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Autism and the Antarctic Ozone Hole

AntarcBy Cynthia Nevison

“If ozone hole scientists had adopted the approach of many in the autism research community … (they) would have concluded that the ozone hole occurs because Antarctica is cold.”

A recent Associated Press report that 1 in 88 American children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) asserts that, “Better diagnosis is largely responsible for the new estimate…”  Another AP report, on a study finding that 1 in 38 South Korean children has an ASD, quotes the lead author as saying, “It doesn’t mean all of a sudden there are more new children with ASDs.  They’ve been there all along, but were not counted in previous prevalence studies.”  These are extraordinary claims and examples of autism epidemic denial.  Equally remarkable is that the AP presents them as unquestioned truth, making no effort to counter them with dissenting viewpoints.  In contrast, the media has been diligent about “balancing” articles on the threat of climate change with opposing views from “climate skeptics,” which has contributed to climate change denial.

Autism epidemic denial and climate change denial share some interesting similarities and differences, which are beyond the scope of this essay.  Here, I will focus on describing how some useful lessons might be learned by recalling one of the true success stories of atmospheric and environmental science: the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole, the identification of its cause, and the quick action taken to address the problem.

A brief history of the Antarctic ozone hole:  A hole in the stratospheric ozone layer first occurred in the early 1980s and has recurred every year since during Antarctic springtime.   The hole is caused by manmade chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other halocarbons, which deliver chlorine and bromine atoms to the stratosphere.  These atoms are normally stored in inactive compounds, but are liberated in the presence of sunlight by reactions on the surface of polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) to highly reactive, ozone-destroying species.  PSCs are composed of frozen water and acids and can only form at extremely cold temperatures, such as those that occur during Antarctic spring.  While scientists initially doubted the existence of the ozone hole, they identified and largely proved its cause by the late 1980s.  The hole provided urgency and renewed impetus for the Montreal Protocol and its amendments, which banned the CFCs.   (International negotiations were already underway due to concerns over milder gas-phase ozone loss.)  Following the ban, CFCs are declining in the atmosphere, albeit only slowly due to their long atmospheric lifetimes.  Stratospheric chlorine and bromine are expected to return to safer pre-1980 levels by the middle to late part of this century, at which point the ozone hole will close.  

The relevant point is this: while one can say with some accuracy that the ozone hole occurs because Antarctica is cold, the pre-1980s ozone layer over the continent was perfectly adequate at blocking harmful UV radiation.  It was only with the accumulation of CFCs in the atmosphere, reaching dangerous levels by the 1980s, that the extreme cold over Antarctica became a threat to ozone. By distinguishing between the actual trigger for the ozone hole (CFC production and release to the atmosphere), which are within human control, and the predisposing factors (naturally cold temperatures), which are not, the international community was able to identify the cause of the problem and take decisive steps to end it.

These are lessons that the autism research community might do well to heed.  In the year that I have been following the scientific literature on autism as a SafeMinds volunteer, I’ve observed that the distinction between predisposing factors and actual causes often is not made.  In addition, crucial information is not recalled.  Namely, CDC autism statistics are cut off at birth year 1992, even though independent research shows that the onset of the surge in U.S. autism occurred around birth year 1988.   Prior to that time, the available and often forgotten data show that autism prevalence was at most 1 in 2,500.  With this lack of historical perspective, the complacent explanation of “better diagnosis” appears more plausible and the urgency to address the problem recedes.

If atmospheric scientists had adopted the approach of many in the autism research community, Antarctic ozone column measurements prior to the 1980s would have been forgotten, leading the scientists to declare that the ozone hole had “been there all along.” Obvious clues, such as the elevated levels of reactive chlorine measured in the hole, would have been dismissed as pure coincidence.  Believing the springtime hole to be a natural and unpreventable phenomenon, the scientists would have focused their efforts on early detection, enabling them to warn visitors to Antarctica to use sun protection.  Statistical correlations between temperature and ozone would have led the scientists to note that cold temperatures increased the odds ratio of having an ozone hole. In short, the scientists would have concluded that the ozone hole occurs because Antarctica is cold.  Meanwhile, the hole would have continued to worsen year by year, as human CFC release to the atmosphere continued unchecked. 

Parents are keen and devoted observers of their young children’s development.  It is obvious to some parents that their child’s regression into autism occurred after receiving a battery of vaccines. That said, the large increase in the number of vaccines given to young children, including newborns, which began in the late 1980s and continues today, is unlikely to be the only factor involved in the autism epidemic.  If it were, one would expect epidemiology to give a clearer result.  But over-vaccination is certainly a trigger in at least some cases, as the government itself has quietly admitted.  This, combined with the oxidative stress and immune system dysfunction that are well documented in autistic children, would seem to provide valuable clues to guide the search for causation.  However, the public health establishment has largely discounted the eyewitness testimonies of parents and the supporting biological research.  Instead, it has exalted the results from blind statistical correlations (i.e., the epidemiological studies that in most, but not all, cases find no link between vaccines and ASD prevalence) above all other forms of evidence and focused on largely fruitless genetic investigations. 

Parents are understandably angry when the establishment appears to blame them, their genes, their age and, most recently, their fat cells for their children’s autism.  Again, the distinction is not made between predisposing risk factors and actual causes.  Pertinent questions such as, was there a dramatic increase in maternal obesity in 1988?, are not asked, even as absurd pronouncements that 1 to 3 percent of children have always been autistic go unchallenged in the popular press. 

The Antarctic ozone hole story is on course for a happy ending.  Our children can look forward to seeing the springtime hole diminish and finally close once and for all in their lifetime.  If the public health and autism research community were to stop ignoring inconvenient truths and to focus more on causal agents that can be controlled rather than predisposing vulnerabilities that can’t, it is possible that our children could enjoy a similar decrease of autism to pre-1980s levels or better.

Cynthia Nevison is an atmospheric research scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder who has worked on stratospheric ozone and greenhouse gas issues.  She is a volunteer researcher for SafeMinds and a member of their Environmental Committee.




I also certainly wish you and your child all the best.

Your life is obviously very rich and fulfilling, with marriage, academic brilliance etc, so I too cannot see any reason why you would not be thrilled and happy.

Have you ever read the DSM 5 criteria for autism used throughout the United States of America?

I am just wondering if you actually feel it matches your life? For example;
"Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning."

It is just that is sounds like you have a delightfully unique and helpful way of looking at the world that brings you multiple benefits. Do you also feel you have a disability or "clinically significant impairment"? Maybe you do, I just don't understand, from your quick description of your life, why you feel that way.

I think there are definitely people who are not neurotypical but do indeed have wonderful gifts that are in no way disabilities. I really don't think ( just my opinion, ) that an adult wearing diapers with no verbal speech is in any way similar to you. Do you think they are?
This youtube video of a different type of autism is probably something you have never seen .
Less than two minutes of your time to see the world through someone elses' eyes.
After you see it, please let me know if you understand the difference.

susan welch

Ahab. Although I cannot agree with you, I wish you and your child all the best.

Beleaguered Autism Mom

Ahab, I don't know what motivated you to comment on this 7 year old post - but thank you! I got to read Cythia's post with unherdof and Sue's brilliant comments. You are free to look down up on us as handicapped by neurotypicality. But it appears to me my autistic son is grateful when help him communicate, seek out companions for him and provide noise cancelling headphones etc. I am struggling to find a better future for him because he likes to play with his poop. I'm happy that you are happy with your and your "child's" autism. When my son growls and screams and pounds the sides of his head he sure doesn't look happy to me, most people find him frightening. Do you attribute your enlightenment to the daily practice of removing poop from your "child's" fingernails? Are you truly happy the medical establishment has grouped my son with you? Maybe you should fix that. You seem capable.

Ahab Solomon

It's good that there are autistic people in the world so that idiocy like this does not prevail and that people are kept honest and to a set of standards which require being able to see beyond the tip one's nose to publish.

I'm autistic, and all of the people responding to this article, as well as the laughably simplistic perspective of the article, seem severely handicapped to me. I pity them for their neurotypicality and their limited perspectives. If my brain is diseased, then it is a failure on the perspective of the person ascribing that label to it with their limits and their lack of dedication to truth or scholarship or introspection.

My unvaccinated child has autism, and I was so incredibly relieved to learn that. I could not be more proud. I would've been devastated to find that my husband and I produced an allistic child.

karen gravina

some time ago i read a paper by a student from Drake College in Iowa? I think that's the name of it and he went in search of his boyhood frogs in South Dakota or Minnesota? and it made me wonder if radiation could be affecting the children. In his paper the young man did experiments to show how vulnerable the frogs were to radiation from the sun reproducing on the surface of water on reeds and having semipermeable skin in the reflection of the water put them at high risk. so they tested them in the lab with and without a mylar cover in the searing light and the ones without had genetic alterations. Can there be a link in the increase of autism and the searing sunlight from a lack of ozone protection in our vulnerable children?


Hi Concerned Mother and Skeptic:

You said, "I agree that Autism diagnosis has increased, but not just due to better detection but due to misdiagnosis so I don't believe there is an epidemic."

Fair enough. It's probably a good time to point out that the very same thing occurs with infectious disease. Vaccine pushers like to point at Non-Vaccinators any time an uptick in vaccine-available-disease rears its ugly head, and say "thank you Anti-Vaccinationists" for bringing back the measles... or "thank you Anti-Vaccinationists" because an infant too young to be vaccinated against pertussis has died and it's "all your fault".

When you broadcast to every hospital (or similar institution) the world over to be on the lookout for pertussis in unvaccinated people in less than 5 minutes (quite a tool social media, no?), do you think we might find some? Similarly, when you change the diagonstic criteria of a disease and it magically disappears, can we really lay its "extinction" at the foot of the vaccine aimed to eradicate it? Interesting what can happen in modern medicine with a stroke of a pen. When I go to the beach and my son tells me to look for shark teeth,\... guess what? I find some. If I don't look, I don't find any.

The hypocrisy is astounding. And yes Orac, it's denialism. The most disgusting part about the "skeptical" is that it's the intellectually dishonest kind.


Cynthia, thanks for this well written article. Its just staggering to my mind, the aligned forces with their constant barrage, that certain autism truths, will not be allowed to be true.


Thanks for offering your perspective on autism science. I agree that a different and far more hopeful future is certainly possible if there were open and honest science by trained individuals fully willing to look at the whole picture. Unfortunately, the funding (and apparently publication) of all science is now so heavily influenced by corporate interests and power that I can not see a clear way to get the necessary research impartially done.

You note: "Namely, CDC autism statistics are cut off at birth year 1992, even though independent research shows that the onset of the surge in U.S. autism occurred around birth year 1988."

Cutting off the graph is one of the most classic examples of how to lie with statistics --I first learned this trick 30 years ago from reading a book of that name. Unfortunately the same "trick" is used when portraying the decline of diseases post introduction of vaccines to "prevent" various illnesses. To any scientifically trained person who bothers to actually look at the available information (unfortunately few seem to do so), this "trick" does not inspire confidence in the presented "conclusions."

Similarly, when discussing the toxicity of mercury --the CDC likes to talk about the "safe" kind of mercury and how fast mercury is cleared from the blood--both as evidence of the safety of thimerosal. Trouble is, there is very clear evidence, from reputable NIH researchers, that injection of the "safe" kind of mercury (ethyl mercury per the CDC) actually results in a higher accumulation of toxic elemental mercury in the brain of monkeys than ingestion of similar amounts of the "dangerous" methyl mercury. And there is plenty of evidence that there is no "safe" mercury.

The propensity of mercury to clear from the blood quickly, whilst concentrating in organs is well known by toxicologists, but the general public is easily fooled by the (falsely) convincing data demonstrating how fast mercury disappears from the blood of infants injected with the toxin.

Then there is the trick of comparing how many kids were admitted to hospitals with autism before the removal of thimerosal to the number of kids diagnosed with autism in the entire populations afterwards.

Or how about comparing the number of kids diagnosed with autism when thimerosal was in most post-natal shots to the number diagnosed when fewer post-natal shots contain thimerosal (but, gee, sure hope no one noticed--most pregnant women were told to take thimerosal laden flu shots--ensuring their babies got an equal or greater amount of thimerosal pre-birth when it is likely to be even more toxic to a developing infant than the post-natal injections had been).

Or how about the trick of grouping autism diagnoses within age groups and trying all possible combinations of age groupings until you find just the right grouping to show "no significant difference" between the incidence of autism in "older" and "younger" cohorts?

Yep. Its all been done and more. I have learned more about how to lie with "science" and statistics from following the autism disaster than I ever learned in undergrad or graduate school science programs.

Lies. Damned lies. And Statistics (or Sadistics as we used to call it). The "it isn't vaccines" camp uses them all to defend their stance. A sad consequence is that those of us who discover their mendacity become cynical. We reasonably start to doubt all scientists, government agencies, and journalists. Who really can be trusted when even science is faked, baked, and served to prevent honest and open investigation of a logical and easily testable hypothesis.

Do children who receive the full vaccine schedule develop at the same rate, with fewer illnesses and disabilities than children who receive no vaccines?

Until that study is done by reputable, trustworthy researchers and the data made available to any and all interested parties for analysis, the science is NOT in. And the continued, determined effort by the powers that be to avoid doing any such study on the shaky grounds of it being too difficult or somehow unethical essentially underlines the reality that current autism "science" is not a search for truth.

Robert Kennedy was correct when he called it all "tobacco science." But sadly very few scientists take the time to carefully evaluate what is getting tossed around, and heavily funded, as if it were actually "science." Instead many, who should know better, prefer to look down their noses and ridicule any and all who ask questions or express doubts about vaccine efficacy and safety. I guess it makes them feel superior.

Little wonder that so many people are beginning to doubt all science and scientists.

“I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Thanks for being one scientist who IS bothering to look at the "science" of autism and asking some legitimate questions. Let us hope that many more scientists follow your lead.


Does Jenny's son still and always will have epilespy and is on epilepsy medicine?

Not an MD

@ Concerned Mother and Skeptic- You are entitled to your opinion, certainly. We all are. But to my eyes, everywhere I look today (at every park, shopping mall, school event and birthday party) I see brain damaged children. To me, Autism is not a real diagnosis. Autism is a disease that doesn't even exist. What I see everywhere is vaccine-induced brain damage, some severe, some less severe, and some just barely noticeable, but still there. I believe the experts refer to it as the ever-so-sexy sounding Minimal Brain Damage. Some children are able to recover to an extent from their brain damage, like some stroke victims can, while others have been too severely harmed to make as much of a recovery, no matter what treatment modality is utilized. That, however, doesn't mean we should stop trying to recover our children to the fullest extent possible. And that is my world's eye view of autism-- I mean brain damage. The huge spectrum of "autistic disorders" with varying severity suddenly makes a whole lot more sense.


Concerned Mother and Skeptic, in a larger sense I agree with you that the severely autistic children are getting short shrift, but let's not put the blame in the wrong place. It is incorrect, circular logic to say that there is no cure yet so therefore if Jenny's son is cured he must not have had autism. He did have autism. He is better now. Perhaps that means that there is a cure now for some people.

We do not choose the diagnostic criteria. The DSMIV and V have chosen to conflate widely disparate manifestations of biological illness under a rubric of mental illness, and then the government and media choose to emphasize the "quirky & asocial" face of high functioning autism/Aspergers instead of the ugly truth of the severely disabled children with low functioning autism. They do this to make it seem acceptable that we should "accept" autism instead of sounding alarms about what's happening to generations of children. They have deliberately avoided epidemiology to discern which populations are rising faster; they have steadfastly refused to actually study the biology of those who have recovered, or those who haven't.

It is not false hope to suggest that some children with a legitimate ASD diagnosis -- who arguably might have biological/toxicological illness as the underlying cause of the behaviors that manifest as autism -- can improve through biomedical interventions, even to the point that they are no longer considered on the spectrum. It happens; it happened to us. It is important that we continue to demand that scientists study actual children instead of epidemiology to find the answers to WHY some children have been able to recover and others haven't. Perhaps someday the DSM will be corrected, and autism will no longer be a diagnosis at all, but rather it will be seen as one symptom of metabolic/immune dysfunction caused by viruses and toxins.

Adam M

@ Concerned Mother and Skeptic

Please consider this Post by J.B. Handley

It does a nice job of high lighting how impossible it would have been to miss this many children in the past. The increase is real. And the definition hasn't changed enough through all the DSMs to account for it.

Terri Lewis

Sorry to mention it, Concerned Mother and Skeptic, but a child who has all the symptoms of autism--even if they aren't as severe as your child--does indeed have autism. By definition. And whether or not they ever get better, recover completely, or become worse with the passage of time and/or treatment has no bearing on whether or not they have autism.

By definition.

As I have to remind people now and again, the word becomes meaningless (well, it's pretty much meaningless already, but that's another post). . .if we all make up our own definitions.

We do need a better definition, to be sure, but you are wrong on two counts: 1) As a matter of fact, real autism has increased--and continues to increase--exponentially, and 2) a child with autism is a child with autism.

Concerned Mother and Skeptic

I agree that Autism diagnosis has increased, but not just due to better detection but due to misdiagnosis so I don't believe there is an epidemic. It seems nowadays any kid that isn't 100% normal is diagnosed with an ASD and one such kid was Jenny McCarthy's son. There is no cure for Autism YET, so her son was not autistic and if you really want to see what autism is like look at this video - this is really what we should be focusing our attention on as these are the people who really need the help and by people like Jenny McCarthy saying "I cured my son of autism", they are giving false hope to those families who care for a truely autistic child.


I say "yes" to the fabulous research (done with scarce funds) that helps support that autism has an environmental cause. I am less sure about global warming so that analogy doesn't work for me, but maybe the ozone hole is a separate thing--probably. The real global warming debate does match the autism epidemic in some ways, though. Remember a couple of years ago when those "scientists" somehow eliminated all the data of medieval warming because it didn't quite fit into the model. And then they tried to cover it up by dumping all the e-mails where they were discussing the anomalies. I noticed that little blip and the quick recovery with "move along folks you didn't really see what you thought you saw there," and we need the carbon tax still it's good science.

Jenny Allan

Without wishing to detract from the point of this article, which concentrates on the depletion of the ozone layer over Antarctica, caused by CFC's in the Stratosphere, there are other analogies which call into question successive world governments' attitudes to the environmental harm caused by halocarbons, in particular those with a molecular 'benzine or phenyl ring' structure.

(The CFC's, which Dr Nevison tells us have been banned in the western world, were mostly used in fridges and as propellents in aerosol cans. IN the UK, these gases must be removed from old fridges and freezers by law before disposal, but abuses still happen).

I was brought up with DDT powder. My mother would fill the bed with it to kill fleas. An insecticide laden shampoo similarly disposed of headlice. Towards the end of the 1950's it was noticed that our beautiful birds of prey were being decimated. It did not take the government 'boffins' too long to track this down to chlorinated hydrocarbons including DDT and sheep dip. These were quickly phased out and the birds recovered.

The nasty genetic and other damage caused to humans, as averse to birds, by polychorinated biphenyls(PCBs), has been very largely dismissed by successive world governments. The most notorious example of this was 'Agent Orange' a defoliant used in the Vietnam war. This has been claimed to have caused damage to veteran soldiers. This has been officially denied along with the alleged widespead damage claimed to have been caused to soldiers by vaccinations, the so called 'Gulf War Syndrome'.


Thanks Cynthia for your work.
However; I am one of those parents that observed again and again vaccine and a few hours a reaction and was told I was not seeing what I thought I was seeing.

So, after the kids, and hubby is all damaged and all - I have wised up, just too late.

It takes energy from the sun to keep the three oxygen atoms together. Light is in short supply at the bottom of the world during the southern hemisphere winter. The hole has always been there. Which makes logical sense.

There are two lessons here;
1.) No logic in science anymore.

2.) There are those in the government that can sniff out a dime to be made and will, no matter who it hurts.

As in the ozone hole: Charging me an arm and a leg on a tax to drain freon from my air conditioner before they can fix it. Sure there is some super dupper way they are going to get rid of it!
Or charging (fining, taxes) the most common small community factories that was using the stuff as a very safe blowing agents-- in which they switched over to Chlorodifluorometh (Freon 22) a heavier molecule that cannot get into the upper atmosphere, but still the claims presisted it was making a hole in the atmosphere so they switched again to carbon dioxide and now the "government" which is individual people are sniffing around talking about carbon trading. Well, if heating cost gets too bad there is always Florida.

Same with vaccines; Always something sniffing around for a dime. If it has two legs and claims it likes to work with tiny little things and has made a vaccine for some disease-- it is put into a decision making process at the highest levels of the CDC.

Ahhhh Americans, with all our talk of always being distrustful, watchful of governments, -we are in truth the most trustful of all.

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