Professor Richard Lathe. Brain, Autism and Environment Part I: Strange Bedfellows

22 Aug

Richard Lathe, ex Edinburgh University and currently of Pieta Research has recently published a new book on Autism Brain and Environment.

The book build on his recent study – discussed here – that attempted to show a link between Porphyrin excretion in urine and ASD.

It transpired that there were notable question marks over the means of expression and design of that study and Professor Lathe was generous enough with his time to participate in a respectful exchange of views via email to discuss these question marks and also to widen the discussion out to his new book.

As regards the paper, I had two main issues with it. Firstly, I was curious as to the role of established DAN! zealot Ms. Lorene Amet. Secondly – and this is peripheral to Ms Amet’s participation – how did the study account for the question mark over low creatinine being noted by several people, including DAN! doctors such as Ms Amet.

I’ll quote now from our email correspondance. I asked Lathe how Amet had come to be involved in the study and why she had not mentioned the DAN! accepted potential of low creatinine given that the study would be utilising it as a constant to express ratios against.

Ms Amet was not a primary contributor to the paper and none of us, as far as I am aware, discussed creatinine with her. I personally have no connection with DAN et al. Her independent association with biomedical remediation was after the porphyrin results were out (first draft of the Nataf paper in the last quarter of 2004). To my mind, it is unreasonable and distracting to critique the data on what authors do after the analysis. Perhaps you should leave this aside.

Which is fair enough. However, to suggest she didn’t know is not likely and to suggest that the study was unalterable is interesting. At the very least this should have been mentioned and addressed – if only to discount it. It is a very large question mark over the results.

When I pressed Lathe further on Amet’s involvement, he had this to say:

Re Dr. Amet, her participation was difficult and her role in the study marginal. I have no further comment to make.

It seemed a nerve had been touched. Earlier in our conversation I had alluded to Ms Amet’s role as Editor along with Boyd Haley and Andrew Wakefield of the non peer reviewed journal Medical Veritas to which Lathe had opined:

May I add my informal view that Medical Veritas is a load of quasi-scientific mumbo jumbo, and detracts from attempts to address the real issues.

An opinion I’m in complete agreement with. I had also referred to Amet as Lathe’s partner, by which I meant writing partner. However, I got the following reply:

Sorry, the lady is not my partner, my wife has that chore.

To which I apologised, clarified I had meant writing partner and moved on.

Now I’m as curious as the next person and something here wasn’t ringing true at all. A poke around revealed that they had (at least at one time) been an item:

Lloyd Allanson was diagnosed with autism last year His drawings have been selected for exhibition by his mother Lorene Amet and her partner Richard Lathe.

Source.

So what? I hear you ask. All this is evidence of is a bad break up that Lathe doesn’t want to talk about. Not my business or yours, right? True enough but at the same time its more than a little misleading to describe her slide into biomed as ‘independant’ when it clearly was not. It made me question everything that Lathe told me from that point on.

Back to the creatinine. In reference to the lowered creatinine potential of autistic kids, Lathe said:

1.There was no significant decline in urinary CRT levels in any of the autism groups, though there was a non-significant trend to a reduced level.
2. Reduced CRT, and increased porphyrin, both appear to be markers of environmental toxicity.

Neither of which is discussed in the paper at all and which Lathe went on to say was ‘pointless’ to publish. I disagreed. I think it was a) dishonest to distance the paper from Amet when its clear there was both a professional and personal connection. Lorene Amet discusses the paper at length in the minutes of the May 2005 Action Against Autism (now Autism Treatment Trust) and knew quite a lot about it. I would not describe her knowledge as ‘marginal’. Hence I have strong reservations about what Professor Lathe judges to be significant and what is not. It seems to me that this matter could easily be settled by publication of *all* data. However, to his credit, Lathe admitted that:

The long and short of it is that the response of CRT to different levels of heavy metal toxicity has not been studied adequately.

Also not studied adequately is a key concept the paper (and subsequently the book – to be addressed in a later post) rely heavily on. Lathe made a point regarding excretion of metals:

We have not looked at the metals themselves because (a) the body burden of heavy metals does not parallel excretion (b) there is a possible deficit in heavy metal mobilization.

(a) is interesting but (b) is fascinating. This ‘possible deficit’ becomes a key concept of the book and the seasoned warriors amongst us (of both sides) will recognise that Lathe is talking about the Holmes et al paper. Lathe started off by lauding it greatly. However, when I pointed out the shortcomings of the paper:

This study has been criticized, among other reasons, because its findings have not been duplicated and are not consistent with two other studies that used better methods. (See Def. Reply Brief, Document #102, Expert Report of Susan E. Folstein, Ex. 2 at 4 (“Thus, the study by Holmes is highly suspect – it used a peculiar sample, a suspect laboratory (IOM 2004) and uncertain methods of statistical analysis, and it offered a highly idiosyncratic interpretation of data.”).)

Justice Beaty

In a case-control study, the mean hair-mercury level was significantly lower in a group of 94 children with autism (0.47 ppm) than in a group of 45 matched controls (3.6 ppm), leading the authors to speculate that enhanced mercury retention plays a role in the etiology of autism (Holmes, Blaxill, & Haley, 2003). The mean hair-mercury level in the control children was much higher than would be expected, however, as the geometric mean in 1- to 5-year-old U.S. children is 0.12 ppm (McDowell et al., 2004). This suggests that the control samples in this study might have been contaminated.

Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Vol. 6 No.3 p. 83

…which confirm the blog posts of Prometheus and DoC

and to which Lathe responded:

The same hair samples analysed by Holmes were reanalysed by a different technique and the result confirmed (Hu et al.)

which was a paper I hadn’t read so I went ahead and did read it and was surprised that Lathe was relying on this paper. The study listed three participants and the way the hair samples were collected were in contradiction with a statement from Mark Blaxill (which i cannot find) that specified baby’s _first_ haircuts _must_ be used. I summed it up thusly:

a) it is important that they are first baby haircuts – in which case Hu is irrelevant, or b) it isn’t important – in which case the bulk of the evidence shows that there is something wrong with the Holmes data.

Lathe’s answer was:

I agree with your caveats. One must hope that someone will independently confirm or refute the Holmes study.

This is not a minor point. A large part of both the paper and (even more so) the book need the Holmes papers findings to be right. It was at this point that I started to suspect that the book might contain equally glaring reliances and errors. This suspicion was confirmed when I read Mike’s thorough examination of chapter four of Lathe’s book. Chapter Four is the base from which the book expounds its theory. Mike kicked that base away comprehensively.

But there are other areas of Lathe’s theory that need addressing. In Part II, I’ll be doing that.

19 Responses to “Professor Richard Lathe. Brain, Autism and Environment Part I: Strange Bedfellows”

  1. mike stanton August 22, 2006 at 19:25 #

    Your conversations with Lathe have thrown up some interesting questions. To some extent the confusion about his domestic arrangements might be seen as none of our business. But the business of Amet’s role in the research does seem problematical.

    And now there are question marks over the scientific basis of his theory that are as serious as the questions I raised concerning epidemiology and New Phase Autism. Has the Porphyrin paper aroused any academic comment beyond the peerless realms of Bloggerdom?

  2. laurentius-rex August 22, 2006 at 19:30 #

    Told you he was a wrong un.

    Along with Stephen Pinker, and Richard Dawkins (no I can’t put him in the frame yet I just don’t like him, I am willing to bet though he is not autistic friendly in his personal habits and beliefs)

    Pinker though politically malo doesn’t like Chomsky but for different reasons to why I don’t like Chomsky.

    It annoys me that his (Pinkers not Perky’s) book I am reading is couched in scientific analogy and justification yet is so full of bias and obvios political colouration.

    Well how will he plead? “I can’t help it your honour it’s in my selfish genes”.

  3. Brian Deer August 22, 2006 at 19:56 #

    Pieta Research appears to be a website. Anybody know why he left Edinburgh university?

  4. Kev August 22, 2006 at 20:00 #

    Yup, I do. I’ll be talking about that at some point very shortly as well. It has some bearing on this. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of stuff I need to get hold of first.

  5. Joseph August 23, 2006 at 02:31 #

    Re: Richard Dawkins; assuming he accepts the view that autism is highly heritable, he must be neutral about autism, a set of selfish genes. If the selfish genes manage to make it and be passed down, there’s nothing wrong with them being around in high frequencies.

  6. Broken Link August 24, 2006 at 12:52 #

    Kev, the link to the souce of the story about Lloyd Allanson doesn’t work – it just goes to a general Scotsman page.

  7. Kev August 24, 2006 at 13:23 #

    Yeah, The Scotsman have an odd archiving system – that page now seems removed and they don’t keep a permanent library – probably to cut costs.

    Same story is referenced in full here.

  8. Ruth August 24, 2006 at 14:32 #

    Amet does make a point in the article that I agree with. Life is faster-paced now, with more distractions. I have a hard time dealing with cell phones and the crush of information coming at me every day. My childhood in a rural area gave me a better environment to grow in than the suburban place we live now. My daughter doesn’t seem odd when we sit near a creek and watch for dragonflies and minnows. Many of my odd relatives live nicely on their own 40 acres.

  9. laurentius-rex August 24, 2006 at 20:19 #

    “Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer:
    Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.”

  10. Richard Lathe August 25, 2006 at 00:20 #

    Kevin
    By your postings, that I saw tonight, you break all the terms of our informal agreement that we share info and opinion without prejudice.
    Seriously, tell me, Kevin, the purpose of your breach. What do you hope to achieve?
    You have sold honesty, fair-mindedness, and civility, down the road.
    Comment?
    R

  11. Kev August 25, 2006 at 06:01 #

    No comment yet Richard. However I do have my reasons and those will become clear once I have established all the facts of the situation.

  12. Do'C August 25, 2006 at 06:18 #

    Dr. Lathe,

    On the surface, your comment could seem largely emotional. I can certainly understand you potentially being upset about the situation, as I am of the opinion (currently) that your version of the science may not be on solid ground for several reasons. Perhaps you are concerned about the same, and are uncomfortable about it. Perhaps you are right, and I am completely wrong.

    It’s actually refreshing to see an author/scientist bring their complaint to the table though.

    What do you have as far as facts to address the points discussed, questions raised, or your concerns about lack of objectivity (prejudice)?

  13. Ms Clark August 25, 2006 at 06:21 #

    I think that anyone who puts stock in the Amy Holmes, et al baby hair study has some explaining to do.

    It’s a piece of trash. The “control” hair appears to have been contaminated, at any rate, there’s no reason on earth for a university based scientist to be using, “Doctor’s Data Inc.” mail order lab for testing.

    They had to discard Will Redwood’s hair because he didn’t fit the profile of having “low” mercury… but all the autistic kids had normal amounts of mercury in their hair. Since mercury is ubiquitous, all kids are likely to have a little in their hair. That’s what the NHANES study established, isn’t it?

    One of the co-authors of the Holmes study (Mark Blaxill) is a total non-scientist, and utterly conflicted. It’s like a bad joke.

  14. Broken Link August 25, 2006 at 12:56 #

    I think it would be appropriate to allow Richard Lathe to respond to the substance of Kev’s post, rather than heaping scorn on him. As far as I know, Richard is not a DAN doctor, and I personally do not believe that all DAN-ites are utterly lacking in truth. Politeness is never a mistake.

  15. Do'C August 25, 2006 at 15:40 #

    “I think it would be appropriate to allow Richard Lathe to respond to the substance of Kev’s post, rather than heaping scorn on him. As far as I know, Richard is not a DAN doctor, and I personally do not believe that all DAN-ites are utterly lacking in truth. Politeness is never a mistake.”

    I agree. I’d like to hear his take on:
    Holmes et al.
    Potential implications of rationing to creatinine.
    Autism epidemiology in light of Mike Stanton’s discussion.
    DAN! consensus opinion and practices

  16. Richard Lathe September 7, 2006 at 00:12 #

    I have no doubt that you all have a serious concern re autism
    It is my belief that professionals must engage with concerned parties.
    However
    There are rules
    1. Personal correspondence and views may not be cited without permission. These are confidential to the author and recipient.
    2. No aspect of critique must be personal. Scientific assement does not allow mention of color, creed, religion.
    3. Critique must be respectful.
    4. Critique must be through reference to substantiating literature.
    5. Critique will accept that there are many acceptable ways to advance or disprove a hypothesis.
    6. Differences of opinion are best addressed through exchange in the scientific literature
    7. Differences of opinion are not addressed through emotive comment.

  17. Heraldblog September 7, 2006 at 01:55 #

    Dr. Lathe,
    You are correct, sir, to say that we all have a serious concern regarding autism. As I write this, my autistic 11 year old son is tugging on my arm and screaming “Pluto IS a planet!” But more to the point, we are concerned with respect for the scientific method, and the disdain for accountability shown by certain doctors and scientists. The respectability of science is not a cloak one uses to conceal ignorance, preconceived notions, or lust for lucre. It is instead a tool, and whether it is used for good or bad is the only agenda you will find on this board.

  18. Ms Clark September 7, 2006 at 01:58 #

    Personally, if I had been in Kev’s shoes and had you suddenly ended the conversation as you did, Dr. Lathe, I would have claimed “fair use” and published your words as Kev did.

    Sometimes the public’s need to know what a person said is more important than anything else. This is why (at least in the US) public figures have less legal control over their words and their image (as in photographs). You are a public figure, Dr. Lathe.

    I personally don’t think your science is good and it potentially puts children at risk (by way of unneeded chelation treatments). The porphyrin study your name is on is very unimpressive. Your book and it’s representation of autism epidemiology is ridiculous in the extreme. Sorry, that’s not respectful, but your ideas are dangerous to autistic adults you deny that they exist at the same rate that children exist. You condemn them to never getting the proper diagnosis as no on will be looking for them among the ‘retarded,” “depressed,” “anxious” or “neurotic”, “schizoid”, “bipolar,” “Tourettic” or “schizophrenic.” I don’t think you care who you hurt, I think you want to sell your book. That’s my opinion. Sorry if it hurts your feelings.

    You want to talk citations? Let’s talk Gernsbacher, Goldsmith and Dawson (2005). Let’s talk about a widening definition of autism and a greater understanding of it’s prevalence.

    Ehlers-Danlos syndrome went from being very rare to being supposed to be found in 1 in 150,000 a decade ago to being estimated to be found in 1 in 5000 now. That’s a genetic disorder with various genes causing it.

    So was there an EDS epidemic?

    NO. EDS can be hard to spot by the untrained, as can autism.

    Shame on you for pushing an autism “epidemic,” and on the back of junk science like the Holmes et al baby hair paper no less.

  19. Ms Clark September 7, 2006 at 02:00 #

    Pluto’s not a planet?? 🙂

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