Autism Caused By Highways?

“Epidemiology is nothing if not a productive field. All that is needed for success is a database (larger the better), a disease (any will do), and some minor facility with statistical software.”

William Briggs writes:

Our latest example is the Environmental Health Perspectives1 paper “Residential Proximity to Freeways and Autism in the CHARGE Study” by Volk et al.

The authors found a group of mothers who lived in California. They measured the distance these mothers lived to “freeways and major roadways” for the majority of their pregnancies. They also took note whether their children developed autism. They posited that living closer to freeways increased the risk of autism. They also measured mothers’ education, age, and smoking status, the kids’ race and whether the kids were preemies.

They purposely identified 304 kids with autism and 259 without from a database “frequency matched by sex, age, and broad geographic area.” Ideally, since this data was hand-picked, they should have had equal numbers in each group, and equal frequencies of boys in each group. But the autism group had 87% boys, while the normal group had 81%. In other words, by design (purposeful or accidental), they put more boys in the autism group than they put in the control group. They gave this difference a “Chi-square p-value” of 0.10. What does that number mean? Well, nothing (see the footnote2)…

Read Briggs entire analysis.

7 thoughts on “Autism Caused By Highways?”

  1. forgot to include the zhu references–which show air quality is background at 300 meters and beyond.

    these authors are so ambitious and so assertive that they don’t bother to consider what is the quality of air 500 meters from the road or 1000 –whatever.

    1. Zhu, Y, Hinds WC Seongheon K et. al. Study of ultrafine particles near a major highway with heavy-duty diesel traffic. Atomospheric Environment 2002; 36: 4325-35.
    2. Zhu Y, Hinds WC, Seongheon K, et. al. Concentration and size distribution of ultrafine particles near a major highway. Journal of Air & Waste Management 2002; 52: 1032-42.
    3. Zhu Y, Kuhn T, Mayo P, et. al. Comparison of Daytime and nighttime concentration profiles and size distribution of ultrafine particles near a major highway Environmental Science & Technology 2006; 40: 2531-36.

  2. I practiced medicine in Georgia in the 80s and found that many people who came o the emergency department had bad teeth, for lots of reasons and they smoked.

    as for the autism is caused by highways and freeways–they studied out to more than 1500 meters with would include obviously different strata but they forgot to do their toxicology. Zhu from So CA showed that the air is back to background beyond 300 meters. this study is junk, even if you ignore the fact that autism is not a disease in the regular sense of the word–it describes a pattern of mental disability invented to some extent so that parents could distinguish their children from the mentally retarded.

    any epidemiology that includes autism needs to be disregarded because the epidemic of autism is a reporting and diagnosis phenemenon–the cases of mental retardation and decreased in proportion to the increase in the autism.

  3. The Atlanta paper had a Junkscience article I think from CDC Feb 12 on a study that showed smokers had more problems with their teeth than nonsmokers. Stained teeth, gum disease, etc. They also found half the smokers hadn’t seen a dentist in over five years. They claimed smoking caused the teeth problems.

    In Georgia we have a state lottery that helps fund Georgia high school students going to college. Maybe one out of five going to college on lottery scholarships actually get a degree. Probably less than ten percent get a degree worth anything.

    The poor buy lottery tickets as investments. The rich buy stock certificates for investments and don’t buy lottery tickets. I would like to see a study on smokers buying lottery tickets. As a former smoker, I have to admit the least educated and poorer people smoke; while the wealthy and highly educated know smoking is a stupid waste of money. I would like to see a study on smoking and lottery playing. Both activities are unhealthy and life-threatening.

  4. Scientist’s seeking grants. They must be new at this. Injecting ‘global warming’ as a contributing cause, is always good for extra bucks.

  5. The most important conclusion is that Environmental Health Perspectives contains nothing but junk. Its publisher The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences also is a primary source of junk and should be disbanded along with EPA. I think that everyone should stop wasting their time reading them; there are some excellent comic books out there, which contain far more interesting material.

  6. Studies like this do prove one thing. The need to justify the existence of one’s chosen profession. If they are successful in getting something banned, they move on to something else and matters not what or if there is even any threat. They are desperate to find something to make “heroes” of themselves.

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