Friday, November 25, 2005

Nothing succeeds like excess...

A tip of the electronic hat to Orac for alerting us to the NEW! autism treatment protocol offered by Dr. Rashid Buttar. A parent on the Autism-Mercury Yahoo Group, described this NEW! protocol as follows:

Dr Buttar's office has asked us (after being on TD DMPS for about 11 mos) to come on IV EDTA/ozone protocol over a two month period every two weeks. TD DMPS and TD EDTA will continue on a Mon, Wed, Fri schedule after the IV's

Every 2 weeks our son will get IV EDTA and ozone (which will be infused in his blood and given via IV) and on the second day he will get minerals. The reason given for ozone is to reduce persistent organics in his system. There is no test being recommended to determine if the child will be a good candidate for ozone. Apparently, some children are seeing good results and Dr Buttar is trying this treatment on older children (greater than 7). Dr Buttar's office has provided some research on ozone done by a MD researcher in NY whom we spoke with. The immediate reaction of this researcher was that there has not been any study with children while ozone therapy is safe and has been used on millions of people in Europe. The researcher was not aware of Dr Buttar or his protocol on children and said that one needs to establish first if ozone therapy is needed.

I would like to hear from other parents if they have researched this. We just don't want to do anything that is invasive.

Another big concern we have is the mineral supplementation is being recommended by Dr Buttar's office. The office looks at the essential urine mineral test (and not RBC) to determine the right dosage for the minerals.They prescribed copper which according to many doctors is a neurotoxin. We are just concerned about not giving adequate minerals. Can someone tell us the minerals on 1 day/1 day off protocol.

There is just so much wrong here that I was at first at a loss where (or if) to begin. In the end, it was the antics of one of Dr. Buttar's apologists that prompted me to speak out.

[1] IV EDTA:

Where do I begin with this one? EDTA, since about 1992, has been a secondary treatment for lead poisoning. It was supplanted by DMSA, which was vastly safer, more effective and easier to use. EDTA must be given intravenously (IV) to work, since it is not adequately absorbed when taken orally. Oh, and it also isn't likely to be absorbed throught the skin - it's a big, highly polar molecule.

For mercury, EDTA has always been a poor choice. Studies done in the 1980's showed that it was not very effective for mercury poisoning, although it was used as a treatment for a while because the only other choice - BAL (dimercaprol) - was even more toxic. Since the development of DMSA (and DMPS), EDTA has had no significant role in mercury poisoning.

Back to the Buttar Protocol. By combining DMPS and EDTA, you have two drugs that do the same thing, except that one (EDTA) is both less effective and more toxic than the other. So, the net effect is to significantly increase the risk of injury or death without reaping a corresponding increase in effectiveness.

Now, the probable fact is that Buttar's TD-DMPS isn't being absorbed, so the IV-EDTA will undoubtedly increase the amount of chelation going on. However, an even greater effect could be achieved by simply giving the DMPS orally (or intravenously). So, why go to an "invasive" treatment that is painful and dangerous when a less painful and less dangerous (and more effective) treatment is available? Beats me. I just can't see the point.

[2] Ozone:

Excuse me, but weren't people saying that autism was due to antioxidant depletion? Didn't I read where Jill James or someone was saying that it was the depletion of glutathione from mercury that caused autism in the first place? Maybe I misread that, because I can't think of too many compounds you could inject (!) into a person that are more oxidizing than ozone. I mean, sure, you could inject them with perchlorate or nitric acid, but ozone is about the strongest oxidizer you can inject and not kill 100% of your "patients".

This brings two contrasting approaches into stark juxtaposition. On the one hand, you have Dr. Buttar, who is trying to improve the "wellness" of his patients by injecting them with ozone and on the other hand you have government agencies - like the EPA - trying to reduce ozone in the air we breathe. Both claim to be doing it to improve health. Which one do we believe?

[3] Copper:

The potential toxicity of copper pales to insignificance after IV EDTA and ozone. Anyone who is healthy enough to survive the first two should sail through a modest overdosage of copper without turning a hair.

Now, I may be in the minority when I say that I think that Dr. Buttar is sincerely trying to help his patients. I have seen no data, no hint that he is other than a firm believer in his own therapies. However, being sincere and honest does not preclude being wrong!

For the benefit of the people reading this blog who are supporters of Dr. Buttar, let me reiterate:

I am not accusing Dr. Buttar of lying - of that, I have no evidence. What I am asserting is that he is wrong. There is a difference!

With that, let the flames begin!


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mea culpa

Mea culpa - mea maxima culpa!

OK, I've gotten a lot of heat about saying that atheism is a religion - even a special case of religion where "god" is represented by the null set. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but on reflection (and a big "Thank You!" to all of you who assisted in that reflection), it just doesn't work. So, for the record:

Atheism is not a religion.

There, I'm glad I got that off my chest.

Still, I think that if one specific religion gets some classroom time in our public schools (I refer, of course, to the religion that is trying to sneak "Intelligent Design" into our science curriculum), then - in the spirit of fairness and equal representation - all religions should get some time to pitch their dogma. And, of course, it would be terribly unfair - not to mention unbalanced - if the kids didn't also get to hear from those whose position is that God (or Gods) doesn't exist.

I bet that the ID folks would have a cerebral hemorrhage over that - don't you? Imagine the school flyer on that one:

"Following the discussion on 'Intelligent Design', there will be a short presentation from the American Atheists on the non-existence of God. Refreshments will be served afterwards."

I think that you'd want to send that one home with a warning label.

Clearly, the ID'ers aren't interested in scientific debate - you don't have a scientific debate in a courtroom (or in a school board meeting - trust me on that one!) - they are interested in getting their religious ideology presented (and thereby affirmed) in the public schools. That's what "Intelligent Design" is all about. I mean, do you really imagine that this much heat would be generated by a debate about teaching punctuated equilibrium? OK, maybe in biological circles, but certainly not among the general public.

I suppose I can't blame the ID'ers- I'd like to get my religious dogma (if I had one) taught in school too - but the only way to do that would be to teach every religious dogma - and atheism (which is definitely not a religion - let's not start that again) as well. And that would require that our kids go to school 180 hours a week, 55 weeks a year.

So, unless we want to turn our public schools into a bigger mess than they already are, I think that we ought to just let "Intelligent Design" go away. Just turn off the life support and let it die the death it has been trying to die since it was first created (excuse me, "Intelligently Designed").


Sunday, November 13, 2005

When Religion becomes Science...

A moment of silence, please, for our poor suffering brothers and sisters in Kansas.

The Kansas Board of Education has recently decreed that "Intelligent Design" is science - an event that will go down in history alongside some of their other insightful decisions of the past. I have no doubt that the "ID" promoters will see this as a tremendous boost to their point of view, given the history of this august Board (vide supra), which merely serves to underscore their appalling lack of understanding of how science works. The supporters of "Intelligent Design" have merely postponed the "day of reckoning". Let me explain.

All of the political and even legal victories of "Intelligent Design" - which is simply good ol' Biblical Creationism in a plain white wrapper - will not give that idea what it needs to survive in the scientific world. Centuries ago, the Catholic Church imprisoned and executed people in an attempt to suppress the "theory" that the earth orbited the sun - and it didn't work then. The Church authorities had the power of life and death, but they couldn't keep the earth-centered Universe alive because they had no data!

Likewise, even if the "Intelligent Design" promoters pack the school board - or even the Supreme Courts - they will still not have a shred of data to support their "hypothesis". As a result, "Intelligent Design" has no hope to survive as a "theory" - it doesn't even have enough substance to exist as a testable hypothesis. It is, in fact, stillborn.

As an aside, I find it infinitely amusing that "Intelligent Design" evolved from Biblical Creationism in a way startlingly similar to the way biological organisms evolve from their ancestors. The political enviroment changed, making Creationism less able to compete for survival. The resulting selection pressures favored development of a new "species" from Creationism - one better camouflaged from the predatory humanist/secularist movements that were prowling the modern seas of society. And while there was certainly an intelligence (of a sort) involved in the process, it did not provide either the impetus or the direction of change. Those were provided by the environment, just as in evolution.

But I digress. Let us return to examining the potential consequences of the Kansas Board of Education decision, as there will certainly be many.


The first, and most obvious, consequence will be legal challenges. This is one factor that makes the Board's decision so Quixotic. Given that this is a "controversial" (except among scientists) subject- and school boards generally shy away from controversy (see here) - taking this decision indicates a strong motivation on the part of at least six of the Board members. This is especially true given the absolute certainty of legal challenges which will expend a great deal of the Board's funds - which they claim are in short supply. So, the taxpayers of Kansas will be asked to foot the bill for the religious convictions of six of the Board members.

This wouldn't be half as bad if "Intelligent Design" had a prayer (pun most certainly intended) of success in the courts. It might win in a Kansas state court (depending on the jurisdiction), but it will almost certainly fail at some higher court. And an adverse decision at a high court level will be devastating to "Intelligent Design". Since "ID" utterly lacks scientific data, its cannot survive an adverse legal ruling. The drive by the "ID" supporters to put their pet pseudo-theory in harm's way speaks volumes about their lack of understanding of what it is that they are supporting.


In a multicultural society with an explicit (if often ignored) guarantee of religious freedom, is it ethical to teach children a religious dogma in their science class? The "Intelligent Design" supporters can argue 'til they're blue that "ID" doesn't promote religion, but who (or what) do they think this "Intelligent Designer" is supposed to be if not God? They can play semantic games all they want, but that is one point that anyone who is honest will agree on - "ID" is all about God. And what about the people whose religion doesn't include a God?

[Note: I define "atheism" as a religion in which "god" is represented by the null set - "religion" being defined as any belief system that expresses certainty about non-physical, non-observable phenomona, including the belief that there are no such phenomena. The opposite of "religion" would then be "agnosticism", which holds that such phenomona are unknowable to humans and therefore no belief - for or against - is justified by the data.]

Another part of the ethical problem is the ethics of teachers lying to children. Even if the actual classroom teachers "believe" in "Intelligent Design", there are teachers or administrators somewhere in the system who know that it is a lie to tell children that "Intelligent Design" is in any way a scientific "theory", let alone one comparable in support or predictive power to evolution.

And lying to children isn't just an abstract issue of ethics. Once they find out that they've been lied to (and they will find out - ask any parent), children are not as forgiving as adults. Adults expect to be lied to; children still manage to be shocked and offended by it - that's one of the things that marks them as children. Once they find out that they've been lied to about "Intelligent Design", they will doubt everything else their teachers (and parents) have taught them. This is a process that currently occurs somewhere in the latter years of college (we hope) - do we really want to see this happening in secondary school?


What are the vocational implications of teaching kids baloney for science? Well, if they're headed off to become insurance salespeople or lawyers or auto mechanics, probably not a whole lot. However, if some of these students are to become scientists, then they will have to unlearn what they have learned about "Intelligent Design". And take it from a person who has to teach undergraduates in university, it takes a lot more effort to unlearn wrong information than it takes to learn it right the first time.

Now, people going into physics or chemistry may be able to limp along with a persistent belief in "Intelligent Design", but anyone going into biology (my field) will find themselves confronted at every turn with data that supports evolution and refutes "Intelligent Design". I see this every term - a young student who was indoctrinated with "Intelligent Design" either at home or in a private school starts in biology and finds that their religious dogma is in conflict with the data.

Once the student reaches this point, they have a decision to make. Some of them drop biology and go into a field that allows them to maintain their illusions about life and evolution. This is a sad waste of talent, in many cases.

Some of them try to deal with the conflict by actively challenging the teacher. This sort of "kill the messenger" strategy ultimately fails, since it is not the instructor's personal belief that they are challenging, but over a century of accumulated data. Philosophical differences can be legitimately argued, but data can only be refuted by more (or better) data. "Intelligent Design", as noted above, has no data, so the argumentative student is doomed to eventual failure. Many of them then take the first route and "opt out" of biology. Others take the next route.

When confronted with the data - and the evidence that they have been lied to - some "ID"-supporting students have a "de-conversion" experience. Sort of like being "born again", but in reverse. Rather than "awakening to a new faith", many of them lose faith entirely, becoming cynical and distrustful. Some of the most vehement anti-"ID" students on my campus are students who entered the university with a strong belief in "ID", proving again that there is no opponent so dangerous as an apostate.

Pandora's Box:

Once the "Intelligent Design" promoters get their "camel's nose" into the tent of the public schools, they may find that they have opened a door that they would rather have kept shut. After all, if "ID" believers are allowed to preach their religious tenents in public schools, why not everybody else? Of course, the other religions would also have to "dress up" their beliefs as the "Intelligent Design" promoters have, but that shouldn't be too difficult, given the template that "ID" has provided.

Personally, I think that the obvious next candidate for inclusion would be the Atheists, who should be allowed to present their "theory" that there is no "Intelligent Designer". Their data is just as compelling as that of the "ID" people, so I see no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to have their day in school. Of course, the Atheists wouldn't say that there is no God, just that there is no "Intelligent Designer". That's different - isn't it?

Next up should be the Pantheists who could argue that there is not just one "Intelligent Designer" but many, often in mortal conflict with each other. And so on, ad infinitum until we have to send our kids to a private school just so that they can have enough time away from religious instruction to be able to learn to read, write and do sums.


Not only is teaching "Intelligent Design" in the public schools bad science, a breach of trust and probably against the law, it is a bad idea for the supporters of the "Intelligent Design" movement, most (if not all) of whom are trying to increase society's belief in their God. Any short term gains they make will be at the eventual cost of being exposed trying to manipulate children into their religious beliefs. The backlash against this manipulation will come not only from enraged parents, but also from the children that they have manipulated. It is, in short, a lose-lose proposition for "Intelligent Design".

In the short term, the "victory" of the "Intelligent Design" supporters in Kansas may make them feel more empowered and righteous. It will, however, lead to their eventual downfall. Their "theory" cannot stand prolonged scrutiny outside of the protected environment of a rigged school board - it has no data to support it and far too much data refuting it.

And even if - against all odds - the "Intelligent Design" supporters carry the day, they may not like the implications that victory will have. Are they really ready to go head-to-head with every other religious interpretation of reality? Are they ready to have their children indoctrinated in religious dogmas other than their own? I doubt it.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Prometheus Unbound!

One of the many advantages to blogging under a pseudonym is that it allows me - for a few moments - to shrug off the yoke of "political correctness" that I must wear during my work day. Modern academia is a paradise of intellectual freedom (or so I am told) - but we must have a few simple rules to keep everybody "safe".

In a previous position, we had a saying, "The large print giveth and the small print taketh away." Political correctness, under the guise of "diversity", "tolerance" and "preventing hurtful speech", is the small print. A few examples:

Diversity: We are told (and I generally agree) that we should be respectful of (i.e. not be prejudicial based on) the differences between us all. Modern academia has taken this noble idea and extended it to its logical (or absurd) extreme. Not only are we to not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, or sexual preference, we can no longer discriminate based on ability or performance.

Tolerance: We are commanded to be tolerant of other points of view - excepting of course that we are intolerant of points of view that don't support tolerance and diversity. And we are allowed to be intolerant of speech that "harms" other people. "We don't tolerate that sort of thing", I was told. How, exactly, speech "harms" someone is left rather vague and open to (post hoc) interpretation. Apparently, telling a student that their interpretation of evolution is "wrong" (i.e. is not in agreement with the current concensus view) is "harmful". I suppose that marking an examination answer as "incorrect" would also be "harmful".

This past October, for me, was a very stupid month. And November isn't shaping up to be much better, so far. By "stupid", I mean no disparagement of the month itself or of the weather. What I mean is that during October - and the first few days of November - I have been bombarded by stupidity from a variety of sources (not the least of which has been the blogosphere).

I suppose the serious stupidity (i.e. stupidity above the normal background level) started when a student in the virology class announced that HIV (the virus that causes the disease AIDS) didn't cause AIDS - that AIDS was the result of "poor life choices" combined with the debilitating effects of anti-retroviral drugs. He based this startling assertion on his experience as a hospital orderly handing out medication to AIDS patients. This was one of the few times in my teaching career that I was so daunted by the sheer magnitude of willful ignorance that I was unsure where - or if - to begin.

This experience was augmented by the annual start-of-term "Loonies on the Lawn" program (not sponsored by the University) where we were bombarded on a daily basis by Creationists ("old earth" variety), "Intelligent Design" promoters, and a generic mix of "Repent Now!" auditory evangelists.

Following close on the heels of all that, there was a student in the evolution class who announced (why must they always make public pronouncements?) in class the he did not believe in evolution (thereby begging the question of why he had registered for the class) and would challenge everything that contradicted his firm belief in "Intelligent Design". Let's just say that the term doesn't look too promising for him.

Of course, I must take some responsibility for the dismal nature of the last month (after all, I made the decision to pursue the career I am in). When the lad in evolution class asked how I would refute "Intelligent Design", I responded thusly:

[1] "Intelligent Design" is not a hypothesis, since it makes no testable predictions.

[2] Even if "Intelligent Design" supporters could somehow "prove" that evolution was wrong, it would not make "Intelligent Design" "right".

[3] "Intelligent Design" is not good science - it is not even bad science - it is religion dressed up in a lab coat pretending to be science in order to have a particular religious viewpoint taught in public schools.

Point number three earned me a round of applause from the class (with one notable abstention) and a note from the department chairman inviting me to drop by for a cup of tea and some conversation.

Finally, the blogosphere has been humming with people who think they understand science but who are simply parroting what the pseudoscientists have told them. In all fairness and scientific candor, it may be that I am noticing this more since I have been out-of-sorts lately.

Still, I tire of the seemingly endless numbers of scientist wannabe's who think that reading "Evidence of Harm" or other such drivel can put them on par with people who actually know something about the subject. I have nothing against ignorance - there is no shame in being ignorant (no great honor, either), since we are all ignorant about something.

However, the willful, agressive strain of ignorance that I see surrounding certain pseudo-scientific issues (e.g. evolution, autism-mercury, etc.) is mind-boggling. Many of these people are so misinformed and yet they resist all efforts to point out their errors. They don't trust anybody except the people who already agree with them. It's like watching a tour group trying to navigate through Rome with a map of London.

Well, I must be off to try and not overly offend the young minds entrusted to my care. 'Til next time...