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Comment on: Expression of Concern: Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young African American boys: a reanalysis of CDC data

31 Aug

It’s in a peer reviewed journal. We’ve heard that a lot about Mr. Hooker’s recent paper “Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young African American boys: a reanalysis of CDC data”

What does “peer” review mean when the person who wrote the paper has shown himself to have a bit of a problem with the truth? Who is the peer for someone who acts as the “priest” to a man in order to record his statements and put edited versions of them on the web?

I ask this because the editor of the journal Translational Neurodegeneration has published an “Expression of Concern”. I’ve never seen an editorial “expression of concern” before and I’ve been publishing papers for 25 or so years.

Here is that “Expression of Concern

The Publisher of this article [1] has serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions because of possible undeclared competing interests of the author and peer reviewers. The matter is undergoing investigation. In the meantime, readers are advised to treat the reported conclusions of this study with caution. Further action will be taken, if appropriate, once our investigation is complete

Let’s start by exploring the “competing interests” statement on Mr. Hooker’s recent paper. Authors are supposed to list whether and what conflicts of interest they may have so the reader can weight that when reading the paper. Mr. Hooker’s article lists as “competing interests” that “Dr. Hooker has been involved in vaccine/biologic litigation.”

If memory serves, Brian Hooker has used this “competing interest” statement before. I remember that because I found it odd given that his case as a petitioner before the Court of Federal Claims (vaccine court) is still ongoing. The way the above is phrased does not capture the active nature of his case.

What about the question the editors raised about peer reviewers? Well, we can only speculate because we don’t know who those reviewers might be. An author can often suggest possible referees for his/her paper when it is first submitted. One should be intellectually honest and not just recommend one’s friends. The editor is not bound to use the suggested authors. If not, the editor may look for similar papers in his/her journal and ask authors of those papers to referee. There are only three papers involving vaccines at the journal Translational Neurodegeneration presently. Two of those involved Mark and David Geier, the father/son team that has been much discussed here and elsewhere. It would be reasonable for the editors to think about the Geiers as referees. One of the papers papers is “A two-phase study evaluating the relationship between Thimerosal-containing vaccine administration and the risk for an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis in the United States”. It appeared in Tanslational Neurodegeneration last year.

Let’s take a brief aside. Ever heard of that paper? That’s what happens to mediocre science published by biased authors. No one cares. That is, unless, one comes out with dramatic press releases about “CDC Whistleblowers”.

Take a look at the competing interests statement in the “two-phased study”. It is the same as in the new paper by Mr. Hooker. Besides the fact that this doesn’t capture the active nature of Mr. Hooker’s case, it doesn’t capture the fact that Mark Geier is an expert witness in a case. Given that the Which is again odd as Mark Geier is currently engaged as an expert witness to Mr. Hooker’s ongoing court case. Mr. Geier has been hired by Mr. Hooker.

Back to the first paper–let’s say that one or both Geiers were chosen as referees. Either by recommendation of Mr. Hooker or because the editor is mining his previous authors. The fact that Mark Geier is working on active litigation for Mr. Hooker would be a pretty serious competing interest. Had Mr. Hooker recommended Mr. Geier, Mr. Hooker should have declared this business relationship they had.

Again, we can only speculate at this point. But this is an example of what sort of problem might be ongoing that the editors wish to investigate.

Mr. Hooker’s current paper (his reanalysis) has been replaced on the journal website with this statement:

This article has been removed from the public domain because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions. The journal and publisher believe that its continued availability may not be in the public interest. Definitive editorial action will be pending further investigation

My guess is that the editors took a second look at this paper after the very strange and very bad public relations campaign Mr. Hooker engaged in. Finding discussions by researchers online discussing how bad this paper is, the editors questioned how the paper got through. And found a possible problem with the referees chosen, resulting in their expression of concern.

From a list of discussions about the Hooker paper put together by educator/writer Liz Ditz:

  • August 22, 2014,  Orac Knows at Respectful Insolence:  Brian Hooker proves Andrew Wakefield wrong about vaccines and autism

    Of course, the key finding in Brian Hooker’s paper is that Wakefield was wrong. Indeed, in this video, Wakefield even admits that he was mostly wrong about MMR and autism. Let that sink in again. He admits that he was mostly wrong about MMR and autism. OK, he says we were “partially right,” but the flip side of that is that he must have been mostly wrong.

  • August 22, 2014, Reuben Gaines at The Poxes Blog: Andrew Jeremy Wakefield plays video director while African-American Babies die, or something

    Hooker is wrong in his assertions because the DeStefano paper did not leave out African-American children on purpose. Children were excluded from the analysis because of very legitimate and scientific reasons. They either were not the right age, did not have autism but some other neurodevelopment disorder, or were born outside of Georgia. Even if they were tossed into the analysis, DeStefano et al used a statistical analysis that took into account things like birth weight and mother’s age when analysing the data. They wanted to make sure that what they were seeing was most likely because of the MMR vaccine and not because of some other factor associated with autism.

  • August 23, 2014,  Ren at Epidemiological: Directed Acyclic Graphs and the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism.

    I’m very skeptical that Dr. Hooker’s simplified statistical approach can be better than DeStefano et al’s approach of conditional logistic regression. Conditional logistic regression has the advantage of being able to control for a multitude of confounders and effect modifiers.

  • Another cause for concern in my view would be Mr. Hooker’s declaration submitted with the paper. Authors are required to state that they are submitting original research. An analysis performed 10 years ago by someone at another organization (CDC in this case) which you duplicated is not, in my opinion, original research.

    Also there is a very broad competing interests statement on the Journal’s website

    Non-financial competing interests
    Non-financial competing interests include (but are not limited to) political, personal, religious, ideological, academic, and intellectual competing interests. If, after reading these guidelines, you are unsure whether you have a competing interest, please contact the Editor

    Mr. Hooker certainly has some personal and ideological interests. Here’s a YouTube video of a presentation he gave last year, and discussed here at Left Brain/Right Brain. It’s a Skype-talk.

    Here’s a screenshot:

    hooker_autism_inside_job

    His talk is “CDC — Ground Zero for the decline of children in the United States”. His logo on every page is a mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb explosion. The title of Mr. Hooker’s talk in the program for that event was “Autism-an inside job”. I’m going with strong “ideological interests” here. Both in his views on vaccines and on his views on the CDC. But anyone seeing the recent videos he produced with Andrew Wakefield would know that.

    When I wrote about this talk before I noted that it was presented at a 9/11 Truther online conference. Mr. Hooker let me know that he took offence to the implication that he is a 9/11 truther. I wasn’t making that implication then and I’m not now. I do think Mr. Hooker makes very poor choices when he chooses to lend his name to a 9/11 truther event.

    In this case, it isn’t that Mr. Hooker’s decisions are poor (they are), it’s that his choices show that he has a rather strong ideological stance on vaccines and the CDC. One which the editors of his recent article likely wish Mr. Hooker had disclosed when he submitted his paper.

    Of course, with all this in the public domain, this also begs the question of why “CDC Whistleblower” William Thompson chose to work closely with Mr. Hooker. But that is a discussion for another time.


    By Matt Carey

    CBS News on Judge Rotenberg Center: Controversy over shocking people with autism, behavioral disorders

    6 Aug

    Controversy over shocking people with autism, behavioral disorders is a story on the CBS News website today. In it, a former resident of the Judge Rotenberg Center is interviewed

    Jennifer Msumba is on the autism spectrum. For seven years, she was treated at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts, where she received painful electric shocks aimed at modifying her behavior. She describes being strapped, spread-eagle to a restraint board and shocked multiple times before she left the center in 2009.

    “It’s so scary. I would ask God to make my heart stop because I didn’t want to live when that was happening to me. I just wanted to die and make it stop,” she told CBS News correspondent Anna Werner in an interview at her mother’s home outside Boston. “I thought, they won’t be able to hurt me anymore.”

    There is video of an extended interview with Ms. Msumba. Unfortunately, the embed code doesn’t work on this blog, but that video is here.

    The FDA is considering whether the electric shocks should continue. CBS reports that decision is due shortly.


    By Matt Carey

    Medicaid will start paying for autism therapies

    26 Jul

    Medicaid will start paying for autism therapies. The news was released at the last IACC meeting and I’ve been trying to work out how best to write it since. Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Not to take anything away from the person who presented it at the meeting but after a while of hearing things like:

    Those categories include: section 1905(a)(6) – services of other licensed practitioners; section 1905(a)(13)(c) – preventive services; and section 1905(a)(10)- therapy services.

    I just get saturated with the 1915(a) vs 1915(i) type language.

    Here’s the announcement: Clarification of Medicaid Coverage of Services to Children with Autism

    Here’s one of the first paragraphs:

    The federal Medicaid program may reimburse for services to address ASD through a variety of authorities. Services can be reimbursed through section 1905(a) of the Social Security Act (the Act), section 1915(i) state plan Home and Community-Based Services, section 1915(c) Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waiver programs and section 1115 research and demonstration programs.

    See what I mean? Take from this “the federal Medicaid program may remburse for services to address ASD”

    How did this come to pass? A lot of people have been pressuring medicaid for some time to provide autism services. This includes lawsuits, like this one in Florida (Judge: Florida Medicaid Must Cover Therapy for Autism).

    If you listen in or watch the IACC meetings, you know that for the past few years one of the sources of pressure on Medicaid has been from IACC member Idil Abdul. I don’t know if a meeting has gone by where Idil hasn’t talked about the inequities of a system where we say we will give medical support to our disabled poor, but we withhold support for treatments related to their disability. Or, to put it simply: why should kids with private insurance get speech, OT and other services while other kids don’t under medicaid?

    People often ask what is the value of the IACC and here is one of those unquantifiable benefits. Idil did what a public representative to a federal committee should do: she informed federal members of the needs of the community. Across the table from her was John O’Brien of Medicare and Medicaid Services. John is a good guy and would often patiently correct some factual errors in what Idil had said. But he had to listen to Idil.

    And for those of us who know Idil, when I say “she informed federal members” you have to know that “informed” is a major understatement.

    Would this shift in Medicaid policy have happened without Idil? It was a big group effort as I’ve already said. Would it have happened later without Idil? We can’t rerun the experiment.

    Just to be clear–this wasn’t an effort of the IACC. This was an effort of a member of the IACC. Made possible by her being on the IACC. It’s an odd distinction, but an important one. The structure congress created of the IACC got Idil’s voice in the right place at the right time.

    While on the subject of distinctions: as always, my comments are my own and they do not represent the views of the IACC.


    By Matt Carey

    Andrew Wakefield and Lance Armstrong: two unethical people exposed by the Sunday Times

    30 Jun

    The Sunday Times has a series of films (Unquiet Films, www.foreverunquiet.co.uk) has a series of short films about the impact of The Times has had over the years.

    Newspapers are all about stories – but sometimes the best stories are the ones we don’t tell.

    Let’s not forget that news is often something that someone, somewhere, doesn’t want you to know. The real-life tales of how world-changing exclusives – whether from foreign reporters under fire, or determined hacks banging against stone-walling bureaucracy – are brought out into the open can be just as extraordinary as the articles that end up in the newspaper. Sometimes the story behind our amazing photo-journalism, campaign to change the law on adoption, to make cities safe for cycling, to reveal the corruption at the heart of FIFA, or the lies of a champion like Lance Armstrong are as exciting as a thriller, as tense as an episode of House of Cards.

    We decided it was time to showcase just what the best journalists do… the real lives, real struggles, real bravery behind the newspaper stories that change the course of history. It’s all very well to boast that The Times and the Sunday Times strive to speak truth to power, without fear or favour and to report the truth, whatever the cost. But too often exactly what that takes – the death threats to reporters, the legal battles, the toughness and integrity it takes to get the article on the page – gets lost in the telling.

    So here, in a series of extraordinary and independently made short films are some of the amazing, true-life stories behind the stories – we hope you find them as moving and inspiring as we do.

    As an example of the “best journalists do”, they have a segment entitled “question everything“. It focuses on Brian Deer (whose work exposed the unethical actions of Andrew Wakefield, later found proved by the GMC) and David Walsh (who pursued and uncovered the Lance Armstrong doping scandal).

    From BAFTA-winning filmmaker Will Clark: We now live in a world where more often than not, only the surface facts of a story are reported. Real investigative journalism seems to be a dying art and I feel this is something we should all be deeply concerned about. I wanted to create a film that focused on two Sunday Times journalists whose pursuit for the truth turned into an obsession. From Lance Armstrong’s doping revelations to Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent MMR claims, both were lengthy investigations that were published at risk by the newspaper. Both investigations also managed to reveal large scandals that would most likely have remained hidden were it not for the perseverance and tenacity of the journalists covering the stories. I’m sure every reporter has secretly wished for his or her very own All The President’s Men moment. This is the tale of two journalists who got their wish.

    Here’s the video:


    By Matt Carey

    A cause célèbre for those claiming vaccines cause autism

    1 Mar

    If you participate in online discussions about autism and vaccines (and I’d advise you to spend your time more productively), you will often hear about how the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (the “Vaccine Court”) has compensated numerous cases of autism, the government just doesn’t admit it. These are often referred to as “secret” compensations, even though the decisions are in the public record. And, quite frankly, the families were not compensated for autism claims.

    One family whose story has become a cause célèbre thanks to David Kirby is now the topic of a new Court decision. In this new decision, the court responds to the parents request to have past court documents redacted. They would like to stop being approached by members of the media.

    Before we get to the new decision, consider Mr. Kirby’s story:

    The parents, who did not want to be interviewed, specifically asserted that [child] “suffered a Vaccine Table Injury, namely, an encephalopathy” as a result of his MMR vaccination on December 19, 2003.” (“Table injuries” are known, compensable adverse reactions to immunizations.)

    Alternatively, they claim that “as a cumulative result of his receipt of each and every vaccination between March 25, 2003 and February 22, 2005, [child] has suffered . . . neuroimmunologically mediated dysfunctions in the form of asthma and ASD.”

    (child’s name redacted by me)

    The parents didn’t want to be interviewed. They also presented two claims, one encephalopathy and one autism. Mr. Kirby focused on the autism claim, even though it wasn’t compensated. Mr. Kirby states:

    Whether HHS agreed with [child]‘s parents that his vaccine-induced brain disease led to ASD is unknown. The concession document is under seal.

    Actually, it was known. The proffer of an award was titled “Proffer on Award of Compensation; Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR); Table Injury; Encephalitis.”

    The child was being compensated for a table injury: encephalitis. Within that document, it is clearly stated:

    On June 9, 2011, respondent filed a supplemental report pursuant to Vaccine Rule 4(c) stating it was respondent’s view that Ryan suffered a Table injury under the Vaccine Act – namely, an encephalitis within five to fifteen days following receipt of the December 19, 2003 MMR vaccine, see 42 C.F.R. § 100.3(a)(III)(B), and that this case is appropriate for compensation under the terms of the Vaccine Program

    Emphasis mine.

    Even with this information showing the family were not compensating autism clearly in the public domain Mr. Kirby tells us it’s “unknown”. Then, true to Mr. Kirby’s style, he leads his readers to the evidence supporting the possibility that it was ASD while never coming right out and saying it.

    Perhaps the feds were loath to concede yet another vaccine case involving autism. Four cases in the Autism Omnibus Proceedings were recently compensated. Three of those cases are marked with asterisks, indicating the government did not conclude that autism can be caused by vaccines. But the fourth autism case that was paid out in 2013 ([child]‘s case? We don’t know) has no such caveat.

    Mr. Kirby was referring to the HRSA statistics page that lists vaccine court petitions filed and compensated. At the time Mr. Kirby wrote his piece, the statistics report did include autism cases. They no longer do, so you have to check archived pages to see what he’s referring to.

    At the time of Mr. Kirby’s article, there appear to have been two cases where someone in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding did receive compensation (I don’t have reason to believe Mr. Kirby was in error, but the archived page doesn’t show four cases). Both of those cases had asterisks.

    *May include case(s) that were originally filed and processed as an OAP cases but in which the final adjudication does not include a finding of vaccine-related autism

    Mr. Kirby concluded with:

    Meanwhile, as HHS says it “has never concluded in any case that autism was caused by vaccination,” it is still underwriting autism treatments such as ABA for children in its vaccine-injury program.

    Which basically reads as “the government is making a distinction without a difference”. I.e. the reader comes away with the impression that the government really are compensating autism.

    We knew then that these parents didn’t want to talk to the media. They didn’t want to speak with Mr. Kirby, to become his latest cause célèbre. And now we know that they still do not want this attention and we read once again that the case was not compensated for autism. From a recent decision:

    “Petitioners have made these requests because they have had the misfortune of being frequently contacted by members of the media who mistakenly believe they were compensated for their alternative autism allegation when Petitioners were actually compensated for a Table Injury encephalopathy.”

    Given the family’s clear intent to get out of the public’s eye, I am hesitant to put this article out. But perhaps, just perhaps, some of those using this family as part of their constant fight to keep the autism/vaccine idea alive might reconsider.


    By Matt Carey

    Embryo screening to reduce autism risk: it’s not in the future. It’s now

    28 Dec

    A news article on screening of embryos came out last week and it was picked up under various titles by various news outlets.

    From Australia and New Zealand

    Why IVF parents are choosing girls over boys, which google news also listed under Parents call for embryo screening to cut risks.

    IVF parents choosing girls over boys

    And a different take

    Parents Worldwide Prefer Girls To Boys: Will India And China Learn?

    From India

    Why girls are preferred over boys by IVF parents

    Here’s a quote from one of the stories:

    Figures from one of Sydney’s top IVF clinics show about one in 20 parents seeking embryo screening are looking to have a female baby to reduce their risk of autism.

    Australia does not allow for gender selection of embryos. One can’t tell the IVF team to pick male or female embryos. But one can ask for genetic screening.

    University of Sydney senior lecturer in bioethics Chris Jordens said autism had a strong genetic basis, so it was within the guidelines.

    And the trend towards genetic screening is strong and building in the US.

    At a recent conference in Chicago, he saw a number of United States IVF providers offering parents without the conditions tests for between 180 and 600 common gene mutations, such as the BRCA ”breast cancer” genes.

    Gender selection to reduce autism risk is about the most basic, the most crude, genetic screening one could imagine. But it’s real and it’s happening.

    The concept of autism prevention through genetic screening, either in IVF or in selective abortions, has been a major ethical question with the push for genetics research in autism in the past decade.

    The first step in guiding our societies towards an ethical approach to genetic testing is to present autism accurately. This is one reason why I and others speak out when groups such as Autism Speaks or some parent “advocates” present autism with phrases such as as “These families are not living” or “Life is lived…in despair”. Is life harder, more challenging for my kid? Absolutely. But what message are we sending to prospective parents when we tell them that their lives will be lived in despair or they will no longer be living if they have an autistic child? We are telling them to do whatever they can to avoid having an autistic child. We are telling them to pick and chose their embryos. We are telling them to selectively abort. We are telling the autistics of today that the perfect world (in the view of the majority) is one without them.

    My kid and other autistics, children and adults, deserve life. They deserve the right to pursue happiness. Disabled does not equate to despair.

    This is why, Autism Speaks, when you portray my kid as less, my life as not lived, I and others will speak out. Autism Speaks, it’s time you started listening.

    By Matt Carey

    Financial documents for the Canary Party

    12 Jul

    There seems to be a large number of groups promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism. A large number of groups who share the same principle members. SafeMinds, the National Autism Association, Generation Rescue and others come to mind. A few years ago, another group was formed, this time as a political party: the Canary Party.

    The Canary Party is not a charity, so they do not file form 990’s with the IRS. They appear to not be a national political party a they are not listed with the FEC. Recently, a commenter at the Respecful Insolence blog (Narad)found that the Canary Party is organized in Minnesota and files their financial reports there.

    Forms have been filed for 2011 and 2012.

    The Canary Party pulled in $72,000 in 2011 and $49,000 in 2012. The major contributors are (assuming I did my sums correctly):

    2011:

    Jennifer Larson (Canary Party President), $40,665
    Mark Blaxill (Canary Party Chairman), $15,000

    2012:

    Barry Segal (founder of Focus Autism): $30,000
    Mark Blaxill (Canary Party Chairman), $10,000

    The largest expense is for a “media consultant”, Jennifer Taylor (apparently Ginger Taylor, a blogger).

    $36,600 in 2011
    $9,000 in 2012

    Plus many expenses for advertising and other promotional expenses.

    In 2012, travel became a larger expense. For example:

    On January 26, 2012, $3,399.79 for expenses with Hyatt/Four-Seasons/Hyatt
    (February 2nd 2012 was the date of the “Health Freedom Expo”, where other expenses were incurred)

    On February 2, 2012, $1,841.43 for expenses with Hyatt/Ritz

    It’s difficult from this to tell how many people were lodged at these hotels for these dates. One expense seems more clear: On 6/15/2012, expenses attributed to Canary Party president Jennifer Larson amounted to $1,541.42 for another Health Freedom Expo hotel stay, this time at the Hilton. Health Freedom Expos are typically 3 day events.

    On 10/22/2012 the party hosted a convention, with apparently a tab of $11,382.02 for Hotel/Beverages/Hotel Fees.

    Nothing particularly interesting. Per another comment posted to Respectful Insolence, the association between the Canary Party and Mr. Barry Segal appears to be strained. As Mr. Segal accounted for $30,000 of the party’s $49,000 revenue in 2012, one does wonder what 2013 revenue will look like.


    Matt Carey

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