That’s better…

by Purple Wyrm on September 27, 2010

OK, my blog is now starting to look more like I want it to. Need to get that header sorted out, and rearrange the sidebar a bit, then I might finally be satisfied.

In my perambulations around the net the other day I stumbled over this quite remarkable page –The Neanderthal Theory of Autism. It’s a page outlining a theory that Autistic spectrum disorders are actually the legacy of breeding between modern humans and Neandertals in prehistoric Europe, and that the symptoms of autism are actually Neandertal traits.

It’s an interesting idea and there’s some interesting evidence in there (the much higher rate of autism in European as opposed to African populations for instance) but there’s also a lot of absolute fruit-loopery of the highest order dressed up in the garb of science.

The basic methodology seems to work like this…

1) Neandertals may have done things this way
2) Some Autistics do things this other way
3) The first way and the second way are kind of similar
4) Therefore Autistics must be Neandertals! It all fits!

For instance, this piece of crystal clear logic…

Most of the finds of Neanderthals are from caves. It’s possible that Neanderthals spent a lot of time in caves, or maybe they hibernated there during winter. Autistics have a fascination for caves. Many autistics are afraid of the sound of a motor-bike. A motor-bike sounds similar to a bear. It is possible that the instintive (sic) reaction of autistics when they hear the sound of a motor-bike triggers an ancient fear for cave-bears.

Uhhhh…. OK, let’s look at this bit by bit. Yes, most Neandertal finds do come from caves, but this has less to do with the habits of Neandertals and more to do with the fact that caves are very good at preserving old bones, so that’s where we tend to look for them. I mean sure, Neandertals may have been hanging out in caves all the time, but you can’t build a hypothesis around the fact that we’ve gotten very good at narrowing down our search for archaeology over the last 200 years.

Autistics have a fascination for caves“. We do?! No one told me this!? I shall have to start looking for a cave to be fascinated by right away!!! Honestly…

Motor-bikes, well, yes, the sound of a motor cycle does freak me out a bit, particularly if it comes tearing around a corner at full roar without any warning. But that’s not because it sounds like a bear, it’s because it’s a loud, sudden noise. Autistics don’t like loud sudden noises of any kind, be they engines, thunder, gunshots or – yes I suppose – cave bears. You might as well argue that Autistics are scared of the sound of motor cycles because the people who ride them tend to be large and hairy, and hence resemble cave bears.

The entire work is full of this kind of stuff. Particularly annoying (or laughable, depending on how you look at it) is the chain of supposition which will state tentatively that Neandertals might have behaved in a certain way, or might have had a certain trait, and then roll on into the next sentence on the confident assumption that they definitely did. That’s not science, that’s wish fulfilment.

So yes, an interesting theory, but let’s try and find some real evidence to back it up before we go riding off into the sunset clinging to the fur of a mammoth (which is apparently why Autistics like climbing over things…)

Sheeze!

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