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Sun Sep 7, 2014, 06:28 PM

 

On correlation, causation, and the "real" cause of autism.



Here for spreading far and wide is a graphical reminder of the important distinction between correlation and causation.

Redditor Jasonp55 writes that he was practicing Graph Pad when he produced the chart above and discovered the "real" cause of autism: organic food.

His tongue is obviously planted firmly in his cheek here, but the chart is nonetheless a simple and compelling example of how susceptible we can be to logical fallacies, cognitive biases, and extracting what we believe to be meaningful information from insignificant or coincidental data. As Cory Doctorow notes over at Boing Boing, "this a potentially useful chart for discussing this issue with friends who won't vaccinate themselves and their kids."

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Arrow 19 replies Author Time Post
Reply On correlation, causation, and the "real" cause of autism. (Original post)
baldguy Sep 2014 OP
NYC_SKP Sep 2014 #1
rock Sep 2014 #2
kiva Sep 2014 #3
etherealtruth Sep 2014 #4
beam me up scottie Sep 2014 #5
Orrex Sep 2014 #6
zeemike Sep 2014 #7
SidDithers Sep 2014 #8
BrotherIvan Sep 2014 #9
moriah Sep 2014 #10
anti partisan Sep 2014 #11
BrotherIvan Sep 2014 #12
moriah Sep 2014 #16
BrotherIvan Sep 2014 #17
moriah Sep 2014 #19
hifiguy Sep 2014 #13
MineralMan Sep 2014 #14
xchrom Sep 2014 #15
hunter Sep 2014 #18

Response to baldguy (Original post)

Sun Sep 7, 2014, 06:43 PM

1. OMG!!!11! Organic Food CLEARLY Causes Autism!

 

Great post, thanks!

We see this kind of data used to make an argument (invalid under scrutiny) every day in the news, on the Internet, by folks of every political stripe.

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #1)

Sun Sep 7, 2014, 06:45 PM

2. Boy did I have it wrong!

I thought autism caused the organic food!

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Response to baldguy (Original post)

Sun Sep 7, 2014, 07:33 PM

3. Those organic tomatos

have a lot to answer for.

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Response to baldguy (Original post)

Sun Sep 7, 2014, 07:40 PM

4. I truly laughed out loud

Thank you for the post!

On a serious note: "this a potentially useful chart for discussing this issue with friends who won't vaccinate themselves and their kids."

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Response to baldguy (Original post)

Sun Sep 7, 2014, 08:18 PM

5. k&r

Excellent post, thank you.

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Response to baldguy (Original post)

Sun Sep 7, 2014, 08:54 PM

6. Somebody warn Jenny McCarthy!

k/r

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Response to baldguy (Original post)

Sun Sep 7, 2014, 09:11 PM

7. Well there is one thing we know for sure.

Autism will never be correlated with Corporate America...but the government will study it for years and never find a thing...But there is hope that big Pharma will come up with some drugs to treat it with.

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Response to zeemike (Reply #7)

Sun Sep 7, 2014, 09:34 PM

8. ...



Sid

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Response to zeemike (Reply #7)

Mon Sep 8, 2014, 02:09 AM

9. Whoosh

Because a graph showing a 400% rise in autism in ten. years. is just, you know...wut?

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Response to BrotherIvan (Reply #9)

Mon Sep 8, 2014, 02:27 AM

10. Again, correlation and causation. How many kids did you know who ....

... might have been "on the spectrum" now, but were just considered to be problem kids or weirdos or loners when we were growing up?

We're recognizing the symptoms early, and we know now that autism isn't just the most severe cases, but is a spectrum disorder. When we were growing up, only the most severe cases were diagnosed.

----

Edit: Also, ability to read a chart.

Increase has been closer to 300% for autism, 400% for organic food consumption. But they track, see?

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Response to moriah (Reply #10)

Mon Sep 8, 2014, 02:33 AM

11. There could be a lot of misdiagnoses too like with ADHD

In a society where sameness is valued, a lot of "problem kids" have been given all kinds of names when in reality there is nothing wrong with them. I worry the same is happening with autism.

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Response to moriah (Reply #10)

Mon Sep 8, 2014, 11:42 AM

12. You know what? No.

I didn't know any growing up. My mother was a primary teacher for 41 years and we have discussed this with her and her colleagues and they all say the same thing. In all that time, they never had one. Now I know three families who have autistic children and one family has two, the younger being severely autistic.

Of course this is all anecdotal, but the excuse that it's just being diagnosed more is a sham. People who have no autism in their family are having autistic children, so do you think it might have an external/environmental cause?

Probably not because I can't read a chart.

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Response to BrotherIvan (Reply #12)

Mon Sep 8, 2014, 02:12 PM

16. I knew several, including one that would have certainly been diagnosed now.

He didn't speak to anyone until he was five, but escaped an autism diagnosis at the time because his parents heard him repeating conversations at night that he heard throughout the day, so knew he had the capacity for verbalization. (That's a classic sign now -- echolalia -- but back then, if the kid could talk.... well, they escaped diagnosis.

When I was a kid, the kids with autism weren't in primary school, unless they were in the special ed classes -- or weren't diagnosed. My mother worked for DHS helping allocate funds for kids with autism and other special needs avoid institutionalization. Those were the cases that were diagnosed when i was a kid.

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Response to moriah (Reply #16)

Mon Sep 8, 2014, 03:40 PM

17. Fair Enough

All of our stories are anecdotal, but to be honest, it is a terrible problem. The family with both children who are autistic is almost falling apart. The mother quit her job to take care of them full time, which they could not afford, and the medical bills are drowning them (because of course their insurance company is being an utter asshole and won't cover most things). The younger boy, age 6, is so violent if something triggers him, he once head-butted her and knocked her out cold for twenty minutes. They're worried when he gets older they might need to hire a nurse to help.

Some of the families have had some very good or at least good success with elimination diets. One eight year old is almost symptom-free, but if he has milk or a energy bar given him by someone, he actually reverts for a couple of weeks. So they have to be very very strict about their diet, but they are thrilled.

I wouldn't wish having to deal with so much stress and hardship on anyone. These people love their children beyond measure, and are even taking parenting classes to help them, but it is life changing. It's sad we aren't further in knowing what to do, or most especially to prevent it.

That's why funny threads about it, like this one, suck.

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Response to BrotherIvan (Reply #17)

Mon Sep 8, 2014, 07:31 PM

19. It is a terrible problem, for sure, even for people with high-functioning ASD.

The person I knew who didn't speak until he was five? We lived together five years. He was scarily bright -- IQ of 187. Yet trying to understand human relationships was difficult. He was quite fond of the book by Oliver Sachs about Temple Grandin, and said it really did feel like being an anthropologist on another planet, when he attempted to understand the way the rest of us felt and acted.

It was also difficult to live with him, because while he didn't have temper tantrums, he would get upset at the smallest things being out of place. Life had to be very structured, and he lived on a schedule and never deviated, or he had difficulties and became extremely irritable and frustrated. It was challenging, but he was still able to have a life and a job, and did quite well in school.

-----

The DSM criteria have varied widely over the years for diagnosis. Now in the DSM-V, they've eliminated "childhood disentegrative disorder", and said it's on the autism spectrum. Rett's, too, gets an ASD diagnosis, with a modifier indicating it's related to Rett's. They've also completely eliminated Asperger's and lumped it in with ASD (which it should be, IMHO). But they also tried to eliminate the overdiagnosis that seemed to be happening with the DSM-IV-TR.

We'll see if cases go up or down with the new definitions of the disorder.

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Response to baldguy (Original post)

Mon Sep 8, 2014, 11:51 AM

13. Then there is this

 

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Response to baldguy (Original post)

Mon Sep 8, 2014, 12:00 PM

14. Excellent demonstration of the uselessness of association

as data that proves anything! Thanks. I'm saving that chart for use elsewhere right now.

ETA: Just posted on my FB timeline.

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Response to baldguy (Original post)

Mon Sep 8, 2014, 12:13 PM

15. du rec.

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Response to baldguy (Original post)

Mon Sep 8, 2014, 05:50 PM

18. Hah!

The "autism" genes in my family are very clearly genetic.

Those autistics with marketable obsessions did okay, those autistics without marketable obsessions were hidden away in the closet.

One of my grandfathers had two successful careers, first as an Army Air Force officer, then as an aerospace engineer. Some of the titanium parts in the Apollo Project are his. My grandfather was functional at work, he knew metal, especially "exotic" metals like titanium, but his personal life was always a soap opera catastrophe. Two of his siblings were not functional at all in ordinary society and were subsidized and sheltered by family. The ability to live alone, to avoid entanglements with the law, to walk to the grocery store and buy food, wearing somewhat appropriate clothing... that was celebrated as "success!"

I'm a diagnosed Asperger's kid (now autistic spectrum.) Occasionally my obsessions are marketable, I have some useful skills. But for my first quarter century on this planet I had quite a few obsessions that complicated my life, including one that demanded I undo my rotations in time-space. (Don't ask me to explain.)

I'm no expert but it seems to me any "increase" in autism rates is attributable to the closet doors being opened.

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