UPDATE: Nature Publishing Group now appear to have removed the links criticised in this post and the page looks to be much improved (although see the additional criticism at LBRB)
Publishing’s Publishing Group’s (NPG) Scitable has previously been a fairly good example of accessible online science information. However, as Kev has noted, Nature’s NPG’s autism Scitable is well below their usual standard:
who thought it necessary to link to no less than three anti-vaccine links on the home page of this….blog? Wiki? Two links to Autism Speaks whose controllers recently attended a DAN! conference and one link to ARI itself.
Particularly interesting – ‘interesting’ in the banging-head-on-desk-sense of the world – is the Autism Research Institute document they link re the Nutritional Treatment of autism. I should be clear that the
Nature Nature Publishing Group Scitable page links only three pages on the treatment of autism; this is one of those three and the only link on nutritional treatment, so the ARI link is very is prominent on the page.
The ARI document (authored by James B. Adams) claims to offer a
simple summary of the major biomedical treatments available to help children and adults with autism/Asperger’s. Biomedical treatments will not help every child, but they have helped thousands of children improve, sometimes dramatically.
Reading the document Nature link is like bad science bingo. From a quick read, one can note issues like:
- Restricted diets are suggested, without good evidence (p. 4).
- IgG tests are suggested (p. 5) despite lack of evidence of clinical utility.
- A wide array of nutritional supplements are suggested, despite lack of good evidence (p. 10-13)
- Anti-fungal drugs (which can have serious side effects) are suggested as anti-yeast measures, despite a lack of decent evidence for either yeast as a cause of autistic symptoms or the utility of these drugs as a treatment for this supposed problem (p. 17-8). This section also suggests a restricted diet, despite a lack of good evidence.
- The use of chelation therapy is suggested (p. 24-5), despite the lack of good evidence that it’s useful for autistic people and the fact that chelation therapy has killed.
To be clear: Nature Publishing are linking a document which suggests autism treatments that lack decent evidence and are potentially harmful. This document is focussed on suggesting treatments for autistic children: a rather vulnerable section of the population. Moreover, this is the only page
Nature’s NPG’s Scitable links regarding nutritional treatments for autism – so it ignores the decent research that has been done on the topic in order to direct readers to this ARI document.
If Nature Publishing have a duty of care to their readers – and their readers’ children – they are failing here. At any rate, this is terrible science communication.
EDIT: following a comment from Michelle, I have edited this post to make more explicit that I am referring to Nature Publishing Group and not the journal Nature. However, I would argue that NPG should not use the nature.com URL to host such poor material – unless they want to risk harming the reputation of associated brands.