The University of Toronto Embraces Autism Quackery

U of T

Well, it seems that quackademic medicine is being embraced by my alma mater, the University of Toronto. Yesterday someone tipped me off to a program hosted by the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and sponsored by the SickKids Foundation of the Hospital for Sick Children.

The program is the AutismOne/Autism Canada Conference, “Changing the Course of Autism In Canada” [PDF], October 31/November 1, 2009.  As detailed by blogger Orac at the Respectful Insolence Blog:

I’ve discussed Autism One on multiple occasions before. For instance, the 2008 Autism One conference featured Boyd Haley, the father-son team of autism woo-meisters Mark and David Geier, Mayer Eisenstein, and a number of others. Examples of the talks at that conference included “Over 50 years of known toxicity! (Unsafe at any Concentration)” by Frank Engley, who said this: “NOT GRAM- NOT MILLIGRAM – NOT MICROGRAM- BUT NANOGRAM!” Its keynote speaker was–surprise! surprise!–Jenny McCarthy, whose burning stupid about science is beyond belief and has led her to become, in essence, the celebrity face of the anti-vaccine movement, even leading marches on Washington against vaccines.

In 2009, the mothership version of Autism One made a bit of a splash, but not in a good way. Basically, what happened is that the Chicago Tribune noticed the Geiers’ Lupron protocol for autism, which I had written about three years ago under one of my typically overwrought titles Why not just castrate them? However, in that case, I don’t think the title was overwrought at all, given that the Geiers have been subjecting autistic children to a drug that is a powerful suppressor of sex hormone production because they actually think that testosterone somehow binds mercury and that lowering testosterone concentrations will make chelation therapy work better. Truly, this is some of the most despicably off the wall woo that I’ve ever encountered. it combines bad biochemistry with anti-vaccination pseudoscience, with the utmost quackery of combining testosterone lowering treatments with the dangerous quackery that is chelation therapy.

There is zero relationship between vaccines and autism. A one-stop-shop of excellent resources and materials debunking the vaccine-autism link may be found at Science-Based Medicine Blog.

Here’s what Orac points out about the keynote speaker, Dr. Martha Herbert:

Dr. Herbert is a big fan of the idea that autism has something to do with neuroinflammation. Unfortunately, none of her publications persuasively presents evidence for this hypothesis, and lately she’s publishing in bottom-feeding alternative medicine journals articles with titles like Learning From the Autism Catastrophe: Key Leverage Points. Suffice it to say, Dr. Herbert is big on “biomedical” woo, so much so that anti-vaccine propagandist David Kirby likes to cite her and Age of Autism loves her.

The AutismOne conference is truly a quackery “big tent” embracing all kinds of unproven treatments – including the elaborate placebo system of homeopathy with a talk from Rudi Verspoor, homeopath:

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex disorder with multiple causes, and each case presents its own unique and distinct challenges. The key is to treat the causes and not just the effects. Treating symptoms may provide some improvement but does not provide a permanent solution. Heilkunst, which includes homeopathy, is a comprehensive approach to addressing the multiple deeper underlying causes of a case in a given sequence over time, while using energetic, homeopathic medicines. It provides a clear map of the problem and of how to get out of the swamp of autism spectrum disorders that is safe, non-toxic, and effective even in complex seemingly non-responsive cases.

Unfortunately, as I’ve blogged here, here, and here, homeopathy is the most implausible alternative health treatment out there.  Advocating homeopathy for autism is appalling.

Your action, today, can send a strong message to the university. How you can help:

  1. Contact the President of the University of Toronto (president-at-utoronto-dot-ca) and the Provost (provost-at-utoronto-dot-ca) and tell them what you think of the program and what it says about the University of Toronto.  If you’re U of T alumni, be sure to tell them what you think this says about your degree – and your willingness to support the university in the future.
  2. Contact the President at the SickKids Foundation and let them know they are supporting a group of anti-vaccinationists that promote implausible treatments like homopathy for autism.  This program will only increase the amount of disinformation on vaccine safety, and can only endanger more children with preventable illnesses.

Here is the text of a letter sent to the University of Toronto by Michael Boivin, a pharmacist, colleague, U of T alumnus, and parent of an autistic child (Michael has graciously given me permission to post his letter):

As an alumni of the University of Toronto and the father of a child with autism, I was absolutely shocked that a University that prides itself on scientific development would support a conference by Autism One. As a father with a child with autism and a clinical author I have thoroughly researched the possible cause of ASD through vaccination. I find it disgusting that my former university would promote an organization that has effectively confused the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) community and put thousands of children at risk of preventable diseases through the avoidance of immunization. Autism is not meant to be a “sexy” issue that these “scientists” (although I use the term loosely) can exploit for their own means. Very little of their clinical data has ever been published in peer reviewed medical journals and is mostly hearsay and bad science.

This group has done more to hurt the autism cause and could potentially jeopardize the life of many Canadian children. Please reconsider this conference as I honestly expect more from my University then the support of bad science and their exploitation of children with ASD.

Please take a moment to contact the the university – now.

8 thoughts on “The University of Toronto Embraces Autism Quackery

  1. Pingback: Why is the SickKids Foundation Supporting Antivaccinationists? « Science-Based Pharmacy

  2. Name calling? Good stuff. Is that how one becomes a pharmacist by calling names labeling people with concerns about vaccine impacts (remember Swine Flu vaccines, circa 1976) as anti-vaccinationists?

    I am also an autism dad. I do not believe that vaccines have been proven to cause autism. Nor do I believe that the possibility of autism vaccine connections has been exhaustively explored. None of the epidemiological studies done with respect to vaccines and autism compared vaccinated and un-vaccinated groups despite the existence of large numbers of un-vaccinated groups. This is exactly the type of study that Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the NIH and American Red Cross and Dr Julie Gerberding,an American infectious disease expert and the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, both have said could and should be done to address the possible impact of vaccines on susceptible population subsets.

    Dr. Jon Poling, also an autism dad, and a neurologist, has called for a comparative study and further research on a possible vaccine autism connection. His daughter was the successful plaintiff against the government on the basis that the vaccines aggravated her mitochondrial disorder resulting in autism like symptoms. For the benefit of the pharmacists here autism is defined entirely by symptoms. There are no biomarkers.

    Will you also dismiss Doctores Healy, Gerberding and Poling as quacks? Is that just a cheap, easy and lazy way to dismiss anyone who questions vaccines and autism connections?

    14 studies? None of which involved comparison of vaccinated and un-vaccinated groups? Some of which took place when diagnostic definitions of autism were changing? To say that the science is finished on this issue is nonsense.

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  4. Pingback: This was possibly the hardest letter I’ve ever had to write « skeptigirl

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