Sunday, April 25, 2004

Enquirer Fact Checking Problem

A reader, Barbara, emailed and pointed out a problem with Linda Oda's guest column on Autistic children. The reader, the parent of a child with autism, found the ending of the column troubling and "lazy.":
About autism

April is National Autism Awareness month. The autism spectrum is one of the fastest-growing birth defects, up more than 800 percent in the past 15 years. Studies have shown that autistic children tend to be born to parents who have above-average intelligence and are successful in their fields. Typically, siblings are either gifted in some area or are autistic as well.

For more information, go to the Web site of the Autism Society of America, www.autism-society.org.
Barbra pointed out that if you were to go to the website listed in the article you would read on the front page the following:
What is Autism?

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, autism and its associated behaviors have been estimated to occur in as many as 2 to 6 in 1,000 individuals (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2001). Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than girls and knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not affect the chance of autism's occurrence. Frequently Asked Questions
The conflict? Compare this from the Enquirer column: "Studies have shown that autistic children tend to be born to parents who have above-average intelligence and are successful in their fields." and compare it to this "Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than girls and knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not affect the chance of autism's occurrence." Further digging in the autism website reports no known causes, but only some theories, none of which include an intelligence or career success factor. This definition seems to try and paint autism as a condition that tends to affect the affluent more than other groups. According to what I read on the website, this is not valid.

The rest of the column was excellent in my opinion at conveying some of the problems of parents with autistic children have. I do not mean to claim that autism is not something people should not be working to help cure or that Ms. Oda's comments should be ignored on the subject. Instead at the prompting of the reader I want to point out an error. If this error was part of the column or added by the editors is something the Enquirer might want to check out. Fact Checking is a dying element of journalism, which in newspapers is all but dead.

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