"…elite blogging circles are dominated by journalists, established pundits and their dauphins…"

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That's from an interesting discussion at the Financial Times with Trevor Butterworth of STATS and others regarding whether the old media and the new media should be friends:

Consider the furor over vaccination and autism. Last year, the mainstream press (Rolling Stone and Salon) published an extraordinarily flawed story by Robert F. Kennedy on how the American government was supposedly covering up data linking a mercury-based preservative in vaccines to an "epidemic" of autism. This was picked up the Huffington Post, which, inter alia, damned ABC news for radically changing a story based on Kennedy's claims. It was a big bad corporate pharma pile on.

Yes, the original story was negligent journalism of the highest order, but the frontlines of blogging simply amplified it. Bloggers such as Skeptico and Respectful Insolence did a terrific job of analysing and pointing out why Kennedy's claims had no merit, but they lacked the impact of the Huffington Post or Salon or Rolling Stone. And given that the elite blogging circles are dominated by journalists, established pundits and their dauphins, I don't see how this kind of expert network can leverage its intelligence to inoculate the public against bad information.

Whole thing here.

RFKJR on vaccines and autism here.

STATS home page here. The group on the autism "epidemic" here and here.

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  1. The Huffington Post has impact? Really?

  2. Reading this post and the linked articles, I have to ask myself 2 questions: (1) is the incidence of autism increasing; and (2) if so, does Mr. Gillespie give a damn about that.

    Here’s my guess:

    1. Gillespie has no idea how much incidence of autism is actually increasing.

    2. If autism is on the rise Gillespie would care very, very deeply out of his tremendous store of compassion, but not enuf to want to do anything about it (besides maybe poke fun at people who are concerned in a more pro-active way).

  3. What do you have against dogs?

  4. Remember kids, it’s not about the facts, it’s about how much you care.

  5. Is RFKJR the Kennedy/leech that said, “I don’t need a tax cut, I’ve never worked a fucking day in my life!” or was it one of the other numerous family vermin?

  6. How can you have a plural of Dauphin?

  7. What a weird claim. So, Sullivan, Malkin, the Hufflepuffs, and Hewitt, sure… but who else is he thinking of? There’s the academic bloggers, but most of them were obscure outside their fields until they began blogging. Ditto other folks who have media jobs *now* (Yglesias, Ezra Klein), but only after their blogs got them noticed

  8. Eryk Boston,

    First, “dauphin” is French for dolphin. There are plural dolphins. I know, I’ve seen them.

    Second, the Dauphin as “heir to the throne of France” could be used in the plural, too, metaphorically speaking. Each pundit is a nation-state unto himself, with heirs and such. Or not.

  9. RE:
    “1. Gillespie has no idea how much incidence of autism is actually increasing.”

    The truth is that no one knows for sure if the incidence is increasing or not. Due to a change in the definition of the disease and increased vigilance trying to find cases, the number of cases of autism identified has increased greatly, this does not imply that there is a significant change in the actual incidence of the disease. You can’t tell from the available data. This is a very important point…ongoing studies should clear up the picture, but at the moment, the cause for the increased identification of autism spectrum disorders is obscure. The case for it being caused by vaccinations is very, very, very weak — despite the biological plausibility of vaccines causing autism in some children.

  10. The truth is that no one knows for sure if the incidence is increasing or not.

    Yes, I see this as a problem. A more pressing problem than Bailey and his magic wonder drugs of the indeterminate future term. A more pressing problem than the interplay of the blogosphere and the MSM. A good problem for libertarians to be proposing private solutions to. Maybe autism really isn’t rising, and it just looks that way to from my anecdotal perspective. Even so: we should care and we should know. As as society. For the children. Seriously. There is something calloused about the way Gillespie treats the (non)subject.

  11. I think it ought to be obvious to people who don’t read research journals that no research is being done on this question. And anybody who spends absolutely no time looking at what scientists are working on will have to conclude that scientists simply don’t care about autism.

    Why, just the other day I met a scientist who isn’t working on autism. I thereby concluded that scientists don’t care about autism, and that no answers will ever be forthcoming from scientists on the question of whether the rise in autism diagnoses can be attributed to new diagnostic criteria and more careful screening.

  12. However, I’m confident that America’s tort lawyers could solve this problem very quickly. All they have to do is get a court order and somebody will simply tell them what they want to know. It’s that easy. No need to do elaborate studies with control groups, following subjects over time, comparing many different populations, ruling out alternative hypotheses by examining different variables, and analyzing the data in several different manners with a variety of statistical tools. Just get a court order and ask somebody a question and it will all be solved.

    America’s scientists aren’t interested in this problem, as you can easily tell if you don’t follow research journals. But America’s tort lawyers could answer this question immediately and fix the whole problem in a blink of an eye.

  13. Science could get a good handle on the autism incidence rate, present and future if it wanted to. No amount of mumbo jumbo is going to convince me differently.

    There are things in science that are intellectually difficult. Figuring out how many people have autism isn’t one of them. The only problem here is that nobody has figured out how to make money from tracking autism incidence. That is not a science problem. That is a greedy scientist problem.

  14. thoreau, I share your optimism. After all, a lawyer invented the Internet. There’s really nothing we can’t do. When John Edwards becomes president, he’ll cure cancer.

    What have scientists ever done for us?

  15. Science could get a good handle on the autism incidence rate, present and future if it wanted to. No amount of mumbo jumbo is going to convince me differently.

    There are things in science that are intellectually difficult. Figuring out how many people have autism isn’t one of them. The only problem here is that nobody has figured out how to make money from tracking autism incidence. That is not a science problem. That is a greedy scientist problem.

  16. 1. shouldn’t have posted twice (I checked before reposting, but to no avail).

    2. “present and future” should be –present and past–

  17. Dave (or whoever you are), do you seriously latch onto every marginal, conspiracy-tinged issue?

  18. All I said was that we should have a good, firm handle on whether how often autism occurs, but we do not.

    Where is the conspiracy tinge to that? The first part is a normative statement and the second part seems uncontroversial.

    It might be a conspiracy statement if I said there was an autism epidemic, or more especially if I said that there was an epidemic and somebody knew and was hiding it. I am not saying those things.

  19. Yes, we can easily infer the prevalence of autism in the past, back when the problem was not as widely known and data was not as thoroughly collected, and compare that with today’s more comprehensive efforts that use different criteria. And in the present, although there are more efforts to identify autism, we still don’t have a complete study that tracks every single person in the US, so we’ll just be the first ones who do the study and test every person in the US. No need for statistical sampling, it will be cheap and easy to just test everybody in the US and remove all ambiguity.

    Anybody who has never conducted research on human subjects knows how easy this is!

  20. Yes, we can easily infer the prevalence of autism in the past, back when the problem was not as widely known and data was not as thoroughly collected, and compare that with today’s more comprehensive efforts that use different criteria. And in the present, although there are more efforts to identify autism, we still don’t have a complete study that tracks every single person in the US, so we’ll just be the first ones who do the study and test every person in the US. No need for statistical sampling, it will be cheap and easy to just test everybody in the US and remove all ambiguity.

    Anybody who has never conducted research on human subjects knows how easy this is!

  21. I’m very concerned about autism, I’m proactive, and I know the truth. No Dog for Me, Thanks runs a secret lab that makes people autistic by spewing steamed Brussels Sprouts into the ground water.

    We all know that the Brussels Sprouts (BS) Council is just trying to get your money.

  22. You know, the problem with scientists is that they never pay any attention to my priorities. You get these scientists who think that advances in cell biology or a better understanding of tumor growth are important, but I won’t be getting cancer for a while yet. Meanwhile, my potential kids (if I have any) could get diabetes much sooner. Why doesn’t anybody care about that? Huh?

    And even the ones who do care about it refuse to drop whatever aspect of diabetes that they’re working on and pour all of their effort into examining this one hypothesis that I came up with. I think somebody’s bribing them.

    Or take astrophysicists. They spend all their time looking for extrasolar planets. OK, that’s nice and all, but some people are claiming that aliens are already here, and abducting them. How about a little less time spent on distant stars, and a little more time spent getting a conclusive answer on whether alien abduction is real? Is that too much to ask? Just rule it out once and for all, so we know whether or not the abduction reports are true.

    And if the abduction reports are false, then we need to study mental illness. Just the other day I met a scientist who isn’t studying mental illness, so I figure the scientific community is probably ignoring the problem. Well, they shouldn’t. They should put all of their resources into whatever the problem is that causes some people to see conspiracies and aliens everywhere. That’s all I’m saying. Solve the problems that I care about, otherwise I don’t see the point of all this new “knowledge.”

    If they want some advice on how to go about it, I’d be happy to help them redesign the science curricula.

    OK, I just needed to vent that.

  23. Well, some folks think there is some concerted effort by vaccination manufacturers to cover-up the autism problem. That’s the conspiracy angle. And I didn’t say you brought it up, but I’m aware of it, so I’m assuming, due to your many other zany posts, that you’re on that bandwagon.

  24. You know, the problem with scientists is that they never pay any attention to my priorities. You get these scientists who think that advances in cell biology or a better understanding of tumor growth are important, but I won’t be getting cancer for a while yet. Meanwhile, my potential kids (if I have any) could get diabetes much sooner. Why doesn’t anybody care about that? Huh?

    The reason that cancer research is so well-funded is because it is cenetrered around drugs and other expensive therapies.

    The reason diabetes is not studied anywhere near proportionally to cancer, is that the prevention strategy does not neccessarily involve expensive drugs, but its treatment certainly does.

    That is why you have the jobs you do, T. That is why you were encouraged to get the training you get and to follow the career path you did. If there were money in diabetes research instead, then that is what you would be doing. And you would probably be just as militant in the inevitability of that alternative reality as well.

    As far as prioritizing: you show admirable loyalty to the people signing your paychecks. Your priorities are understandable, but nothing that someone with different stakes should take too seriously.

  25. “Time To Come Off The High Horse”

    The irony. The irony.

  26. Dave, why don’t you get off your ass and become a diabetes researcher?

  27. Well, we do know that autism rates in Europe have continued to rise since they stopped using mercury preservatives in vaccines.

  28. And, of course, when I say the rates of autism have been rising, I should be clear that I mean the rates of diagnoses of autism have been rising. The very definition of autism is currently uncertain.

  29. Well, we do know that autism rates in Europe have continued to rise since they stopped using mercury preservatives in vaccines.

    What about the incidence of complications due to spoiled vaccines?

  30. Dave W, thank you for your tireless work in making paranoid libertarians feel comparatively sane.

  31. Dave, why don’t you get off your ass and become a diabetes researcher?

    Same reason as T. — nobody wants to pay me to do that. The difference between T. and me is that I see that as a problem to be solved, while T. views it T.-leologically.

  32. I never said that I don’t see diabetes as a problem. I said that I’m having fun trying to understand tumors and make better tools for cell biologists, some of whom might even study diabetes. I’m having fun, and I’m doing useful work that will hopefully benefit sick people (just not the disease that you singled out). Why on earth should I change when I’m having so much fun and learning useful things? And, for all I know, maybe some day I’ll work on diabetes. Right now I’m doing the projects that I’m doing and having fun with them and doing good work. But I can see myself working on any number of things in the future.

    And if you think that it’s impossible to build a scientific career in diabetes research, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You didn’t pursue a different path for lack of opportunities. You pursued a different path because you like patent law. Which is fine.

    If you care so much, go do some pro bono work for a researcher who wants to patent his diabetes treatments, or new diagnostic tools, or something. Or help a researcher who’s looking to publish a book with his latest findings on diabetes, and needs a lawyer to help with copyright and contract issues.

  33. Same reason as T. — nobody wants to pay me to do that.

    I’m vaguely surprised that anyone, anywhere would want to pay you to do anything. But that’s the wonder of the market.

  34. Well, we do know that autism rates in Europe have continued to rise since they stopped using mercury preservatives in vaccines.

    Wonder what their curve looks like. Here is the US one:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Autismnocgraph.png

    ps: wonder how many times this post will show up?

  35. What’s the percentage of the population that’s being diagnosed with autism? Some people just look at raw numbers, but don’t actually look at percentage.

    But what do I know, I’m a lowly systems admin.

  36. The reason that cancer research is so well-funded is because it is cenetrered around drugs and other expensive therapies. The reason diabetes is not studied anywhere near proportionally to cancer, is that the prevention strategy does not neccessarily involve expensive drugs, but its treatment certainly does.

    I thought it had something to do with cancer being more serious than diabetes, in that a diabetic can still live a normal life by following a few dietary restrictions and taking regular blood-sugar tests, whereas a person with cancer stands a good chance of dying regardless of what he eats or how well-regulated his blood sugar is.

  37. Off-topic, thoreau, do you know or have you encountered a cell biologist at NIH named Dale Hailey?

  38. Dave W.-

    You know, it is interesting that you consider yourself a brave man willing to stand up to Goliath and defend the Little Guy and keep him healthy, but you cite prestige and salary as the things holding you back from diabetes research. I might point out that while you presumably had to take out loans to go to law school, if you had pursued a Ph.D. in a scientific discipline you almost certainly would have gotten your tuition paid, plus a stipend for living expenses. That money would have come from either a research grant or a teaching assistantship. Not that a grad student stipend is anything great, but it’s better than having to give money to the university. And after grad school you could have gone for a postdoc doing diabetes research, and then gone on to a university to establish your own lab and study the problem. Feed corn syrup to rats or whatever.

    But you didn’t. The path was there and you didn’t take it. I’m not faulting you for not doing it (a Ph.D. is not an easy road, I nearly dropped out a couple times), but don’t pretend that you were held back by the world’s lack of interest in these problems. That’s not what kept you from going into scientific research. Whatever your reasons for doing something else, however good they were, don’t pretend that The Man was holding you back.

    For the record, I don’t think any less of those who didn’t go to grad school (in some ways I think they were smarter than me), and I don’t think any less of those who dropped out. But if somebody says that he never went into research because “The Man” doesn’t care about diabetes, that’s just a bunch of bull.

    Phil-

    Sorry, I don’t know him.

  39. This is all because, of course, Dave thinks that the prevention to diabetes is the banning of corn syrup.

    I can’t wait until the government follows health-fascist advice and makes corn syrup, cigarettes, booze, etc. all illegal…I have every intention on becoming a smuggler and being fabulously wealthy.

  40. Whoa, whoa, whoa.

    If I have any themes or memes associated especially with me on here they should be: (1) decentralization of decisionmaking; and (2) enhanced info for any decentralized decisionmakers. Although neither of these themes is particularly libertarian, I never thought either of them particularly incompatible with libertarianism either.

    You can see these themes when I suggest replacing the FDA with enhanced labelling responsibilities.

    You can see these themes when I suggest that trade regulation should be replaced (to some extent) with enhanced consumer information.

    You can even see these themes when I say that I want the Blackbox of flt 93 or that Reason journalists should learn to do FOIAs.

    You can see these themes when I express my preferences for numerous, competing business entities over co-ordinated market allocation by a few large business entities.

    Now that I have laid it out for you all nice like this, it should be easy to understand:

    I do not want cornsyrup banned.

    I do not even want tort liability for cornsyrup sales (except to the extent that sellers were actively hiding a large risk, and I have no particular reason to think they were).

    What I do want on cornsyrup: FIRST a definitive answer about whether cornsyrup is more dangerous than cane. SECOND some new labelling requirements if and only if cornsyrup is significantly more dangerous than cane.

    How can people be so bad at guessing my true opinions?

  41. Actually, “labelling requirements” should have been simply –labelling–. Do not want to presuppose that some kind of government regulation is the only way to accomplish the labelling, at least at the theoretical level. Sometimes my language gets polluted by reality

  42. When did Salon (Rolling Stone I’ll buy, barely) become the mainstream press?

  43. I want a definitive answer about Brussels Sprouts and autism. For that matter, I’m pretty sure that the cover up extends to AIDS. Someone had better set up a statistically significant independently verified cross reference of BS eating vs. STDs to prove me wrong, and they’d better do it fast.

    What? No? You say I sound absurd? You must be part of the conspiracy, or at a minimum uncaring about all those afflicted with BS syndrome.

  44. You can see these themes when I express my preferences for numerous, competing business entities over co-ordinated market allocation by a few large business entities.

    So, you want to break up so-called “cartels” and “oligopolies”, despite them exercising their right to associate for profit? There’s freedom for you.

    What I do want on cornsyrup: FIRST a definitive answer about whether cornsyrup is more dangerous than cane.

    This is like trying to find out if Gatorade is more dangerous than crystal Light, your question is what is logically called Loaded a la “do you still beat your wife?” The question you are asking presupposes that the “danger” in EITHER cane or corn syrup warrants labeling requirements at all.

    Now that I have spelled it out for you, can you see how your smartassery and economic ignorance might get us all riled up once in a while?

  45. what cute and funny nicknames, a pleasure to read this wonderful stuff. and totally content free, nice job as usual.

  46. This is like trying to find out if Gatorade is more dangerous than crystal Light, your question is what is logically called Loaded a la “do you still beat your wife?” The question you are asking presupposes that the “danger” in EITHER cane or corn syrup warrants labeling requirements at all.

    No. It is quite possible that cornsyrup is no more dangerous than can diabetes-wise. If that is the case, then there should be no labelling requirements and the FDA (or whomever) should announce the findings so that consumers can stock up on cornsyrup with the power of good consumer information.

  47. “can” should be –cane–

  48. Or you could not eat sugary stuff and get some freakin’ exercise, but that wouldn’t get you a tort payoff and victim status, would it?

  49. Or you could not eat sugary stuff and get some freakin’ exercise, but that wouldn’t get you a tort payoff and victim status, would it?

    Depends. Depends on how much cutbacks and excercise we are talking about. here is what I mean:

    1. If we only need to cut back and excercise to the extent my mother’s and grandmother’s generation did to keep the diabetes monster (probabilistically) at bay, then Sandy is correct.

    2. If the switch to cornsyrup means that we have to excercise 2 or 3 or 10 times as much to enjoy the odds mom & grandma had, then Sandy is asking too much. Warnings would be preferable.

    We need to know if it is 1 or 2. We really don’t right now.

  50. Or the ghost could just refrain from eating corn syrup.

    And instead of labels and torts and whatnot, the ghost could just call for an end to the corn subsidies and sugar tarriffs that make corn syrup the more competitive sweetener (more competitive on cost, anyway).

  51. And instead of labels and torts and whatnot, the ghost could just call for an end to the corn subsidies and sugar tarriffs that make corn syrup the more competitive sweetener (more competitive on cost, anyway).

    Another great idea. Would work well hand in hand with the suggestions I have had teased out of me on this thd.

    Actually, yesterday I wrote a post (eaten by server) about how it was ironic that you and I argue over this cornsyrup thing since what we really both want is an end to the subsidies. You just want to end the subsidies without investigation of health risks and (if approporiate) labelling. Seems like a pretty slim margin to be arguing about.

    Let me ask you this, T.:

    what do you think about the warnings that the FDA started requiring on cigarettes in 1964? Good thing or bad thing?

    (We also had at 1 pt a debate over how much tort liability of foof sellers should be pre-emptively forbidden, but when that discussion got down to the details level, it turned out that our differences there were minor and semantic.)

  52. Ghost-

    I actually am curious about whether corn syrup causes diabetes. Not curious enough to abandon my career in physics, go back to school, and train as an epidemiologist, but still curious. (Then again, you aren’t curious enough to quit your career either, so don’t try tossing any stones from your glass house.) What I mock is your seeming conviction that somebody is lying to you about corn syrup. You say you only want answers, but you give off an air of conspiracy theory.

    About cigarette warnings: I think the truth about tobacco was blindingly obvious even back then, when people were calling cigarettes “coffin nails.” Then again, as far as regulations go that was a pretty modest one. So I’d say the regulation wasn’t worth getting upset over. Yes, yes, if I were in charge and could order everything to my libertopian desires the labeling decision would be made by the company, and they would consider the input of consumer organizations analogous to Underwriters’ Laboratories, yadda yadda yadda, but still. I can think of much worse decisions that were made in the 1960’s, and I would have been much more upset over those other decisions if I’d been alive back then.

  53. T.

    I wrote a post yesterday about whether either of us should be abandoning our careers. the response got too long and ramble-y, so I discarded it. To try to be more concise today, I don’t think that either of us should feel guilty about our jobs. When I do make jibes about jobs (sometimes, as in this thd, because u started it), I have a couple of larger points in mind.

    1. I don’t think medical researchers (or scientists or doctors or soldiers) are morally superior to lawyers. This is a pervasive impression in society, and I think it is bullshit. It is tough because: (1) we have all been taught to lawyer bash from a young age; and (2) the small segment of lawyers who advertise on tv tend to be yucky people with questionable motives. At one point you expressed a fear that your career would be destroyed by lawyers. Time to face facts, a lot more USians are bankrupted by medical bills (that is, paying 4 U) than they are by legal bills (that is, paying for me). If you want to know who to be financially afraid of in the probabilistic sense, then look in the mirror or at your surgeon. It doesn’t mean I am better than you. It just means time to stop the lawyer bashing. of course, you are not the worst of the lawyer bashers and often have good, constructive comments on legal issues. Once again, this is just one of those issues where you are one of the few reachable ppl who could actually understand what I am getting at here.

    2. Just because we have jobs and want to keep them should not prevent us from talking about policy issues and should not keep us from second guessing priorities. I have certainly come on here and argued that the patent system should be scaled back — no matter how you slice it, that is not good for my long range career. I would expect you to have the same openess to criticism of medical research priorities. So far you don’t seem to, but as Bailey keeps up with his rosy, capital intensive predictions for the future, while diabetes and autism remain mysterious and on the increase in the here and now — at some point that lighbulb is going to go on over your head that the money just isn’t being spent in a sensible way. Doesn’t mean you have to lose your job. It does mean that when you get to the top of the pyramid, I want you to consider prioritizing more sensibly than your bosses do right now.

    yes, I know, this one turned out long & ramble-y, too!

  54. Ghost-

    Actually, some would argue that the increase in autism diagnoses has more to do with deliberately broadening the diagnostic criteria so schools can receive more special education funds. Is that the sort of bandwagon that a responsible scientist should jump on?

    As for diabetes, there’s no great mystery there. Whatever role specific foods may play in exacerbating risk, the fact remains that a huge portion of the increase is due to too many calories and too little exercise. Calories from some foods may very well be more dangerous than calories from other foods, but the one thing we know for certain is that excessive calories and insufficient exercise significantly increase the risk of diabetes. But you would have me pay more attention to one particular risk factor and downplay problems that are known to greatly increase the risk of numerous diseases, diabetes being only one of the many.

    How is that a responsible allocation of attention and resources?

  55. Actually, some would argue that the increase in autism diagnoses has more to do with deliberately broadening the diagnostic criteria so schools can receive more special education funds. Is that the sort of bandwagon that a responsible scientist should jump on?

    A true scientist would be agnostic at first, neither jumping on the bandwagon, nor refusing to consider jumping. Could be the schools, but I can’t imagine that most parents would basically let the schools classify their kids as something sort of like “retarded” on a flimsy pretext. I mean, this isn’t like saying your kid has ADD, diagnosed autism is some serious shit.

    So what would a properly motivated scientist do?

    She would investigate, instead of making a faith based decision, and find out whether the schools explanation made sense or not. Then and only then would she make a decision on jumping or not jumping.

    I am not saying that no scientists are doing this. I am saying that there are too few scientists doing this with too few funds relative to the number of scientists working on dead-end cancer drugs or Bailey’s schemes. I am not saying that you have to quit your job. I am saying that if you ever attain a position of responsibility, then set your priorities differently so that we don’t have to deal with the offensiveness of Dogeater’s (faith based) tone quotes or Bailey’s how-much-would-you-pay-for-superpowers fantasy threads.

    . . . a huge portion of the increase is due to too many calories and too little exercise . . .

    This is the part that you are taking on faith and I am not willing to. You could be correct. You might not be.

  56. Dave W.-

    I know this thread has dropped off the main page, but I’ll respond anyway.

    On corn syrup, there’s a difference between assuming an answer and prioritizing a question. I have no clue whether or not corn syrup is more dangerous than the calorie-equivalent amount of cane sugar. The little bit that I’ve heard about the metabolism of corn syrup vs. cane suggests that corn syrup is no worse than cane. But I don’t know if that is the whole story. So of course a closer investigation would be needed to answer the question.

    However, if you asked me to prioritize the questions, I would say that corn syrup deserves a lower priority. We know pretty conclusively that too many calories and too little exercise will definitely cause diabetes, and we know that Americans are having problems with both of those factors. I would therefore conclude that the most urgent questions facing health researchers, at least with regard to dietary issues, relate to over-eating and under-exercise, not whether one particular sweetener is worse than another. It’s called triage.

    As far as autism: I’m not saying that no research should be done on autism. Plenty of research is done. However, if you said that autism should be prioritized as a disease spiraling out of control, first I’d want to know whether it really is spiraling out of control, or whether the changing numbers reflect changing diagnostic criteria. To answer that, I think we’ll need to let the people doing the research to continue to do the research. Leaning on them to jump to conclusions faster than the incoming data warrants, or trying to steer them to particular hypotheses, will not lead to good science.

    It would be easy to accuse me of being satisfied with the status quo, but that’s not it at all. With autism, if you want to put a disease under the microscope you shouldn’t be surprised when you find more instances of the disease. Separating the effects of closer scrutiny (or new criteria) from an actual increase in disease incidence is tricky, and takes a lot of analysis. Clever techniques have to be thought of to elucidate data from sketchy historical records.

    And with corn syrup, it’s not that I’d give the cold shoulder to any researcher who wants to work on it. But if I were in charge I would have to prioritize and give far more attention to the known, urgent risk factors, and far less attention to the more speculative research, especially if the best estimates suggest that whatever effect they’ll find will be small, no matter which way it goes.

    You want me to prioritize, and I’m saying that priorities have to be based on more than just “Well, this seems important to me” or “But how do you know? Shouldn’t we answer this?”

  57. CORRECTION:

    We know pretty conclusively that too many calories and too little exercise will definitely increase the risk of diabetes

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