Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

My Publicist Ate My Homework

I recently wrote a post about a news story which, after describing new research by Dr. Manuel Casanova on the structure of the autistic brain, informed its audience that the research would be used for "wiping out autism entirely." I wrote about how disgusted I was that anyone would use this sort of language.

Dr. Casanova has since posted on both the Autism Vox blog and the Aspies for Freedom forum, asserting that he was misquoted. He wrote:

"I never said that I was getting ready to wipe out autism. The attribution should go to the reporter. I never said most of the statements in that release, they came from the publicist who was there with me. "

He has maintained a polite and respectful tone in his discussion with autistic activists who questioned him about the interview, and I'm amenable to giving him the benefit of the doubt as to his intentions. Still, this debacle goes to show that anyone who is doing research on autism, or who is marketing products or services to the autistic community, needs to be very careful about how their work is presented. It's not enough just to hand the task off to a publicist who knows nothing about the autistic community. Anyone who employs a publicist to write a press release about a new discovery or product related to autism has the responsibility, first, to ensure that the publicist is reasonably well informed, and second, to review the press release before it is given to the media.

One person who commented on Dr. Casanova's posts on Aspies for Freedom pointed out that the autistic community has "become rather paranoid of late." I would describe that as a major understatement. The autistic community is in a desperate struggle for survival. We know that there really are influential, well-financed organizations spreading hate and prejudice against autistics—organizations that would like nothing better than to see every autistic person wiped out. We know that if the eugenicists had their way, the entire global autistic population, recently estimated at 70 million, would go the way of Down Syndrome—deemed categorically unfit to live, reduced to a few isolated survivors treated as subhuman curiosities, always facing the stares and whispers of strangers: "Didn't her mother know there was a prenatal test?"

So when we see a news story about someone proposing to wipe out autism, many of us take it at face value and respond accordingly. Anyone who wants to sell autism-related products or services had better be aware that using careless language with even the slightest whiff of eugenics could turn out to be a major marketing disaster. To the autism industry: Do your homework.



  • Thanks for posting the links. I'm glad Dr. Casanova is trying to set the record straight---at least somewhat.

    My husband is active in local politics and organizations in our small town.

    Twice he has been misquoted or misrepresented in our local bird-cage liner by lazy reporters who could have asked him for a direct quote or clarification simply by picking up the phone.

    It drives him absolulely batshit.

    So I can see how a reporter might not want clarification to muck up the works of their intended slant.

    It's scary to think how frequently this happens. :-(

    By Blogger Attila The Mom, at 1:57 PM  

  • It was probably the University PR dept. but he has a responsibility to provide them with an accurate summation of his research and to proof read the final copy before it's released.

    Of course I have to question the judgment of any legitimate researcher who chooses to present at the Mercury-One conference.

    If we only had a mini-column chelation agent.

    By Blogger notmercury, at 2:37 PM  

  • Take a look at the conversation I've been having with Dr. Casanova on http://www.brownianemotion.org/2006/07/12/autism-and-the-brain/

    It would be good if Kathleen Seidel research his work.

    By Blogger not my blg, at 11:55 AM  

  • FWIW, Dr. Casanova's research is scientifically relevant. But some of the interpretations make no sense to me ("not enough juice to power the connections") and at this point it's not clear if those are Casanova's interpretations or the media's.

    Just having different neuron densities is sufficient to explain phenotypical and developmental differences. As someone with interest in neural network theory, I can take a guess why that is. If you make a neural net too complex, it's harder to train and harder to untrain too.

    By Blogger Joseph, at 5:23 PM  

  • Another way to explain it is: Why hasn't the human brain evolved to be twice the size it is now? (Granted, "enough juice" might apply as an answer to this question to an extent).

    Neanderthals had about 10% larger brain volume than Homo Sapiens. Yet it appears that Homo Sapiens were able to communicate a lot better, and had the upper hand.

    By Blogger Joseph, at 5:31 PM  

  • We had an amusing incident out at the ballgame in early June - someone in our group (we went with a bunch of science fiction fans) said something about an author who had been fucking her publicist (literally, possibly figuratively as well), and someone scolded that person for using such language around children (none close, but maybe some within earshot).

    So my husband jumped to the speaker's defense, angrily informing the scolder that "publicist" was a perfectly acceptable word.

    (I'm the one who made the query as to literalness vs. figurativeness of the fucking in question.)

    (And if this comment is too extreme on the basis of language, please delete it.)

    By Blogger Julia, at 8:32 PM  

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