Finding a cure for autism has always been a controversial quest. This week, American scientists have found a link between a mother’s exposure to agricultural pesticides and autism. It’s as much as a two-thirds increase in the likelihood of having a child with a developmental delay or form of autism – and the correlation is stronger when exposure occurs during the second and third trimesters. Most of the chemicals were organophosphates and pyrethroids, both of which already have bad environmental reputations for adversely affecting childhood development and a whole range of nervous and dermatological side effects, respectively. Of course, we should always be very careful to check the statistics in these situations. Don’t forget, aside from the MMR scare, mistaking correlation for causation can make you a laughing stock in the scientific community – so make sure you read the whole article carefully. It’s a highly challenging and sensitive area that all Medics, Nat Sci (B) students and, well, all of us should be aware of: Chemists and Biochemists need to consider the pesticides, Statisticians might need to help with the data and Lawyers and Economists may end up involved in the process as well.
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