BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Two days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its newest data on U.S. autism rates, author David Kirby consented to a two-hour, videotaped interview in his street-level brownstone apartment in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. The government, the former New York Times reporter said, always drops its worst news late on Fridays, assuming the attention-addled mainstream media will forget it by Monday, when people actually pay some attention.
While the release of new autism data on the Friday before Christmas would normally trigger nervous anticipation in the whirlwind of Washington spin, this year's holiday news dump was anticlimactic. The CDC had revealed the gist of its autism findings in October, after a study in the journal Pediatrics said its incidence had reached 1 in every 91 children.
To inoculate the public against the 65 percent increase the Pediatrics study represented over the CDC's last estimate of 1 autistic child in every 150 born in 1994, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius herself intervened the day it came out. In a hastily arranged conference call with the autism community, Sebelius announced that preliminary numbers in the third in a series of CDC studies show the ratio was 1 in 100 for kids born in 1996.
"A 50 percent increase in a birth cohort two years apart is really cause for concern," Kirby said. "We really need to go back and look at what happened in those two years."
Dec. 18 would hold more than one surprise for Kirby, whose best-selling first book, Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, was published in 2005.
By the time the CDC released the new data that Friday afternoon, the new incidence rate had been adjusted down to 1 in 110, still a 36 percent hike between 1994 and 1996.
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