Pollution and Autism: Let's Focus on Research

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Recent reports have surfaced again, trying to make the claim that pollution is causing autism. This has seen it's research done in the past, often calling for more research to be done (meaning the results look promising, but not yet conclusive). Since then media outlets have been regularly giving their opinions as facts before scientists have a chance to let stand the hypothesis or disprove it.

In answer to these assertions, Forbes posted an opinion piece Autism and Air Pollution Caveats Again, which asks some pretty targeted questions that challenge many of the assumptions made. Now, don't think of this as a criticism of either the researchers working on pollution causality studies or those questioning the link, but rather look at it in the the following framework: autism is a behaviorally diagnosed disorder, not a genetically or medically diagnosed disorder. That means we are looking at what causes the behavior, which up to this point looks like brain development. Anything can affect brain development, from environmental toxin exposure to genetic predisposition, to being dropped on the head. Therefore, note that autism behavior could be caused by multiple factors, not just one.

That being said, the media reports regarding the recent studies seem to be making the case that all autism is caused by pollution. And much like the "all autism is caused by MSG", "all autism is caused by vaccinations", "all autism is caused by gluten allergies", and "all autism is caused by fire retardant chemicals in furniture and carpets", I'm wary of any claim that all autism is caused by any one thing. Autism research isn't anywhere near the point where we can point to a single cause. Perhaps it's time we let the research speak for itself.

I applaud those who are making assumptions and challenging them in the pursuit of knowledge in science. It's a tough job that gets little praise, requires long hours, lots of graduate, post-graduate, and doctorate input, and lots of funds that are not easily acquired in this current economic state. For those of you doing the research, thank you. For those of you who aren't but making the claims anyway, don't you think we should be patient?