A Michigan doctor reveals plan to stop autism…hilarity ensues

Yesterday, the CDC held a Twitter party for National Infant Immunization Week, which is, conveniently enough, this week. Our old “friend” Ginger Taylor tried to call in her squadron of flying antivaccine monkeys to fling poo at what should have been a celebration of the success of vaccines; so I sent up the Bat Signal, the better to attract some voices of reason to the sliming of the #CDCvax hashtag used for the Twitter party to counter the antivaccine quacks. P.Z. Myers picked up the call too, and the rest is history. I almost felt sorry for Ginger and her fellow antivaccine loons, as they found their own tactics turned against them.

As amusing as that was, unfortunately, during the festivities I was made aware of this article Michigan doctor reveals plan to stop autism. I thought I knew all the Michigan antivaccine docs, but apparently I didn’t. The story is about someone named Dr. Marvin Anderson, who lives up north and runs a clinic called Abba’s Place. (Those of you familiar with Michigan will know what that means.) Specifically he lives in the Grand Traverse Bay area near Traverse City in a small town called Cedar, and there, he “treats” autistic children. In fact, he apparently has a book out called Autism Prevention, Care and Management. I could tell from the title that the book would be chock full of antivaccine quackery, and, as far as I can tell from reading the description of it that it is, as the article makes clear:

His treatment for ASD and ADHD is primarily directed to the digestive tract, including the liver. Animal studies have shown an intriguing connection between inflammation in the intestinal tract and inflammation in the brain. Autism also can involve impairments in the body’s detoxification pathways. Dr. Anderson’s program includes identifying contaminants that are present in his patients and creating a detoxification plan for their safe and efficient removal. Inflammation elsewhere in the body, including the brain, is also addressed. An important part of this plan involves care of the liver using the principles of liver cleansing advanced by Dr. Sandra Cabot in her best-selling book, The Liver Cleansing Diet.

Oh goody. I’ve encountered Sandra Cabot’s quackery before, but for some reason I never got around to blogging about her. Perhaps the reason is that she advocates a bunch of treatments to “detoxify” the liver and get rid of stones, such as liver flushes and gallbladder flushes, as well as colon cleanses to “detoxify,” which is just as much quackery. There’s nothing there that’s particularly original or amusing from a quack point of view, although there is an incredible amount of mercenary activity going on, with lots of supplements and weight loss products on sale. Most of Cabot’s quackery appears to be centered on the GI tract, particularly the liver, and that seems to be what much of what Anderson’s about, too.

Perusing Anderson’s website, I saw that almost all of the conditions treated by Anderson are the same sorts of conditions, both real and imagined, that quacks love to “treat,” particularly with “detoxification”: toxicity, poisoning, environmental disease, environmental toxicity, environmental sensitivity, environmental poisoning (aren’t poisoning and toxicity close enough to the same thing that they could be lumped under the same category?), multiple chemical sensitivity, chemical sensitivity, intestinal bacterial overgrowth, gluten sensitivity (of course!), food allergies, autism alternative treatment, autism complementary treatment, autism natural treatment, autism alternative therapy, autism remedy, and…hey, wait a minute! Either this guy is the worst Google search optimization guy ever, using obvious variants on the same thing to try to increase his page ranking, or he’s just plain dumb. Take your pick. Or maybe not. His new patient intake form is custom-made to encourage parents to confuse correlation with causation. For instance, there’s a passage that says:

Please make notation of any other event, action, etc. that you think may have some bearing/relationship to your child’s condition. Again, be as detailed as possible and do not hesitate to mention anything, no matter how small or insignificant, that you believe is related to your child’s problem(s).

Later in the form, there’s a detailed chart for the child’s vaccination history, with “reactions” listed after each one, including “irritable,” “seizure,” “bowel” (as in any bowel complaints), and the all-purpose “other,” which is no doubt used for parents who think their child became autistic after vaccination. I’ll give him some mild credit; the form is really detailed. The problem is that it’s so detailed that it’s virtually guaranteed to find something. Also, there’s a reason why pediatricians try to maintain a neutral tone when asking parents about what happened, in particular not asking leading questions so as not to implant a correlation into the parents’ minds that probably has nothing to do with the child’s complaint. Anderson’s form is packed with leading questions.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Anderson is also clearly highly antivaccine. To get an idea of what I mean, just look at the three laws he wants the state of Michigan to pass to “end the autism epidemic.” I’ll start with the third one first, because it’s as mundane as prohibiting deposition of hazardous waste in fertilizer fillers on farmland. It’s not entirely clear what he means here, because there is no evidence that autism is associated with living on a farm that uses a lot of fertilizer. None of this stops Anderson from wildly speculating about the “nationwide use of cadmium, lead, arsenic, dioxins, radionuclides and other hazardous waste in fertilizer,” none of which have been shown to be correlated with autism. But, then, hey? Why let science get in the way of a good story? Certainly Anderson doesn’t.

But what about vaccines? Well, the first law he wants on the books is this:

Require that all newborn infants receive an autism prevention screening test prior to receiving any vaccinations. The “one size fits all” approach to vaccinations is no longer working. According to Dr. Gregory Poland et al. in Vaccinomics and Personalized Vaccinology, included in the 2012 Jordan Report, Accelerated development of vaccines, “…significant individual variation exists in risk of adverse events and in immune response to a given vaccine. Our laboratory has termed the study of individual genetic, epigenetic, and other host-factor contributions to variations in immune responses to vaccines as ‘vaccinomics’.” The number of recommended vaccinations has been steadily increasing, along with adverse reaction reports. The current vaccination recommendations from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics fail to take sufficient account of individual differences, both inherited and acquired, that determine the infant’s ability to tolerate a standard vaccination load. The escalating rate of autism and the frequent observation that autism develops in some children shortly after having received an immunization strongly suggests that the current approach to vaccinations is both outdated and dangerous.

It is rather amusing how Anderson misappropriates a speculative article by Dr. Poland about “personalized vaccinology,” in which the authors describe potential advances in the development of vaccines utilizing next generation sequencing and various predictive tests designed to determine how well individuals will mount an immune response to a vaccine and which individuals are more likely to have adverse reactions, and use it to argue that one of those adverse reactions is autism. It isn’t, and Dr. Poland doesn’t say that it is. Indeed, Dr. Poland’s article is in no way evidence supporting the discredited vaccine-autism hypothesis. The overwhelming scientific consensus, based on numerous epidemiological studies and scientific papers is that vaccines are not associated with autism. Contrary to what Anderson writes, the escalating rate of autism and the observation that autism develops in some children after vaccination do not suggest that the current approach to vaccinations is outdated and dangerous. It indicates that Anderson doesn’t know what he is talking about and is, in fact, an antivaccine loon.

If that’s not enough to indicate that, the second law that Dr. Anderson proposes is even more hilarious:

Restrict the prescription of vaccinations to a physician who is board certified as a Vaccination Specialist. The majority of our immune system resides in our intestinal tract, including our liver. The medical profession has largely failed to recognize the important role of the liver as the body’s major filter in processing the ever-increasing onslaught of chemicals, including drugs, to which it is exposed. Liver overload and functional liver failure are now common. Strong evidence of this exists in the Environmental Working Group’s finding in Body Burden: The pollution in newborns of 287 toxic compounds in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. These infants were receiving contaminants that the mother’s liver had failed to remove. The most effective approach to this problem would be to create a new specialty in medicine, along the lines of Dr. Poland’s vaccinomics, that would train doctors to better understand newborn immunology, including the vital role of the liver. These doctors would be thus uniquely qualified to write the vaccination prescription. To accomplish this, Anderson proposes that the medical schools in Michigan should, without delay, add this new specialty to their curriculum per state law. Assessment of this physician’s performance would be based on the autism rate in the patients that he/she evaluates and the immunizations that are recommended.

I’m sorry, but I just about burst out laughing when I read this. Talk about the legal adage of “assuming facts not in evidence”! This entire paragraph is based on classic autism quackery tropes, particularly the “toxins” gambit, in which vaccine ingredients are portrayed as so horrifically toxic that they instantly turn the child autistic. Anderson here assumes that that vaccines cause autism by introducing a whole bunch of “toxins” into the body that overwhelm the baby’s “detoxification” capabilities. Again, there’s just one little problem. The report Anderson cites doesn’t support the concept that vaccines cause autism. All it demonstrates is that various chemicals can be detected in umbilical cord blood at concentrations of in the parts per billion to parts per trillion range. It’s a rather ridiculous report, actually, because such concentrations are so low that, for most of the chemicals discussed, there’s no evidence that such low concentrations of these chemicals are dangerous. To give you a bit of comparison, that report found lead in umbilical vein blood ranging from 0.07 to 2.3 ppb. That’s parts per billion, people. Lead concentration in soil ranges from 50 to 400 ppm (that’s parts per million). The blood concentration of lead that’s considered actionable by the CDC is 10 μg/dL. That’s 0.1 ppm (or 100,000 ppb), or roughly 43,000 times higher than the highest lead concentration reported.

In away, it would actually be hilarious if Michigan were to enact the three laws proposed by Anderson, and, trust me, Michigan’s got just the clueless legislature to do it, too. Well, perhaps “hilarious” is the wrong word. Actually, there’s no “perhaps” about it. Still, it would be poetic justice to see Anderson’s reaction when his “vaccinologists” had the same prevalence of autism in their patients as any other pediatricians. Because vaccines don’t cause autism, and nothing that Anderson proposes could reasonably be expected to prevent autism, that would be the result. I can just see it now: Bogus “vaccinologists” would be reduced to trying to game their numbers or admitting that nothing they do prevents autism. Anderson would be reduced to explaining why his amazing law had zero effect on autism prevalence in the state.