Monday, December 19, 2005

Lost on the Moral Compass Course

After finishing my last post ("Collective Amnesia"), I spent a little time contemplating the issue of "conflict of interest".

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).



Blogger Bartholomew Cubbins said...

One of my favorite bits from the Hg-autism crowd is that researchers involved with the government are corrupt and that the work cannot be trusted. Show me any researcher at any major institution (Griers' garage doesn't count, sorry) that isn't being supported by the NIH at some level, be it directly or indirectly. The only biomedical researchers who don't need NIH money are HHMI investigators, and they still take it. It all comes down to "those who agree with me are virtuous and those who don't are corrupt". Deth and Burbacher have taken their share from NIH - does that negate their work?

I have no problem with Haley making money off of what he lectures about - it's just that people need to recognize him for what he is: a salesman. By abandoning academics and focusing on the cash, he joins the ranks of those selling RNA snake oil. So let the man earn his keep. I'll despise him for it, but I bet it's not keeping him up at night. By the way, he's not the chair of the Chem dept at U of K, despite the fact that he's advertised as such and despite the fact I've never read or heard him correct someone who presents him as such.

19 December, 2005 12:11  
Blogger Prometheus said...

Master Cubbins,

Your comments are spot on - as usual. One of the hallmarks of "hysteria science" is the promiscuous use of allegations of conflict of interest, bias, dishonesty (lying) and incompetence against those they disagree with and a completely blind eye to the faults (often much worse!) of those they agree with.

Boyd Haley is not currently the Chairman of the Department of Chemistry at the Univ. of Kentucky, but he was in the recent past. I imagine that he passed the task on to another colleague (Dr. Yates) when his term of office was up. In the absence of knowledge about the exact timing of that event, I would have to say that the incidents you refer to occurred when he was Chairman.

Thank you again for your incisive commentary.


19 December, 2005 17:54  
Blogger Bronze Dog said...

Wish I saw this entry earlier. Would have been entertaining to do a little turnabout on one troll I encounted.

There'll always be next time, though.

19 December, 2005 19:39  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conflict of interest is only meaningful if one can illustrate that said conflict affected the results of their research.

If you look hard enough, EVERYONE involved with these debates will have some kind of conflict. In many cases, that's because doctors who are experts in their field end up being desirable consultants of employees of large pharmaceutical companies. Makes sense to get the best of the best.

And often, those on the "altie" side will have a financial or personal stake in their research. Otherwise, why challenge the medical orthodoxy? For fun? Again, nothing inherently wrong with being an altie, but you have to prove your stuff works first.

Bottom line - judge people on the quality of their work, not on who funded it.

20 December, 2005 13:43  
Blogger Bartholomew Cubbins said...

Hi Prometheus, Regarding your faith that the misrepresentation happened prior to him handing off the chairmanship, well the last I'm aware of took place about a week ago during BioChat, during the introduction of Dr. Haley by Dr. James Neurbrander (a HBOT enthusiast). BioChat is a real-time voice and text chatting event which is effectively a misinformation and pseudoscience circle-jerk.

All I'm saying is that a straight-up person would correct a problematic introduction. The only reason why I could think that a person wouldn't is if they felt pathalogically uncomfortable speaking in public or if they benefitted somehow by the incorrect statement. A chairmanship is prestigious and lends credibility, especially to a lay audience. I think it's sad and it provides some insight into the person.

21 December, 2005 09:27  
Blogger Prometheus said...

Master Cubbins,

I stand (or, more precisely, sit) corrected!

I have a regrettable tendency to believe that people are more likely to be mistaken than they are to be dishonest, which often leads me to disaster.

The amount of credential inflation that I have found among the people involved in promoting the autism-mercury dogma is daunting, even for someone used to seeing "padded" CV's. The worst that I have found to date is that of Dr. Jeff Bradstreet, whose "exaggerations" rival those of the legendary (and possibly apocryphal) Baron von Munchausen.


21 December, 2005 13:19  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Hendren executive director of the MIND institute takes money from big pharma, all the while promoting the idea that we need to be open minded to voodoo based cures.

You would have to have heard him speak at the Summer institute to believe what he was saying, basically he was undercutting the idea of needing evidence based medicine.

Hendren's big on Ritalin for ADHD, though, that's his specialty, if I remember right.

Recently, Dr. Neubrander defended himself against accusations of money-grubbing (on his online bulletin board) by saying that in NJ you can't make a profit off of vitamins if you are a doctor... so he doesn't make money off of b12 shots...

uhuh. Poor fellow, he's on food stamps, you know... takes the bus to work... no doubt.

21 December, 2005 17:35  
Anonymous anotheranon said...


Dr your lies you've told for years
Must stop and end right here
Without hedging
Tell the truth before you go

You have done all you know how
To find profits where you can
Without helping
To heal children with your plan

Dr. your lies
Tell me one last one
Did a spy
Tap your telephone for fun

'Cuz I have laid down for your cause
and now I have finally have to pause
I am hoping that the truth will set me free

'Cuz patients latch onto to some hope
But you dismiss them at door unless they bring you
an "investor" on his knees

Dr your lies
Tell me if you believe
What you say
Or is it all just so much greed

Dr your lies
Now shed into the light
This is your price
For messing with my tyke.

21 December, 2005 19:16  
Blogger Kev said...

Great post P. I'd add Andrew Wakefield to your list - Wakefield filed patent documents just as the MMR scare was getting a good head of steam up in the UK to the effect that he'd found a 'safer' vaccine. A claim he later denied on his website and again through his solicitors. You can see the non-existant application in full on Brian Deer's site.

22 December, 2005 01:02  

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