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I saw an interesting medical news story this morning that said a small study was done that seemed to show that autistic children benefited from hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) compared to children who were exposed to slightly pressurised room air (hyperbaric oxygen chambers have higher levels of oxygen and are more pressurised).

I haven’t yet had a chance to read the study, so I am not sure how well done it is, but go and have a look to see for yourself.  The study is being published in the peer reviewed journal BMC Pediatrics, here is a link to the abstract and preliminary article.

The thing I found interesting about the particular report of this study in Medpage Today, is that there is some commentary by Paul Offit expressing scepticism about this study because the parties who conducted the studies (Daniel Rossignol, Lanier Rossignol, Scott Smith, Cindy Schneider, Sally Logerquist, Anju Usman, Jim Neubrander, Eric Madren, Gregg Hintz, Barry Grushkin and Elizabeth Mumper) are in some cases DAN! doctors who make their living treating autistic children, and who use HBOT to treat them, at least in some instances.

“I’d like to see [the study] reproduced in an academic medical center that doesn’t have the financial incentives,” said Dr. Offit.

That sounds a bit funny coming from Paul Offit, who spends his time studying, developing, handsomely profiting from and publicly promoting vaccines.  If the physicians in question have prima facie questionable intention and/or honesty because of their capacity to profit from their work, then one can’t help but wonder how Offit can avoid the very same criticism that he levies at them.

I happen to think it’s impossible to be utterly unbiased; every researcher comes to a study with an idea or a viewpoint that they expect to validate.  The methodologies of science aim to minimise these various biases, and of course where conflicts of interests exist, they should be completely disclosed.  But I think it’s quite something to disapprove of a study because the physicians profit from procedures they study and recommend, when one has profited from the development of a vaccine one has studied and recommends.  Offit routinely rebuffs criticism that he has a conflict of interest.  I wonder how he thinks these physicians who studied HBOT are differently situated.

In fact, in 2000 the Committee on Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives criticised practices of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (which makes recommendations on childhood vaccines) with regards to their poor management of conflicts of interest, specifically citing Paul Offit (as well as others) who voted for the recommendation of the Wyeth RotaShield (rotavirus) vaccine on three occasions, when he was also developing a rotavirus (RotaTeq) vaccine with Merck, because of their worry about this as a conflict of interest.  They said “A recommendation for Wyeth-Lederle’s vaccine would help pave the way for future recommendations for the products of Merck and SmithKline-Beecham.”

That sounds like at least as worrisome a conflict as he is now concerned about with these DAN! doctors.


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