Monday, August 08, 2005

Autism and the Times

When this article says, right up at the top, "But Mr. Summers was wrong to imply that these differences render any individual woman less capable than any individual man of becoming a top-level scientist,"
my first reaction was, "Where? Where did Summers say that? Is Baron-Cohen an idiot?"

Then, I thought, "Wait. Given the NYT's editing policies, I have no reason to believe Baron-Cohen wrote that sentence." Really.

The paper of record, indeed.

I'll move the Times and observe that Baron-Cohen walks up to the edge of maternal effect mutations, then backs off and waves his hands about assortative mating.

"Assortative mating" means (genetically) non-random mate choice. For example, people mate assortatively for things like height and hair color -- tall blonds are more likely to mate with tall blonds than would happen at random, which demonstrates that bags go over heads much less often than the popular expression would suggest. (In contrast, I've seen data that indicate feral cats mate randomly with respect to coat color.)

I'm surprised that Baron-Cohen doesn't even mention the solid, beautiful work of Charles Laird.

From Charles, we understand the genetics of Fragile-X syndrome (which, like Asperger's, overlaps with autism). Both its genetics and the biochemistry are surprisingly well-worked-out. That's usually a synonym for easy-to-understand, but not in this case. I will simply say that Fragile-X has a strong, interesting, and widely known, maternal-effect trigger.


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