Clark, I agree that the factual arguments should stand on their own without recourse to the motives of the researchers. However, it seems Paul doesn’t quite understand the science, so he’s choosing his side based on motives. He tries to undermine the claims of the medical and scientific professions who are confident that vaccines (with or without the thimerosal/ethylmercury preservative) do not cause autism, by alleging that they’re swayed by financial incentives. Their ethics are being bought off by Big Pharma, according to Paul, and they’re prepared to mislead and endanger the public on that basis. Of course that view implies a wide-ranging conspiracy of fraud, malpractice, silence and cover-up. Well, if that’s the line Paul wishes to pursue, it would be even-handed to examine the motives on the other side of the debate as well.
We’re aware there are a few bad eggs who bend the rules for their own purposes: Andrew Wakefield is perhaps the most prominent example. As it happens, the authors of the paper Paul cited earlier – “Relevance of Neuroinflammation and Encephalitis in Autism” – are equally disreputable. The head of the research team, Dr Mark Geier, was struck off for numerous misdemeanours including professional misconduct, hazardous negligence, incompetence and misrepresenting areas of expertise. That’s not mere subjective opinion: those are words from the actual court rulings.
In the mid-2000s, riding the wave of concerns about thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, Maryland doctor Mark Geier and his son, David, began to promote a theory that a pathological interaction between mercury and testosterone explained many symptoms of autism. That claim came after the Geiers published a few studies suggesting a link between thimerosal and autism—studies that the Institute of Medicine characterized as having “serious methodological flaws.” Despite that review, the Geiers proceeded with their controversial work. They established an unapproved treatment that involved daily injections of leuprolide (Lupron) , a drug used to treat prostate cancer and to chemically castrate sex offenders. In children, the drug is approved only to treat precocious puberty, a rare condition in which puberty begins before the age of 8 years. Side effects in kids can include bone and heart damage. Leuprolide also carries a risk of exacerbating seizure disorders, a condition commonly associated with autism. The Geiers sometimes paired those injections with chemical chelation, a risky treatment for patients with heavy metal poisoning. To peddle their treatments to parents and insurance companies at a cost upward of $5000 a month, the Geiers improperly diagnosed children with precocious puberty—without performing the necessary diagnostic tests. They also misled parents into believing that the regimen was approved to treat autism, according to a 2011 investigation by the Maryland Board of Physicians. The board revoked Mark Geier’s state medical license, saying his practice “far exceeds his qualifications and expertise,” and other states followed suit. His son, who holds only a Bachelor of Arts degree, was charged with practicing medicine without a license.
The Wikipedia page on Mark Geier doesn’t mince words:
Mark R. Geier (born 1948 in Washington, D.C., U.S.) is an American former physician and controversial sometime professional witness who testified in more than 90 cases regarding allegations of injury or illness caused by vaccines. Since 2011, Geier’s medical license has been suspended or revoked in every state in which he was licensed over concerns about his autism treatments and his misrepresentation of his credentials to the Maryland Board of Health, where he falsely claimed to be a board-certified geneticist and epidemiologist.
Mark and his son, David Geier, are frequently cited by proponents of the now-discredited claim that vaccines cause autism. Geier’s credibility as an expert witness has been questioned in 10 court cases. In 2003, a judge ruled that Geier presented himself as an expert witness in “areas for which he has no training, expertise and experience.” In other cases in which Geier has testified, judges have labeled his testimony “intellectually dishonest,” “not reliable” and “wholly unqualified.” Another judge wrote that Geier “may be clever, but he is not credible.”
Geier’s scientific work has also been criticized; when the Institute of Medicine reviewed vaccine safety in 2004, it dismissed Geier’s work as seriously flawed, “uninterpretable”, and marred by incorrect use of scientific terms. In 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics criticized one of Geier’s studies, which claimed a link between vaccines and autism, as containing “numerous conceptual and scientific flaws, omissions of fact, inaccuracies, and misstatements.” In January 2007, a paper by the Geiers was retracted by the journal Autoimmunity Reviews. New Scientist reported that the supposed institutional review board (IRB) that Geier claimed approved his experiments with autistic children was located at Geier’s business address and included Geier, his son and wife, a business partner of Geier’s, and a plaintiff’s lawyer involved in vaccine litigation, and the Maryland State Board of Physicians referred to it as a “sham IRB” that did not meet the requirements of state or federal law.
There’s more detail about the suspension of his licences in an article entitled “Mark Geier: Not a Leg to Stand On“:
Dr. Geier, through his Institute of Chronic Illness and Genetic Centers of America, misdiagnosed autistic children with precocious puberty so he could claim that he was using Lupron on label, rather than for an unapproved, experimental indication (i.e., autism). This also allowed him to bill insurance companies for the lupron. His actions got him into hot water with various state medical boards, starting with his medical license in Maryland being suspended on April 27, 2011. Since then, one by one, 11 of his 12 medical licenses were suspended, an application for a thirteenth license in Ohio was denied, and some of those suspensions became complete revocations. The last actions I wrote about were the revocation of his license in Missouri and suspension of his Illinois license. At the time, the only state left in which Dr. Geier could practice was Hawaii.
As of April 11, 2013, that is no longer the case.
David Geier (his son and co-author), who was also charged over the same affair, was convicted of practising medicine without an appropriate licence (he only had a BA degree in Biology). The co-author Janet Kern is an employee at Geier’s private institute, which operates from a residential suburb between Baltimore and Washington. You can read an investigation into their misdemeanours by Brian Deer – the same journalist who exposed Andrew Wakefield: “What Makes an Expert?” (BMJ, 2007).
Geier’s malpractices managed to extract large medical insurance payouts for the benefit of his own business (and his own bank balance). If anyone has been swayed into manipulating medical research for a profit motive, Paul, it’s the authors of the very paper you rely on. Well done for rooting out another disingenuous quack – to set alongside Andrew Wakefield, Loretta Bolgan and Judy Mikowitz – whose malfeasance was confirmed by judicial rulings. Yet somehow you cast the allegations of corruption at the mainstream industry-wide consensus. It really beggars belief.
It seems to me that you lose the “motives” round with a swift technical K.O. But let’s put that aside and focus on the issues.
Several of Geier’s published articles were retracted due to serious flaws and misrepresentations. The Harpocrates article outlines an underlying confusion between methylmercury (a neurotoxin, commonly found in seafood) and ethylmercury (used in thimerosal, easily flushed out of the body). Moreover, the causal theory implodes with the simple observation that the incidence of autism in the US continued to increase after thimerosal (and thus, ethylmercury) was completely removed from regular vaccines in 2001. I’ll conclude with an up-to-date summary from “Epidemiological controversies in autism”, published in January this year:
Claims that childhood vaccines fuelled an epidemic of autism were widely publicised in the late 1990s. One “theory” incriminated the measles component of the triple measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, the second one implicated thimerosal (ethylmercury) received through other childhood vaccines. However, trends in rates of ASD were shown to be uncorrelated to trends in uptake of MMR or thimerosal-containing vaccines . Controlled observational studies (case-control and cohort studies) equally failed to show increased risk of ASD in individual children exposed to MMR or thimerosal-containing vaccines in various doses . Thimerosal was removed from vaccine production in the early 2000s, with no effect of autism trends. Younger siblings of children with ASD also have no raised risk of ASD after immunisations . Remarkably, no study has ever supported a risk association of autism with vaccines, and as shown in meta-analyses and systematic reviews , the convergence of negative findings across investigators, study designs, samples and countries has been impressive. Further claims were made that the risk could be confined to a small, vulnerable, subgroup that epidemiological studies would not be capable to detect. Systematic search for this hypothetical subgroup (defined by regression, onset immediately after MMR shot, co-occurrence of gastrointestinal symptoms and inflammation, and abnormal persistence of measles virus in the gut wall) failed to validate its existence [11–13].
There is a wealth of scientific literature on this topic (although I note you have already discounted it with an allegation that it’s all funded by Big Pharma).
Paul, debating with you is like fighting the Black Knight from Monty Python’s Holy Grail: he loses a limb with every strike but battles on regardless.
“You’ve no arms left”
– “It’s only a flesh wound. Have at you!”
“What are you going to do, bleed on me?”
– “I’ll bite your legs off! I’m invincible!”
“You’re a loony!”.
Like Mark Geier, you have no legs left to stand on, Paul.