Monday, October 27, 2014

Scientific Insanity: Global Warming Blamed for Autism

Another entry on the "warm list", the list of things blamed on global warming.

By way of William Teach at Pirate's Cove, news that Theresa Heinz Kerry, lessee with an option to buy Secretary of State John Kerry, has funded a study which purports to link autism with "climate change."
Autism has been linked to man-made toxic pollutants in the air, a symptom of global warming and climate change. Researchers at University of Pittsburgh have published a new study on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in the journal of The American Association of Aerosol Research. It was also published in a press release by Heinz Endowments.
. . .
According to a press release from the Heinz Endowments, it appears that the mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder were exposed to a number of man-made chemicals and toxins that are the direct result of man-made climate change and global warming events while pregnant, and this may be responsible for their children developing an ASD. These toxins in the atmosphere are man-made hydrocarbons, and are directly linked to global warming, climate change and now it would appear, ASD.
So what are these "chemicals and toxins that are the direct result of man-made climate change and global warming events"?
The study established that a 1.4 to two-fold increased risk factor for ASD existed for the study participants. The mothers and the children were tested for exposure to chromium, cyanide, styrene, methylene chloride, arsenic and methanol. All these chemicals are produced by heavy industry and car emissions, and are not found in large enough quantities in nature to have any effect on the pregnant mother. This fact advances the theory that man-made climate change and global warming type events like car emissions and heavy industrial manufacturing will forever be linked to autism spectrum disorders.
There's so much bad science or bad science reporting going on here it's hard to know where to start, but let's go anyway.

First, the chemicals listed are not a "direct result" of climate change or global warming. They are, mostly, chemicals used in industry, and in many common products.  The authors here (and it's not clear whether it's the Heinz press release or the Guardians "science" writers, plainly have cause and effect turned upside down. If there is anthropogenic global warming (and as a "weak warmer" I would grant some effect, but not catastrophic), it it caused by the same industrial processes that release the pollutants, not the cause.  Warm air does not release chromium, for example, which boils at 2944 K, which for those unfamiliar with degrees Kelvin, is really really hot. I really can't put enough reallys in that description.

Second, the study is an epidemiological study which compares two populations of people who differ primarily in having children diagnosed as autistic or not. The then goes on to measure "the exposure" of the mothers to a whole shitload of possible contributing factors, in this case pollutants, and upon finding a significant difference in "exposure" (however that was measured), blame the exposure for the increased autism. No mechanism provided, no particular subset of toxins blamed, just "global warming". No mention of any non pollutant co-factors that may have contributed such as diet, diseases, socio-economic factors, race (yes, there are real racial differences in disease susceptibility). It can't be stressed enough: "correlation does not imply causation".

So why drag Theresa Heinz Kerry into this? The Heinz Foundation is part of the charitable empire overseen by Theresa, who inherited control over the Foundation when her former husband Sen. H. John Heinz (R - Penn) died.

Last year the Heinz Foundation underwent a management shift, getting rid of an environmental director known to be a "moderate", also concerned with the effects of environmental regulations on development:
The Heinz Endowments, in dismissing its top environmental officer last week, appears to be in danger of veering from "the center of the road" when it comes to conservation issues, according to a former secretary for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Jim Seif -- also a former legal chief with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- said that Pittsburgh's second-largest philanthropy needs to adhere to a middle ground on the most contentious environmental issue of the day: natural gas drilling and the below-ground extraction practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

But instead, he said, the Heinz Endowments and its board seem to be moving toward a less-conciliatory approach to the energy industry, and in the process have forced out environmental director Caren Glotfelty, who is known as a pragmatist interested in finding a balance between environment concerns and economic development.
It is generally recognized by those reasonable medical practitioners that there is no modern epidemic of autism, rather there is an epidemic of autism diagnoses.  Kids who used to be just stupid when I was growing up are now "diagnosed" as autistic, which is more of a description of how they are stupid than why. Kids who were merely "odd" are now diagnosed with "Asperger's Syndrome", a discarded diagnosis now wrapped into the "autism spectrum."

Blaming this on global warming is one of the worst possible forms of fear mongering.

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