend hours researching this opinion I'm about to spill forth, but life's too good at the moment. So here's the quick and dirty (as some editor of mine used to say way too much) version of my opinion, for what it's worth.
Friday, I saw this: Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, United States, 2008
... which is the statistical reporting basis of subsequent media pieces like this: Autism Prevalence: Study Shows 1 In 88 Kids Has The Condition
... which can sometimes (often) result in conversations that start like this:
"so what's the cause of this epidemic?" (That's from a friend's Facebook page.)
Now, the first thing I thought of when I saw the HuffPo piece and similar was this: Um. At a certain point in our own personal trajectories, shouldn't we be able to use hindsight a little more often to screen through, process, and integrate not only the information we see at present, but history, too?
Translate that to: Um. I'm pretty sure there will never be an end to the calls for alarm about the "increases" in this condition or that disease, so long as the richest corporations in the world are making money off of our reactions to those alarms.
Does that mean that I don't believe ANYthing that ANY media says about ANY condition or ANY treatment? Oh, hell no. I'm too old for that. Y'all should be, too. C'mon.
Don't make me list the historical preponderance of evidence for questionable motives toward alarming the public about myriad "health conditions" and "treatments."
And here's my own twisted version of alarm: Rather than starting to simply swallow whole the spoutings from health and pharmaceutical researchers about how boys have This Condition and boys have That Disease more than girls, when are we going to start listening to people who can actually speak with authority to the historical unfolding of theories of normal human development and the confluence with culture? Not very sexy, I know. Is it possible that we've never quite understood what "normal" is, yet now, we're terribly gung ho to find the abnormal? Why do you think that is? Who has something to gain by our being fully apprised of pathology or atypicality without ever really knowing what constitutes a baseline of normal?
Let's get this guy, among others, in on the conversation: Professor David Skuse on "Distinguishing Autism from 'Normal' Behavior"
Read the "Description of System" section on the CDC's report. Always look at where the data's being drawn from. Even the HuffPo piece says clearly
"However, the researchers noted that the findings don't necessarily mean more children are developing autism. Rather, the increase might reflect increased diagnosis of the condition."
But then all that dry, we-don't-really-understand-any-of-this detail gets boiled down by one fanatic this way:
""Autism is a global public health crisis. The costs are staggering and will continue to rise as prevalence continues to increase," Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, said in a statement."
Thanks for that, Bob. Not like you have your agenda or anything...
Speaking of agenda, here's how that works: With all this scary talk coming out right now, you might think that it's because This Is Big News We Just Found Out About & Need To Alert The Public Immediately. Nope. It's more related to this than that: April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day.
And I've said it before (likely I will forever, unless pharmas shut down): If something -- a condition, a behavior, a trait -- starts showing up in a whole lot more people, at what point is it time to stop thinking in alarming terms of abnormality and consider that maybe we never knew what normal was?
My other point, caustic as it seems, is really just this: Please, be careful when you read the media's interpretation of studies and statistical reports. My experience is that there are far fewer people than you think who are expert enough to do a good job of translating this information into meaningful terms. And that includes the researchers who write the original source pieces.
Often, this stuff is not only very unmeaningful, it can be very harmful. Witch hunts, anyone?