By Steven Salzberg for Forbes magazine
If you’re reading this from anywhere but Chicago, you just missed the Autism One conference, which ends today. This conference, run by Jenny McCarthy and Generation Rescue, purports to tell parents “the truth” about autism.
The conference is a veritable festival of unproven claims, offering a powerful but false message of hope to parents who are desperately searching for new treatments for their children. It’s also a nexus for anti-vaccinationists, who run special seminars educating parents about how to get vaccine exemptions so that they can enroll their unvaccinated children in public schools.
A look at the presentations reveals that rather than presenting “the truth,” one speaker after another is making unsupported, unscientific claims and then offering their own special therapy. The one thing that most of these presentations have in common is that the speaker is making money from selling their so-called treatments. For example, Anat Baniel offers her self-named “Anat Baniel method” and is promoting it through ads in the conference program. Other speakers are offering special diets, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and in perhaps the most damaging treatment, Mark and David Geier’s chemical castration therapy. Mark Blaxill is there, still pushing the thoroughly disproven link between mercury and autism, and hawking his book on the topic.
The other major theme of the conference is conspiracies: how the government, big pharma, and the scientific establishment are all conspiring to hide “the truth” about autism, which the speaker will reveal to the audience. Coincidentally, many of the speakers also offer treatments, for a fee.
This year’s speakers include Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield, as usual, but also a new entry: Luc Montagnier.