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  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
August 22, 2014, Reuben Gaines at The Poxes Blog: Andrew Jeremy Wakefield plays video director while African-American Babies die, or something
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 23, 2014, Ren at Epidemiological: Directed Acyclic Graphs and the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism.
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.
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:
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