Wrong About Genetic Research & Autism: Lyn Redwood’s “Science as a Means of Social Control”

by Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
Posted: November 4, 2014

Wrong About Genetic Research and
Autism: A Review of Lyn
Redwood’s Article “Science as a
Means of Social Control”
(SafeMinds, August 23, 2013)


A number of organizations as well as bloggers have arisen over the past several decades claiming that vaccines and/or their ingredients cause a number of disorders. The results of their efforts have been a decline in vaccine coverage and a rise in previously rare childhood diseases, resulting in unnecessary suffering, hospitalizations, long term disabilities, and even death. The following paper will demonstrate, using one article by Lyn Redwood, co-founder of SafeMinds and a leading figure among antivaccinationists, the poor scholarship and science displayed by many antivaccinationists. If people are to decide on whether to vaccinate their children or not, it should be based on scholarly, well-grounded science, and reflect basic common sense, not claims made by people who are deficient in these.

A recent article/post by Redwood on SafeMinds, “Science as a Means of Social Control,” should raise a number of red flags regarding her scholarship, basic understanding of science and common sense and, given her key position in SafeMinds, of the overall credibility of the organization. Redwood’s article claims that a recent study in the journal Science by Rietveld et al., “GWAS of 126,559 Individuals Identifies Genetic Variants Associated with Educational Attainment," found that environment contributed 98% to educational attainment and genetics only 2% and, by implication, the same applied to Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The conclusions of this paper are:

  1. Redwood found an article on the online magazine Truthout by Jonathan Latham, “Science as Social Con-trol: Political Paralysis and the Genetics Agenda,” that discussed the Rietveld et al study, and based her own article on Latham’s. However, a careful reading of Rietveld et al’s article suggests that either Redwood did not bother to read the easily available Rietveld et al’s article and supplement or did not understand them. The Latham article that she based her article on was wrong about the Rietveld et al’s study findings.

  2. Redwood’s claim that 98% of educational attainment is accounted for by environmental factors is not what the Rietveld et al study found which attributed 40% to genetics, thus 60% to environment. Redwood's claim is so extreme that one would expect a scholarly scientific rendition of peer-reviewed findings, not “what [she] instinctively knew.”

  3. Redwood’s article contradicts an earlier article she herself co-authored, "Autism: A Novel Form of Mercury Poisoning," where genetics was considered a significant component of autism.

  4. Redwood rejects the progress being made on the genetic contribution to various aspects of human personality, cognitive abilities, and behaviors, including Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), that has already led to a variety of interventions and the prospect of many more to come. In addition, she ignores the evidence that half of our genome is mainly devoted to our brains.

  5. Redwood seems to assume that the genetic findings for educational attainment would apply to Autism Spectrum Disorders, ignoring the extensive research evidence that genetic vs environmental contributions and their interactions vary widely between traits, cognitive abilities, and behaviors.

  6. Redwood misunderstands that de novo mutations, while not present in either parent, are mutations in the germ line, sperm and ova, prior to conception. These mutations often can be random or associated with environmental factors, e.g. toxins, infections, radiation.

  7. Redwood would like us to believe that finding genetic contributions will lead to “blaming the victim,” always possible among some; but this is not a prevailing attitude and certainly NOT the goal of researchers. Researchers’ goals, rather, are to improve diagnosis and both prevention and treatment.

As stated on their website: “SafeMinds ultimate goal is to find the truth - - to encourage and support efforts to conduct medical research that provide credible findings to support that the mercury-autism hypothesis is true.” They obviously don’t see the contradiction between having “the ultimate goal . . . to find the truth [and] to support that the mercury-autism hypothesis is true.” In my opinion, Redwood’s mind is made up. She is absolutely certain she is right so she searches the internet to find something that supports her position, even if just one paper, without thoroughly vetting it.

Her article shows the desperate lengths that she will go to. Redwood does not apply a scholarly scientific approach and even ignores common sense. Why would anyone accord what she writes any credibility? And if, as a co-founder of SafeMinds as well as a driving force and advocate for their position, she represents their standard of writing on scientific matters, how can anyone accord anything SafeMinds writes any credibility?

Read Dr. Harrison's full article as a PDF version by clicking here.

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