Thursday, November 30, 2017

Christopher Exley has Become the New Face of the Anti-Vaxx Aluminium Grift

A new study by Mold et al. Aluminium in brain tissue in autism is not Exley's (corresponding author) first foray into aluminium as the cause of name-that-disorder by any stretch.  His publications vilify aluminium for a sundry of unrelated observations such as impaired sperm counts and quality, Alzheimer's Disease, "vaccine-induced" macrophagic myofaciitis and chronic fatigue syndrome along with fellow aluminium grifter Gherardi, breast cancer and of course vaccines.

The study Aluminium in brain tissue in autism is problematic from the start.  As Orac and The Blood-Brain Barrier Scientist note, Christopher Exley sits on the editorial board of the “Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology“ where the study was published.  The study also had an extremely rapid submission to acceptance time frame which was 26 October for submission, 21 November for a submitted revision, 23 November for acceptance and 26 November for online publication.  The sole funding source for this study was the Child Medical Safety Research Institute (CMSRI) which is a Dwoskin family foundation.  CMSRI is the funding source for the duo of Shaw and Tomljenovic to the tune of $900,000.00.  Clare Dwoskin is very very anti-vaccine which is evidenced by her statement to journalist John Stossel:
What his daughter went through is NOTHING compared to what the families of autistic children go through every day of their lives. No disease can match this record of human devastation. Vaccines are a holocaust of poison on our children’s brains and immune systems. Shame on you all.
More on what kind of "research" the Dwoskins finance can be found here and here.  The Dwoskins' latest study (prior to this one) with Christopher Shaw as the corresponding author was retracted due to image manipulation and dodgy methods.

While these issues individually don't disqualify the merits of a study, taken together they do cast serious doubt on the scientific rigour, review and impartiality of the study.  More importantly, the methods and results are the issues which ultimately render this study completely meaningless.

The thrust of this study is laid out in the abstract and introduction that state:
Human exposure to the environmental toxin aluminium has been linked, if tentatively, to autism spectrum disorder.
Paediatric vaccines that include an aluminium adjuvant are an indirect measure of infant exposure to aluminium and their burgeoning use has been directly correlated with increasing prevalence of ASD [11].
No it hasn't and is based upon some cherry-picked, weak studies.  The authors obtained five samples of brain tissue from people with confirmed autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for aluminium measurement.  They also obtained ten paraffin-embedded brain tissue samples from ASD individuals for fluorescent microscopy.

There were no controls.  Yes you read that correctly.  Not a single control for any aspect of this study; I'll elaborate.  The authors state:
Total aluminium was measured in each sample by transversely heated graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry (TH GFAAS) using matrix-matched standards and an established analytical programme alongside previously validated quality assurance data [13].
The "established analytical programme alongside previously validated quality assurance data" is their own protocol which is from these two studies, Brain burdens of aluminum, iron, and copper and their relationships with amyloid-β pathology in 60 human brains and The Identification of Aluminum in Human Brain Tissue Using Lumogallion and Fluorescence Microscopy.  I don't think validation means what they think it means.  This was internally-validated and not a recognised method for TH GFAAS by having been actually validated independently.

In the recent study two technical things (among many) stand out for the recently published "Aluminium in brain tissue in autism", first there was no mention of blanks used.  Granted it was an abbreviated description given the protracted version was explained in "Brain burdens of aluminum, iron and copper and their relationships with amyloid-β pathology in 60 human brains" (House, Exley et al. 2012), however there is no mention of an aluminium blank used to correct for contamination in either the body of the text nor in the description of Table 1 (Mold, Exley et al. 2017) where the values for aluminium content appear.  But this does appear in the cited study in both the body of the text and the description for it's Table 3 (House, Exley et al. 2012) aluminium content of brain samples.  It's worth mentioning that in the cited study (House, Exley et al. 2012), several samples have negative values and a high degree of intra-sample variation.  This is a problem with with their validation and they weakened this further by not including blanks in the autism study (Mold, Exley et al. 2017) as evidenced by the higher degree of intra-sample variation.

The second technical issue was the use of mean in the aluminium autism study.  Exley stated in his own cited brain aluminium study that due to non-normal distribution of intra-sample values, median with standard deviation was calculated.  This is correct but this was not done for the autism aluminium study, instead they used mean with standard deviation which skewed the means much higher because the outlier values were captured.  These values are further meaningless since the standard deviations are higher than the mean values for 3 of the four lobes sampled.
The mean (SD) aluminium content across all 5 individuals for each lobe were 3.82(5.42), 2.30(2.00), 2.79(4.05) and 3.82(5.17) μg/g dry wt. for the occipital, frontal, temporal and parietal lobes respectively.
Another huge problem for this study is both lack of controls and their own scale of pathology:
Previous measurements of brain aluminium, including our 60 brain study [15], have allowed us to define loose categories of brain aluminium content beginning with ≤1.00 μg/g dry wt. as pathologically benign (as opposed to ‘normal’). Approximately 40% of tissues (24/59) had an aluminium content considered as pathologically-concerning (≥2.00 μg/g dry wt.) while approximately 67% of these tissues had an aluminium content considered as pathologically- significant (≥3.00 μg/g dry wt.). The brains of all 5 individuals had at least one tissue with a pathologically-significant content of aluminium.
They cited The Identification of Aluminum in Human Brain Tissue Using Lumogallion and Fluorescence Microscopy (Mirza, Exley 2016) but it was not developed from samples of 60 brains; it was developed from multiple samples of one brain.  They rated the wildly variable observed aluminium levels in the Mold, Exley et al. 2017 study using a scale they developed in Mirza, Exley 2016 based on one single brain donation.  The authors must have a lot of contempt for their target audience and benefactors or are woefully inept to try and pass this stratification off as valid.  But more importantly, the results are meaningless because they did not include any controls, nor did they include any information on medical and dietary history nor causes of deaths of the individuals whose samples were donated.

The microscopy isn't any better.  There is no validation of the stain specificity nor control for contamination.  The Blood-Brain Barrier Scientist discusses the problems with the microscopy in detail.  Futhermore, they use Photoshop for visualising and enhancing images:
The subsequent merging of fluorescence and bright-field channels was achieved using Photoshop (Adobe Systems Inc. US).
This is not standard practice, in fact it's rather amateurish.  There are dedicated software packages available for fluorescent microscopes that track image capture and enhancements.  There is also no randomisation of microscopy sections nor blinding of the reader.  Presumably (or should be) there are several images taken and randomly selected for results discussion.  This was not done so for all we know, images are cherry-picked for maximum effect.  The fact that the microscopy suddenly had ten different samples (instead of the five previously noted) begs the question of IRB approval not to mention their Table S1 does not appear in the published study.

They make very far-reaching conclusions about their findings but fail to qualify any clinical relevance.  No histology was done so actual pathology of tissues samples is lacking.  The discussion is loaded with supposition with no evidence to support their claims.
A limitation of our study is the small number of cases that were available to study and the limited availability of tissue. Regarding the latter, having access to only 1g of frozen tissue and just 3 serial sections of fixed tissue per lobe would normally be perceived as a significant limitation. Certainly if we had not identified any significant deposits of aluminium in such a small (the average brain weighs between 1500 and 2000g) sample of brain tissue then such a finding would be equivocal. However, the fact that we found aluminium in every sample of brain tissue, frozen or fixed, does suggest very strongly that individuals with a diagnosis of ASD have extraordinarily high levels of aluminium in their brain tissue and that this aluminium is pre-eminently associated with non-neuronal cells including microglia and other inflammatory monocytes.
No the actual limitations of this study are the utter lack of controls, validation and rigour at every step of the way.  Non ASD people and with no pathology are going to also have aluminium deposits in their brain tissue.  Brain tissue banks are precious resources for neuroscience investigators.  It's a gross violation of the scientific method to be wasted on rubbish studies such as this to satisfy a rich matron with a hatred for vaccines.

ETA 12.18.17: Buzzfeed just reported that scientists they spoke with, who have relevant experience have rejected this study due to the problems with the methodology listed here and on other blogs.   Additionally, Christopher Exley has a substantial conflict of interest which he failed to report.  It turns out he is a benefactor and shill for who sell ACILIS by Spritzer, a product that is touted by Exley to remove aluminium from our bodies.  SilicaWaters reports that 10% of their sales is donated to Exley's research into the benefits of drinking silica-rich water.


  1. If you're going to suggest that you have discovered the dreadful toxin that is the cause of all autism, it might be wise to pick something a little less ubiquitous than the third commonest element in the earth's crust.

    1. Water is not an element on the periodic table. Though if you played Dungeons and Dragons it was one of the available "elementals", which also included air, fire and earth.

      In all seriousness the most common elements on this planet's crust by quantity are oxygen, silicon, aluminum and iron. The soil that a child will often scrape their knee is made of minerals that almost always contain the first three elements.

      Aluminum is a very interesting element. Caution: that site is very interesting, I have wasted many hours there.

    2. Love this!!!!!! If only more people would look at the facts, rather then the ever expanding pile pseudoscientific bull!!!!
      ... And photoshop!!!!! ... just.... wow! Lol!

  2. Yeah, I knew I was moving away from "element", but toxins seem to include everything. After all, formaldehyde is not an element either, and anti-vaccine activists are concerned about it (wrongly).

    D&D is another of my favorite go-to places for scientific facts, right after Natural News.

    And yes. If aluminum caused autism, vaccines would not be the first place to look, and the rates we see might be too low.

    1. The lack of basic science from those activists is astonishing. They cannot distinguish between the element and molecule (chlorine is deadly, sodium burns, but table salt is vital), nor in the dose. Formaldehyde is needed for cell metabolism, and drinking too much water can kill. In short: anything can be a "toxin."

      Though no one has told me what in the DTaP vaccine is more toxic than tetanospasmin, the very dangerous neurotoxin of tetanus (diphtheria and pertussis both have their own toxins).

      My other "favorite" anti-vaccine goofs are assumption that the MMR vaccine had thimerosal and/or aluminum, and that aluminum is a heavy metal.

      Um, there is a reason that commercial airplanes are made with aluminum and not steel (though carbon fiber is gaining ground).

  3. There is a constant turnover of aluminium in our bodies. Anti-vaxxers portray injected aluminium salts as perpetually bio-persistent. They also fail to understand that aluminium salts deposit into the brain last so by their logic, we would see liver, bone and kidney pathology long before brain pathology. That logic thing is quite pesky though.

    1. This reminds me of another one of their logic free goofs: taking a report that premature babies can get kidney damage from the aluminum in IV feeding solutions. First the children are neither full term nor healthy. Plus the volume of the IV fluids are much higher than any vaccine!

  4. Note they also blame vaccines, but have no data on which, if any, vaccines the subjects even received. Just another addition to their poor science.

    1. Assumed vaccines can be very, very dangerous, you know.

      That's a good question for Handley, Bigtree etc'. Can you show the subjects received any vaccines?

  5. While I agree with your criticism that it is not appropriate to use the means of replicate samples like they did in this study, you are misleading the reader when you claim that there were outliers for 3 of the 4 lobes testes. No. There were only three sets of samples for which there were obvious outlier values, out of over 20. Even if one were to completely remove the data which include these outliers the results would still be significant and alarming.

    Do you think we should be at all concerned that the authors found relatively high levels of aluminum in brain samples of autistic children?

  6. are misleading the reader when you claim that there were outliers for 3 of the 4 lobes testes.
    David, I used Mold's own results. If you refer to the results in section 3.1:

    "The mean (SD) aluminium content across all 5 individuals for each lobe were 3.82(5.42), 2.30(2.00), 2.79(4.05) and 3.82(5.17) μg/g dry wt. for the occipital, frontal, temporal and parietal lobes respectively. There were no statistically significant differences in aluminium content between any of the 4 lobes."

    The means of all the individuals for the lobes is very problematic and useless. No, removing the outliers or rather using medians would be more appropriate and you can't say they would be alarming or significant without proper technique and controls for comparison. You just can't legitimately.

    Do you think we should be at all concerned that the authors found relatively high levels of aluminum in brain samples of autistic children?

    No I don't because this was a really bad study. Given their dodgy methods, we can't be certain of what they actually found.

  7. I just want to say thank you ! Your sense and sensibility are a constant persuasion against pride and prejudice.

  8. Seems to be a typical attack tactic, the source of funding, but it's also a logical fallacy. If funding sources were an issue of contention then ALL initial vaccine testing would be invalid since it's funded by pharma.

    While it should be a red flag to pay attention to bias, it is not evidence in and of itself of lack of validity.

  9. How is it "typical" Unknown? Please give examples. If you want to play logical fallacy then let's take your "logic" to the logical end. IF phase III studies were the only vaccine studies then you would have a point but they aren't. There are countless safety monitoring systems throughout the world and countless academic studies that support the safety and efficacy of vaccines. That said, let's look at the stable of publications the Dwoskins have funded and their overall contribution. How many have been retracted? How many others have been roundly rejected due to poor methodology, bias and overblown results? So yes, in this case funding source is a huge red flag but note I still went to the trouble of listing the many flaws with this study instead of simply ending at the paragraph of funding and calling it a rubbish study solely based on that.

  10. Dear Catherine and Science Mom, dear justthevax readers and friends.

    Aluminium and squalene are suspect indeed, but lets consider now these vaccine papers, well now, thats real problem !

    Anti-fertility vaccines

    Biosafety bungle leads to bird flu contamination

    And thanks for not censoring.

    To censor drug regulators and even justice itself would be very, very bad.

    Lets discuss it.

    i can provide legally downloaded papers via email (if asked for it here), in the case of missing full access in your intitutions.

    alternatively, full papers here under DOI at

    Best regards,

    Department of Justice
    Department of Health
    Department of Homeland Security(Bioterrorism)

    1. Since you are representing yourself as the DoJ, the DoH and the DHS, I think it's safe to say you are a crank of the first order and can be safely ignored. Heck just the "citations" you provided are ignore-worthy.

    2. perhaps it was meaning that author is working or intending to work for one of the intitutions or they or you can be investigated by them i.e. investigated by those intitutions ? well, then i miss the FBI there ,)

      do not take bribes, do not take bribes, or you will go mad....


    3. Ah, no. Pointing out the flaws in a very, very bad study is very different than the research fraud Wakefield engaged in. It's very strange that you make the comparison.

      If you think a published study is beyond criticism, you need to remember that the majority of it clearly shows vaccines safe and effective.

      Your comment is self-contradictory and unconvincing on its face.

  11. Neither of these paper has to do with modern vaccines. The first is a 1989 paper about the development of anti fertility vaccines that are, at that point, at an early stage - and certainly aren't on any vaccine schedule today.

    The second is even less on topic.

    How do you think this is in any way relevant to the topic at hand?

  12. they do. ad first paper

    ad second paper:

    second incident next to the Baxter bird flu incident 2009

    well, thats vaccine safety now in contrast with aluminium.

    1. No. The first link is a story of a badly founded scare about tetanus vaccines - not about any specific fertility vaccines. Here is a discussion of how that claim, too - unrelated to the testing of fertility vaccines in the 1980s - is wrong.

      The second one is about influenza. Not vaccines.

      Neither has anything to do with the vaccine schedule.

  13. some papers we have overlooked

    file submitted by Ginger Taylor, person on the list here, honestly, ad Aluminum, how possible the author Shaw is missing here... even self-retracted and republished

    1. Not overlooked. Simply not supporting the claims.

    2. thanks for the link, but it is not about autism at all if you read the papers, its about neurotoxicity, auto-immune disorders etc. Taylor is not scientist but the papers are valid and 99 per cent are not retracted papers.

    3. The list is presented as a list of papers showing vaccines cause autism. That's what she claims. Many of the papers are not about vaccines, others not about autism, other fatally flawed. The list doesn't stand, and your use of it suggests misunderstanding the list and its purpose.

    4. Anonymous, Ginger Taylor isn't anyone capable of understanding the scientific literature and it shows. She either misrepresents studies or lists junk science that is not acknowledged by the scientific community because they're so badly conducted. If you'd like to pick a study to discuss, please do but your Gish Gallup is not proof of anything other than to demonstrate how scientifically-illiterate anti-vaxxers are.