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Medicine Idle

Could Assortative Mating Explain Autism? 286

Posted by samzenpus
from the and-nerd-begot-nerd dept.
clm1970 writes "Researcher Simon Baron-Cohen has put forth the theory that 'how we mate and marry' could explain the increase in rates of Autism Spectrum Disorders, particularly Asperger's. When two technically minded people marry and have children, so the provocative theory goes, they are more apt to produce a child who crosses the line into mild autism."
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Could Assortative Mating Explain Autism?

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  • but... (Score:2, Funny)

    by jaf0 (1689558)
    isn't one of the major tenets of geekdom the inability to attract the opposite sex?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      To break the slashdot-ism: if that were the case the first generation of geeks would never have had *any* offspring. Geeks take to coupling just like everything else they do, they either stumble at it, or become avid-amateurs until they succeed.

    • Shhhh.. You're ruining the fascination created by the article. Direct quote from it: "The theory is still largely speculation, shored up by seductive anecdotes"

      I kid you not.

      Kid. Ha. I made a funny.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        But isn't the plural of anecdote data?

      • Shhhh.. You're ruining the fascination created by the article. Direct quote from it: "The theory is still largely speculation, shored up by seductive anecdotes"

        Seductive anecdotes?

        Dear Penthouse Forum,
        I wish to provide your esteemed publication with further data points on the "Once you go black" hypothesis....

    • Re:but... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @04:42PM (#37196310)

      That's only true during high school and college, strangely enough when the 6 digit salary starts rolling in your average geeks attractiveness coefficient increases by 2 orders of magnitude.....

      Obviously I'm not suggesting correlation implies causation but never the less.

      • Re:but... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by j-pimp (177072) <zippy1981@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @04:59PM (#37196554) Homepage Journal

        That's only true during high school and college, strangely enough when the 6 digit salary starts rolling in your average geeks attractiveness coefficient increases by 2 orders of magnitude.....

        Obviously I'm not suggesting correlation implies causation but never the less.

        To be honest, I think at some point geeks are put in a situation where they want to become social around that salary level. They enter the work force with jobs that accept them for who they are and a sort of Peterson Principle thing happens when they get promoted to senior guy. Their incompetent at the interfacing and mentoring thing, except they actually want to do them since they actually respect the more technical project managers, and care about showing the young-ins the ropes, so they learn to be competent at them. As a side effect of this, and also being older and more confidant because they care less about being awkward. As a nice side effect of all this, the ladies that are initially attracted to geeks for their money find their personalities worth sticking around for.

      • I don't think that the cliché is that geeks never have an opportunity to mate. Copulating for recreation and copulating for reproduction are two different things, and adult geeks are good target for the latter.

    • by kyrsjo (2420192)
      I dunno how it is in your corner of the world, but in mine there are geeks of both sexes... And as the summary says, similar people are often attracted to each other :)
    • by roc97007 (608802)

      That became less true when geeks started to make serious money, but it's still an issue, yes.

  • by x_IamSpartacus_x (1232932) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @04:17PM (#37195920)
    FTFA

    The theory of "assortative mating" was first put forth by neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen, a leading autism researcher and something of a rock star in the field. He's the first cousin of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, and like his cousin, his prolific work tends toward the out-of-the-box. Combine that with his outspokenness — uncommon for a scientist — and it's clear why at a recent international conference in San Diego, he was "frequently mobbed by fellow attendees and treated with near universal adulation," Warner writes.

    I don't have proof but this guy looks and sounds like he's just putting for a controversial theory to be controversial and get his name in the papers. I wouldn't give much credit here.

    • by TobiasTheCommie (768719) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @04:36PM (#37196214) Homepage

      Simon Baron-Cohen has made many a theory on the etiology of Autism. And all of them have fallen by the way side.

      I don't understand why he is regarded as a scientist since he keep coming out with these stupid ideas.

      A few years ago it was a "Too neanderthal brain". Then a few years later it was "Too much male hormone in the uterus". And now it is is this. *sigh*

      He comes up with one idea, and once that is shown to be false, he just throws a new one out there.

      As a professional in this area. And as someone with autism. I totally disregard anything and everything he has to say.

      • what is your take on the idea that vitamin D deficiency plays a part in autism spectrum disorders?
        I recently read a fairly convincing article on the subject, but don't know anyone smart enough to discuss it with.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        So he can only be regarded as a scientist if he puts forth ideas that check out. I don't think you understand how science works (Observe, theorize, test, repeat.) His contribution so far: We know some things that do not cause autism and we have more things to test.

        • by SecurityGuy (217807) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @05:26PM (#37196886)

          I see your point, but the counter is that a scientist puts forth ideas with some merit and actually tests them. If you just toss ideas out into the world, you're not a scientist, you're a philosopher. If you just toss ideas out into the world without any regard to reasonableness, you're a crackpot or a crank. For example, if you postulate that long ago some powerful being threw a bunch of people into volcanoes and that those souls or whatever now plague mankind and are responsible for every bad thing that happens to you, you are not a scientist.

      • by samkass (174571)

        Besides, other *actual* research seems to contradict his theory. Siblings have a 25% greater chance of having autism than unrelated people if one is diagnosed, and identical twins have 50% greater... but fraternal twins have a 33% greater chance. That's pretty much a dead ringer proof that it is a mix of both genetics and environment-- otherwise fraternal twins would have exactly the same chance as non-twin siblings.

        • by _0xd0ad (1974778)

          Siblings have a 25% greater chance ... fraternal twins have a 33% greater chance. That's pretty much a dead ringer proof that it is a mix of both genetics and environment

          Not proof... it could also have to do with the environment of the sperm, which might change in the months or years between non-twin siblings.

          • by Dr. Spork (142693)
            Good point. Or it could have to do with the hormonal soup that the fraternal twins were exposed to in utero. (Same soup ~ more similar autism expression)
        • Certainly, intriguing, but not "dead ringer proof". It could also be that fraternal twins are more likely to be tested for autism if their twin is diagnosed than a non-twin sibling. You have to keep in mind that those statistics aren't giving chances of _having_ autism. Instead, they're giving changes for being _diagnosed_ with autism.

        • by Toonol (1057698)
          Those are suspiciously round percentages.
      • by bitt3n (941736)
        As a professional in this area, and as someone with autism, I note with interest that the number of words containing a prime number of vowels that Baron Cohen has used in his collective writings a prime number of times is also a prime number.
      • Simon Baron-Cohen has made many a theory on the etiology of Autism. And all of them have fallen by the way side.

        I don't understand why he is regarded as a scientist since he keep coming out with these stupid ideas.

        A few years ago it was a "Too neanderthal brain". Then a few years later it was "Too much male hormone in the uterus". And now it is is this. *sigh*

        He comes up with one idea, and once that is shown to be false, he just throws a new one out there.

        As a professional in this area. And as someone with autism. I totally disregard anything and everything he has to say.

        If his hypothesis is correct, we should observe that the increase in autism is among the children of paired geeks. Is there any evidence to suggest such?

        Can *any* demographic be associated with parents of autistic children?

    • For proof, you could check out any other news article with him in it.

    • by rssrss (686344)

      Actually, he trying to prove that he is funnier than his cousin.

    • by Toonol (1057698)
      I don't have proof but this guy looks and sounds like he's just putting for a controversial theory to be controversial and get his name in the papers.

      Except... I wouldn't have thought this theory was controversial. Maybe to Autism researchers it is, but to the vast unwashed masses of laypeople, this seems like the most obvious, unsurprising answer.
  • So (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stargoat (658863) * <stargoat@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @04:17PM (#37195924) Journal

    So we should cause cheerleaders to date nerds, and football players fangirls? Maybe no one who can name all eleven doctors should be allowed to marry at all, but rather should be put full time to impregnating Olympic athletes?

    I like the idea that Aspergers is associated directly with intelligence. I also like the whorish way that the paper's author plays with the concept of eugenics to get more hits.

    I also like the way that the author tries to ignore environmental conditions such as increased urbanization and subsequent hyper-socialization.

    • by Apuleius (6901)

      As Simon Baron Cohen puts it, (roughly) Asperger's Syndrome is the label you get if you're autistic but also intelligent enough to at least try to cope.

      • And mildly autistic is the label you get if you don't fit in nor care to?

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Mildly autistic isn't a technical term as far as I know. Autism is a very well defined diagnosis and you can't be just a little autistic.

          • by pspahn (1175617)

            Autism is a very well defined diagnosis and you can't be just a little autistic.

            Sure you can. That's why it's called the Autism Spectrum and systems like CARS (Childhood Autism Rating Scale) exist.

            The diagnosis for Autism might be boolean, but there are many other diagnoses that might not be Autism but remain on the Autism Spectrum.

      • Was that in his last movie? I missed that one. It just looked like a less good version of Borat to me.
        • by Beorytis (1014777)
          If you RTFA (!), you might be surprised (as I was) that the researcher (Simon) is actualy Sacha B-C's first cousin!
    • by roc97007 (608802)

      > Maybe no one who can name all eleven doctors [...]

      I'm sorry, really, but the first time I read that what shot through my mind was "Sure, I can do that. The first doctor. The second doctor. The third doctor." But that's either very silly or even more deeply geeky than what you meant. Can't decide. Never mind.

      Parenthetically, I'd bet lunch that my teenage daughter can name at very least the actors who played the doctor since 1996, and probably three of the "classic" doctors, and she actually has a

  • I read the article, but could not find anything. Is it just his speculation? It sounds, and I use this word lightly, plausible as a thought experiment. Question is, is it just that?

    I am diagnosed with AS and I am always interested in science behind it.
  • by spudnic (32107)

    Thanks, Mom and Dad.

  • by Insightfill (554828) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @04:20PM (#37195970) Homepage
    This has been SO covered before. [wired.com]

    Does TFA add anything new?

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @04:21PM (#37195982)

    Or so the article states. But, having read the article, the "results" are actually more speculation than anything else (and one line in the article says as much). He hasn't really studied it, he just thinks he's seen some evidence and decided to say so.

    Now to pull some criticism out of my nether regions (gotta match the story for scientific rigor)... based on my observations, this seems like groundless speculation. Looking at all the couples I know socially, none of them are in the same field. Broadening the search to people of whom I'm aware... maybe a total of two couples are in the same/similar fields; so I have a hard time believing this hypothesis will turn out to have any significant basis in fact.

  • yeah, no... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @04:22PM (#37195990)

    we all know autism/aspegers is caused by vaccines....

  • Diagnosis Criteria (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Blue Stone (582566) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @04:22PM (#37195996) Homepage Journal

    Increasing rates in Autism are due to the ever expanding classification system of the DSM. Behaviour that was previously not included in the 'diagnosis' (qualifications, if you prefer) are now included.

    You could read Jon Ronson's Psychopath Test for a small insight into the way the people behind the categorisation process simply make shit up and grow the criteria for inclusion to a category like they're pulling rabbits out of a hat stuffed with millions of rabbits.

    • by tomhudson (43916)

      You could read Jon Ronson's Psychopath Test for a small insight into the way the people behind the categorisation process simply make shit up and grow the criteria for inclusion to a category like they're pulling rabbits out of a hat stuffed with millions of rabbits.

      Of course they're doing this - it's entirely expected behaviour. After all, the more people they can mis-diagnose, the more $$$$.

      They have to make up for all the revenue they lost with previous false claims that ulcers were caused by a neur

  • by poofmeisterp (650750) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @04:22PM (#37196000) Journal

    Quote from article: "The theory is still largely speculation, shored up by seductive anecdotes about Asperger's appearing unusually commonly in MIT alums and their children..."

    Let us know when you have more than speculation and we will be quite interested.

    By the way, I was diagnosed with Asperger's so this isn't a troll post. Theory becoming something that gets peoples' minds moving in a direction that can cause false categorization of ideas is normal but not newsworthy.

    Actually, yeah, it is. Fear, panic, and fascination keep the money flowin' :)

    • It's the same as with ADHD: once they made a psychological profile for it, and started applying it to everyone, they suddenly found large numbers of sufferers. Of course, in case of ADHD the profile was largely made up, so now they put 3y olds on speed.

      It's good to know that there are people whose minds works a bit different from average, but that doesn't mean you have to start putting all people in pigeon holes.
  • Here is an article almost a /decade/ old on this:

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aspergers.html [wired.com]

  • Look at the pet choice to determine the likelihood of a family having an autistic child. If the family has cats, (or just fish or reptiles), they're more likely to have children with autism than a family who has several social dogs.
  • An interesting question is whether people capable of intense mental focus (which may be medicalized into an Asperger's diagnosis)
    are better at programming and thus go into it or related fields, and are thus found in higher percentages among geeks, or...

    Does programming train (and eventually re-pattern the connections of) the brain into being more deeply attention-focussed, thus
    causing Asperger's syndrome.

    There is no doubt that patterns of mental work re-shape the brain's connections and tendencies
    (e.g. Prol

  • They're also just the kind of obsessive types who will become convinced that their kid has autism the second he/she acts a little shy....and the kind of people who will take him/her to the pediatrician and pepper the good doctor with their "autism" observations until he finally relents and labels the kid an autistic tard and dopes him up on whatever-the-fuck autism drug happens to be hot today....and the kind of people who will then tell everyone who will listen all the details of the "autistic" kid and his

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      That is more true than many would like to think. There are 2 ways this can happen:
      1. For poor kids, a good-hearted but misguided social worker may try to give them a diagnosis so they have a better chance of passing in school.
      2. For rich kids, parents will try to give them a diagnosis in order to give them a leg up on exams, get them into and through good schools, and so forth.

      What the diagnosis is changes: 15 years ago, the kids were all getting diagnosed with ADHD. About 7 years ago, it became autism or A

      • Still plenty of ADHD cases around- and in my anecdotal observations of the ones I'm aware of I would consider them legitimate dx at that.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        1) social workers don't diagnose kids.

        2) rich people don't already have the best tool for their kids getting a leg up: Money.

        ADHD is not Aspergers . The understanding of the difference in the last 10 years or so is why you see a difference in diagnoses rates. People still have ADHD and some people have Aspergers syndrome. There no longer dump into the same group.

      • They did a study and found that there was regional bias for ADHD diagnoses.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      I have never seen that, and all the doctors I have talked to who specialize in this have clear ways to determine autism.
      new technique for diagnoses and better understand is what the change is.

      You are factual wrong and have no idea of the science that is going on. They only person people want to here less from then someone yammering on about their kids is you.

      • by elrous0 (869638) *

        Oh. it's SCIENCE, huh? Thanks for letting me know that there is now an objective blood test for this condition. Because I was ignorantly under the impression that diagnosis still consisted of subjective observations from some random asshole doctor, who may or may not have any fucking clue what he's even doing.

  • by Apuleius (6901) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @04:36PM (#37196212) Journal

    Under the Americans With DIsabilities Act, Asperger's Syndrome is a get-out-of-stupid-corporate-team-building-activity-free card.

    Now just try to claim, without giggling, that you're not tempted to go out and get diagnosed.

  • I thought it was long established that autism has strong genetics factors, and that mild forms of autism are more strongly represented in technical fields than non-technical fields. Why is it shocking that when two people marry who are both from a population with a strong predisposition towards autism, their child has a higher chance to get autism as well?

    Either there's something in the paper I'm missing, or the submitter got trolled by the language used in the paper.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      "I thought it was long established that autism has strong genetics factors" - Probably

      "and that mild forms of autism are more strongly represented in technical fields than non-technical fields." - false

  • You know I always did find jocks (and military guys) physically attractive, maybe I'm doing it wrong going after those cute awkward dorky guys...

    I should be thinking of the children I'm unable to produce with another guy!

  • They are missing an essential component for procreation.... Which would be a woman.

    And I'm someone who knows, not that I would *want* to have a kid (I would never torture another human to have my face)...

  • How long did it take them to come up with this theory...

    Anyway. Just one more reason to find a not too bright 24 years old with long blonde hair and big boobs...

  • by geekoid (135745)

    it's 'on the rise' because it is recognized and diagnosed more accurately.

    "The theory is still largely speculation, shored up by seductive anecdotes about Asperger's appearing unusually commonly in MIT alums and their children,"

    So..not a theory at all. Simply a musing, one that's trying to solve a problem that doesn't actual exist. The problem being 'why it's on the rise', not that Asperger isn't real.

    And so is Assburgers. That's a nod to cracked.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      > it's 'on the rise' because it is recognized and diagnosed more accurately.

      That's certainly possible. That's true of a lot of afflictions -- that they're being recognized and diagnosed more accurately these days. But it's also possible that at least in some cases, it's being overdiagnosed, or "diagnosed" by non-professionals (school counselors for instance -- aw, don't get me started...) and repeated as true, skewing our perceptions.

  • by roc97007 (608802)

    Good thing my wife can't figure out which end of a cell phone to talk into. Daughter (now a teen) is social and a geek. I guess I got lucky.

  • As someone with mild Asperger's, I call bollox on this.

    While it seems self-evident that like-minded people would breed, concentrating certain traits, and some of those traits may lead to ASD-like symptoms, I think the whole matter is overblown.

    For one thing, it's already well established that the increase in diagnosis is due to greater awareness of the condition and a broadening of the definition. If we applied today's ASD standards to people in the 19th century, you would get nearly the same rate of ASD f

  • there's a much better explanation, based on someone who quotes cured quotes her son of autism. she hypothesised that autism was caused by excessive toxins reaching the brain.

    she hypothesised and then proved through simply looking up existing medical research that the toxins get there because of strong antibiotics and the practice of immunisation killing "good" bacteria as well as bad, leaving a body that is completely devoid of bacteria that then re-grows, and re-forms "pockets" of bad bacteria that are bo

  • Of geeks bearing geeks?

  • What increases autism rates is an increase in the diagnosis of autism.

    I don't know if people have realized this, but nobody is an asshole anymore. Now people are 'borderline personality disorder' or 'aspergers' or 'bipolar' -- but people haven't changed, just diagnosis.

    Personally, I still think some people are still just assholes. Not that I don't ascribe to mental illness -- I most certainly do believe people can have those aforementioned conditions -- but I think problems are over-diagnosed and over-med

  • A simple regression should settle whether this theory has legs: We all know that autism diagnoses are exploding. If this is the driving force of the explosion, then families who are nowhere near technical fields should see their autism rates stay at the historical average. Is that happening? This is the first and obvious question. If it is not happening, if autism rates are going up among all demographics, then the "more interbreeding geeks" explanation is just clearly wrong.
  • Nope... it's his cousin [wikipedia.org]. Small world huh?

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