Laura Hewitson has left the University of Pittsburgh

26 Jul

Laura Hewitson is the lead researcher on a series of studies on comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated macaque monkeys. This work became public first in the 2008 IMFAR conference. At that time and since, the work from these studies has been strongly criticized. Dr. David Gorski of Science Based Medicine discussed those abstracts. It is very likely that the new conflict of interest declaration policy for IMFAR resulted from Ms. Hewitson’s lack of declaration of her own COI at IMFAR (she has filed a claim with the vaccine court on behalf of her child). One paper resulting from that study was withdrawn before it was published (discussed by Countering Age of Autism and Respectful Insolence). More recently, a study from this series was published in which conclusions were drawn based on only 2 control animals. Those control animals underwent brain shrinkage during a critical period of infant growth. In other words, there was something seriously wrong with the control animals and, hence, the entire study. The study (and subsequent discussions by groups such as SafeMinds) spun the brain shrinkage around to claim that the “The vaccinated primates also showed altered maturation of their brains’s [sic] amygdalas.”

Ms. Hewitson has listed here professional affiliations as:

1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA, USA;
2Thoughtful House Center for Children, Austin, TX, USA;

In 2008 she was listed as Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences on the University of Pittsburgh’s website. That is the last date for an internet archive version of that page. A google cache version of the page from June 2010 listed her as “adjunct” Associate Professor. Adjunct faculty are typically part time or people from other institutions who are working in some capacity with the University.

Ms. Hewitson’s webpage link at Pitt is no longer active. She is no longer listed on the faculty page for the Pittsburgh Development Center (PDC). The PDC confirmed that she is no longer on the faculty there.

Before people start speculating, the most likely explanation is that it simply became too difficult to balance a career at Thoughtful House in Texas with a faculty appointment in Pennsylvania.

This will mean that in the future Ms. Hewitson will be unable to use her University of Pittsburgh affiliation to bolster the credibility of her research. Studies begun while at Pitt will likely continue to show that affiliation (such as the recently published study on the amygdalas of macaques).

Whatever the reason for her departure, I welcome it. I don’t believe that a fine institution like Pitt should have its name attached to the level of research in the recent paper. It is difficult to simply put into simply how poor the quality of that study was.

120 Responses to “Laura Hewitson has left the University of Pittsburgh”

  1. LAB July 26, 2010 at 19:04 #

    She probably left because she makes more $$ at Thoughtful House. Adjuncts usually make next to nothing.

    • Sullivan July 26, 2010 at 19:49 #

      LAB,

      she used to be regular faculty at Pitt. She was only adjunct in the past couple of years. She isn’t listed in the 2008 form 990 for Thoughtful House, so we won’t know how much she makes for some time.

  2. Travis July 26, 2010 at 20:46 #

    Good to see this news. The fewer people with faculty positions publishing garbage research the better. The cachet associated with such people gets milked by wooful supporters of all stripes and it is nice to have one fewer.

  3. Science Mom July 27, 2010 at 00:25 #

    Good for UPitt that they will no longer be associated with her awful ‘research’. But that is not to say that the University of Washington won’t be: http://www.thoughtfulhouse.org/research/index.php#clinical

  4. Chris July 27, 2010 at 01:13 #

    The UW Primate Center was used for another one of Hewitson’s study. Actually it was the one that was withdrawn. Also Burbacher is still at the UW.

  5. Science Mom July 27, 2010 at 02:12 #

    @Chris, U of Pitt Primate Centre was used in the withdrawn Neurotoxicology study. It was my impression that the same pool of macaques was used for all 3 IMFAR abstracts (phase I), which has turned out 2 published studies, the first being withdrawn from Neurotoxicology and the second, just published. And phase II will be in collaboration with U of WA, Seattle. I can’t find anything on their website though, maybe someone with better Google Fu can.

    • Sullivan July 27, 2010 at 03:14 #

      Science Mom,

      the paper withdrawn from Neurotoxicology is about to resurface, without Mr. Wakefield as an author, in another journal.

      Thoughtful House has been paying U-Washington since at least 2008 for research. In their 990 form for that year they list U. Washington in at least two places:

      (Code ) (Expenses $ 1,117,874 Including grants of $ ) (Revenue

      RESEARCH PROGRAM OVERVIEW–PRIMATE PROJECT (IMPACT OF ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS ON DEVELOPMENT, NEUROLOGIC, GASTROINTESTINAL, AND
      IMMUNOLOGICAL PARAMETERS IN INFANT RHESUS MACAQUES A COLLABORATIVE STUDY IN ASSOCIATION WITH UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON, AS WELL AS SIX
      OTHER UNIVERSITIES) HBOT CUNICAL TRIAL (ASSESSMENT OF THE SAFETY AND EFFICACY OF LOW PRESSURE HYPERBARIC OXYGEN THERAPY IN CHILDHOOD
      DEVELOPMENTAL DISORDERS) VENEZUELA COLLABORATION (CUNICAL EVALUATION AND COMPARISON OF GASTROINTESTINA

      Also,

      $318,876 is listed as an expense for U. Wash.

    • Sullivan July 27, 2010 at 03:39 #

      Science Mom,

      this document shows U. Washington working with Thoughtful House. No amounts listed. Just a mention under an appendix for other sources of funds.

  6. d July 27, 2010 at 02:51 #

    I’m no fan of Laura Hewitson’s research, but she does have valid academic credentials and I think you should refer to her as “Dr” rather than “Ms”. This is basic courtesy. I think that snidely misrepresenting her credentials is not helpful to the cause of evidence based practice. If you want to critique her work, there is plenty to dig into. I can’t help but notice that, even since he has been “struck off”, Andy Wakefield has never been downgraded to “Mr” in the skeptical press.

    • Sullivan July 27, 2010 at 03:07 #

      d,

      Ms. Hewitson holds a Ph.D.. That, not the academic appointment she once had, would grant her the right to be referred to as “Dr.” Given that she is doing medical research and many would consider “Dr.” to imply “M.D.” I have chosen to refer to her as “Ms”.

      I also refer to Mr. Wakefield as “Mr.” and not doctor. He does not treat nor does he have the right to treat people medically. I certainly don’t refer to him as “Andy” since I have never met him.

      • Sullivan July 27, 2010 at 03:47 #

        d,

        sorry if that was a bit terse. But, yes, I do chose to refer to Laura Hewitson, Ph.D., as Ms. Hewitson. Ms. is a respectful title for the person. Typically in this situation I would refer to her as “Prof. Hewitson” to distinguish her from a medical professional. Since she no longer holds an academic appointmtent, I can no longer use that title.

        Science Mom,

        you might also notice Ms. Hewitson’s COI statement on the Thoughtful House website:

        Dr. Laura Hewitson – No conflict to declare. Dr. Hewitson was previously a petitioner in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program on behalf of her minor child. At her request this case has been dismissed and any and all claims for compensation or other relief in this case have been legally and permanently terminated.

        I was unaware of that change.

  7. Chris July 27, 2010 at 03:58 #

    Science Mom, the link I posted had this: “b Washington National Primate Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, United States” in referenced to Gene Sackett.

    What part am I missing that points to Pitt?

  8. d July 27, 2010 at 04:17 #

    Perhaps this is simply a difference in professional cultures in the UK and the US. As far as I know, the term “Dr” is not used solely to denote medical doctors who treat patients. Someone who has earned a PhD has actually earned a “doctorate” is entitled to be called “Dr”. I don’t have a PhD myself, but I work in a professional environment, and it is considered a pretty grave personal insult refer to someone with a PhD as “Mr/Ms”. I’m not that concerned with Dr. H’s feelings, but I think that terminology which could be construed as, and indeed stands out as, a petty slight is a distraction from the issue at hand, which is the quality of the research she’s put her name on. It seems to me to be a kind of name-calling.

  9. Chris July 27, 2010 at 07:32 #

    Actually, it may depend on the work environment. I used to work in an engineering office with lots of PhDs. It was more relaxed, and the PhDs were only referred to as “Doctor” in the context of sarcasm (or when they gave a presentation to those who paid the bills, or presentations at conferences — the latter part being more rare). Or in reference to their specialty… the soils expert was the “Dirt Doctor.” Many preferred it that way, because they had escaped academia to be part of industry (something about tenure and university bureaucracy).

  10. Catherina July 27, 2010 at 11:45 #

    I absolutely agree with what d says in his/her last post. Dr. Hewitson has earned her degree and would rightfully expect to be addressed as “Dr. Hewitson”. To call her Ms. Hewitson would be an insult.

  11. Dawn July 27, 2010 at 13:59 #

    @d and Catherina: in the US, it is not uncommon to refer to a PhD as Mr or Mrs or MS in a context OUTSIDE of their academic work. My brother, an aunt and an uncle are all PhDs. I address formal and informal mail to them as Mr/Ms. However, if I was writing to them at their place of employment, I would address THOSE letters to Dr Smith since their titles are used there.

    In the US, again, if you are talking to the general public about Dr Hewitson, it would be assumed she was a physician (MD), not necessarily a PhD. Sullivan is simply using the common US usage.

    I recognize that Europe is different (I have been schooled that Mr Wakefield is not considered to have the title of doctor there, since he is a surgeon and does not possess a PhD).

  12. Catherina July 27, 2010 at 15:39 #

    Dawn, I get your point, however, Sullivan is not sending Dr. Hewitson a Christmas card. He is referring to her entirely in a professional context. According to my experience in the US, in a professional context, an active scientist with a PhD will either be “Dr. Hewitson” or “Laura” (mostly for colleagues after you’ve been introduced).

  13. Sullivan July 27, 2010 at 15:49 #

    The use of Mr., Mrs. or Ms. is appropriate. Consider this story by the New York Times. Temple Grandin, Ph.D. and an active academic is referred to as “Ms. Grandin”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/garden/02puppy.html

    The decision to refer to non medical doctors by titles other than “Dr.” is a conscious one and one I try to apply uniformly. It is new to me though. I chose this direction after discussione about Lorene Amet, who uses her title of Dr. In the context of giving out medical advise. I consider that inappropriate.

    What would have been more appropriate would have been to refer to her as Laura Hewitson, Ph.D. In the first instance and then as Ms Hewitson from then on.

  14. Catherina July 27, 2010 at 16:00 #

    Sullivan, I totally understand that you make this distinction and I don’t necessarily want to beat the horse even deader, however, Ms is not how Temple Grandin refers to herself (see title of page and several references to Dr. Grandin here http://www.templegrandin.com/) and I must say, the Ms. makes me flinch, also in your link to the Grandin article. I don’t encounter Ms (or Mr/Mrs) in a professional setting (apart from Germany, where people seem to be more hung up on gender than on titles in the non-medical world).

    • Sullivan July 27, 2010 at 17:29 #

      Catherina,

      I don’t think this discussion is beating a dead horse at all. I think it is a valuable discussion. My choice to use formal address is a conscious one and I want to make sure it is applied well.

      I chose to move away from using “Dr.” for non-medical professionals recently. As noted this was in relation to Lorene Amet, Ph.D., who in her position at the Autism *Treatment* Trust. I do not feel it appropriate to use “Dr.” in that case. Frankly, I thought she was a medical professional the first time I read something by her, where she signed the article “Dr. Lorene Amet”.

      Another recent example is that of OSR, the supplement/drug marketed by Boyd Haley, Ph.D.. He is marketing a substance which people are purchasing to “treat” their children. I do not want to refer to him as “Dr. Haley” in those pieces.

      Further examples from the New York Times-

      First, people winning the Nobel Prize in medicine–referred to as “Dr.”
      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/science/06nobel.html

      People winning the Nobel Prize in economics, referred to as “Mr.” and “Ms.”
      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/13/business/economy/13nobel.html?_r=1

  15. Science Mom July 27, 2010 at 16:11 #

    @Sullivan:

    Thoughtful House has been paying U-Washington since at least 2008 for research. In their 990 form for that year they list U. Washington in at least two places:

    Thanks for finding that. One wonders what will surface as a result of that rather dubious relationship. Also very curious, her voluntarily withdrawn OAP case. I wonder if a civil suit against the manufacturers is in the works.

    Also, d and Catherina are absolutely correct with regards to Dr. Hewitson’s title, credentials and how she should be referred to. Her loss of academic affiliation does not negate her title.

    @Chris:

    Science Mom, the link I posted had this: “b Washington National Primate Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, United States” in referenced to Gene Sackett.

    What part am I missing that points to Pitt?

    Dr. Sackett was a co-author on the withdrawn Neurotoxicology paper and 2 of the 3 IMFAR abstracts: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=100 but all of the primate work was carried out at U of Pitt. From Neurotoxicology:

    Twenty nursery-reared rhesus macaque infants served as study subjects at the Pittsburgh Development Center primate nursery.

    And from the recent Acta paper:

    Research protocols were approved by both the
    University of Pittsburgh and the Magee-Womens Research Institute and Foundation (MWRI&F) Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC).

    and:

    The animals reported here were part of a larger
    comprehensive 5 year study which included neurodevelopmental, behavioral and immunological observations.

    So it doesn’t appear as though the U of WA primate centre has been involved in any published research thus far.

  16. Autismnewsbeatmeoff July 27, 2010 at 16:36 #

    Damn Cat! Get back in that bag. Don’t ya know that all research not controlled by drug companies is non-credible research.

  17. Science Mom July 27, 2010 at 16:59 #

    Damn Cat! Get back in that bag. Don’t ya know that all research not controlled by drug companies is non-credible research.

    You do your argument no justice by using such infantile, offensive pseudonyms for starters and then by being just plain ignorant and/or lazy. The Hewitson studies have been thoroughly deconstructed as to why they are such piss poor science. What do you have to offer in rebuttal?

  18. Dedj July 27, 2010 at 17:14 #

    Few of the PhD’s I know in my social and academic circles are reffered to as Dr, and a few have expressed suprise and even annoyance/embarrasment at being reffered as such.

    To be fair, this may be because they might be reffered to as ‘Dr’ at work and they don’t want to be reminded of work when socialising.

    The exceptions are when being reffered to on their staff profiles or in formal correspondance, where you would be hard pushed to assume it means anything other than a PhD in thier field.

    Formal publications in my field are inconsistent in this, but generally list name and qualifications only, sometimes including those that are MD or MB BS, giving ‘Dr Xandsuch’ only in the author biographies or contact details. ‘Sue McHuw, PhD, Suchandsuch post, thisandthat place, p.o.box 42’ seems to be most common.

    One off exceptions have included referring to people as ‘Dr’ when they have announced the sucessful attainment of a PhD.

    Clinically, only MB BS or equivilant as reffered to as ‘Dr’ except in contexts where it’s clear that the ‘Dr’ refers to a PhD/DSci/DPhil in a related field. Her previous post was in a medical related field, and could feasibly be held by a MD, thus calling her Dr could imply she is an MD.

    Laura Hewitson, PhD, should not be reffered to as Dr., except in publications expressly related to her own field, or within a publication that has clearly laid out that she is not a medical doctor. Having said that, I don’t believe she should be referred to as Ms. , as she may not be a Ms. and her marital status is irrelevant anyway, but by her full name and academic title.

    Far from being name calling, it reiterates that her expertise is in this field, and not in medical practice.

  19. Dedj July 27, 2010 at 17:25 #

    Temple Grandon makes it clear in her title bar that her Dr title is a PhD, her post is unlikely to be confused with a veterinary post, and the context of her site makes it clear that she is not a medical doctor.

    Her livestock page does refer to her as Dr., but is self-evidently not the page of a medical doctor.

    Basically, you’re unlikely to ever be in a context where you hear of Dr Temple Grandin and are so bereft of contextual clues that a reasonable person would assume she is a medical doctor. This is not true of Laura Hewitson, PhD.

    As such, she is a very poor example to use as a comparison.

  20. Poopshovel July 27, 2010 at 18:51 #

    Science Momma says, “The Hewitson studies have been thoroughly deconstructed as to why they are such piss poor science. ”

    Oh yea. By Orac, Sullivan, TheProbe, Promethius, Autismnewsbeat, Christina Chew, Margarat Toigo, Ms. Clark, etc. What a bunch of characters. I bet I know what Paul Offit (vaccine profiteer), AAP, Roy Rob Grinker (astrologist), Eric Fombonne (psychiatrist and mercury safety expert)and the AMA also think of this research. Oh, I almost forgot Dr. Nancy Snyderstein (a real Doctor mind you)!

  21. Science Mom July 27, 2010 at 19:01 #

    Science Momma says, “The Hewitson studies have been thoroughly deconstructed as to why they are such piss poor science. ”

    Oh yea. By Orac, Sullivan, TheProbe, Promethius, Autismnewsbeat, Christina Chew, Margarat Toigo, Ms. Clark, etc. What a bunch of characters. I bet I know what Paul Offit (vaccine profiteer), AAP, Roy Rob Grinker (astrologist), Eric Fombonne (psychiatrist and mercury safety expert)and the AMA also think of this research. Oh, I almost forgot Dr. Nancy Snyderstein (a real Doctor mind you)!

    I still notice that you have not added anything substantive to support your implication that the Hewitson et al. studies are reliable and biologically-supported. You’re doing nothing but attacking the messengers. Grow up already.

  22. Orac July 27, 2010 at 19:19 #

    d,

    Ms. Hewitson holds a Ph.D.. That, not the academic appointment she once had, would grant her the right to be referred to as “Dr.” Given that she is doing medical research and many would consider “Dr.” to imply “M.D.” I have chosen to refer to her as “Ms”.

    Gonna disagree really, really strongly on this. Dr. Hewitson holds a PhD and therefore has the right to be called “Dr.” Period. What you’re doing is by refusing to accord her the basic respect of her title is the same sort of thing that antivaxers routinely do, and I’m disappointed to see you do it. Quite frankly, it’s petty.

  23. Orac July 27, 2010 at 19:23 #

    I chose to move away from using “Dr.” for non-medical professionals recently. As noted this was in relation to Lorene Amet, Ph.D., who in her position at the Autism Treatment Trust. I do not feel it appropriate to use “Dr.” in that case.

    You are, quite simply, very wrong here. What you’re doing is an obvious ploy to denigrate someone by downplaying or denying their existing professional credentials, and, as I said before, it does not befit you to do so.

    Yes, I feel really strongly about this, and watching you go through all sorts of logical contortions and dubious rationalizations to justify your doing this is, quite frankly, irritating the hell out of me.

    • Sullivan July 27, 2010 at 19:42 #

      Orac,

      I quite simply disagree. I will also give you the same response I give to many others: whenever someone tries to read my mind and tell me what I am thinking and why I am doing something, they are almost 100% of the time incorrect. You are likely aware of comments I have made on SBM to this effect recently. Telling me that I am downplaying or denying the existence of someone’s credentials as “an obvious ploy to denigrate someone” is incorrect.

      If you want to discuss this on the basis of what should be done from the position as a medical professional, I am all ears.

      The mistake I made in the above post was to not user the degree in the first instance of mentioning her name: Laura Hewitson, Ph.D.. After that, it is appropriate and respectful to refer to her as Ms. Hewitson from then on. If you or anyone else wants to read into that an attempt to denigrate someone, it is fine for you to point out that is how you read it. It is then fine and appropriate for me to correct you and let you know that was not my intent.

      Does your mistaken concept of my intent irritate the hell out of you, or does your perception that I am misusing the honorifics irritate the hell out of you? If it is the former, you can either accept my explanation above or you can remain irritated. If it is the latter, you can discuss the use of honorifics and your actual position on that.

  24. Catherina July 27, 2010 at 19:36 #

    Sullivan – I totally get the distinction and why you make it. I would maybe just refer to her by full name then?

    I stood in line behind Lorene Amet at the supermarket check out the other day.

  25. Broken Link July 27, 2010 at 21:24 #

    Regarding the Dr./Ms. issue, I think that it is appropriate to refer to Laura Hewitson, PhD as Dr. Hewiston. To make it clear that she’s not a medical doctor, it is indeed best to first refer to her as having a PhD.

    In my other life as an associate editor for a journal, we attempt to employ maximum politeness when writing to ask strangers to do us a favor and peer review a paper. The default is always “Dear Dr. X”. It would be considered highly insulting to use Mr. or Ms, although the vast majority are not medical doctors. Since we don’t know whether the person actually has a PhD, or is still a grad student, we always err on the side of politeness. And it has a side benefit – it’s a gender neutral term, and it’s not always obvious which gender the recipient is.

    I agree with Orac. I think this is insulting for Dr. Hewitson, and I know that I have been personally insulted when people have referred to me as “Ms. Link”, rather than “Dr. Link”, particularly when my male colleagues are referred to as “Dr. Boss”

  26. Broken Link July 27, 2010 at 21:27 #

    Poopshovel,

    At least one of Dr. Hewitson’s papers was not only criticized by the list of bloggers. Neurotoxicology must have had a bit of a problem with it in order to retract it. That doesn’t happen lightly, believe me.

  27. Allo V Psycho July 28, 2010 at 10:14 #

    Dawn wrote
    “I recognize that Europe is different (I have been schooled that Mr Wakefield is not considered to have the title of doctor there, since he is a surgeon and does not possess a PhD)”.

    Bit more complicated than that. In the UK, medical graduates gain what is called a Primary Medical Qualification. This is expressed in various forms in letters after your name (for example MBBS, which sort of stands for Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery). Technically this is not a doctorate, unlike the US, where the PMQ is ‘MD’. However, ‘Doctor’ is universally used as an honorific title for medical practitioners. Doctors who then specialise in surgery drop the ‘Doctor’ and are referred to as ‘Mr’ (or Ms or Mrs). This is for quaint historical reasons, and most surgeons would regard their ‘Mr’ honorific as more, well, honorable, than just being a plain old ‘doctor’. However, they are still ‘doctors’ as well. Andrew Wakefield was quite entitled, by this convention, to call himself ‘Dr’ on the basis of his PMQ when employed as a surgeon, as well as ‘Mr’. He might choose to call himself ‘Dr’ when working outside his own setting – in writing for international contexts, for instance. His recent removal from the General Medical Council Register is a little ambiguous – he still holds his PMQ, but cannot practice, and I think the generally accepted view is that he would lose the honorific title as ‘doctor’ as well.

    As for Dr Hewitson, she holds a PhD and is unequivocally entitled to be described as ‘doctor’. She also has the responsibility to make it clear in any medical settings that she is not medically qualified, and it is quite proper for others to point out that she is not medically qualified. I appreciate I speak as a Brit, but I am a PhD working in a medical setting, and regularly have to introduce myself as “Dr Psycho, but I am not a medic”. But I would regard being described as ‘Mr’ in a work context, by someone who knew I held a PhD, as a deliberate and studied insult. If it was repeated, verbally or in writing, by a colleague, after being raised with them as a matter of concern, then it would be a serious matter. In dealing with non work matters, like plane tickets or hotel bookings, I generally chose to use ‘Mr’, and am quite happy about this.

    Sullivan, I enjoy and respect your writing, but I think you are wrong on this one. She has a PhD. In a work context, which her research plainly represents, she is entitled to be called ‘Dr’. By all means, say ‘Dr Hewitson, who is not a medic’, or ‘Dr Hewitson, who does abysmal research, and is not a medic’, but ‘Ms Hewitson’ is disrespectful, in my opinion. And just unnecessary – it has derailed this post, to no advantage. Can I ask you to reconsider?

  28. Poopshovel July 28, 2010 at 14:49 #

    Broken Link, They (Neurotoxicology) “published it” before they “unpublished it”. Do you think any pressure might have been applied?

    That said, I have attended several of their conferences. Never again. They are nothing but a bunch of cowardly phonies. They accomplish nothing (unless you consider flushing valuable taxpayer money down the drain as an accomplishment).

  29. Broken Link July 28, 2010 at 15:27 #

    Looks to me like the accomplish quite a lot at their conferences. But maybe you don’t like their conclusions? How are they cowardly? Won’t come out and say autism is caused by vaccines, perhaps? /sarcasm.

    The International Neurotoxicology Conference is an annual event that focuses on a timely theme while providing an opportunity for presenting new data related to the general interdisciplinary field of neurotoxicology. We place special emphasis on promoting, nurturing and mentoring students/young investigators in the field and employ novel mechanisms to provide networking with experts. The Conference is a free-standing academically-related entity of the Department of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine founded, organized and convened annually by Professor Joan Cranmer, a UAMS faculty member for 32 years. Most of the time the Conference has convened in either Little Rock or Hot Springs, Arkansas. However it also has convened in Chicago (x2), Colorado Springs (x2), Honolulu, Research Triangle Park, and San Antonio. Each year the conference focuses on a timely theme that is identified on an annual basis by the Editor, Associate Editors and Editorial Board of the international specialty journal NeuroToxicology and other members of the Society of Toxicology’s Neurotoxicology Specialty Section.

    As someone involved with the peer-reviewed process, I am completely aware that nonsense papers can sometimes sneak through. Ways in which this can happen include the editor using the reviewers suggested by the authors (friends of the authors), if the reviewers don’t use sufficient care in performing the review, or if the subject is a bit outside the general emphasis of the journal, and so there is no one in the database of reviewers who has sufficient expertise to perform a proper review. If it is pointed out to the editor (after acceptance) that the paper is fatally flawed (as this one was), then it would not be a matter of “pressure” but correcting an error.

    Just out of curiosity, I took at look at the papers published in Neurotoxicology. For papers published using macaques, there is the Hewitson one, and one accepted after hers in 2010. Prior to that, they hadn’t had a macaques paper since 2000, suggesting that indeed, they may not have had appropriate expertise in their database to review the Hewitson MS.

  30. Theo July 28, 2010 at 17:52 #

    To poopshovel:

    Forgive the snarking here, but just a thought. To be taken a bit more seriously here, or anywhere, loose the name poopshovel. *joke*

    To everyone else:

    Calm down. It is not a big deal if he wishes to refer to her by another title. I don’t think he is going out of his way to insult the woman. That is simply the way it is being taken. He doesn’t mean any disrespect to the title or those who earn the creditinals to recieve the title. He simply sees things in a different way than we might on this topic. No need to get irritated.

  31. Catherina July 28, 2010 at 18:56 #

    Theo, I don’t think it is up to you to determine what warrants irritation or not. Clearly, calling Dr. Hewitson “Ms” did cause a significant amount of irritation, independently, in a number of medical and non medical doctors, me included.

    Thank you, Dr. Psycho, that was most enlightening.

  32. Poopshovel July 28, 2010 at 19:11 #

    Do any of you clowns have any idea how hard it is to get a primate study approved at a major Big East University? This has to be especially difficult when you want to inject them with arguably the most toxic form of mercury that exists. To think that these papers are being censored because of quality issues and not politics is just naive.

  33. Catherina July 28, 2010 at 19:18 #

    Poopclown – do you have any idea how many of us work with animals and know precisely how difficult it is to get a primate study approved?

    That doesn’t change anything about the piss poor (thanks SM) study design and the strange reversal in results.

  34. Broken Link July 28, 2010 at 19:31 #

    Of course it’s difficult, and it should be, to get approval for such a study.

    That’s not the issue. The issue is that the results are not convincing.

    http://photoninthedarkness.com/?p=178

    Can you please explain why no attempt to correct for multiple comparisons was made? And why there appears to have been an attempt to “prune” the data set? Why the saline-injected and non-injected animals were pooled to make a control group?

  35. Sullivan July 28, 2010 at 19:40 #

    Do any of you clowns have any idea how hard it is to get a primate study approved at a major Big East University? This has to be especially difficult when you want to inject them with arguably the most toxic form of mercury that exists. To think that these papers are being censored because of quality issues and not politics is just naive.

    Sorry Poopshovel, but your last line doesn’t follow from your argument at all. They got permission to do the study. The real problem in getting permission, from what I can see, is the fact that the chances of getting any real information were close to zero. Why wast study animals on such a project?

    That said, unless you have evidence that the paper was withdrawn due to lack of approval for the study (which I would love to see if true), your final sentence doesn’t follow at all.

  36. Joseph July 28, 2010 at 21:57 #

    @Poopshovel: Go ahead, convince us Hewitson et al. is a quality paper. Make an argument. Heck, convince us it’s not fraudulent. Why were the results the opposite of what they first reported at IMFAR?

  37. Theo July 29, 2010 at 17:14 #

    All I am saying is Catherina that he did not mean any offense by it. That is all. That is why I asked for people to calm down. He was not trying to attack her by not using her title, or at least I did not get that vibe while reading the article. Nor does he mean any disrespect to the title.

    I appreciate the hard work that goes in to earning those credentials. And I am sure he does as well. I thought people were getting upset over something he did not mean as an offense. I thought if I would bring that up it might help cool things down. I don’t think he was trying to put anyone down.

  38. Eric Maude September 7, 2010 at 00:43 #

    I’m afraid I am neither a scientist, a professor nor a doctor. I am however one of a number of Solicitors of the Supreme Court of England and Wales with twenty years PQE. I am also someone who knows Laura from College in England. I know very little of the research that is being debated on this website, but I am disturbed by the lack of respect being shown to Laura. Irrespective of ones views of her research, she has shown nothing less than a passion for her subject and a dedication to her work which has resulted in the awards of her professional titles and, in my humble opinion, she ought to be referred to in a proper and respectful manner.

  39. Chris September 7, 2010 at 01:29 #

    Then you should perhaps read up on the research a bit more. Especially in regards to the removal of animals from the control group, or the arguing that it is normal for brains to shrink. This is indicative of being less than honest. Not the type of “dedication” one wants in a researcher.

  40. Eric Maude September 7, 2010 at 01:35 #

    Hi Chris, I have already said that I know very little of the scientific issues being debated, but in the same way I imagine you think you are correct in your analysis then perhaps Laura thinks the same way too. I think the issue I am addressing is professional respect rather than name calling (or the lack thereof!)

  41. Chris September 7, 2010 at 02:44 #

    I suggest you actually read the above article, and this analysis of one of her papers.

    I personally did not care about the discussion on how she should be addressed. But I do care that there has been statistical shenanigans performed. Do you think researchers who fiddle with the numbers should be treated with as much respect as those who don’t?

    Do the reading, and then figure out how much respect one should give to her research. Do you think we should give professional respect to Dr. Mark Hauser? Do you think that there should be accountability in research?

  42. Chris September 7, 2010 at 05:14 #

    (take note on how the Chronicle of Higher Education treats Hauser’s title)

  43. Broken Link September 7, 2010 at 12:48 #

    The Chronicle of Higher Education uses

    Prof. Hauser(1 time when quoting)
    Mr. Hauser (19)
    Dr. Hauser (1)
    Hauser (4)

    However, the university uses exclusively Prof. Hauser.

  44. Sullivan September 7, 2010 at 18:57 #

    Eric Maude,

    I appreciate your comments. You make a few statements that I would like to discuss.
    “she [Laura Hewitson] ought to be referred to in a proper and respectful manner”

    She *is* referred to in this piece in a proper and respectful manner. If you have examples of where you believe she is not treated respectfully, I would gladly discuss those instances.

    I made a conscious choice recently to use the title “Dr.” for medical professionals only. I am not alone in this choice. As I pointed out above, the New York Times appears to have a similar policy.

    Consider further the London Times. Here (http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/economics/article4936402.ece) is an article about Paul Krugman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Krugman), who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2008.

    Paul Krugman holds a Ph.D. from MIT and is a professor of economics. He is referred to as “Mr. Krugman”. Is the Times being disrespectful to Mr. Krugman?

  45. Barbara September 8, 2010 at 01:33 #

    Oh dear. This is a UK/USA issue. I review books for the (London) Times Higher Educational Supplement. They HATE authors being referred to as XYZ PhD, and think it’s a US affectation. In the UK we use the title Dr for someone who has achieved a PhD, always. Dr isn’t a simplistic medical qualification, for which you get a Dr title as soon as you graduate med school. A Doctor need not be someone who has studied medicine, in the UK. It is someone who has done at least 6 years of academic study.

    Yes, the Times ref Krugman is being disrespectful, and conflicting with its own editorial guidelines. However, it may be being arrogant, and believing that only a UK PhD is worth the nomenclature ‘Dr’. Krugman, according to even Murdoch’s sloppy Oz journalism should have been referred to as ‘Professor’ at the very least. Although we do note that in the USA, even a humble lecturer is referred to as Professor.

    It’s all rubbish, isn’t it?

    Barbara

    soon to be Barbara PhD (in the USA)

    or Dr Barbara (in the UK)

    • Sullivan September 8, 2010 at 01:49 #

      Barbara,

      (or, soon to be Dr. Barbara, Ph.D.. with all the rights and privileges! Congrats, by the way!).

      I don’t think this is a UK/USA thing. I’ve had criticism from both US and UK readers on this. It appears to be a strange Sullivan thing.

      What strikes me as odd is this–it is widely accepted to ignore first name and titles altogether when discussing a researcher. One could just say, “Hewitson says this” and “Hewitson did that” all through a discussion without raising any comment. I tend to avoid that and use “Dr.”, “Prof.”, “Ms.” and “Mr.” often. Ironically, it is this attempt to keep a respectful tone which has led to these accusations of disrespect.

  46. Barbara September 8, 2010 at 01:49 #

    PS and soon-to-be Dr Barbara thinks that Dr Hewitson’s research is pants, whoever she is. It’s the quality of the research that matters, not what you call yourself or what you’re called, socio-culturally. It’s not a petty personal spite-fight.

    Don’t make it that, because if you do you undermine the message.

    The message is that this is really rubbish ‘science’, isn’t it?

    So let’s get back on message, eh?

    The paper was a disgrace. OK?

  47. Barbara September 8, 2010 at 02:03 #

    Hmm Sullivan. Right. Academic/journalistic etiquette is tricky. The ‘correct’ way is to address the author by surname, once you’ve established their credentials (giving them their due title) in a journalistic piece. After that, referring to a Prof or Dr as Ms or Mr is generally considered a no-no. It sounds like a put-down. But people do break this rule if they want to deride someone.

  48. Eric Maude September 8, 2010 at 16:04 #

    Sullivan,
    Irrespective of Laura’s alleged/perceived lack of credibility in her research, it seems to me that you have deliberately addressed her (literally) incorrectly. Of course, you will argue not, but I think that the very fact that you have given it thought suggests to me that there is more here than meets the eye. If you were genuine in your intentions of discussing the main issues, then surely the title (or removal thereof) is, parden the pun, academic. As those who use this board full well know that Laura is not a MD, making the distinction by calling her “Ms” strikes me as rather petty when you ought to be concentrating, as other posters have rightly suggested, on the bigger issues.

    • Sullivan September 8, 2010 at 17:51 #

      Eric Maude,

      you are incorrect. While, yes, I have deliberately addressed her as Ms. Hewitson. If you wish to read my mind, feel free, but that is where you are incorrect. I find that the accuracy of such attempts are near zero. By the way, if the title is academic, then why are you repeatedly focusing attention upon it?

      Your statements have from the outset avoided the seriously poor nature of her recent paper. I find it difficult to accept your implication that you believe I should be concentrating on “the bigger issues”. Perhaps I am incorrect. Let’s see. Please, I would like your opinion on a few matters. Ms. Hewitson either was unaware of or purposely left out a very important reference in her work, that of tracking the size of the amygdala in rhesus macaques. Wouldn’t you agree that either option is a failing of the paper? She asserts, without any reference (and contrary to the reference missing from her paper) that the amygdalas are supposed to shrink with time in typically developing macaques. This is highly counter intuitive at the least, and against published fact.

      If you wish to concentrate on non-scientific topics, perhaps you could offer an opinion on her lack of conflict of interest statements in her multiple posters presented at the IMFAR conference? She had multiple presentations purporting to support a link between vaccines and autism while she was a petitioner to the vaccine court on behalf of her child. Isn’t that a clear conflict of interest? Shouldn’t that have been made public at the time? Certainly this is something within your expertise.

      Please, since you wish that attention be focused on the big issues, please offer us your views on these points. They have been made very clearly here, so there is no reason to excuse yourself on the basis that you do not have the expertise. Surely a practiced and accomplished attorney can offer an opinion on these points as laid out above.

      [edited for clarity]

    • Sullivan September 8, 2010 at 18:01 #

      “it seems to me that you have deliberately addressed her (literally) incorrectly”

      She is Ms. Hewitson. It is correct. She is also Dr. Hewitson or Laura Hewitson, Ph.D.. All are correct. She is not Mrs. Hewitson, I believe, as her husband has a different last name. She is not Prof. Hewitson as she has left that appointment. One might suggest that I refer to her as Director Hewitson, as that is her current position at Thoughtful House.

      As those who use this board full well know that Laura is not a MD

      Are you sure of that? What evidence do you have to support that assertion? Surely, those who have read the comments to this post are aware of that but, in general, is everyone who reads this blog, even those who may have stumbled upon this post as their only interaction with this blog, aware that she is not an M.D.? Quite clearly, you can not make that assertion for 100% of the readership of this blog.

      As those who use this board full well know that Laura is not a MD, making the distinction by calling her “Ms” strikes me as rather petty when you ought to be concentrating, as other posters have rightly suggested, on the bigger issues.

      It may strike you as petty, but that is only because you are ascribing an intent to me that is incorrect. Believe me, if my intent were to show disrespect to the person of Ms. Hewitson, I would do so. Such is the nature of blogs. As noted in a previous comment, it is you, not I, who is concentrating on the minor points and avoiding the bigger issues.

  49. Eric Maude September 8, 2010 at 18:33 #

    Sullivan. Your rambling diatribe further confirms to me (and I make no comment on what other people may think) that her title IS an issue for you.
    I am not qualified to comment on the substantial issues of this post, nor would I wish to enage in any discussion in respect of them. I am a corporate lawyer, not a trial lawyer.
    However, I would say that your inability to show her respect (in my humble opinion) places a shadow on the impartiality of the comments you make on her research/academical credentials.

    • Sullivan September 8, 2010 at 18:51 #

      Eric Maude,

      “rambling diatribe”? Who is attempting to denigrate others on this forum? It appears to this reader to be you.

      You are certainly qualified to offer opinions on these subjects. Most certainly on the subject of the clear conflicts of interest shown by Ms. Hewitson. You claim that the conversation should focus on the larger issues, yet you avoid those same issues and resort to name calling.

      However, I would say that your inability to show her respect (in my humble opinion) places a shadow on the impartiality of the comments you make on her research/academical credentials.

      As noted above, I find that generally one is incorrect when ascribing intent to me, so I am likely incorrect in the following. It would appear to this reader that the above assertion is your intent of participating in this conversation: an attempt to pull the focus away from the clear and supported criticisms of Ms. Hewitson’s research.

      If you wish to participate in the conversation of the real issues at hand, I’ll gladly participate. Otherwise I invite you to get the last word in and depart.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Autism Blog - Laura Hewitson has left the University of Pittsburgh « Left Brain/Right Brain -- Topsy.com - July 27, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kev, Catherina+ScienceMom. Catherina+ScienceMom said: RT @kevleitch Autism Blog – Laura Hewitson has left the University of Pittsburgh « Left Brain/Righ.. http://bit.ly/9lQDO7 […]

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