Autism Biomedical Information Network

What is "good" information?

One aim of this Web site is to provide high-quality ("good") information on biomedical aspects of autism. "Good" information has its origins in the scholarly pursuit of new information. Before this new information becomes incorporated into the body of factual knowledge it must meet the test of validation by either replication of data by other researchers or consensus amongst scholars in a particular discipline. The scholarly mind-set is to have an innate skepticism about information proffered as "fact" until a process of data replication or consensual validation has occurred. A disciplined scholarly mind uses tools of critical analysis and logic in evaluating data. The practitioners of scholarship are able to suspend final judgement and set aside a personal bias to objectively examine information. They are impatient of philistines who can't "be bothered with the facts" or who jump to a speculative conclusion without bothering to fill in the intermediate steps that justify the conclusion. Scientists and clinicians with a scholarly mind-set usually work in a particular field of study and have acquired an expertise on the subject. Many have written original papers and have attained wide recognition within their field. The aggregate of such experts constitute a sort of panel of peer-review of new knowledge on the subject.

What does all this mean for autism? It is easy to dream up theories about causes and treatments. However, claims as to causes or efficacy of a given treatment must meet the tests of peer-review, consensual validation, and replication of research data. A good rule is to always consider the source and be especially wary of a possible vested interest (including economic) in a particular theory or treatment. Is the source a respected professional who actually works with persons with autism and their families (for example, a psychiatrist, psychologist, educator, pediatrician, or a neurologist) or a basic scientist (for example, a cognitive neuroscientist, geneticist, etc.) with a track record of research and publications on autism in peer-reviewed journals? Is the professional on the staff of a comprehensive program, perhaps based at a university or teaching hospital, that provides a full range of services to persons with a developmental disability? If a new treatment is proposed, then it should meet the standards of "good research" and "good science."

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Commentary by Ronald J. Kallen, M.D., ©1999
This page last updated on 2/8/99