Feature Autism research

What makes an expert?

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39146.498785.BE (Published 29 March 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:666
  1. Brian Deer, journalist
  1. London

    Autism activists are behind a journal's decision to retract a paper claiming a preservative once routinely used in vaccines is responsible for the condition. Brian Deer examines the facts

    Last October, Autoimmunity Reviews published online the draft of a seven page paper by reporting laboratory and clinical tests suggesting that thiomersal, a mercury based preservative once routinely added to most vaccines, was the main culprit for a sharp rise in diagnoses of behavioural disorders.1 The paper was written by Dr Mark Geier, a self employed American geneticist, and his son David. The pair also reported treating autistic children with a hormone product, leuprorelin acetate, which is sometimes prescribed for precocious puberty. They claimed that the drug produced “very significant overall clinical improvements” with “minimal” adverse effects.1

    But even before the journal posted its finalised contents page, Kathleen Seidel, an autism activist in Peterborough, New Hampshire, who runs the website neurodiversity.com, criticised the paper in a 2500 word email sent to the journal's editors-in-chief, Yehuda Schoenfeld of Tel Aviv University, and Eric Gershwin of the University of California, Davis, and copied to all 42 members of the journal's editorial board. …

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