Lost on the Moral Compass Course
Conflict of interest is something that the supporters of various "alternative" autism hypotheses throw around a lot. They use it to explain why studies fail to show a connection between thimerosal and autism. They use it to explain why we should pay no attention to the dozens of excellent scientists and doctors who say that there is no connection. They use it to explain why nobody is doing research that finds a connection between mercury and autism.
But they don't use it to explain why many of the people on their "side" are doing what they do.
While looking through the material for my last post, I stumbled across the fact that Dr. Bernard Rimland was one of the people who patented the use of secretin in any form to treat autism. That patent was then sold to the Repligen Corporation, which then began testing (recombinant) secretin as a treatment for autism. Dr. Rimland (and the other owner of the patent) donated the Repligen stock to the Autism Research Institute (ARI) - which is run by Dr. Rimland.
When Repligen decided - in January of 2004 - to stop the secretin study because of unfavorable preliminary results, Dr. Rimland published a letter to the CEO of Repligen in the ARI newsletter, Autism Research Review International. This letter included the following statement:
"We have gotten, and continue to get, communications from upset parents and physicians, many of whom are Repligen stockholders."
The following graph of Repligen's stock price may help illuminate at least some of the cause of the upset: (stock chart). The stock price had gone over $8 in October of 2003 but was down to around $4 in late December. The precipitous drop (to about $2.50) in January 2004 was probably linked to the news that their promised blockbuster was a non-starter.
Now, I'm sure that Dr. Rimland had many other reasons besides stock values to be upset about the end of the study, but don't you think that it would have been ethical to at least mention that ARI was a major stockholder in the company? That might have informed readers that there was a potential conflict of interest involved in Dr. Rimland's letter and editorial.
Instead, Dr. Rimland mentioned that many of the parents and physicians who had communicated with him were stockholders and completely ommitted any mention of ARI's role as a major stockholder.
Other conflicts of interest abound in the "alternative" autism world.
Geier and Geier - famous for their ability to glean definitive information from a corrupted database - make their money doing "expert witness" work for parents suing (or trying to sue) over alleged vaccine injury. Besides other ethical issues that they might have (see here), it is clear that they have a financial stake (i.e. a conflict of interest) in finding that vaccines - or a component of vaccines - cause autism (or other disorders that one can sue over).
The "alternative" autism conferences are filled with people who are providing "infomercials" about the "therapy" they are selling without explicitly disclosing this fact to the parents at these conferences.
For example - Boyd Haley lectures on how mercury causes autism and - coincidentally - is founder of a company that sells some "advanced" dental diagnostics and also promotes the idea that mercury (from dental amalgams and/or vaccines) causes a number of chronic conditions, including autism.
Given the incredible conflicts of interest seen among the "scientists" supporting both the autism-mercury and autism-vaccine hypotheses (granted, there is a significant overlap), I find it almost laughable that they accuse other people of conflict of interest. Almost, but not quite.
Clearly, the conflict of interest issue is just a red herring, since the very people making the accusation are untroubled by gross conflist of interest among people on "their" side. In fact, it seems more like a case of projection, where they accuse others of the very transgression that they, themselves, are repeatedly committing.
So, it seems that the leaders and "researchers" of the autism-mercury group have lost their moral compass (if, indeed, some of them ever had one).