Posts Tagged ‘cognitive bias’

Irrationality in Autism Research

Today’s post is about a piece of writing that I don’t really recommend: A report from the French Food Safety Agency called

Efficacy and safety of gluten-free and casein-free diets proposed in children presenting with pervasive developmental disorders (autism and related syndromes)

This report is a splendid example of irrational “scientific” thinking: Intelligent people following what they consider good rules, and ending up with a completely ridiculous result. Just how ridiculous it is, becomes apparent if we try to use the same logic to decide whether or not we should use CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) to save drowning victims. The French researchers’ point of view would have to be that we should never make this attempt:

  • CPR involves risk. You can blow air into the patient’s stomach, which can can cause vomiting, which can get gastric acid into his airways. You can also blow in too much air, and can cause lung damage. And you do heart compressions, you risk fracturing his ribs.
  • You don’t know whether it’s going to work or not. No double-blind study has yet been done, where drowned patients have randomly been assigned to the treatment group and placebo group.

Everybody can see that it’s a completely ridiculous proposition to advise against attempting CPR to save drowning victims.

Why is it so much harder to see that it’s just as ridiculous to argue against attempting to use dietary changes to save autistic children?

That question is actually quite easy to answer. There are seven reasons:

Read more…


IQ and Rationality

I’m reading about the distinction between intelligence and rationality these days:

What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought
by Keith E. Stanovich

There’s one aspect of the book that I’d like to comment on so far:

Intelligence has to do with the processing power of the brain. Rationality has to do with how we form our beliefs.

In other (my) words: You don’t have to be unintelligent to believe that you’re safer with a gun in your house, or that lower taxes are always better. You just have to be irrational.

What do I mean with irrational? It’s a lot of things, but an important element is our common tendency to be more impressed by evidence that supports our worldview, than by evidence that contradicts it.

Let’s start with the pistols and revolvers. Of course, it’s easy to create in our minds a scenario where you’re safer with a gun in your house than without it. “You hear an intruder. You have time to find your gun and load it before the intruder finds it. You know how to use it effectively and responsibly, even when your adrenaline is sky high. The intruder is either unarmed or unprepared.” And at the end of the story, you are the hero, unhurt, and the intruder is either dead, wounded or (hopefully just) in chains. Read more…

Another Look at the Danish Study of the MMR Vaccine and Autism

Another look at the Danish study of the MMR vaccine and autism

The famous Danish study comparing the vaccination and autism rates of Danish children born between 1991 with 1998, has been in the news again lately. The reason is that one of the key witnesses for the defense of the MMR vaccine has gone missing along with approximately 10 million DKK (2 mill USD) of other people’s money.

This morning, I took a closer look at both the study and Ulf Brånell’s analysis of it. Brånell’s conclusion starts out soundly enough:

“All the sources of error identified in the study distort it in the same direction: obscuring the role of the MMR vaccine and exonerating it from any suspicion that it may cause autism. This strongly indicates deliberate fraud”.

I can follow him all the way here. The study authors have designed their study so that it counts vaccinated children too young to be diagnosed with autism, as non-autistic. What kind of proof is that? To me, it’s proof of either stupidity or dishonesty. Brånell points to four other sources of error as well, all leaning the same way.

Brånell doesn’t stop there, however. Here’s how his conclusion continues, in a crescendo of improbables: Read more…