Media coverage of autism differs dramatically

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Autism

Sifting through the pages of newspapers, most people reading stories about autism would think scientists are primarily grappling with understanding how environmental factors, such as childhood vaccines, might contribute to the condition. But the truth is quite different. The efforts of the scientific community to explore autism lie predominantly in brain and behavior research.

This disconnect between the scientific community and the popular media is starkly laid out in a study published in the February issue of Nature Reviews Neuroscience by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

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The researchers found that while 41 percent of research funding and published scientific papers on autism dealt with brain and behavior research, only 11 percent of newspaper stories in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada dealt with those issues. Instead, 48 percent of the media coverage dealt with environmental causes of autism, particularly the childhood MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella that was once linked with autism in a widely refuted study. Only 13 percent of published research was about environmental triggers of autism.

"What was very interesting is that media frequently reported being very skeptical of the MMR evidence, as was scientific literature," said Judy Illes, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and senior author of the paper. The media stories accurately reflected scientific thinking, but didn't reflect the breadth of scientific research including the genetics, treatment and epidemiology of autism.

Illes and her co-authors В

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