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Spectrum: Autism Research News

February 15th

Contentious conclusion

On Tuesday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force solidified its stance that existing evidence is insufficient to recommend routine screening for autism.

The government-appointed panel previewed its position in August, giving the public a month to weigh in. At the time, we asked four autism experts for their take on the topic. Their responses ranged from disappointment to ire, with all four fearing the decision could delay diagnoses — and consequently, intervention — in some children with autism.

Responding to similar concerns from clinicians and families affected by autism, the task force urged doctors to listen to parents and use their best judgment when deciding which children to screen.

The Journal of the American Medical Association / 16 Feb 2016
Journal jam

The scientific publication process is many things (vexing and disheartening come to mind). But fast, it is not.

Between formatting papers for different journals and waiting weeks — months, even — for peer review, researchers spend a lot of time in publication limbo. It’s all worth it when a paper is accepted. But when it’s not, it’s back to square one.

An article in last week’s Nature examines the growing frustration around scientific publishing.

“Researchers are increasingly questioning the time it takes to publish their work,” the author, Kendall Powell, writes. “Many say that they feel trapped in a cycle of submission, rejection, review, re-review and re-re-review that seems to eat up months of their lives, interfere with job, grant and tenure applications and slow down the dissemination of results.”

Powell points out that the median review time at Nature has swelled from 85 days to more than 150 over the past decade. The review time at PLOS ONE has more than tripled from 37 days to 125 over a similar stretch of time.

One new journal is appealing to researchers who want a quicker turnaround. The open-access, online journal, called Pathogens & Immunity, promises a five-minute submissions process with lax formatting requirements, a four-day decision on whether the paper will proceed into peer review and rapid feedback from paid reviewers. Researchers can even submit peer reviews from other journals if they want.

Pathogens & Immunity
Preprint primer

On the topic of getting results out sooner, why not publish a preprint?

That question was the focus of a two-day scientific meeting this week. The goal of the meeting was to discuss the role of preprints in “catalyzing scientific discovery, facilitating career advancement, and improving the culture of communication within the biology community,” according a statement from the meeting’s organizing committee.

Autism researchers appear to be embracing the preprint, with 26 studies currently listed on the preprint server bioRxiv — up from around 20 just one month ago. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this trend.

Accelerating Science and Publication in Biology
Looking for love

There was no shortage of love stories floating around this Valentine’s week, but one in particular caught our attention.

The story, published in Esquire, follows Randy — a 26-year-old man with autism looking for love. It describes Randy’s relationships through the years, culminating in a sad tryst with a woman he met online whose motives were less than pure.

The article highlights the relationship challenges some people with autism face.

“I think true love is out there, but I know it’s hard to find,” Randy told Esquire. “Yes, I am handicapped. Yes, I have special needs, but my disabilities have nothing to do with love whatsoever.”

Esquire / 17 Feb 2016
Home sweet home

Researchers go to great lengths to control their experiments. Researchers who study mice must maintain a strict light-dark cycle, provide a steady diet, handle the animals with care and provide a safe, clean cage — preferably with a cozy house and a toy or two.

But different researchers have different routines, an article in last week’s Nature points out. For instance, the light-dark cycle in one study may not necessarily line up with that in another, or researchers may run their experiments at different times during the day. This variability makes it difficult to compare results from different labs, or to extend findings from mice to people.

An animal’s cagemates can introduce additional uncertainty. Last summer, researchers reported that mice missing the autism-linked chromosomal region 16p11.2 behave differently around control mice than they do with other mutants — a trait that was previously misinterpreted as stemming from the mutation itself. These examples constitute cautionary tales for autism researchers on the lookout for subtle behaviors.