Dr. Johnson testifies in the Autism Omnibus Hearing

24 May

Dr. Johnson’s testimony was fabulous and I think it’s safe to say that it wreaks more devastation on the petitioners'(the parents) case. As of this moment, I can’t give you a lot of detail about Dr. Johnson’s qualifications, unfortunately. For some reason a portion of the audio recording (MP3) that would have included Dr. Johnson’s statement of his qualifications is missing.

One thing I think is important to point out here is that the respondents experts’ (written) reports, and even the list of the respondents’ experts has not been posted to the Autism Omnibus docket. The parents’ lawyers (the Petitioners Steering Committee, or PSC) do have their experts list posted to the docket. Some time ago (I think it was more than a year ago) the Department of Justice attorneys asked the Special Master if the Federal Court would refrain from posting the lists of the respondent’s experts for fear that their experts would be subjected to harassment. That request doesn’t seem to be on the docket now, but it used to be. It’s likely that after the experts were listed the first time the experts for the government were harassed. This would be in keeping with the way different experts, and even parents such as myself and Kevin Leitch and others, have been harassed by “mercury parents” or their friends. You can see from the Autism Omnibus Proceedings Docket Here: http://www.uscfc.uscourts.gov/node/2718 that the there are no more postings of lists of respondents’ experts after mid 2006. There’s an entry from March of 2007 that is called, “Respondent’s Notice of Expert Witnesses,” but there’s no document now linked to that entry.

The point I’m trying to make about the missing expert list is: I can’t pull up the list of expert witnesses for the respondents (the US government, essentially) for this hearing because it’s not available. So I can’t find out easily who Dr. Johnson is, though he is a professor at university, and has a lab, and has published on neurophyisology and neurodegenerative diseases, and he uses tissue slides and tissue cultures. Worse, “Johnson” is a very common name so if you go looking for experts named Johnson who publish in neurodegenerative diseases, you’ll find 3 or 4 of them in pubmed. The DoJ lawyer here is one of Mr. Matanoski’s team of attorneys. As far as I can tell the junior attorneys on the team are Bo (Beau?) Johnson, Ms. Ricciardella, Ms. Renzi and Ms. Espinoza (Espinosa?).

I don’t know which lawyer is examining Dr. Johnson. From her voice, I’m guessing (again) that it’s Ms. Renzi. Again this is my transcribing of what was said, some of it is word for word, some of it is a close paraphrase of what was said you can find the following somewhere around 8 minutes 43 seconds on the second MP3 file from Day 7 (May 20). Here is some of the very interesting testimony from Dr. Johnson:

Ms. Renzi: Dr. Deth cited a paper by Mady Hornig in support of his arguments. You mentioned that the mouse strain Dr. Hornig used was selected because it had a stronger immune response, but took issue with Dr. Deth’s explanation of the rationale behind the use of the strain. … Deth said hers was a mouse strain harboring genetic deficits in redox related enzymes… What strain of mouse was used?

Dr. Johnson: It was an SJL-J mouse. (Dr. Deth) was inferring that there was a redox enzyme differential, or some kind of differential (in this strain) and that’s absolutely not true. The mice have a this increased immune response and that’s why they were selected. … There’s absolutely no data supporting the fact that there is a redox enzyme differential. Now I can understand the reason that it’s in there because it supports his hypothesis… but it’s not an accurate representation of these mice.

Renzi: Do you have confidence in Dr. Hornig’s reported results?

Johnson: Uh, no.

Renzi: Part of that has to do with the hippocampal sections, correct?

Johnson: The quality of the images,… I’ll point this out, (the sections from the Hornig paper) .. What you can see is when you look at these images–to me these images are absolutely awful, now the staining here is hematoxylin and eosin, and it’s supposed to stain for architecture and cell integrity and a variety of other things. The pictures are diffuse, there’s no clear neuronal fields. Right here there is weak staining. … If you look here, the cells that are dark right there, those are the neuronal fields. The quality is just extremely low. … Quality of the sections themselves are low. … Let’s put it this way, I’ve seen this in my lab before. I’ve seen people come to me with sections stained like this. I’ll say: Something’s wrong. OK? The tissue wasn’t prepared right. There’s something definately wrong here. Because these do not maintain the nice cellular architecture that you should see if the experiment is done right and the tissue is harvested correctly.

Renzi: Problems with these slides led you to doubt the findings of the Hornig paper? Has a recent paper contradicted Hornig’s findings? …

Johnson: The… comparable fields in the Berman paper. To me they are absolutely beautiful. … It looks very, very, very good.

Renzi: … What dose of thimerosal was used in the Berman paper?

Johnson: …They also used a does that was 10 times higher…

Renzi: Did both studies (stain with antibodies)?

Johnson: There is a distinct difference between Berman and Hornig studies’ slides… If you look at the architecture of the tissue in the Berman study…. (there is) nice staining in the hippocampus….

Special Master:… (interrupt for clarification)

Johnson: … Berman sections are the two sections on the left side… What you can see is there’s very nice staining in the field, the neuronal field are not staining intensely (which is what they are expected to show)

Now if you look at the upper 4 panels on the right side these are from the similar panels from the Hornig study. The first thing that I want to point out is that if you look at the tissue, it’s full of holes… Look at this enhanced image right here, the bottom two panels C and D from the Hornig. You can see that the tissue almost looks like it’s disintegrating, It’s breaking down. There’s holes all over in the tissue.

I know from experience when you see tissue like this the amount of nonspecific staining by antibodies could be intense.

Basically, if someone came to me with this kind of staining in my laboratory I would say to go back and do the whole experiment again,… I would not want… for one these are unpublishable to me, and two the potential for artifactual data to be generated from this kind of (poor quality tissue) is extremely high. … This is very important. You know, you can do whatever you want after you’ve got the tissue, but it’s the process of getting the tissue so that the quality is extremely good. You need to start with high quality tissue.

… The Berman tissue was absolutely perfect. … The sections are beautiful.

One thing I took away from Dr. Johnson’s testimony is that there’s no way that the Hornig paper should

have made it past a competent peer review and into a “peer reviewed” publication. The Hornig paper has a few other problems that have been discussed before, but these problems never been reported in into a letter to the journal that published that paper, Molecular Psychology, as they should have. (Click here to download a copy of that paper from the SAFE MINDS website.)

Hornig wrote that paper with her main squeeze, Ian Lipkin, and with David Chian. This research was funded by the UC Davis MIND Institute, SAFE MINDS and by part of an NIH grant of Ian Lipkin’s. Surely someone knew how bad those tissue slides were even before it was submitted to the journal. Surely someone at the journal should have had a person with some kind of expertise review the article. Surely in 2004 some person with expertise would have noticed the problems with the degraded and uninterpretable tissue slides in the Hornig paper. I didn’t notice any problems with the slides when I read the paper because I don’t know what stained tissue of mouse hippocampus is supposed to look like and neither would most of the mercury parents who have tried to use this paper to show that their own child was made autistic by vaccines containing thimerosal.

The MIND Institute scientists must have seen the problems with Mady Hornig’s study, but they invited her to come speak about her thimerosal-causes-susceptible-mice-to-become-mindlessly-violent-killers hypothesis at the conference I call the “MIND’s mini-DAN!”. Video of her speaking at that conference is still available on the MIND’s website here: http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/mindinstitute/events/toxicology_recorded_events.html

And you can see video of John Green speaking there, too. He was described in the most glowing terms by Dr. Robert Hendren. Maybe Dr. Hendren didn’t know about the “earthworm eggs” and “fecal implantation enemas” that Dr. Green had prescribed to some of his patients. After Green spoke, Dr. Hendren knew about the problems with Green’s citing of a provoked urine toxic heavy metals lab result from Doctor’s Data Inc that was in Dr. Green’s slides, because I told Dr. Hendren about the problem with that lab report. As far as I could tell, Dr. Hendren wasn’t particularly worried about that. The video of Dr. Green “explaining” what that lab test meant to him is still on the MIND’s website. I have a problem with that, since parents can watch those videos and make poor treatment decisions for their children based on them. On the other hand, those videos seem to stand as a testimony to something less than scientific that seems to be going on at the MIND Institute. To UC Davis’ credit however, the Berman (2008) study that totally contradicts the Hornig (2004) study was also conducted at UCD.

Dr. Johnson has plenty of interesting things to say about Dr. Richard Deth and his neuroblastoma cell line experiments. Apparently, Dr. Deth will be back to testify again in the autism omnibus. Perhaps he will explain why he seemed to cut his experiments short (time-wise) and why he called neuroblastoma cells “neronal cells” when they should not be called neuronal cells, and why he didn’t show critically important “dose response curves”.credit: taminsea

I may have to devote a separate post to the issue of Deth taking data from (but not citing) a 1958 paper (pdf) that reported the level of cystathionine in duck brains (besides duck, also, human, cat, rat, guinea pig, horseshoe crab, chicken, cow and monkey).

13 Responses to “Dr. Johnson testifies in the Autism Omnibus Hearing”

  1. Matt May 24, 2008 at 02:20 #

    Dr. Johnson sounded like he really knew his stuff. He had the depth of knowledge that is unfortunately missing in the petitioners’ experts.

    He is not an expert on autism, though. I’m sure that will play prominently in the discussions from those who believe autism is caused by vaccines. Big deal.

    The real big deal is this–how can we get him and people like him to work on autism? The guy would be an asset.

    As to the Hornig stuff–I can’t believe she was going to talk at AutismOne. Sorry, but when your research is torn apart like that in public, it’s time to apologize and move on, not keep hashing it out.

    Ms Clark does not go into the details of how completely this study was torn apart, but what there is above is bad enough. Just take away the fact that there is a lot more in the testimony.

  2. isles May 24, 2008 at 02:39 #

    I’m really shaking my head at how easy it apparently is to get poor-quality research into journals with fancy names. The Hornig study is only one of many. I wonder whether the editors of these journals realize that by publishing this stuff, they are complicit in the mistreatment of autistic children.

  3. Ms. Clark May 24, 2008 at 02:47 #

    I realize it’s not fair to pick on experts if their voices are not easy to listen to (say they are monotonous like Deth’s voice) or if they have an odd pronunciations or speech impediments (like Aposhian’s voice sounded a little slurred to me). And it’s also not fair to credit people with qualities just based on their voice (like Dr. Mumper sounded very normal and Dr. Kinsbourne had this tone of absolute rock-solid factuality because he sounded like a Viennese professor… to me that’s sort of the caricature voice of “expertise”). Johnson not only had a voice that was very easy to listen to, he was relaxed and very confident of what he was saying and also was able to inject a little humor here and there, as when he had the Special Masters and Ms. Renzi imagine that they were each a brain cell in order to illustrate a point: “You special master, you’ll be an astroglial cell… and you, you’ll be a neuron. You’ll be a microglia, and you’re another neuron.”

    For me, the most enjoyable voice to listen to in the Omnibus proceedings is Eric Fombonne, but others object to his rather heavy (but fascinating) French accent. 🙂

    I liked the voice of the guy (in Cedillo) who gave testimony on the phone from England. He had worked with Wakefield, too… can’t remember his name at the moment. He squashed Wakefield’s work pretty effectively.

    Mr. Matanoski also has a very nice voice. I wish we had a court artist’s drawings of what the principles look like in the court.

    I picture Tom Powers as looking slick but unpleasant, sort of troll-like in a barbie pink suit, baby blue patent leather shoes, white socks and with a thick gold chain with a gold pendant shaped like a dollar sign ($) filled with pavé diamonds. Hey, I can picture him any way I like, right?

  4. Ms. Clark May 24, 2008 at 02:59 #


    I’m shaking my head, too. I know that someone (professional) had written a letter in response to the Hornig study, but the editor of the journal had refused to publish it. That was way back in 2004 or 2005. It’s really shocking to me to think about it.

  5. Kristina May 24, 2008 at 04:53 #

    The Autism Omnibus is becoming a test case for the level of scientific literacy in the US……

    Maybe a fedora too?

  6. Ms. Clark May 24, 2008 at 05:40 #


    Yes, maybe a large brimmed, pink fedora with a huge black ostrich plume stuck in a ribbon band, the plume sort of falling down Tom Powers’ back…. yes… did I mention gold capped teeth with diamond dollar signs inlaid in them?

  7. María Luján May 24, 2008 at 19:41 #

    Looking at the testimony of Dr Johnson you mentioned , I do not understand this aseveration
    Dr. Johnson: It was an SJL-J mouse. (Dr. Deth) was inferring that there was a redox enzyme differential, or some kind of differential (in this strain) and that’s absolutely not true.
    No? this has been published on the issue
    Free Radic Biol Med. 2003 Dec 15;35(12):1645-52.

    Spontaneous hypomorphic mutations in antioxidant enzymes of mice.
    Guo Z, Higuchi K, Mori M.
    Department of Aging Biology, Institute on Aging and Adaptation, Shinshu University Graduate School of Medicine, Asahi, Matsumoto, Japan.
    An antioxidant enzymatic system is pivotal for aerobic animals to minimize the damage induced by reactive oxygen species. Spontaneous mutant animals with altered antioxidant enzyme activity should be useful for the study of the function of these enzymes in vivo. We examined the nucleotide sequences of the genes for the major antioxidant enzymes, including catalase (Cat), superoxide dismutase (Sod1, Sod2, Sod3), glutathione peroxidase (Gpx1, Gpx2, Gpx3, Gpx4, Gpx5), and glutathione reductase (Gsr) in 10 inbred mouse strains. Nonsynonymous nucleotide polymorphisms were identified in all genes, except for Gpx1, Gpx3, and Gpx4. Notably, the SJL/J mouse strain possessed unique nucleotide substitutions in the Gsr and Sod2 genes, which led to Asp39Ala and Val138Met amino acid substitutions in GSR and SOD2, respectively. The specific activity of GSR of SJL/J mice was reduced to 65% of that of NZB/N mice. In vivo activity, however, was higher in SJL/J, due to upregulated expression of the enzyme. The SOD2 activity in SJL/J mice was reduced to half that of other mouse strains. Consistent with this reduction, oxidative damage in the mitochondria was increased as demonstrated by a decrease of total glutathione and an increase in the levels of protein oxidation. These spontaneous hypomorphic alleles would be valuable in the study of free radical biology.

    Chakrabarty, A., M. R. Emerson, et al. (2003). “Heme oxygenase-1 in SJL mice with experimental allergic encephalomyelitis.” Mult Scler 9(4): 372-81.
    The expression of heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) is increased in the CNS of mice and rats with experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE), an animal model of multiple sclerosis (MS). To investigate the role of HO-1 in EAE, a putative inhibitor [tin-protoporphyrin IX (Sn-PP IX)] of HO-1 was administered to SJL mice during active disease. Sn-PP IX (200 micromol/kg) attenuated clinical scores, weight loss, and some signs of pathology in comparison to vehicle treatment. Glutathione levels were greater in treated EAE mice than in those receiving vehicle, indicating lower oxidative stress in the former group. These data suggest that inhibition of HO-1 attenuated disease and suppressed free radical production. In the SJL model of EAE, extravasated blood is present in the CNS, and iron released by HO-1 from this heme source may not be adequately sequestered by ferritin, allowing for iron-mediated tissue damage. Thus, HO-1 may act to amplify the disease process in this model.
    About the SJL-J mice

    Probably finally the SJL/J is not a good “complete” model for an abnormal immune system ONLY , but be cause other reasons

    We found a reduction of dysferlin-specific bands on western blots of muscle samples from SJL mice from different sources (SJL/J, SJL/Olac). The reduction was to approximately 15% of the levels detected in dysferlin-competent animals and human samples run on the same blot .

    We have demonstrated that the histopathological and clinical phenotypes of the SJL mice are compatible with a progressive muscular dystrophy. This mouse will become a useful animal model for studying the pathomechanisms of dysferlin deficiency and, moreover, for applying therapeutic rescue strategies. Considering that the SJL mouse has been widely used as a model for different human diseases, and for experimental research on muscle regeneration and transplantation for more than 30 years, it is not without irony that the SJL mouse is now found to have a genetically determined degenerative muscle disease of its own. Experimental results obtained with SJL mice before the identification of the deleted SJL-Dysf allele will have to be reevaluated, and our results will have implications beyond LGMD2B and MM myopathies


    Histological and Immunohistological Changes of the Skeletal Muscles in Older SJL/J Mice
    Myopathy has been found to develop spontaneously in 100% of SJL/J mice between 6 and 8 months of age. Extent of muscular involvement and mouse strength were quantified in SJL/J mice and Balb/c control mice 2-16 months old. Muscle from young SJL/J mice exhibited histopathological abnormalities and occasional inflammatory infiltrate. By 6 months, 78% of SJL/J mice had developed active myopathy. By 8 months, all SJL/J mice examined had active disease with a mean of 12.9% of muscle fibers affected. Replacement of muscle fibers by fat and/or collagen began at 10 months and was pronounced by 14 months. Significant decreases in strength scores (total body pulling force) at 6 months and 10 months of age reflected the onset of active myopathy and the onset of muscle degeneration, respectively. The spontaneous onset and 100% incidence of myopathy in the SJL/J mouse line should provide a useful model for idiopathic myopathy.

    About the tissue preparation and preservation, it seems a topic of continuous research- and I do not know about the current standard of quality, because it is not my field. I would want to know about the acceptable current status of the quality of the slices to be published.

  8. daedalus2u May 24, 2008 at 20:04 #

    Ms Clark, are you suggesting that Respondents’ experts have been harassed in ways that Petitioners’ experts have not been harassed? That would imply harassment by people trying to influence the outcome of the trial by subjecting witnesses to duress. I would think that would rise to the level of criminal obstruction of justice and witness tampering. All I can say is that I am shocked, shocked to find that witness harassment is going on in here!

  9. Ms. Clark May 24, 2008 at 20:27 #


    Dr. Mady Hornig, remember, she’s the one who left male SJL-J mice in cages together past the time the Jax folks (the supplier) says they should be kept together and then videotaped them attacking each other (by chewing through a ‘cell mates’ cranium), she picked these mice because they had a problem with redox metabolism???? Huh?


    She picked them because they had a known autoimmune reaction to mercury. They have a known. Autoimmune. Reaction. To. Mercury. She still was not able to get them to act autistic, neither was the Berman group who gave the same mice even 10 times as much thimerosal as Mady baby did.

    But your point is well taken. Maybe you could send those abstracts to the Mr. Thomas Powers, billionaire lawyer, and also to Dr. Johnson when we figure out which Dr. Johnson he is. Perhaps Dr. Johnson can explain what he was thinking or admit that he was unfamiliar with the abstracts you posted her.

    Thimerosal and MMR don’t cause autism. Period.

  10. Ms. Clark May 24, 2008 at 20:37 #

    Daedelus wrote:
    “Ms Clark, are you suggesting that Respondents’ experts have been harassed in ways that Petitioners’ experts have not been harassed? That would imply harassment by people trying to influence the outcome of the trial by subjecting witnesses to duress. I would think that would rise to the level of criminal obstruction of justice and witness tampering.”

    Yeah, shocking, isn’t it? I would think that the aside from the expert witnesses who were directly abused by fans of the mercury/vaccine hypothesis, that the DoJ lawyers were probably having a difficult time getting people to agree to be expert witnesses for them since the mercury parents have quite the reputation for openly attacking people they don’t like (and their family members).

    At one point the DoJ had Margaret Bauman listed as a witness for them, and then they later said that she wasn’t going to be a witness for them. I wonder if Margaret Bauman backed out for fear for her own safety?

    They’ve got some great experts now. Really big time experts in autism. I’m impressed. They have Sir Michael Rutter on tap.

  11. edouard May 25, 2008 at 15:22 #

    ms. clark

    Do you know that potential expert witnesses for the respondent were harassed or are you just speculating?

  12. daedalus2u May 26, 2008 at 23:14 #

    I was just at a talk by Sir Michael Rutter. He is pretty impressive. He is probably the most impressive speaker I have heard talk on autism. He talked about what he thought would be useful areas of research to address. A very “big picture” kind of person. Not just smart and knowledgeable but also wise.

    The fact that death threats have been made against those expressing their scientific judgment that vaccines do not cause autism is a matter of public record.

    “Physicians, scientists, government policy advisors, and child advocates who have publicly stated that vaccines don’t cause neurologic problems or autism have been harassed, threatened, and vilified, receiving hate mail and occasionally death threats.”

    published in:


  13. Ms. Clark June 3, 2008 at 04:48 #

    I think I figured out which Dr. Johnson it is who testified in the thimerosal case. He came back for the rebuttal portion on May 30th, the audio for that day’s testimony is now available and in that audio he gave his name as Jeffrey Johnson and his specialty as neurotoxicology… in which case he’s probably the Dr. Johnson who is a professor at Wisconsin-Madison school of pharmacology. The W-M website says:

    “Dr. Johnson received a B.S. in Biology (1984) and M.S. in Pharmacology (1986) from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Toxicology (1992) from the University of Wisconsin. He did postdoctoral training in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Washington and spent four years as an assistant professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center before joining the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy faculty in 1999. Dr. Johnson is the Director of the Pharmacology and Toxicology B.S. program. He is also a member of the Waisman Center, Center for Neuroscience, Neuroscience Training Program, Cellular and Molecular Biology Training Program, M.D/Ph.D. Training Program, Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Training Program, and Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology Training Program.”

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