Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Mercury Nostalgia

Remember the "Good Old Days", when the only people who suffered from mercury-induced insanity were those who had been exposed to a significant amount of it? Today, through the medium of the Internet, we have thousands of virtual mercury-poisoning "victims", not to mention those additional thousands who have lost their minds from worrying about mercury poisoning. I refer, of course, to people like:

Raymond Gallup
Andrew Cutler
Sallie Bernard
Boyd Haley
David Kirby
And many, many (many) more...

When I first started blogging on the autism-mercury non-connection, I had no idea how deep and how wide the madness extended. It was like stepping through a black hole into an autism-mercury "alternate universe" (without the inconvenience of being ripped to shreds by tidal forces or compressed in the singularity).

In this alternate universe, post hoc, ergo propter hoc ("After this, therefore because of this") is the "Gold Standard" for causality and anyone can be an expert on anything they want, just by saying they are. For example, an MBA can be a "scientist" (see also here and here) despite a complete lack of education or experience in any scientific field. In the autism-mercury alternate universe, the burden of proof is not on those who make a claim, but on those who dispute that claim. In many ways, this universe is as upside-down and topsy-turvy as Wonderland - and that seems fitting, somehow.

How else can you explain the slavish devotion among the autism-mercury cabal for such thoroughly discredited "scientists" as Mark Geier, Hugh Fudenberg, and Andrew Wakefield (see here as well)? In their universe, these people are legitimate scientists - in our universe (where different physical laws hold sway), they are laughable, incompetent, inept or unethical. Perhaps all four. How else can you explain how a work of fiction ("Evidence of Harm") written by a journalist can be held up by autism-mercury proponents as a work of scientific significance, if not "revealed truth"?

The alternate universe hypothesis also explains why the autism-mercury cabal insists that a single poorly-designed, questionably run study that supports their "side" is more than equal to five or six well-designed, well run studies that refute their position. No less an expert on the autism-mercury alternate universe than Sallie Bernard has been reported to believe that:

"She doesn't think the evidence proves thimerosal causes autism. But she does think the evidence points in that direction."

Apparently, in the autism-mercury alternate universe, one points 180 degrees away from the target. In this universe, a recent review of published studies showed that the better the study design, the less likely it was to support an autism-thimerosal (and therefore autism-mercury) connection. However, in the autism-mercury alternate universe, even simple math - like counting - has different rules.

Fortunately for those of us who live in this universe, mercury doesn't appear to cause autism here. At least, the data doesn't point that way.



Anonymous HCN said...

They all seem to feed off of each other. I was poking around and found this: ... and announcement from an ambulance chasing law firm of a report that claims to show that thimerosal is the cause of autism. It is the paper from Medical HYPOTHESIS:

The authors include Lyn Redwood (a nurse) and Sally Bernard. The letters behind Albert Enayati name in indicate that he is a chemical ENGINEER just like Andy Cutler -- according to this, he owns (I could be wrong, the letter is three years old). The other is Teresa Binstock who is always listed as a "Researcher in Developmental & Behavioral Neuroanatomy"... but I cannot find what her education is. And finally there is Heidi Roger, a finance director... who is part of the board of Safe Minds: ... which seems to have lots of pretend scientists, and a couple of lawyers.

13 July, 2005 17:47  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Teresa Binstock has a bachelors in Math and has been playing scientist for some years now. Her main type of "research" now is monitoring parents' listservs and noting what they say about their children and mercury poisoning and how they respond to stuff like cilantro, red wine and saunas (chelation therapies). She has a "foundation" or something with a goofy name and which consists of her, alone.

Binstock has a paper where she says that upset intestines are connected to a part of the brain that controls some aspect of speech. She thinks that the upset intestines cause speech problems, either that or viruses are travelling up the neurons from the intestines to the brain, where they do some unspecified damage. She gets at this by reading various research and combining what she learns from the papers.

This is how she described herself to me by email. (Randi Hagerman is a big deal, she's at the UCD MIND institute).

"I did 8 years of Independent Research at UCHSC and
> TCH in Denver. Mentors were Gordon Farley, MD, prof emeritus of psychiatry, and Randi Hagerman, MD, Prof of Pediatrics, fraX (Fragile X syndrome) specialist.
> When I first arrived at UCHSC, I rapidly learned that the official programs were not focused
> in developmental and behavioral neuroanatomy in a
> way the melded newer med lit with clinical possibilities. Thus, I worked part-time and turned
> down grants so that I could continue focusing upon
> independent research. I mastered several genres of med lit sufficiently so as to have had
> articles published (look up Binstock T in pubmed).
> There, one study is missing, my very thorough review of frax and the amygdala, publ in Dev Brain Dysfunction. You can get that cite and more info about me at (1).
> I served as science editor for Ellen Bolte's
> Clostridium tetani hypothesis (Bolte ER in pubmed) and served as science editor for the
> book "Children with Starving Brains" (2). Recently,
> I've been part of a team - two MDs, one RN, one person with Asperger's (me) - that offers
> teaching to MDs re: a DAN! protocol for eval and
> treatm of autistic kids. My BS was in math, with minors in physics, chem, creative writing, literature, and philosophy. I was accepted into 3 grad departments, changed direction, went into making a living at art (which I had never done previously). Moved to Colorado, found internal peace,
> better focus. Dropped out of mtns to do the med
> school Ind Research.
> Returned to mtns and have continued research and
> writing.
> I find that if you have a contribution in a medical
> field, are willing
> to perservere w/o big rewards, and have mastered a
> medical domain, at
> least some journals will read your article and, if
> it has merit, will publish it.

HCN's point is correct, though, it's a small group of about 20 regular players who quote each other and all get invited to speak at third-rate autism conferences.

Geiers, pere et fils
Neubrander (?)
Yazbak (he's into MMR,mostly, I think)

(those are most of the biggies)
Blaxill and Bernard both have money but no science background, both are in marketing/business sort of jobs as is JB Handley.

Of the above, not all agree with each other, either, which is pretty funny.

Without big money from Sallie Bernard much of this mercury to do would not have happened, I believe.

13 July, 2005 19:05  
Anonymous HCN said...

Thank you... this is wonderful. LOL

It looks like this could be the cast of the movie one could make of Ray Gallup's book! (see Oracknows and Skeptico blogs)

I'm thinking Jenna Elfman for Teresa Binstock.

13 July, 2005 19:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I give up - what does the moon have to do with mercury or autism? Is it a "lunacy" pun?


13 July, 2005 20:31  
Blogger Prometheus said...

Sorry, the graphic was pretty obscure, I guess. That is a composite picture of the surface of Mercury.


13 July, 2005 20:32  
Blogger Autism Diva said...

ooops, put it on the wrong entry
mercury in profile

14 July, 2005 01:28  
Blogger James Medhurst said...

Hi Prometheus - great blog. I just want to point out that Andrew Wakefield does not blame mercury. Here in the UK, we have an entirely different vaccine scare based on an entirely different and equally discredited theory. The scaremongers are not even consistent.

15 July, 2005 01:27  
Blogger Orac said...

Did you see this?

Perfect example of what you're talking about. All the usual suspects will be there.

15 July, 2005 06:07  
Blogger hollywoodjaded said...

Thanks Anon 7:05 for filling in several gaps; I knew some of it, but not all of it. Further, I had always been led to believe that Binstock (the self-dx'd Aspie) dropped out in the midst of a Ph.D. program. Wow, an undergrad in Math only. Also, I don't know of any Univ. that allows as many "minors" as she claims. But I could be wrong. Mostly, I am just so weary of the merc crowd and how they have used up valuable time and energy that could have gone toward real efforts in ASD. What's really "toxic" is their damn PR machine.

17 July, 2005 19:42  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, what a bunch of scare mongering. Mercury is NOT bad for you, and there is NO way it could cause or even contribute autism.

I have several tablespoons of mercury a day at breakfast, and all I have are slight shakes. My kids love it, they are fine. I am considering weekly injections of pure mercury just to show how harmless it is!!

Further, I just cannot understand why such prestigious institutions as Harvard are making press releases that "Prenatal Exposure to Mercury From a Maternal Diet High in Seafood Can Irreversibly Impair Certain Brain Functions in Children". I mean, come on! It almost sounds as if Harvard is about to jump on board the mercury/autism bandwagon too!!

What is the world coming to?

Quacks. All of them. Quacks...

01 August, 2005 14:31  
Blogger Prometheus said...

Strawman Alert!!!

The comment above is using the strawman argument (an argument I never made) of "mercury is harmless" to argue against my position of "mercury has not been shown to cause autism". For those who are a bit slow on the uptake, these are two completely different arguments.

Of course, it is much easier to argue against "mercury is harmless" than it is to argue against "mercury has not been shown to cause autism", that's why "Anonymous" made the strawman in the first place.

Nice try, Anonymous, but we're wise to your tricks!


01 August, 2005 17:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, strawmen. I'm sure you know them well. I didn't doubt it for a moment.

But, that is not my intent, as an anonymous poster, to make strawman arguments. I simply wrote what I did to illustrate the fact that we all know beyond any shadow of a doubt that mercury is incredibly harmful, dangerous and neurotoxic.

It is interesting how Harvard puts out a press release warning women of the incredible, dire dangers of eating mercury laden seafood - while the Pharmakeutos industry does it's very best to assure us that Thimerosal is safe.

Actually, I have no clue what you folks talk about here, I've never been here before. I don't know your arguments for or against a Thimerosal/Autism connection - but I find the very fact that you argue so vehemently against any possiblity to be ludicrous. (Again, I don't really know your position, except that you seem to be against this connection and all who would hold to it.)

Maybe this is something that is indeed hard to prove, without the right funds, studies and connections. And say someone did "prove" it, in this day and age every "proven" study is quickly countered with a "counter-study" made by friends of the industry to discredit the opposing study. This happens in nearly every politically (read MONEY) charged scientific endeavor we see today.

BUT my point is simply to proclaim as loudly as possible that whether or not you see the shining provable gem of a mercury/autims connection OR NOT we all know mercury is toxic and should not be injected into the blood of our children PERIOD!

So, here are some facts you may choose to disupte, or not, or whatever, I don't really care.

Regarding the Hep B vaccine: "Assuming that the package inserts are correct, Geier tells Insight, "The EPA limit is 0.1 micrograms of mercury per kilogram body weight per day. It doesn't take a genius to do the calculations when on their day of birth children are given the hepatitis B vaccine, which is 12.5 micrograms of mercury. The average newborn weighs between 6 and 7 pounds, so they would be allowed 0.3 micrograms of mercury - but in this one shot they are getting 12.5 micrograms. That's 39 times more than allowed by law. And it gets worse when you consider that children are getting multiple vaccinations at 2 months. And this limit is for oral ingestion and not injection, which is much worse."

And elsewhere, it is stated: "
Geier continues, "In addition, the influenza vaccine that is recommended for an increasing segment of the pediatric population in the U.S. also contains 25µg of mercury. Assuming that the labeling is correct, it is possible that children in the U.S. in 2003 may be exposed to levels of mercury from thimerosal contained in childhood vaccines that are at higher levels than at any time in the past. Possible total childhood mercury in 2003 is more than 300µg."


Try and tell me this is not sick and wrong! Do you really wish to defend this practice?

02 August, 2005 07:12  
Blogger Prometheus said...

To Anonymous:

You really should look up the strawman fallacy - you keep making it over and over!

Rather than give an argument against what I said - "mercury has not been shown to cause autism" - you keep making arguments against an argument I didn't make - "mercury is safe". Let me spell this out for you. It takes no great scientific insight to show that mercury is neurotoxic - above certain amounts. This has been well-established for decades. What hasn't been shown is if mercury can cause autism.

So, how about it? Are you going to give some evidence that mercury causes autism or are you going to keep hacking away at straw men of your own making?

Even if we accept - for the sake of argument - that autism can be caused by a "toxic exposure", there are a lot of potential candidates. Many of these candidates will fit the epidemiological data better than mercury does.

Just a friendly warning - this is my blog and I will delete any further "straw men" you post. If you want to put up some real arguments, feel free, but you'll have to go up against the statemtns I made, not the ones you wish I'd made.


02 August, 2005 08:49  
Anonymous sophia8 said...

Strawman has inadvertently pointed up the main weakness in the whole "mercury causes autism" argument. In all of the many documented cased of mercury poisoning in children (from Minimata onwards), where is there any mention of autism?

28 August, 2005 08:36  

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