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Andrew Wakefield discusses “his war with vaccines”

20 Feb

For many years Andrew Wakefield put forth the image of the reasonable scientist who has been persecuted for merely asking questions about vaccines. Over the past year, that image has been fading as Mr. Wakefield has taken a more direct approach to criticizing vaccines and those involved with vaccines. His video claiming the CDC were involved in a “Tuskegee” like experiment and were worse than Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot was an epic departure from his previous restraint.

His latest interview, while not quite in the epic stature of the “Hitler et al.” video comments, is another example of Mr. Wakefield’s evolving rhetoric. He was interviewed by Alex Jones. Just being on the Alex Jones show is a poor choice for anyone who values accuracy over meager publicity.

The title of the video is “Dr. Unloads On Safe Vaccines”. And beneath that we can read this line:

Published on Feb 13, 2015
Alex Jones welcomes Dr. Andrew Wakefield to the studio to talk about his war with vaccines.

Here’s a screenshot of the YouTube page (click to enlarge):

alex jones on Wakefield

So, we get Mr. Wakefield’s “war on vaccines”. We of course get the obligatory, “We aren’t anti-vaccine”. OK. We also get comparisons of the vaccine program to Nazi Germany. More than once.

Mr. Wakefield seems to be saying that the MMR vaccine does not protect against measles, only the single measles vaccine does. Right. Amazing how we’ve gone so long without major outbreaks of measles with the MMR in use.

Readers may recall that last year Mr. Wakefield bungled the PR campaign for a paper by Brian Hooker. Mr. Hooker’s paper (since retracted) presented a reanalysis of an old CDC dataset on autism and claimed:

Additional research is required to better understand the relationship between MMR exposure and autism in African American males.

It was at best not a strong result in a not strong paper. But even in that paper the assertion that a causal connection was not made. But, how is this work being described now? From Mr. Wakefield on the Alex Jones show:

“And now that Dr. William Thompson, senior CDC scientist, has come forward and said that they have known for 13 years that MMR vaccine is causally associated with autism and they have hidden it from the public, from doctors from public health officials, from everybody.”

The “reanalysis” doesn’t say there’s a causal connection. Mr. Thompson’s public statement doesn’t say “causal” at all. But, hey, Alex Jones and his listeners are not the types to actually fact check Mr. Wakefield.

One could go on and on analyzing the misinformation in that interview. But statements like these make the point: Mr. Wakefield is moving away from his “reasonable guy just asking questions” mode. But we knew that when he put out his race baiting YouTube video last year.

I would be very interested in how Mr. Thompson feels about how he is represented by Mr. Wakefield. Mr. Thompson has made only the one public statement and it does not say what Mr. Wakefield claims.


By Matt Carey

National Geographic, “The War on Science”, includes discussion of vaccines and autism

19 Feb natgeo

I just got my copy of the March 2015 issue of National Geographic a couple of days ago. Imagine my reaction when I saw this cover (click to enlarge):

natgeo

In case you are having trouble imagining my reaction–it includes a big THANK YOU to National Geographic.

Yes, they put “vaccinations can lead to autism” up there with “evolution never happened” and “the moon landing was fake”.

This paragraph includes references to Jenny McCarthy (anti-vaccine activist and actress Jenny McCarthy) and Andrew Wakefield’s Lancet article.

Doubting science also has consequences. The people who believe vaccines cause autism—often well educated and affluent, by the way—are undermining “herd immunity” to such diseases as whooping cough and measles. The anti-vaccine movement has been going strong since the prestigious British medical journal the Lancet published a study in 1998 linking a common vaccine to autism. The journal later retracted the study, which was thoroughly discredited. But the notion of a vaccine-autism connection has been endorsed by celebrities and reinforced through the usual Internet filters. (Anti-vaccine activist and actress Jenny McCarthy famously said on the Oprah Winfrey Show, “The University of Google is where I got my degree from.”)


By Matt Carey

Yes, the video “who killed Alex Spourdalakis” video whitewashes a murder

17 Feb

Consider this review of Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis on Examiner.com. The review is bad. Really bad. But it shows that at least some of the people watching this video are coming away with the idea that the primary fault for the murder does not lie with those who committed the act. In fact, even the murder itself is downplayed.

Don’t believe me? Check out this paragraph:

Alex Spourdalakis had two extremely devoted caregivers who would literally do anything to relieve the problems that he dealt with. He was a normal, happy baby until 18 months. Dorothy, Alex’s mother, and Yolanda Agata Skrodzka, Alex’s godmother, doted on him every moment when he started to show problems, often never leaving his bedside when he wound up in various hospitals. The story that movie tells is a heartbreaking tragedy of an arrogant and misguided healthcare system, not able to accept the changing state of autism in America. Dorothy and Yolanda trusted the doctors as Alex went through numerous changes, assuming the doctors knew best. Over time, it became clear that the doctors mostly didn’t know what they were doing. Eventually, at age 14, Alex died.

Eventually he died? That’s how you describe a death that involved poisoning, having one’s wrist slit and multiple stab wounds to the chest? “Eventually died”? Alex’s life is put in the context of his mother and godmother. He has a supporting role in his own life’s story.

Consider another paragraph:

It becomes obvious looking at the film that there is no coherent method of dealing with this growing problem, and it is the families who are being punished to unimaginable degrees. Hospitals don’t want to deal with this problem, which has led to an epidemic of stress-induced homicides. In Alex’s case, after he was at his very worst he was discharged by Lutheran Hospital in Parkridge, Illinois after a long line of hospitals had passed him along. It was shortly after that, that Dorothy and Yolanda were arrested for the death of Alex. The film shows very clearly that the two women were saints who obviously eventually succumbed to despair. This story is also shown to be a common problem.

So much wrong in that paragraph. So much. But let’s consider the worst: “The film shows very clearly that the two women were saints who obviously eventually succumbed to despair.”

Seriously? They stabbed him. Murdered him. But they are “saints”?!?

One could go sentence by sentence and point out the many flaws in this review, but I think the point is clear: Alex’s death is important in so far as it condemns the medical establishment. His life is important in so far as it shows that his caregivers, and murderers, are “saints”.

Alex deserved better in life. He deserves better now than to have his story told in this way.

By Matt Carey

CNN: The money behind the vaccine skeptics

6 Feb

CNN Money has a short video up that makes a point that a few of us have been making for the past few years: much of the vaccine antagonistic message is funded by a few wealthy people. A good discussion can be found at A Snapshot of the Deep Pockets of the Anti-Vaccine Movement on Haprocrates Speaks. The CNN piece is called “The money behind the vaccine skeptics“. I can’t get the video to embed here, but one can find it here.

Here’s a screenshot from CNN showing the organizations, people and money that CNN discusses (click to enlarge)

cnn money

CNN points out that the self-styled National Vaccine Information Center and others (such as Chris Shaw’s group at the University of British Columbia) get a lot of money from the Dwoskin family. The Dwoskin Family Foundation told CNN that they are not antivaccine but are, instead, advocates for safer vaccines. It’s a story we hear a lot.

Claire Dwoskin is or was a board member of the NVIC and made this statement about vaccines. John Stossel had aired a piece about how his daughter had fought off a whooping cough infection and in her response to one of his producers she stated:

What his daughter went through is NOTHING compared to what the families of autistic children go through every day of their lives. No disease can match this record of human devastation. Vaccines are a holocaust of poison on our children’s brains and immune systems. Shame on you all.

I’m not sure how that sentiment fits in with being “advocates for safer vaccines”. One has to accept that vaccines are safe before advocating for safer vaccines.

Also mentioned is Barry Segal who funds Focus Autism (now Focus for Health) and A Shot of Truth. And Generation Rescue’s JB Handley and Jenny McCarthy. Both Focus Autism and Generation Rescue are noted for funding Andrew Wakefield’s “Strategic Autism Initiative”. All these groups are discussed in previous articles here at Left Brain/Right Brain.

The piece is short and perhaps that’s why they don’t mention Generation Rescue’s hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on full page ads claiming vaccines cause autism, or their poorly performed phone survey on vaccines. Lots of money spent on promoting fear and distrust of vaccines.

I’ve never seen evidence of these groups actually funding work into safer vaccines. I’ve never seen, say, funding for research into a new vaccine or even something simple like improved storage and transportation for vaccines into the developing world to reduce the use of thimerosal, a preservative these groups claim (without good evidence) cause autism and other disabilities.


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

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