In the News

Autism: It is About Temperament, Not Genes

4/8/2015        In the News 2 Comments

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Randy Cima, Ph.D.


I liked a lot of the article posted below by David Warmflash, and that’s not common, especially when the subject is autism. The author is an interesting man.  He describes himself as an astrobiologist, science writer, physician, and “starstuff that evolved into consciousness.”  He has written a number of articles for Discover Magazine, including Three Totally Mind-bending Implications of a Multidimensional Universe and How Close Are We to Start Trek Propulsion?  He has also written dozens of articles for the Genetic Literacy Project (GLP), including Space twins: Scott Kelly’s one-year space mission could yield genetic bounty, and Is dancing success ‘in your genes’?  Focused on agricultural and human biotechnology, the mission of GLP is to “disentangle science from ideology.”

What is David Warmflash’s conclusion about the cause of autism?  Well, according to Dr. Warmflash, it’s not vaccines, or fluoride, or genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), or glyphosate, or mercury - or cell phones.  Autism isn’t caused by telephone wires, the chemtrails of jet planes, or circumcision either, these last three new to me.

With the skeptical eye of a science enthusiast, he bravely takes on parents who, so frustrated with the misleading and contradictory information provided by self-promoting experts, have come to their own conclusions about autism and to hell with everyone else.  Who could blame them?

Warmflash asserts there is no epidemic.  Why, then, has the number of cases “exploded” in the past two decades?  Well, he says, look first at the ever-widening, ever-inclusive, diagnostic criteria.  Simply put, there are more children who “qualify” for the diagnosis, that’s why.  He referenced Three Reasons Not to Believe in an Autism Epidemic.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) published this still relevant article ten years ago.  Since then, DSM V widened the criteria even more to create an even larger population of diagnosable ASD children – now in the millions.  (You can read the entire article here.)

Correlations and Associations - Warmflash does a good job of reminding us - and we need constant reminders - about the difference between statistical associations and correlations, and scientific causes.  With some disdain, he criticizes professional papers that tout a newly found association or correlation, and then imply a fundamental discovery of some kind.  Instead, he explains to us, the scientists found a statistical relationship between one variable and another, nothing more.  Still, either knowingly or unknowingly (I don’t know which is worse), often scientists, and their supporters, confuse correlation with cause.  The only outcome for this kind of science is a confused – and angry – public.  (More about correlations and associations here and here.)

Default Position When All Else Fails: It must be genetic - After explaining in detail why all other causes of autism go wanting - accurately as far as I’m concerned – Dr. Warmflash saves the last three paragraphs to explain why genetics is the cause of autism.  He starts with “However, most of the cause is probably genetic.”  He quotes from a recent JAMA Psychiatry article to support his conclusion.

What does “most of the cause” mean?  There are other causes?  The article he wrote said there were no other causes.  Also, and you may have already noticed, “probably” is not a word used in science.  I also read the abstract of the JAMA article he referred to:  Heritability of Autism Spectrum Disorder in a UK Population-Based Twin Sample, March 2015.  Here’s the first sentence from the section titled Results: “On all ASD measures, correlations among monozygotic twins (range, 0.77-0.99) were significantly higher than those for dizygotic twins (range, 0.22-0.65), giving heritability estimates of 56% to 95%.”  (You can read the entire article here.)

The study reveals there are correlations – yes, correlations – between some variables, for reasons left to scientific speculation.  This seems like a clear violation of the advice we received from Dr. Warmflash about correlations and causes.  Also, after reading the abstract, I knew I didn’t need to read the entire article.  There was nothing in it about causation, or they would have said so.

Summary - When it comes to behavioral medicine and behavioral genetics, and their usefulness in understanding autism, the results are nil. There are statistical correlations and associations aplenty, and for an internet-savvy, 24-hour news media, often just enough headline “science” to imply “this causes that,” and on to the next story.  As longtime opponents of the medical model, this isn’t new or surprising to ISEPP members.  Whether it’s ADHD, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, or autism, there has never been a cause and effect relationship found by medicine or genetics for those, or any of the more than 400 “diseases” found in DSM V. So, if we’re left with “none of the above,” what does that mean?  Well, our experts continually tell us, the solution hasn’t been found yet, we’re close, so we’ll keep looking.  For a growing number of us, it means autism is not a medical disease, it’s not in our DNA, and it’s not a disability, defect, or disorder, so stop looking.  Are there ways to explain the often “bizarre,” self-harming, uncommunicative behavior for these otherwise delicate, artistic children without invoking medicine and genetics?  Of course there are, a number of ways.  For me, it’s a simple matter of temperament – and a unique defense by some unique, healthy children – for another time.

All things considered, this is a good article, and I’ll be quoting from it.  After reading a few more of his articles, I’m also following Dr. Warmflash on twitter.

Epidemics solicit causes; false epidemics solicit false causes. (From Three Reasons Not to Believe in an Autism Epidemic, National Institutes of Health, April 2005)

 

Autism: No, it’s not caused by glyphosate or circumcision, but is likely in our genes, David Warmflash | March 23, 2015 | Genetic Literacy Project

What causes autism? The causes are endless, and mounting, if the Internet is to believed as a reliable source. It’s variously: vaccines, GMOs, glyphosate, chemicals in our home, fluoride in water, telephone wires, cell phones and even chemtrails left by jet planes. Oh yes…and males should not be circumcised for there is strong links between boys going under the knife and cases of autism....read more here.

 

Winging It: Antidepressants and Plane Crashes

4/1/2015        In the News 0 Comments

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David Healy, M.D.


The crash last week of the Germanwings plane has shocked many.  In view of the apparent mental health record of the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, questions have been asked about the screening policies of airlines.  The focus has generally been on the conditions pilots may have or the arguments they might be having with partners or other situational factors that might make them unstable.

Continue reading here

Study on Depression is Flawed

9/18/2014        In the News 0 Comments

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Chuck Ruby, Ph.D.


The WebMD study here is just as flawed as previous "breakthroughs" about biological markers for depression. It is misleading and weak because it is built upon a very flimsy assumption that depression is a disease rather than an understandable reaction to a life situation. The assumption is presented early in the article with a sleight of hand and repeated with the use of biological, medical, and illness words, giving the impression that depression is a disease. Yet, despite this assumption, no evidence is ever given to demonstrate the disease nature of depression. That's because there isn't any such evidence.

The absurdity of this also rests on the fact that depression is conventionally diagnosed by using a checklist of reported symptoms and behaviors. The checklist is contained the the psychiatric "bible", the DSM. Nowhere in that checklist is any mention of laboratory tests. That's because there is no bodily malfunctioning to test, as there is in diabetes, where a real disease process is happening.

The blood tests in this article do not identify disease or in any other way a malfunctioning of the body or brain. These tests merely demonstrate that human experiences (including depression) are accompanied by bodily "happenings". But this also happens with singing, crying. laughing, and playing golf. Those activities have their own "biological markers". The point here is that biological markers do not necessarily equal disease.

Imagine the absurdity of an article that says biomarkers have been found to diagnose "Athletic Deficit Disorder". Those biomarkers are identified as less muscle tone, smaller muscle mass, overweight, and shorter limb structures. Scans show decreased blood flow to the muscles, and probably differences in genetic markers. This would make sense only if we assume "ADD" (as above) is a disease to be diagnosed.

This article reports on research that adds to a long line of attempts to take basically existential human struggles and turn them into illnesses by showing biological correlates of the struggles. Damage will be done by using such biomarkers to screen people for depression, and then bear down on them with the coercive weight and authority of the psychiatric-industrial complex.