Omnibus: the decisions are decisive

13 Feb

The first autism omnibus proceeding decisions are in: MMR does not cause autism, either alone or in conjunction with thimerosal.

Having said that, I can imagine that some of my readers are already accusing me of spinning the conclusions. That’s because the spin has already been put forth that the decisions are weak on the idea of general causation. Another theme is that the decisions only pertain to the test case families. But, as we will see, those ideas are the spin.

Here is a section from the From Autism Speaks statement on the Omnibus:

Today the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program ruled that the combination MMR vaccine — with and without the preservative thimerosal — did not contribute to three particular children’s autism.

Why did they chose to say “…three particular children’s autism” when they know full well that the point of using “test cases” is to discuss general causation?

TACA is less subtle:

The fact that it took this long for these three decisions has to mean that the vaccine injury evidence had some merit. Poor evidence would have produced a negative decision very quickly.

The fact that they took a long time to decide indicates a tough decision? Either they didn’t read the actual decisions or they are deliberately trying to muddy the waters. Seriously. The comments in the decisions are so clear, so decisive, that one just can not make the TACA statement in good conscious.

Take a look at what the special masters actually said. Granted, there are hundreds of pages of decisions and I am picking a few paragraphs out, but I think you will agree–the statements are very (very!) clear. The decisions were not close. It was not a struggle for the special masters to come to these conclusions.

From the conclusion of the Cedillo case by Special Master Hastings:

This case, however, is not a close case. The overall weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the petitioners’ causation theories. The result of this case would be the same even if I totally ignored the epidemiologic evidence, declined to consider the video evidence, and/or excluded the testimony of Dr. Bustin. The result would be the same if I restricted my consideration to the evidence originally filed into the record of this Cedillo case, disregarding the general causation evidence from the Hazlehurst and Snyder cases. The petitioners’ evidence has been unpersuasive on many different points, concerning virtually all aspects of their causation theories, each such deficiency having been discussed in detail above. The petitioners have failed to persuade me that there is validity to any of their general causation arguments, and have also failed to persuade me that there is any substantial likelihood that Michelle’s MMR vaccination contributed in any way to the causation of any of Michelle’s own disorders.

emphasis in the original.

Take a couple of lines out, shall we? Starting with, “…not a close case”. He even emphasized it with italics.

“The overall weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the petitioners’ causation theories. “

and

” The petitioners’ evidence has been unpersuasive on many different points, concerning virtually all aspects of their causation theories, each such deficiency having been discussed in detail above. “

This is a clear and decisive decision, not doubts about it.

From another section of the decision, this one entitled Summary concerning general causation issue

For all the reasons stated above, I conclude that the petitioners have failed completely to demonstrate that it is “more probable than not” that the MMR vaccination can be a substantial factor in contributing to the causation of autism, in individuals suffering from regressive autism or any other type of autism. To the contrary, the evidence that I have reviewed makes it appear extremely unlikely that the MMR vaccine can contribute to the causation of autism. It is clear that the causation theories themselves are weak, not just the case in specific for Miss Cedillo.

I expect fragments like “extremely unlikely” to be taken out of context.

An entire section of the decision (page 34) is titled, “I have found above that petitioners general causation theory concerning immune damage is without merit.”

As to part (1) of petitioners’ three-step theory (see previous paragraph), I have already explained in detail, at pp. 22-34 of this Decision, why I have found no merit in the petitioners’ theory that thimerosal-containing vaccines in general can damage infant immune systems.

Doesn’t bode well for the next three Omnibus test cases, does it? The second three focus on thimerosal alone.

Back to MMR, there are two more decisions. From the concluding paragraph to the Hazlehurst decision, by SM Campbell-Smith,

Having carefully and fully considered the evidence, the undersigned concludes that the combination of the thimerosal-containing vaccines and the MMR vaccine are not causal factors in the development of autism and therefore, could not have contributed to the development of Yates’ autism.

Again, for emphasis, let’s pull a phrase out: “the undersigned concludes that the combination of the thimerosal-containing vaccines and the MMR vaccine are not causal factors in the development of autism”

From the Snyder case,

To conclude that Colten’s condition was the result of his MMR vaccine, an objective observer would have to emulate Lewis Carroll’s White Queen and be able to believe six impossible (or, at least, highly improbable) things before breakfast. The families of children with ASD and the court have waited in vain for adequate evidence to support the autism-MMR hypothesis.

Pretty strong words, but I can see some people saying that there is the indication that it is just “highly improbably” raised to the sixth power. “Highly improbably^6 is not zero!” we will hear.

From another section, specifically addressing the general causation question:

However, the problems with the case presented by petitioners for general causation are overwhelming. The quality of the petitioners’ experts paled in comparison to the world-class experts proffered by respondent. The theories petitioners’ experts advanced lacked support in both logic and research. As Dr. Ward testified, an hypothesis has a life span. An hypothesis may be biologically plausible at the time it is first advanced. As evidence accumulates, the hypothesis may be strengthened or weakened. The MMR hypothesis may have appeared biologically plausible at its inception, but the accumulating body of scientific evidence has tipped the scales decisively against it. Snyder Tr. at 975. The weight of the scientific evidence is that the measles vaccine virus plays no role in the pathogenesis or triggering of autism. I thus conclude that petitioners have failed to demonstrate that the MMR vaccine can cause autism, even in the highly circumscribed subset of children with regressive ASD and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Again, for emphasis, here is a line pulled from the above “The weight of the scientific evidence is that the measles vaccine virus plays no role in the pathogenesis or triggering of autism”

It will be frustrating to watch the spin continue. I expect to hear “The decisions weren’t really that decisive” for some time to come.

But, the fact of the matter is that these decisions are clear and, well, decisive.

This is not just a statement about the spin-factor, by the way. The vaccine lawyers have just done millions of dollars worth of groundwork for their appeal and later civil cases on the taxpayer’s dollar. The fact that the Court of Federal Claims has issued such incredibly strong decisions makes it much more difficult for those cases, especially the civil cases, to actually go to trial.

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8 Responses to “Omnibus: the decisions are decisive”

  1. Tsu Dho Nimh February 13, 2009 at 15:47 #

    The reason the decisions took so long is that they were written to be extremely clear, and there was a lot of science as well as smoke and mirrors to examine.

    And then the cites to laws to look up … a decision may be “made” mentally, but the paperwork takes a long time.

  2. Joseph February 13, 2009 at 17:44 #

    I think it’s time to state the obvious: Autism Speaks is an anti-vax organization. That’s what they are, and they should not hide it or pretend this is not the case. Nor should anyone else pretend or hope this is not the case.

  3. zeno February 13, 2009 at 18:33 #

    Sullivan

    An excellent summary. They are, indeed, utterly damning.

    As you imply, the anti-vaxers will be trawling through these judgements for any grain they can pull out, twist around, quote out of context, etc, etc. And a few ad hominems to boot. Expect to be amazed at their contortions.

  4. Michelle February 13, 2009 at 23:34 #

    Joseph…

    Sadly, I think you are correct about Autism Speaks. My husband and I used to be big supporters of NAAR/AS specifically because it was the only autism organization dedicated to science. And they’ve had some top notch scientists on their board. But they clearly have turned to the “dark side,” and now I can no longer support them. I think Alison Singer’s exit will be the first of many.

  5. ebohlman February 13, 2009 at 23:38 #

    Of course, if the court “produced a negative decision very quickly” the cranks would be citing it as “evidence” that the decision was bought and paid for.

  6. Sullivan February 14, 2009 at 00:04 #

    The decisions were delayed because the petitioners were attempting to obtain information from the UK. They only gave up that quest in September of 2008.

    The special masters couldn’t really make a decision until they had all the potential evidence, now could they?

    For TACA to now spin the delay like this is just disgusting.

  7. David N. Andrews M. Ed. (Distinction) February 14, 2009 at 10:44 #

    “For TACA to now spin the delay like this is just disgusting.”

    Indeed. But isn’t it just SO them?!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Science-Based Medicine » 2009: Shaping up to be a really bad year for antivaccinationists - February 23, 2009

    [...] Since the decisions together run hundreds of pages, this article has become quite long, and other bloggers have posted excerpts, I will be judicious in selecting key [...]

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