Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

Kathleen Seidel and her opponents

Over the weekend there was a very good article in the Concord Monitor about Kathleen Seidel and her legal battle with Clifford Shoemaker, whose intrusive “fishing expedition” subpoena recently drew condemnation even from prominent antivaccination activists such as David Kirby and Dan Olmsted and was ultimately quashed with the possibility of sanctions. What this article does a good job for those new to the debate is to put things in some perspective in a relatively brief treatment; I encourage you to read the whole thing, and I will focus mostly on a couple of interesting tidbits in the article. First, this article confirms what I already knew: That Seidel has become quite important and influential in combatting the nonsense being peddled by antivaccinationists such as the Reverend Lisa Sykes and her husband Seth Sykes, whom Shoemaker was representing at the time he got slapped down for his intrusive subpoena. For example:

Advocates and fans say her exhaustive research sets her apart and makes her blog a must-read for those who care about the scientific, legal and political swirl surrounding autism.

“She is the Erin Brockovich of autism spectrum disorders,” said Irving Gottesman, a psychiatry professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School who studies the causes of autism and is convinced that there is no vaccine link. Gottesman compared Seidel’s investigative work to what he’d expect from a research team of several graduate students working under a professor. “Amazing,” he said, for an amateur.

I agree. Indeed, I have used the fruits of Kathleen Seidel’s patient research, mostly culled from online sources, publicly available information, and Freedom of Information requests. Of course, as I’ve pointed out before, it was Kathleen’s very doggedness and success that led her to be targeted by antivaccinationists, who, consistent with their general paranoia and tendency towards conspiracy-mongering, just can’t believe that she isn’t in the pocket of Big Pharma. It’s nothing more than the “pharma shill gambit,” of course, being used to try to discredit her; a tactic that is periodically directed at me, so much so that I’ve been known to be facetious about it in my posts.

More interesting, however, are the responses to Kathleen’s massive amount of work that resulted in an ever-growing series of posts that has revealed just how unethical Dr. Mark Geier and his son David Geier have been in pushing unproven and potentially dangerous treatments without a shred of scientific evidence on autistic children and, most disturbingly of all to me, in carrying out their “research” from their home in Silver Spring, MD:


Welcome to the Institute for Chronic Illnesses, which is run out of Dr. Geier’s home. Indeed, Seed magazine once did a story about Mark and David Geier and how they had a small laboratory in their basement where they carried out their “research.” Sadly, it was more or less a puff piece. I assure you, however, that it was done before I joined ScienceBlogs and didn’t find out about it until some months after I had joined the collective. If I had known about it before, I may not have joined up. In any case, I assure you that if Seed ever does a story like it again the editorial staff will have Orac to deal with.

But I digress.

What interested me were Mark Geier’s responses to Kathleen Seidel’s extensive and well-documented charges against them, a few of which included:

  1. That David Geier listed a title that he had not earned in a manuscript.
  2. That the Geiers were deceptive in citing articles as supporting their work when in fact they did not.
  3. That the Geiers constituted an IRB packed with cronies and friends to oversee the human subjects research they were carrying out. (Note: I also discussed this issue and just how incredibly unethical the Geiers’ action was.)
  4. That the Geiers are carrying out research on autistic children involving the use of a powerful anti-sex hormone drug called Lupron that is used to treat advanced prostate cancer, to shut down ovarian production of hormones during in vitro fertilization cycles to permit complete control of hormone levels by the administration of exogenous hormones. (Note: I also discussed the lack of scientific plausibility of this protocol and its potential danger in one of my first posts after joining ScienceBlogs.)
  5. That there was an undisclosed conflict of interest in a patent application for this dubious protocol.
  6. That the Geiers plagiarized a draft article prepared by CDC scientists.

First, however, Dr. Geier states how unhappy he is with Seidel:

For his part, Geier said he wasn’t that troubled by Seidel’s work, but he described her as “vicious.”

“To go after us and call up universities and take every single paper that we write and to write every single editor and say, ‘these guys are crooks,’ ” Geier said. “I don’t understand.”

Actually, Seidel has never, to my knowledge, said that the Geiers are “crooks.” Unethical, yes, a charge with which I heartily agree. Using bad science to peddle a scientifically highly implausible and potentially harmful treatment for autistic children? Definitely. Maybe the charges hurt so much because they’re so well-documented. I’m sure Dr. Geier views it as horribly unfair that someone like Seidel is “harassing” them, but given their treatment of autistic children based on a pseudoscientific idea that testosterone forms “sheets” that bind mercury and that lowering testosterone levels will make mercury more “available” for chelation therapy to remove it and thus alleviate autistic symptoms, he should be grateful that it’s only a lone blogger “harassing” him and not his state medical board and the federal government. More hilarious are his “answer” to Kathleen’s charges:

Geier answered each of Seidel’s charges. The inaccurate title was the result of an editing error. The review board list she saw was a preliminary version, not the actual board. The patent is not designed to make money. The similarities between the papers are not plagiarism.

“I don’t know, maybe she’s an English teacher,” Geier said. “That’s done in science. I’m sorry, that’s not exactly criminal.”

Actually, no, wholesale copying of large swaths of someone else’s text without attribution for a manuscript is not considered proper form in science. It may be true that scientists will sometimes recycle some text for the introductions and methodology of articles on highly related topics, they do not in general do so for results and discussions, and there is a certain threshold, exactly what threshold there may be disagreement about, over when such recycling goes too far. As for the Institutional Review Board, even if the Geiers’ account were true, packing a “preliminary” IRB list with friends, relatives of patients, and cronies reveals either a total lack of research ethics or a total ignorance of how human subjects research is supposed to be done. Actually, my guess is that the list Seidel dug up only became “preliminary” after the fact, specifically after Seidel had exposed the Geiers’ wretched, digustingingly unethical practice of packing the board charged with human research subjects protections with their friends and fellow antivaccinationists, none of whom could by any stretch of the imagination be considered independent or impartial. Personally, I am happy to see that Seidel has earned the Geiers’ wrath. It means she’s getting results. No one else I’m aware of is doing what she does, shining the light on the underbelly of autism pseudoscience that is the Geiers and others, such as Dr. Rashid Buttar. Sadly, even Seidel’s best efforts appear not to have stopped the Geiers’ efforts.

Of course, it is interesting to note that it was Seidel’s investigation of the Geiers that led her to Clifford Shoemaker and the infamous post, The Commerce in Causation, which apparently provoked Shoemaker’s subpoena. Maybe the reason antivaccinationists think in essence that everyone who argues against them and opposes their pseudoscience must be in the pocket of big pharma or otherwise part of a conspiracy is because of the incestuous relationship they all seem to have with each other, such as the Geiers’ frequent testimony for lawsuits brought by Clifford Shoemaker.

Not surprisingly, other antivaccinationists are not happy with Seidel, either:

Kathleen is hurting people. She’s not just disagreeing with us, she’s going after people,” said Amy Carson, the founder of Moms Against Mercury, a group that is trying to eradicate mercury from vaccines. Carson said that her autistic child is sick, and mercury-eliminating treatments have helped him. “She’s like a pitbull when she is going after someone. She takes hold of them and doesn’t let go.”

Seidel didn’t stop at examining the Geiers’ publishing history on her website; she also began sending letters to journal editors and calling the legal departments of pharmaceutical companies. In those communications, she expressed her view that the Geiers are ethically compromised and asked why the institutions supported their work. According to Wikipedia discussion records, Seidel’s husband, Dave, repeatedly revised an entry on Mark Geier in the online encyclopedia.

Mark Geier said that members of his review board have received threatening phone calls from Seidel’s readers after she published their names. He also said that he’s aware of other autism researchers whose jobs had been threatened by her activism.

Poor Dr. Geier. Now perhaps he has an inkling of how pro-vaccine scientists like Paul Offit and Eric Fomebonne feel, not to mention a number of people who combat antivaccination pseudoscience. They have been subject to harassment and threats by supporters of the same sort of antivaccination pseudoscience that the Geiers peddle. Naturally, I do not approve if indeed the Geiers have received threats. However, I highly doubt that supporters and colleagues of the Geiers have suffered anywhere near the number or intensity of threats that pro-vaccine scientists willing to speak out against antivaccinationists routinely have to deal with. Now that Jenny McCarthy has teamed up with J.B. Handley to organize a protest in Washington, DC on June 4, coupled with all the attendant publicity that she has brought to the cause, I only expect the situation to get worse. In any case, Seidel is entirely within her rights to contact journal editors and dig into just how some the Geiers can get away with their activities, the most egregious of which are their clinical trials. As I wrote before about this phenomenon:

The mercury militia has become in essence a religion. Like a religion, its members have developed a self-contained belief system, namely that mercury in vaccines causes autism and thus that their children are “victims” of vaccines who are “vaccine injured”; that the government, in cahoots with big pharma, has covered it up through the CDC; that scientists are in on the conspiracy because of a fanatical belief in vaccination; and that chelation therapy, along with a lot of other quackery that goes under the rubric of “biomedical treatments” can reverse the “vaccine damage.” They are mutually self-supporting. Like pseudosciences inspired by other religions, namely creationism and its “intelligent design” variant, they churn out poor quality papers chock full of bad science to “support” their beliefs…

Mark and David Geier, along with others, are among the high priests of this religion, which demands the sacrifice of autistic children on its altar, a sacrifice that may extend to non-autistic children who will suffer unnecessarily from vaccine-preventable diseases if this religion spreads and undermines herd immunity. I’m just happy that there are heretics like Kathleen Seidel willing to spend so much time and effort to expose their dark rituals to the light of science and reason.

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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