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Measles are back but where is Jenny McCarthy?

28 Jan

It takes a lot of courage to stand up and make yourself heard on unpopular topics. But it’s only really courageous if you are willing to accept responsibility for being wrong. Jenny McCarthy stood up. She made herself heard. In the process she got a lot of media attention, led a march on Washington (the Green Our Vaccines rally), and sold a lot of books. That was years ago. Now we are seeing the outbreaks of disease that so many, even Ms. McCarthy, predicted based on the path she set. Back then she at least had the guts to say, “it’s not my fault” (I disagree). Now she’s just absent from the public’s eye on this topic. Instead we get her new reality show.

Today, a measles outbreak originating in Jenny McCarthy’s old backyard (southern California) has reached about 100 people infected (50 in the state, 23 more whose connection to the epicenter of the outbreak is unknown and more out of state). And, no comment from Ms. McCarthy. But she wasn’t always so quiet. Consider this statement from an interview in Time Magazine:

I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their f___ing fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s s___. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.

The idea that somehow a resurgence of disease would lead to a change in vaccines didn’t make sense to me back then. It seemed like some nasty game of “chicken” where Ms. McCarthy was going to frighten enough people about vaccines that outbreaks would be possible. Frighten with statements like “they’re making a product that’s shit” and that the vaccines are not safe. Somehow, once this fear was instilled and the drop in vaccination rates happened, outbreaks would happen and these would prove her point that the vaccines are “shit” and the vaccines would be reinvented.

Apparently Ms. McCarthy realized that this logic wasn’t sound as she started distancing herself from the vaccine message years ago. Instead of being at the forefront of her movement today, ready to force the changes she predicted, she brings handlers to interviews to deflect questions on vaccines. She points people to her nonpology and nosplenation of her views in an op-ed published by the Chicago Sun Times, Jenny McCarthy: The gray area on vaccines

Here’s a defensive paragraph (and a straw man argument) in that op-ed:

“People have the misconception that we want to eliminate vaccines,” I told Time Magazine science editor Jeffrey Kluger in 2009. “Please understand that we are not an anti-vaccine group. We are demanding safe vaccines. We want to reduce the schedule and reduce the toxins.”

Here’s the thing. Many people have called out Jenny McCarthy over the years for her irresponsible statements about vaccines. She spread a lot of fear. One doesn’t read “They’re making a product that’s shit” or a correction of that view at the Sun Times. One doesn’t hear blanket statements that vaccines are all unsafe (“If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it.”) One doesn’t read her statements that vaccines are behind the rise in diagnosed autism rates. One doesn’t hear her state that if she had another child, she wouldn’t vaccinate (a statement she made back when she was more vocal). No, all we get is her “grey area” on vaccines.

Also, not comment about the impending outbreaks.

Which brings me back to: where’s the courage in hiding and dodging the consequences of your actions, Ms. McCarthy? Are you going to point me back to your claim that “it’s not my fault” made on Larry King Live?

KING: Isn’t the problem here, Jenny, that people sometimes listen with one ear are going to panic. And not vaccine at all?

MCCARTHY: Probably. But guess what? It’s not my fault. The reason why they’re not vaccinating is because the vaccines are not safe. Make a better product and then parents will vaccinate.

I didn’t buy it then, I don’t buy it now.

And a similar sentiment

KING: Probably due to you, jenny, and programs like this, the percentage of children getting vaccinations is dropping.
Do you think that’s good?

MCCARTHY: I think it’s only good because it’s the only thing that’s going to shake up the CDC to do something about it.

Yes, they and others have been doing something about “it”. It being the drop in vaccination rates, not the alleged problems with vaccines you were intending. Many people have spent a lot of time trying to prevent or reduce the outbreaks we are seeing now. The question is why weren’t you working on avoiding this?

As I stated at the outset, it’s only courageous to stand up against prevailing opinion if you are willing to take responsibility and fix problems if/when you are proved wrong.

Ms. McCarthy, you were wrong. You were wrong to spread fear. And you can’t get out of it with a simple “it’s not my fault”. It is partly your fault that outbreaks are happening.

And are these outbreaks causing people to accept your position and make the changes you asked for?

No.

And all this doesn’t even touch on the problems of your promotion of unsafe “therapies” for autism, an issue much closer to my heart.


By Matt Carey

Autism and mercury: never held a lot of interest, and now almost none

25 Jan

10 years ago if one went into online discussions about autism, one would find those discussions dominated by parents and one would find a few parents in those discussions trying to dominate the discussions with comments about how autism is caused by mercury in vaccines. David Kirby’s flawed book, Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy came out in 2006. Robert Kennedy Jr.’s even more flawed article “Deadly Immunity” had come out in 2005. Both caused a stir, no doubt. Kirby got a best seller out of it and there were even talks of a movie. But even then, only small fraction of parents were engaging in chelation of their children (thankfully a small number, but it should have never been used as an autism therapy). But, what the autism/mercury movement lacked in numbers they made up for with volume. Aided by some wealthy people who made sure the idea got publicity.

But, how much interest has there really been in the autism and mercury? And where are we now?

I used a simple method to look at interest: Google trends. Google Trends gives us a measure of how often a search term is used over time.

So, what does the trend look like for the search terms autism mercury? (click to enlarge)

Autism Mercury

One sees those spikes in the 2005-06 time frame. But what since? Aside from some noise, a steady decline. People just aren’t searching on autism and mercury much anymore.

And “much” is a relative term. Let’s consider autism as a search term on it’s own. (Click to enlarge)

autism

Lot’s of spikes, but interest is relatively flat over time. So the drop in the “mercury autism” search isn’t due to a drop in autism interest. Sure, some people are likely just entering “autism” and looking for autism and mercury, but, still, interest is way down for mercury.

One thing about Google trends is that they normalize their graphs. They take the highest interest level and set that at 100. So the two graphs above don’t tell us how the “autism mercury” search compares with interest in autism in general. Let’s graph them both, shall we? (click to enlarge)

autism and autism mercury comparison

Blue is autism. Red autism mercury. Yes, that line at the bottom that is so small you can’t see the trend at all is autism mercury. And that’s the point that I found most interesting. For all the noise made by the “mercury moms” in the past, the mercury idea was never as big a movement as they would like you to believe.


By Matt

So, the National Vaccine Information Center has a Twitter bot?

20 Jan

Nonprofit organizations’ tax forms are public records. One can find them on many sites, and most nonprofits even host them on their own website. I was looking over the 2012 tax form for the National Vaccine Information Center recently and found something very interesting. The NVIC is one of the organizations that continues to push the failed idea that vaccines cause autism. This idea has caused a great deal of harm in the autism communities, but we get to be their hammer against vaccines.

The NVIC has a “vaccine ingredient calculator” or VIC (The NVIC Vaccine Ingredient Calculator: A disingenuous deceptive instrument of vaccine fear mongering).

Lately I’ve seen a lot of social media chatter where vaccine antagonistic people and groups are claiming that any opposition they see is being coordinated by “twitter bots”. Programs designed to create tweets.

So, imagine my response when I saw this on the NVIC 2012 tax form (click to enlarge):

NVIC tweet machine

Yes, the NVIC created a “Tweet Machine” which produced 8,760 tweets in one year. That’s one an hour over a 365 day year.

I am assuming that is this Twitter account.

VIC twit

See how they are still pounding the old, failed “autism is mercury poisoning” idea? That idea led to many kids being subjected to unnecessary chelation and other alternative treatments that range from useless to harmful.

Also, they want a stop to robocalls. Because that’s on topic for a vaccine discussion. And not at all ironic given the NVIC’s “Tweet Machine”


By Matt Carey

Andrew Wakefield’s CDC Whistleblower documentary trailer. Words can not do this justice.

20 Nov feast-riot gear

Andrew Wakefield, the British former academic surgeon who fueled the MMR scare, has turned to film making as his career.  Someone chose Mr. Wakefield to manage the publicity for what they termed the “CDC Whistleblower” incident. to recap that: a William Thompson from the CDC had the extreme bad judgment to approach Brian Hooker with concerns about an old MMR/autism study.  Mr. Hooker is well known for his antagonistic stance on vaccines and his bad science attempting to link vaccines and autism.  Mr. Hooker published a (now retracted) study based on the information given to him by Mr. Thompson at CDC.  To publicize this “CDC Whistleblower” incident, Mr. Wakefield came out with probably the most over-the-top bad video I’ve ever seen.   It’s basically the Plan 9 From Outer Space of mini documentaries, complete with Mr. Wakefield’s voice over claiming that the CDC are worse that Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin.  Those dictators, you see, were at least sincere in Mr. Wakefield’s view.

Well it seems Mr. Wakefield wants to expand the “CDC Whistleblower” story to a full documentary.  He has an indigogo campaign to raise funds. As of now, it has collected $2,213 of his $230,000 goal.

And now he has a trailer.  It is seriously worth a look.  And before you read my own commentary on this one.  Here, go ahead:

Thankfully it is not as long at the Hitler/Pol Pot/Stalin video so I could manage to watch it again.  Because on one view I just had to say–really? Is this for real?

We start out with a shadowy figure. Presumably an actor playing the role of the whistleblower (although, physically he looks more like Poul Thorsen than Mr. Thompson).

Feast-shadow figure

Interspersed with video of autistic kids in severe distress, we get images of police in riot gear.  Because, that’s what one does in a documentary, splice in footage that has nothing to do with the story, right?feast-riot gear

And, lest we forget, a helicopter.  Black.  Has to be black.  OK, it looks like only the bottom is black, but as that quick clip went by all I could think was “really?  A black helicopter? ”

feast black helicopter

And in case we had any remaining thoughts that this was a documentary, enter the image of a house as seen through a sniper scope.  As the sniper scope zooms in we see that the target is an African American in a wheel chair.

feast sniper

Perhaps this is some sort of allusion to Mr. Wakefield’s first video, the Hitler/Pol Pot/Stalin video where he claimed that the CDC was engaging in a new Tuskegee experiment.   If so, why is the image of an African American female? I ask because the alleged controversy Mr. Wakefield is trying to highlight was about African American males.

The video ends with footage of parents telling us that vaccines cause autism and an actor (presumably representing the “whistleblower”) walking up some stairs.  Finally, Congressman Darrell Issa is shown banging a gavel at a congressional hearing.  From the start of these events, Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Hooker and their team have been calling for a congressional hearing.  I do hope they sent this video (and the Hitler/Pol Pot/Stalin video) to Mr. Issa’s office.  I have a feeling that since the time that Mr. Issa accepted $40,000 in donations from people seeking a congressional hearing, he’s learned a great deal and this video will further his education.

The sad part of this is the exploitative use of autistic children seen under severe distress.  This exploitation does nothing to serve the very real needs of our community.  Also seen towards the end are images of Avonte Oquendo, who went missing from his school and was found dead months later.  Again, exploitation which does nothing to serve our communities.  Mr. Wakefield is grabbing whatever film clips he can whether they are related or not to his purported story.  This is the same trick he used with a previous trailer he produced, where he spliced video from the Judge Rotenberg Center into a completely different story.

If Mr. Wakefield weren’t doing so much damage to my community, his videos would be laughably bad.  I’m not laughing.

By Matt Carey

Andrew Wakefield wants another appeal

20 Nov

Andrew Wakefield, the ex academic gastroenterologist who as much as anyone has promoted the failed autism/MMR link, has asked for an extension to file a petition for review.

To briefly summarize the events:
1) the BMJ and Brian Deer wrote a series of articles on Mr. Wakefield’s research.
2) Mr. Wakefield took issue with being called a fraud.
3) Mr. Wakefield filed suit in Texas claiming defamation
4) Mr. Wakefield was found to not have the standing to bring his case in Texas.
5) Mr. Wakefield appealed (4) and lost

Apparently, Mr. Wakefield needs to find yet another attorney to help with continuing his case.

As for my view:

What a pathetic waste of time. Mr. Wakefield has more gifts that my kid will likely ever understand and he’s thrown it all down the tubes. It’s difficult to not scream–just do something with your remaining years. You, Mr. Wakefield, are the reason why your accomplishments to date amount to nothing. Rather than throw your (or whoever’s) money down this rat hole of litigation, why not apply yourself to anything that will actually affect change in this world. You don’t have to change the whole world, just do something, anything, to justify all the skills you have and the resources that have been spent on you.

Clearly you didn’t excel at research. Nor writing. Nor film making. Nor autism advocacy. Perhaps a new career? It may not be as lucrative as getting my community to support you, but perhaps you could regain your self respect.


By Matt Carey

Andrew Wakefield: paid $316k to administer $80k in grants by the Strategic Autism Inititiative

7 Nov Salary Fraction

When Andrew Wakefield left Thoughtful House (which has since changed it’s name and removed all mention of him from their website), he announced a new effort: the Strategic Autism Initiative. He was going to manage research into the causes of autism. That was in 2010. Now he bills himself as a video director of the Autism Media Channel. Makes one wonder how well that Strategic Autism Initiative thing worked out.

Well, we can’t tell for sure as tax forms are only available through 2012. But the trends tell us that perhaps, just perhaps, the Strategic Autism Initiative lost steam in their fundraising.  Donations are way down.  And a lot of money has gone into salaries and very little into actual programs.

Strategic Autism Initiative 2010 tax form
Strategic Autism Initiative 2011 tax form
Strategic Autism Initiative 2012 tax form

Let’s do a little summarizing. Let’s look at trends for the money they take in (contributions) and the money that they’ve put out in salaries. The Strategic Autism Initiative pays Andrew Wakefield and Terry Arranga.

SAI contributions and salaries

OK, you gotta hand it to Andrew Wakefield–he pulled in $623k in 3 years, basically on his name and reputation. And, he took $316k of that money, about 50%. In total, salaries accounted for 58% of what the SAI took in. The first year of the SAI (2010) was a short year, hence the low salary. Mr. Wakefield’s salary appears to be based on $270,000/year full time. Officially he was working 30hours/week in 2010 and 2011. 15 hours/week in 2012.

Notice that the contributions were way down in 2012. Still a sizable $113k, but down from the previous years.

How does the salary outlay compare to the intake over the years? Well, it was relatively low the first year (the short year) and climbed to 80% in 2011 and 100% in 2012.

Salary Fraction

Not what one would call sustainable. Well, I guess if all one does is put money into salaries, that’s sustainable. Not exactly what a charity is supposed to be, though. Which begs the question, how much money did they have on hand at the end of each year?

Assets

Yep, pay out most of your money in salary and watch your assets go down. Also gives a partial explanation for why Mr. Wakefield is only listed as working 15 hours a week in 2012–there wasn’t the money to pay him more. The SAI would be about $70k in debt had they paid him for 30 hours/week.

In 2010, they paid out $20,260 in a grant to perform a UK Somali study.

SAI 2010 grants

In 2011 they paid out a $25k grant to Generation Rescue for a “vax/unvax study”

SAI 2011 grants

In 2012 they paid out $35k in grants. One to Mr. Wakefield’s former Thoughtful House colleague Arthur Krigsman and another to the Geiers for a study using the Florida medical database.

SAI 2012 grants

So, let’s consider this. In three years, Mr. Wakefield managed to give out 4 grants. Total of about $80k in grants. And for that effort he was paid $316k. What’s the supposed goal of the Strategic Autism Initiative?

SAI mission

“…to promote research in areas of autism and neurological disorders…”

Right. Promote research. About 13% of their budget went to promoting research. And that’s before we even consider the quality of that research.

Some bright people believe Andrew Wakefield. Some wealthy people believe Andrew Wakefield. Why, I don’t know. But even those who believe in what he says may someday question whether getting $0.13 on the dollar to the cause is worth keeping Andrew Wakefield employed.


By Matt Carey

Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker complain. Not honestly, but they complain

23 Oct

Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker have lately been trying to manage a “cdc whistleblower” story. The idea has been covered a lot recently, here and elsewhere. So, rather than go into more introduction, let’s take a look at the complaint they recently filed with the CDC office of research integrity. It’s long, so I’ll bring up a few glaring problems with the complaint letter. These problems have for the most part already been discussed here at Left Brain/Right Brain.

The basis of their arguments has been that allegedly the CDC found a statistically significant result suggesting that the MMR was associated with a higher odds ratio for autism in African American boys. They argue that the CDC then changed their protocol (analysis plan) to avoid reporting on this result. Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Hooker have since added a similar argument for “isolated autism”–autism without comorbid conditions like intellectual disability. They claim the CDC hid those results as well.

So, what does the complaint say in specific? It’s long, but here’s an interesting and key part and a good place to start. Under the section titled “The Georgia Birth Certificate Cohort (GBCC): what was its stated purpose?“, Hooker and Wakefield quote the

[Exhibit 2, page 7, emphasis added] The Analysis Plan, “Statistical Analyses” states that “race” data were available for the entire sample:

The only variable that will be assessed as a potential confounder using the entire sample will be the child’s race.

[Exhibit 2, page 8, emphasis added]. Thus, “race” data came explicitly from the “school record” and not from the Georgia birth certificate/Georgia birth
records and was available for the “entire sample”.

The funny thing is that quote, “The only variable that will be assessed as a potential confounder using the entire sample will be the child’s race” doesn’t match what’s in the screenshot of the analysis plan that Wakefield included in his recent YouTube video (click to enlarge).

Draft Plan 2

The plan actually states:

The only variable available to be assessed as a potential confounder using the entire sample is child’s race.

emphasis added.

See how “available to be assessed” in the actual plan has been changed into “that will be assessed” by Mr. Wakefield? Mr. Wakefield would like us to believe that the analysis plan called for a study to be reported broken down by race using all the kids in the study. He’s been arguing that since his first ugly “It’s like the Tuskegee experiment!” video. The thing is that the plan didn’t call for that. As I recently discussed, the sentence Mr. Wakefield misquotes was a statement of the limitations of the dataset they had (MADDSP) and explains why the CDC needed to get the birth certificate data to do a more thorough analysis.

As I also noted, the full paragraph references table included in the analysis plan made it clear that race was to be analyzed for the birth certificate sample, not the total sample as Mr. Wakefield is leading us to believe.  The title of the table shows us that they were planning to report detailed data on the birth certificate group, not the entire sample.

What I find interesting is that Wakefield and Hooker are not just misinterpreting the statement as I originally thought. In the complaint they clearly changed what the statement said. Besides being wrong all on it’s own, this change tells me they know that phrase they latched on to ( “The only variable that will be assessed as a potential confounder using the entire sample will be the child’s race”) doesn’t come close to fitting in with his story. I don’t see this as an honest mistake.

The complaint also includes the “isolated autism” argument Mr. Wakefield recently put into another YouTube video. In this, Mr. Wakefield claims that all sorts of methods were used to hide an association observed for MMR and autism without other conditions like intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, etc.. In his complaint and video, Mr. Wakefield claims one of the methods used to hide this association was by limiting “other conditions” to only “MR” (mental retardation/intellectual disability). In the video Mr Wakefield gives us a fragment of an audio attributed to Mr. Thompson of the CDC saying, “the effect is where you would think it would happen. It is with the kids without other conditions, without the comorbid conditions.”

Mr. Wakefield even went on to say

But that didn’t seem to happen. They deviated further from the analysis plan by limiting the isolated group to only those with no mental retardation. Even changing the age categories and composition of the isolated subgroup may not have achieved the desired effect. Since, in the end, they simply omitted the relevant findings from the paper altogether

Emphasis added.

As I said before, I found this odd in that the CDC did report an apparent association in the raw data. The total sample/unadjusted data. To repeat a quote by Mr. Thompson, “It’s all there!”

Destefano_table_4 highlighted

It’s numerically almost the exact same result as Mr. Wakefield says was concealed. So, if it’s the same, how is it concealed? How is it omitted? Answer: it isn’t.

Remember that quote attributed to William Thompson from the video? Here’s a more full quote that’s from the complaint:

You see that the strongest association is with those [autistic cases] without mental retardation. The non-isolated [sic], the non-MR [mental retardation]…the effect is where you would think it would happen. It is with the kids without other conditions, without the comorbid conditions.

Mr. Wakefield wanted us to believe that by switching to autism without MR instead of autism without MR and/or other disabilities, the CDC were covering up the result.  Not only did the CDC report on the result, this isn’t what Mr. Thompson was saying.  Thompson is not saying, “hey look, we only used MR as a way to conceal the result.” He’s saying, in effect: when we looked at autism without MR, we saw this effect. It looks to me like Thompson is drawing Mr. Hooker’s attention to a result in the paper. Not describing an omitted result hidden from the public.

So, what is it? Did the CDC “simply omit the relevant findings altogether” as Mr. Wakefield stated in his video? No, they didn’t. Don’t take my word for it, take the word of Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker. In their complaint they state

2.7. The Group further deviated from the Analysis Plan by limiting the “isolated” group to only those without mental retardation, as published in The Paper.

Emphasis added.

So, we in the autism communities get one story in the video (the result was omitted), but in a legal document he puts the truth (the result was published in the paper).

And, how did the CDC accomplish all this alleged cover up in the story told by Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Hooker? Well, in part the CDC supposedly did this by creating a “revised analysis plan”. From the complaint:

Over the ensuing months and in contravention of the CDC’s own policies,10 they deviated from the Analysis Plan and introduced a “revised analysis plan”11

Wakefield and Hooker can’t provide us with that revised analysis plan. Here is reference 11 noted in the quote above:

11 See original notes of Dr. William Thompson of 9.6.2001: “Get revised analysis plan from Tanya.” Tanya Bashin – a relatively junior member of The Group – was the second author named on the DeStefano 2004 paper. [Exhibit 8] The revised analysis plan itself is not available

I discussed this recently as well. It’s not after “ensuing months” that Mr. Thompson wrote about the “revised” plan. It’s not after the data were analyzed (which the earliest dates given by the complaint are in November).  The comment attributed to Mr. Thompson is dated September 6, 2001, the day after the plan was finalized.

Or, to put it another way: Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Hooker–the revised analysis plan is indeed available. It’s the one you are working from, dated Sept. 5, 2001.

In their complaint, Mr. Hooker and Mr. Wakefield disclose private details about Mr. Thompson which frankly have no real bearing on the complaint and should not have been disclosed.

The complaint is long, but it all hinges on the three major claims: (1) The CDC was supposed to do an analysis of the total group (not just the birth certificate group) by race, (2) that the CDC hid results on “isolated” autism and (3) that they deviated from their analysis plan, introducing a revised plan, to do this.

All three claims are false. And not false as in “I interpret them differently” but false as in “the very data Wakefield and Hooker depend on show them to be fabricated claims”.


By Matt Carey

note– I made significant changes for clarity after this was first put online.

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