At the January 2013 monthly meeting, NESACS hosted Dr. Allen Steere, the world’s foremost expert on Lyme disease. Since Lyme disease was identified over thirty years ago Dr. Steere has embarked on an “odyssey” to find its cause and cure. A NY Times article from 2001 about Dr. Steere can be found here. Currently acceptable diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease can be found on PubMed .
Lyme disease, while only recently tracked by the CDC , does not seem like a controversial subject. Dr. Steere, a reserved physician and researcher, presented his findings articulately and concisely. But twenty minutes into the presentation, it became clear that some people vehemently disagreed with his conclusions. From the back of the room, Mr. Timothy Grey claimed the US government intentionally infected ticks with recombinant pathogens, implying that citizens had been intentionally exposed. Before being escorted out of the room, Mr. Grey leveled a disturbing accusation: “Allen Steere’s papers killed my sister . . . her blood is on your hands . . . You’re a monster and I’ll make it my life’s work to see you in prison.” Mr. Grey was swiftly escorted out of the room, defiantly protesting his removal down the corridor and to the elevator.
Myself and other participants in the forum exchanged anxious glances. Did this man intend to physically harm anyone? Would he return? He was sitting with others at the back of the room- were they also dissenters? What were their intentions? Should the meeting proceed?
After a few moments of tense and awkward silence, Dr. Steere briefly explained that Mr. Grey was part of a “strong Lyme disease counter culture that disagrees with everything about mainstream medicine.” Mr. Grey is also a filmmaker who created a documentary in 2009, “Under the Eightball,” which purports to connect US biowarfare programs to Lyme disease. The film also chronicled his younger sister’s struggle with Lyme disease, which possibly caused her death. The documentary is only available for purchase through its facebook site, but you can read a movie review that describes it in more detail. Of course, this information was unknown to me at the time of the meeting; I subsequently spent several hours on the internet researching both Dr. Steere and Mr. Grey. During the course of my inquiries I also discovered that Mr. Grey had gained access to Dr. Steere’s office in 2009 and surreptitiously filmed the encounter. You can watch that video on youtube.
It is clear that Mr. Grey has behaved unethically. Is it any wonder that Dr. Steere has hired bodyguards in the past? At the meeting, did anyone notice that NESACS did not advertise that “the public is welcome” for Dr. Steere’s presentation? I cannot imagine the frustration and fear of being stalked by someone who clearly wants to destroy my personal and professional reputation.
Unfortunately, confrontation has displaced conversation in public scientific discourse. Personhood, climate change, and vaccinations are all legislative issues that have significant ethical implications. However, counter-culture dissenters receive as much media attention as the cut-and-dry scientific mainstream. Scientists are hindered by negative stereotypes and poor PR. The result is a public that does not believe that truth in science is dictated by data, but instead determined by righteous fervor. This misguided notion benefits no one in the long run.
At the end of Dr. Steere’s presentation, which concluded without incident, the audience was invited to ask questions. Unsurprisingly, no one inquired about alternative therapies for Lyme disease or government-sanctioned experiments performed on deer ticks. I must admit, though, Mr. Grey piqued my curiosity. Maybe I should have had a conversation with Dr. Steere about it.