Calli McMurray for Spectrum reports the retraction of a paper on “the cost of autism” that for some pretty good reasons caused controversy and backlash two years ago when it was published.

The study predicted that 3 to 10 percent of children in the United States will have autism by 2060, and that the increased prevalence will cost the nation $5.5 trillion a year. The authors then modeled how preventing autism would lower the forecasted figures. They argued that their calculations “demand an urgent focus on prevention strategies.”

“I wish that the retraction notice was a bit more condemning of the eugenics undertones in the article,” [Brittany Hand, associate professor of health and rehabilitation sciences at Ohio State University in Columbus] says. “It is advocating for the prevention of the existence of a marginalized group of people.”

It’s a bit baffling that I don’t appear to have noticed this story at the time, back in 2021. Although maybe I’m better equipped today to say something about this bit from the original Sara Luterman coverage.

“Are they saying that this is the cost of supporting or treating an autistic individual across their life in some way? Or is this the cost above the cost of supporting someone who is not autistic? Everybody costs something.”

[David Mandell, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at University of Pennsylvania] notes related questions about the prevention prediction.

“[The authors] made some really severe assumptions about productivity … It looks like they were assuming anybody with autism would have zero productivity,” he says, but many autistic people work.

“What we observe is that [autistic people] may have some disabilities and challenges, and we as a society should think about how to support them. But they’re still quite productive members of society.”

Here’s the thing, though: productivity shouldn’t matter. Innate worth as a human being should matter.

I’ve noted before, as my reading up on disability has progressed over the years, that there’s a throughline in much of our views on the disabled: they must be brought to contribute—somehow, someway—to the GDP. Often this means that if they can’t be directly productive economically they ought to be warehoused and institutionalized because then at least some corporate entity is getting paid to provide them with a bed.

Tate Ryan-Mosley for MIT Technology Review reports that an algorithm meant to help reduce poverty instead might be disqualifying people from aid erroneously.

Amos Toh, an AI and human rights researcher for Human Rights Watch and an author of the report, says the findings point to the necessity of greater transparency into government programs that use algorithmic decision-making. Many of the families interviewed expressed distrust and confusion about the ranking methodology. “The onus is on the government of Jordan to provide that transparency,” Toh says.

Researchers on AI ethics and fairness are calling for more scrutiny around the increasing use of algorithms in welfare systems. “When you start building algorithms for this particular purpose, for overseeing access, what always happens is that people who need help get excluded,” says Meredith Broussard, professor at NYU and author of More Than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech.

Ryan-Mosley reports that the algorithm system itself “cost over $1 billion”, which really leaves you wondering if maybe that money would have been better spent directly on alleviating poverty. Of course, then no one would have gotten paid one-billion dollars to provide an “algorithmic system”.

Tracy Durnell links Antonia Malchik who is discussing The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi.


In Polanyi’s own text, he begins his dismantling of free market mythologies by writing that “man’s economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships.” A market economy, by contrast, requires a society subservient to the market. It doesn’t have room for a society with other priorities—which all of them have—and by trying to force people to serve the economy above all other values and needs, free market ideologues push societies to a breaking point.


Some connection here I don’t have time to explore about capitalism imposing a cult of individualism when human society has long valued community care.

Individualism (preferably of the alleged “rugged” variety) is requisite, because capital—as I endlessly drone on about here—must needs negate both solidarity and capacity and any potential for building either.

Since we are but individuals responsible for bootstrapping our own fates (just don’t look behind the curtain at the real welfare state), any failure to do so consigns us to being surplus and of no use.

Our valuation is dependent entirely upon whether someone else can find a way to make money off of our useless minds and bodies, else trim our cost to society by any means necessary. Through, say, preventing any more of us from ever happening, maybe by building an “algorithmic system” to sort us out.

What’s never calculated in any of this is the cost to us of being so often subjected to dehumanization and dismissal. The cost of being told over and over again that we are a burden not worth the saving.