Bad science: Whales, breast cancer, and autism

by Siegfried Othmer | October 2nd, 2007

Science is the sacred cow of our age (if indeed there are any left), so any attack on the
output of the scientific enterprise may be taken as an affront by practitioners of the art.
Our concern, however, is not with the occasional forgivable accident or error, the
inevitable consequence of research being conducted by fallible people. Rather, bad
science is often deliberate. And in such cases it is usually allied with a non-scientific
cause, the force of which then results in bad science displacing the good. The normal
correcting and validating function of the multi-faceted scientific enterprise
cannot do its work.

In recent weeks we have had three dead blue whales in our California waters.
Quickly we were reassured that there was no “scientific evidence” that Navy exercises
involving loud sonar had anything to do with the deaths. And what would such evidence
consist of? The dead whales had been checked for bleeding in the ears. No bleeding, no
injury. But one might well imagine that loud sounds could disrupt the more subtle
regulatory function of a whale well below the threshold where there is blood in the ear
canal. We know this from torture techniques that our government is warming up to these
days. Simply playing a long-playing record off-center is enough to provoke nausea. .
Loud and persistent sounds (such as recordings of the crying of infants) is a torture
technique well below the threshold where it becomes biologically obvious. So giving the
Navy sonar a clean bill of health was premature.

A similar case was made by an MD who was a hired gun for the company that
manufactures the Taser. She said that it was impossible for the Taser to have caused the
death of a man fifteen minutes after being shocked “because the electricity does not stay
in the body.” What rubbish. Gretel Ehrlich describes her life after being struck by
lightning in her book “a match to the heart.” The lightning stroke had wreaked havoc with her autonomic nervous system regulation. She barely survived the ordeal. And the electricity, we can be sure, did not stay in the body. And if the above supposition were true, then one would not expect lasting effects of Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy
(ECT) either.

We have just heard of a study in which early exposure to DDT was correlated
with subsequent breast cancer incidence. This study contradicted earlier findings that
appeared to be just as solid. The earlier studies, however, measured the body burden of
DDT that was still detectable at the time of the research. In the latest study, they went
back to blood samples that had been taken at the time of breast development in these
women, and with these contemporaneous samples the correlation became obvious. The
earlier study had assumed that the then-current body burden of DDT was an index to the
early exposure. But the timing of exposure mattered. DDT had been prematurely

The matter of breast cancer represents a paradigm case for a clinically significant
interaction between genetics and environmental factors. Multi-factorial causation is
notoriously difficult to get right. Studies are rarely long enough, large enough, and
comprehensive enough to allow discrimination of the relevant factors. But that should be
reason to be cautious in one’s claims. So why is that not the case when it comes to
autism? Why are spokesmen so anxious to exonerate certain risk factors?
We have just been barraged by yet another epidemiological study purporting to
show that mercury in general, and thimerosal in particular, does not cause neurological
injury. Autism was not targeted specifically in this study, although this is obviously the
driving force behind the continuing concerns about thimerosal.

The fact remains that if autism is both genetically caused and of minor incidence,
then whole-population epidemiology just cannot get you close to the answer. If only a
small percentage of the population is genetically vulnerable, then one has to simply focus
on that part of the population to inquire about other contributing risk factors. And if we
don’t know the relevant genetics, then one has to focus on the clinical population itself,
just as was done in the case of the breast cancer study.

What might be expected, for example, if a key genetic contribution to autism
related somehow to the ability of the body to detox mercury? This turns out to be no mere
abstract speculation, but rather a viable theory. It is also readily testable. And such a test
would be far more worthwhile than yet another epidemiological study. It was left to
independent scientists, however, to pursue this hypothesis further.

A new case study has just been published which confirms that many children with
autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) suffer from mercury poisoning. The new study, “A
Prospective Study of Mercury Toxicity Biomarkers in Autistic Spectrum Disorders” is by
Dr. Mark R. Geier and his son, Mr. David A. Geier. It was published in the most recent
issue of the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A (volume 70, issue
20, pgs 1723-1730). This study utilized urinary porphyrin profile analysis (UPPA) to assess the body
burden of mercury in children diagnosed with ASDs. Using UPPA, they examined 71
children diagnosed with ASDs, their neurotypical siblings, and controls drawn from the
general population. Their findings demonstrated that only the non-chelated patients
diagnosed with ASDs had porphyrin patterns indicative of clinical mercury toxicity.
(Treating ASD diagnosed patients with chelating agents resulted in lower mercury-
specific urinary porphyrins.) This study confirms previous findings, so the autism
research community should have been on notice prior to the publication of this latest

At the same time, the genetic model does not seem to be faring quite so well. A
paper just published in Nature Genetics described the results of large-scale genetics study
that focused on more than a thousand families with more than one autistic child. The
authors were compelled to report that “None of our linkage results can be interpreted as
’statistically significant’…” Hmmm. Well, however that may be, it is clear that children differ in their susceptibility to
autism for one reason or another, and it would be bizarre indeed if genetics did not play a
role. But if genetic factors turn out to be so elusive (i.e., complex), then there is all the
more reason to look for environmental factors. In any event, we must focus on those who
are actually vulnerable for one reason or another or both. And we should not attempt to
persuade the public that what is true for the population at large also holds for these
children. That is bad science. It should be said in the authors’ defense that they made no
claims with respect to autism, but the propagandists had their way anyhow: the blanket
exoneration of thimerosal.

The situation in autism may be similar in some respects to that in breast cancer.
Showing that mercury levels are no higher in autistic children by urinalysis does not
resolve the issue. Given the sudden onset of many of these cases, brief mercury exposure
may have been the triggering event, setting off a process (such as gut dysfunction or
immune system compromise) that then takes on a life of its own, sustained perhaps by the
residual mercury body burden. After all, we know that chelation of heavy metals is
helpful for many of these children. If the problem is the inability to detox mercury, then a
greater excretion of mercury would not even be expected unless such excretion is
provoked. One lesson is that political mandates and larger policy agendas tend to interfere
with the conduct of good science. Science cannot thrive outside of its own comfort zone,
as when it finds itself in the court of law or caught up in the contentions of politics. But
that cannot be the whole explanation of our current state of affairs.

The Blind Spot in the Medical Model

There has also been a huge blind spot in medical research, and it relates to the
intangible of regulation, of state management issues. Collectively, we can refer to this as
the “state of the networks”–functional medicine. If we consider all the domains where
medicine has done well, and where it has done poorly, a number of conditions stand out.
Leaving aside the major conundrums of heart disease and cancer, medicine has done
exceedingly poorly in such issues as chronic pain, PMS, minor traumatic brain injury,
chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraine, and of course the autism spectrum.
The fact that we can make major inroards on these complaints with neurofeedback
demonstrates the large role played by “the state of the networks” in these conditions.
Meanwhile, the medical response to nearly all of these issues was first and foremost a
kind of denial that the problem was real.

We are seeing all of this replicated now with our returning soldiers, where the prevailing ethos is to deny that they have a problem (of minor traumatic brain injury or PTSD), or else to insist that the deficits were pre-existing.
The underlying reality is that the field of medicine is stumped on matters of deficiencies
in regulatory control, for which there are neither CAT scans nor workable models.

All this was brought painfully to the fore again with an article by Valerie Ulene, MD, writing in the Los Angeles Times. “Until recently,” she reports, “post-concussive syndrome was viewed with skepticism by the medical community. The precise cause of these symptoms couldn’t be pinpointed, and the veracity of these complaints was often questioned.” “In the past, it would be written off that these patients have significant psychosocial issues,” according to Dr. Rick Adams, medical director of the neurorehabilitation program at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. Ulene: “Although the cause of post-concussive syndrome remains unclear, the medical community is finally acknowledging that the symptoms are real.” (Better late than never.) “In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated information to help physicians improve the diagnosis and treatment of minor traumatic brain injuries. The CDC materials emphasize the fact that complete recovery from even a relatively minor brain injury frequently takes several months; they also stress the
importance of recognizing and managing post-concussive complaints.”

So what is being offered here to the patient? All that is being offered is to be
taken seriously, after all these years! Of remedies, there is nothing in sight. If the prospect
for the patient is recovery over several months, then all that’s being offered is “watchful
waiting.” The preferred remedy, of course, is neurofeedback, along with other such
appeals to our functional organization. Neurofeedback provides both the conceptual
resolution to much of the blind spot in medicine, and the practical remedy for so many
complaints that currently remain unaddressed and unremediated in our society.
It is a functional disturbance that must be considered in the case of the whales,
lightning strikes, and the lingering trauma of psychological torture (PTSD). Functional
disturbance explains the effects of post-concussive syndrome that don’t show up on CAT
scans. And it is functional disturbance that explains the variety–and variability–we
observe in the symptoms of autism. All these functional disturbances can be attended to
via neurofeedback. And much of this has already been known now for some thirty years.
Part of the handicap under which neurofeedback operated early on had to do
with the fact that we were resolving symptoms the existence of which was being
routinely denied within medicine–relating for example to PMS, fibromyalgia, chronic
fatigue syndrome, post-concussion syndrome, whiplash, minor traumatic brain injury, the
behavioral consequences of sub-clinical seizure activity, chronic pain, vertigo,
hyperacusis, multiple chemical sensitivities, the cognitive/affective deficits following
general anesthesia in the elderly, and hypoglycemia, etc. Remember hypoglycemia? The
state of denial was pervasive, and it was oppressive.

Matters are unfortunately similar in autism. The problem is just starting to be
recognized for what it is: dysfunction in the networks. For too long, the problem was seen
as a “mental issue” not amenable to medical resolution. But now there is neurofeedback,
which targets this problem directly. And the remedy implies the cause. Autism cannot be
fully understood as a classical medical condition, nor can it be fully understood as a
classical mental disorder. The answer lies inbetween.
We are at the point where the path forward means breaking down the dualistic
mindset that has plagued our health practice since Descartes, and which subtly still
organizes our thinking. Neurofeedback has compelled us to confront that problem,
because we are addressing issues that lie at the cusp of the two domains. At the nexus
between psychodynamics and traditional somatic medical concerns lies network function.
Neurofeedback directly enhances the quality of self-regulation of these networks. It does
not fall comfortably into the field of medicine, nor does it fall comfortably into

We are defining a new discipline of applied psychophysiology. In a
prospective view, neurofeedback will come to define the very heart of Mind-Body
medicine, but in a later retrospective view neurofeedback will be seen as having finally
interred our residual dualism.

4 Responses to “Bad science: Whales, breast cancer, and autism”

  1. rohit says:

    Inflammatory Breast Cancer – Hi i have seen your site its very informative & very helpfull for suffer from this my site is aboutInformation on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, as well as frequently asked questions about the rare, but deadly inflammatory breast cancer.
    you did well keep it up.

  2. autismrealitya says:

    The term autistic has been misused to describe persons with anything from cerebral allergies and schizophrenia to attention deficient disorder and post traumatic disorder. Sadly, few doctors and educators understand true cases of autism to make a correct diagnosis. So they go with the latest media-driven flow. Pick and choose from a broad and ever expanding spectrum. Or worse, they guess.

    The hallmark traits of autism are: sensitivity to sounds, specific tastes in food/drink, strange body postures, repetitive behaviors, inability to control emotions or excitement, poor reasoning skills, needs routines, resists changes, sense of direction and memory better than other skills, thinking based on association, not reasoning; once distracted by olfactory, visual or auditory stimuli, they become preoccupied. This is markedly DIFFERENT from ADHD, in that ADHD presents as easily distracted by stimuli, BUT the person bounces focus from one thing to another.

    ADHD people don’t stay hyper-focused or fixate on something. That is what you will see a truly autistic person do. Fixate. Appear to be in a world of their own. Not wanting to play or socialize with others. Not wanting to play or socialize with others is only a hallmark trait of autism when it ALSO involves, not willfully choosing to ignore or not play with others. A truly autistic person doesn’t choose to not play or socialize, it’s simply who they are– not to play or socialize with others—is in itself the core of autism—within oneself. They may show signs of affection or social skills, but it will almost always be brief.

    Autism research examines high functioning Autism (and Aspergers) but continues to ignore low-functioning (severely) autistic subjects. So, if research is focused exclusively, or almost exclusively, on participants with high-functioning autism or Aspergers, HOW much do we REALLY know about Autistic Disorder which, by definition, includes those with low functioning autism—-if we don’t’ study low functioning autism? Let’s be honest, many researchers are uninterested in an autism case that doesn’t have a direct bearing on a positive grant flow.

    And fyi: Jenny McCarthy’s kid never had autism. He had seizures, regressed; when he started anti-convulsants, he got better. End of story. Too bad publishers didn’t figure that out before they bought Ms. McCarthy’s stories.

  3. You’re right in that the clinical treatment of autism right now is in a disgraceful state. Further, the emphasis is always going to be on where one can have an impact with one’s available tools, and that happens to be largely with high-functioning autism.

    Unfortunately, what is getting lost even in the discussions of neurofeedback for the autism spectrum is that with our methods we are working very successfully with low-functioning autistic children. Check out the video on our website,

    Finally, you make the connection with seizures. In fact, some 60% of autistic children exhibit seizure-like phenomena. But no matter. Neurofeedback is also the most effective means of addressing the seizure susceptibility. So I am not surprised if the reduction in seizure severity might also show up in reduced expression of autistic symptoms.

  4. disgracedDSM5 says:

    Here’s something to ponder: Amanda Baggs, the woman who many think suffers from Dissociative Personality Disorder, really has something even more interesting, which is psychogenic autism, possibly one of her personalities. It is also possible this is a factitious disorder, as she is reported to have ‘studied” other severely autistic cases in order to adopt mannerisms…Very interesting case. You Tube video: “autism epidemic out of control” and “autism spectrum seems out of control” go into this subject a tad…this is definately something on the horizon. A new phenomenon, sparked by the autism explosion and creating mass hyteria and psychogenic factors within unstable minds to adopt such a diagnosis, as they feel this will bring them attention and nurturing they so deeply need, due to often traumatic upbringings (ie…Donna Williams, a most interesting case as well). The trouble is, when these psychogenic autism cases are featured on CNN (as in case of amanda baags) then you have a case of avoidance, where the media that once promoted or featured such a person, is now unwilling to realize or accept that this was all a fraud, or fabrication of such. This is not helpful for neither the patient or the community at large. Shame on the American Psychiatric Ass. for not having the intelligence or courage to expose these autism frauds. And double shame to Pres. Obama for his absolute failure to understand autism by appointing Ari. Neeman in any type of autism position. Where have all the courageous critical thinkers gone? Psychiatry is losing all respect and being attacked at all levels due to their internal dissassociation from confrontation. Deal with controversy. It’s part of life. It’s part of maintaining the core traits of diagnostic criteria.

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