Archive for: April, 2010

New autism study: science or nonsense?

Apr 06 2010 Published by under Medicine

Bad medical ideas often start with good intentions.  Most doctors are interested in preventing and treating disease, and some diseases are particularly challenging.  Some rise to this challenge, forming clever hypotheses and finding accurate ways to test them, but others aren't so successful.  Sometimes, hypotheses are too implausible to be worth spending much time on.  Sometimes, the method used to test a hypothesis is simply not valid.

This story begins on the website Age of Autism. AoA is one of the homes of the antivaccination movement and gives a lot of time to those who still believe that vaccinations and other "toxins" cause autism.  The site is full of remarkably paranoid rants.  When Chicago Tribune journalist Trine Tsouderos won an excellence in health care journalism award, AoA accused the CDC and Trib of having "bought" the award. They are boosters of every unproven and implausible "treatment" for autism, such as chelation, hyperbaric oxygen, and chemical castration through lupron injections.  Recently, they provided a platform to Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the physician who's Lancet paper drawing a link between autism, vaccinations, and gut disorders, was formally withdrawn by the journal's editors.  Due to accusations of scientific and ethical misconduct, he is likely to lose his license to practice medicine in England.

So it came as no surprise to see one of their writers hyping a study in progress that is testing oral enzymes for the treatment of autism.   In the piece, Theresa Conrick incorrectly implies that the existence of this study is vindication for both the autism-gut hypothesis and for Wakefield's behavior.


In 1998 Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the prestigious medical journal the Lancet.  In this study, he claimed that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine caused observable changes to children's intestines which eventually lead to autism.  The study led directly to falling vaccination rates in the UK, an increase in vaccine-preventable disease, and helped launch the modern antivaccination movement in North American and Europe.  The study, as it turned out, was so fraught with conflicts of interest and poor science that several of the authors dropped their association with it, and it was eventually withdrawn from the journal.  Wakefield himself was lambasted by England's General Medical Council for his unethical behavior associated with the study, and will likely lose his license to practice medicine. 

Wakefield's hypothesis about autism and gastrointestinal disease was never terribly plausible to begin with, and despite the retraction of his original study, there persists a belief in many parts of the autism community that the gut is somehow implicated in the development and treatment of autism.  Wakefield still has many zealous adherents and dietary therapies for autism have grown in popularity.  Jenny McCarthy attributes much of her purported success with her child to severe dietary restrictions which she recommends for others.  So far, however, there is no good body of literature supporting any connection between gut disease, diet, and autism.  A new study aims to change that.

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Vaccination's night of the living dead

Apr 03 2010 Published by under Absurd medical claims, Medicine, Vaccination inanity

Some crazy, currently unbloggable crap is going down around Casa Pal this week, so I'm going to have to open up a bloggy doggy bag for you. I have a nice piece in the works for Sunday or Monday which is brand, spanking new. This was originally published on 5/6/2009. --PalMD
Some bad ideas refuse to die. Others die and then come back to eat your brains. Of course, zombies don't just rise from the grave for no reason. They need some sort of animating principle, like meteors, puffer fish toxin, a voodoo priestess, or all three.


Brain-eating, measles-promoting zombies. Not pictured: Andrew Wakefield

I'm sure Oprah can afford any or all of these, and she's certainly putting them to work. The latest reanimation from Oprah's Harpo Studios is Jenny McCarthy, Queen of the Undead, at least as far as the army of infectious disease promoters goes. You see, not only has Jenny been spreading lies about public health, her activities have breathed fresh life into infectious diseases that were "mostly dead". She even admits that increasing the incidence of dangerous infectious diseases is a likely consequence of her actions. Hell, she revels in it.
So Oprah, Queen of TV woo, with friends like Mehmet Oz and Christine Northrup, is helping to keep alive the Bad Idea that Wouldn't Die. Oprah is in a very powerful position, as we all know. If she brings out the Jenny, people will listen.
And when people listen to Jenny, children die. It's really that simple.
So thanks, Oprah. Thanks for raising a zombie army of people who would rather we sicken and die of infectious diseases because of their own baseless fears. Our brains will never be safe again.

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