Fact Check

Autism Conclusively Linked to Agricultural Pesticides

Rumor: Scientists have recently documented a conclusive link between autism and agricultural pesticides.

Published May 17, 2015

Claim:   Scientists have recently documented a conclusive link between autism and agricultural pesticides.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, May 2015]

This story is circulating all over the web; it claims that pesticides used on farm have been proved to cause autism.


Origins:   In July 2014, the National Report published a (since-removed) article under the misleading headline "Autism Conclusively Linked to Agricultural Pesticides." What that article actually reported was a supposed correlation between the consumption of fruits and vegetables not treated with pesticides and an increased prevalence of autism:

A major multidisciplinary paper is scheduled to be released late next month that conclusively links the increasing autism epidemic to the consumption of organic foods. Following a meta study conducted at the University of California Berkley, which compiled and examined data from over a thousand other independent studies on autism, researchers noted in their final data sets a distinct correlation between the consumption of fruits and vegetables not treated with common agricultural pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and an increased prevalence of autism.

As counterintuitive as it initially sounds, the human brain has undergone an adaptation in neural function to incorporate and utilize many of the chemicals found in pesticides and chemical fertilizers for vital neurochemical operations within itself. Unfortunately, much in the same way that a person taking steroids to increase their muscle mass can cease to produce their own testosterone, so too does the brain’s adoption of these chemicals for use as neurotransmitters render it unable to produce its own in certain areas, beginning in the second trimester and lasting until roughly the age of three. When these now vital chemicals are not passed on in utero by the mother through her diet, or dietarily through the age of three, the brain is not able to construct crucial neural pathways and connections, resulting in a wide range of sensory/integration disorders foremost of which is autism.

Soon afterwards many social media users and web sites were sharing links to, and quoting from, this article, but they mistook two critical points about it:

  • The article didn't claim a link between austism and the consumption of crops grown using pesticides and chemical fertilizers;, it claimed the opposite: That an increase in the incidence of autism correlated with the consumption of organic foods (i.e., food grown without the use pesticides and chemical fertilizers).
  • The source of the article, National Report, is a fake news web site (prominently featured in our article "5 Fake News Sites to Avoid Sharing"). The National Report's disclaimer page also notes that:

    National Report is a news and political satire web publication, which may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways. All news articles contained within National Report are fiction, and presumably fake news. Any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental.

The National Report article was a spoof along the lines of a widely-reproduced chart that attempts to deflate the plethora of scientifically unsupported claims that have been advanced about the causes of autism (particularly those that link the disorder to various foods) by charting a correlation between autism and organic food sales:

Last updated:   17 May 2015

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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