Respectful Insolence

Sometimes I wonder if subjecting myself to all this woo is going to my head. Why do I worry that this might be the case? Recently, I made the mistake of getting involved in an e-mail exchange with a prominent antivaccinationist. Perhaps it was my eternal optimism that led me to do this, my inability to believe that any person in the thrall of pseudoscience, no matter how far gone and how active in harassing anyone who counters him, can’t be somehow saved and brought around to understand the value of science and why their previous course was wrong. Such efforts on my part almost inevitably end in failure, putting the lie to my optimism. In this case, replies to me contained the usual litany of logical fallacies and charges and “disappointment” in me. (At least he spared me the “pharma shill” gambit for the most part.) However, one charge that I found quite irritating and that was repeated again and again went like this:

When it comes to autism, you seem to have lost something that I think every physician is well-served to have in abundance: compassion.


This is such a common attack on me and any other physician who would argue against woo that it is worth answering. The charge of being uncompassionate isn’t just a favorite gambit antivaccinationists who believe that vaccines cause autism, either. Indeed, it goes far beyond that. Remember the cases of Starchild Abraham Cherrix and Katie Wernecke, two teens who, along with their parents, chose quackery rather than conventional therapy such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy to fight their lymphomas? The same charges were thrown at me. Never mind that the story written by Katie brought me close to tears. Remember my discussion of the teen Jehovah’s Witness who died for want of a blood transfusion, all because of a bizarre and literal-minded interpretation of a single passage from Leviticus? Same thing, along with charges of religious intolerance. Then there’s a very recent case, namely Madeline Neumann, the 12 year old girl from Wisconsin who just last month died because her parents thought that prayer would save her from diabetic ketoacidoses, when I supported taking the parents’ remaining children away from them and prosecuting them for their negligence? That’s right; it was the same. And don’t even get me started on the number of times I was attacked for not caring about the desperate patients with cancer who were sold based on testimonials, advertising, and an appalling lack of understanding about cancer biology an as yet unproven anticancer drug of uncertain purity by an unscrupulous pesticide salesman.

Still, at least in my experience, from no where else is the charge of meanness, cold-heartedness, and lack of compassion shouted quite as vociferously and with as much venom as from antivaccinationists who believe that their children were made autistic by vaccines. Any attack on their belief that either mercury from vaccines or vaccines themselves is viewed as an attack on them. The reason is obvious. Many of them honestly and deeply believe that vaccines “poisoned” their children their interventions are in the process of “curing” their children, one particularly famous antivaccinationist mother even to the point where she believes that she could make her son autistic again if she were to let up, feed him the wrong foods, or–God forbid!–vaccinate him. Attacks on their beliefs are viewed as direct attacks on them, whether they are or not. The same applies to many in the thrall of so-called “alternative” medicine.

They misunderstand, of course.

I have nothing but the most enormous respect for parents who manage the incredible daily task of raising an autistic child–or any special needs child, for that matter–day in, day out, often with inadequate finances and difficulty obtaining insurance coverag, or even with no insurance coverage at all. It’s a huge challenge that I don’t necessarily know that I could meet were it to fall on me. No one knows if they can handle the job until they are thrust into that situation. Still, my compassion for the difficulties such parents face should not–must not–give them a free pass to spout antivaccinationist misinformation uncountered. The threat to public health is too great, and some of them count on that sympathy for them that reasonable people have in order to stay or blunt any criticism, sometimes seemingly waving it like a talisman in front of them to chase off evil skeptics like me.

So why am I so passionate against antivaccinationism and other forms of quackery, particularly cancer quackery?

It’s compassion for the victims, which far outweighs my feelings about the parents. Think about it. In the case of cancer quackery, even patients who can’t be saved by conventional medicine become victims. Patients who, for example, are seduced by the blandishments of quacks to undergo the Gonzalez protocol, with its coffee enemas and hundreds of supplement pills a day, often do so at the expense of foregoing effective palliative care in order to undergo a harsh regimen that robs them of what little quality of life they might could achieve in the time they have left. Children and teens who choose quackery such as the Hoxsey therapy or high dose vitamin C instead of effective chemotherapy, children like Abraham Cherrix and Katie Wernecke, give up a reasonable chance of a cure and living to a ripe old age. Children whose parents believe that prayer is more effective than medicine in treating life-threatening diseases die when they could have been saved. Children of HIV mothers who don’t believe that HIV causes AIDS die of AIDS-related complications when combination antiretroviral therapy could have prevented their deaths, as do potentially millions of people in Africa. Autistic children whose parents believe that they were made autistic by vaccines are subjected to injections, restrictive diets, hyperbaric oxygen, blood draws, and even chemical castration. Children are subjected to unethical and scientifically worthless “clinical trials” in the service of pseudoscience. Some even die because of these nostrums. Many more will die if antivaccinationists get their way and vaccination rates fall to the point where herd immunity is no longer operative. Indeed, we see a disturbing glimpse of what might be in the resurgence of measles and mumps in the U.K. due to Andrew Wakefield’s litigation-driven pseudoscience.

Don’t all these people deserve compassion?

I say yes!. It is my compassion for them that drives me and my disgust at how they are taken advantage of by promises that no human can keep. As I have argued here and elsewhere many times, science- and evidence-based medicine are the best methods that we have to determine what causes disease and how to treat it. Whatever its faults (and there are many), science- and evidence-based medicine is at least constrained by law, ethics, and science itself to restrain the natural human impulse to promise more than can be delivered. When the shortcomings of EBM are revealed, I assure you, it’s almost never pseudoscientists and “brave maverick” doctors who think that they know better than scientific medicine that bring shortcomings and ethical lapses to light. It’s medical scientists and ethicists who bring the darkness to light.

Besides, if we’re going to play the compassion game, I’ll match my compassion with those of the practitioners who inflict this quackery on desperate patients and parents. How much do Mark and David Geier charge for administering Lupron to autistic children? You can be sure it’s not cheap. What about Dr. Roy Kerry, whose quackery and incompetence killed a five year old child? You can bet he didn’t do it for free, and let’s not forget the horror of the description of that child’s final hours, as he was held stuck multiple times to get an IV going, having been subjected to unnecessary IV infusions many times before. Then there’s Dr. Rashid Buttar, who charged dying cancer patients tens of thousands of dollars while leaving their care primarily in the hands of a nurse-practitioner, with himself rarely to be found. He even tried to collect his blood money from the estates of his victims!

I could also ask: What about compassion towards the victim of Dr. Roy Kerry’s quackery, for example? Where’s that Here’s an example in which a woman named Jan responded to the observation that chelation therapy killed Tariq Nadama:

We shall wait and see, and if it did, it happens, as with all procedures.

If I tried to defend an iatrogenic complication or death that occurred while a patient was undergoing “conventional therapy” with such a blasé riposte, you can bet that Jan, and others like her, would be outraged. Now compare Jan’s reaction to Tariq’s death with her reaction to the death of Jesse Gelsinger, the 18 year old who died while participating in a gene therapy trial in 1999:

Isn’t that most strange,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

This health fraud that KILLED a volunteering, caring, loving teenager, helping man kind, and the doctor who KILLED him who committed, FRUAD, COVER UPS, FALSE AND MISLEADING *REPEATED* AND *DELIBERATE* VIOLATIONS,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ,,,,remains on staff.

I detest either outcome: Death from quackery or death due to a clinical trial design that wasn’t as safe as its subjects were led to believe. That’s why efforts of pseudscientists to get their trials approved by dubious IRBs packed with cronies and friends outrage me so. If they can get away with it, then big pharma can get away with it too.

The “lack of compassion” gambit is nothing more than a variant of the “mean skeptic” gambit. It’s a gambit that’s frequently used against scientists who argue against other forms of non-medical pseudoscience, such as “intelligent design” creationism, but it is a particularly potent gambit in medicine, because there is virtually always a suffering patient at the receiving end of the pseudoscience who thinks (or whose relatives or parents think) it will really, really help. Attacks on the pseudoscience can thus lead to the perception that the skeptic wants patients to suffer and does not want them to be “healed.” (Never mind that, as far as science can tell, no one is being “healed” for the most part.) In reality, what the “compassion gambit” is really designed to do is to neuter any criticism. Skeptics hesitate because they do not want to be perceived as ganging up or being unduly harsh on people who may be truly suffering or desperate or who may truly believe that the woo under criticism is the only chance for them or their children. Even though I try to reserve my harshest attacks and sarcasm for people who have demonstrated time and time again that they support pseudoscience and quackery and that they are virtually uneducable, I can’t always parry that attack. It’s a “heads I win, tails you lose” game. If as a skeptic I hold my fire or give undue respect to ideas that do not deserve it, pseudoscience is granted an undeserved patina of respectability, as though it really is a viable alternative to scientific medicine. If as a skeptic I am too harsh, I am accused of having “no compassion” for the suffering who turn to woo.

The way out I have chosen, which may or may not be the best way out, is not to play the game and to fire away. I may not always match the vociferousness of my attack perfectly to the level of the offense against science and reason, and hopefully I will usually recognize when or if I have “gone too far.” Either way, I will not allow the charge of not being sufficiently compassionate (in reality, not showing sufficient deference to pseudoscience) stop me. The victims of quackery deserve no less.

Comments

  1. #1 John Best
    May 29, 2008

    I like the “standard of care gambit” that legally protects doctors from being sued as long as they all give us false information about mercury and autism. If a majority of pediatricians were to prescribe chelation to help our kids recover from the malpractice of injecting them with way too much mercury, and it became standard practice to only inject kids with vaccines that had no mercury, then doctors who caused autism by shooting up infants with mercury could be sued. Likewise, jackasses who tried to clain that chelation is the proper treatment for mercury poisoning but won’t cure autism could also be sued for malpractice by prolonging needless pain and suffering.

    Since we, and you now know that chelation and accompanying biomedical intervention does cure autism, you are only within your rights via “standard of care” to lie about this until such time as a majority of doctors decide to do the right thing and help the children they poisoned. With the AAP agreeing to work with DAN, the “standard of care” will soon be changed and further lies from you will subject you to malpractice lawsuits.

  2. #2 Mary Parsons
    May 29, 2008

    I had a professor who used to remark, “Knowledge of one’s own competence is mistaken for arrogance only by the ignorant”. I feel that his take on this would be, “Appropriate response is mistaken for lack of compassion by the unthinking”. You respect people when you address an issue, honestly and fully leveraging your knowledge.

  3. #3 clear
    May 29, 2008

    P.T. Barnum was an optimist by a few orders of magnitude.
    I have found that loud idiots will more fiercely adhere to their adored totems when questioned or presented with contrary evidence.
    As far as I can tell they are attached to articles of faith as much as as any fundy (of any creed).
    I salute you sir, for it is a Sysiphean feat.
    “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

  4. #4 DonZilla
    May 29, 2008

    Orac, as long as you’re enjoying the anti-woo wars, that’s a good thing! It’s not worth it if it’s crossing the line over to stress though! Don’t lose sleep over these people.

    Obviously the woomeisters annoy the hell out of you, but they’re like religious fundies and you’re not going to change them. . . like my raw foodie vegetarian friend that got the flu this winter, but claims her lifestyle prevents cancer and everything else. It didn’t even protect her against a common flu virus. And she doesn’t acknowledge that.

    Most people are deeply comforted by what they believe are simple solutions to complex and scary problems. So religion, magic and woo will always be with us.

  5. #5 Lancelot Gobbo
    May 29, 2008

    “I have always noted that when persons are interrupted in an act of egregious stupidity their feelings are hurt.” (Anthony Trollope, ‘Ayala’s Angel’)

    But what would I know, being a mere physician and an autist? I have Mr Best telling me I am a jackass on the one hand, and insisting on filling me with EDTA on the other. Makes my one remaining mirror neurone hurt.

  6. #6 kristina
    May 29, 2008

    To make a classical reference: Socrates never stopped asking questions and look how he was judged by his contemporaries (at least those Athenians), and by the rest of history……

  7. #7 John Best
    May 29, 2008

    Lancelot,

    The fact that you would use EDTA to chelate mercury confirms your status of “jackass”. ALA is the essential chelator indicated for autism. DMSA or DMPS can accelerate the process but are not essential.

    I wouldn’t want you to harm yourself if you decide to repair your brain damage. Maybe you should check out Andy Cutler’s protocol.

  8. #8 Andrew
    May 29, 2008

    Thanks for the reference to the AAP; it led me to their website where they state:

    “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the CDC, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) agree that science does not support a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism. ”

  9. #9 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 29, 2008

    “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the CDC, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) agree that science does not support a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism. “

    Pfft. Science. What the hell do they know?

  10. #10 Joseph
    May 29, 2008

    I’d just like to point out that not all of us who are parents of autistic children want compassion. That sounds a lot like asking for pity to me.

    I certainly don’t have compassion for JB Handley, especially when he’s in a much more favorable economic position than most of us parents. I also don’t think his kid is any more disabled than my kid.

    Raising an autistic child is different to raising a non-autistic child. It has its challenges, and I guess the perception of those challenges varies from person to person. For example, my wife and I disagree somewhat on how difficult it is to raise an autistic child. But one thing’s for sure. In my view, it’s much better to have an autistic child than not to have that child at all. So I’m not sure what compassion would signify in this context.

  11. #11 Orac
    May 29, 2008

    Excellent point.

    Perhaps what JB and similar parents want is our pity, not our compassion. And where does compassion turn into pity?

  12. #12 John Best
    May 29, 2008

    Joseph,
    Nice false dichotomy! You limit the choices to “autistic kid” or “no kid”. You forgot “cured kid” who can take care of himself and won’t wind up institutionalized or stuck in a group home.

    Orac,
    It ain’t about pity or compassion either. It’s about honesty and decent medical treatment which you will soon find out when the “standard of care” changes and you’re forced to delete your whole damn blog to avoid having your nuts sued off.

  13. #13 Mike
    May 29, 2008

    I’ve never understood how compassion equates to lying to people just to keep their hopes up. Saying something will work when you have no idea of whether or not that is true is NOT compassion, to my mind.
    Then again, I’ve been told that makes me an asshole, so what do I know.

  14. #14 StuV
    May 29, 2008

    JB:
    Likewise, jackasses who tried to clain that chelation is the proper treatment for mercury poisoning but won’t cure autism could also be sued for malpractice by prolonging needless pain and suffering.

    QFT. So you’re saying that you are totally fine with people being sued for administering/not administering medication when doing so is proven to be detrimental, correct?

    Go on the record. I double-dog-dare you.

  15. #15 daedalus2u
    May 29, 2008

    What JB and similar parents want isn’t our compassion, or even our pity, what they want is our money.

    That is what the quacks are about, getting as much money as they can for what ever foolish nonsense they can pass off as the latest “cure”.

    What is the therapeutic endpoint on all of these quack remedies? It is always the same; when the parents run out of money.

    Who has more compassion? The honest and knowledgeable physician who says he/she doesn’t know, or the quack who sells false hopes and dreams at a high price while injuring children?

  16. #16 notmercury
    May 29, 2008

    John Best says: “The fact that you would use EDTA to chelate mercury confirms your status of “jackass”. ALA is the essential chelator indicated for autism. DMSA or DMPS can accelerate the process but are not essential.”

    If by “essential” you mean necessary for life, well then you may be correct. alpha-Lipoic Acid is an essential cofactor to many enzymes which is why it is already present in many organisms including humans. Is that what you meant. John?

  17. #17 John Best
    May 29, 2008

    Daedalus,
    Since it costs you, the taxpayer about $100,000 per year to send kids like mine to school and summer camp, you may want to rethink your money angle. My kid alone has cost taxpayers about $900,000 just for his schooling and it has done very little good.

    The $10,000 that my state Medicaid refused to pay in 2001 might have saved the taxpayers quite a bit and he would’ve had a better chance of being cured if we had started when he was younger.

    The longer you dopes try to deny that we’re curing kids, the more you are going to cost all of us. Nevermind the benefits you’re denying to the kids themselves.

  18. #18 John C. Welch
    May 29, 2008

    Oh cripes, who let Best near a keyboard? I thought he was still in the chimp pen flinging shit with others who appreciate his l33t sk1llz

  19. #19 Robyn
    May 29, 2008

    What these parents want is some one/thing to blame. Maybe down deep they think something wrong with them physically caused the child to be autistic, or maybe it’s a form of denial. Whatever the reason, it’s down deep and they don’t want to really know. What they want is a target for the pain and anger; something to distract them from grieving the family they imagined they would have and accepting and celebrating the one they do have. Reason won’t make much of an impact because their motivation is emotional. People believe what they choose to believe despite reason because they get something out of it emotionally. As long as the payoff exists, they have no incentive to change the belief.

  20. #20 Robyn
    May 29, 2008

    Sorry about the double posting; I had a problem with the commenting software.

  21. #21 The Crack Emcee
    May 29, 2008

    This post makes me truly proud of you.

    I know – we may not always seem to be on the same page – but it’s nice to know we are on the same side.

    Well done, Orac. Well done.

  22. #22 joek
    May 29, 2008

    It’s not compassion or pity that these parents want. It’s empathy. They don’t think you share their pain; otherwise, you also would be tempted by any quackery that made a promise, any promise, of improving their condition.

    And the truth is, it’s not the physician’s (or scientist’s) place to empathize. They’re not treating the social and psychological damage from disease; they’re treating the disease at the single organism level. These folks need high-quality psychological support, because the damage of any disease goes outside the bailiwick of most physicians, but we lack the infrastructure (and economic commitment) to do so.

    Until we are willing to attack these problems at their proper scale, woo will be in.

  23. #23 viggen
    May 29, 2008

    I recently had a run-in with an antivaxer. Being a martial artist, I spend quite a bit of time around CAM proponents, so I guess it was bound to happen eventually.

    This guy was spouting trope after trope of dubious reasoning about Thimerosal to someone else, who was standing by nodding. When he escalated to, “Now they’re saying it’s beneficial and helps brain development and all children should be shot up with it,” and “It’s all part of the Global Eugenics Conspiracy,” I just blurted, “Where in the Hell do you get this stuff? I’ve never heard so much crap come out of someone’s mouth all at once.”

    I regret spouting like that because it just slipped out. He was just mounting one lie on top of another and I couldn’t stand it.

    He tried to tell me he had researched it and I was just caught saying, “Where? Are you Cherry-picking it from the dregs of the Internet? Come on…”

    Then he was like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, I did the research.”

    And I had to reply, “I’m a Biochemist, I’ve worked with Thimerosal directly. Nobody has any illusions about what it is.” I could’ve pulled an MSDS on him and all the literature about when and why it is used, but I really ended with, “I just don’t want to argue with you, you won’t believe a word I say anyway.” Of course, while I’ve had exposure to Thimerosal as a lab reagent, it wasn’t in the context of a vaccine additive… according to the MSDS literature, it’s noxious stuff when you’ve got a lot of it, but exposure tolerances are known and huge amounts of hazard information are available.

    After class, he tried to approach me to patch things up. He came in with, “So I guess you’re kind of sensitive about all this,” like I was in the wrong.

    I responded with, “Of course, I’m a scientist and I don’t like seeing anyone spreading around misinformation and busily misrepresenting somebody’s hard work to prop up a lie. In the end, the more people who repeat lies and believe it, the more we all hurt for it. Thimerosal has been out of vaccines for a long time.”

    To which he responded, “Well, my Mom and Grandfather are both pediatricians and they’ve both been studying holistic medicine for a long time. I believe them. Besides, I saw a packet that said ‘Thimerosal’ with my sister’s vaccine dose.”

    I basically just backed out of the situation, “I haven’t got anything against you, man. Think what you want, but spend some time studying and don’t spread misinformation. It hurts everybody, including the people who actually did the research.”

    I wanted to ask him how in the world he got from two pediatrician relatives to a Global Eugenics Conspiracy, but he had obviously backpedaled to something he thought he could fight with and I really didn’t want to spar with someone who wanted to make me look like I was in the wrong. I vowed to myself that I would take no child of mine to either of these pediatricians.

    The whole confrontation bothered me because I really don’t know everything and don’t pretend that I do. I spent some time trolling around Pubmed the next day just trying to substantiate where his claims might possibly have been correct. Is Thimerosal truly out of ALL vaccines? I found several references suggesting that government actions had been applied to pull it, and that it was recommended removed from childhood course vaccinations, but also that it is still in some vaccines that are destined to poorer countries and in some vaccines that are given to adults. Maybe he did see it in a vaccine or on a label. I also found a bunch of extremely high profile references that say Thimerosal isn’t statistically linkable to autism and no references of repute that said the opposite (ain’t Impact Factor cool?).

    In the end, the whole situation still bothers me. I don’t like the fact that he was quoting X-files conspiracies and expecting someone to buy that his pediatrician relatives could give him any information at all that would support the lead up to such a claim. I don’t like the feeling that he thought he could outright lie to me and walk away smelling like a rose. I know he was lying to me when he backpedaled to avoid addressing the Global Conspiracy, as if he expected that I forgot he said it. Yet, all I can do is basically respect his beliefs and accept that I did spout into the discussion (which I did) with basically zero impact on what was actually said. People really do need to be told they are wrong sometimes, but what makes my “opinion” any better than theirs?

    I guess the one great flaw with science is that, for people who don’t know it, the truth is based on an argument by authority. “This person said; my pediatrician mother said; this scientist said.” Argument by authority is a logical fallacy, but you can’t circumvent it if you aren’t an expert in a given field yourself. Within science, everybody argues on a pretty much level playing-field, but outside of science, the truths of science are only supported by the people who give scientists authority… why is a model of truth coming out of a Biology department any better than a model of truth coming away from a church pulpit? Common man, who knows no statistics or math or logic, has to grant biologists authority over theologists on biology. Heck, even “Impact Factor” is a form of argument by authority if you don’t spend time reading and analyzing the work it represents.

    *sigh* Sorry about the long comment there.

  24. #24 Dr Aust
    May 29, 2008

    Surely the riposte to all this “you evil allopaths, where’s your compassion” is simply:

    “Bullshitting people, especially for money, does not equal compassion – no matter how much tea, sympathy, and pretend-validation you dress it up in”

  25. #25 DLC
    May 29, 2008

    It’s the Mr Spock Gambit.
    Somehow, anyone who doesn’t believe in hand-waving, finger pointing or treatment by quacks is too damn logical to be human. “Damn you and your Logic, Spock! ”
    People become physicians and even medical researchers because they want to help others; a condition which arises out of compassion.

  26. #26 Mr. Jones
    May 29, 2008

    Hi Viggen, this may interest you. Here is your quote
    ” Thimerosal has been out of vaccines for a long time.” Here are the facts. You should be carefull about who you accuse of “lying” and “speading missinformation”.

    Vaccines with “trace” amounts of Thimerosal (7 licensed in the U.S.), by definition, “contain less than 1 microgram of mercury (Hg) per dose (http://www.fda.gov/cber/vaccine/thimerosal.htm). For example, consider that the reduced-Thimerosal flu vaccine with 0.0002% mercury is equivalent to 1 microgram (µg) of Hg per 0.5 mL, or 2 µg of Hg per mL, which is the same as 2000 µg per liter; or 2000 ppb or parts per billion . Let’s put this in perspective;

    0.5 parts per billion (ppb) mercury has been shown to kill human neuroblastoma cells (Parran et al., Toxicol Sci 2005; 86:132-40).

    2 ppb mercury is the U.S. EPA limit for drinking water http://www.epa.gov/safewater/contaminants /index.html#mcls

    20 ppb mercury destroys neurite membrane structures (Leong et al., Neuroreport 2001; 12:733-7).

    200 ppb mercury is the level in liquid that the EPA classifies as hazardous waste (http://www.epa.gov/ epaoswer/hazwaste/mercury/ regs.htm#hazwaste).

    25,000 ppb mercury is the concentration of mercury in multi-dose, Hepatitis B vaccine vials, administered at birth from 1991-2001 in the U.S.

    50,000 ppb mercury is the concentration of mercury in multi-dose DTP and Haemophilus B vaccine vials, administered 8 times in the 1990′s to children at 2, 4, 6, 12 and 18 months of age and currently “preservative” level mercury in multi-dose flu, meningococcal and tetanus (7 and older) vaccines. This can be comfirmed by simply analyzing the mult-dose vials.

    And Andrew, “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the CDC, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) agree that science does not support a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism. ”

    These organizations are 100% responsible for the very act they say does not cause harm. You should say “their” science does not support a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism.

  27. #27 notmercury
    May 29, 2008

    Mr. Jones, can you tell us the concentration of Hg in Parts Per Billion a femtosecond after it is injected into a human child?

    Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones
    Believe in me
    Help me believe in anything
    I want to be someone who believes

    -Counting Crows

  28. #28 Joseph
    May 29, 2008

    Mr. Jones, let me see if I understand what you’re saying. Suppose I ingest 1 microgram of mercury, but I ingest it along with 1 microgram of water. This means I’ve ingested a solution of 500,000,000 ppb of mercury. Surely, this ought to kill me, no?

  29. #29 Jamie
    May 29, 2008

    32 year old aspergers parent of two aspergers kids.

    I, personally, think the whole mercure/vaccine/whatever thing is mostly BS. I think a good chunk of people who believe it have good intentions, and feel on some level that if they admit they are wrong, they have to admit they advocated a treatment path that, at best, didn’t work, and at worst, killed people. That’s a hard thing to live with.

    That said, Orac, can you elaborate more on the restrictive diets you mentioned? I ask mostly because we have found some benefit to limiting some things in our diet, and we can see the difference dramatically, but I don’t know if it’s the same things you mean in that comment. And they are things that, IMHO, ought to not be given to neurotypical kids, either.

    The main things we restrict are things like excess coloring, excess preservatives, and certain other chemicals that are neither needed in most foods, nor properly tested for their impact on people beyond ‘does it kill them?’. Things like preservative 280-283 (primarily, 282 is used, calcium propionate) that have potentially serious impact but haven’t been properly studied.

    Yes, it might be restrictive (though really, it’s not, we still have an extremely diverse range of food in the house) in concept, but for us, we can see the difference very quickly when ourselves or the kids have something ‘restricted’.

    It would be great to see more of the money that goes into bogus woo focused on better studies on what the things we /do/ put into our kids (and ourselves!) actually do to us, beyond the FDA’s black and white ‘Does it kill people’ standards.

    So, yeah. I’d love to know more about what diets you mean, if there is overlap with what we do, and what your objections to them are. We’re a pretty skeptical family and are always interested in learning more. Unlike many, we are quite willing to actually consider we might be wrong. ;)

  30. #30 Shay
    May 29, 2008

    Well, Orac, there’s your problem; you’re guilty of being sorry for the wrong people.

  31. #31 Shot_info
    May 29, 2008

    Hopefully “Mr.Jones” will be demanding a refund for the lack of basic maths training from his school. Sometimes the appalling lack of understanding is amazing, no wonder the antivaccer’s have appeal, they just appeal to the stupidly ignorant :-/

  32. #32 Cathy
    May 29, 2008

    Our family survived a vicious attack of flesh eating MRSA that threatened all of our lives.
    Antibiotics failed to kill this infection. Through research we found stable Allicin (Allimed) and we were
    able to pull ourselves out of this crisis.
    Because of our recovery we have been able to help many nationwide.
    Here is the research that we found.
    You are welcomed to email us if we can help you.
    God bless, Cathy
    Cathy@optimalhealthusa.com

    SCIENTIFIC ABSTRACT
    >
    >
    http://www.allimed.us/pdf/article/Cutler%5B6%5D.pdf

    >
    http://www.allimed.us/pdf/article/April2005%5B9%5D.pdf
    >
    >
    > These files are good for you to review for point of
    > reference: >
    > http://allimed.us/pdf/article/Monograph%5B1%5D.pdf
    >
    >
    http://www.allimed.us/pdf/article/report-5-2004%5B8%5D.pdf
    >
    > http://www.allimed.us/pdf/article/Allicin_new.pdf
    >
    >
    http://www.allimed.us/pdf/article/AllicinPPT%5B10%5D.pdf
    >
    > http://www.allicinfacts.com/index.html
    >
    > This link helps to confirm and validate Allimed
    > information:
    >
    > EUROPEAN SOCIETY OF CLINICAL MICROBIOLOGY
    >
    http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/eccmid15/abstract.asp?id=37436
    >
    >
    > Research article, Dr. Ronald Cutler, Allicin, MRSA:
    >
    > NATIONAL CENTER FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY INFORMATION
    >
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15250668?ordinalpos=2&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
    >
    >
    > Research article, Allicin diminishes Bio-film
    > (resistant coating around bacteria):
    >
    > NATIONAL CENTER FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY INFORMATION
    >
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12969283?ordinalpos=16&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
    >
    > Radio Interview with Dr. Ronald Cutler regarding
    > Allicin and MRSA:
    >
    >
    http://www.nutrimedical.com/audio_file.jhtml?id=190&file=0314071.mp3
    >
    > > Video Interview with Biochemist, developer of
    > Allisure (stable Allicin) Peter Josling, author of
    > Allicin, The Heart of Garlic:
    >
    >
    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=peter%20josling&search_category=22
    >
    > Internet News Articles, Dr. Culter, Allicin, MRSA:
    >
    >

    > http://www.rapidmicrobiology.com/news/0401040.php
    >
    http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/12/28/1072546402461.html?from=storyrhs
    > http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/5056.php
    >
    http://www.innovations-report.com/html/reports/medicine_health/report-24405.html
    >

  33. #33 bones
    May 29, 2008

    Good night, and good luck.

  34. #34 John Best
    May 29, 2008

    Joseph, Why don’t you try 1,000 micrograms of mercury mixed with 1,000 micrograms of water to prove your point?

  35. #35 D. C. Sessions
    May 29, 2008

    John Best:
    Joseph, Why don’t you try 1,000 micrograms of mercury mixed with 1,000 micrograms of water to prove your point?

    That pretty well sums up the whole mercury/autism subject in a nutshell.

  36. #36 Chronicle
    May 30, 2008

    I agree with Daedelus:

    “What JB and similar parents want isn’t our compassion, or even our pity, what they want is our money.”

    Except that JB doesn’t want anyone’s money so much as he wants attention. Megalomaniacs crave loades of attention and JB had planned on using his children as tokens of his extreme greatness. When his second child turned out to be a total loser by his standards, he freaked. So he got attention by becoming an archangel of pseudo-scientific faux-medicos making grandiose promises. Just look at Rescue Angel John Best spouting off in this thread.

    Best wants loads of money. He’d surely sell his children for a price. He’s a full-time gambler and can never have enough money for his gambling on horses.

    Many of the leaders of the mercury parents are egomaniacs and live for time in the spotlight. They don’t want to give up the fight against the imaginary problem with vaccines because they’d have to start over to become the movie stars of another cause. It’s all about Kim Stagliano, JB Handley. David Kirby shows by his words that it’s all about David Kirby. It’s all about old time antivaccinist Lenny Schafer and his old time hate for vaccines. In fact evidence that Lenny has given out tends to indicate that his autistic son was never vaccinated at all. Lenny’s egoamania is famous. Before he was acting like a beast about autism he was trolling boards writing hateful posts about women and how hideous women are, especially women’s liberationists.

  37. #37 rmp
    May 30, 2008

    How many more chelation treatments will John Best’s child need to be completely cured?

  38. #38 HCN
    May 30, 2008

    rmp said “How many more chelation treatments will John Best’s child need to be completely cured?”

    Or dead.

  39. #39 CanadianChick
    May 30, 2008

    John Best…

    I’m really sorry that your mother dropped you on your head when you were a baby.

  40. #40 DebinOz
    May 30, 2008

    I have a PhD in epidemiology from UC Berkeley, and an autistic child. The next person who mentions vaccines as the cause for his autism, I will smack up-side the head!

  41. #41 John Best
    May 30, 2008

    DebinOz,
    I think Joseph wants to prove your delusional assertion by drinking some mercury. But, to be fair, if a one pound fetus got half the dose of mercury in a flu shot to the mother, that would be 12.5 micrograms. So Joseph, if he weighs 200 pounds, would need to have 2500 micrograms injected directly into his brain to test the same conditions the fetus faces adjusted for his weight.

    Do you think Joseph is willing to prove his idiotic point now?

  42. #42 Jesse
    May 30, 2008

    My kid alone has cost taxpayers about $900,000 just for his schooling and it has done very little good.

    I think the parenting/home environment may have more to do with situation….

  43. #43 D. C. Sessions
    May 30, 2008

    I think Joseph wants to prove your delusional assertion by drinking some mercury. But, to be fair, if a one pound fetus got half the dose of mercury in a flu shot to the mother, that would be 12.5 micrograms. So Joseph, if he weighs 200 pounds, would need to have 2500 micrograms injected directly into his brain to test the same conditions the fetus faces adjusted for his weight.

    All right, I was wrong. I should have known better than to think that the previous statement was the high-water mark for antivac reasoning; I’ve been posting on MHA long enough.

  44. #44 Joseph
    May 30, 2008

    But, to be fair, if a one pound fetus got half the dose of mercury in a flu shot to the mother, that would be 12.5 micrograms. So Joseph, if he weighs 200 pounds, would need to have 2500 micrograms injected directly into his brain to test the same conditions the fetus faces adjusted for his weight.

    That’s a pretty lame argument, John. First, why would the fetus get half of the mercury the mother gets? It seems more likely that the fetus would get a couple orders of magnitude less mercury than the mother.

    Second, why do you think the fetus gets mercury injected directly into his brain?

    In the US, about 10% of women have blood mercury levels of 6.9 ppb or higher. If we assume that an adult female has 4 liters of blood, it means that 10% of women already have about 27.6 micrograms of mercury in their blood alone. Imagine other parts of the world where they consume a lot of fish.

    Finally, a man who was probably about 200 pounds did ingest 5 grams of thimerosal, or about 2,000 times what you’re suggesting, and recovered completely. It’s highly unlikely that all thimerosal got cleared from his system. I bet he carries around way more than 2,500 micrograms of thimerosal.

  45. #45 John Best
    May 30, 2008

    Joseph,
    I don’t know exactly how much of the mercury injected into the mother would wind up in the fetus. Maybe some Ob/Gyn guy could tell us.

    Since the fetus has no BBB, there’s nothing to prevent any of that mercury from going to the brain and camping there. You and the guy who had the 5 mg’s have BBB’s so you’d want to bypass that to make sure your comparison was fair. Of course, there’s probably no comparison to your fully functioning brain and the developing brain of the fetus. We know that most ingested mercury is passed through digestion and hardly any could wind up in the brain so you wouldn’t want to cheat the experiment by using your digestive system.

  46. #46 viggen
    May 30, 2008

    Hi Viggen, this may interest you. Here is your quote…

    0.5 parts per billion (ppb) mercury has been shown to kill human neuroblastoma cells (Parran et al., Toxicol Sci 2005; 86:132-40)

    No offense, but this information does not give the whole picture. You should be very clear that Thimerosal is not dimethyl mercury. While Thimerosal can kill a nerve cell, the reference you cited from Parran is a cell culture study and does not address whether a compound from a vaccine injection will even cross the blood-brain barrier, a critical step for a neurotoxin supposedly responsible for autism, nor does it address how quickly the body excretes said compound. Finally, this study does not balance the risks between vaccine related problems and diseases that are vaccine preventable.

    Chemical context has everything to do with how the body excretes a compound and a lot to do with a compound’s toxicity. Quoting mercury exposure limits does not necessarily give you a complete picture of Thimerosal toxicity nor the toxicity of any other particular mercury compound. You need other information too, like chemical stability, solubility, decomposition products, reactivity, as well as excretion routes and all the rates associated with all of these. I would suggest strongly that you spend some time looking at the literature involving body excretion to complete your rather one-sided picture (here’s one: Pichichero et al. Lancet 2002; 360: 1737-1741).

    If you want to convince me of anything, you’re going to have to put together information in a cogent fashion rather than a random list that does not even understand the relationships between the numbers cited. One place where you can build your understanding of the science immensely is to learn the difference between a molecule (Thiomersal, for instance) and a pure element (Mercury, for instance). You would help yourself a lot to learn why something is even a poison: does Plutonium kill you because it’s radioactive, or does it kill you because it’s chemically reactive? There’s a lot of critical information that alarmism and conspiracy mongering selectively overlooks.

  47. #47 Alexis
    May 30, 2008

    Jamie – the Feingold diet (no additives at all) is sometimes advocated for behavior issues. There would appear to be evidence that some additives do cause negative effects in children, particularly colors. There was a whole thing with this in the UK recently and the FSA asked manufacturers to remove 7 artificial colors from their products.

    The more specific “autism” diet is Gluten-Free/Casein-Free (GFCF), and AFAIK all the evidence is anecdotal. One autistic acquaintance of mine says success is entirely coincidental–these kids also had other problems, they went on the diet, they stopped hurting and, surprise, improved behavior. Whether autistic kids have a higher rate of allergy/intolerance is an open question. It certainly seems that among the ASD parents I know, there’s a higher rate, but it could just be that they get their kids tested for it and most parents don’t unless symptoms are obvious.

  48. #48 Joseph
    May 30, 2008

    You and the guy who had the 5 mg’s have BBB’s so you’d want to bypass that to make sure your comparison was fair.

    The guy had 5 grams actually. The BBB couldn’t really have protected him from that, and it didn’t. But with poisoning like that, it seems that you either get treated and recover fairly rapidly, or you die. There’s no “maybe he’ll recover by round # 137″ – that’s absurd.

  49. #49 notmercury
    May 30, 2008

    Right now wishing for a (John) Best Brain Barrier.

    fwiw, dimethylmercury is able to cross the generally impermeable barrier of latex gloves.

  50. #50 John C. Welch
    May 30, 2008

    If Best was any better at strawmen, he’d have to change his name to Bolger.

  51. #51 JFox
    May 30, 2008

    I’ve spent the past twenty one years investigating child abuse and neglect with a specialty in medical cases including those where there is a lack of care for religious and philosophical reasons and where quackery resulted in the serious injury or death of a child. People who use dangerous treatments on their children should be help fully responsible to all applicable laws including being charged with manslaughter when a child dies. And if a parent were to exacerbate or compound a medical condition, placing a child at serious risk of harm, because of withholding appropriate treatment then, that child could reasonable be removed from it’s parents by the state. I personally don’t think this happens enough in medical neglect cases.

    The whole anti-vax crowd seems to feel someone needs to be blamed or responsible for their child’s condition. And if it’s not an outside agent then their own DNA might be responsible and who wants to think they are the cause of their child’s problems. Perhaps it’s just a chance thing caused by some unknown combination of DNA and environment, with no one being responsible or the cause. Now that just wouldn’t be any fun, or make us feel better or allow us some kind of moral high ground replete with finger pointing satisfaction. Some people need to grow up, face facts and stop looking for demons hiding in irrational unproven causes.

  52. #52 John Best
    May 30, 2008

    JFox,
    Agreed. People who insist on treating mercury poisoning with teaching instead of medicine should be held liable for their idiocy. That’s why I filed a complaint for child abuse and neglect against the State of New Hampshire for refusing to pay for the medical treatment mercury poisoned kids need. I’m glad you agree that this nonsense has to stop.

  53. #53 D. C. Sessions
    May 30, 2008

    Since the fetus has no BBB, there’s nothing to prevent any of that mercury from going to the brain and camping there.

    I can understand that — a fetal BBB is inconsistent with a lot of the mercury/autism story. Thus, since the mercury/autism connection is unquestionable, it follows that there is no fetal blood-brain barrier.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg16121731.100-bloodbrain-barrier-exists-in-the-womb.html

  54. #54 Hey Zeus is my homeboy
    May 30, 2008

    Handley the Antivaccinationist chelated his wife before knocking her up thinking it would prevent another autistic kid. This is the kind of guy that is emailing you lovely hate mail. This is the kind of guy who preaches antigovernment paranoia to the willing tens. This is the kind of guy who desperately grasps at the latest quack procedure after assessing its potential on the ABMD board.

    This is the guy who claimed that Orac has no compassion? Any criticism from JB ought to be a badge of honor. He is truly a psychopath. It’s shocking that people actually hire Swindle Pace given his antigovernment rants and his vocal support of extremist quacks.

  55. #55 Jamie
    May 31, 2008

    Alexis:

    Thank you for clarifying. :)

    My partner was raised on Feingold back in the 80′s, and the diet we follow is a derivitave of that. More restrictive in some ways, but mostly just an update for things that weren’t around back when it was conceived.

    Anecdotally, I would say it’s effective, to a point. I would never, ever imply that it is a ‘treatment’ or a solution, or that it implies causes. But I have come to believe that it has it’s uses.

    Most likely, it’s a case that in a neurotypical child, the behavioural impact of addatives and coloring are less likely to push already-stretched social and behavioural boundaries. I know for our son especially, we ride a fine line between ‘intense’ and ‘intolerable’, so every little bit helps.

    As far as gluten and whatnot free… Well, I can’t speak to it. I would find it hard to accept, though, that it would be effective in all. My partner can’t handle gluten, we know. It causes her to get very aggressive. However, me and my children have no problems with it. So it is clearly (to me, in my corner of the world) not a universal constant.

    I think reactions from food is something that bears more research, and wonder in some ways of ASD/ADD/ADHD people aren’t the canaries in the coal mines that there is something Not Good about the things in too much of our food.

    Don’t even get me started, though, on the horror I feel when I see someone giving their kid cordial, which is basically concentrated sugar and food coloring. ;)

  56. #56 Smack Me
    May 31, 2008

    “I have a PhD in epidemiology from UC Berkeley, and an autistic child. The next person who mentions vaccines as the cause for his autism, I will smack up-side the head”!

    I see that our standards for getting a PhD are dangerously low these days. However, since you are such an epi expert, what did you think of those Danish autism epidimiological studies? Your answer will speak volumes.

  57. #57 notmercury
    May 31, 2008

    Sue Me Said: “However, since you are such an epi expert, what did you think of those Danish autism epidimiological studies?

    Do you mean the one with Gluten and Casein Free Danish Pastries?

    Let’s hear your critique of the Danish study that you are so obsessed about, Sue.

  58. #58 Smack you? No problem, Sue
    May 31, 2008

    Common Skank trolling the science blogs when the diabetes boards get tired of her idiocy.

  59. #59 Nice Double Post
    May 31, 2008

    “Let’s hear your critique of the Danish study that you are so obsessed about, Sue”.

    No, no… I’m waiting for the epi expert with the PhD to speak up in regards to the studies first. I wouldn’t want to influence her opinion. She’s probably just a fly-by poster though… It wouldn’t surprise me if she was looking for Star Trek info. We’ll see.

  60. #60 Science Blogs... LOL!
    May 31, 2008

    “science blogs”

    Good one! Where’s the science here?

  61. #61 Liesl
    May 31, 2008

    Thank you for this post, Orac. We don’t see integrity like yours every day and I am proud to count myself as one of your readers and supporters. I’ve learned a great deal from you and as I continue to learn, my understanding of the ethics of science and the responsibility of scientists as citizens enhances my life and the lives of my students. I think you do more good than you realize and I, again, thank you for it.

  62. #62 Mr. Jones
    May 31, 2008

    Viggen, Your questions are reasonable. I’ve read Pichichero et al. Lancet 2002; 360: 1737-1741. He is incompetent. Throughout his paper he refered to nmol/liter as parts per billion (ppb). You need to multiply nmol/l by 0.2006 ug Hg/nmol to get ug/l. This is ppb. His numbers are off by a factor of 5. The pharma cronies you call the Lancet wouldn’t pull the paper. Check out this clowns (Pichichero) 14 conflicts of interest w/vaccine manufacturers. Also, your’re right. Ethylmercury, a molecule is different than atomic mercury. The ethyl group is a carrier which delivers the mercury to the brain. Like dissolves like. The carbon-Hg bond is unstable and Hg the atom, is left behind. There is no debate that ethylmercury enters the brain of primates and converts to atomic Hg. (Burbacher T, Shen D, Liberato N, Grant K, Cernichiari E, Clarkson T. 2005. Comparison of blood and brain mercury levels in infant monkeys exposed to methylmercury or vaccines containing thimerosal. Environmental Health Perspectives. 113:1015-1021)

  63. #63 Jones - get a chemical clue
    May 31, 2008

    “The carbon-Hg bond is unstable and Hg the atom, is left behind.”

    Burbacher’s work is crap, just like your understanding of basic chemistry.

    If you’re going to cite Safeminds and Generation Rescue’s talking points then I’d recommend being able to defend them with science – that’s a joke by the way, since science doesn’t support the quack talking points.

  64. #64 Yeah, Sure
    June 1, 2008

    “Burbacher’s work is crap”.

    Yeah, right… We are supposed to believe that just because you say so… Sure… You probably trust Fombonne who doesn’t know the difference between Quebec City and Montreal and the Danish epi experts who completely rigged studies to get the result that they wanted. You’re brilliant…

  65. #65 HCN
    June 1, 2008

    Common Sue, you sure like to persevere and repeat off the wall stuff:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=-CXD5_Iw1NYC&pg=PA65&lpg=PA65&dq=persevere+autism+repetition+&source=web&ots=HBFtuYy3nl&sig=_GX88gU3rXBRHuYRXvcllwPdJc4&hl=en

    “People with autism may present irrelevant details, inapproprately persevere on a topic, suddenly shift to new topics, and ignore others’ attempts to initiate conversation (Kaplan & Sadock, 2003)”

  66. #66 Hidden Horde
    June 1, 2008

    Nice try, HCN… Attempting to diagnose someone as having an ASD to prove a point that the hidden horde actually exists. You could probably get a job with Fombonne. In order to work with him however, you first must prove that you don’t know that Quebec City is different from Montreal… so, how are your geography skills?

  67. #67 N.C.
    June 2, 2008

    What does mistaking Quebec City for Montreal have to do with anything at all?

  68. #68 viggen
    June 5, 2008

    Viggen, Your questions are reasonable. I’ve read Pichichero et al. Lancet 2002; 360: 1737-1741. He is incompetent. Throughout his paper he refered to nmol/liter as parts per billion (ppb). You need to multiply nmol/l by 0.2006 ug Hg/nmol to get ug/l. This is ppb. His numbers are off by a factor of 5. The pharma cronies you call the Lancet wouldn’t pull the paper. Check out this clowns (Pichichero) 14 conflicts of interest w/vaccine manufacturers.

    First, considering that ppb was referred to only once in passing in that paper and all the other units are consistent metric units across the board, that’s not a case for tossing out the science of the work or the competence of the scientist. Also, I just worked through the calculation myself, by hand, and your numbers do not make the slightest sense. Since water is about 50 mol/L… 20 to 50 nmol/L, the thiomersal concentration given in the paper where ppb is mentioned, is about 1 ppb (50nmol/50mol). microgram per Liter does not equal parts per billion (if you want to have a scientific discussion, you really do need to learn something about units). Just because you don’t understand what he’s said in the paper does not make what he’s said wrong.

    Second, “clowns” and “pharma cronies” are ad hominen attacks and do not bolster your case.

    Third, What the hell paper were you reading? The conflict of interest statement has “None declared.”

    Seems to me that you’re trying to smear somebody’s good name both with regard to your statements about the Lancet and about this investigator. If you think it makes you look good to anybody, congrats, but it doesn’t solidify your argument nor make any of your reasoning sound. Maneuvering with face is not how you do productive research into anything nor how you support an argument based on facts. My initial writing about my interaction with an antivaxer stands: he lied his ass off to me to save face and I don’t see how you’re doing much better. Quote-mining and name-smearing and using numbers badly does not get you anywhere.

  69. #69 Grimalkin
    June 12, 2008

    I think that a lot of this is a left-over of the idea that autism comes from parental factors (moms who aren’t loving enough to their children, for example). These parents fear that it might be their fault, so they try desperately to find an external culprit.

    So when you say that vaccines don’t cause autism, what they hear is “YOU caused the autism!” and their panic. Their brains will do just about anything to avoid dealing with the fear that they might have been at the root of it, so they lash out.

    They lash out primarily by painting you with the same brush part of their minds are painting themselves with – that YOU are the one who doesn’t love enough. That way, they can safely hate themselves without feeling bad by turning you into an effigy that they can throw all their hate at. Notice the language: you lack compassion! In other words, you lack the emotional structure that would allow you to properly help their children.

    All this is just to say that I don’t think you should be offended. Rather, you should increase your pity because I think that all the hate they are sending at you is really being sent to themselves. It’s bad enough having to raise a child with autism without also blaming yourself for causing it.

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