Archive for the ‘books’ Category

U.S. apologizes for infecting Guatemalans with syphilis in 1940s. Related news: The Tuskegee Experiment; the Age of Autism

October 1, 2010

The U.S. government has said it is sorry for using prostitutes to infect prison inmates in Guatemala with syphilis in the 1940s.  Researchers were testing how effective penicillin was in treating syphilis.  It’s an example of the government sacrificing people for the health of the entire herd.

The medical establishment’s research on and treatment of syphilis has a strange history.  Between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. government experimented on 400 poor black men from Alabama who had syphilis.  This became known as the Tuskegee Experiment.  The men were never told they had syphilis and were not given penicillin, the standard treatment for the disease.  Many of the men died from the disease or from complications of it, while some of the men gave the disease to their wives and had children with congenital syphilis.

From the late 15th century for several hundred years, mercury, one of the most toxic substances in the world, was used by doctors as a treatment for syphilis in Europe and then in the U.S.  While mercury killed bacteria, it had serious, often deadly side effects.

The use of mercury to treat syphilis in the past is explored by authors Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill in their new book, Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epidemic.  Olmsted, an award-winning journalist, and Blaxill, a Harvard-educated parent of a child with autism, discuss mercury in medicine, vaccines, pesticides, and fish, and the element’s toxic effects on humans.  They describe how the medical establishment has used mercury to treat ailments, but ignored its side effects, which often mimic autism.

I interviewed Olmsted and Blaxill for last month.  Here are some excerpts from the interview about mercury and syphilis, as syphilis is back in the news.  Click here for the whole interview.

Mike Frandsen:  You trace the medical establishment’s use of mercury to treat illnesses in the last several centuries. Why did doctors continue to use mercury even after they discovered it was toxic?

Dan Olmsted: I think one answer to that is that it seemed to work when nothing else really did. Mercury is a biologically active compound. If you have sores on your body, which you would get from syphilis, and you rub a mercury salve on it, the sores would clear up and seemingly that was a good thing. Unfortunately, the side effects were longer to show up and more obscure.

And what we see is a pattern where because it seemed to be useful to doctors in treating desperate patients, they would do it for a while and then when a better treatment came along they would quit using it and never look back and realize or acknowledge that they might have been killing people by the thousands even as they were treating them. It just kind of kept going, where we are still at a point where although we wouldn’t use arsenic or plutonium or lead or any toxic compound in medicine or as medicine, we still use mercury. And it has gotten a free pass for several hundred years and that we think really needs to stop.

Mercury was used to treat syphilis for hundreds of years. What happened to those patients?

Mark Blaxill: Mercury was used from the beginning of the syphilis epidemic in Europe from the late 15th century. Mercury was used as an ointment, a skin treatment, but over time, the idea was to try to get mercury closer to the infection or the site of the infection and not just on the skin. In the 1700s and 1800s people first started the practice of internal administration of mercury, specifically mercuric chloride, and doctors first began encouraging patients to drink it, and then not longer after, they started injecting mercuric chloride into syphilis patients.

Interestingly enough, when they started this internal administration approach to treating syphilis, a new, invariably fatal form of neurosyphilis, brain syphilis, began to emerge as well, something called general paralysis of the insane (GPI). These patients would go stock raving mad, wild and crazy with delusions and they would generally die quite quickly. These cases of GPI occurred in places where mercury treatments were common, and where the practice of treating patients with mercury chloride and mercury in general was not used, you would never see these cases of GPI.

If mercury is one of the causes of autism, and syphilis patients and children given teething powders were exposed to mercury, why didn’t they get autism?

Mark Blaxill: Syphilis patients were adults and so the exposure they had to mercury came much later in life. Autism is really a neurodevelopmental disease and it occurs in children very early in life. Once your brain is fully developed the exposure to mercury won’t have the same kind of effect.

Click here for the whole interview.


‘Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Manmade Epidemic,’ a new book by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill, goes on sale today

September 14, 2010

Age of Autism by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill

The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Manmade Epidemic, a new book by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill, goes on sale today.  I interviewed Olmsted and Blaxill about the book for

They make a strong case that the autism epidemic is very real, and more environmental than genetic.  Olmsted, a reporter who has devoted his career to writing about autism, and Blaxill, the father of a daughter with autism, argue that autism is largely the result of mercury from pollution, commercial products, and vaccines.

They investigated the backgrounds of some of the parents of the original children Leo Kanner identified in the late 1930s as having autism, and discovered that several of the parents had links to mercury in their backgrounds.

Olmsted and Blaxill say the increase in autism tracks with the use of mercury as a preservative in vaccines (thimerosal), though they say they are not anti-vaccine, just pro-vaccine safety.

Pollution is also a major factor in autism, say the authors, because coal emissions result in mercury that gets into the environment.  They also write that spikes in schizophrenia and other diseases occurred since the Industrial Revolution, perhaps due to pollution.

A couple of other interesting items – they theorize that Mozart may have died from accidental mercury poisoning as a treatment for syphilis.  They also note that the Amish, who vaccinate much less frequently than the general population, have a significantly lower rate of autism.

Obviously the theory that autism is linked to vaccines in some cases is controversial, but those who dismiss the theory outright should read the whole book before commenting on it.

The authors make excellent arguments that the traditional idea that autism is mostly genetic cannot be true because of the huge increase in cases of autism, now one in 110 according to the CDC.  Autism was unknown before the 1930s.

Click here for the interview.

Books and other materials for young children with autism should motivate, make learning meaningful

June 20, 2010

From "My First Words Touch and Feel Pictures Cards,"

Studies show that enjoyment and success in reading early on are major factors in predicting how well young children will readin the future, which is especially true for children with autism and other special needs.

In addition to motivation, children with autism usually need to have new concepts broken down into simple steps for them to be successful.

To learn pre-reading and early reading skills, books with few ideas per page, large text, colorful pictures, and tactile textures can help keep the interest of children with autism. Lyrical language and rhymes can help kids memorize word families, hold their attention and keep them motivated.

To see the rest of my article on, click here.

Books can help children with autism learn empathy and understand emotions

May 31, 2010

Children with autism are often very poor at identifying, understanding, and regulating emotions. They are usually especially deficient in empathizing, or understanding that other people have emotions. Emotion coaching is an area that doesn’t get enough attention.

The levels here are listed as beginner, intermediate, and advanced for simplicity. For kids who can’t read you can still read the books to them and break them down into simple terms. These books are great for neurotypical kids as well, of course.

These books on emotions are different than ones on social stories or social skills. There are many excellent books on learning to share, having good manners, and being safe and careful. Those are all necessary and great but books on emotions take it a step further.

To see the rest of my article on, click here.

Andrew Wakefield, doctor who said MMR vaccine may cause autism, banned from practicing in Britain

May 24, 2010

British doctor Andrew Wakefield has lost the ability to practice medicine in the United Kingdom. The British General Medical Council ruled today that the doctor, who authored an infamous study in 1998 theorizing a potential link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism, had acted in a “dishonest”, “misleading” and “irresponsible” way. The ruling of professional misconduct comes the same day Wakefield’s new book is released.

“The panel has determined that Dr Wakefield’s name should be erased from the medical register,” the GMC said in a statement. “Dr Wakefield’s continued lack of insight as to his misconduct serve only to satisfy the panel that suspension is not sufficient and that his actions are incompatible with his continued registration as a medical practitioner,” it said.

The GMC found Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct in failing to release financial details of conflicts of interests related to his research, among other improprieties.  The GMC case centered around Wakefield’s research methods but did not investigate the legitimacy of Wakefield’s findings.

“Efforts to discredit and silence me through the GMC process have provided a screen to shield the government from exposure on the … MMR vaccine scandal,” Wakefield said.

In Wakefield’s new book, “Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines: The Truth Behind a Tragedy,” he describes the MMR vaccine controversy and defends himself against charges that he acted dishonestly and irresponsibly in conducting research.

For the rest of my article on, click here.

Wizards fall to Celtics 86-83 after leading by 13 as Ray Allen scores 25

March 8, 2010

The Boston Celtics overcame a 13-point deficit in the last six minutes to defeat the Washington Wizards 86-83 and win their fourth straight game tonight in Boston.

Ray Allen led the Celtics (39-21) with 25 points on 10 of 15 shooting. Allen hit two three-point shots in the final 1:33 including the winning basket from the corner to put Boston up 85-83 with 17.1 seconds left. Paul Pierce added 17 points for Boston.

For the rest of the article, see


Please see to browse for great deals on books, CDs, and DVDs.  If there was ever a time to do it, now is the time.

Washington Capitals shut out New York Rangers 2-0, get 13th consecutive home win

March 8, 2010

The Washington Capitals shut out the New York Rangers 2-0 tonight at Verizon Center to get their team record 13th consecutive home win.

Caps goaltender Jose Theodore made 30 saves to get his 29th career shutout and remain undefeated in his last 14 games (12-0-2).

For the rest of the article, see


Please see to browse for great deals on books, CDs, and DVDs.  If there was ever a time to do it, now is the time.

Washington Capitals trade for defensemen Jurcina, Corvo and forwards Belanger, Walker

March 8, 2010

The Washington Capitals bolstered their lineup by acquiring two forwards and two defensemen in four separate trades before yesterday’s trading deadline.

The Caps acquired defenseman Milan Jurcina from Columbus in exchange for a 2010 sixth-round conditional draft pick. Jurcina played parts of four seasons for the Caps before being traded to the Blue Jackets earlier this season. Jurcina is expected to have sports hernia surgery that will sideline him for four to six weeks.

For the rest of the article, see


Please see to browse for great deals on books, CDs, and DVDs.  If there was ever a time to do it, now is the time.

Vasquez leads Maryland to 79-72 upset of No. 4 Duke

March 8, 2010

Maryland upset 4th-ranked Duke 79-72 last night to tie the Blue Devils for the ACC lead and win their sixth straight game in College Park, Maryland.

Greivis Vasquez led the 22rd-ranked Terrapins with 20 points, four rebounds and five assists on senior night in his last game at Comcast Center. Freshman center Jordan Williams had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Terps (22-7, 12-3).

For the rest of the article, see


Please see to browse for great deals on books, CDs, and DVDs.  If there was ever a time to do it, now is the time.

The Medici Effect

December 23, 2009

I sell used books.  One of them attracted my attention because of an unusually realistic-looking bug on the cover.  I thought I’d use it as a prop for one of the kids I work with who has autism.  I would pretend that the bug was biting me and then pretend to step on it.  Joking with kids with autism, especially that slapstick kind of humor, has many benefits including enabling them to learn through imaginative play as well as to think abstractly instead of literally.  Plus it’s fun.

Anyway, I decided to read the book. Turns out Franz Johansson was preaching to the choir.  I wrote some related ideas in September (2009/08/22/the-age-of-specialization/).  My thoughts then were that the world had become too specialized – that people stay in their comfort zones and don’t venture out, but that there are a lot of gains to be made from branching out.  Though most people specialize in a narrow topic, the world is also interconnected more than ever.

The Medici Effect got its name from the Medici banking family in 15th century Florence, Italy.  The Medicis funded creativity from a wide variety of occupations.  There was an unusual amount of creativity – sculptors, scientists, poets, philosophers, financiers, painters, and architects.  They broke down barriers between disciplines and cultures and learned from each other.  This became known as the Renaissance.  The idea is that intersections of different disciplines or ideas come together to create new methods of doing things.

Brainstorming can yield great results if an atmosphere of openness is encouraged.  I’d rather have one great idea and five bad ones than no ideas at all.  Too often, people say, “No, we can’t do that,” without even thinking about it, not realizing that one idea might lead to another, or that having ideas that don’t work are necessary in order to have ideas that work.  People pass judgment on ideas too quickly.  I’ve even attended meetings in which the leader is more concerned with keeping power than fostering innovative ideas.

It’s important to have a culture in which creative ideas are accepted.  If you are afraid to bring them up, you will continue to get the same results you’ve always gotten.  People are often afraid of change to the point where they would rather continue what they are doing though it might be largely ineffective, than to try something new and risk a loss but gain the potential for something great.

When jobs become too specialized, people are afraid of trying something new because consistency and conformity are rewarded, but they also lead to complacency.  Instead, shaking your mind free from pre-conceived notions leads to great gains.  Unique insights can be gained when people perform different occupations and exchange ideas.

I’ve always bristled at the notion that a person is what they do.  Ten years ago I wore a tie to work every day.  Now I not only always wear sweatpants and sweatshirts, but I usually wear the same ones every day.  People look at my resume and say, “Oh, you’re an IT (Information Technology) person.”  I was anything but that.  You could have taken a dart and thrown it at any one of 20 topics, and I could have written about any of them, most of them probably better than I did about IT, though I was still the best at what I did, and could walk into any institute at NIH tomorrow, blindfolded, having had a few beers, and with no training on the topic write better than anyone else there.  If I had written about animals, I guess they would have said, “You’re an animal person.”  The ability to change careers is a good thing, not a bad thing.  I guess some people have such tunnel vision that they see themselves doing only one thing so that’s the way they perceive others as well.

Ironically, a network of like-minded people can create obstacles because they all think the same.  Creativity lies in taking risks.  Comfort and security are tempting but become boring.  Challenge yourself and don’t take the easy way out.  Be open to new ideas, even if they seem to be unconventional at first.

I like the brainstorming philosophy but I’ve been burned by trying it in an overly conservative atmosphere.  Once I was working at a school for disabled children.  I thought I could use my 10 years of experience by having a little bit of freedom to try new ideas – by adding some spontaneity to the structure.  The principal wanted a “drill sergeant,” though, which I believe doesn’t always work for children with autism.  Anyway, I had a solution that would have resulted in the kids learning more than they otherwise would have, the principal would’ve been happy, and the parent of a child trying to get into the school would’ve been happy because her child would have gotten a much better education than he otherwise would have by having a certain one on one instructor.  The idea was too out of the box, though, so everybody gets what they had before instead of the potential for spectacular results.

Do not be afraid of change.  Embrace unpredictability.