The Snake Oil Bulletin: Can The Paleo Diet Cure Autism? Why No! No It Cannot!

Howdy-doo, folks! Welcome back to your Snake Oil Bulletin, the weekly round-up of pseudoscience, nonsense, and assorted quackery this side of the Mississippi. It's been a pretty painful week so far, but with the weekend comes good news that far worse off than you are all the anti-vaccine autism-exploiters out there. Let's read on and feel the warmth of schadenfreude wash over us all, shall we?

Oregon Senate Makes Lying Liar Andrew Wakefield So Sad

Let's start off our bulletin with some excellent news: Andy Wakefield is sad! Hurray! And he's sad because a state legislature disinvited him from their super fun vaccine party.

For those new to the internet, Andrew "Andy" Wakefield is the asshole who started the modern anti-vaccination movement. As we've seen before, anti-vaccination views are hardly a recent phenomenon: people have been irrationally scared of needles and the bovine bestiality they induce since time immemorial. Yet it's Andy whom you can thank for today's current batch of fear-induced nonsense, namely the unkillable meme that vaccines cause autism. Andy was the scientist who authored the original 1998 paper in the Lancet journal that linked the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism development, starting the Jenny McCarthy bunch on their crusade against the single greatest medical advancement since cavemen figured out fire hurt.

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Andy was a darling among the science-averse crowd, but the rest of the medical community smelled something fishy about his study when not a single scientist who followed his method could replicate his results. Andy eventually had his medical license revoked and his paper formally retracted by the journal after it was discovered that his "study" was as fishy as a wharf at high tide:

According to the BBC, among his alleged acts of misconduct were conducting those studies without ethical approval of the hospital at which he practiced, and paying children at his son’s birthday party for blood samples. He also served as a paid consultant to attorneys of parents who believed their children had been harmed by vaccines.

There's also the small matter that he faked a lot of his numbers and the timelines of the children's medical records to make it look like there was a causal link between MMR and autism, including one child who somehow developed autism from the MMR before he'd even received the MMR. We're dealing with psychic vaccines here, people.

It's a pretty damning list of frauds to be sure, but don't let that laundry list of quackery deter the anti-vaxxers. To them Andy's alleged crimes just mean he is the center of an elaborate, possibly multi-dimensional conspiracy committed to discrediting everyone who ever dared question the monolithic medical research establishment, what with its unlimited funds available for that sort of thing. Thus it's little surprise that the anti-vaxxers still invite him to their fringe conferences and wackadoo lectures, like one at the Oregon Senate for example. Wait, what?

Yes indeed. Turns out Andy was placed on the list of witnesses for the Oregon Senate Committee On Health Care as they were considering a bill to make it harder for stupid concerned parents to get non-medical exemptions for their kids' vaccines. A laundry list of cranks had already been asked to testify against the proposed bill, but the Oregon Chiropractic Association (we'll get to chiropractic in another bulletin, fear not) decided that the best person to advance their anti-vaccination cause was the most famously discredited science fraud of the last twenty years.

Fortunately the Oregon Senate has at least a few members who are not A Idiot, and Wakefield's scheduled testimony on the 9th was canceled by the committee's chairwoman, who made the very judicious argument that Andy's appearance wouldn't be appropriate on a day reserved for legal testimony on the bill. Regardless of how she phrased it, kudos to Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson for keeping at least most of the science testimony reserved to actual, non-fraud-committing scientists.

Italian Courts Rescind Earlier Anti-Vaccine Stupidity

Now we present another feel good story in the fight against autism-exploiting anti-vaccine assholes. An Italian court has thrown out an earlier ruling that the MMR vaccine led to autism in children.

Back in 2012, an Italian provincial court, bastion of medical science that it is, ruled that the MMR vaccine was responsible for causing autism in one Italian child, thus making the family eligible for victims' compensation. While we here at your Wonkette are all faithful vanguards of the proletariat and in general very much in the "pro" column when it comes to people receiving compensation after being victimized by monolithic entities, this particular case was bull for a few reasons. For one, the court listened to only one expert, ignoring attempts to bring in conflicting testimony. For another, the single expert called in got all his information from Andy Wakefield's debunked paper! Woah, who'da thunk that asshole would show up again?

Me. I thunk it. Because I write this crap.

The decision sent ripples throughout the antivaxxosphere (we are never spelling that word again), and had been used by the anti-vaxxers for years as evidence that yes huh vaccines are bad because look, a court said so! Fortunately it seems that court systems do indeed work, as the decision was bumped up the chain by the Italian Ministry of Health and has officially been rescinded by the Court of Appeals. The government's expert witness argued that the original ruling lacked any real evidence for its decision and that no other study has ever shown a link between vaccines and autism -- y'know, statements that are actually true. The judges agreed, and the original ruling was officially tossed out. We like to imagine that the judges adjourned the session by giving a multi-member Italian chin flick right in Andy Wakefield's direction. That would have made the whole week just perfect.

All these happenings are very good news for the millions of autistic kids used as pawns by the anti-vaxxers in their campaign against science. Unfortunately, the anti-vaxxers aren't the only ones who, upon seeing families desperate and suffering, hear cash registers go ka-ching.

Paleo Diet Wackadoo Says He Can Cure Autism

The latest food craze to hit bookshelves in the last few years is the Paleo Diet, a fad weight loss program which purports to resemble the meals consumed by our earliest ancestors, the working hypothesis being that such a diet is healthier for us. While most of the claims of paleo (for example, that human beings can't digest bread, or that high-fat coconut oil will make you lose weight) are nonsense, the diet itself is mostly harmless and isn't worth the time and energy to debunk that, say, bleach enemas do. If you want to cut bread and beer out of your diet, knock yourself out; it'd probably help you out, you chubby lush you. The problem from the diet comes when paleo advocates get so high off the smell of their own coconut-sweetened farts that they make outrageous claims like they can cure autism with food.

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At least that's the claim being made by Pete Evans, a teevee celebrity chef in Australia who wherever we see news articles about him, is inevitably described using such choice phrases as "paleo evangelism" or "downright fanaticism." Oh, and he's kind of a fluoride-fearing loon.

Evans believes that the modern diet is the cause of autism, and he's attacked several reputable Australian health organizations for promoting nutritional guidelines that in his mind lead to increased levels of autism. He claims that eating low-fat foods and grains is what causes autism to develop in healthy children, even though children show signs of the condition as early as 6 months old, i.e. before they're even eating solid foods. In other words, *cough*bullshit*cough*.

In true quack fashion, Evans has taken a tiny grain of truth and blown it up into, well, a 2100-word rant on Facebook. Professor Cheryl Dessanayake (an actual fucking autism researcher) points out that diet changes can help autistic children, but only in that they are often predisposed to particular stomach problems (evidence of a genetic link, bee tee dubs), and a more autistic-friendly diet can help alleviate gastrointestinal stress. It doesn't "cure" their condition (and since it isn't a damn disease, it can't be cured to begin with), and there is exactly zero evidence that its onset or remission has anything to do with the food they eat.

Of course, it wasn't just autism that Evans tried to exploit to get people to buy his paleo cookbooks, watch his paleo teevee show, or suck his paleo wiener. He also links low-fat foods and grains to an increase in just about every scary-sounding mental condition:

Why is the rate of mental illness including dementia and Alzheimer's escalating at a frightening rate and we are told by the [Dietitians Association of Australia] and Heart Foundation to avoid saturated fat when this is what our brains need to survive and function properly. [sic]

The key to an A+ grift is to make it universal. Your panacea must be exactly that: a cure-all. Can paleo diet help you lose weight? Absolutely. Can it cure your family members' autism, dementia, and Alzheimer's? You bet. Will it bring you lasting happiness and wellness so long as you follow the strict dietary restrictions to the absolute letter? Buy my book and find out! This is Peter Evans wishing you good health, because God only knows you won't get it from me.

Flotsam, Jetsam, and Hokum

Last on our round-up, we take a look at some of the finest in anti-intellectual property rights as reported by your favorite otherkin LiveJournal community, your Wonkette!

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That's all for this week. Tune in next week when your Volpe tries his hand at phrenology for the most vulnerable among us: rabid wolves. I've still got 7 good fingers left and they're itchin' to get goin'.

[Time / Science Blog / Science Blog / Skeptical Raptor / Skeptical Raptor / Essential Baby / Sceptical Nutritionist / Daily Telegraph]


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