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Shame on You ABC News!

January 6, 2010

Another blow to the reasonable discussion of science was struck today, this time by ABC News.

A new study has been published in the journal Pediatrics. For this study, a team of 28 physicians and academic researchers reviewed a large number of published studies (82) on Autism Spectral Disorders (ASDs) and gastrointestinal (GI) disease. They spent two days at a conference in Boston discussing these studies and writing up an 18 page report summarizing their findings. (If you can’t get the .pdf of the report from the link, contact me at and I will send it to you).

So how does ABC news handle this complicated study that is difficult to understand yet contains information that could be very helpful to parents of children with ASD? It boils it down to a minute long clip, garbles the message completely, and then gets Jenny McCarthy to comment. Way to go ABC News! Equating 28 experts in science and medicine with a woman whose most notable publication was in Playboy? That’s insulting to everyone on Earth except possibly Jenny McCarthy.

The accompanying article by Lauren Cox, subtitled “Groups want more studies after panel says there’s no evidence for special diets” does a better job of discussing the points made in the paper, but sets up an unfortunate scientists vs. parents, they say vs. they say kind of tone.

If you read the study, you will see that the scientists DID NOT SAY that there is absolutely, positively no link between ASD and GI disorders, or that special diets (specifically the gluten-free, casein-free diet) do not work. They did say that there is not enough evidence to say whether or not there is a special class of GI disorders specific to children with ASD and that special diets may help some children but not others. It then calls for more large and well-controlled studies. Exactly the same message as the parents! Both groups want the same thing, why does ABC News imply otherwise?

The study also talks at length about GI disorders in children with ASD, which the study says may be more common than previously thought (again, exactly what parents are saying). It also states repeatedly how difficult it is to treat those children (as any parent with an ASD child will tell you). It discusses extensive treatment guidelines for physicians, parents, teachers and other caregivers with a focus on eliminating pain, reducing problem behaviors and making sure children are getting adequate nutrition in the process.

Please ABC News, this study is not contradicting parents, its supporting what they are saying and trying to help. Portray it in a more positive light.

I am working on another post to try to explain this critical ASD/GI study in non-medical jargon. Watch for it later in the week!

Thanks to Phil Plait over at the Discover Bad Astronomy blog for blogging about this story.

  1. Kathleen Loughran permalink

    To be fair to Ms. McCarthy she is also known for being the author of “Belly Laughs” and its follow up (title escapes me at the moment). However to call her more than informed and then pit her against experts is absurd. I have come to expect even less from our news. While I am not a minority there are many who do expect their news to be accurate. Journalism has lost any integrity. Again thank you for placing into laymen terms a summary of what the research was intended to share.

    • Kathleen you are right, I forgot about her (actually three) books, “Belly Laughs” “Baby Laughs” and “Life Laughs.” I also felt the Playboy crack could be considered a little harsh, but, as you saw, I was trying to make the point that ABC News obviously missed about the relative influence of 28 experts vs. 1 celebrity “spokesperson.” They could have gotten someone from Autism Speaks or another organization who knows the science. Or at least someone who read the paper they were commenting on.

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