CHICAGO — Dr. Mark Geier has, he says, solved the riddle of autism. He says he has identified its cause and, in the powerful drug Lupron, found an effective treatment — what he calls a "major discovery."
But behind Geier's bold assertion is a troubling paper trail that undercuts his portrayal of himself as a pioneer tilting against a medical establishment that refuses to embrace his novel ideas.
Time and again, reputable scientists have dismissed autism research by Geier and his son, David, as seriously flawed. Judges who have heard Mark Geier testify about vaccines' harmful effects have repeatedly called him unqualified, with one describing his statements as "intellectually dishonest."
"Dr. Geier may be clever," another wrote, "but he is not credible."
A physician and genetic counselor by training, Geier, 61, pre-sents himself as the scientist who has unraveled autism's mystery, a claim that has won him a devoted following. He and his son tie the neurodevelopmental disorder to a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal, which has been removed from childhood vaccines except for some flu shots.
The Geiers have won support from the parents of autistic children who share their suspicion of the medical community, even though mainline scientists criticize their views. Parents who have used the Lupron treatment also praise the Geiers, and Mark Geier said scores of severely autistic children are improving steadily.
In appearances at conferences and seminars, the two operate as something of a tag team.
The elder Geier is spontaneous and outspoken. He has called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a "rogue organization." Federal health officials, he said, are lying about vaccines that contain mercury. "We have thousands of internal documents showing the level of harm. ... This is the greatest catastrophe in the history of the Western world," he said at a recent autism conference.
David Geier, 28, who holds only a bachelor's degree in biology, is the wonky straight man, using a laser pointer to highlight data. He has put off ambitions of a medical degree or other doctorate in favor of working in what has become a family business, doing research and administrative tasks, Mark Geier said.
But the Geiers have been widely criticized for both their methods and their treatment. In 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that a Geier study finding a link between vaccines and autism was marred by "numerous conceptual and scientific flaws, omissions of fact, inaccuracies, and misstatements."
The following year, the Institute of Medicine concluded in a report that the purported connection between mercury in vaccines and autism did not exist. The government-sanctioned committee of scientists reserved harsh words for the Geiers' work, saying their research was "uninterpretable" and marred by "serious methodological problems."
Abbott Laboratories, which sells Lupron in the U.S., once applied for a patent with the Geiers through a now-defunct joint venture with another drug company, yet never pursued work with them. A spokeswoman for the pharmaceutical company said there was no scientific evidence to justify further research.
Court records show that judges also have become increasingly wary of Mark Geier, who has testified close to 100 times in vaccine-related cases presided over by "special masters" in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. In what's commonly called "vaccine court," Geier testifies on behalf of parents seeking compensation for injuries their children allegedly suffered from reactions to thimerosal in vaccines.
In one such case, the special master called Geier's testimony "seriously intellectually dishonest." In another, Geier was termed "a professional witness in areas for which he has no training, expertise and experience."
The Geiers are not dissuaded by the criticism. Mark Geier said the courts are biased against him and that the medical establishment is more concerned about preserving drug companies' profits than about protecting children. "There's no question this will turn out to be true," Mark Geier said in an interview, referring to the vaccine-autism connection.
He predicts that the parents of autistic children will face lives filled with frustration and grief if his theories are not given a fair hearing and his Lupron treatment is not followed. "If we don't do something about these kids that are now filling our school systems, they are not going to die," he testified. "They're going to grow up, and they're not going to work, and they're going to need to be institutionalized, and it's going to be a tremendous strain on our world-leading society."
Federal judges, however, have said Geier is not qualified to make such claims or to treat autistic children. In one case, the judge concluded, "there is no evidence that Dr. Geier has either the training or the background to diagnose autism or to treat autism in any child."