Thursday, November 13, 2008

Autism and rainfall -- a sadly serious case of lying with statistics

So when I heard of the autism and rainfall study a few days ago, I thought it was a joke out of The Onion or similar publication. I realized today that it was an apparently serious study. Orac dissected the statistical details of the study, so I won't repeat that effort. But I wonder what the next correlate will be. Even more of a stretch is to try to pin this on mercury poisoning by claiming that rain is washing all the mercury out of the sky, with no mention of the seriously circuitous route the mercury would have to take to get from the sky to some small child's brain.

While we don't understand the mechanism of autism nor the relationship between heredity and environment in autism etiology, and while it's certainly a good idea to reduce environmental mercury in every reasonable way we can, suffice it to say that nothing good comes from such a missapplication of scientific and statistical principles to these important issues.