September 5, 2006

"Anti-dork spin: Maybe guys likely to have autistic kids tend not to become dads as early as other guys."

William Saletan is getting really good at taking a science story, predicting how it will be spun, and putting the spin in a pithy one liner.


Dr. Melissa said...

For once, it's not the mother's fault. Hallalujuah!

Glenn Howes said...

I'd recommend keeping on reading past the autism part. Lots of good science tidbits including the following.

Scientists are trying to stop fetal sharks from eating each other in the womb. A mother gray nurse shark carries 40 or so embryos in her two wombs. But once an embryo develops jaws, it starts eating its siblings. Results: 1) Only one embryo survives in each womb. 2) The species is endangered.

Bruce Hayden said...

The correlation versus causation is interesting. We naturally seem to assume that stuff that happens together is somehow coordinated, and one affects the other. Or, we are left guessing at what third factor may be affecting the two correlated effects.

Autism/AS is on the rise, at least statistically. But we are left with the question of how much of it is detection error (i.e. we are now better at detecting it) and how much is real? My mostly uneducated guess is that both are implicated.

MadisonMan said...

Of course it's the mother's fault -- she's the one procreating with a geezer!

Bruce Hayden said...

I am glad though for women's sake that more of the blame for autism, etc. is on the fathers and that (in another article) some blame for later in life infertility can be placed on the guys. But we still have to see if it is because of their lack of fertility, or lack of interest - which can presumably be fixed through the miracle of modern pharmacy.

knoxgirl said...

What does this mean for Larry King's kids??

HaloJonesFan said...

It's been amusing to watch the trendy childhood mental illnesses come and go, and to realize that I would have been diagnosed with every single one of them if I'd been in grade school when they appeared. In the early nineties I'd have been dyslexic. In the late nineties I'd have had ADHD. In the early two-thousands, I'd be autistic. No doubt in another few years I'll have Immature Personality Disorder, or "Bankerman's Syndrome", or some other term to indicate that I am not fitting the Left/Liberal assumption that brains work the same way at two as they do at twelve, and the same way at twelve as they do at thirty.

AJ Lynch said...

I nominate Knoxgilr for best commenter on this blog in the consistently funny out of box category.

Tibore said...

"What does this mean for Larry King's kids??"

If it's a linear trend, what, they would've been at 1.something percent before they were born? Something like that?

If it's a logarithmic trend: They're screwed.

Bruce Hayden said...

Most likely, not a straight line function. It probably has something to do with aging, and if aging were straight line, then death rates from natural causes would not increase as you grow older, which they most assuredly do.

But this whole thing doesn't mention the age of the guys' mates. I think that it is also fairly well established that female fertility also drops through their thirties and forties, with increasing difficulty in getting pregnant and increasing difficulty in carrying to term (most likely a result of increased ovum chromosonal damage).

I think that it is likely that we will ultimately find that both sexes have decreasing fertility through increasing genetic damage as they age. What is interesting will be which turns out to be faster. My vote is for the male, due to the requirements for so many cell divisions required to produce sperm.

al said...

Saletan is pretty clueless.
your kids are also likely to be dumber?
When my daughter was diagnosed with Aspergers my wife and I started doing a lot of research about A.S. and Autism and one thing seems to have stood out - autistic kids are rarely "dumb". Hard to teach - yes but rarely dumb.

No mention of the possible link of early MMR vacination being a trigger for A.S./Autism.

As for Bruce's question about autism being on the rise - I don't think it is. The diagnosis is coming earlier and more accurately. I have no doubt that 30 years ago my daughter would have been labeled retarded and treated as such. Now she gets the help she needs and is turning out to be a pretty awesome kid.

MadisonMan said...

Bruce Hayden, I'd like the think that if the age of the women were relevant, it would have been reported. Having said that, it wouldn't surprise me if that part of the story wasn't reported, if it indeed exists. Scientific reporting is right up there military intelligence sometimes.

AJ Lynch said...


FYI- Saletan is probably well informed. There have been several studies that have shown that the older the father, the less intelligent the children. And this is not recent news.

I don't believe Saletan was tying this inteligence issue to autism thought I agree he did not make that very clear.

Pogo said...

In the late 1960s, when I was just a kid, my older brother was diagnosed with autism. We lived in Chicago then, and my Mom had the unique experience of going to the the Univ. of Chicago and having Bruno Bettleheim himself telling her it was her fault, that she had rejected her son in the womb, causing his autism.

Imagine the outcome on a woman who believed it, and never quite forgave herself. Bettleheim convinced my folks to give him away and never ever see him again. I still remember dropping him off at some godforesaken farm a few hours away; their mongrel dogs nipped at us all the way to the front door and back.

A year later, my Dad snuck back to see him and discovering that this 9 year old weighed 25 lbs less after a year there (he actually had kwashiorkor; I 've never seen it since then). My Dad kidnapped his son and we left the state within a few days.

We're still on the lam, I guess. And that bastard, BB? Died at 90, by his own hand.

So sure, let's blame Dad this time around.

boldface said...

I know individual cases aren't very revealing, but my daughter was born when I was 29. She scored 99th percentile on the SAT and is now at a highly selective Ivy League college. My son who was born 18 months later, when I was 30, is autistic.

Go figure.

johnstodderinexile said...

Women I know complain all the time about seeing movies where old guys like Jack Nicholson and Woody Allen have relationships with much younger women, and decry it when it happens in real life. But it was hard to pinpoint anything wrong with two consenting adults deciding to be together -- until now.

If this study holds up, older men dating or marrying younger women will become stigmatized -- perhaps illegal.

Independent George said...

What was that line from 'The Lion in Winter', when Katherine Hepburn tells Peter O'Toole that she only needed to delay his wedding, and not stop it?

Independent George said...

Ah, yes, here it is. Praise Google!

...Suppose I hold you back for one. I can. It's possible.

Suppose your first son dies. Ours did. It's possible.

Suppose you're daughtered next. We were. That, too, is possible.

How old is daddy then? What kind of spindly, rickett-ridden, milky, wizened, dim-eyed, gammy-handed, limpy line of things will you beget?