Thursday, April 03, 2008


It appears that my praise of CNN was premature. Yesterday they posted every article they could dream up about Autism. And sure enough they jumped well into the world of logical fallacies and Fantasyland. Most of the views and opinions expressed on the 20 plus article “special report” were from parents. Although I sympathize with their emotions, their inability to detach themselves from the emotions involved biases their judgment. CNN was irresponsible in reporting so much opinion and supposition as if it were fact. Autism is a serious issue, yet rather than take it seriously CNN chose accept the conspiracy theories.

The poster child for illogical reasoning is Playboy Playmate, Jenny McCarthy. She didn’t even read her conspiracy theory websites completely before she rushed to judgment on her son’s autism. There has been a growing concern for decades that a preservative in vaccines, thimerosal has been a cause of autism. Study after study after study has shown no such link. Nevertheless, thimerosal has been removed from most vaccines since 2002 and the rate of autism has been steadily on the increase. This is statistical proof that this preservative had no effect on autism. McCarthy takes a quantum leap of logic and then claims that it’s the vaccine itself that caused her sons autism, even without the thimerosal.

The biggest logical fallacy I read in all of these articles is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. A rough translation of the Latin is that since A happened after B, B must have caused A. Sometimes this correlation is correct so it seems logical. I broke my leg after falling 15 feet onto a pointy rock. I’m pretty sure that fall and that rock are what caused the break too. However sometimes this correlation is just that, a correlation. The sun rises in the east a few hours after I wake up. My waking up must cause the sun to rise. I realize that sounds absurd, but read these articles and see how many people think that their child’s vaccine caused their autism just because they both happened at about 18 months. For the record, I know at least one autistic man who did not get vaccinated and yet still showed symptoms at 18 months. Using the same logic that these parents did I could make the claim that his lack of a small pox vaccination caused his autism.

I was rather surprised at the number of cases where children had autism as well as multiple other disorders. Multiple stories referred to autism as a “life threatening condition”. This surprised me because in my personal experience Denny is fit as a fiddle physically. McCarthy’s son, as well as others, have seizures and other serious conditions. Little to no effort was made to distinguish between these people’s autism and their other conditions. We have a good friend whose young son may be autistic. I can imagine that she would be scared to death if she read these articles without any other balancing source of information. She’d probably think that her son would be walking around having seizures all the time and wearing diapers for the rest of his life.

Most of the articles relegate the token, logical, scientific point of view to the last couple chapters if they said anything at all. Yes, fear mongering, illogic and softball questions from Larry King are all still alive and well at CNN. A few more articles this and you may top Fox’s ratings for the "Alien autopsy". I hope you guys sell the advertising spots you were looking for. That’s all this autism “special report” looked like to me. I stopped getting my news from mainstream sources like CNN years ago. Sure, I still use CNN to let me know what’s on the radar. But then I dig deeper before I rush to judgment. Even though many sources have abandoned the concept, it is still possible to find factual, logic based information with a little something that the mainstream has abandoned, journalistic integrity.

Wikipedia actually has a very factual and logical page on Autism. If you're concerned about the public editing aspect of Wikipedia feel free to browse the 100s of cited sources.


  1. Anonymous8:48 PM

    wow, as someone involved in planning those autism stories you think were aimed at garnering ratings-i can tell you they were anything but. They came from an outcry within our own company about telling their children's stories and we had to work damn hard to get them on the air. I don't expect my comment to shatter the wall of cynicism
    you so deftly toss out in your post.

    After reading yours and other blogs, it amazes me in this world, that no good deed goes unpunished. Everyone seems to think there are hidden agendas in everything. And so therefore if you actually are trying to bring about real change, you must have some sinister motive right? It can't be because you are working your hardest to tackle a tough issue? No that can't be it. It must be that you are evil and bent on bending the truth-because CNN is not to be trusted.

    I worked for the better part of two months for 14 hours a day trying to listen, to hear parents concerns, to tell their stories, and to truly commit to covering a topic that is relevant not just today but for the foreseeable future.

    Let me set the record straight. No one is perfect. And CNN is not Darth Vadar. It is comprised of parents, just like you who love their children very much and want to do something to wake the world up to the fact that the numbers of autism are rising so we can have an honest discussion in our government, in our families, and in our global community about how to go about finally helping these families that for the most part have been ignored by insurance companies, depending on the state or country-by their own governments and sometimes shunned by people who can't understand what they go through.

    Did we get it perfect? Hell no. But do you have to vilify us for trying? I don't think so either.

  2. Please explain how asking CNN to stick to the facts is cynicism.