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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Community Newsletter: Spectrum survey on 2021 conferences, Bayesian precision, paper review feedback

by  /  19 September 2021
Speech bubble formed by a network of communication

Illustration by Laurène Boglio

Hello, and welcome to this week’s Community Newsletter! I’m your host, Chelsey B. Coombs, Spectrum’s engagement editor.

Before we get started, I want to let you know about a new Spectrum survey. We are interested in learning how autism researchers are approaching conferences through the end of the year. Are you ready to get back to the crowds at this season’s conferences? Or will you be watching the action from your lab (or couch)? Let us know, and look out for a Spectrum article on how the field is thinking about in-person meetings going forward.

Online this week, Daniel Yon, lecturer in psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London in the United Kingdom, and Chris Frith, emeritus professor of neuropsychology at University College London, wrote about how precision is important to ideas about the ‘Bayesian brain.’

The Bayesian brain theory holds that people and animals weigh prior knowledge and incoming information in terms of reliability — and they take action based on what they deem most reliable, or precise. It’s all about estimating uncertainty, the authors write, and it has direct relevance to autism.

“Characteristics of autism, such as a preference for stable and repetitive environments, can be cast as a consequence of overly strong beliefs about the precision of incoming evidence, such that every fluctuation in our sensory systems seems to signal the need to change our models of the environment (and the world thus seems unstable),” the authors write.

Autism researcher Uta Frith, emeritus professor of cognitive development at University College London, who is married to Chris Frith, tweeted about the study.

Micah Allen, associate professor of clinical medicine at Aarhus University in Denmark, praised the paper.

Sven De Maeyer, professor of education and education sciences at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, tweeted about how the paper relates to Bayesian statistical modelling.

Our next thread this week comes from David Mandell, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and Autism editor-in-chief. He tweeted that journal reviewers should be kind as they “shape the next generation” of academics.

Many researchers chimed in with their own experiences with reviewers.

Naomi Ekas, associate professor of psychology at the Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, tweeted about the harsh review of a paper that eventually became her most cited.

Alycia Halladay, chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation, tweeted, “You are my inspiration for feedback to ASF applications.”

Jessica Dark, a graduate student in organizational psychology at Birbeck, University of London, wrote about her own positive review experience with an autism journal.

Don’t forget to register for our 28 September webinar, featuring Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, who will speak about goals for developing new drugs for autism — and the barriers researchers may encounter.

That’s it for this week’s Community Newsletter! If you have any suggestions for interesting social posts you saw in the autism research sphere, feel free to send an email to me at [email protected]. See you next week!

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