Monday, November 12, 2007

Nonsense Intollerance

As you’ve probably noticed I don’t have much tolerance when people take superstition and try to masquerade it as science. I read a lot of science and skepticism books, websites and blogs on a daily basis. I subscribe to many email newsletters from science organizations and I also listen to a several blogs a week on different aspects of science, religion and philosophy. Science, religion and even mythology all have useful places in our culture, but I find it very sad that so many people are so negative about science.
On a very personal note: I strive to stay up to date on the latest news, information and potential breakthroughs in the study of Autism. My brother-in-law has autism. Even before Victoria and I were married I have accepted the fact that at some point in my life I would likely be Denny’s primary care-giver. With this in mind I get a serious bee in my bonnet when I hear some of the superstition and nonsense get gets throw around as helpful advice for dealing with autism.
Recently Jenny McCarthy has been promoting here new book about her life since she found out her son was autistic. For years a preservative called thimerosal was used in vaccines. Some believe that this preservative causes autism because it contains mercury. No proof of this has every been found. McCarthy claims to have witnessed her son transform from normal to autistic right in front of her eyes after he was given a vaccine. The real kicker here is that there wasn’t even any thimerosal in the vaccine he received. She also likes to tout the fact that she trusts her “mommy instinct” more than she does the scientist and doctors. Let’s see, on one side we have thousands of doctors and scientist who have been objectively studying this issue and on the other side we have a Playboy centerfold and her mommy instinct. Hmm… I have nothing but sympathy for what McCarthy must be going though. I applaud her efforts to use her celebrity to bring this issue into sharper focus for parents and family members who are dealing with this disease. Her cart just seems to have derailed from reality and she is now using emotion to justify and add legitimacy to her unfounded superstitions.
Even big named famous doctors are not immune to falling victim to nonsense. Last week CNN medical stud Sanjay Gupta posted a blog about FC, facilitated communication. This is an old practice where a helped will support and autistic person’s hand and “stabilize” his/her jerky motions and allow him/her to type a message on a keyboard. At first this looked like an astounding breakthrough in communication. That is until tests revealed that the IQ of the autistic person with a “facilitator” was remarkably similar to the IQ of the facilitator. Whether deliberately or unintentionally the facilitator is just moving the hand as a pointer just like the old Parker Brother’s Ouija board pointer. In tests of this nonsense they would blindfold all of the participants and suddenly the ability of the “spirit” to locate the letters completely disappeared. I suspect that if a similar, double blind-controlled test were ever to be performed on FC that the results would be strangely similar.
Its not a matter of being closed minded to new ideas. Quite the contrary, I just believe that the more extreme the claim then the more extreme the evidence required to prove it. If FC ever tests successfully I would be the first to go over to Denny’s house to see what he had to say.
Having a facilitator just put on a blindfold seems like a very simple way to provide some measurable data about whether FC is based on the reality or fantasy.

Here’s the link to Sanjay Gupta’s blog.

This is Jenny Mccarthy’s book.

No comments:

Post a Comment