StATS: Why do we need research? (created 2006-05-31).

I help a lot of people to perform research and it's important to understand why research is important. We do research because good research drives out bad medical practices. That's worth highlighting and repeating:

Good research drives out bad medical practice.

Autism is a good example of why we need good research. Parents of children with autism have been victimized repeatedly by bad medical practice.

In the 1940s and 1950s, these parents suffered when Freudian Psychology deemed that "refrigerator mothers" were at fault. It's not hard to see how this theory came into prominence. Autistic children do not interact well with other people. Many of these children dislike hugs, kisses, and other physical contact. If the mothers of autistic children seemed to be uncaring, it was actually the result of the autistic behavior and not a cause.

Careful research was able to show that the type of parent that you are has no influence on whether your child will have autism.

Recent abuses include the use of chelation therapy to treat children with autism. Chelation is a useful treatment for children who suffer from heavy metal poisoning. There is a theory, quite controversial, that autism is caused by heavy metal poisoning and chelation therapy has been offered as a treatment for autism. There is no empirical evidence that chelation therapy is useful in treating autism and it does carry substantial risks. One autistic child died recently while being treated with chelation therapy.

Another good example of this type of abuse is facilitated communication. A nice summary of the abusive use of facilitated communication with autistic children appears in a recent issue of eSkeptic.

It is worth reading because it shows how careful research showed that facilitated communication does not help autistic children to express their thoughts.

This page was written by Steve Simon while working at Children's Mercy Hospital. Although I do not hold the copyright for this material, I am reproducing it here as a service, as it is no longer available on the Children's Mercy Hospital website. Need more information? I have a page with general help resources. You can also browse for pages similar to this one at Category: Critical appraisal.