The George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services responds to allegations that it let Mark Geier mentor a graduate student in epidemiology

The other day, I wrote about how the George Washington University School of Public Health screwed up big time (there’s really no other way to put it that doesn’t involve liberal use of the f-bomb) by allowing vaccine-autism quack Mark Geier to assist a graduate student in epidemiology (who shall not be named, even though I know who it is—and whose naming will result in comments being deleted or edited) in the final thesis project for an MPH in epidemiology. I based my blog post on other posts by Autism News Beat and Reuben at The Poxes Blog.

The reason I was so outraged and dismayed is because Mark Geier is a well-known antivaccinationist who promoted quackery more dangerous than the quackery that Andrew Wakefield promoted. Specifically, Mark Geier and his son David came up with a bizarre idea that testosterone forms “sheets” that bind mercury in the brain and make it unaccessible to chelation therapy. The details, with lots of links to sources, are in my first post. This idea led to the scientifically unsupportable hypothesis that by chemically castrating autistic children using a powerful drug (Lupron) that suppresses sex hormone production they could improve the effectiveness of chelation therapy to treat autism. Of course, given that there is no good scientific evidence that mercury from vaccines causes autism, that vaccines are in any way pathophysiologically related to autism, that chelation therapy treats autism, or that testosterone binds mercury under physiologic conditions, the Geier hypothesis was nothing more than adding one quack hypothesis (testosterone sheets) on top of another quack hypothesis (that mercury in vaccines causes autism) and then combining two quack treatments based on that. These were two quack tastes that did not taste great together—or separately, for that matter.

It turns out that the Office of Communications at the George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services (GW SPHHS) has responded, both on my blog, on The Poxes Blog, and on Autism News Beat. It’s a comment that came out late Friday afternoon, which suggested to me that GW SPHHS didn’t want to let these posts go unanswered over the weekend. While I’m grateful for the response, I must point out that this response leaves much to be desired:

The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services is still investigating the claims in this article.

However, the article gives the impression that Mark Geier was teaching or advising a GW student who was doing a practicum at SPHHS. In fact, Mark Geier was facilitating the use of a non-GW database the student used while doing his/her research, which was not part of a practicum. The student in question was being supervised by a faculty member at the university and the student’s contact with Mark Geier was limited mainly to accessing the information in this database.

Yes, I do believe that we’ve rattled some cages. Good. There are clearly cages that desperately need some serious rattling at GWU.

Of course, whatever the case is, whether Dr. Geier was a preceptor for this graduate student or only an advisor who assisted with a research project related to his masters thesis, one wonders why GWUSPH apparently never bothered…oh, you know…to actually Google his name. That alone would have demonstrated conclusively that this is no suitable preceptor or advisor for a student in a science-based epidemiology program. This was a massive oversight. As Harpocrates points out, if one looks at the site preceptor guide for GW SPHHS it becomes obvious that Mark Geier is completely unqualified to carry out these responsibilities:

  • Review and approve the Student’s Practicum Plan
  • Engage student in work and provide constructive feedback and guidance to the student
  • Provide guidance for professional conduct
  • Complete the following on the Practicum Website: a. Midpoint evaluation form in conjunction with the student; b. Final site preceptor evaluation of student and practicum

After all, Dr. Geier has had his medical license stripped from him in a dozen states based on his use of the Lupron protocol and chelation therapy and his franchising clinics that promoted that treatment for autism. He has no expertise in epidemiology or autism, as courts have repeatedly found in rejecting him as an expert witness.

But let’s just assume for the moment that the explanation offered by the GW SPHHS PR person is accurate. Even in that case, GW SPHHS screwed the pooch, as an ex-Marine acquaintance of mine used to like to say. Let’s just put it this way. The Geiers are not known for their skills with databases. Indeed, the FDA wrote a warning letter to the IRB chair at the North California Kaiser Permanente after the Geiers’ October 2003 and January 2004 visits to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Research Data Center) in Hyattsville, Maryland to use the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) database. During those visits, the Geiers were busted for doing queries that were not in the protocol approved by the IRB and then, on their second visit, for trying to merge datasets in a way that would compromise the confidentiality of the patients whose records were contained in the VSD. This is not a good example for a budding epidemiologist to follow; indeed, Mark Geier represents about as bad an example for an epidemiology student as I can think of: Bad epidemiology, lack of ethics, and outright quackery, not to mention outright deception/incompetence at epidemiological analyses. Just the Geiers’ use of an Institutional Review Board (IRB) packed with their fellow antivaccine cronies and chaired by Mark Geier himself should be enough to completely disqualify Mark Geier from ever mentoring a student from a reputable university in any capacity.

There’s another twist to this screw. It turns out that there is a GW SPHHS faculty member who has a connection to the Geiers, Heather Young, PhD, MPH, CHES. If you take a look at her list of publications on her faculty page, you’ll find a paper in press:

  • Geier DA, Young HA, Geier MR. Thimerosal Exposure and Increasing Trends of Premature Puberty in the Vaccine Safety Datalink. Indian Journal of Medical Research. (in press).

Which suggests that Dr. Young’s faculty page hasn’t been updated in a while, because that paper appears to have been published in 2010. There is, however, another paper from 2008 featuring Dr. Young and the Geiers as coauthors:

  • Young HA, Geier DA, Geier MR. Thimerosal exposure and neurodevelopmental disorders: an assessment of computerized medical records in the Vaccine Safety Datalink. Journal of Neurological Sciences. 2008; 271 (1): 11l-118.

Here’s the most frightening thing of all. Dr. Young chairs her department’s curriculum committee and the GW SPHHS curriculum committee. One wonders whether Dr. Young told the GW SPHHS Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics that Mark Geier was an acceptable preceptor, research advisor, mentor, or whatever capacity he served in. However the academic debacle of a justifiably reviled quack mentoring a graduate student at the epidemiology department of a respected school of public health happened, it’s too late for that student, which is why I do not identify the student and will not allow commenters to identify the student in the comments on this blog. It is, however, not too late for the GW SPHHS to make sure that something like this never happens again, and I hope that this blog has done its small part to help it do the right thing and fix what’s wrong.