The Public Face of Research on Autism


Autism, a developmental disorder with unknown etiology, controversial prevalence and variable manifestations, has been subject of much recent attention. It is studied intensely by a very diverse group of scientists and doctors—psychiatrists, geneticists, psychologists, biochemists, neuroscientists, educational experts, etc. The cause of its sufferers is promoted by a number of high profile parent and charitable organizations,  It has been a subject of films, novels and innumerable books, and it appears often in the press and on television.  I will focus on the discourse regarding autism’s etiology, particularly on the assertions regarding its genetic origins, and examine it in the context of the political and social claims of the various stakeholders in the debate. My goal is to document the multiple functions of “gene talk” and of uncertainty in public and scientific discourse.


Olga Amsterdamska,

Amsterdam School of Social Science Research,

University of Amsterdam