Search Results for "autism"

May 21 2013

The Genetics of Mental Illness

Published by under Neuroscience

The new Diagnostics and Statistical Manual, DSM-V, is out. Not surprisingly, it has sparked some controversy. Psychiatry deniers are proclaiming that this is the collapse of the mental-illness fraud (I believe reports of the death of psychiatry are exaggerated).

What the DSM-V does represent, to some degree, is an attempt to advance psychiatry to the next stage of our understanding of illness. It seems that we are not quite ready for this step in psychiatry, but the effort is sincere and interesting.

For background, the DSM (now in the fifth edition) is essentially a list of official psychiatric diagnoses, based upon clinical criteria. For mental illness and disorders we mostly lack clear biological markers or pathology, and so we have had to make do with clinical descriptions – lists of signs and symptoms. This is very much a descriptive phase of scientific understanding.

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Apr 04 2013

Vaccines are Gay

It’s always amusing to see two pseudosciences combined into one greater pseudoscience – it’s like chocolate and peanut butter. It’s not uncommon because those who would embrace one pseudoscience are likely to follow the same flawed logic and process to accept others. My colleague David Gorski has termed this effect “crank magnetism.”

Take, for example, Gian Paolo Vanoli. He has been making international headlines recently because of his claim that vaccines cause homosexuality, which he insists is a disease. The story appears to have been first picked up in English by the Huffington Post – all other reports of this story I have found cite this article as their source.

Because of the date of this article (4/1) I wanted to make sure I had another source, but the only other sources are in Italian. The story does seem to check out – here is one article: Gian Paolo Vanoli: Cricket on the urine that has been around the world. 

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Dec 31 2012

Nutrigenomics – Personalized Pseudoscience

I wrote last week about the problem of stem-cell quackery throughout the world, mostly in poorly regulated countries but with the purpose of attracting international customers. Stem cells are real, and the science of developing medical applications of stem cells is both real and promising, but these stem cell clinics are making claims that are years or decades ahead of the science. They are capitalizing on stem cell hype as a marketing ploy to those who are more desperate than scientifically savvy.

I was asked to comment on yet another example of the same phenomenon – nutrigenomics. That’s a very impressive-sounding name, just like a real science, but as always the devil is in the details. The claim is that by analyzing one’s genes a personalized regimen of specific nutrients can be developed to help their gene’s function at optimal efficiency. One website that promises, “Genetics Based Integrative Medicine” contain this statement:

Nutrigenomics seeks to unravel these medical mysteries by providing personalized genetics-based treatment. Even so, it will take decades to confirm what we already understand; that replacing specific nutrients and/or chemicals in existing pathways allows more efficient gene expression, particularly with genetic vulnerabilities and mutations.

The money-quote is the phrase, “ it will take decades to confirm what we already understand.” This is the essence of pseudoscience – using science to confirm what one already “knows.” This has it backwards, of course. Science is not use to “confirm” but to determine if a hypothesis is true or not.

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Dec 27 2012

More Stem Cell Quackery

Stem cells are an exciting area of medical research. They are cells that have the ability to transform into different cell types, a property known as pluripotency. Some stem cells, such as embryonic stem cells, can turn into any cell type, which is called totipotency.

The hope is that researchers will develop the technology to harvest or create stem cells, manipulate their properties if necessary, transplant them into patients with specific diseases or damage, and coax the stem cells to fix, support, or replace the diseased or damaged cells. This is a potentially powerful treatment in theory, but is very tricky in practice. Researchers are still, in most cases, working out the basics of the technology – getting stem cells to survive and do what they want them to do, without growing into tumors or causing other problems. Researchers are making incremental advances, but are mostly in the test tube or animal research stage. For some indications they are making the first forays into preliminary human research.

Public awareness and interest in stem cell treatments, however, is way ahead of the reality. It takes years, perhaps decades, to innovate an entirely new treatment paradigm such as stem cell therapy. Unfortunately some unscrupulous clinics have decided to cash in on the premature hype by offering bogus stem cell treatment for serious illnesses. Most of these clinics are in countries with lax health care regulations and oversight, hoping to lure in wealthy and desperate foreigners. In fact, one of my first blog posts was about one such clinic in China.

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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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