Respectful Insolence

The other day, I wrote about how the George Washington University School of Public Health screwed up big time (there’s really no other way to put it that doesn’t involve liberal use of the f-bomb) by allowing vaccine-autism quack Mark Geier to assist a graduate student in epidemiology (who shall not be named, even though I know who it is—and whose naming will result in comments being deleted or edited) in the final thesis project for an MPH in epidemiology. I based my blog post on other posts by Autism News Beat and Reuben at The Poxes Blog.

The reason I was so outraged and dismayed is because Mark Geier is a well-known antivaccinationist who promoted quackery more dangerous than the quackery that Andrew Wakefield promoted. Specifically, Mark Geier and his son David came up with a bizarre idea that testosterone forms “sheets” that bind mercury in the brain and make it unaccessible to chelation therapy. The details, with lots of links to sources, are in my first post. This idea led to the scientifically unsupportable hypothesis that by chemically castrating autistic children using a powerful drug (Lupron) that suppresses sex hormone production they could improve the effectiveness of chelation therapy to treat autism. Of course, given that there is no good scientific evidence that mercury from vaccines causes autism, that vaccines are in any way pathophysiologically related to autism, that chelation therapy treats autism, or that testosterone binds mercury under physiologic conditions, the Geier hypothesis was nothing more than adding one quack hypothesis (testosterone sheets) on top of another quack hypothesis (that mercury in vaccines causes autism) and then combining two quack treatments based on that. These were two quack tastes that did not taste great together—or separately, for that matter.

It turns out that the Office of Communications at the George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services (GW SPHHS) has responded, both on my blog, on The Poxes Blog, and on Autism News Beat. It’s a comment that came out late Friday afternoon, which suggested to me that GW SPHHS didn’t want to let these posts go unanswered over the weekend. While I’m grateful for the response, I must point out that this response leaves much to be desired:

The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services is still investigating the claims in this article.

However, the article gives the impression that Mark Geier was teaching or advising a GW student who was doing a practicum at SPHHS. In fact, Mark Geier was facilitating the use of a non-GW database the student used while doing his/her research, which was not part of a practicum. The student in question was being supervised by a faculty member at the university and the student’s contact with Mark Geier was limited mainly to accessing the information in this database.

Yes, I do believe that we’ve rattled some cages. Good. There are clearly cages that desperately need some serious rattling at GWU.

Of course, whatever the case is, whether Dr. Geier was a preceptor for this graduate student or only an advisor who assisted with a research project related to his masters thesis, one wonders why GWUSPH apparently never bothered…oh, you know…to actually Google his name. That alone would have demonstrated conclusively that this is no suitable preceptor or advisor for a student in a science-based epidemiology program. This was a massive oversight. As Harpocrates points out, if one looks at the site preceptor guide for GW SPHHS it becomes obvious that Mark Geier is completely unqualified to carry out these responsibilities:

  • Review and approve the Student’s Practicum Plan
  • Engage student in work and provide constructive feedback and guidance to the student
  • Provide guidance for professional conduct
  • Complete the following on the Practicum Website: a. Midpoint evaluation form in conjunction with the student; b. Final site preceptor evaluation of student and practicum

After all, Dr. Geier has had his medical license stripped from him in a dozen states based on his use of the Lupron protocol and chelation therapy and his franchising clinics that promoted that treatment for autism. He has no expertise in epidemiology or autism, as courts have repeatedly found in rejecting him as an expert witness.

But let’s just assume for the moment that the explanation offered by the GW SPHHS PR person is accurate. Even in that case, GW SPHHS screwed the pooch, as an ex-Marine acquaintance of mine used to like to say. Let’s just put it this way. The Geiers are not known for their skills with databases. Indeed, the FDA wrote a warning letter to the IRB chair at the North California Kaiser Permanente after the Geiers’ October 2003 and January 2004 visits to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Research Data Center) in Hyattsville, Maryland to use the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) database. During those visits, the Geiers were busted for doing queries that were not in the protocol approved by the IRB and then, on their second visit, for trying to merge datasets in a way that would compromise the confidentiality of the patients whose records were contained in the VSD. This is not a good example for a budding epidemiologist to follow; indeed, Mark Geier represents about as bad an example for an epidemiology student as I can think of: Bad epidemiology, lack of ethics, and outright quackery, not to mention outright deception/incompetence at epidemiological analyses. Just the Geiers’ use of an Institutional Review Board (IRB) packed with their fellow antivaccine cronies and chaired by Mark Geier himself should be enough to completely disqualify Mark Geier from ever mentoring a student from a reputable university in any capacity.

There’s another twist to this screw. It turns out that there is a GW SPHHS faculty member who has a connection to the Geiers, Heather Young, PhD, MPH, CHES. If you take a look at her list of publications on her faculty page, you’ll find a paper in press:

  • Geier DA, Young HA, Geier MR. Thimerosal Exposure and Increasing Trends of Premature Puberty in the Vaccine Safety Datalink. Indian Journal of Medical Research. (in press).

Which suggests that Dr. Young’s faculty page hasn’t been updated in a while, because that paper appears to have been published in 2010. There is, however, another paper from 2008 featuring Dr. Young and the Geiers as coauthors:

  • Young HA, Geier DA, Geier MR. Thimerosal exposure and neurodevelopmental disorders: an assessment of computerized medical records in the Vaccine Safety Datalink. Journal of Neurological Sciences. 2008; 271 (1): 11l-118.

Here’s the most frightening thing of all. Dr. Young chairs her department’s curriculum committee and the GW SPHHS curriculum committee. One wonders whether Dr. Young told the GW SPHHS Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics that Mark Geier was an acceptable preceptor, research advisor, mentor, or whatever capacity he served in. However the academic debacle of a justifiably reviled quack mentoring a graduate student at the epidemiology department of a respected school of public health happened, it’s too late for that student, which is why I do not identify the student and will not allow commenters to identify the student in the comments on this blog. It is, however, not too late for the GW SPHHS to make sure that something like this never happens again, and I hope that this blog has done its small part to help it do the right thing and fix what’s wrong.

Comments

  1. #1 AnObservingParty
    October 26, 2013

    Damage control to the extreme. It’s even been added to the bottom of Geier’s wiki page. Bravo to whoever did it. GWU gots some ‘splaining to do and they know it.

  2. #2 Denice Walter
    October 26, 2013

    I am entirely enjoying this uncovering of sculduggery,intrigue and malfeasance in science..

    How serendipitous that one of the parties( if my guess is indeed correct ) involved has previously sought to “investigate” a vast – and largely imagined- conspiratorial web of malign influences, secret links, heinous crimes and sordid misdemeanors, pointing his finger at corruption and underlying connections in SBM while he himself has landed in the midst of- or perhaps even helped initiate- a rancid imbroglio of institutional screwups and mindshattering mendacity.

    It doesn’t get much better than this BUT I suspect that it will.
    Christmas again comes early for Orac and his minions.

  3. #3 lilady
    October 26, 2013

    This is a blatant attempt at damage control. Might I say that it is about the lamest attempt, I’ve ever witnessed?

    I’m thinking of two scenarios here:

    Mark Geier has mentored other students at GWU, in prior years; therefore no one thought to check his credentials (such as a valid medical license, as a minimum requirement).

    The student in question (or some professor), suggested that Mark Geier become the mentor for said student and no one bothered to check Geier’s credentials (medical licenses and medical licensing suspensions and revocations).

    Both scenarios speak volumes about the atrocious mentor vetting process at GWU-School of Public Health.

  4. #4 sirhcton
    October 26, 2013

    As with Denice Walter, I wonder how the details of this and connections with The Student With No Name will play out? After all, said student has built vast conspiracies from weaker material than this.

  5. #5 Jeff1971
    October 26, 2013

    When said Student With No Name alleged others to be in conspiracy, and decried criticism of Mark Geier, he was in an undisclosed relationship with said Geier.

    Great start to follow in the steps of the Geiers and Wakefield, who he worships no less obsequiously.

  6. #6 Mike Stanton
    Barrow-in-Furness, United Kingdom
    October 26, 2013

    This is not the first time that GWU have had an unfortunate experience with the Geiers. Unfortunately Neurodiversity.com is down at the moment. But Kathleen Seidel published an extensive series of exposures of the Geiers’ significant misrepresentations there, starting with David Geier’s claimed affiliation to GWU. I wrote about it on my old blog, Action for Autism in 2007.

    Mark Geier and David Geier are under scrutiny on the Neurodiversity weblog. In the first part of what promises to be a fascinating series of articles we learn that a recent study by the Geiers that was accepted by the journal, Hormone Research contained a significant error.

    The online version published ahead of the print version listed David Geier’s affiliation as Department of Biochemistry, George Washington University, Washington, D.C., USA. In the academic world that strongly suggests that

    Mr. Geier is a member of the faculty at GWU, or a graduate student publishing with a thesis advisor or other faculty member in the same department; and that GWU is the venue at which Mr. Geier’s share of the research took place.

    Unfortunately for Mark Geier and David Geier the claimed affiliation with GWU has been described as “fallacious” and a “significant misrepresentation” by Dr. Allen Goldstein, Chairman of the GWU Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. When the editors of Hormone Research where informed of this “significant misrepresentation” of David Geier’s academic affiliation they immediately withdrew the paper. This to their credit and is what one would expect of a serious peer reviewed journal.

  7. #7 Narad
    October 26, 2013

    and then, on their second visit, for trying to merge datasets in a way that would compromise the confidentiality of the patients whose records were contained in the VSD

    Also then attempting to steal data doesn’t much help, either. (Or speak well to the intelligence of whoever thought the file sizes wouldn’t be noticed.)

    At least the Geiers represent a case where Pattimmy got something right:

    There is more coming.

  8. #8 Mike Stanton
    Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria
    October 26, 2013

    Thank Dawkins for the Wayback Machine.
    Kathleen’s exposure of the Geiers and a lot more besides are archived here. http://web.archive.org/web/20120415052727/http:/www.neurodiversity.com/main.html

  9. #9 lilady
    October 27, 2013

    @ Mike Stanton: I was off-line for several hours and returned to see that you located Kathleen Seidel’s excellent investigative articles on Mark and David Geier.

    Rather than engaging in damage control, isn’t it about time that GWU-School of Public Health provide us with the exact circumstances surrounding this sordid situation?

  10. #10 Mark Lindeman
    October 27, 2013

    Since I went “on record” before, I guess I’ll go on record again to withdraw part of my previous comment. If Orac is far from confident that Geier was a preceptor, then I am far from confident that the university screwed up. Somehow I assumed that the factual basis of the previous post had been reasonably well established, but that doesn’t seem to be the case — and I belatedly realize that I was relying on links to sources I’m unfamiliar with and that they don’t appear to offer specific sourcing for their assertions.

    Yes, if an MPH student worked closely with Geier on some database, GWU should be looking closely into the judgment of the faculty member who advised the project — and that investigation may well uncover errors on GWU’s part. But the present story is materially different from the original story.

  11. #11 Krebiozen
    October 27, 2013

    Narad,

    At least the Geiers represent a case where Pattimmy got something right:

    [Falls off chair in shock]
    Even a stopped clock…

  12. #12 Orac
    October 27, 2013

    But the present story is materially different from the original story.

    Actually, we don’t know that. Out of a sense of fairness, I reposted the GW SPHHS response. However, note that the PR person says that GWU is investigating, meaning that he/she probably doesn’t know for sure. I also pointed out that, even if everything the PR person from GW SPHHS is a perfect representation of what actually happened (and I bet it isn’t—remember, even the publicity flack doesn’t know) it’s still an appalling failure of oversight of student education.

  13. #13 Chris Hickie
    October 27, 2013

    One would hope that Dean Goldman (or someone above and outside her school) is taking a long, hard look at anything that has David Geier’s name on it, including Dr. Young’s in press paper with Geier. If GWS SPHHS is really wanting to be taken seriously, they need to disavow themselves from that paper immediately, since having an institutional affiliation on a paper with Geier the liar and mamer is even worse than having one’s name on a paper with Wakefield.

    This is shameful, and GWU’s response is duplicitous in its post hoc redefinition of the term “preceptor”. As a physician I find this despicable. –Chris Hickie, MD, PhD

  14. #14 Science Mom
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/
    October 27, 2013

    If Orac is far from confident that Geier was a preceptor, then I am far from confident that the university screwed up. Somehow I assumed that the factual basis of the previous post had been reasonably well established, but that doesn’t seem to be the case — and I belatedly realize that I was relying on links to sources I’m unfamiliar with and that they don’t appear to offer specific sourcing for their assertions.
    @ Mark, I don’t know how you came to this conclusion but there is no question that Dr. Geier was the student’s preceptor at GWU. It is the GWU PR machine who is trying to back away from the association from Dr. Geier. If only they had done their due diligence, they wouldn’t have egg on their faces right now.

  15. #15 Denice Walter
    October 27, 2013

    My general impression is that Dr Young has been instrumental in enabling the Geiers through her position at GWU- no matter the degree of their involvement. Doesn’t that seem to be very unprofessional, unethical etc? GWU looks as bad as she does.

  16. #16 lilady
    October 27, 2013

    I found both studies that involved Professor Heather Young of the GWU-School of Public Health and the Geiers on PubMed:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=heather+young+david+geier

    I’m fairly confident that Professor Heather Young knew about David Geier’s qualifications and the treatment protocol of chemical castration and chelation that the Geiers were providing to autistic children.

    So no. I’m not seeing that “the present story is materially different from the original story.”

  17. #17 Shay
    October 27, 2013

    Lilady — I think it would be safe to say that GWU is trying hard to make the present story look materially different from the original story.

  18. #18 MI Dawn
    October 27, 2013

    I’m just wondering *WHAT* database that the Geiers were facilitating access to? I mean, the only database that any respectable person would not have access to would be their quack database where they “documented” the “treatments” and supposed results from chemically castrating children.

    ANY other database wouldn’t require them as facilitators…

  19. #19 Science Mom
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/
    October 27, 2013

    What I would like to know is where could this student have done his/her practicum under the precepture of Mark Geier and also on what? He had no hospital privileges, no practice to speak of and losing his licenses to practice/under investigation while overseeing the student’s practicum. Dr. Heather Young’s ongoing collaborations with the Geiers also makes this reek to high heaven.

  20. #20 Denice Walter
    October 27, 2013

    Oddly enough, I have had the dubious pleasure of listening to the ramblings of the Nameless One ( onTuesday’s ‘Linderman Unleashed’/Natural News; one hour – via the Nameless One’s website) who discusses Mark’s COIs and Geier ( briefly);
    his accusations are answered by Mark ( same crappy outlet, Thursday, second half hour- via AoA) as well as his Canary Party’s plans for the future- such as a December congressional meeting- and ‘civil disobediance’ and protests.

    -btw- what I do for scepticsm!

    Seriously, altho’ I think that both the Childe and the Mann are totally bonkers and ill-educated about science, the latter appears to be adult, professional and well-versed in his material- he keeps an even keel, doesn’t repeat nearly each phrase he utters or speak about “forcing” anyone out of their movement. The contrast is startling.

  21. #21 AnObservingParty
    October 27, 2013

    The fact that it was addressed at all, and in such a vague manner, tells me there is something there that needs to be addressed. It’s one thing for a preceptor–or whatever he was and whatever they want to call him–to be unqualified. But Geier is unqualified, has connections that a professor has no problem having listed on her faculty page, AND is in active bad standing with just about, um, everyone? Even if it was just a database, he did the worst possible thing with a database, confidentiality breach. Even the craziest of crazies know better than to eff with HIPAA. He even fail at being a quack. Quite an accomplishment.

    And I don’t know about anyone else, but in light of Geier’s recent past, if I was Young, I’d do everything in my power to ensure my page was updated to not include that name as soon as possible if I had any reservations about them. Don’t tell me she forgot they were listed and nobody asked her to update her page. Perhaps I’m being too judgmental, but the fact that she has allowed the citations to remain listed tells me she has no problem with him, his methods, and the chemical castration of disabled kids.

  22. #22 AdamG
    October 27, 2013

    I was surprised to see that Young is on the faculty at GWU and got her MPH and PhD from the very same institution. Is this common in epidemiology? It’s basically unheard of in the life sciences. There is definitely more to this story than we are hearing.

  23. #23 Eric Lund
    October 27, 2013

    @AdamG: Whether alumni are considered acceptable to have on the faculty depends on the field. I don’t know specifically about epidemiology, but in physics and engineering it’s not extraordinary for a faculty member to have earned one or more degrees at that school.

    @lilady: Both of those scenarios are plausible to me. In the first one, where Dr. Geier had previously mentored other students, he would have still had his medical license at the time. But for a doctor to have his license yanked is a rare enough thing that somebody at GWU should have noticed. But as I said on the earlier thread, it’s all too plausible that Prof. Young, who is apparently head of the department curriculum committee, might have approved Dr. Geier as a mentor for the Student Who Must Not Be Named, and nobody on the committee thought to object.

  24. #24 Alexis G.
    October 27, 2013

    At my institution, you can complete either a practicum or thesis in fulfillment of MPH requirements (usually not both). The latter option is usually taken by those who want to go on to pursue a doctoral degree. So it sounds like this student chose to write a thesis. I’m unfamiliar with the process. How carefully are thesis advisers required to examine their advisees’ sources?

  25. #25 Science Mom
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/
    October 27, 2013

    How carefully are thesis advisers required to examine their advisees’ sources?

    It depends upon the advisor and the advisee. If a thesis contains extraordinary claims and/or considerable novel hypotheses then I would imagine an advisor applying considerably more scrutiny to the literature review than others. In this case, I would imagine that the thesis topic was novel and extraordinary to say the least.

    Some advisers will spot check or even check entire literature reviews to ensure consistency and honesty. Their names are on it after all.

  26. #26 Ren
    http://epidemiological.net
    October 27, 2013

    I went to GWU for my MPH 2003-2006. I didn’t give my “culminating experience” presentation until Feb 2007, in the middle of a blizzard. Dr. Young was my academic advisor back then. My culminating experience was on the use of rapid influenza testing and influenza surveillance in a rural community. My practicum was supervised by several people. One was the practicum coordinator, who made sure I followed all the steps and got all my ducks in a row before starting the project. Then there was an infectious disease professor at GW who made sure I had the right idea on the project and that I had IRB clearance. (I had waived IRB clearance because my data was de-identified and pre-collected at the hospital.) At the hospital, my practicum site, my data collection was reviewed by the hospital’s HIPAA compliance officer. The practicum site preceptors were the ID doc at the hospital and the microbiology supervisor. It took me a good year to 18 months to get the whole process done.

    Then I had to write it up under the supervision of the ID professor. There were tons of reviews and drafts. I remember it being a very long and tedious, sometimes frustrating process. The paper then was submitted to the professors and a presentation was scheduled. Because of the blizzard, not a whole lot of people showed up. But there was a full room and a couple of professors on the phone. After about a 30 minute presentation, the Q&A was another 20 minutes or so. A professor noticed that I had failed to plot some data on a log scale, and he called me on it. It was a little embarrasing, but it didn’t change the overall hypothesis that I was presenting. (That you can track flu outbreaks in rural communities pretty well just using rapid flu testing at doctor’s offices and local hospitals. And that those data matched CDC national and regional data.)

    My paper was available online and at the library for a while. Then I guess it got archived because I don’t see it there anymore. I’ve emailed the practicum coordinator who oversaw me to see if she has a copy of it. I’ve been looking for a copy amongst all my junk and can’t find it. I probably should have done a better job keeping it around. If I do find it, I’ll post it on my blog (address by my name) for the world to see.

    That all being said, I made darn sure that everyone supervising me was “kosher.” The last thing I needed was to have the wrong people looking over my work and then having my work — and degree — in jeopardy because of that. The responsibility for proper vetting of everything is both on the student and the institution, but moreso on the institution because a student, for good reason or not, may try to pull a quick one on them and make them look like fools. I believe this is the case right now. We have a known anti-vaccine activist student associating with known thimerosal conspiracists as supervisors. Someone should have caught that, and I hope that GW School of Public Health corrects their procedures so that it doesn’t happen again.

    I certainly will be vetting my advisors, mentors, and thesis committee members at Hopkins to avoid this exact thing from happening.

  27. #27 lilady
    October 27, 2013

    @ Ren: Could you answer a few questions?

    When were you awarded your MPH-Epidemiology degree (before, or after, your “culminating experience” oral presentation)?

    Could you have been accepted for entry into Johns Hopkins Doctor of Epidemiology degree program, before you were awarded your MPH-Epidemiology degree?

  28. #28 AdamG
    October 27, 2013

    Out of curiosity, Ren, did you know about Young’s connection to the Geiers during your time there? The earliest article with them on her CV is from 2008, after you moved on, but I’m wondering how far back their connection goes.

  29. #29 Ren
    October 27, 2013

    @Lilady — I was awarded the degree after. While my transcript reads December 2006 as a graduation date, my transcript was not updated to show the degree was earned until I gave the presentation in February of 2007. That night, actually. I don’t know about admissions to Hopkins for people who are about to finish the MPH. I know a couple of people who did get into PhD programs while finishing the MPH, but it was all but a done deal that they were getting the MPH and it was at Hopkins.

    @AdamG — No, I did not know of her connection to them while I was there. It wasn’t until I read the EpiWonk post about it in 2008 (h_ttp://epiwonk.com/?p=55). I was disappointed. Even today, as I read the comments about her, I cringe. She’s a good person, in my opinion. And that’s about all the opinion on I’ll give on her. If you’re enterprising enough, you’ll see that she’s my friend on Facebook. And, in the interest of full disclosure, as my faculty advisor at GW, she wrote one of the letter of recommendation for my first application to Hopkins, which was denied. (I got into Hopkins on my second attempt and with letters from three other people than the first application.)

  30. #30 sirhcton
    October 28, 2013

    From Ren: “. . . The last thing I needed was to have the wrong people looking over my work and then having my work — and degree — in jeopardy because of that. . . . ”

    Probably equally said by The Student With No Name, but with scare quotes around “wrong.”