Managing Editor's Note: New Autism Speak's tagline? "Don't Be a Mizer, Walk Til You Drop for Pfizer." Or perhaps "You don't know jack, trust us - use Prozac." Or maybe this gem,
"Side Effects May Include Death - Hey! Can We Call Ourselves Cure Autism Now Again?" Numbers continue to rise since AS morphed from NAAR to NAAR/CAN! and now NAAR/CANZER. Break 'em, make 'em and bake 'em. The circle of.... life for our loved ones?
By John Stone
Though it remains unclear why US charity Autism Speaks thought it important to commission a small study into the incidence of autism in the South Korean city of Goyang, the implications of publicising the results – in which a rate of autism incidence of 1 in 38 was apparently detected - as a new global norm for autism prevalence has disturbing implications. Instead of posing the significant question of what might be causing autism to proliferate in Goyang City - the study, which drew in the participation of such notable figures as Eric Fombonne, Roy Grinker and Bennett Leventhal – has been trumpeted as a new triumph of autism awareness, with the psychiatric profession patting itself on the back at its extraordinary ability to identify ever more autistic people.
While most people will have been stunned at the announcement of such a rate, the rhetoric of the publicity was bizarrely different. Time magazine reported of the lead author, Dr Young Shin Kim:
“Kim stresses that the results of her study shouldn't alarm parents into thinking that autism has suddenly exploded in schools. "It doesn't mean there is an increase in new cases," she says. "We just didn't know how to find them and diagnose them. Now we know there are kids with social problems who are not being treated, and we know how to help them."”
Troublingly, this came in the same week as Autism Speaks announced a new appointment (HERE):
“The former head of Pfizer Inc.'s autism unit in Groton has landed a new job at Autism Speaks, the nation's leading advocacy group for people with the neurological disorder.
“Robert H. Ring, previously a Pfizer senior director, will join Autism Speaks in Princeton, N.J., on June 1 in the newly created position of vice president of translational research. His focus will be on helping move drug experimentation from laboratories to clinical trials, "with the goal of improving outcomes for individuals with autism spectrum disorders," according to the nonprofit organization.”
Of course, it is evident that if you can detect an autistic spectrum disorder in 1 in 38 children the commercial prospects for the pharmaceutical industry aided by Autism Speaks are almost limitless.
The tie-in becomes abundantly clear in Time magazine’s report (HERE):
“The researchers say they would expect to see similarly high rates of autism emerge in the U.S. and elsewhere if the same data collection strategy were used. "The kids picked up in Korea, many had never been recognized in medical records as having autism," says Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks. "That's what needs to be done, that kind of broad screening."”
No one from the media had the presence of mind or the intellectual spirit to ask back why they failed to find these cases before. Would not, after all, the medical profession have been deeply negligent and incompetent to have routinely missed most of the cases?
Deftly, Dawson – whose University is heavily bank-rolled by GlaxoSmithKline (HERE ) - and Autism Speaks have moved the goal posts, and without saying anything directly. From now on, the media will simply accept that 1 in 38 is quite normal. Never mind about 1 in 166 or 150 or 110, now it is 3 times the lowest number and everyone is beaming. It also puts in context Dawson’s appearance at the UN last month (HERE): without a bat of an eye-lid it now suits Autism Speaks’ purpose to put it about that the number is three times greater than previously believed.
And yet it is not at all clear that there is any basis for projecting this figure onto the global population. If, indeed, there is broad agreement that environmental triggers are implicated in the incidence of autism (HERE ), why would you necessarily expect a notably high figure in one Korean City to be reflected anywhere, let alone everywhere else? This sounds less like solid science than cynical kite-flying. With remarkable sleight of hand Autism Speaks have transformed ultra-high rates of autism into good news, and a wonderful commercial prospect for the pharmaceutical industry. At the same time detecting any agents of causation would certainly interfere with the plan of making obscene amounts of money from medicating ever further the child population of the United States and the world via Autism Speaks’ new screening programmes. And medicating them without any apparent reference to the causes of the condition, which they still protest are unidentified.
John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.