Autism quackery at the University of Toronto? Say it ain’t so!

Geez, I wonder if Larry Moran knows about this. If he doesn’t, I’m going to make sure that he does. I’m also guessing that he won’t be pleased. He doesn’t like pseudoscience at all. He detests “intelligent design” creationists. Based on that, I’m guessing that he won’t like it at all to learn that the Canadian version of the autism “biomedical” antivaccine quackfest known as Autism One is metastasizing from its usual location in Chicago every Memorial Day to held at the University of Toronto in October, as this advertisement shows:

If you live in Canada, the Northeastern United States, the Great Lakes area, or beyond, you will not want to miss this conference from Autism One, Autism Canada, and the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. The 2-day main conference will be held Saturday, October 31 and Sunday, November 1, preceded by a 1-day training program for practitioners on Friday, October 30. This conference features two dozen of the most highly respected names in the autism community and provides the most up-to-date information to help your child. From implementing the best biomedical treatments to realizing the benefits of educational therapies to adolescence and adulthood issues, the conference brings you the answers to be your child’s most effective healer and powerful advocate.


I’ve discussed Autism One on multiple occasions before. For instance, the 2008 Autism One conference featured Boyd Haley, the father-son team of autism woo-meisters Mark and David Geier, Mayer Eisenstein, and a number of others. Examples of the talks at that conference included “Over 50 years of known toxicity! (Unsafe at any Concentration)” by Frank Engley, who said this: “NOT GRAM- NOT MILLIGRAM – NOT MICROGRAM- BUT NANOGRAM!” Its keynote speaker was–surprise! surprise!–Jenny McCarthy, whose burning stupid about science is beyond belief and has led her to become, in essence, the celebrity face of the anti-vaccine movement, even leading marches on Washington against vaccines.

In 2009, the mothership version of Autism One made a bit of a splash, but not in a good way. Basically, what happened is that the Chicago Tribune noticed the Geiers’ Lupron protocol for autism, which I had written about three years ago under one of my typically overwrought titles Why not just castrate them? However, in that case, I don’t think the title was overwrought at all, given that the Geiers have been subjecting autistic children to a drug that is a powerful suppressor of sex hormone production because they actually think that testosterone somehow binds mercury and that lowering testosterone concentrations will make chelation therapy work better. Truly, this is some of the most despicably off the wall woo that I’ve ever encountered. it combines bad biochemistry with anti-vaccination pseudoscience, with the utmost quackery of combining testosterone lowering treatments with the dangerous quackery that is chelation therapy.

Then there was Dr. Mayer Eisenstein, founder of the crunchy and “alternative” HomeFirst practice. This is the same guy who said that he had never seen a case of autism in an unvaccinated child in his practice, a case of data-free selective memory so blatant that later the story morphed into his practice having a huge computer database to back up his claim. As I have mentioned before, he is a master of anti-vaccine Quack Fu, including his beliefs that vaccines cause autism, that the government is covering it up, that the American Academy of Pediatrics is hopelessly in the thrall of big pharma, and that “every doctor now essentially in this country has done something as heinous as the Nazis did, unknowingly” because they give vaccines to children.

And, of course, Jenny McCarthy was the keynote speaker again in 2009. Any one want to make any bets against her being the keynote speaker again in 2010? I don’t.

In any case, fortunately, neither Dr. Geier nor Dr. Eisenstein is speaking at Autism One Canada. In fact, Autism One Canada doesn’t appear quite as quacky as the Mothership Autism One in Chicago was. At least, uber-quacks like the Geiers don’t appear to be speaking there. But there’s plenty of dubious science there to go around, starting with the keynote speaker, Dr. Martha Herbert. She shares one characteristic with at least a couple of “luminaries” of the anti-vaccine “biomedical” movement. As Autism Diva and Kevin Leitch pointed out, like Dr. Mark Geier and Dr. Boyd Haley, Dr. Herbert has been slapped down by the courts, which used the Daubert standard to reject her testimony claiming that a child was made autistic by a reaction to mold growing in the condo she was living in. The court found:

Dr. Herbert’s publications indicate that she is an outspoken advocate of increased attention to the possibility of environmental influences. Even she, however, despite that acknowledged perspective, speaks in her published work of possibilities and potentialities, rather than of the ‘reasonable degree of medical certainty’ to which she offers to testify under oath in this case.10 Neither Dr. Herbert’s publications, nor any others cited, identify mold exposure as even a suspected, still less a known or proven, trigger of autism……Dr. Herbert’s method, to the extent the Court can discern it from the materials offered, is a series of deductions based on possibilities…..*Clearly, Dr. Herbert’s method is not generally accepted in the scientific community*. Dr. Herbert’s theory of environmental triggers of autism may some day prove true. It has not yet. Her proffered testimony does not meet the standard of reliability required by the case law, and cannot be admitted in evidence at trial.

Dr. Herbert is a big fan of the idea that autism has something to do with neuroinflammation. Unfortunately, none of her publications persuasively presents evidence for this hypothesis, and lately she’s publishing in bottom-feeding alternative medicine journals articles with titles like Learning From the Autism Catastrophe: Key Leverage Points. Suffice it to say, Dr. Herbert is big on “biomedical” woo, so much so that anti-vaccine propagandist David Kirby likes to cite her and Age of Autism loves her.

The other speakers aren’t much better. I’ll admit, the woo-to-normal ratio isn’t as high as it was in Chicago last May, but it’s still pretty high. It’s just that this is mostly second tier “biomedical” stuff. It’s the second stringers, for the most part. For instance, there’s Dan Rossignol, who’s big on hyperbaric oxygen as a treatment for autism with very little data. There’s Amy Yasko, who’s known for somehow thinking that one can treat autism (and lots of other disorders) with orally administered RNA solutions. I work with RNA all the time. It’s damned unstable. It would not survive even the saliva without being broken down into its components. Actually, RNA won’t survive long in aqueous solution without being frozen at at least -20° C, preferably -80° C. Yet this Dr. Yasko claims that “we have found that by using highly specific solutions of RNAs we are able to enhance our cells natural ability to communicate with one another.”

I’d call Yasko’s woo homeopathic RNA therapy, except that apparently there are real yeast nucleotides in her concoction.

Speaking of homeopathy, there’s a real homeopath there called Rudi Verspoor, HD(RHom), DMH, whose presentation is described thusly:

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex disorder with multiple causes, and each case presents its own unique and distinct challenges. The key is to treat the causes and not just the effects. Treating symptoms may provide some improvement but does not provide a permanent solution. Heilkunst, which includes homeopathy, is a comprehensive approach to addressing the multiple deeper underlying causes of a case in a given sequence over time, while using energetic, homeopathic medicines. It provides a clear map of the problem and of how to get out of the swamp of autism spectrum disorders that is safe, non-toxic, and effective even in complex seemingly non-responsive cases.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad, I guess. There’s no doubt that homeopathy is safe and nontoxic. After all, it’s water. But effective? Not so much. Come to think of it, I take back what I said about Autism One Canada not being as quacktastic as Autism One Chicago. Advocating homeopathy definitely ups the ante to anything the mothership could come up with. After all, homeopathy is the One Quackery To Rule Them All.

When I first heard of Autism One Canada, I wondered if this was a case of Autism One and Autism Canada simply renting space at the University of Toronto and trying to coopt its good name, much as creationists tried to coopt the name of the Smithsonian by showing The Privileged Planet there. I’d like to hope that it’s the same sort of deal at the University of Toronto, where such events have to be listed as “co-sponsored” by the host institution in order for the event to occur there. I’ve searched the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and haven’t been able to find a single mention of this conference. Alternatively, what may have happened is that someone at the University of Toronto confused quackery for “cutting edge” and somehow was thus fooled into cosponsoring this conference. Personally, I hope for the former, but I wouldn’t rule out the latter. When universities embrace “complementary and alternative medicine” (a.k.a. woo, for the most part), what’s to keep them from embracing (or at least mistakenly viewing as “cutting edge”) something like Jenny McCarthy’s favored autism “biomed” quackery?

Either way, it’s depressing to see as respected an institution as the University of Toronto lending its name, either wittingly or unwittingly, to this nonsense.