Monday, July 11, 2005

When Scientists go Bad...

Today's post will be a double-header!

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: " 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 To be fair, they also have vague graphs from undescribed - and unpublished - studies, but they have a lot more testimonials!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!



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you sure you're not one of the Autism Diva's other personalities?

Creating numerous blogs to pretend there is actually something to all the nonsense your saying?

11 July, 2005 22:17  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go to Orac's site and see the comment someone left for him about his blog. It's towards the end. It fits you and that diva person to a "t".

11 July, 2005 22:26  
Blogger Orac said...

That anonymous "someone" who left that comment wouldn't happen to be you, would "a nonny mouse"?

One wonders, one does.

12 July, 2005 10:23  
Blogger Prometheus said...

I don't like to post comments on my own blog, but "Anonymous" and "a nonny mouse" (yawn) seem to want a response.

[1] I'm not the Autism Diva - next contestant, please.

[2] The comment posted on "Respectful Insolence" appears to be a cry for either attention or professional psychiatric help. I mean this in a caring way.


12 July, 2005 16:09  
Blogger Alyric said...

As a friend of the Diva - going on 3 years now, I can attest to the numerous stylistic differences between Prometheus and the Diva. The rationality is about the same, but that's why I read this stuff.

Keep it comin'


12 July, 2005 19:45  
Blogger EdR77203 said...

You are kidding, right? Mercury in the hair indicates that the body is getting rid of it. No mercury indicates that the body is not getting rid of it.

Mercury is a known, potent neurotoxin. Autistics don't get rid of it. The normal population does.

Historically, the medical community trashes all evidence that is given linking vaccines and autism. Parents have been telling doctors that a dramatic change happened after the child's vaccines for years. It has been trashed as anecdotal. There are video tapes of the change. It is still anecdotal.

The medical community only has their management drugs to aid in the day to day handling of the autistic child and nothing to make the situation better. They make it worse by never taking an honest look at the evidence and wonder why so many don't accept their statement that there is no link.

Wake up doctors. If this is a monster, it is one of your own making.

11 September, 2005 12:12  
Blogger Prometheus said...

To Ed:

Nope, not kidding. Hair is not a major (or even a significant minor) way for humans to eliminate mercury - especially infant humans.

Compared to other animals - like mice and rats, even adult male humans have a pretty paltry "pelt". And infants - as you may have noticed - don't even have that much hair. Even the article by Holmes et al admitted that hair was not a significant route of elimination for mercury.

What hair does do is provide a long-term record of how much mercury has been in the blood. If autistic children were unable to eliminate mercury, their tissue and blood levels would be higher, and so their hair levels would be higher.

Mercury isn't actively excreted into the hair - it gets there in the blood and is passively absorbed by the growing hair shaft. There isn't any "elimination" mechanism to damage or be dysfunctional - if the hair follicle gets blood, the hair gets a proportion of the mercury in the blood. If the follicle doesn't get blood, no hair grows.

I suppose the reason that the medical community "trashed" the hypothesis that autism is caused by mercury is that the data points the other direction. Five major ecological and epidemiological studies have failed to find a connection between thimerosal dose and autism.

The only studies that support the hypothesis are by one research team (Geier & Geier) and their data comes from the VAERS database, which is not designed to eliminate spurious and duplicate reports. Read my post, "Dumpster Diving" ( for more information.

Welcome to my blog, Ed! Even if you don't agree with what I have to say (which I suspect will be the case), you should look at it with an open mind. It might change the way you think. Or not.


11 September, 2005 16:29  

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