Please be careful what you take away from the news or other media sources

Recently, a study was rehashed (it’s been done before) stating that intelligent people that have babies are more likely to have children with Autism than other parents.

This irks me for many reasons, which I will get into in a bit but there’s a bigger problem and that’s the spin that the media puts on stories like this.

Here are just a few of the headlines around the internet all reporting the exact same study:

  • Couple who meet at work have autistic babies?
  • Rise in autism ‘may be linked to clever parents’
  • Autism: The Result of Math Whiz X 2?
  • Intelligent Parents Have Higher Risk of Having an Autistic Child
  • Couples in Science Field at Risk of Having Autistic Children
  • Is the changing role of women in our society behind the rise in autism in the past 30 years?

Do you see the differences?

Where to begin?

First of all, let’s go back to Wired Magazine, circa 2001: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aspergers.html

That’s right… 10 years ago.

That means that if this truly is a new study, it’s a study that people have now spent money on twice to come up with the same result. That’s not really a bad thing as it may reinforce the findings, meaning it’s more likely true. The problem is that neither of these studies dig deep enough to come up with real answers.

Being smart is pretty vague. Which is where the assortment of headlines come from… is it math? Science? Both working at the same place? What if only one of the parents is smart? What if the parents are super smart??

Women’s Lib?

For those of you who had to read the last headline twice to believe it really said what it said… the article itself doesn’t get any better.

Here is a paragraph from that article:

Until relatively recently in our history, being exceptionally bright was not much use to you if you were female. In Victorian Britain, for example, the opportunities for a woman to earn her living through brainpower alone were extremely limited.

Essentially, this news source revisits the old “refrigerator mom” theory of Autism, where it was believed that mothers that were cold towards their children somehow caused it in them. Only, in this case, it’s the evolution of women becoming smart (because they weren’t smart before?!?!) is the cause.

If only women had stayed in the kitchen and cooked and cleaned… we wouldn’t have this rise in Autism diagnosis rates. Right?

This particular news story puts a lot of unnecessary blame on moms.

Check your sources

If it’s not obvious enough yet that news sources spin stories as they see fit, then I’d suggest you stop reading the news.

Again, all of these headlines come from the same original source… a study that says that Autism diagnosis rates are higher than average when both parents are in “higher intelligence” jobs such as technology, medical, science or engineering.

It does not say anything about working together, how they’d meet, which field in particular they’d work in and most certainly doesn’t put any of the blame on women for being smart.

In fact, out of the (currently) 25 news sources I’ve found on this, there is only 1 that has put this particular women’s lib spin on it. The rest talk about both parents.

The results trickle down differently depending on which news source you read… when really, everyone should be forming opinions on the story, not the spin.

Take the Women’s Views on News for example. They only read the one news source… can you guess which news source they read?

You can read their story on this here: http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/2011/11/professor-says-womens-changing-roles-to-blame-for-rise-in-autism/

Yup, they found the one that attacks women’s lib, putting the blame for Autism on women in the work force. As a result, there’s a lot of very unhappy women with the professor that came up with the theories behind the study. He didn’t even perform the study! And he certainly didn’t say anything about moms in the work force.

So a guy has a theory, a university conducts a study, the results are vague, a crappy news source puts a wild spin on it and a whole bunch of women all hate the guy that came up with the original theory.

See how that works?

The problems with this study in general

Ok, now that I have the big elephant in the room covered, let’s talk about the study itself.

Here is the way I see it.

1. Every single news source put some kind of a spin on the study in an attempt to get the most readers but not one of them explored the possibility of the parents having undiagnosed Autism themselves… or at least, somewhere in their family history.
Think about it… they’re smart, they work in the smart places (like Silicon Valley) and they get together and have children… wouldn’t it make sense that people with a history of Autism be more likely to have autistic children? If they’re truly that smart and being smart causes Autism… why couldn’t one assume that the parents might be somewhere on the spectrum?

2.  The only things that being smart has ever produced is a lack of sex life in college and a higher paying job after college. To think that two smart brains producing a baby would cause it to have genetic anomalies that produces Autism in a child is just… well, it’s a pretty big stretch of the imagination. At least, it is without the addition of some other factor, such as what I said in #1.

3. Give me 30 mins and I’ll give you 50 different studies that all have found “the cause” or at the very least, the thing that “increases the risk” of Autism. If I believed every single new study that came out, well… I’d just have to conclude that being alive causes Autism because at this point, just when I think they’ve covered everything… a new study comes out within the next week.

4. As I’ve said over and over… “smart people” is far too vague. How smart? Just clever? Did they have smart parents? Were they the first smart people in their family? What if they’re smart but don’t work in smart places? How do you explain the children with Autism for couples that don’t attend college and have no jobs?
There’s just too many holes to fill.

It’s the News job to interpret, not reproduce

The news agencies take a story and rewrite it and put it out in a way that you’ll understand and will get the most readers. It’s not their job to take a story, copy it and print it. So you’ll never get what the study actually said.

The more vague a study is, the larger the spin that can be placed on it.

When you find a new study in the news, go to http://news.google.com and look up other news sources that cover the same story, or go find the study yourself and check it out. Because reading from just one news source can be dangerous sometimes.

news spin

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

, , , , ,

2 Responses to Please be careful what you take away from the news or other media sources

  1. Jim W. November 23, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    I wish the media would “interpret” results less, and just report facts more, to be honest.

    What I really need is “interpreting scientific studies 101”.

  2. Jim W. November 23, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    As I reread that comment it looks like I’m contradicting myself from one sentence to the next. To clarify. . . I want the media to give me facts, not generate a “story”.

    And secondly, I personally need to better understand how to interpret ‘findings/data’ better so that I can separate quackery from science, when given a link to actual studies.

    Media reports on scientific finding are COMPLETELY useless. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some study du jour’s results cited on TV, for example, “Drinking Wine Lowers your Risk of Cancer” and I think to myself, huh? How much wine? What other factors might have influenced the results? Was the study set up effectively? Because as sure as I’m sitting here now, in five years the TV will cite “Drinking Wine Increases your Risk of Cancer” and I’ll have all the same questions.

    *Drinks more wine*

Leave a Reply