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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:

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