Search Results for "autism"

Nov 08 2012

Facilitated Communication Persists Despite Scientific Criticism

Facilitated Communication (FC) is a technique for allegedly aiding those with communication impairment, such as some people with autism, to communicate through typing or pointing at a letter board. The idea is that some children have greater cognitive ability than is apparent through their verbal skills, but they lack the motor skills to type or write. The facilitator in FC is trained to hold and support their client’s hand, to help stabilize it, so that they can type out their thoughts.

FC was enthusiastically embraced by the special education community in the late 1980s and early 1990s but problems quickly emerged, namely the question of authorship – who is doing the communicating, the client or the facilitator?

The scientific evidence came down clearly on one side of that debate – it is the facilitator who is the author of the communication, not the client. The American Psychological Association has reviewed the available evidence and produced a position statement that concludes:

The short version of this long story is that study after study showed that facilitated communication didn’t really work. Apparently, the positive results that had generated so much enthusiasm were the results of a subtle process in which well-intended facilitators were answering questions themselves – without any awareness that they were doing so.

A 2001 review by Mostert came to the same conclusion – that the evidence supports the conclusion that the facilitators are the authors of communication in FC. He also points out that there is a relationship between the rigor of the studies and the results. The most rigorously blinded studies are all negative, studies with some blinding but also with problems are mixed and often show some positive results, and unblinded studies are all positive, showing dramatic effects. This pattern mirrors that of ESP and many other pseudosciences that are primarily the result of self deception.

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Oct 29 2012

Integrative Medicine Propaganda

While I am at home preparing for the “perfect storm” – an Autumn hurricane that is barreling down on the northeast –  I found the following letter in my e-mail:

I am appalled at what I am reading. How is integrative medicine quackery? Have you ever visited a Naturopathic Doctor, or an integrative Doctor or practitioner? I bet you know not one thing concerning not only their practice or about what they do to treat diseases. They understand that sometimes pharmaceutical drugs and surgery are necessary, but understand that sometimes they can cause more harm than good.

For some people, not having their nutrients at optimal levels can cause a series of symptoms to exhibit their “deficiency”. For some people toxins do cause problems and therefore need to detoxify. For instance, a cancer patient went to see a naturopathic doctor and found that she was being exposed to large amounts of copper which not only lead to her cancer but also to its persistence. Some people do have food sensitivities that can cause to lymph related cancers.

You may say that nothing that they do is scientific but how can you prove that?

Naturopathic Doctors have always treated people with “Adrenal Fatigue”. You may say that this is not a disease, and that the Adrenals can deal with bountiful amounts of stress. But if Adrenal Fatigue is not a scientifically sound nor is it a disease, then please tell me why has The Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine found that patients with CFS, have an altered Cortisol and DHEA diurnal rhythm? And why has McGill University, a prestigious academic institution, found the same results, as people who suffer from fatigue have altered or varied Cortisol and DHEA diurnal rhythm.

These studies are new studies, but Naturopathic Doctors have been treating them for thirty years or more?

If a Medical Doctor says in their Hippocratic oath that they are to first do no harm, why do they sometimes prescribe medications which at the end causes more harm.

A statin drug was recently taken of the market because although it was approved, they found that it now causes bladder cancer.

Hippocrates said, “Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food”

If an apple a day keeps the Doctor away, then why don’t we suggest nutrition.

Naturopathic Doctors are unscientific. If the statement be then they would not use blood test and other means to measure biochemical substances and use what they can to treat it.

There is a lot of Journals and Papers published on Orthomolecular Medicine, and CAM. Are these journals not scientific.

The Tripedia Vaccine for Pertussis has been taken off the market. It was noted to the FDA that multiple adverse effects included autism, and SIDS.

If certain drugs can cause carcinogenicities, liver failure, and other nasty side affects why should we take them when there are safer alternatives which can perform the task?

Before you open your traps on making statements that CAM and IM as being  pseudoscientific, go see someone who has treated the ROOT cause of ailments and pathologies.

If you want scientific research I can give them to you!

Sincerely,

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Sep 10 2012

Science Debate 2012 Answers

Published by under General

ScienceDebate.org is a group dedicated to promoting the discussion of important scientific issues in American politics. They formed around the idea of holding a science-themed debate in the 2008 presidential election, and have continued since then. They were never successful in getting the two campaigns to agree to a live debate concerning scientific topics, but they did agree to submit written answers to questions. This time around, in the 2012 presidential election, it also appears that there will be no live debate, but both campaigns have submitted written answers to science questions.

The idea behind ScienceDebate is this – from their website:

“Whenever the people are well-informed,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “they can be trusted with their own government.”

Science now affects every aspect of life and is an increasingly important topic in national policymaking.

I remember Carl Sagan hitting this theme often, in Cosmos and in his interviews. He said, for example:

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

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Aug 14 2012

David Geier Fined

The father son team of Mark and David Geier have been causing mischief (to put it lightly) in the autism community for years. Mark Geier is a medical doctor but his son, David, never attended medical school and has no license to practice medicine or any form of health care. The State Board of Maryland recently concluded their hearing on David Geier finding him guilty of practicing medicine without a licence and fining him the whopping fee of $10,000.

It is good to see state boards of health doing their job and going after people who are, in my opinion, dangerous charlatans. They do far too little of this. But the fine amount is very disappointing. According to the order it is meant to reflect the amount that David Geier profited from his illegal activity. I don’t know what constraints the board has on them in this regard, but $10,000 is a slap on the wrist.

The Geiers are notorious among those of us who keep an eye on the anti-vax community because of their support for the mercury-autism hypothesis (to put it generously). In fact the Geiers developed a highly dubious theory and treatment, connecting autism to mercury and precocious puberty in boys – premature high testosterone. They put together their own institutional review that has been highly criticized for not meeting state and federal regulations. Through this board they got approval for a study in which they administered lupron, a drug that opposes testosterone and essentially causes chemical castration, to young boys who they diagnosed with autism. Their theory is that the lupron would allow chelation therapy to be more effective in treating mercury toxicity.

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Jul 17 2012

I’m Back – What I Learned About the Skeptical Movement

Published by under Skepticism

I am just getting back home from TAM2012, the largest annual skeptical meeting  hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Many of you were likely there as well. During the trip I also stopped off for a tour of Pixar (which was awesome) and to give a health seminar at Google. If you will indulge me, I like to use such events to take the pulse of the skeptical movement to see what I can learn.

First, I am happy to report that the skeptical movement remains vibrant and energetic. These events are always invigorating – it’s a pleasure to meet with those who listen to the SGU or read my blogs and to be told directly that all the hard work is worth it. So thank you to everyone who approached me during TAM to offer their kind words, it really does have an effect.

Attendance at TAM was down about 25% from last year. TAM9 had over 1600 attendees, the highest attendance of any TAM and I think any skeptical meeting. This year the attendance was over 1200, which is still huge for a skeptical conference but down from last year. Of course among those involved with TAM there is much discussion about the cause of the shrinkage. There is certainly more competition – more such conferences, including NECSS, which the NESS is involved in running. DragonCon also has a growing skeptical track, and CSI is getting back into the conference game with the second CSICON in October. Further, last year there were several big headliners (Tyson, Dawkins, Nye) who tend to be a big draw, and while this year’s speakers list was stellar last year simply had some bigger names. There are also issues that have nothing to do with skepticism, like the economy. Perhaps last year’s conference was simply exceptional, and this year we are experiencing a little regression to the mean. And there have been some controversies surrounding TAM this year, which I will discuss below.

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Jun 07 2012

Boiron Settlement – Homeopathic Active Ingredients are Neither

At the end of April a federal court approved a settlement against Boiron – the world’s largest manufacturer of homeopathic products.

A federal court has preliminarily approved a class action lawsuit settlement with Boiron, Inc. that will provide up to $5 million in refunds to consumers who purchased certain Boiron homeopathic products, including Oscillo, Arnicare, Chestal and Coldcalm.

This is the result of a class action lawsuit against against Boiron alleging that they sold the above named products with false claims they knew they could not support. Jann Bellamy at Science-Based Medicine gives a good overview of the relevant law and the testimony given during the trial.

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Jun 05 2012

Education and Vaccine Uptake

A new study, not published but to be presented at a meeting, purports to show that after the infamous Andrew Wakefield 1998 Lancet article alleging a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, vaccination rates in the US declined by about two percent. This may seem like a small amount but has an effect on public health, and vaccine refusal typically occurs in pockets that bring vaccination rates below the level needed for “herd” immunity, allowing for outbreaks.

This, however, is all old news. There are two other pieces of information in the study that are interesting. The first is that the decrease in vaccination rates did not rebound after Wakefield and his Lancet study were thoroughly refuted. That genie was out of the bottle, and correcting the misinformation did not have the desired effect of putting it back in. This too is in line with other research and experience. It is easier to spread fear than reassurance. Once rumors are spread the damage cannot be undone.

The study also purports to find that the there was an inverse relationship between education level and vaccine use – college-educated mothers were less likely to vaccinate their children. Further, in the 8 years after the Lancet study this gap increased. This education-gap is also in line with previous research, but needs some explanation. We need to distinguish unvaccinated from undervaccinated, and vaccine non-compliance from vaccine refusal. When looking at the undervaccinated, and specifically those who missed scheduled vaccines, this correlates with lower socioeconomic status and less education. This is in line with a more general pattern – the fewer resources a family has the less likely they are to avail themselves of available health care.

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Apr 19 2012

Responding to a Szaszian

Published by under Neuroscience

I have a strict “do not feed the trolls” policy on this blog. OK – so it’s more of a strong suggestion frequently flouted. It’s very difficult to enforce. Even saying, “Do not feed the trolls,” is feeding them, and there always seems to be someone who caves to their goading, and then the troll is off to the races.

Commenter Dirk Steele has given us the latest example on my blog from Tuesday. He left a completely off-topic comment with the intent of derailing discussion on the actual topic of the blog post, and someone caved (no hard feelings, I sometimes do it myself, it’s hard to resist sometimes). Dirk was apparently frustrated that I was not responding to his comments on a five year old blog post. I rarely respond to comments on posts more than a week old, let alone five years (I trust you understand why I cannot maintain active discussions on over a thousand posts).  I also did not respond because Dirk did not address any of the points I made in the post (actually a series of five posts), but was simply regurgitating Thomas Szasz mental illness denial talking points. My responses, in other words, were already in the posts and did not need repeating.

But it has been a while since I have addressed the issue of mental illness denial head on. I also receive frequent requests to discuss this topic, and ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) directly, so this is as good an excuse as any to revisit this topic. I predict my response will not satisfy Dirk, but at least it will keep him out of other threads for awhile. This is Dirk’s most relevant comment, in which he gives us a Gish gallop of standard mental-illness denial talking points:

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Apr 03 2012

Donald Trump – Anti-Vaccine Crank

From time to time celebrities publicly discuss their opinions on scientific topics, and the results are usually not pretty. I have discussed previously the folly of Jenny McCarthy, for example, in using her dubious celebrity to promote anti-vaccine nonsense. Now The Donald has joined the ranks of people who are mostly famous for being famous who feel their celebrity gives them license to pontificate publicly about complex scientific issues. Trump told a Fox News audience that he strongly believes vaccines are causing the increase in autism diagnosis. He based this upon his scientific training, thorough reading of the relevant scientific literature, and consultation with experts – no, I mean based upon his casual observation and naive assumptions. Hey, he has an anecdote.

Here is the core of his rant:

“I’ve gotten to be pretty familiar with the subject. You know, I have a theory — and it’s a theory that some people believe in — and that’s the vaccinations. We never had anything like this. This is now an epidemic. It’s way, way up over the past 10 years. It’s way up over the past two years. And, you know, when you take a little baby that weighs like 12 pounds into a doctor’s office and they pump them with many, many simultaneous vaccinations — I’m all for vaccinations, but I think when you add all of these vaccinations together and then two months later the baby is so different then lots of different things have happened. I really — I’ve known cases.”

OK, it’s easy for a lay person to get caught up in a complex scientific question and get overwhelmed by information from one side. If you naively watch Loose Change, for example, without being familiar with the whole 911 conspiracy thing you might be led to believe there is something sinister going on. That’s how propaganda of that sort often works – overwhelm your audience with factoids, distorted and cherry-picked information, and apparent correlations and weave them into an emotionally compelling story. If you listen to just one side of any scientific debate you will probably be convinced that that side has a strong and perhaps even iron-clad case. Only when the other side has an opportunity to make their case do you see how the information you were given was systematically biased in one direction.

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Feb 17 2012

The Autistic Brain at 6 Months

Published by under autism,Neuroscience

Yet another study showing that clear signs of autism are present as early as six months of age has been published. In this study researchers looked a high-risk children (siblings of children with autism) at 6 months with MRI scanning (specifically diffusion tensor imaging) and then evaluated them clinically at 24 months to see which children met criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Some of the children also had imaging at 12 months. The imaging was used to look at the development of white matter – the tracks in the brain that contain the axons or pathways of communication.

When compared as groups the 28 infants who went on to develop ASD had significantly decreased white matter development in 12 of 15 brain pathways examined in comparison to the 64 infants who did not develop clinical ASD.  These results are very robust, although I should point out that the children were compared as groups, not individuals. The purpose of this study was to see if there were detectable changes in the brains of children with ASD at 6 months, not necessarily to explore its utility as a diagnostic tool that can be applied to an individual.

Still, this study supports other research providing increasing evidence that ASD begins at least as early as 6 months. It is probable that ASD begins earlier than 6 months, actually, because in order for detectable differences to be present in the brain, development must have been heading down a different trajectory prior to that. These kinds of studies have not looked at children younger than 6 months, and it would be interesting to see how early such changes can be detected. But even without that data, we can conclude the whatever process results in ASD it is active prior to 6 months so that the effects are detectable at 6 months.

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