Monday, August 27, 2012

Is the Age of the Father a Risk Factor For Autism?

A recent article published in The Washington Post, as well as a related article published on the Nature
website (and in the journal Nature) both discuss a recent study which has found the older a father is, the greater chance they will pass on genetic mutations to their children.  This means as the father ages, there is an increased risk for certain types of mutations, and as such an increased risk for conditions such as schizophrenia and autism.

The study itself is interesting, and it seems to confirm what others have said about de novo mutations in the past, but it is hardly conclusive and nobody should be proclaiming anyone has found the cause for autism.  This is but one more piece of the puzzle, but it is nice to see scientists and researchers continuing to search for the root cause(s) - and making progress.  

This new research coupled with previous research pertaining to the weight of the mother during pregnancy, and other studies which show a strong genetic component may not be a smoking gun per se, but they are helping to shine light on the root cause.

The question remains - will antivaxxers start to acknowledge the science that continues to show these many genetic factors contribute to conditions such as autism, or will they once again ignore the studies since they don't align with their views?  Will they again try to claim vaccines are the biggest factor leading to autism even though they have no studies showing such a link?  Will they start trying to back-peddle and claim that vaccines in adults are causing genetic mutations which are then passed on to children?

The reality is, we don't have to guess because organizations like Age of Autism have already gone out of their way to minimize the study as they attempt to place blame upon environmental factors rather than genetics.  In Robert Krakow's article entitled, Paternal Age Study Implicates Environment Not Genes, Krakow immediately switches to defense as he claims "there exists no explanation how de novo mutations relate to autism" within the study.  Krakow might be right, but that is because that subject has been discussed elsewhere - it is not included within this particular study.  It is background data that wasn't central to what the study is about, and Krakow is merely using this as a smokescreen.

So is the absence of background scientific data enough to claim the study suggests environmental factors are the true cause rather than genetics?  According to Krakow... yes - as he writes: "rather than showing that autism or schizophrenia may be primarily genetic, the paper supports the argument that the significant operative variables are environmental".

Putting aside the fact that Krakow seems to have reached conclusions that the authors of the study did not, this is one of the problems that exists when you present science to those with predetermined viewpoints.  People like Krakow aren't about to let the science guide them, but rather they engage in confirmation bias and selective reporting because they are convinced vaccines are the one and only true cause to autism and as such everything else needs to be ignored.

Granted Krakow isn't a scientist, nor is he a researcher, nor is he even a journalist.  Krakow is actually a lawyer who just happens to specialize "in the representation of individuals injured by exposure to vaccines".  Thus it stands to reason why Krakow would prefer that science not suggest that genetics are to blame for autism... because that would make it much more difficult for vaccine lawyers like Krakow to win their cases and it would be a direct hit to their incomes.  

Antivaxxers are always quick to pull out the "big pharma profit" gambit when they are presented with something they disagree with, but it sort of makes you wonder why they seem to feel lawyers who profit from "vaccine injury" cases can be considered to be unbiased when it comes to reporting the facts surrounding scientific studies.  There doesn't appear to be any financial incentive for the authors of this study to suggest de novo mutations are the contributing factor, yet there is a clear financial incentive for vaccine lawyers like Krakow to deny it.  Who should we consider to be unbiased here?

Whether you agree or disagree with the conclusions of the study is one thing, but for those who are honestly interested in finding the root cause(s) of autism they owe it to themselves to look at every study from an unbiased perspective.  This doesn't mean they automatically need to agree with the authors nor do they need to accept every conclusion at face value, but they also should not rush out to attach the study unless they have science and facts that show the study's conclusions to be in error.  In this case, it seems antivaxxers are much more interested in circling their wagons to protect their views than they are in learning... and I find that incredibly disappointing.

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