Autism and Moral Panic

GNXP links to a TimeOnline story recounting the fallout over a recently leaked autism report being touted in some quarters as evidence for the widely discredited theory that autism is linked to the MMR vaccineSimon Baron-Cohen, a preeminent authority on autism (and neurological gender differences) was part of the research team behind report, and he does his futile best to quell the mounting hysteria. "I don’t believe that the MMR vaccine causes autism and I don’t believe that
there are hidden environmental reasons for any rise in cases," he states. "For the
moment, we should assume [any rise] is more to do with diagnostic practice."

Reading over the diagnostic criteria cited in the article, I’m more inclined than ever to
believe this whole "epidemic" can be explained as a moral panic fueled
in large measure by the rat-race expectations of upper-middle-class parents.  It may
turn out, as Baron-Cohen has speculated, that a modest spike in the incidence of aspergery temperamental traits can be traced to selective mating among "systemizing" tech nerds, but
to the extent that diagnostic bias is informed by culture (and doctor
shopping), I fear a lot of time and harmfully specious theorizing has
been expended over a nonexistent phenomenon. 

If Elaine Showalter ever writes a
sequel to Hystories, I hope she keeps this one in her sights.