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ANTC68H3 Chapter Notes -Autism Spectrum, Victor Perez, Social Constructionism

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Week # 11: The Rhetoric of Science and Statistics in Claims of an Autism Epidemic by Victor Perez
Purpose: examine the rhetorical use of scientific medical evidence and diagnoses statistics in claim
making of childhood autism spectrum disorder
Qualitative study of content and dissemination of claims for social problems construction via
popular media, peer reviewed scientific literature and the Internet
Rhetorical use of etiological evidence positing a causal link between medical interventions,
environmental toxins and autism
Elucidates how the medicalization of childhood developmental disabilities and increased lay
involvemenet in the social problems process were vital for the proliferation of attention and
resources directed to autism presently
Lay social movement proceeds even with lack of scientific evidence
Conterversy over possible links to vaccines and other environmental toxins propelled the autism
Claims transcend and interact with familial, political, educational, legal, medical/scientific and
other fields for social problem construction
Some suggest that the increased prevalence of ASD is linked to methodological changes in
definition, measured and identification leading to increased incidence compared to past years
o Expanded diagnostic continumm broader range of conditions than the past in the DSM
for childhood ASD and related disorders
Increased medicalization of childhood learning and development disabilities and idiosyncrancies
o Impropriety of childhood behavior has been constrained now under the jurisdiction of
Social problems are created through the process of social construction and influence by various
claims making activities that try to compete with other issues to garner public attention
As the social constructionist approach to social problems elucidates, a condition or experience in
society does not inherently have qualities or attributes that makes it a social problem
The focus of this paper will be on the rhetorical quality of key claims and counterclaims involving
scientific medical evidence and diagnosis statistics
Claimsamkers use scientific info as basis for their claims and also to persuade therefore it is a
intergral part of the childhood ASD claimsmaking process in evaluation of the validity of claims
Claims and Counterclaims
Two primary rhetorical components
o The variety of statistics concerning vaccines and ASD prevalence trends and how these
numeric estimates convey scientific objectivity and causality and the generation,
dissemination and interpretation of medical scientific evidence concerning a causal link
between vaccines and ASD
The Rhetoric of Statistics “Autism is Increasing Rapidly and Is Not Rare”
ASD diagnosis rose in 1980s - 10x increase in US, 3-4X in world
o Rigours identification of ASD is presenting as a surge when it might be better and more
diagnoses of previously ignored cases
o Shows that it is no longer rare and it is increasing rapidly 1 in 150
o Example Wakefield trial
o Linking increased autism rates with toxins or thimersol has democratized the risk as
something anyone can have, leading to less stigmatization
o Leading to dramatic effect of issue by utilizing the highest estimates and broadening the
base of potential victims of the condition
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