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July 2002

Badly Wrought Science

By Carol Sterritt

Recently the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) made an important announcement. It will no longer concern itself with the possible conflict of interest when an industry's money pays for scientific research. Apparently, there is simply so much meddling between industrial concerns that have the bucks and laboratories doing the research, be the labs university-owned, or private, that the Journal will now simply overlook whatever conflict of interest there might be and go ahead, full-throttle, to publish the results. The fact that industry critics point to industry demanding "adjustments" in the data, omitting data results that are not favorable, and in other ways tampering with the findings, no longer seems to concern NEJM.

Up to now, the Journal tried to avoid publishing research that might be tainted. Now they stipulate that the influence can not be significant (Ah, they still possess some scruples!) but insist that if they do not take this major step forward, then they must avoid publishing so much of what is passing for scientific proofs that the poor reader will be left in the Dark Ages.

Oh, really! This entire proceeding smacks of the little known Sterritt Theory of Normalcy. To wit: "If a wrongful event occurs so often that its existence pervades most of the daily life of a society, than that wrongful event is deemed "normal" and is therefore allowed." Further corollaries of this rule detail how if the wrongful event is indeed pervasive enough, those defending the wrongful event can ignore common sense, critical thinking, and scientific research, to continue to defend their pet "normal" situation.

What topics currently under scientific discussion do I predict that this "normalized" perversion will be affected by? Well, for starters, these four: the electro-magnetic field issue and topics related to cell phone and cell phone antennae, the biogenetically-altered food and seed issue, the vaccination issue, and of course, the current tendency of any medical researcher to announce that a disease or immune condition of the body is "genetic."

Let's take a look at this last issue. As I write this, women are being told that breast cancer is a genetically related condition. Some researchers have stated that up to 28% of the incidences of breast cancer are gene-related. Why do they say this? Can you say the words "moohlah," boys and girls? There is at hand plenty of money available to those researchers who want to look into health problems and tie those problems into genome research. Also recent examinations of the autism issue have brought certain researchers to announce: "The disorder is a genetic one."

My response: Well, yes and no. Take a look at breast cancer. We know that in Japan, during the pre-World War II era, the likelihood of a Japanese woman having breast cancer was one in 65. Once that woman married an American GI and moved to the United States, or after the Japanese population began to adapt American ways, the incidence of breast cancer became similar to that experienced by American women (now something like one in eight.) So if the disease were strictly genetic, why would such a fundamental change occur?

Apparently the change occurs because something in the Western environment and/or diet is cancer-promoting. We might not know the specifics, but the environmental impact of American household cleaning products, pesticides and herbicides, a diet with far too few greens, and far too much sugar and caffeine, as well as too much stress, could well be the problem. And of course, depending on your genetic makeup, you may or may not find yourself a breast cancer victim. But clearly it is not simply genetics. Remove the exposure to the various pollutant substances, remove the junk food and stress, return to the soy and seaweed salads, and you would find that cancer rates among those of Japanese ancestry would again approach the 1 in 65 figure of earlier generations. But there is no money in this type of cancer-prevention approach. Far better to use the catchall phrase, "genetic."

The soaring rates of autism also have brought the same "scientific response." This condition, which used to statistically stand in the one in ten thousand arena, is now approaching the rate of one in every 550 children. Granted that some of this increase could be related to better diagnosis of the condition, the fact remains that the last ten years has brought about such a massive increase in the amounts of household chemicals to which the average child is exposed that the mutagenic and genotoxic effects of these chemicals should be examined with regard to the increase in autism.

Also (and more on this in a moment) as there has been a most excellent bit of research on the part of Dr. Andrew Wakefield in the UK, implicating the MMR vaccine in the development of late-onset autism, one would expect a full examination of the MMR vaccine issue on the front-page news. Instead, the conventional research monies are for such things as how to manipulate the specific genetic material that might be impacted in such a way to cause autism. Again, genetic tinkering, which perhaps will be possible but only through great expense and much complex medical intervention, rather than simple prevention.

Now let's take a look at Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield was a researcher at the top of his field. He was caught up in investigating specific bowel problems. The research monies that came his way were ample for his needs. Everywhere that he went, he was lauded and applauded.

Then he began to uncover indications that the gut linings of young children who had an adverse reaction to the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine were impacted with measles infectious material. His examination into this phenomenon offered for the first time an explanation of what went on inside a child's body, as that child became a victim of delayed-onset autism. His brilliance impressed many. Our own Senator Dan Burton, who headed the Senate Committee on Government Reform, invited Dr. Wakefield to present his findings to the April 2000 hearings on the autism issue.

But if his brilliance was evident to some, he was also considered a pariah by those scientists who were most beholden to industry. He was denounced widely, his findings attacked. It was claimed again and again that no one had done any peer review of his work. What I find strange about the denunciations is that Andrew Wakefield never comes out and says that parents should avoid vaccinating their children. He merely states that his work is an indication that it is best for parents who are vaccinating their youngsters to obtain single vaccines rather than the combination vaccine. Even suggesting this minor type of modification in a vaccine routine is way too much for the vaccination industry. The industry not only denounces Dr. Wakefield, it denounces those parents who relate the tales of how their normal beautiful child, upon vaccination (sometimes within minutes of the MMR vaccine) became histrionic, feverish, semi-paralyzed, etc. These stories, the industry says are merely "anecdotal."

I suggest that industry needs a reference book or two. Industry should start with the dictionary.

"Anecdotal" according to my American College Dictionary "is a short, interesting or humorous tale." Nothing in these parents' stories is humorous. Nothing occurring during the sudden change from their youngster being an outgoing, language-intrigued tot to a closed-off, wordless and bewildered child is humorous. And their accounts are not unscientific. One account by itself would be of interest, but hundreds and thousands of these stories indicate that according to the laws of inductive reasoning, scientists should be picking up on the idea that the combination vaccine known as the MMR has some problems.

Industry does not want to hear that. It would cost money to change the way the vaccine is manufactured. The governments of the world, which now often mandate the MMR vaccine, do not want to help. But in a nation like ours, the cutting edge of science is the genome game. Apply that thinking to the problem of autism and you could land yourself a research grant. Suggest that the vaccine be split three ways to become less dangerous and like Dr. Wakefield, you might find your position and employment offered to someone else.

Examining the other two issues that I mentioned, and industry's domination over science and its researchers is clear. Who stands up to tell industry that cell phone technology has its clear and present dangers? Neil Cherry of New Zealand and George Carlo of the United States bravely do. Yet industry's response is to say the same ol' same ol': that these two do not have peer-reviewed works, that they are not of the caliber of scientist that industry would consider (by that, I guess, industry means they are not dishonest) etc. As the background levels of non-ionizing radiation escalate on an almost daily basis, the 500 billion dollar cell phone industry stands by its claims that all is well.

If their posture reminds some of us of the posturing of the tobacco companies during the fifties, sixties and seventies, well, we can tune in to Cherry and Carlo. In 1999, Carlo wrote a letter to the Chairman Armstrong, CEO of At & T, advising him that "the pattern of potential health effects evidenced by different types of studies, from different laboratories, and by different investigators raised serious questions." Cherry has gone on the record as saying that NO level of background non-ionizing radiation is safe. Time will tell, and all too soon.

Likewise, in the issue of genetically altered foods and seeds, industry has now masterminded subtle but enticing commercials that are already influencing the next generation of consumers. What could be wrong with scientists using their knowledge to create foods that are disease-resistant, that hold more Vitamin A than normally possible, that can tolerate higher levels of frost or heat? Why do the environmentalist spoilsports continue their campaign against a new and improved gastronomic revolution?

And when the environmentalist spoilsports say that it is because of scientific research that they are wary of re-designing the DNA of our foods, and when they then point to the work of Arpad Pusztai, the UK researcher who discovered that genetically-altered potatoes altered as well the stomach lining of his laboratory rats, industry merely scoffs. "That senile old fool," they declaim. But the day before he announced his findings, Pusztai was considered by everyone to be a world-class scientist.

Pustai points out four important considerations that people should stop and think about before becoming advocates of the new biotechnologies. These four considerations are: "there is little scientific study about the biotech foods' health risks, the approved safety test technology is inadequate to assess the potential dangers, the biotech foods can carry unpredictable toxins, and lastly, they may increase the risk of allergenic reactions."

So there you have it. It is indeed a brave new world. The industry-sponsored scientist currently has the keys to the kingdom. Those researchers who are outcast from industry stand in the shadows of the counter-culture. Their research and their conclusions, may have a far greater influence than anyone now believes possible. If we don't get killed off by industry first, we may live to help them say "I told you so!"

 

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