Jim Carrey vs. science

I did not think it worth wasting my time addressing the fact what Jim Carrey thinks about vaccines– as befits the former s.o. of Jenny McCarthy, he’s pretty skeptical.  Phil Plait of Slate does think it’s worth his time to debunk Carrey, so feel free to check that out.

I got excited today, though, as I learned that one of the kids that Carrey high-lighted as damaged by vaccines actually has a very clear cause of his autism– Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.  That’s right, the rare genetic disease that my son has.  So, some good as come out of this– more attention for TSC.  Nice write-up by science writer Emily Willingham:

Actor Jim Carrey took to Twitter this week to draw attention to a long-time cause of his, campaigning for what he calls “greener” vaccines. He was trying to make some points about his opposition to the newly signed California law requiring vaccines for all children attending schools in the state, allowing only medical exemptions. In his attempt, Carrey unleashed a series of tweets with statements such as “A trillion dollars buys a lot of expert opinions. Will it buy you? TOXIN FREE VACCINES, A REASONABLE REQUEST!” along with images of distressed children.

As it turns out, one of those children was Alex Echols, whose family emphatically did not give Carrey permission to use the image of their son in his tweets about vaccines and weren’t too happy about his having done so.

Carrey appears to be among those who believe that vaccines cause autism…

But Carrey’s efforts did more than draw attention to his belief that vaccines contain “neurotoxins” and cause autism, one of Alex’s diagnoses. Because of Carrey’s use of Alex’s image and the resulting story blowing up around it, he’s also inadvertently drawn attention to a genetic condition that has been confirmed as associated with autism: tuberous sclerosis.

[Disclosure: Because of my involvement in a “mom group” many years ago, I was briefly familiar with Alex and his mother at the time he was diagnosed.]

The condition gets its name from the potato (tuber)-like growths that develop in the brain, as visible on MRI, that eventually harden, or sclerose. It traces to two gene variants that result in the development of these benign growths in many tissues. ‘Benign’ references only the fact that they aren’t cancer—their effects are not benign, particularly in the central nervous system. While the effects can be mild, often the condition is associated with epilepsy, developmental delay, and … autism.

In fact, about a third to half of children who have tuberous sclerosis could also be diagnosed with autism. Each condition is associated with seizures, and there are hints that disrupted connections among brain regions might be responsible for both the seizures and the social communication deficits of autism.

It’s ironic that Jim Carrey, in his effort to argue a debunked link between vaccines and autism, accidentally drew attention to one of the few factors that have been strongly linked to autism. Some celebrities, however, such as Julianne Moore, were way ahead of the curve and have been working a little more deliberately to draw attention to tuberous sclerosis.

This is about as much media coverage as I’ve ever seen for TSC— so, thanks Jim Carrey!

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Solve this!

Love this “problem solving test” from Dave Leonhardt in the Upshot.  Try it out (seriously!) then come back.

What a great way to show confirmation bias.  I’m happy to report that I was in the 23% that did not write a rule until I had a no (in fact, I wasn’t sure, until I had three no’s–wanted to make sure the rule did not involve positive numbers only, etc.).  Of course, this is a great example of why social science training is so handy.  I had a hypothesis and rather than trying to confirm it, I tried combinations to dis-confirm it.  Anyway, pretty cool.

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