I see that autism media darling and pop psychology icon Simon Baron-Cohen has yet another article in forbes concerning his work The article in part talks about Baron-Cohen's theories about autism being found proportionately more in families where the fathers are engineers and scientists and that assortive mating may be at work to produce autistic children. Baron-Cohen still seems to hold onto the theory that persons who are computer engineers can now meet their wife who works in a likewise profession and this is what may be in part what is causing the increase in autism. This is in spite of the fact that he contradicts himself within the same article stating that a lot of the increase is a result of increased awareness and better detection. He also goes on with the same old completely unscientific assertion that getting rid of autism would rid the genes for mathematics and engineering and that if we cured autism the world would be deprived of engineers and scientists. This is in spite of the research that was done in Israel not long ago suggesting some cases of autism could be caused by de novo mutations in older fathers with defective sperm. Also the research of Jonathan Sebat would seem to prove him wrong as well. Though I am loathe to use him as an example, Laurent Mottron, whom I wrote about in my previous post, has done some research suggesting that de novo mutations of some genes play a role in autism. As far as I know, there is no evidence from a peer reviewed publication which supports the assertion of SBC (as well as Temple Grandin) that genes for autism have stayed in the population due to evolutionary advantage or because they made good engineers or scientists. Not long ago I wrote an essay debunking Baron-Cohen's and Grandin's notion. These two individuals, one of whom is not autistic and the other who is not afflicted as badly as I am seem to think my suffering is necessary to society, a notion I take umbrage to.
Baron-Cohen, who has researched these talents in fathers of autistic children, is now trying to do research on the mothers of the children to try to give some credence to this seemingly wacky theory he has. He wanted to use MIT as a laboratory to test these theories. Fortunately they had the good common sense to turn him down.
There are a few things I have thought of just now that i did not think about before that are pertinent to this issue. I thought I would write about them in this blog post. I have been to a variety of autism gatherings and conferences and have met many parents. It is true that a few of the fathers that I met or fathers of autistic persons that I did meet (including my own father) were either engineers or physicists. Of course these were a minority of the fathers. Others had various occupations including dentist, lawyer, physician, food service industry, fire inspector, UPS delivery man, accountant, etc. So obviously being a physicist and engineer is not a requisite to being a parent of an autistic. I have met numerous mothers as well. Not a single one of them was a physicist or an engineer or worked in a related field. Interestingly enough my own sister who is the mother of two sons is a Ph.D. computer scientist. Her husband is a Ph.D. physicist as are his brother and his father. Neither of my nephews has autism and as far as I know there is no family history of autism in my brother-in-law's family. (I realize this data is anecdotal).
I also wonder why a computer engineer would end up necessarily marrying someone who worked in the same occupation. My father, who was one of the earliest computer engineers met my mother at a party through mutual friends. My mother never worked in the IT field. My father's old boss, met his wife while they were both graduate students. His wife was pursuing a masters degree in romance languages in the humanities. One programmer my father worked with married a woman with a degree in English literature who never worked in an IT profession either.
Though the Forbes article does not go into Baron-Cohen's "geeks get lucky" theories about computer people being socially inept and only being able to meet their wife only after more women went into the profession, I believe my examples disprove this. After all, my father worked with many men who were engineers and programmers during the nascence of computers in the 1950s and 1960s. Most of them were married and apparently they had no trouble finding a spouse.
Also though MIT did not want SBC using their campus as a proving grounds, he could also look at the latest California autism report for some data. I wrote about this in a previous gadfly post He would see in looking at the growth rate of autism in the 21 California regional centers of the state department of developmental services, the San Andreas regional center, which serves the Silicon Valley, a bastion of IT workers, was 9th in growth out of 21, well behind the regional centers in the Los Angeles area with far less engineers per capita.
In my last post, I questioned why Autism speaks would give half a million dollars to someone like Laurent Mottron. Now, in the same vein, I wonder why SBC gets any funding at all. Why anyone would take this man seriously. Yet he seems to get funding for his research, peer review approval for publication in various journal articles and attention of the media. As is the case with Mottron, I guess I will have to be mystified.
Well soapbox mode off now.