The day after the September 11th attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York a senior British civil servant, Jo Moore, issued an email, stating that “this would be a good time to release bad news”, and thereby “bury” awkward political announcements. The cynicism of this political manoeuvre was not lost on the UK public and outrage quickly followed. 10 Downing Street, the headquarters of the then UK Prime minister, Tony Blair, issued a detailed rebuttal of any suggestion that announcements had been rushed out to take advantage of the calamity in the USA. The damage however had already been done and this newly revealed Machiavellian strategy, part of an increasingly devious armoury used by the close circle ‘spinning’ UK government policy, became a legitimate area for ongoing surveillance by a concerned public.
Over the last 6 weeks in the UK the news has been dominated by one subject, and one subject only, the ‘expenses scandal’ engulfing our Members of Parliament (MPs). Apparently ‘honourable’ members, in order to carry out their parliamentary duties, require the humble tax payer to fund, for example: ‘moat cleaning’: ‘ Scandinavian duck houses’: ‘light bulb supplies’: ‘extensive and expensive landscape gardening’; and so much more it would require a separate article to give it justice. Thirteen MPs have to date fallen on their swords and more will follow. Over £300,000 has been repaid to the British tax payer by parliamentarians and that is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. The size of this scandal and the incredible publicity it has generated makes even your non-conspiracy theorist wonder if there is any other “bad news” that may have been released by any other agency in order that it is “buried” in the media avalanche surrounding ‘parliamentary expenses’:
Step forward Cambridge University’s Autism Research Unit and its announcement that the rate of AUTISM in the UK now stands at ONE CHILD IN 66.
Fact is this figure or one remarkably similar, was apparently available for publication by Simon Baron-Cohen’s department as long as four years ago, in 2005, but inexplicably did not make it to a scientific journal. At that time a Scottish government survey indicating an autism rate of 1 child in 44 in the Orkney Islands was revealed, rather confirming that the rise in autism numbers was not limited to the South Thames region where the Cambridge study is based. What is also surprising is that Professor Baron-Cohen, a frequent self publicist, resisted the opportunity to personally announce this devastating new information at that time. One can only surmise that the 1 in 66 revelation either contradicts his earlier statements on the subject of autism prevalence or makes him and his colleagues feel rather uncomfortable for reasons not being explained.
1 child in 66 with a diagnosis of autism has astounding repercussions for UK public health finances and for the support and services sector for the foreseeable future and yet Cambridge University had apparently decided to conceal this information from all and sundry for about four years. Why? One can only speculate, but there are many in academia who have over decades made a very good living from the ‘autism enigma’ and to concede now that there is indeed an autism epidemic and that environmental factors, including vaccination, are at play as parents have consistently claimed, would undoubtedly shine an uncomfortable spotlight on the performance of cliques like the Autism Research Unit at Cambridge University.
We have so far been spared the plethora of media interviews that normally accompany a Baron-Cohen research paper but it is fair to assume he will in time rush to a microphone and issue numerous implausible explanations for the 1 in 66 figure. Baron-Cohen will continue to deny the tragedy that an increase, in what is claimed to be a lifelong and incurable illness, in the nation’s children, from 4 children in 10,000 to 1 child in 60 over a thirty year period, and what it means. He will ignore the wide ranging adverse social and personal consequences being visited on families. He will articulate his usual caveats of: better recognition; changing diagnostic criteria; inward migration; improved services etc, with the result that his paper’s 1 in 66 statistic becomes just that- a meaningless statistic, a statistic that does not require any immediate government action. Baron-Cohen will then return to his velveted ivory tower to consolidate his position as the UK’s expert on autism and continue to attract a level of research funding that other, better informed and certainly more compassionate scientists, can only dream of.
Meanwhile the sub-set of autistic children with bowel disease and/or the myriad other physiological problems that bring them daily distress and pain will have been abandoned once more. Failed by a system that places its confidence in the very people who have demonstrated time and time again that they are unwilling to acknowledge their part in what has become the biggest public health scandal ever.
There is of course a very simple solution to this ongoing absurd situation: Professor Simon Baron-Cohen could admit publicly that he has been mistaken all along.
Don’t hold your breath.
Bill Welsh is President of the Autism Treatment Trust in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.