Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Next Revolution?

As the chelationistas rediscover/redefine/remarket themselves, surely there are parents who are feeling a little misled, deceived or perhaps even exploited. Maybe it's time for another "revolution" in autism? And this time, it's the chelationistas who need to be overthrown.

For years, the various organizations representing the chelationistas have been telling parents that they are their advocates, that they respect parents, listen to parents and learn from parents. It's the "other side" - the doctors, "the government" and, worst of all, Big Pharma (cue spooky music) that lies to parents, disrespects parents, ignores parents.

Now, it turns out, the chelationistas are admitting that they don't respect parents - they don't even trust the parents' intelligence enough to tell them the whole truth. And telling less than the whole truth is....that's right; lying.

The chelationistas are now claiming that they knew all along that autism wasn't just mercury poisoning - despite earlier claims to the contrary (see here, also). The fact that they didn't tell parents is explained as "not wanting to confuse the issue". Or, it could be argued, not wanting to risk losing parents' support on a complicated and complex issue.

So, the chelationistas respect parents, but not enough to tell them the truth.

And the chelationistas listen to parents, but don't hear them when they say, "we want the facts".

And the chelationistas learn from parents, but only in order to better market their product.

Many people may now find themselves unsure when the chelationistas are telling the truth (hint: only when their lips aren't moving).

After all, if it is true - as the chelationista revisionistic propaganda says - that the chelationistas hid the full scope of possible causes of autism from the parents, then those parent have the right - no, the duty - to ask a simple question:


Ironically, it appears - again, from the chelationistas' own "clarifications" - that the chelationistas didn't trust the parents' ability to understand a more complex issue. The chelationistas didn't want to muddy the water with facts.

In other words, they are claiming that they lied to parents in order to further the chelationista movement.

Funny - that's pretty much what the chelationistas accuse the government and "mainstream medicine" of doing.

Of course, another possibility is that the chelationistas really did believe that mercury caused autism (and may still believe so) but are afraid that parents will start to doubt them as the mountain of data refuting the mercury-causes-autism hypothesis bears down. So, in order to keep from looking like uninformed dolts, they lie about having known "all along" that autism was "more complex than just mercury poisoning".

Either way, the chelationistas have been caught in a lie.

Now, the majority of parents caught up in the chelationista's web will buy the "clarification" and will not be offended by the blatant condescension that it contains. A few will have their eyes opened and will leave. Most will leave quietly, burning in silent resentment, but we can only hope that a couple of parents are angry enough at this travesty to lead a revolt.

After all, the only way to bring down a cult is from the inside.

I have a theme song in mind for this revolt:

Devo, Jerkin' back 'n' forth
(from the album "New Traditionalists")

I know I let you tell me what to do
You were confident, you knew best
Now things aren't working like you want them to
Your confidence is what I detest

You got me lookin' up high
You got me searchin' down low
You got me - I know you know
You got me jerkin' back 'n' forth

That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

It's time for parents of autistic children to stand up and say they won't be manipulated, deceived or dismissed - not even by organizations that claim to represent them. It's time for parents of autistic children to demand the truth - especially from organizations that claim to represent them.

It's time for a new revolution.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Crisis of Faith or "Bait and Switch"?

Over the past year, I've noticed an odd trend among the supporters of the mercury-causes-autism hypothesis. It began gradually, as trends often do, with a few seemingly random phrases like "...and other toxins...", "...and environmental exposures...", "...other vaccine components...", "...formaldehyde, aluminium and benxyl alcohol..." and "...viruses and bacteria...".

But now, the shift in emphasis is unmistakeable. Kev, Orac and others have blogged about specific attempts at historical revisionism among the chelationistas, but I'd like to assess the "bigger picture" and what it means to the hypothesis-formerly-known-as-mercury-causes-autism.

For those who are not intimately familiar with the daily ins and outs of the chelationistas' arguments (you lucky people!), the Central Dogma of the chelationista faith has been - since the infamous Bernard et al paper, in which a group of people who had never seen mercury poisoning compared it to autism - that mercury causes autism. Period. Full stop. The end.

Apparently, that is no longer true.

In a move reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984, the chelationistas have changed their minds about mercury being the cause of autism, but they are claiming that they haven't actually changed their minds - they're simply "clarifying their position".

That's newspeak for "the data don't support our position, so we're doing our darndest to keep from having to admit we were wrong."

So, what does cause autism, according to the chelationistas?

  • "Heavy metals" (does this include Def Leppard?)
  • Aluminium (not a "heavy metal")
  • Live viruses
  • Bacteria
  • "Maternal toxic load" (perhaps from watching Oprah?)
  • Antibiotics
Note that they haven't given up on their favorite cause: mercury. They have just provided it with some camouflage.

The advantage of this "clarification" (translation: "obfuscation") is to make it impossible (or at least highly impractical) to ever prove them wrong. Let me demonstrate.

In order to show that the mercury-causes-autism hypothesis was wrong, we just needed to show that there was no correlation between mercury exposure (i.e. thimerosal exposure, environmental mercury, etc.) and autism. While correlation does not equal causation, a lack of correlation is essentially equal to a lack of causation.

That was relatively easy to do, although many of the chelationistas are still struggling with that unpleasant lump of reality.

However, in order to definitively squash the new "heavy metals"-aluminium-live viruses-bacteria-etc.-cause-autism hypothesis, you would need to explore all possible combinations of these "exposures". If you don't, it is a sure bet that the next "hypothesis" will be that the one combination you didn't check is the real cause of autism.

Just like mercury was... until it wasn't.

So, how many combinations would that be? It seems simple enough - there are only six items on the list. Except that some of the items are a bit broad.

You could lump all "heavy metals" together (if you can get a ruling from the chelationistas on exactly which metals are included in this group), which would leave you with a manageable number, right?

The "live viruses" could just be the ones in vaccines, or they could be any live virus that the chelationistas care to claim (without having to provide data) are in vaccines. Or they could be any live virus in "the environment". It is a number with a great potential for flexibility.

"Bacteria" is another ambiguous category. Are they referring to the killed bacteria in vaccines, or will they want to expand that into all environmental bacteria (a number in the millions, if not billions)? Or will they want to reserve the right to claim that vaccines - or any other product with a manufacturer they can sue - are contaminated with bacteria that only the DAN! doctors and their faithful laboratories can detect?

Of course, the "maternal toxic load" is another extremely broad (one might even say deliberately vague) category. We'd need to get a ruling from the chelationista high court on which "toxins" they have in mind. And we'd better get that in writing, in case they try to "clarify their position" later. I suspect that this is another "trapdoor" they've left in their new "hypothesis" in order to allow them to escape again.

Simply defining the problem is impossible, given the vague and fuzzy nature of the new "causes of autism". And even if we were to get the problem defined - and get it to stay defined - there is another factor to consider.

If we were to assume (naively) that there were only six variables to examine, how many combinations would that make? If we have n items ("n" is a variable) and we group k ("k" is another variable) of them at a time, the number of possible combinations (where order doesn't matter) is: [see here for a tutorial]

n! / (n - k)! k!

(the "!" stands for "factorial")
So, if we have six possible causes and we examine possible combinations of any two, we have fifteen (15) possible combinations. A large number, but not an impossible task.

But, we have to count all possible combinations, including groups from one to six of the possible causes. This gives us a grand total of sixty-three (63) possible combinations.

And that's what we get by considering "heavy metals" and "maternal toxins" as one category. What happens if we expand "heavy metals" to the "big five" of toxic metals (mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, antimony)?
Total combinations = 1023
And if we expand "maternal toxins" to include the five toxic metals?
Total combinations = 16,383
Mind you, we haven't even begun to exhaust all of the potential "maternal toxins", "live viruses" or "bacteria" - the potential number of those could be in the thousands, if not the millions.

So now you see the shrewd cunning of the chelationistas. By making their "position" more vague, they have ensured that they will never again find themselves in the bind they are now. Never again will science be able to say - with any certainty - that the chelationistas' "hypothesis" about the cause(s) of autism is unfounded.

That's because it is practically untestable. It is not absolutely untestable - if we were to commit the entire scientific resources of the world to searching various combinations, it would probably take slightly less than an infinite amount of time to check them all. But it will never happen.

And that's exactly what the chelationistas want.