Mark Blaxill: Lies, Damned Lies and CDC Autism Statistics
Posted Dec 23 2009 12:00am
By Mark Blaxill
It’s official now, real autism rates have exploded to 1 in 100 American children. We’re facing a national public health emergency of historic proportions. Bigger than swine flu. Bigger than polio. Bigger than almost anything one can imagine except AIDS. No matter how hard some may try, it’s impossible to escape the inexorable upward march of the numbers. Even Tom Insel, head of autism research at NIH and not exactly the autism world’s greatest forward thinker, has conceded the obvious: “There is no question that there has got to be an environmental component here.”
Following last week’s release of the latest CDC autism surveillance report, no amount of methodological obfuscation (“autism prevalence has clearly gone up but there are no real incidence studies”), epidemiological nihilism (“we simply can’t know without large scale, well-controlled, prospective studies”) or social deconstructionist nonsense (“autism is an intolerant invention of modern society”) should escape scorn . Anyone with brain, a conscience and an ounce of integrity must acknowledge that we face a crisis. Meanwhile, those who would accuse the autism parent community of “denialism”, unscientific reasoning and irresponsible irrationality need to explain how their own theories, so dependent on the evidence-free suggestion that rates are rising because of “better diagnosing”, deserve to be considered respectable scientific speech. There is no more unscientific position in public health today than the fiction that rising autism rates come from better diagnosing. Let’s be clear, the only evidence for better diagnosing is wishful thinking. Our public health institutions deserve no credit for a job done better; quite the contrary, they deserve an investigation into their negligence.
Nowhere is the institutional pattern of negligence, deception and propaganda surrounding autism more apparent than in the work of the Autism Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) network. The design of the ADDM, a project of the CDC and its parent agency the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), reveals in sharp relief how determined CDC is to evade its autism responsibilities. And while there is no evidence of fraud in the preparation of the ADDM data, that’s about the only good thing you can say about the work. To be blunt, every ADDM publication so far has betrayed a fundamental dishonesty, reporting analysis that has been twisted for bureaucratic purposes to mask and suppress the magnitude of the autism problem. It’s a disturbing display of the triumph of public relations over professionalism, propaganda masquerading as science.
In their latest exercise in spin management, the CDC released a new ADDM publication last week: at noon on the Friday before Christmas. The timing of this release-- a transparent attempt to bury the surveillance news as deeply as possible-- was an indication of the seriousness with which the CDC treats the autism problem. In case anyone missed it, the leadership of the DHHS in the Obama administration has clearly selected influenza as their priority health policy concern; but their autism policy position has been less clear and this release of the ADDM findings marked the first major autism position statement of the new administration.
It was a sad day. For those of us who held out hope that a change in administration might create an occasion for change in autism policy, it’s time to declare the honeymoon over. With this release and the despicable way it was handled, the new administration has now taken ownership for the failure of America’s autism policy. They’ve even managed to take data suppression to a new, post-Verstraeten level. Blame Secretary Sebelius, blame Tom Insel, blame CDC Director Tom Frieden, or blame Obama himself. But make no mistake; the policies of the Obama administration are looking like a disaster for the autism community.