Andrew Wakefield and Mark Geier: Why does the “autism biomed” movement love one and not the other?

It’s been a busy and rough week. The news on the vaccine front has been coming fast and furious, with the release of one bad study and another highly touted great white hope of a legal study. As much as I’m tired of blogging about vaccines this week, it’s still mandatory for me to note that something very wonderful has happened. So bear with me, please. Remember how recently, after well over five years of his flouting the law, the State of Maryland suspended “autism biomed” quack Dr. Mark Geier’s medical license? In fact, Maryland didn’t just suspend it, but emergently suspended it. Well, on Wednesday, there was a hearing at which Geier appealed the suspension. The ever-vigilant Trine Tsouderos reports the results:

On Wednesday, Geier appeared at a hearing to ask the Maryland board to lift its summary suspension. Through his attorney, he presented affidavits from parents thanking him for treating their children, affirming they had been fully informed and denying their children had been misdiagnosed.

Geier also presented scientific evidence he said supported his protocol. The evidence included studies conducted by a researcher who told the Tribune, in 2009, that the idea of treating children with autism with Lupron “fills me with horror.”

The board voted to uphold its summary suspension, said Geier’s attorney, Joseph A. Schwartz III.

I wonder if these studies were the same unethical studies overseen by an institutional review board (IRB) set up by the Geiers and packed with their cronies. Be that as it may, Geier predictably decided to go all self-righteously maudlin as he lashed out at the decision:

“I’m angry, but I’m also sad,” Geier said afterward. “I don’t want my patients to have to go to institutions when this therapy works.”

Geier, a fixture in a movement that continues to believe that vaccines cause autism, said he is being targeted because of his outspokenness on vaccines.

“There are forces trying to shut down our comments,” he said.

Well, I’m angry, but I’m also sad that it took the State of Maryland five years before it finally acted. Note the false dichotomy, though. To Geier, it’s either his Lupron quackery or an institution. There are actually many, many more possible outcomes, few of which involve institutionalization. As for Geier’s self-righteousness, well, let’s just say that he richly deserves everything coming his way and more. I only hope that every state in which he has a medical license acts, although I realize that, given the differences in the law between various states, such a thing is unlikely to happen. At least, it won’t happen in every state.

A more interesting question has fascinated me, though. It has now been more than two weeks since Mark Geier’s license was summarily suspended and 11 or 12 days since the news became generally known. Yet the usual suspects in the anti-vaccine movement have been eerily silent since then. There hasn’t been a peep out of the anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism other than Dan Olmsted mentioning it briefly in his daily notes. Otherwise, not a single outraged complaint. I find this curious.

I find it particularly curious when I compare the reaction of, for instance, AoA, regarding Andrew Wakefield. Two years ago, when Wakefield’s research fraud was first reported, it was full “circle the wagon” mode. Ditto again over a year ago, when Andrew Wakefield lost his medical license in the U.K. and then, in rapid succession, saw his 1998 Lancet study retracted by the editors, soon to be followed by his “monkey business” Hepatitis B vaccine study. Compare that to the reaction from the same sources to the news that Mark Geier had had his medical license suspended, and the difference couldn’t be clearer. Most recently, AoA and the anti-vaccine contingent lashed out against the medical establishment and the British Medical Journal (BMJ) after it published a lengthy expose by investigative journalist Brian Deer describing just how Wakefield falsified data in his infamous 1998 Lancet study.

While a few of the more sensible believers in “autism biomed” fled Wakefield, most clung ever tighter, including Jenny McCarthy herself, who penned a blog post for her usual wretched hive of scum and quackery as recently as January. The bottom line is that Andrew Wakefield remains a rock star in the anti-vaccine movement, having recently been feted at an anti-vaccine conference in Jamaica, while his admirers speculated that the media blitz provoked by Brian Deer’s BMJ articles was intentionally planned to coincide with this conference. True, Wakefield did lose his cushy, well-paid job as medical director at Thoughtful House, but he sure doesn’t appear to be hurting for money or admiration, with his followers likening him to Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ all rolled up into one.

Why is that?

After all, both Wakefield and Geier have a message that they know what causes autism and how to treat it. Both Wakefield and Geier had built an empire promoting “biomedical” woo and false hope based on the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. Both Wakefield and Geier have a bevy of testimonials from parents who think they’ve helped their children. If anything, the Geiers have been more successful, cultivating a “brave maverick doctor” persona, with their laboratory equipment in their basement and their chain of clinics spanning several states. All Wakefield ever managed to build was a single clinic in Austin, TX, Thoughtful House. Moreover, both Wakefield and Geier have subjected autistic children to some pretty horrible treatments. Wakefield’s study required unnecessary invasive procedures, such as colonoscopies and lumbar punctures, to be performed on autistic children. The Geiers peddle Lupron, which is in essence chemical castration. True, the Geiers get the nod (although not by much) for numbers and sheer looniness of their intervention, but let’s not forget that Wakefield’s woo is powerful as well.

At first, I thought that maybe Wakefield’s charisma explained the difference. There’s no doubt that Wakefield oozes charisma and empathy, while Mark Geier is old, frumpy, and has all the personality of a paper cup, at least in the videos and venues where I’ve seen him. Certainly charisma is important; there’s little doubt that his good looks and ability to work a crowd are major factors in Wakefield’s popularity. Then I wondered if maybe at some level deep, deep down even “autism biomed” believers and anti-vaccine loons recognize that the Geiers’ rationale for using Lupron is unsupported at best, insane at worst. Maybe, just maybe, Mark and David Geier are like the embarrassing uncle who tells racist jokes and is always trying to pinch women on their posterior, tolerated but not exactly liked or respected. If this is true, then unlike Wakefield, whose successive humiliations led to the anti-vaccine movement lionizing him as a persecuted martyr to the cause, a hero willing to do whatever it takes to cure your child, for Geier each humiliation, starting with Trine Tsouderos’ expose and ending with the suspension of his Maryland medical license, only emphasized what an embarrassment he was. Perhaps Geier’s quackery is too quacky even for loons.

Or maybe not. An old “friend” of the blog, one of only a handful of people ever banned from commenting, is apparently actually wondering the same thing I am:

Since Dr Mark Geier was railroaded by the Maryland State Board of Physicians and the thoroughly corrupt Dr Harry Knipp, the Age of Autism(AoA) blog has had nothing to say. Given their history of championing Dr Wakefield’s loss of his license, one would expect that AoA would be even more enraged by this bogus attack on Dr Geier. The fact that they have nothing to say for a second time while Dr Geier is libelled all over the internet should lead anyone who reads this dishonest blog to question their motives.

Well, I question AoA motives all the time, but not because of its silence regarding the suspension of Mark Geiers’ medical license. However, even a blind pig occasionally finds a truffle, and our “friend” has actually unknowingly asked the right question, albeit for completely the wrong reasons. On the other hand, maybe the fact that someone like Best is so dedicated to Geier explains the difference that I wonder about. “Mainstream” autism biomed might consider chelation therapy, hyperbaric oxygen, supplements by the handful, and even bogus stem cell therapies acceptable, but chemical castration gives them the heebie-jeebies.

I don’t normally finish my posts with a question. I’ve always thought that it’s a rather lame blogging trick to gin up the comment count, anyway. However, sometimes, when I’m puzzled, I need input. So….

Does anyone have any ideas as to why Wakefield remains so popular after so many humiliations while nary a peep is raised by the usual suspects to defend Mark Geier?