Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Entertainment/culture Medicine Quackery Television

A credulous treatment of the mercury militia on PBS

The Skeptical Surfer informs me of a rather disturbing programming decision by PBS:

I first caught wind of the autism film “Beautiful Son” through the surfing community. Surf filmmaker Don King has an autistic son. Being a filmmaker, Don always has a video camera at hand and has documented his “journey” of discovering that his child has autism. This, along with other footage and interviews, have become a film about autism called “Beautiful Son.”


The film has not yet premiered, but there is enough supporting evidence via a web site and film preview to draw a few conclusions. Let’s start with the preview, which was available – but seems to be no longer available – at

The preview goes something like this: the family record the birth of their son with their video camera. As he reaches two years old and his cognitive abilities begin to develop, the parents notice that something is wrong. They take the child to various doctors until a neurologist finally determines that the child is somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

The parents, who are devastated and completely unprepared for this, begin looking for answers. Unfortunately, mainstream medicine says “there’s no cure” so they begin looking elsewhere when they find the DAN! conference. They attend the DAN! conference and are convinced that mercury and vaccinations caused their child’s autism, and begin “the journey” to finding a cure.

The scenario will sound completely familiar to the millions of families with autistic children who have done the exact same thing.

I took a moment to peruse the Beautiful Son website, which states that the film is coming to public television on April 8, and there’s copious evidence to suggest that it will be a film that will present a positive take on various autism quackery. For example, here’s a description of the film:

In BEAUTIFUL SON, Don and Julianne take us on their journey through the landscape of this debilitating neurological disorder as they attempt to recover Beau from autism. Along the way, through their research and personal interaction with various medical professionals, Don and Julianne come to believe the establishment has little to offer apart from advice of “good parenting” and behavioral therapy. Desperate to find help, they stumble upon a community of doctors and parents who are experimenting with alternative treatments and who are, they believe, successfully recovering some kids from autism.

BEAUTIFUL SON is the story of an illness reaching epidemic proportion, now affecting one in 150 children. And, it’s the story of a grass roots movement of parents and doctors who believe that vaccines, mercury and other toxins may be triggering some forms of autism and demanding research be done to help their children.

That sounds just like Julie Obradovic’s “recovery” story, doesn’t it?

Then, there’s the Links page, which is chock full of links to autism organizations that promote various dubious scientifically unsupported “biomedical” interventions, sites such as Generation Rescue, A-Champ, SafeMinds, Moms Against Mercury, and Defeat Autism Now. The Surfer’s description of the preview, now yanked, suggests that the film will promote these sorts of ineffective and, in some cases, dangerous interventions:

Later on in the preview (that no longer exists) Don and Julianne are seen administering shots (of who-the-hell-knows-what) at home. They also show another parent administering a white liquid to their own child that obviously tastes like hell, because the poor child dreads the idea of consuming it, and then stims heavily once he’s received it. Yuk.

To my eyes, it looks like they’re basically torturing these poor, emotionally fragile children in order to “cure them.”

Then the torture of the parents begin. In one scene, they’re arguing furiously over a dosage issue and you can see the fracture (the same fracture that tears apart 80% of couples with autistic children) beginning to form. They’re arguing over how much snake oil is needed to “cure” their kid.

Of course, it’s possible, as the Surfer points out, that in the end the parents decide that these interventions are at best useless and at worse harmful (not to mention expensive), but the film’s description and the list of links included at the movie’s website leads me to believe otherwise.

The film is due to premier at the Hawaiian International Film Festival on October 19 and then to air on PBS in April. Moreover, it was funded by the Independent Television Service, which produces many programs for PBS; so it’s a good bet that the film will air. All I can hope is that PBS comes to its senses here–or at least presents a skeptical, evidence-based counterpoint to what looks very likely to be nothing more than a typical propaganda piece for the mercury militia. I could be wrong, and I hope that I am. However, the look of the website and the Skeptical Surfer’s description of the trailer make it a pretty good bet that I’m not.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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