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Reply #54: Martha Herbert is a quack, sorry [View All]

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Spider Jerusalem Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-28-09 05:48 PM
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54. Martha Herbert is a quack, sorry
Edited on Mon Sep-28-09 06:06 PM by Spider Jerusalem
her association with anti-vaccine nutters does her no favours, nor does her lack of scientific rigour in forming hypotheses. All of her claims (unsupported by a shred of evidence) are that autism has an environmental cause (which has been fairly strongly contra-indicated by actual science; the neurological differences in the brains of autistics are of such a nature and degree that they must have been present from a fairly early stage in gestation). And speaking as an autistic adult, I have no desire to be 'cured', thanks.

But there's plenty of dubious science there to go around, starting with the keynote speaker, Dr. Martha Herbert. She shares one characteristic with at least a couple of "luminaries" of the anti-vaccine "biomedical" movement. As Autism Diva and Kevin Leitch pointed out, like Dr. Mark Geier and Dr. Boyd Haley, Dr. Herbert has been slapped down by the courts, which used the Daubert standard to reject her testimony claiming that a child was made autistic by a reaction to mold growing in the condo she was living in. The court found:

Dr. Herbert's publications indicate that she is an outspoken advocate of increased attention to the possibility of environmental influences. Even she, however, despite that acknowledged perspective, speaks in her published work of possibilities and potentialities, rather than of the 'reasonable degree of medical certainty' to which she offers to testify under oath in this case.10 Neither Dr. Herbert's publications, nor any others cited, identify mold exposure as even a suspected, still less a known or proven, trigger of autism......Dr. Herbert's method, to the extent the Court can discern it from the materials offered, is a series of deductions based on possibilities.....*Clearly, Dr. Herbert's method is not generally accepted in the scientific community*. Dr. Herbert's theory of environmental triggers of autism may some day prove true. It has not yet. Her proffered testimony does not meet the standard of reliability required by the case law, and cannot be admitted in evidence at trial.

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.

Dr. Woo--I mean Dr. Hyman--then goes on to cite a whole lot of, well, woo:

Dramatic scientific discoveries have taken place during the last 10 to 20 years that reveal the true causes of autism -- and turn conventional thinking on its head. For example, Martha Herbert, MD, a pediatric neurologist from Harvard Medical School has painted a picture of autism that shows how core abnormalities in body systems like immunity, gut function, and detoxification play a central role in causing the behavioral and mood symptoms of autism.

She's also given us a new way of looking at mental disease (and disease in general) that is based on systems biology. Coming from the halls of the most conservative medical institution in the world, this is a call so loud and clear that it shatters our normal way of looking at things.

Everything is connected, Dr. Herbert says. The fact that these kids have smelly bowel movements, bloated bellies, frequent colds and ear infections, and dry skin is not just a coincidence that has nothing to do with their brain function. It is central to why they are sick in the first place! Yet conventional medicine often ignores this.

Dr. Herbert's work shows nothing of the sort. Go ahead. Head over to PubMed and look at Dr. Herbert's publication record. I'll wait. She has listed 15 publications about autism, of which:

* six are review articles
* two are in alt-med journals, and one of these is an interview
* one is a paper with dozens of authors reporting the results of mapping autism risk loci using genetic linkage and chromosomal rearrangements. (Dr. Herbert is solidly right in the middle of the huge pack of authors.)

Of the remainder, Dr. Herbert only appears to be first author or senior author on four publications on autism containing original research, and these appear to be all imaging studies of the brains of autistic children. In other words, Dr. Herbert is making claims far beyond what her publication record in the peer-reviewed literature can, even under the most charitable interpretation possible, support. Nothing at all in her publication record appears to support the concepts above of autism being a systemic, rather than brain-based condition. There's nothing about systems biology there (and I actually rather like systems biology); nothing there to support a link between autism and gut disorders; nothing to support a link between autism and immune dysfunction; and nothing to support a link between "environmental influences" and autism. That's not to say that there aren't environmental factors that influence the development of autism; it's just that there's nothing in Dr. Herbert's publication record to support such a hypothesis or to identify what, if anything, those environmental factors might be.

In other words, there is nothing at all to support Dr. Hyman's claims, which appear to be based on Dr. Herbert's claims.

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