Economists are accustomed to drawing conclusions from statistical studies and aggregations of data. It's hard to reduce economic behavior to controlled, double-blind studies, and laboratory rats aren't necessarily a good model for corporate rats. So it came as no surprise to me that some Cornell University economists thought they might get a handle on the elusive cause of childhood autism by studying rainfall and the availablity of cable television. Working from the assumption that children spend more hours watching television in households that have cable TV, and in locations where high rainfall keeps them indoors, and observing significantly higher rates of autism in communities with a confluence of those conditions, the researchers suggested early television viewing as a possible trigger for autism spectrum disorders.

When I first read about the study, I was reminded of a story Peter Drucker tells, in his marvelous, autobiographical, historical commentary, Adventures of a Bystander, about an outstanding statistics teacher at the University of Minnesota.

A little bald-headed bearded man, almost a dwarf, he ran a doctoral seminar in which he projected tables and graphs onto a screen without any legend or explanation. "Look at the figures," he'd say, "and tell me what they tell you." The students would point out this irregularity in a distribution or that periodicity, this pattern or that internal contradiction, and the little man would nod, smile, argue, and get across a great deal about numbers as a grammar without even belaboring the point. Then he'd flash on the screen two series of figures that obviously belonged together; they showed a close correlation, almost one to one, over long time periods. "Clearly," all the students said, "these two series are causally related." "That's what every statistician would say," the little man responded, "but perhaps you can tell me what the relationship could be. This series," pointing to the table on the left, "is the annual herring catch off Newfoundland; and that one," pointing to the right, "is the number of illegitimate children born the same year in North Dakota."

It may be that the Cornell professors' study has produced only a "correlation" of this type. However, the really interesting story is not the report, but the reaction to it. Television promoters and viewers are digusted; parents of autistic children are offended; and the study has been mocked, ridiculed, and satirized. It is not true because it cannot be true. Let someone report a study that indicates one race or sex might be inherently predisposed to excel another in some area, and he will find he has called the Furies down upon his head. Dare to suggest that day care might be harmful to children and your research will be attacked, because such a conclusion hits us in our most vulnerable place. The famed science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, showed no patience for those who base their beliefs on faith rather than on objective science; nonetheless, I heard him say that he believed the universe to be cyclical, ever expanding and contracting, rather than a single expansion after one Big Bang, solely because he did not want to believe that the universe would ever come to an end. Modern American society does not want to believe that television might be harmful; therefore any such suggestion must be laughed out of court.

With my own anti-television bias, I must be careful to resist the temptation not to recognize the limitations of such statistical research. I will, however, state that it should not be laughed at. No one else has come up with a convincing explanation for the alarming rise in autism cases, and the researchers' ideas deserve serious consideration—especially in light of their observation that the Amish, whose distinctives include not watching TV, have unusually low rates of childhood autism. This study does not prove that allowing young children to watch television for long hours increases their risk of developing autism. But it is a possibility worth further investigation.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 24, 2006 at 8:45 am | Edit
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what in the world does that have to do with anything? I have two children with Autism, and I hardly think there's a correlation between that and television, give me oxygen!!! Let's focus on intervention and preventing this from happening to more and more families. How about money to help in the care of these children, how about the discrimination they face and the families as well, how about showing some compassion?

Posted by Renee on Sunday, April 22, 2007 at 2:08 pm
Thanks for reading and commenting, Renee! I agree that intervention and prevention are important, which I why I don't understand your point. Although I question the validity of this statistical approach, preventing autism is exactly what the researchers were attempting. IF there turns out to be a real correlation between autism and excessive television viewing (perhaps on the part of children with certain predispositions), the compassionate response would be to publicize, not minimize, the relationship.

I feel the same way, incidentally, about the possibility of a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. Perhaps it is valid, perhaps not, perhaps only in certain individuals -- but I question the strident insistence on the part of the government, the medical establishment, and the vaccine makers that there absolutely is no connection, because I know how desperately they want that to be true.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 22, 2007 at 5:24 pm
Perhaps you were confused by the trackback comments on this post; I'll remove them since they were useful at the time but have no connection to the content.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 22, 2007 at 6:59 pm

Interesting story, considering the weird, wonderful and scary uses of frequencies (radio, electro-magnetic etc), could quite possibly cause a whole series of disorders and problems.

I have an alternative theory behind Autism.

The Flu vaccine is prepared with chicken embryo fluid, inoculated with the living flu strains. The fluid is then treated with Formaldehyde to inactivate the virus.

Thiomersal (commonly known as Thimerosal), a Mercury derivative, is injected to help preserve the mixture. Ethylene Glycol (better known as Anti-Freeze) and another chemical called Phenol are added to disinfect. And because animal cells are used for this process, animal viruses are sometimes introduced into the vaccine, undetected. This has happened as recently as 1995.

Thimerosal is 49% mercury, the second deadliest element on Earth and a known Neurotoxin. A growing body of research from major universities links it to the epidemic increase in the autism rate around the Globe.

Autism and associated Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs) spectrum in short.

• Autism affects one in every 150 children in the U.S. (aprox.)
• Autism affects one in every 110 children in the U.K. (aprox.)
• The rest of the World doesn’t look great either…

Formaldehyde is toxic. It's associated with birth defects, cancer, and chromosomal changes.

It is used as a fumigant, disinfectant, herbicide, germicide, fungicide, and insecticide and in the embalming of cadavers.

Today we still have ninety percent of the flu vaccine which is recommended for the most vulnerable people in society with unconscionable levels of Mercury. A child from 6 months to age three receiving a Flu vaccine gets 12.5 mcg of mercury. This amount of Mercury can be processed only by someone weighing 275 pounds according to the EPA. One month later, another 12.5 booster is recommended. Older children receive the adult vaccine with 25 mcg of Mercury. That much Mercury is meant for someone weighing 550 pounds according to the EPA. The 25 mcg vaccine is also recommended for pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy. This massive Mercury assault easily passes the placental barrier and enters the developing foetus whose tiny brain is just forming.

A side note; the vaccine solution in the multi-dose vial contains 50,000 parts per billion (ppb) Mercury and contains maybe the most toxic form of Mercury that exists. Liquids are classified as hazardous waste at 200 ppb Mercury.

Also considering the vaccine itself only prevents a few strains of the virus, and there are hundreds of strains, it seems wasteful to get it done when there’s such an insane risk.

Now ask yourself: If you were intending to purchase a dietary supplement and the label offered this warning: "May contain traces of Formaldehyde, Thimerosal, Phenol, Ethylene Glycol, and Animal Cells." Would you buy it?

Posted by Matthew on Monday, October 22, 2007 at 4:27 pm

First of all statistical correlation is not a cause, I don't know what a "real correlation" means, a correlation is a correlation not a cause, that's a statistical fallacy. Please we do not need anymore government intervention that's last thing we need.(If any of you know what natural rights are) There are many variables that probrably contribute to autism that's not a reason to prohibit something(just what do you think the governments going to do, go to your house and make sure no one watches, ban television sells? Ban the media? As much as I dislike tv, that's not going to happen, the government controls the media that's how they support their agenda, otherwise they wouldnt' be able to manipulate you.) So figure out the real cause of something and then decide what to do, intervention is not the answer. [Offensive language deleted] I myself have physical limitions and I think I'm living my life just fine. It's already degrading enough that people have to deny human nature, than how much more do they(and everyone else) do that with kids that have autism claiming "they know what's best you", give me a break. [Offensive language deleted]

Posted by Peter on Thursday, February 03, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Repeat this "otherwise they wouldnt' be able to manipulate you. [hint....]

Posted by Peter on Thursday, February 03, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Thank you for reading and commenting, Peter, even though you're now obviously not the Peter I thought you were when you made your first comment. :)

I have edited your comment because we have pretty strict standards regarding offensive language here. If you would prefer, I could delete it altogether.

Out of curiosity, what gave you the idea that anyone here is calling for governmental action of any sort, much less an attempt to ban television?

Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, February 03, 2011 at 9:56 pm

You might be interested in a book I just read called Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. He talks about the whole MMR and Autism issue.

Posted by dstb on Friday, February 04, 2011 at 8:10 am

What gave me the idea is that you brought the idea of intervention(or somebody). And I"M trying to get you to see that it's not feasible and at best totalitarian.

"Let's focus on intervention and preventing this from happening"

This sound familiar?

And this....

"Renee! I agree that intervention and prevention are important"

As long you don't believe in totalitarianism, you're not my enemy.

Posted by Peter on Friday, February 04, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Please dont' tell me this is about some manipulative campaign to make people think government knows what's best for us.

Posted by Peter on Friday, February 04, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Perhaps I misjudged this chatroom.
Didn't realize this was a christian site. But if you don't believe in intervention then perhaps you're not my enemy.

"you're now obviously not the Peter I thought you were when you made your first comment."

If you're talkinng about the apostle Peter he was never perfect in the beginning either.

Posted by Peter on Friday, February 04, 2011 at 1:54 pm

To clear up one confusion, this isn't a chat room, just a small blog to which the general public is invited and encouraged to comment as long as the comments are reasonable and not offensive. I retain the right to be sole judge of the definitions of "reasonable" and "offensive."

Speaking of definitions, conflicting definitions can also lead to misunderstandings. When talking about autism, or Down Syndrome, or cerebral palsy, or any number of conditions that afflict children (and others), "intervention," as I understand it, usually means working actively to help a child learn, grow, and interact with the world, and generally the sooner the better. (Any good parent does this with any child, of course, but some children need more help than others.) It has nothing to do with the government, or anyone else, forcing a particular treatment on a family.

That said, it is true that there are often tremendous pressures on families—by the government, by the medical establishment, by insurance companies, and by societal expectations—to conform to certain protocols, and of that I disapprove. Infant vaccinations, fluoridated water, and the Back to Sleep campaign come to mind. Note that I did not say what I think of those three examples, only that I strongly believe that the pressure to participate in them is too strong.

But in this context, both "intervention" and "prevention" are not intended as coercive at all.

Sadly, the Apostle Peter hasn't seen fit to be one of those who comment, but I do have another friend Peter who comes by now and then, and at first I thought you were he. (He would love In Tune with the World, I think.)

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, February 05, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Sorry, DSTB, I missed your comment in the moderation bin. It's there now, and I'm adding this so others will know, since it's now lost in the middle of the pack. Thanks for the recommendation.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, February 06, 2011 at 6:52 am
Excerpt: Reading Mom's post about the TV/autism study reminded me of my own recent negative TV experience. On Friday at care group, Jonathan inadvertantly went to the babysitting before we wanted him to, and they ended up seeing several kids' shows on video. ...
Weblog: Daley Ponderings
Date: October 25, 2006, 2:28 pm
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