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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Heretic! Of course the world is flat

I am again recommending to you the excellent collection of scientific research published all in one book called Autism: Oxidative Stress, Inflammation andImmune Abnormalities, edited by Chauhan, Chauhan and Brown.  It is seriously expensive, but if you manage to read it, you will likely know much more than your paediatrician.

Assuming that most of you will not want to buy the book, I will be feeding you edited highlights over the coming weeks.

Today’s insight is about heresy.

Columbus's voyage to the Americas in 1492 and then Magellan’s circumnavigation of the Earth (1519–21) provided the final and indisputable proof that our world is spherical.    At different periods in time before this, the world had been thought of as flat, round, square and possible spherical.

In 748 the then Pope Zachery heard complaints that Vergilius (Virgil) of Salzburg, who happened to be both an Irish churchman and amateur astronomer, was teaching a doctrine about the “rotundity of the earth”.  There still exists the decision of the Pope, written in Latin; translated into English it reads:

"As for the perverse and sinful doctrine which he (Virgil) against God and his own soul has uttered—if it shall be clearly established that he professes belief in another world and other men existing beneath the earth, or in (another) sun and moon there, thou art to hold a council, deprive him of his sacerdotal rank, and expel him from the Church."

In spite of this very close shave, Vergilius survived and later became Bishop of Salzburg and was later canonized by Pope Gregory IX, becoming Saint Vergilius of Salzburg.

The insight is that the only way to prove to everyone beyond doubt that the world is like a giant football, was for someone to sail around it and not disappear off the edge.

Autism:  Die-hards, Heretics and Quacks

As you will have gathered, this blog is anti-quackery; but it is now also anti die-hard.  If English is not your first language, this definition might help:-

Die-hard:
a person who resists change or who holds onto an untenable position or outdated attitude

When I started reading Chauhan’s book, I was very surprised to come across references to a now-discredited English doctor and researcher called Andrew Wakefield.  He is the one blamed for connecting autism with the MMR vaccination.  Some of the other scientists/authors seem to share his concerns that mercury in vaccines was indeed a cause of oxidative stress and that, as such, could reasonably be linked to autism.  That paper went on to mention that mercury has now been replaced by another metal, aluminium, but in much higher concentrations; aluminium is also known to be bad for the brain.  So I had to challenge my preconceptions about Mr Wakefield.

It seems that he raised issues that were already known to other researchers, but he just went a bit further and was more vocal.  He was then totally out of line with the currently accepted views of his profession and probably Big-Pharma as well.  So he lost his job, then the media drove him out of the country and in 2010 he was struck-off as a doctor.  He was branded a heretic. 

Now this brings me to another question, why is it in my trawl through the literature I have seen so few papers with British authors?  Does anyboby want to follow Andrew Wakefield?

Back to Chauhan’s book and the penultimate chapter; it is a paper by Dr Martha Herbert from the Department of Pediatric Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School.  I was shocked.  If Herbert worked in UK her days in a leading teaching hospital would be numbered.  She would be ridiculed and branded a heretic.

In the US there are plenty of people calling her a quack, but she has managed to keep a good job.  In other literature, she goes even further than in Chauhan’s book. I will summarize the essence of what she believes:-

·         The prevailing view that autism is a static, lifelong, incurable developmental condition is flawed.

·         Perhaps autism is not a unique and distinct syndrome

·         The etiology of autism may not be primarily genetic

·         Autism is a chronic dynamic encephalopathy
·         In other literature she goes all the way and says autism is curable

Martha Herbert has her own website.

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