Blame It on Teletubbies

Cornell economists claim to have linked autism to tots' watching TV, but the real picture is much fuzzier

Who wouldn't love an easy explanation for autism, the heartbreaking brain disorder whose rates have been rising sharply and mysteriously over the past 30 years? History has served up many possibilities, beginning with a now discredited theory put forward by psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, who famously attributed the condition to uncaring "refrigerator moms." Today autism is thought to involve a genetic vulnerability that's triggered by an unknown X factor, or factors, in the environment. Recent speculation has focused on pesticides, childhood vaccines and thimerosal, a mercury-based compound that until recently was used to preserve vaccines.

The latest candidate? Television. Author Gregg Easterbrook stirred...

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