Monday, October 31, 2011

Just Answer the Question

There are times that I am truly amazed at just how seemingly clueless a person can be. Often, in dealing with alternative medicine or other pseudoscientific belief systems, individuals go to great lengths to avoid answering questions that are asked. The honest believers give it a good go, doing their best to support their beliefs with what they think are legitimate sources. Sometimes, reason breaks through and plants a little seed of critical thinking, and the believer realizes that they've fallen for a lie. On the other hand, the dishonest (and by that I mean the ones who outright lie or misrepresent things) go to great lengths to dodge direct questions. They build straw men, answering questions that were never asked. They deny and obfuscate facts. They work so incredibly hard to convince everyone that the naked emperor over there is actually clothed. Generally, they have some financial stake in it, and when push comes to shove, they quietly slink away, only to trot out their erroneous claims another day.

And then you have those who appear to to be...well. There are those who seem to have a pathological avoidance of anything that would threaten their belief and who are also dishonest with both themselves and those whom they address.

Over the past several months, there has been a comment thread over at Respectful Insolence that has remained quite active, having reached over 800 comments as of today. Who could have kept things going so long? One Michael J. Dochniak. The entirety of his comments can be summed up thus:
  • Natural rubber latex can cause allergies.
  • Some people with autism have latex allergies.
  • Therefore, latex allergies cause autism.
  • Buy my book.
Notice anything missing in there? I did, and so did pretty much every other reader and commenter over at RI. The primary reason that the thread has continued for so long is that people have been trying to get Mr. Dochniak to provide even a single quality study that provides evidence of that third bullet point. Yet try as we might, Mr. Dochniak remains rather interestingly reticent about that, merely repeating everything he's already said in the thread.

The trouble, you see, is that that evidence does not exist. There are no valid, scientific papers showing that natural rubber latex of any amount, let alone any tiny traces that might leach out into vaccines, causes autism. The whole thread has been rather like watching a train wreck. It's gruesome. You feel kinda bad for the person, but you just can't look away.

And then you recall that Mr. Dochniak isn't a completely independent sort without conflicts. You see, as mentioned above, he has a book to sell, Vaccine Delivery and Autism (The Latex Connection), co-authored by Denise H. Dunn. On Amazon, it isn't doing too hot. Two scathing reviews, each of only 1 star; its sales are ranked rather low, as well. But that's not all. Mr. Dochniak is also a patent holder for alternatives to latex sealants and adhesives. He also tried petitioning the EPA to ban natural rubber latex back in 2008. The EPA said "No" because he provided no evidence for any justification for its being banned.

I won't go into all of the errors Mr. Dochniak makes in his arguments about immunology or the scientific process. You can go over to Respectful Insolence to see the whole sordid affair. In the end, it is hard to say if he is simply a money-grubbing huckster trying desperately to sell his idea or if he is truly deluded and actually believes what he claims. His constant evasions could be due to his attempts to make money off his book and a latex alternative, or they may be the result of a psychologically disturbed mind trying to defend its delusions. Of course, I could be completely wrong on all of this. There is the very remote possibility that he might actually be right, but I can't really say, since he won't pony up the evidence being asked of him over and over that latex allergies can cause autism.

Mr. Dochniak, and all the other cranks out there, just answer the question.

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