Jan 9, 2009
I'm off the bandwagon.

I recently came across the so-called study linking autism with TV/video subscriptions (a study done by Cornell University). I've been known to get riled up when misinformation on a medical subject is spread by people with no medical training whatsoever. This time is no different.

There are many red flags at first glance. First, the people involved in the study are not medical doctors; they are business management majors. Second, the study wasn't based on any medical data. Third, it breaks down to three business majors' opinions about a disease in which they have no expertise or training, based on the correlation of incidences of autism with people who have cable TV subscriptions. Yes, cable TV subscriptions.

Fourth, having taken a couple of statistics classes, I object to the authors' read of specific numbers while ignoring critical data. It's not false, but it's misleading. Remember the old Trident ad, which said "4 out of 5 dentists recommend chewing Trident after meals"? They polled dozens of dentists, and only four said they would recommend chewing Trident. The Trident lawyers took the data of five dentists, which included the four who recommended Trident, and used that to prove their numbers. They also could have said, four out of four dentists recommend Trident, and technically, they wouldn't be wrong. They simply neglect to mention the dozens of dentists who did not recommend it. Legally, they don't have to.

To put it another way, there could be a million other factors these families have in common which also have nothing to do with autism. For example, I could say, and I wouldn't be any more wrong than Mr. Waldman et al, that autism diagnoses rose more rapidly in counties where a high percentage of households had minivans than in counties with a low percentage of minivans. Therefore, I will introduce a theory that minivans cause autism.

That's right, anyone can publish headline-splashing trash like this just for the attention. And get rich by doing so.

I'm not an expert on autism, nor statistics, nor do I claim to be. Yet common sense allows me to postulate several far more reasonable theories. Areas with higher numbers of cable subscriptions are more likely to have more traffic (increased pollution), higher stress jobs (stress can cause all kinds of health issues which can affect egg/sperm quality), and higher numbers of educated people in their late 30s and early 40s who, because they are older, are more likely to earn a higher wage, and can therefore afford cable. Women in this age group are also more likely to have DNA replication mishaps with their oocytes, "bad eggs" if you will, as indicated by the higher miscarriage rate/lower pregnancy rate as you age.

The author of the "study" also wondered why autism is increasing in recent years, and postulated that TV subscriptions are the culprit. My theory is that it's getting increasingly popular to have children later in life these days, since women want to advance in their careers before starting a family.  Because these women are older, and are working full-time in addition to working as a mother, they are more stressed. (It's not easy having kids when your joints creak, believe me!) Because they are older and more stressed, their eggs are older and more stressed, and more prone to replication errors. Lastly, as these women have advanced in their careers before having children, they are earning a decent wage, and can therefore afford cable. It must be the cable, right?  I'll bet they can also afford to eat out more often than people who can't afford cable. I think I'll publish a study, "Eating Out Causes Autism".

Do you think the authors studied the rates of autism among families with Dish? I wonder if watching Netflix is safer than Hulu for not "catching" autism?

While I don't condone a lot of TV time, I don't believe a few minutes each day will harm a baby. Certainly it will not "cause" autism. I am convinced autism is genetic (see this article linking facial features of infants and autism) and it is clearly not caused by any external visual stimulus.

Which is why I let my babies sit in my lap while we watch "Peep and the Big Wide World": http://www.peepandthebigwideworld.com/videos/index.html

Posted at 03:13 pm by lisachu

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