Saturday, January 10, 2009

Why science will never have the answers to Autism

I have a hangover, that's not relevant, but I am awash with ideas, and I feel after commenting in the same fashion on two blogs within the autism hub which deal with different theories of Autism, the one from our old friend and bogey Simon Baron Cohen, the other from the laughably named "Mind Institute", that it is worth repeating on my blog.

Essentially so many theories of Autism are being advanced that they are mutually insupportable.
One might claim that one is right and the other is not, but in doing so one is not really making a scientific choice so much as a personal preference given that the mutually insupportable theories when taken as separate entities all appear in peer reviewed journals and are internally consistent with the notions of scientific investigation and statistical validation.

I have approached this topic before when I quoted from Dermot Bowler's book.

And if one wants to follow such ideas further one gets into the difficult territory of Wittgenstein, Quine and others as this critique of scientific method has a good grounding in philosophy (from whence science springs anyway).

Well to turn aside and get back to the main track, I will soon find myself teaching a module on a course constructed by my supervisor which investigates the position of autism in society. This is part of the Uni's BA in Childhood Culture and Education. Although this course is intended for undergraduates who do not have much of a background in Autism, it would be just as relevant to the likes of Simon Baron Cohen, Jenny McCarthy, David Kirby, and all the other popular pundits of autism who all mutually fail to understand just what they are really on about, who think they know all about autism when they only ever see the aspect they are dealing with directly.

And so for the third time today I will quote myself again: -

There is no single gene/cause for the categories "Artist" or "Scientist" each condition is contingent upon multiple factors because they are a human category not a natural one, in essence the reason why a single gene or cause will not be found is because "Autism" is also a human category, and as such is not "watertight" it leaks all over the place because that which is called autism is the confluence of many rivers and depending where you stand in the lake you might feel the influence and currents of any one of them more than another.

Therefore those who pin the argument for autistic's rights on the outcome of a science which can describe us in a positive way are on a hiding to nothing as the remedies are societal and to hope for a scientific justification is to bend science according to ones will, which of course is what all scientists and philosophers do anyway.

Autism finds itself wholly within the social model of disability for an explanation of how it is studied, valued, devalued or otherwise debated.


Socrates said...

I'll not attempt learned discourse:

The argument "Don't eradicate them because 1 in 200 is quite good at maths" is not a strong one.

Anonymous said...

I love it when you come up with the right and wrong answer at the same time. Thank you for admitting that Autism is a multi-faceted multi gene and social spectrum of extremes. You are wrong in stating and doing a disservice to those you teach if you can not grasp the fact that we can and will do more for individuals with Autism. Gut issues, speech issues, behavior, and much more can and will be addressed by science. Very soon studies will prove we did this to ourselves. Genetics may load the gun but environment pulls the trigger.

Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

"When I am in the company of scientists, I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a drawing room full of dukes."

Auden, W. H. on Science and Scientists

If we all felt like that, we wouldn't have the guts to question scientists at all. Thanks for this post. I agree with you. The purpose of science (and art) is the question. Science has not gotten us far in terms of human rights. It just continues to raise the question in our day, in my humble opinion, as to who has the "right" to exist. Do we need science to prove us worthy?

r.b. said...

One part of science is statistical replication for finding of "truth", but the other part is observation. Few "observe" without objectifying autism, turning it into something that makes sense to the observer, which is not pure science. (Rather like creating God in one's own image.) TOM is the NT explanation for the "disparate" functions of the "autistically" nuanced mind. Pure science is not lucrative and never has been...thus, there is little today.

Then again, I could be full of it.

Aspie Bird said...


Thanks for your contribution in answer to my blog!

I think you have a point about the avantages of getting older...

Take care,

Joseph said...

To evaluate your thesis, one would have to know what "the answers" means. If it means "everything about" autism, then yeah, it's doubtful science will provide all the answers. I do believe there are limitations in the world and in human advancements. For example, will we ever figure out how to reverse aging? Highly doubtful.

But can science provide some answers and some understanding? Absolutely.

laurentius rex said...

Anonymous I am not wrong. What I am doing is looking at Autism from beyond the narrow medical and scientific perspectives.

Even the common cold has a social dimension when one considers it's impact upon industry.

Gut issues are not autism, speech issues are not autism, autism is something more complicated than the sum of it's parts.

Genetics is not the whole picture, neither is environment, there are more complex forces at work, and at the end of the day autism only exists because we have created a name for it. Before that it was many other things, unrecognised and having a more subtle social impact on the societies of those times who did not have the same social conditions and the same institutions, educational, and medical practices which have seen autism defined since the 1940's in the various ways it has been.

You cannot cure autism because autism is beyond simple definition, and that is what worries me about the work of Simon Baron Cohen and his team these days, they are out on the fringes of "reality" as well.