Respectful Insolence

Epi Wonk versus the Geiers, part II

Epi Wonk has completed part II of her deconstruction of the latest abuse of epidemiology and statistics by those pseudoscientists for the mercury militia, Mark and David Geier. (I commented on part I here):

Pretty steep slopes and, therefore, apparently strong associations. But there’s no attempt to control for, or adjust for, the confounding effect of birth cohort. Just one look at Figure 1 (or a basic knowledge about trends in autism) tells you the regression coefficients (slopes) are being driven by increases in autism risk over time. Given the increase in frequency of autism (and other neurodevelopmental disabilities) during time time period, you could do an ecological regression analysis of almost any factor that varied over time and you would find an an association with autism. I would bet that you could enter number of sushi bars per capita into an ecological regression and you’d find an association with autism rates.

I once pointed out this very thing about the way antivaccinationists abuse correlation as causation, in this case starting at 1983 as the baseline, and facetiously said:

A lot of other things have happened since 1983 as well. For example, in the early 1990s, the diagnostic criteria for autism were broadened, and campaigns for greater awareness were begun. Diagnoses of autism in 1983 were made using the DSM-III, where the criteria for an autism diagnosis were much more restrictive than those in the DSM-IV, released in the early 1990s. Moreover, in 1983, categories of Asperger’s and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified, both of which are lumped into the 1 in 150 figure for 2008, weren’t recognized in the DSM-III. Of course, if I wanted to be snarky (and perish forbid that I would ever be snarky), I could point out that 1981 was the year that the IBM PC was released, followed by the Apple Macintosh in 1984, both of which led to the exponential growth of households owning and using personal computers. That’s it! It must be computer use that led to the increase in autism in the 25 years since 1983! Wait, what about the compact disc? It just so happens that 1983 is the year that the CD was first released in the American market. Ergo, it must be CDs that cause autism.

I can’t wait until part 3.

Comments

  1. #1 Bob O'H
    May 25, 2008

    How about correlating autism with global temperatures? Get a two-for-one special of denialists.

  2. #2 Brendan S
    May 25, 2008

    Obvously the decrease in pirates has lead directly to more autism cases.

  3. #3 DLC
    May 25, 2008

    So . . . The Geiers apply finagle’s theorem, get caught at it, and now what ? Hopefully they get pilloried right and left by every scientific publication. Can they possibly get more ostracized by the scientific or medical communities ?
    If I had a blog I’d be beating them about the head with their dishonesty also. But I haven’t. So, I thank Epi-wonk and you too Orac for bringing the smack-down for these creeps.

  4. #4 charles
    May 25, 2008

    “…sushi bars per capita…association with autism rates…”

    Which would just prove what they’ve been saying all along, since we all know that fish are full of mercury!

  5. #5 Joseph
    May 25, 2008

    That’s it! It must be computer use that led to the increase in autism in the 25 years since 1983!

    I realize that’s not serious, but I think one day someone will write about it in a way that is in fact serious. The personal computer, and more specifically the internet, can be a major driving force behind awareness. It’s not called the information age for no good reason. The internet took off in the early 1990s. So did diagnoses of autism. (A regional analysis could also be done comparing administrative prevalence and internet penetration, with adjustment for wealth and population density; I suspect a correlation will still be there).

    About the Geier paper, I guess one question is whether the Omnibus PSC got its money’s worth. Looks like it will be decisively shredded on cross.

  6. #6 Dave
    May 27, 2008

    Kudos to Latvia for doing their bit to reduce both global warming *and* autism then:

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=9OK74rmC_AQ&feature=related

  7. #7 TheProbe
    May 27, 2008

    DLC said: “So . . . The Geiers apply finagle’s theorem, get caught at it, and now what ? Hopefully they get pilloried right and left by every scientific publication. Can they possibly get more ostracized by the scientific or medical communities?”

    Nope. They seem to be immune to that. Their recent paper went right by peer review.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!