A not-so-Thinking Mom loves a crooked antivaccine “theory” by Forrest Maready

When it comes to blogging, topics are often feast or famine. Sometimes, topics that interest me enough to blog about them come flying at me at a pace so fast that there’s no way I can ever cover them all. Other times, my usual daily perusal of science and medicine websites, antivax blogs, and the crankosphere fails to find anything that really “inspires” me. Sometimes, I’ll write about a topic even though it doesn’t really fire me up more out of a sense of obligation than anything else, but I suspect that my readers can tell when that happens. More and more recently, I’ve simply been skipping days when I fail to come across something that gets my fingers twitching, eager to start flying across a keyboard to deliver some Insolence, be it Respectful or not-so-Respectful. My hope is that, although I might be blogging less than five days a week most weeks, the posts that I do publish are better. Only time will tell if that’s true. Sometimes, a topic that I had meant to write about but didn’t get around to when a “feast” cycle in the crankosphere is serving up targets for Insolence fast and furious makes a reappearance during a “famine” cycle, thus giving me a chance to rectify missing it the first time around. Such is the case with a “crooked theory” by Forrest Maready.

The other day, I came across a blog post on one of the wretched hives of scum and antivaccine quackery that I monitor, The Thinking Moms’ Revolution (or, as I like to call it, the not-so-Thinking MomsRevolution) (TMR). Basically, TMR is a wine loving, vaccine hating, coffee klatch of mommy warriors for whom the terms Dunning-Kruger effect and arrogance of ignorance were coined, and, believe me, the Dunning-Kruger is very strong here. Indeed, TMR is perhaps the densest and most massive example of the Dunning-Kruger effect imaginable, a black hole of antivaccine pseudoscience among smug, wine-sipping moms who think that they are the true “Thinkers” and that everyone else who accepts the science that vaccines are safe and effective (and do not cause autism) are the sheeple. Because it is based in antivaccine pseudoscience coupled with the arrogance of ignorance, what TMR purveys is anything but thinking. Let’s just put it this way. The moms at TMR are big fans of homeopathy to treat autism. Basically, the members of TMR seem to think that motherhood somehow gives them magical insights into pediatrics and developmental disorders. The truth is quite different. Stupid moms will remain stupid after giving birth, and intelligent moms will remain intelligent. Moms prone to the Dunning-Kruger effect and arrogance of ignorance were almost certainly prone to such shortcomings before they gave birth, but I will admit that it does appear that having children can be a trigger that awakens such tendencies or brings them into full flower.

Now, if there’s one thing about TMR, it’s that it’s members love to pick ‘nyms for themselves that are cutesy, “cool,” or just arrogant, such as Dragon Slayer, Goddess, The Booty Kicker, Killah, Savage, Saint, Princess, Mountain Momma, Mamacita, Sugah, Luv Bug, The Professor, and several others, most of which are nauseatingly self-congratulatory. Perhaps the worst of these “thinking” moms when it comes to the arrogance of ignorance and the Dunning-Kruger effect is Zoey O’Toole, a.k.a. The Professor (or sometimes Professor TMR). We’ve met her before making extraordinarily dumb analogies about vaccines and autism and confidently clueless assertions that vaccines cause autism. In any case, it’s entirely consistent with her past cluelessness The Professor would be very impressed enough with Forrest Maready to write a post about him earlier this week, Autoimmunity: The Intersection of Toxic Metals and Microbes?

Regular readers of this and other blogs that regularly deconstruct antivaccine pseudoscience will recognize from the title that this is likely to be yet more handwaving combining “heavy metal toxicity” (how is it that no one’s named a heavy metal band Heavy Metal Toxicity yet?) from the environment and aluminum adjuvants in vaccines (to antivaxers, aluminum is the new mercury, after all), with various microbes, particularly the fake infections that quacks like naturopaths like to “diagnose” (cough, cough, chronic Lyme disease). But who is Forrest Maready, and where does he come into all this. Patience, my acolytes. All will soon be revealed.

The Professor frames her discussion thusly:

Have you noticed the recent dramatic increases in autoimmune diseases and neurological dysfunctions? Has your neighbor or your niece been recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or late-onset type 1 diabetes? Maybe you know someone whose kids all have some combination of PANDAS, ADHD, and autism? We’ve explored the explosion in neurological conditions on this website many times before, and while we haven’t covered autoimmunity in the same kind of detail, we have been keenly aware of a concomitant and related increase in all forms of autoimmunity, all of which are considered “incurable.”

It is true that the prevalence of autoimmune diseases is increasing by 4-7% per year, depending on the specific condition. (Celiac disease is increasing the fastest.) However, as is the case with autism, a lot of that increase appears to be due to greater awareness and more diagnoses. After all, more diagnoses does not necessarily equal a real increase in frequency. For example:

But are autoimmune diseases really rising, or are doctors more educated on the symptoms and signs of them and therefore able to diagnose patients more effectively? It’s a bit of both, according to Dr. Rutledge. “It is true that as we broaden the definitions of autoimmune disease, and as more people learn about these conditions, more people are diagnosed,” he says. “We also have more sensitive lab tests that detect autoimmune conditions that are not yet symptomatic.”

Dr. Rutledge also points out that there are a combination of factors that lead someone to be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Someone may have a likelihood of getting an autoimmune disease, such as Crohn’s, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis because of their genetics. If that person encounters a viral infection, that strain can set off an immune reaction and onset of an autoimmune disease. Rutledge says that environmental factors may also contribute to the rise of autoimmune disease, but at this point, that idea is simply a hypothesis and more research still needs to be done.

Of course, while scientists are looking for various causes and to figure out how much of this increase is due to biology (that is, more people with the disease rather than just more people being diagnosed with the disease), to antivaxers, it absolutely, positively has to be the vaccines. Here, The Professor dives in. She admits that the timing and patterns of onset of autoimmune diseases, but has to figure out a way to bring vaccines into the mix:

This increase could be explained perhaps by the recent dramatic increase in immune system activation stimulated by vaccination, but on the surface that doesn’t explain the patterns we see in timing of onset of autoimmune disease or why, once someone has developed one autoimmune condition, they are at very high risk of developing another, and another, and often yet another? Why does someone with rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, in which antibodies attack the joints, often go on to develop scleroderma, where antibodies attack skin tissue? The joint-destroying antibodies don’t suddenly gain the ability to bind to skin cells. The immune system has begun producing different antibodies, which attack different tissues.

This phenomenon is usually glossed over with vague terms like “overactive immune system” or “Th1/Th2 imbalance.” While the immune system is certainly “overactive” in such cases, saying so is like saying a hypothyroid condition is caused by an underactive thyroid; it merely restates the obvious without providing insight. And many folks with autoimmunity conditions, like me, display symptoms of both Th1 and Th2 dominance. So, despite the scientific community’s fascination with the concept of Th1 and Th2 balance, I find it essentially useless.

I love how The Professor says, “I find it essentially useless,” as though her dismissal of the concept of Th1 and Th2 dominance matters more than what scientists think. I also love how she decides that autism must be related to autoimmune diseases because, well, I’ll let her say:

Genetics also can’t explain why so many people come down with illnesses never before seen in their extended families. Clearly, something else is in operation here. The best science can offer us is “Environmental triggers in a genetically susceptible individual are believed to cause disorders of immune regulation.” Hmmmmm . . . genetic susceptibility and environmental triggers, where have I heard that combination before? Oh yeah, in reference to pretty much all of today’s chronic illnesses, but especially the neurodevelopmental disorders—including autism.

It’s a common theme that, because there appears to be an immune component to many chronic diseases, that it must be the evil vaccines causing them. At the very least, the evil vaccines must have something to do with these diseases, particularly autoimmune diseases. In this case, though, The Professor has latched onto a truly bizarre idea, one promoted by Forrest Maready:

Crooked: Man-made Disease Explained, a new book by Forrest Maready, attempts to get to the bottom of what that “something else” is and why it seems so strongly linked to neurological disorders. Maready is not a physician or a scientist, nor is he really a writer. But what he lacks in training and finesse, he more than makes up for in curiosity, persistence, and investigatory skills. The book is a fascinating and enlightening read.

Yes, Maready is not a physician or a scientist, but we should listen to his crackpot idea because…why? Well, Maready has a YouTube channel, My Incredible Opinion with Forrest Maready. If you look at the titles of the videos in his vlog, you will find lots of titles and blurbs indicative of not just antivaccine views, but a variety of crank medical views. In particular, there’s this video, Are You Crooked?:

It’s well over two hours long, which is why I haven’t watched the whole thing, and I don’t suggest that you watch the whole thing unless you are incredibly masochistic. (I’ve included the video for those completeness freaks out there.) I have, however, watched enough of it to get the gist of Maready’s ideas, such as they are. Fortunately (or maybe not), Maready boiled his “ideas” down to a seven minute video that I could tolerate watching (barely):

Right off the bat, Maready misuses the word “theory,” calling his idea a “theory” or “hypothesis” or “whatever you want to call it.” His ideas definitely don’t qualify as a “theory.” After all, in science the word “theory” is reserved for ideas and propositions that have the highest level of evidence backing them up such that they are accepted by the scientific community as the best currently existing explanation for a phenomenon (e.g., the theory of evolution, quantum theory, germ theory). Unlike the case in colloquial usage, the word “theory” does not encompass wild-ass guesses, which would be a better description of Maready’s ideas, which don’t, to my thinking, even rise to the level of a scientific hypothesis.

His basic idea is that everyone has asymmetrical (i.e., “crooked”) faces these days, with misaligned eyes, tilted mouths, etc., whereas in the past everyone’s faces were symmetrical. As The Professor eats it up:

Maready’s journey starts with a simple observation: A lot of people have crooked smiles and/or misaligned eyes these days. The average person might make such an observation and immediately forget about it, but not Maready. After several pointed reminders, his curiosity is piqued. Is this a new phenomenon, or merely one that has recently come to his attention? To find out, Maready went through mountains of old photographs going back to the beginning of photography itself. His conclusion? At no time in the past were so many people exhibiting so much facial asymmetry. Not even close.

I call bullshit right there. First of all, what criteria did Maready use to determine facial asymmetry in old photographs? Where did he get the photographs? How many did he examine. What was his methodology. How did he control for bias? How did he assure as close to a random sampling as possible? Did anyone other than Maready look at the photos and classify them the faces from the Victorian era as assymetrical versus symmetrical? How, specifically, was the comparison made? If Maready’s idea were The Sixth Sense, the little boy would be saying over and over, “I see…confirmation bias.” I also note that in some of the old photos Maready flashed so quickly in the background I could see facial asymmetry too, particularly in some of the photographs Maready showed in his two-hour video.

Let’s continue, though. Leaping bravely from confirmation bias to wild speculation, Maready decides that, because facial asymmetry can be a manifestation of many conditions, ranging from Bell’s palsy to cerebral palsy to autism to Alzheimer’s disease to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis to Hashimoto’s disease, the facial asymmetry must be symptoms of the same disease. He says this disease began to arise 200 years ago when we first started adding metals to our body. I had to call bullshit again right there, because we’ve been “adding metals to our body” at least since Roman times, where lead pipes, plates, and glasses were commonly used. In any case, according to TMR and Maready, Bell’s palsy is the key:

Of course such injuries, known as lesions, could be caused by physical traumas such as being kicked by a horse, but Bell saw a number of clients where the cause was not so apparent. In virtually all the accounts of unexplained facial paralysis from that era, Maready found discussion of medical treatments, especially “purges,” which had been administered before the palsy began. Such doctor-administered treatments in that era were based on mercury which is highly neurotoxic and could wholly explain the nerve damage Bell was seeing.

I see…confirmation bias. After all, Bell’s palsy is known today to be primarily due either to trauma, viral infections, or other conditions that cause inflammation of the facial nerve where it exits the skull through narrow gap in the bones of the face

I could go on, but let’s continue deeper into the pseudoscience. Maready next notes that many of the conditions he’s discussing, autoimmune or neurological, occur after an immune activation of some sort. This is one of those statements’ that’s true in a general, almost trivial sense, but Maready, like many cranks, paints with far too broad a brush. He then paddles further up the creek of pseudoscience by “hypothesizing” (actually, making a wild-ass speculation) that, thanks to the heavy metals (yes, aluminum from vaccines among them) we now have in our bodies, the white cells that respond to an immune insult now carry a “deadly payload” of aluminum and other heavy metals. Basically, the aluminum from vaccines lying dormant in various tissues of the body, until some sort of immune triggering event happens, which can be trauma, infection, pregnancy, lack of sleep, heavy exercise…well, almost anything. He posits a positive feedback loop in which, when aluminum is brought to a part of the body that needs help “bad things happen,” resulting in a call for more help, which brings more white cells and more aluminum, and “on and on it goes.” He then goes on about doctors still don’t know for sure what causes Bell’s palsy or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or even chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) due to repetitive brain trauma.

Maready then goes on to say how “crooked theory” offers a simple explanation why all of these things happen, namely that aluminum from vaccines gets into white cells and any injury or immune trigger brings white cells bearing “poison” (i.e. aluminum) to the injured or infected area. He then suggests that children who have been fully vaccinated should not play contact sports because they will be especially susceptible to CTE, with repetitive minor head trauma “sucking” aluminum-bearing white cells into the brain. Of course, you know what they say about simple solutions. The words of H.L. Mencken come to mind here, For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Of course, Maready is so wrong that he’s not even wrong.

That doesn’t stop him, however. He then goes on to do what cranks do best and attribute a single cause to virtually all disease, or at least all autoimmune diseases and neurological diseases with any immune component whatsoever. Oh, and it can also explain cancer. (Of course.) It also, according to Maready, explains why everyone has crooked faces. Vaccines with aluminum result in aluminum-bearing white cells that flock to the facial nerve as a result of minor trauma or inflammation, damaging it, resulting in facial asymmetry. He concludes:

Do you get it now? Can you see it?

If crooked theory is proven correct, all the foundations, all the charities, all the websites, all the research and genetic testing for this and that for these one thousand different diseases and disorders, they can all join together and focus on understanding this one thing. And changing this one thing may prevent them all. And if one thing can prevent them all, then we can find the one thing that will heal us all. This is why I had to share this with you, because everything we know about sickness and disease may be about to change—for the better…All this disease and suffering may be about to come to an end.

Ah, yes. Here we see yet another example of a favorite of cranks, The One True Cause Of All Disease, in this case, aluminum. Oh, and Lyme disease, which, while not The One True Cause, collaborates with The One True Cause, as The Professor notes, citing stuff Maready left out of his shorter video:

What I didn’t know—and it’s truly mind-boggling to me that I didn’t—until I read it in Crooked is that other bacteria can also develop cell-wall-deficient forms that are then able to invade and hijack the body’s own cells, especially white blood cells. These bacteria then continue living and replicating inside our own cells. The immune system knows they are there and goes about trying to get rid of them using every weapon in the arsenal, including antibodies. “Antibody” in this case turns out to be quite literal—as these antibodies actually attack host cells that have been hijacked by intracellular bacteria and viruses.

And:

Guess what else can cause bacteria to make that same conversion? Aluminum. Yep, you read that right. Aluminum gets called to the site of an infection, then changes the nature of the bacteria it’s fighting, making it much more difficult to get rid of and enabling it to hijack immune cells, thus keeping the inflammation going and helping it to travel anywhere in the body that may signal for help. Antibiotics and injected aluminum, the perfect storm.

Citation(s) required.

Not surprisingly, The Professor laps up this ridiculousness. Sure, she doesn’t buy it completely, and, yes, she hedges a bit, but in the end she gives way more credence to a bunch of wild-assed speculation than is due based on any evidence:

From an investigational perspective (even if all this didn’t affect me personally, I love a good mystery), I appreciated that Maready seemed most interested in getting to the truth and for every new observation or theory he sought out all the available evidence—both contrary and supportive. Does that guarantee that no bias creeps in? Of course not. We’re all human; we all have biases colored by our experiences. And Maready makes his own bias clear in the book’s introduction. He believes his theories to be largely correct and throughout the book states them more affirmatively than I would be comfortable with, but he makes it clear from the outset that he knows that at this point this is all theory, and part or all of it may not turn out to be true. Verification will ultimately be up to scientists. That said, it is clear that Maready’s investigation was done conscientiously, with integrity and intelligence, and is backed by science at every point. And I find his conclusions startlingly plausible and coherent with both the known science and anecdotal experience. I really hope that Maready’s book marks a major turning point for the better for those of us on healing journeys.

Maready’s investigations were “backed by science at every point”? His conclusions are “startlingly plausible and coherent”? Does The Professor not understand why I and other scientists laugh at her?

Maready’s “theory” is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen coming out of the antivaccine movement. It rivals other utterly implausible and scientifically ridiculous ideas of autism that include Andrew Moulden’s microvascular strokes as a cause of autism; Mark and David Geier’s rationale for chemical castration as a treatment for autism that invokes the ludicrous idea that testosterone prevents chelation therapy from removing mercury from the brain; and the idea that DNA from the cell lines derived from a human fetus used to grow up viral stocks to make vaccines gets into neurons in the brain and triggers an immune response leading to autism.

Congratulations, Mr. Maready. Truly, you’ve joined some amazing company.