December 1st, 2011
Let the Nonsense begin!:
Before May of this year, I was in blissfiul ignorance of the “hypothesis” that latex - specifically, latex in vaccines (of course) - was the cause (or a cause) of regressive autism. But then Orac (of the Respectful Insolence ‘blog) posted a short notice (here) of a press release for the book Vaccine Delivery and Autism (The Latex Connection), by Dochiak and Dunn. It was a small post, with only a minimum of “respectful insolence” added, since the premise of the book seemed laughable enough. The press release described the authors thusly:
“Michael J. Dochniak and Denise H. Dunn are leading experts in the etiology of allergy-induced regressive autism and have previously authored a book for Nova Science, entitled ‘Allergies and Autism.’ Dochniak is a scientific researcher in the field of Hevea brasiliensis natural-latex induced autism. Dunn is an early childhood educator who works closely with autistic children and adults, and has been teaching for more than 15 years.”
Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard to check on Mr. Dochniak’s credentials as a “scientific researcher in the field of Hevea brasiliensis natural-latex-induced autism”. In reality, he has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and psychology (both awarded in 1985) and has published - apart from the two books - one article in Medical Hypotheses. That article - needless to say - had no data. In fact, Mr. Dochniak’s only “research” into autism has been in the library and on the Internet, although he has written a few articles on latex for adhesive and sealant trade newsletters and is on a number of patents and patent applications, including one for a “Method to affect the development of autism spectrum disorders” (#20070034214).
A day after the post, the lead author, Mr. Michael Dochniak, appeared in the comment thread and - as they say - hilarity ensued.
Right from the start, Mr. Dochniak was very cagey about the data supporting his “hypothesis”, initially just repeating his assertion and referring us to his book. Below are a few typical examples of his reponses:
”Refuse vaccines that have latex warnings. Read the book and you’ll understand why.” (here)
“The mechanism of how immune responses to the Hev-b proteins, and cross-reactivity therefrom, affect the incidence of allergy-induced regressive autism is described in the Nova Science book ‘Allergies and Autism’. The mechanism of how vaccines cause allergy-induced regressive autism is described in the book ‘Vaccine Delivery and Autism - The Latex Connection’.” (here)
“Here’s a brief mechanism: Hyper-adaptive immunity (IgE) - neurotrophin over-expression (NGF) - neural growth and pruning (atypical neural-connectivity)- behaviors (regressive autism). See my books for hypothesis, references, and supporting scientific data.” (here)
“Answers to all of these questions can be found in the books ‘Allergies and Autism’ and ‘Vaccine Delivery and Autism - The Latex Connection’. ‘Vaccine Delivery and Autism - The Latex Connection’ is now at $9.95 through Amazon. “ (here)
A glimpse behind the curtain:
I could go on (as Mr. Dochniak did), but I think you see the pattern. This comment thread - which eventually reached over one thousand comments before Orac closed it in November - went on and on, with people asking Mr. Dochniak to provide some support for his claims and Mr. Dochniak responding with insults, poor attempts at verse and repeated calls to “Read my book!” well into August, when he posted the following:
“In the spirit of the null hypothesis, I’ve worked with a Biotechnology Company in an effort to remove the antigenic proteins from NRL to provide a safer natural-rubber. Briefly, the null hypothesis is satified when the global natural-rubber industry exclusively uses ultra-low protein NRL (i.e., Hevea brasiliensis)and the allergy-induced regressive autism rate continues to increase in future generations. “
For those not familiar with the concept of the “null hypothesis”, it is a tool used when evaluating whether a piece of data supports a hypothesis. The “null hypothesis” is basically the logical inverse of the hypothesis, so that if the hypothesis is “A causes B” , the appropriate null hypothesis would be “A does not cause B”, which would include “A is unrelated to B”, “A and B are both caused by C”, “B causes A”, etc. If a bit of data is consistent with the hypothesis AND not consistent with the null hypothesis, that data can be said to support the hypothesis. If that bit of data is consistent with both the hypothesis and the null hypothesis, it does not support the hypothesis.
Seen in the light of what a null hypothesis actually is, Mr. Dochniak’s statement seems confused. What he apparently means to say is that he is agitating to have vaccine stoppers made of “ultra-low protein NRL” (in which he has some sort of interest) and, if that is done and the autism prevalence continues to rise, then his hypothesis will be disproven. This is true, but it has nothing to do with the null hypothesis.
The null hypothesis is “latex doesn’t cause autism” - a hypothesis that would be supported if all vaccine stoppers were changed to non-latex-based polymers and the autism prevalence rose or remained unchanged. Clearly, Mr. Dochniak needs to brush up on scientific methods a bit, but this brief glimpse into his thought processes illuminates a lot of his mistakes.
Finally, on 26 August, over three months after first being asked to “show his work”, Mr. Dochniak posted a short excerpt from his book. I won’t repeat it in its entirety, but here are some salient quotes, along with my comments:
“In speculation, genetic material in dry natural rubber, including plasmids and transposons, could leach into the vaccine’s aqueous-solution [sic].”
While some amount of DNA might persist in dry natural rubber, the RNA in that material would degrade within minutes (if not faster). (I mention this because of later assertions Mr. Dochniak makes.)
“For example, according to the cellular origin hypothesis or vagrancy hypothesis, viruses can evolve from bits of DNA or RNA that “escape” from the genes. The escaped DNA or RNA could come from plasmids that are pieces of naked DNA or RNA that can move between cells or transposons, which are molecules of DNA that replicate and move around to different positions within the genes of the cell. Once called “jumping genes,” transposons are examples of mobile genetic elements and could be the evolution of some viruses.”
This may be how viruses originated, but there are no data supporting this hypothesis (i.e. nobody has yet observed virus evolve from cellular DNA or RNA). There are other virus origins hypotheses that are equally plausible and don’t involve a cellular origin of viruses and, in fact, explain the multiple genome types of viruses much better.
“It is known that both DNA and RNA can be extracted from HDNR [Hevea brasiliensis dry natural rubber]. For example, research has shown that expression of Hevein genes in natural latex has been detected. (Reference 5)”
Looking up Mr. Dochniak’s “reference 5″, we find that the researchers discuss extracting DNA and RNA from the living plant and the gene - the hevein gene - was expressed “in the latex”, meaning in the cells that make the latex, since genes are only expressed in cells (in the environment). To repeat, the mRNA is retained within the plant cells (unless they are disrupted) and lasts only a few minutes (at most) outside the cell.
“A study that evaluated particulate ribonucleoprotein components of HDNR showed that a significant proportion of the particulate RNA is found in the rubber layer. (Reference 6)”
Reference 6 - from 1962 (!) - is about extracting ribosomal RNA (then known as “particulate RNA”) from (and I quote from the article, which is avilable free on-line): “… fresh centrifuged latex in a freeze-dried condition…” This is a way to preserve RNA, which is why they treated their specimen in this fashion. It is not - so far as I know - part of the rubber manufacturing process to keep the latex in a freeze-dried state.
“Messenger RNA (mRNA) is a molecule of RNA encoding a chemical “blueprint” for a protein product. mRNA is transcribed from a DNA template, and carries coding information to the sites of protein synthesis.”
True, but irrelevant, since mRNA would not survive the rubber manufacturing process.
“In continuation, a study has shown that the latex allergen Hev-b 5 transcript is widely distributed after subcutaneous injection in BALB/c mice of their DNA vaccine.”
Again, the authors of the study (Mr. Dochniak’s ”reference 7″) describe their process a bit more. From the paper:
“We placed the gene encoding the potent Hevea latex allergen Hev b 5 in a mammalian expression vector and injected this DNA vaccine subcutaneously into BALB/c mice.” [emphasis added]
While I might quibble about whether or not an expression vector (a virus or plasmid that has been modified to carry a foreign gene into a cell) is a “vaccine”, their purpose was to have the animals’ cells express the protein and, thus, act as in situ “allergy shots”.
The process of making an expression vector is not trivial, as I would know, having made quite a few in my time. It is highly improbable that this would happen in nature and even more improbable that it would happen repeatedly or rountinely, as Mr. Dochniak asserts.
In my reading of this excerpt, I found that Mr. Dochniak made a number of errors:
 He assumes that since mRNA can be found in fresh latex, that it is found in processed rubber (it isn’t).
 He speculates - wildly - that bits of H. brasiliensis DNA (or RNA) will somehow develop into a virus, although this phenomenon has never before been observed.
 He confuses a DNA vector genetically engineered to carry a gene into mammalian cells with currently used vaccines (none of which use this technique).
 He speculates that H. brasiliensis DNA leached from rubber stoppers in vaccine vials will somehow “evolve” into a virus or plasmid that carries the latex protein genes into the recipient and inserts it into their genome, absent any data showing that this can happen at all, let alone thousands of times. Alternately, he may be speculating that the vaccine-strain viruses (in live-virus vaccines) are capable of acting as expression vectors, something that has also never been demonstrated.
The search begins:
Intrigued by Mr. Dochniak’s enthusiasm for his hypothesis in the face of very significant flaws, I had - in May - asked the library to find a copy of his latest book. Unfortunately, not even the Library of Congress had a copy, but they were able - by July - to find a copy of his first book, which Mr. Dochniak has described thusly:
“The first book entitled ‘Allergies and Autism’ was published through Nova Science Publishers and the target audience is Scholars.”
I have to admit that I lacked the patience to get very far into this “Scholarly” tome, as it was riddled with obvious factual errors and unsupported assertions. Apparently, I am not a “Scholar” (capitalised), but merely a scholar (lower case). I managed to read between fifty and seventy pages before my two-week inter-library loan period was up. This made me even less interested in reading his most recent book.
As Summer faded into Fall, Mr. Dochniak continued a fact-free defense of his “latex-in-vaccines-causes-autism” hypothesis, puntuated by exhortations to “Read my book!” and snippets of abominable verse. He seemed (and seems) incapable of understanding that the well-accepted existence of latex allergy does not support his “latex-causes-autism” hypothesis. Nor could he seem to grasp that while world-wide latex production (and, presumably, consumption) is increasing, the use of latex in medicine (in syringes, medication stoppers, gloves, appliances, etc.) has been dropping since the mid 1990’s. His argument appears to mirror the “too many, too soon” slogan of other anti-vaccination organisers in that he attributes the rise in “latex-related regressive autism” to the increasing number of vaccines, the difference being that (presumably) he feels eliminating latex from vaccine vial stoppers would solve the problem.
Finally, in November Orac felt that over one thousand comments on a six-month-old post was enough and he closed comments. He then opened a new thread under new post ( “Welcome back, my friends, to the thread that never ends…” ) and the argument has continued to the present day.
Initially, I wasn’t interested in reading Mr. Dochniak’s book because I felt it would be a waste of my time. Then, after he pointedly refused to defend his claims, I looked for the book through the library, not wanting to boost his sales by even a single book - that’s when I got and read (part of) his earlier “Scholarly” work. Realising that Mr. Dochniak’s writing isn’t even amusingly nonsensical, I continued to refuse to read his book because I had evidence that it would be a massive waste of time.
More recently, however, my curiosity began to get the better of me. Could it be possible that his new book was worse than the first? It was rather like the early researchers looking for absolute zero - I started wondering if there was a level of bad pseudo-science below the one I’d already experienced.
I give in to temptation:
Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I ordered the book. After I warned Mr. Dochniak to expect a review of his latest book, he made some rather feeble attempts to “frame” the issue in a favorable way. The first was:
“Hevea brasiliensis natural-rubber (i.e., natural latex) is a monumental medical-disaster. Soon, we’ll read in the blog ‘Photon in the Darkness’ if Prometheus has the courage to confront it.”
This appears to be an effort - a futile effort - to set the stage for claiming that I “lack the courage” to acknowledge the brilliance of his iconoclastic arguments in the all-too-likely event that I find his latest opus wanting in scientific rigor. When I “called” him on that, he tried a delaying action:
“I recall that you’ve disclosed reading part of the Nova Science book ‘Allergies and Autism’. In the book, the authors discuss how the timing, frequency, intensity, and types of exposure to H. brasiliensis natural latex affects the incidence of allergy-induced regressive autism. Comorbid factors including viral insult and bacterial insult (including vaccinations) may affect adaptive-immunity responsiveness to hevea-allergen exposure. Prometheus, I recommend you re-visit this book before diving into the book ‘Vaccine Delivery and Autism - The latex connection’.”
So, after six months of telling us that all the support for his hypothesis was in his latest book, Mr. Dochniak is now trying to say that if I don’t read his first book, I won’t understand the arguments he makes in his second book. Amazing! Well, I’ll just have to take that chance, since there is no point to using one error-riddled poorly written text to interpret another. If I have any questions, I’ll pose them on this ‘blog and see if Mr. Dochniak will answer them.
So, I have “The Book” and I’ve managed to read it cover to cover. I can say with confidence that I’ve probably put more time into researching the material (including the citations) than Mr. Dochniak and Ms. Dunn did when they wrote it, but that is getting ahead of the story.
To begin at the beginning:
When I received the book, it had the date it was printed stamped on the last page - and it was the date I had placed my order with an on-line bookstore. Obviously, there are no extra copies collecting dust on warehouse shelves. The cover shows a gloved hand (latex gloves, presumably) holding a 6 mL syringe with what appears to be a 1.5 inch 22 ga. hypodermic needle. The syringe appears to be filled with air. Considering that this book is supposed to be about vaccines (it’s in the title), the use of such a monster syringe seems to be for the gratuitous “scare” value. Since vaccines are typically given in volumes of 0.5 mL, a 1 mL tuberculin syringe is typically used, or a 1 mL pre-filled syringe-needle unit, not a whacking great 6 mL syringe and oversized 22 ga needle. But it makes for a more impressive and “eye-catching” cover.
Unless you realise what the authors are trying to do.
Normally, when I review a book or an article (or even a student assignment), I don’t comment on the typography or format, as those are generally trivial and irrelevant issues. However, in this book, these factors lead to significant problems in readability.
Only the “large-print” format was available when I ordered this book - and since the book was a print-to-order text, it’s likely that the “large-print” version is the only version available. The page size is relatively small (9 in by 6 in) and the font is about 12 points and appears to be Century Gothic. This is a problem because Century Gothic is a relatively wide font and with a large font size on a small page (and with full justification), it gets to be a challenge to read. I understand that Century Gothic is a popular font because it takes significantly less ink to print than, for example, Arial or Times Roman, which will marginally increase the authors’ profit. However, the combination of font type, font size, page size and justification made some parts of the book needlessly hard to read.
A second curiousity, although less of a hindrance to readability, is that every chapter is headed by a piece of verse, ranging in style from Greenwich Village beat-era coffee house to soft rap, printed in two fonts. I suspect that the two fonts represent the contributions of the two authors, but there is no way to know. At any rate, the verses tangentially refers to the subject of the book - how latex in vaccines causes autism - and are unvaryingly atrocious. Here is a representative example - not the “best” but not the worst:
“Natural latex pacifier oh-so-green, but are you really all that clean?
Soothing pacifier - lips to place, but are you really all that safe?
Suck, bite and chew
Latex allergies may impair
[new font begins]
Harmful proteins alway there
Natural latex pacifier oh-so green
You’re not healthy
You’re not clean”
Also at the head of several chapters and scattered throughout the book are Chinese ideograms (with translations that I took at face value) that are somehow relevant to the subject material. The image quality of some of the ideograms is poor, as though they were enlarged from much smaller images. Apart from implying some connection with “the wisdom of the Orient”, I see no function for the ideograms.
At or near the end of each chapter is a pithy aphorism - most of them from Mr. Dochniak, cited as though by a third person. Some examples include:
“Hevea-allergens catalyze the sale of allergy medication. - Michael J. Dochniak” [Ch. 3]
“The Hevea-allergens are terroristic proteins. - Michael J. Dochniak” [Ch. 4]
“Children are not immune from the vaccine learning curve. -Michael J. Dochniak” [Ch. 13]
There is also the inevitable quotation from Arthur Schopenhauer [Ch. 8]:
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Apparently, Mr. Dochniak didn’t know about the three stages of pseudoscience:
“All pseudoscience passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, its promoters claim to be the victims of inflexible dogma and/or a conspiracy to “suppress ‘The Truth’. Third, it is printed in self-published books.” Prometheus (2011)
Well, here I am at the end of my allotted time and I’ve only just started on the book itself. I guess you’ll all have to wait patiently for Part 2.