What is the deal with IACC member Larry Wexler, PhD, from the Dept of Ed? Until yesterday, in the five plus years I have watched Larry serve on the IACC committee I have never seen him express any sense of urgency regarding autism research or serving the autism community. But wow, yesterday Wexler on fire!
Thanks to the Gov. Accountability Office (if you are reading this I love you) IACC has been warned that they must stop recommending the funding of excessive duplication of genetic research. The NIH has spent nearly half a billion dollars since the first CARE was passed and has almost nothing to show for it. This is because the NIH wastes an inordinate amount of our research money duplicating the same “learn the signs” and genetic research 1,000 time over. Yes, research needs duplication yet, for example, 11,000 learn the signs studies are enough, just enough. Because the NIH grossly overfunds the area of early intervention and genetics, they have starved more promising areas of autism research (immunology, gastroenterology treatment, toxicology, vocational program research) of funds.
But rather than be grown ups about the commonsense GAO recommendation, most IACC members became histrionic in the face of this constructive criticism. THEIR feelings were hurt, their egos clearly bruised. The GAO clearly “doesn’t understand how science works!” Insel, Battey and Wexler and other members said as they puffed out their chests. “The GAO don’t understand duplication IS necessary in science! They are getting it all wrong!” No, IACC it is YOU who are getting it all wrong. You are failing to fund meaningful work, despite ample opportunities. The NIH rejects so much promising biomedical research in favor of the same old genetics and people with autism suffer as a result.
While discussing how they were going to incorporate the GAO recommendations into the new Autism Research Strategic Plan Larry Wexler just lost it. Suddenly Wexler appeared very agitated and raised his hand to speak. What he said next is priceless, priceless!
Larry argued that the autism genetic research the NIH funds directly benefits other autism research topics. Larry provided no examples of this. “The GAO doesn’t understand genetics is not in a separate silo!” Yes, it absolutely is! “When Tom Insel was made to appear before Congress about the excessive fund of genetics he showed his genius! Insel told Congress that all the genetics work advances other research disciplines!” Again, no examples given, but Wexler was deep in angry fairytale land now.
Larry became so worked up about this small criticism, meant to better deliver help to Americans suffering with debilitating aspects of autism, all that mattered to him was his own ego and the need to be proven right. Wexler argued that Congress and the GAO “need to be educated about how research works!” Essentially Wexler was saying that it should be perfectly OK to ignore all public input, ignore all treatable autism related suffering and ignore giant gaps in the research, in favor of excessive duplication of genetic research. Wexler wants to incorporate an “educational page” because “he is an educator,” at the beginning of the Strategic Plan, basically explaining why the GAO report is WAY off base and that IACC needs to do what IACC wants to do and anyone who disagrees with that “doesn’t understand science.”
I have witnessed many a temper tantrum with my kids. M A N Y. But Larry Wexler’s tantrum was epic. This man is in total denial about the stagnant state of autism science. I think Larry really feels everything is going great! Wexler also does not care, apparently at all, about importance of accountability or the importance of better serving people with autism. Wexler was behaving like a 4th grader, as if the GAO report was a personal insult to him and his best pal, Tom Insel. Why don’t these guys understand they work for us, not each other? This is not their money, it’s taxpayer money and Wexler and co. cannot just spend this money recklessly and throw a hissy fit when they are held accountable.
Larry Wexler you need to grow up.
A big thank you to John Elder Robsion who was the only IACC member to stand up to Wexler. Robsion reminded Wexler that the committee can and should focus on serving the autism community better by funding more meaningful research. In so many words John went on to remind Larry that IACC needs to pay attention to public input and not be so dismissive of the GAO criticism. But I bet this advice went in one ear and out the other and Wexler is working on his defiant “educational page” for the next Strategic Plan right now.
Katie Wright is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.