On Thursday and Friday, the Chicago Tribune ran a two part series (part 1 and part 2) about what is arguably one of the worst atrocities (I agree with Steve Novella on this one) committed against autistic children in the name of antivaccine lunacy. Specifically, these articles discussed Mark and David Geier’s Lupron protocol, which I blogged about three years ago, and Dr. Mayer Eisenstein, the founder of the woo-friendly Homefirst medical practice in suburban Chicago, whom I’ve also blogged about in the past.
Surprisingly, the reaction from the antivaccine propaganda blog Age of Autism has been very muted to nearly nonexistent. You’d expect that the antivaccine machers over at AoA would be very upset that the father-son team of heros of Generation Rescue (whose “studies” have been hosted and cited widely there) have had the harsh light of day shined upon their nefarious activities. Indeed, I speculated that perhaps the Geiers have gone so far down the rabbit hole of woo that even Generation Rescue feels the need to throw them under the bus, leading AoA editors to post an article by Dr. Lorene E.A. Amet critical of the “testosterone hypothesis” of autism, while not actually naming the Geiers.
Leave it to Dan “Sgt. Schultz” Olmsted to start the whine:
And then it hit me — the huge headline, “‘Miracle Drug’ Called Junk Science — Powerful castration drug pushed for autistic children, but medical experts denounce unproven claims.” There was a picture of Dr. Geier and Mayer Eisenstein and a mother with her child who has autism. The story was about the debate over Lupron and whether it was helping the hundreds of children taking it.
Of course, this weekend’s Autism One Conference — at which the Geiers and Eisenstein are speaking — was mentioned. This kind of story is what, when I worked at the paper in Danville, we called a “precede.” The Shriners are going to meet, let’s say, so you figure out a story to write the day the convention starts. Maybe the latest on a child treated at the hospital for burn victims — that sort of thing.
Well, this “precede” tells you what The Trib thinks about Autism One and the people like you and me who will be attending — we’re either quacks, or the desperate victims of quacks. The article lumps Lupron — about which I know nothing, and have no opinion — in with alternative approaches like diet, about which I do know something, and do have an opinion. Restrictive diets do work for many, many — though not every — child with autism. They are safe, they work best with the very youngest children, and it’s almost a dereliction for a parent of an autistic child not to give it a try.
The reason that the Trib lumped the Geiers’ Lupron quackery together with all the “biomedical” woo being featured at Autism One is because Autism One is, by and large, a quackfest for the antivaccine movement. It is, in essence, the quackapalooza of the autism quackery movement. While it is possible, albeit unlikely based on currently understood science, that a small fraction of the “biomedical” woo being featured at Autism One might have some mild benefit (perhaps diet, for example), the very fact that Autism One would feature talks by the Geiers shows that there is no filter. Scientifically mildly plausible, implausible, wildly implausible, rank pseudoscience, pure quackery, at Autism One it’s all good. There’s no filter. So, yes, Dan, it is perfectly appropriate to lump it all together, because, quite frankly, so much of what is presented at Autism One is such pure autism and antivaccine pseudoscience that a real, science-based autism researcher would be committing career suicide to present there and be associated with the taint of the pseudoscience that pervades the conference.
But Dan has a very short memory about the Geiers, too, dismissing Lupron as something he “knows nothing about” and about which he “has no opinion.” About a year ago, Dan’s partner in antivaccine woo, Kent Heckenlively, wrote a post for AoA entitled MERCURY, TESTOSTERONE AND AUTISM – A REALLY BIG IDEA! (Kent is a very excitable fellow.) In the comments, here is what Dan Olmsted wrote:
Anyway, I was at the Geier’s home — you know, the one with the fake paneling or whatever the NYT decided to ridicule it for — to discuss lots of things with them. I had never heard of Lupron, but while I was there a child, a boy of somewhere in the 7-9 range i would guess, came for a Lupron shot. He was bouncing around the house in his own world while they got set up. I was just killing time and not paying much attention except to watch the child behave in what seemed to me like a very autistic way — no eye-contact, no interaction, no concentration.
He got the shot, and within a VERY few minutes he seemed like a different child to me. He came up to me, interacted, made eye contact. Most of all he was so much calmer.
Again, I’m not offering this as an endorsement. You could probably shoot someone up with valium or some of the psychotropic drugs we DON’T want used on children with autism and manage to calm them down, or zone them out, or shut them up for some period of time.
This kid, however, was not zoned out, he was back from the zoned-out zone, however temporarily or coincidentally. Just had to put this on the record.
Personally, I think that the revelations of just how bad the Geiers are have gotten to the point where AoA and Generation Rescue are trying to distance themselves from this father-son team of woo. I view this as being for two reasons. First, Generation Rescue is finally being forced to accept that the evidence is not supporting the idea that mercury in vaccines is causing an “autism epidemic,” as grudgingly as they do it. That’s why they’ve been moving the goalposts for a couple of years now. Indeed, they’ve gone from saying that autism is a “misdiagnosis for mercury poisoning” from vaccines and other sources to saying about vaccines “too many too soon.” Because the Geiers have never left the mercury militia, their quackery now seems less attractive. Second, they are (correctly) sensing that, after nearly four years of plying their Lupron quackery on autistic children, the press is starting to ask the hard questions of the Geiers and to shine a light on them. If there is any justice in the world, next will come interest from the insurance companies being induced to pay for Lupron to treat dubious diagnoses of “precocious puberty” in autistic children and from the medical boards of the states in which they have set up clinics.