The George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services screws up big time

NOTE: There is a followup to this post here.

Last night, I had a function related to my department to attend, which means that I didn’t get home until after 9 PM. However, two blog posts have come to my attention that demand a response from me because they involve an old “friend” of the blog. This “friend” is someone whose scientific and medical misadventures over the last eight years since I became aware of him are legion. This is someone whose “biomedical” treatments for autism were based on an unshakeable belief that mercury in thimerosal, the preservative that was used in many childhood vaccines until around 2001, after which it was removed from most of them, was a major cause of autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), as well as a variety of other neurodevelopmental disorders. These blog posts compelled me to write at least a brief little post (by Orac standards, of course; by anyone else’s standards it would be a full length post), no matter how tired I was or how early I had to get up this morning to give a talk and handle my clinic. The reason is that someone who should have nothing to do with teaching students in any science-based discipline has been revealed to have been a preceptor who taught at least one student in epidemiology. I wish I were kidding, but I’m not.

The subject of these two blog posts, as longtime readers of this blog have probably guessed, is Dr. Mark Geier. Geier is well known among those of us who take an interest in the antivaccine movement and the biomedical quackery that has sprung up around it to profit from the fears of antivaccinationists, for whom no form of quackery is too quacky to subject their autistic child to in the name of cleansing him of the toxic evil effects of the vile vaccines that made him autistic (in their minds), up to and including injecting dubious “stem cells” into the cerebrospinal fluid of one’s daughter. What Mark Geier and his son David Geier, the latter of whom has no medical degree but nonetheless has been observed dealing with patients in a way that very much appears to come uncomfortably close to practicing medicine, came up with a—shall we say?—new and unique hypothesis regarding the cause of autism. At least it was new in that no one had ever thought of it before and unique in that no one with a real scientific background found it the least bit credible, mainly because, on a scientific basis, it wasn’t the least bit credible. Basically, the idea—I refuse to dignify it by calling it a “theory” or even a “hypothesis”—was that the mercury from vaccines and other sources was being chelated in the brains of autistic children by testosterone. Their “solution” to this nonexistent problem was to combine two forms of quackery, chelation therapy and chemical castration with a drug called Lupron, together to treat “vaccine-induced” autism. This was not a case of two tastes tasting great together, for sure. Yet, the Geiers, pere et fils, made the rounds of the “autism biomed” conference circuit and managed to attract a significant following, getting parents to let them treat their autistic children this way with an expensive drug that basically shut down the production fo sex hormones. It was this “treatment,” such as it was, that led me to an early Orac classic nearly eight years ago, Why not just castrate them?

Not surprisingly, there were so many holes in this idea that the only place it could be published was in the vanity journal Medical Hypotheses. Not the least of these was simple chemistry. The Geiers based their concept of “testosterone sheets” binding up all that mercury and making it unavailable to be chelated on a paper from 1968 that looking at the crystal structure of testosterone and mercuric chloride derived from crystals made by boiling equimolar amounts of testosterone and mercuric chloride in hot benzene,. Let’s just say that these are not physiologic conditions, but that didn’t stop the Geiers from speculating that testosterone binds mercury and that lowering testosterone would free up the mercury for chelation, even though there was no evidence for this concept at all. None of this stopped the Geiers from starting up a cottage industry franchising their clinic in several states and chemically castrating autistic children in the hopes that it would make their chelation therapy work better. Given that chelation therapy doesn’t do anything for autism other than put the child at risk for fatal cardiac arrhythmias due to low calcium, what they were doing was doubly unethical and doubly dangerous. That lack of ethics was compounded by their setting up a “research institute” to study what became known as their “Lupron protocol,” all apparently in order to set up an IRB packed with their cronies to rubberstamp their research, such as it was.

Eventually in 2011, the state of Maryland pulled the wings off these quacks and took emergency action to take Mark Geier’s medical license away and charging David Geier with practicing medicine without a license. Matt Carey provides a nice summary of the two decades’ worth of quackery perpetrated on autistic children and how they got away with it. Fortunately, as of last year, the last state in which Mark Geier held a license to practice medicine revoked it, but a lot of damage had been done.

With that background out of the way, let’s see what our friend ANB tells us:

Administrators at the George Washington University School of Public Health allowed Mark Geier, is a notorious anti-vaccine activist known for chemically castrating disabled children, to supervisor a graduate student. Geier is currently banned from practicing medicine.

Graduate students are required to complete a practicum under the supervision of a health professional, called a site preceptor. The school’s site preceptor handbook sets out requirements for a practicum site:

In general, a practicum site has the following elements:

  • Serves a public health or health services mission or supports a department with such a mission
  • Addresses significant public health or health services problems
  • Offers students the opportunity to learn from public health professionals in a supervised environment

Like ANB, I’m going to refrain from identifying the student and ask you not to as well. I will either delete or edit comments that name the “preceptee” of Dr. Geier’s. In the meantime, here’s another take on this from Reuben at The Poxes Blog:

When you go to school at the George Washington University School of Public Health, you are required to do a practicum (professional experience) at a site that is relevant to public health when you’re getting a master of public health (MPH) degree. A few friends of mine have gone there, and they did their practicums at DC DOH, at Maryland DOH, in Virginia, at hospitals, community clinics… Somewhere where they could learn about public health practice.

One particular individual, someone we refer to as “the kid”, did his practicum with – you guessed it – the Father and the Son. Well, okay, maybe just the Father, as the Father has been revealed to be the practicum site preceptor for the kid. A major university in the heart of the nations’ capital, one which has graduated some pretty great epidemiologists and public health practitioners, one that is up there in terms of public health research and practice, one that charges students a ton of money for a good quality education, approved a physician whose license was suspended in 2011 and revoked since to be the site preceptor for the kid.

Assuming ANB’s report is true (and, given his track record, I have little reason to doubt that it is), I’m guessing that the Department of Epidemiology at GWU had no idea about Mark Geier’s shady background and probably had no idea that he was in the process of losing all of his dozen or so state medical licenses between 2011 and 2013. But it should have. Don’t administrators there bother to Google the names of applicants for preceptorships? The first page of a Google search for Mark Geier brings up all sorts of information about his history of dubious practices. Or are they so hard up for preceptors that they will allow someone like Mark Geier to be a preceptor to one of their students?

Mark Geier is a physician, but his history and activities should have been massive red flags to tell administrators at GWU that no student studying there should have been allowed within 10 miles of his “clinic.” They should have protected students from him the way the Geiers’ fantastical “testosterone sheets” supposedly protect mercury from chelation. This is a screw-up on a massive scale.