When Scientists go Bad...
Part One: Placebo vs Placebo - Placebo Wins!
The first part is the result of my colleagues finding out that I'm blogging about autism - now they feel obligated to dump every autism-related piece of quackery that they receive on my not-too-tidy desk. The most recent contribution was a pamphlet from Biomed Comm, Inc. which is titled An Educational Primer on Autism Spectrum & Cell Signaling.
In this pamphlet, the virtues of Dr. Barbara Brewitt, MDiv., PhD., "scientist, visionary, minister and socially responsible activist" and her "Cell Signal Enhancer Medicines" are extolled. These "medicines" are: "...an integration of: advanced molecular biology, biophysics of cell-to-cell communication, and 250 years of safe and effective homeopathic medicine" (my bold).
Ah, well! It would appear that in all of Dr. Brewitt's study and research into "advanced molecular biology" and the "biophysics of cell-to-cell communication", she overlooked Avogadro's number. If she had picked up this bit of knowledge (it dates from 1811), she would have known that the odds against a vial of homeopathic solution containing any of the substance are greater than the odds of winning the Powerball Lottery. And, since most of the people doing research in "advanced molecular biology" and the "biophysics of cell-to-cell communication" (including your humble scribe) know that cells need some sort of signal to experience cell-to-cell signaling - which is not supplied by a homeopathic dilution - it is pretty clear that Dr. Brewitt is - at best - mistaken.
However, the folks at Biomed Comm (Inc.) are not without supporting information - they have testimonials! To be fair, they also have vague graphs from undescribed - and unpublished - studies, but they have a lot more testimonials! Here is one of my favorites:
From a naturopath in Michigan:
"I had one child who was completely nonverbal, and six months later he was not only talking, he was reciting the alphabet"
Strange as this may seem, the exact same thing happened to my niece (without any homeopathic cell-signaling) - when she was eleven months old, she was nonverbal and six months later, she was talking! Wait...that's just normal development.
So, the bottom line appears to be that if you do nothing, even autistic children will show some developmental progression (after all, it's developmental delay, not developmental stasis). I say this since homeopathic "remedies" are placebos to well beyond the level of detectability by the best of modern analytical methods.
Part Two: Autism Researchers Show Mercury Protects Against Autism!
I've got to start locking my office door - while I was at lunch, someone dropped a copy of a hilariously bad study on my desk. It was Reduced levels of mercury in first baby haircuts of autistic children (Holmes AS, Blaxill MF, Haley BE. Int J Toxicol. 2003 Jul-Aug;22(4):277-85).
In this study, the authors measure the mercury content of hair saved by parents from the first haircut of their children; 94 with autism and 45 age- and sex-matched controls. Leaving aside the many methodological (and logical) errors in this study, it is their stubborn refusal to accept the obvious conclusion that makes it so laughable.
Despite the obvious expectations of the authors (one is on the Executive Board of SafeMinds, yet another is a well-known anti-mercury advocate), the study found that the autistic children had lower hair mercury levels than the neurotypical controls. Rather than concluding that mercury protects against autism (which the data supports but is nonsensical) or at least is not associated with autism, the authors take a sharp turn off the road of reason and propose that the autistic children had impaired mercury excretion.
They came to this conclusion without providing any data or other studies supporting this wild idea. In fact, studies done as long ago as the 1960's have shown that hair - including human hair - is a passive recipient of mercury from the blood. In other words, hair mercury levels follow the blood mercury levels - there is no excretion.
If this is the sort of "research" that the autism-mercury cabal is leaning on, it is less than the proverbial slender reed - it is the shadow of a slender reed. No wonder they are working the political angle - they haven't got a leg (or a reed) to stand on!