Yes. A group of 35 Nobel Laureates has been accused of working with the “vaccine industry”. Those familiar with the online discussions of autism and vaccines will likely be unsurprised that this claim comes from the Age of Autism blog. Given the odd nature of this claim, most will likely be unsruprised that this will take some lenghthy introduction.
The article at the Age of Autism is Write the President of Cameroon to Defend Dr. Luc Montagnier, which opens so many questions. Why do they want to defend Luc Montagnier? Why would one write the president of Cameroon to do so?
Luc Montagnier received the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2008. His research has since moved into some rather questionable territory. For example, he claims that DNA from bacteria can, in highly diluted samples, induce low frequency electromagnetic radiation. This brings us to his connection to the autism communities. He claims that he can detect the electromagnetic radiation from the blood of autistic children, but not from non-autistic children. He claims that this radiation is a sign of pathogentic bacteria, and, further, claims that based on this one might treat autism with long term antibiotic therapy.
Here is part of his summary from when he presented these ideas at AutismOne this year:
There is in the blood of most autistic children — but not in healthy children — DNA sequences that emit, in certain conditions, electromagnetic waves. The analysis by molecular biology techniques allows us to identify these electromagnetic waves as coming from already known bacterial species. This correlation, which is based on more than one hundred children of European origin, naturally does not prove a causal relationship. However, a therapy first started by a group of independent clinicians and now performed in conjunction with laboratory observations reinforces the idea that systemic bacterial infections play a role in the genesis of symptoms of autism.
These are, to put it politely, extraordinary claims. They are without the extraordinary evidence which would support them.
Those with experience following the autism/vaccine discussion will not be surprised that even with these odd claims, the alternative-medical community has embraced Luc Montagnier eagerly. He has a Nobel Prize, after all. And these groups have shown a strong desire to establish some credibility. Most of their proponents are non-medical specialists (think Kerri Rivera whose presentation at AutismOne promoted using a bleach as an oral and enema-based “therapy”) and their medical specialists include people whose reputations are less than stellar (for example, Andrew Wakefield and Mark Geier).
Luc Montagnier ties his theory into the permeable-gut theory of autism.
Our working hypothesis is that immune dysfunction associated with inflammation of the intestinal mucosa leads to the introduction of bacterial components, including neurotoxins, into the bloodstream, creating oxidative stress as well as microvascularities, especially affecting meningeal vessels and finally specific neuronal damage.
My position on vaccines has not changed over the last 30 years: the principle has proved to be excellent in the past. Smallpox has been eradicated in the world thanks to the use of vaccination, with attenuated vaccinia virus. But some had to pay a horrific price: encephalitis in a certain number of children. Over the years, vaccinations against bacteria and viruses have multiplied, appearing as the most cost-effective way to prevent epidemics. However, side effects are becoming more important and a single death cannot be tolerated any longer. Many parents have observed a temporal association – which does not mean causation – between a vaccination by puncture and the appearance of autism symptoms. This should not be neglected by the medical community and public health decision makers. It is therefore of prime importance to study the risk factors, both environmental and genetic, which could be involved in order to prevent them. Presumably, vaccination, especially vaccination against multiple antigens, could be a trigger of a pre-existing pathological situation in some children. The vaccine denialists are not the courageous individuals who raise the problems of vaccination accidents, but are those people who deny the existence of these tragic accidents. The latter believe in the dogma “vaccines are good”, period. They are forgetting the Hippocratic oath: primum, non nocere. First, do no harm.
He has credentials. He claims to have a potential cause and potential treatment for autism. He supports the gut-brain theory and is openly skeptical about the way vaccines are used. Is there any surprise that the vaccines-cause-autism/alternative-medicine groups support him?
A news article on the Nature website discusses some recent controversy involving Luc Montagnier. In Nobel fight over African HIV centre Declan Butler writes
A fledgling AIDS research centre in Cameroon, already struggling to find a scientific leader, is now facing insurrection from an unlikely quarter: a group of 35 Nobel prizewinners.
The laureates are calling for the centre’s interim scientific director, fellow prizewinner Luc Montagnier, to be removed from the part-time post. Observers say that unless the leadership crisis is resolved quickly and decisively, it could harm the prospects of the Chantal Biya International Reference Centre (CIRCB) in Yaoundé.
Yes, 35 Nobel Laureates have signed a letter asking an AIDS center in Cameroon to reconsider hiring Luc Montagier in a part time post.
The laureates argue that his embrace of theories that are far from the scientific mainstream, as well as what they claim are anti-vaccination views, risk hurting the CIRCB’s research, health-care programme and reputation. Montagnier has suggested, for example, that water can retain a ‘memory’ of pathogens that are no longer present1; that the DNA sequences of pathogens emit electromagnetic waves that could be used to diagnose disease2, 3; and that stimulating the immune system with antioxidants and nutritional supplements may help people to fight off AIDS4.
1) Montagnier, L., Aïssa, J., Ferris, S., Montagnier, J.-L. & Lavalléee, C. Interdisciplin. Sci. 1, 81–90 (2009).
2) Montagnier, L. et al. Preprint at http://arxiv.org/abs/1012.5166 (2010).
3) Montagnier, L. et al. Interdisciplin. Sci. 1, 245–253 (2009).
4) Butler, D. Nature 468, 743 (2010).
One could argue that it is this last point which is the most important, and the likely strongest motivation for the group of Laureates to write their letter. From reference 4:
Since then, Montagnier has supported non-mainstream theories in AIDS research that have put him at odds with other scientists. Most recently, he has argued that strengthening the immune system with antioxidants and nutritional supplements needs to be considered along with antiretroviral drugs in fighting AIDS, in particular in Africa.
“Montagnier’s embrace of pseudoscientific and fringe agendas over the past few years has been seized on by AIDS denialists and other fringe groups, who make the case that Montagnier now supports their crazy views,” says John Moore, an AIDS virologist at Cornell University in New York. Montagnier says that AIDS denialist groups misrepresent his thinking.
My suspicion is that the group of 35 Nobel Laureates are very concerned that an AIDS treatment center in Africa might take a path towards non-scientifically based treatments.
The Nature news article does mention Luc Montagnier’s connection to the autism communities:
The last straw for Montagnier’s critics seems to have been his appearance in May alongside vaccine sceptics at a conference in Chicago, Illinois, organized by US patient-advocacy groups AutismOne and Generation Rescue. Montagnier’s talk, on his hypothesis that bacterial infections may be one of many causes of autism spectrum disorder, states: “There is in the blood of most autistic children — but not in healthy children — DNA sequences that emit, in certain conditions, electromagnetic waves.”
The same groups who greeted a single Nobel Laureate with such vigor have now 35 other Nobel Laureates who consider this move by Luc Montagnier to be “the last straw” in his actions. That is a rather stunning rebuke.
And, as already alluded to above, a rebuke which has not gone unanswered. The Age of Autism blog is calling for support for Luc Montagnier. Their article, Write the President of Cameroon to Defend Dr. Luc Montagnier, begins:
A recent article in Nature shows that the vaccine industry has been closing ranks against Dr. Luc Montagnier ever since his brilliant lecture at AutismOne last month. In particular, 35 Nobel Laureates, led by one who sells commercial products to the vaccine industry, sent a letter to the President of Cameroon protesting Dr. Montagnier’s leadership position on a national research organization dedicated to HIV research.
Immediately we read that it is the “vaccine industry” closing ranks against Luc Montagnier, and the Nobel Laureates are led by one with a link (however tenuous) to the vaccine industry.
What is more stunning in this article is the fact that they never address the simple question of whether it would be good for the AIDS community in Cameroon to have Luc Montagnier on board at the Center. The letter is entirely focused on arguments that vaccines cause autism.
In conclusion, the evidence to date shows that Dr. Luc Montagnier’s serious consideration to the vaccine-autism connection is as correct as his original discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Please do not cave to the coercive and corrupt powers of the vaccine industry, which includes an old rival who previously tried to take credit for Dr. Montagnier’s Nobel Prize-Winning discovery of HIV. We believe that through his work on autism, Dr. Montagnier has further demonstrated a level of scientific rigor and innovation of unparalleled accomplishment that could hold significant promise for patients suffering from AIDS, as it does for patients with autism.
What the autism/vaccine discussion has to do with Cameroon’s decision whether to keep Luc Montagnier on board for an AIDS center is not a part of the letter. This letter has frankly nothing to do with Cameroon’s decision whether to keep Luc Montagnier on board at an AIDS center. It is just a rundown of the rather weak arguments behind the vaccine-autism proposed link, with a liberal dose of “coercive and corrupt” powers language. This may come as a bit of a harsh surprise to the author of the letter, but, this letter will only serve to help convince the President of Cameroon to let Luc Montagnier go.
It is likely that the president of Cameroon will not do much fact checking, but should he chose to, here’s one section that takes no interpretation:
The latest CDC Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network report from one US state found a 20% decrease in autism spectrum disorder prevalence in children born in 2000, the first year after a joint statement was made in the United States by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Public Health Service calling for thimerosal to be removed as soon as possible. This is the first statistically significant decrease in autism reported in this surveillance system’s decade long-history.
Here is Luc Montagnier’s own response to the letter submitted by the 35 Nobel Laureates: Luc Pr Luc Montagnier HIV – AUTISM – VACCINES: FACTS and HOPES