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Andrew Wakefield betrays another “whistleblower” with Brian Hooker helping

28 Aug

Probably the biggest story in years for the groups claiming that vaccines cause autism was when last week vaccine antagonistic activists Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker announced that they were in contact with an “informant” at the CDC who guided them to do a re-analysis of an older dataset. Andrew Wakefield has a history of not respecting the responsibility that one has when speaking with a whistleblower, having first threatened then actually outed a whistleblower who trusted him. As the recent story has unfolded, I’ve been asked and I’ve told many people that in my view, Brian Hooker sees himself as an honest person and, as such, he would not be a party to the sort of deception that would be involved in secretly recording someone while acting as his “priest”, then betraying him.

Apparently I was wrong.

When Wakefield and Hooker first released their story, they claimed that their “informant” wanted to remain anonymous. It says so right in the press release dated August 18. The (disgustingly race-baiting) video they put out was censored as if they wanted to protect the anonymity of the informant. But by the night of August 21st, 3 days later, the video had been changed without announcement. Mr. Wakefield (he owns/runs the Autism Media Channel that is putting out these videos) apparently uploaded the noncensored version. In it, Mr. Thompson is named early and repeatedly. His voice is no longer obscured. Mr. Thompsons’ anonymity (weakly veiled to begin with) was no more.

From the start many people questioned whether the “CDC Whistleblower” as he has been dubbed had agreed to be recorded, knew about the video that was made, or agreed to let his identity be known. Or if he ever had any intention that anyone would even disclose that there even was help from someone at the CDC on this.

My read on the press release Mr. Thompson has put out is that Mr. Thompson never intended for his role to be made public. That Mr. Hooker would just present the study as his own work and use that to advocate for a follow on analysis. Much less that his name would be revealed.

But, as we see, that didn’t happen. He was outed. His participation was revealed immediately. His name was revealed in a few days. His conversations with Mr. Hooker were edited for effect and put on the web.

How did Mr. Hooker describe his interaction with Mr. Thompson? From the video we hear:

“Dr. Thompson had appointed me his priest. And when he appointed me his priest, then he started confessing.”

Apparently Mr. Hooker is unaware that the secrecy of confession is absolute. Priests, real ones, not self appointed ones like Mr. Hooker, have been known to go to jail rather than divulge what they’ve been told in confession. Real priests don’t record confessions so they can betray another.

I once thought that perhaps Mr. Hooker and I were at a very basic level similar. That we were focused on doing what was best for our kids. I no longer think that way. At a basic level one either has integrity or one doesn’t. A person who takes on the role of a confessor in order to secretly tape and betray another has no integrity.

Mr. Hooker will no doubt be the hero of parent conventions in the future. It’s a very low price for one’s integrity in my opinion.

For whatever it is worth: Mr. Hooker lives in a state with a very clear two-party rule. It’s against the law there to record someone without his/her knowledge. Mr. Thompson also lives in a two-party state.

Below is that press release again.


By Matt Carey

August 27, 2014 Press Release, “Statement of William W. Thompson, Ph.D., Regarding the 2004 Article Examining the Possibility of a Relationship Between MMR Vaccine and Autism”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE-AUGUST 27,2014

STATEMENT OF WILLIAM W. THOMPSON, Ph.D., REGARDING THE 2004 ARTICLE EXAMINING THE POSSIBILITY OF A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MMR VACCINE AND AUTISM

My name is William Thompson. I am a Senior Scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, where I have worked since 1998.

I regret that my coauthors and I omitted statistically significant information in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. The omitted data suggested that African American males who received the MMR vaccine before age 36 months were at increased risk for autism. Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data were collected, and I believe that the final study protocol was not followed.

I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.

My concern has been the decision to omit relevant findings in a particular study for a particular sub­ group for a particular vaccine. There have always been recognized risks for vaccination and I believe it is the responsibility of the CDC to properly convey the risks associated with receipt of those vaccines.

I have had many discussions with Dr. Brian Hooker over the last 10 months regarding studies the CDC has carried out regarding vaccines and neurodevelopmental outcomes including autism spectrum disorders. I share his beliefthat CDC decision-making and analyses should be transparent. I was not, however, aware that he was recording any of our conversations, nor was I given any choice regarding whether my name would be made public or my voice would be put on the Internet.

I am grateful for the many supportive e-mails that I have received over the last several days.
I will not be answering further questions at this time. I am providing information to Congressman William Posey, and of course will continue to cooperate with Congress. I have also offered to assist with reanalysis of the study data or development of further studies. For the time being, however, I am focused on my job and my family.

Reasonable scientists can and do differ in their interpretation of information. I will do everything I can to assist any unbiased and objective scientists inside or outside the CDC to analyze data collected by the CDC or other public organizations for the purpose of understanding whether vaccines are associated with an increased risk of autism. There are still more questions than answers, and I appreciate that so many families are looking for answers from the scientific community.

My colleagues and supervisors at the CDC have been entirely professional since this matter became public. In fact, I received a performance-based award after this story came out. I have experienced no pressure or retaliation and certainly was not escorted from the building, as some have stated.

Dr. Thompson is represented by Frederick M. Morgan,Jr., Morgan Verkamp, LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio, http://www.morganverkamp.com.

“Statement of William W. Thompson, Ph.D., Regarding the 2004 Article Examining the Possibility of a Relationship Between MMR Vaccine and Autism”

28 Aug

I will discuss this soon, but here is a press release from the attorney representing William Thompson, a CDC researcher involved who appears to have spoken with vaccine antagonistic activists Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker about work he had performed on autism.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE-AUGUST 27,2014

STATEMENT OF WILLIAM W. THOMPSON, Ph.D., REGARDING THE 2004 ARTICLE EXAMINING THE POSSIBILITY OF A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MMR VACCINE AND AUTISM

My name is William Thompson. I am a Senior Scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, where I have worked since 1998.

I regret that my coauthors and I omitted statistically significant information in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. The omitted data suggested that African American males who received the MMR vaccine before age 36 months were at increased risk for autism. Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data were collected, and I believe that the final study protocol was not followed.

I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.

My concern has been the decision to omit relevant findings in a particular study for a particular sub­ group for a particular vaccine. There have always been recognized risks for vaccination and I believe it is the responsibility of the CDC to properly convey the risks associated with receipt of those vaccines.

I have had many discussions with Dr. Brian Hooker over the last 10 months regarding studies the CDC has carried out regarding vaccines and neurodevelopmental outcomes including autism spectrum disorders. I share his beliefthat CDC decision-making and analyses should be transparent. I was not, however, aware that he was recording any of our conversations, nor was I given any choice regarding whether my name would be made public or my voice would be put on the Internet.

I am grateful for the many supportive e-mails that I have received over the last several days.
I will not be answering further questions at this time. I am providing information to Congressman William Posey, and of course will continue to cooperate with Congress. I have also offered to assist with reanalysis of the study data or development of further studies. For the time being, however, I am focused on my job and my family.

Reasonable scientists can and do differ in their interpretation of information. I will do everything I can to assist any unbiased and objective scientists inside or outside the CDC to analyze data collected by the CDC or other public organizations for the purpose of understanding whether vaccines are associated with an increased risk of autism. There are still more questions than answers, and I appreciate that so many families are looking for answers from the scientific community.

My colleagues and supervisors at the CDC have been entirely professional since this matter became public. In fact, I received a performance-based award after this story came out. I have experienced no pressure or retaliation and certainly was not escorted from the building, as some have stated.

Dr. Thompson is represented by Frederick M. Morgan,Jr., Morgan Verkamp, LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio, http://www.morganverkamp.com.

Mr. Thompson has been called the “CDC Whistleblower” by the groups promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism.


By Matt Carey

Discussions of the recent MMR/autism paper (and why the study isn’t what the author wants you to believe it is)

27 Aug

Below are a selected list of discussions about Brian Hooker’s recent paper and the highly irresponsible way he and his team are promoting it. Let me know if you spot one I should add to the list.

Here on Left Brain/Right Brain, I have discussed this as:

Autism, Atlanta, MMR: serious questions and also how Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield are causing damage to the autism communities

and

The Brian Hooker article “…has been removed from the public domain because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions”

Here’s the press release for the recent reanalysis study

as put out by the group that funded it.

Here is a video by Andrew Wakefield where he relies upon ugly race-baiting slander to promote himself and the study.

Here’s a discussion of that study by an epidemiology grad student showing some ways in which this is a very poorly done study:
Directed Acyclic Graphs and the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism

And another discussion of that study and it’s low quality can be found on The Poxes Blog:
Andrew Jeremy Wakefield plays video director while African-American Babies die, or something

Educator and Advocate Liz Ditz discusses the PR approach that has been taken by those promoting the study here:
L’affaire CDC-MMR: Hooker, Wakefield, and Focus Autism Accuse African-American Senior CDC Researcher of Being A Race Traitor

also she has

The CDC, the MMR Vaccine, and Allegations of Whistleblowing and Malfeasance: The Backstory (which includes nearly 50 links about this dicussion, from all viewpoints).

The Surgeon Scientist who writes under the name ORAC has done the most discussion of this study and the way it is being overplayed and misused:

The CDC “whistleblower” manufactroversy: Twitter parties and another “bombshell” e-mail

Hey, where is everybody? The “CDC whistleblower” manufactroversy continues apace

The central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement

Brian Hooker proves Andrew Wakefield wrong about vaccines and autism

The Skeptical Raptor has
Great CDC Coverup–suppressing evidence that MMR vaccines cause autism?

Phil Plait at Slate.com and Bad Astronomy
No, There Still Is No Connection Between Vaccines and Autism

Todd W. at Harpocrates Speaks
Andrew Wakefield Tortures History

and

Anti-vaccine Activists Throw Twitter Tantrum

The CDC have a simple statement here about the original study:
CDC Statement Regarding 2004 Pediatrics Article, “Age at First Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination in Children With Autism and School-matched Control Subjects: A Population-Based Study in Metropolitan Atlanta”

One will certainly find more articles, especially searching for the names of the people involved and terms like “CDC Whistleblower”

So far none of the groups who promote autism as a vaccine-induced epidemic have stepped forward to distance themselves from Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker’s disgusting race-baiting attack. I hope that will change.


By Matt Carey

The Brian Hooker article “…has been removed from the public domain because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions”

27 Aug

The paper recently published by Brian Hooker, Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young african american boys: a reanalysis of CDC data has been pulled. Currently the journal’s website has this in place of the article:

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.

I wish they had thought this through before publishing it. Be that as it may, my own view (as an author and one-time editor) is that the revelation that this is not an original work by Mr. Hooker should have warranted some action. Mr. Hooker has discussed how the idea to do this study came from someone else and the analysis is a recreation of a previous analysis. Minor point, I know. And I know my online friends did not agree with me on that.

I do appreciate the journal taking this step. While Mr. Hooker, Andrew Wakefield and their team try to make as much political hay out of this paper as they can.

More discussions of this paper

Autism, Atlanta, MMR: serious questions and also how Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield are causing damage to the autism communities

Here’s the press release for the recent reanalysis study

Here’s a discussion of that study by an epidemiology grad student:
Directed Acyclic Graphs and the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism

And another discussion of that study from The Poxes Blog:
Andrew Jeremy Wakefield plays video director while African-American Babies die, or something

And Surgeon/Scientist Orac takes on the study and more here:
Brian Hooker proves Andrew Wakefield wrong about vaccines and autism

Educator and Advocate Liz Ditz discusses the PR approach that has been taken by those promoting the study here:
L’affaire CDC-MMR: Hooker, Wakefield, and Focus Autism Accuse African-American Senior CDC Researcher of Being A Race Traitor

And the CDC have a simple statement here:
CDC Statement Regarding 2004 Pediatrics Article, “Age at First Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination in Children With Autism and School-matched Control Subjects: A Population-Based Study in Metropolitan Atlanta”


By Matt Carey

Autism, Atlanta, MMR: serious questions and also how Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield are causing damage to the autism communities

26 Aug

The groups promoting vaccines causing autism have been handed probably their biggest story in a decade. They are claiming, and it seams likely, that a senior CDC epidemiologist came to them with information that a statistically significant result of possible increased autism risk from the MMR in a specific subpopulation was not reported.

I’ll go into a lot of background below, but if you wish to read up about these events:

Here’s the press release for the recent reanalysis study

Here’s a discussion of that study by an epidemiology grad student:
Directed Acyclic Graphs and the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism

And another discussion of that study from The Poxes Blog:
Andrew Jeremy Wakefield plays video director while African-American Babies die, or something

And Surgeon/Scientist Orac takes on the study and more here:
Brian Hooker proves Andrew Wakefield wrong about vaccines and autism

Educator and Advocate Liz Ditz discusses the PR approach that has been taken by those promoting the study here:
L’affaire CDC-MMR: Hooker, Wakefield, and Focus Autism Accuse African-American Senior CDC Researcher of Being A Race Traitor

And the CDC have a simple statement here:
CDC Statement Regarding 2004 Pediatrics Article, “Age at First Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination in Children With Autism and School-matched Control Subjects: A Population-Based Study in Metropolitan Atlanta”

Even with multiple press releases and no doubt other efforts to gain media attention, this story has yet to break out into a mainstream news story. Some alternative news sources and many parent supporters of the vaccine/autism idea have discussed this lack of media attention. And there’s a YouTube video by Andrew Wakefield that I’ll embed below. That video deserves and probably will get it’s own article here on Left Brain/Right Brain. It is remarkably bad.

It has often been said that the parents promoting the idea that autism is a vaccine-induced epidemic are their own worst enemies. As the parent of a multiply disabled autistic child I can say without reservation that these groups are no friends to the majority of the autism parent community either. Nor are they friends to the real majority of our community: autistics. The vaccines-caused-an-autism-epidemic parents have refused to support any research which goes against their idea that autism is a vaccine-induced epidemic. They don’t support research into the prevalence of autism in adults. Likely because they worry that this will show that their epidemic idea is false. In the process we lose the chance to learn from the previous generations of autistics about what has worked and what has not. Information which is critical to this autism parent. These groups have failed to accept that the lower prevalence of identified autism in racial and ethnic minorities indicates that the prevalence numbers we so often hear are not the a true count of the fraction of our population that is autistic. Because to admit that is to admit that they are misusing the numbers they rely upon to claim an epidemic. Their lack of support has hindered attempts to improve identification and get appropriate services for autistics in racial and ethnic minorities. This is a point that is incredibly ironic given the way these groups are framing their recent news as you will see (or have seen if you read Ms. Ditz’ article linked above). On top of this they have produced a way over-the-top PR campaign about their news, demonstrating their deep hatred for the CDC. If I were to tell you that Andrew Wakefield is claiming that the CDC are worse than Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Pol Pot (because, you see, in Mr. Wakefield’s eyes at least those dictators were sincere), would you believe me? Would you think I was making this up? If I said that Mr. Wakefield has played the race card in a disgusting way, claiming that the U.S. vaccine program is a new Tuskegee experiment, would you believe me? You can skip down to the bottom if you want to see that discussion and video. I’ll start with the science.

About 10 years ago a team from the CDC published a study: Age at First Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination in Children With Autism and School-Matched Control Subjects: A Population-Based Study in Metropolitan Atlanta (full paper here). They took data from the CDC’s Metropolitan Atlanta Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Program (MADDSP). In order to control for potential confounding variables–like mother’s age, birth weight and more, the authors of the MMR follow-up study pulled birth certificate records. They only pulled them for kids born in Georgia. Could be there was a logistics issue (trying to track down records across the country) or if birth records were not consistent across the US. Also, they would have had to find control kids for those born outside Georgia, and that would have been a big logistics issue. In the end there were two analyses presented–one on the raw data with all the kids, and one with a more detailed analysis done with this smaller “birth certificate” cohort.

Here’s an example of one of those analyses (click to enlarge):

DeStefano table 3

This is a good table to review this study. What did they find? The general result is that time of MMR vaccine receipt was similar between autistic kids and non autistic kids, but was statistically more common among autistic kids. In the table above we see that for the most part, the sub groups reported had generally no increased risk of autism with MMR. I.e. in most examples the 95% confidence intervals encompass 1. The unadjusted sample “all cases” and “boys” do not encompass 1. If those were all the data we had, we’d say “let’s look more closely at these”. We’d start with exactly what the authors do–check for confounding variables and see if the effect gets bigger or smaller. In the adjusted data, all the odds ratios encompass one. Some are high enough to warrant a closer look: kids aged 3-5 and boys. Combining these two I’d probably ask, “what about boys aged 3-5″, but the authors take on the age 3-5 question in general in the discussion citing that the 3-5 age group autistics were mostly in special ed preschool and were thus required to have MMR.

If you look at Table 5 (click to enlarge) you see an interesting and very strange trend. It was in the other data but it’s really clear here. The odds ratio is much larger for kids who got MMR before 36 months than for kids who got it before 24 months. The odds ratios still encompass 1, but there is something going on in the data for the kids who got vaccines between 24 and 36 months. And by “something going on” we always have to consider social factors. But take a look:

DeStefano table 5

Take, for example, maternal education. Kids with mothers who had more than 15 years of education had an odds ratio of only 0.61 if their kids got the MMR before 24 months, but that odds ratio jumps up to 2.76 if their kids got the vaccine before 36 months. In both the confidence intervals encompass 1, so we can’t say “MMR before 24 months is protective but MMR before 36 months increases risk”. But that difference is striking. Even if these results were statistically significant, it doesn’t make sense to say, “the MMR vaccine causes autism in kids when it is given between 24 and 26 months if their mothers are well educated. And, by the way, it’s protective if given before 36 months.”

While not as striking, the differences between the unadjusted and adjusted analyses in table 3 are notable. Odds ratios change when you take into account other factors. I’m no epidemiologist, but if this isn’t covered in epidemiology 101 I’ll be stunned. In physics (the field of my Ph.D.) we talk about “hidden variables”. You see one thing correlated with another but in reality a third, “hidden”, variable is actually causing the association.

That said, the CDC MMR paper is not a study without limitations (no study is). One major limitation was the need discussed above–to argue why the 3-5 age group kids had a higher prevalence.

At this point researchers (both the study authors and those reading this paper) and advocates can take a number of approaches. Here are 4:

1) They can say, “yep, that’s plausible enough. We’ve worked this dataset enough. This tells us that MMR doesn’t cause autism. Let’s move on from MMR.”

That didn’t happen and rightfully so. This isn’t a particularly strong study. It’s not the final word and I don’t think it was intended to be. It was a relatively quick study using an existing population. In the end there were more studies on autism and MMR.

2) Advocates and researchers could take the approach: “There’s an association there, but these data are too limited to really answer the question of causation. Can we do a study to nail down if there’s something about those kids born in those specific years (the 3-5 year olds) who got the MMR between 24 and 36 months? Maybe look at further subsets?” And, while it’s easy to say with hindsight, this is the approach that should have been taken in my opinion. I am unaware of work by this team of researchers or external researchers which addressed this question. I am also unaware of calls by the autism community to do such a follow up, by the way.

3) Advocates and/or researchers could say, “I think we can tease more out of these data. Hey, CDC, can I have that dataset to review myself?” Because the CDC did make these data available for serious researchers to review. CDC researchers moved on to other topics in autism and vaccines, but other researchers or qualified advocates could have taken this up.

4) Advocates (not so much researchers I suspect) could say, “I don’t trust the CDC to add 1 and 1. Give me those data and I’ll do the analysis myself. Even those areas where you show a lack of association are probably wrong.” And, yes, there are advocates like that. Well, except that no one asked for the data back then. More recently, though someone did. Which leads us to:

An autism parent and strong proponent of the failed mercury hypothesis, Brian Hooker, recently published a study re-analyzing that old CDC dataset on MMR and autism. His financial backers put out a press release claiming that not only does this study show that vaccines cause autism in a specific subgroup, but that this study was prompted by a CDC “whistleblower”. I.e. someone who was inside CDC and knew about the details of the CDC study was in contact with Mr. Hooker.

That’s a pretty dramatic press release. Let’s take some time on it.

Focus Autism Releases Findings on 2003 CDC Autism Study – Higher Autism Rate Among African-American Boys Receiving MMR Shot Earlier than 36 Months
Focus Autism releases their findings of a possible reduction in the sample size of a major 2003 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This sample size reduction negates statistically significant findings from the study.

This title is why I jumped to the press release before talking about Mr. Hooker’s paper. With this title we know (a) that Mr. Hooker is claiming an association among a specific subgroup only (African American boys) and (b) he’s claiming that there was some sort of sleight of hand by the CDC where they reduced the sample size.

Well we already know from the CDC study that autism rates were higher in kids who got the MMR before 36 months. It’s right there in the conclusion statement of the abstract. But not so much before 24 months. And we know autism rates were higher in boys. We didn’t see the analysis narrowed down to African American boys.

The press release states:

“However, CDC researchers did not include any children that did not have a valid State of Georgia birth certificate – reducing the study’s sample size by 41% . Dr. Hooker explains that by introducing this discretionary criteria into the analysis, the cohort size was sharply reduced, eliminating what would have been a higher statistical finding. “

This is a rather odd statement. And by odd, I mean so obviously false that I wonder why it was written. See for yourself above, the study includes *both* the group with the birth certificate data and the raw data. Mr. Hooker’s explanation is, well, lacking. Sure, it is “discretionary” to try to account for confounding variables. It’s the sort of discretion I expect from epidemiologists. It’s like saying, “the engineers designing the Tacoma Narrows bridge decided against including the discretionary criteria of wind”. Also, consider that a result can be both statistically significant and wrong as is often the case when one finds something “statistically significant” without looking for or correcting for hidden variables.

In another press release Mr. Hooker calls the birth certificate data “irrelevant and unnecessary”. Again, why put out statements that anyone familiar with epidemiology would know to be false?

Elsewhere Mr. Hooker has even challenged the fact that one can obtain the stated data from birth certificates. He is in effect stating that not only is there no point in controlling for such factors, but that the CDC just lied and didn’t even have those data from the birth certificates.

Despite your assertions and the assertions of Destefano, Birth Certificates do not contain the information on the covariates you cite: birth weight, maternal age, maternal education, parity, etc. If you had read my paper, you would see that I repeated the analyses of the CDC and obtained the same results that they obtained in both what was published originally and what was withheld. Also, the birth certificate restriction was NOT applied to other race categories outside of African Americans.

Readers interested in whether Mr. Hooker is correct can take a look at the U.S. Standard Certificate of Live Birth. While this is the revised version, states standardized on birth certificates back in the 1990’s.

Epidemiologists are aware that the piece of paper a parent takes home isn’t necessarily the same birth certificate data that is in the full record.

And “Also, the birth certificate restriction was NOT applied to other race categories outside of African Americans”. Here we see the race card being played. A card that we will soon see was played with a very heavy hand. But to address the assertion made by Mr. Hooker, I wonder how he explains that there are 333 white autistic kids in the “total sample” and 199 in the “birth certificate sample”. Which is to say, his statement is false.

In one of the press releases, Mr. Hooker states

When asked if there could be any scientific basis for excluding children born outside of Georgia, Hooker responded, “I know of none, and none has been provided by the authors of the DeStefano study.”

Again, children born outside of Georgia were not excluded as Mr. Hooker asserts. Analyses were presented on both those born within Georgia (including adjustments for vital statistics found on the birth certificates) and a total sample including those born outside Georgia (the unadjusted analysis). If Mr. Hooker is “unaware” why people would do such an elementary epimiological task as adjusting data with covariates, I suggest he was a poor choice to perform Focus Autism’s study. Another thought would be that Mr. Hooker could read his own paper where he states:

It should be noted that a recent publication has shown that the prevalence of autism in African Americans is nearly 25% higher than that of whites. This value was obtained when CDC data were appropriately analyzed based on socioeconomic status

Mr. Hooker notes that when one does an analysis “appropriately” one includes socioeconomic status (such as with data found in the full birth certificates).

If Mr. Hooker would like to ask why the CDC team didn’t look for birth certificate data on kids born outside of Georgia, that’s would be a better place to start. Then we can discuss whether the CDC would then need 3 controls for each non-Georgia born kid, controls from the same place of birth as the study team did with Georgia born kids. And we could discuss how difficult that would be. And whether that would introduce more problems than it might solve. That’s a reasonable discussion. Claiming there’s no reason to gather important data is not.

Enough of the inconsistencies in Mr. Hooker’s recent statements. What was Mr. Hooker’s method and what did Mr. Hooker find in his analysis? The Poxes Blog and
epidemiologcal.net discuss this with more expertise than I can. Mr. Hooker does not recreate the CDC’s case-control study. That would require that match autistic kids and non autistic kids on the parameters he says aren’t available, and adjust for those same parameters. Instead he does a cohort study without adjustments. As discussed elsewhere, this is a much weaker approach. His main result is as the press release states “Higher Autism Rate Among African-American Boys Receiving MMR Shot Earlier than 36 Months”. He does not note in his press release “no risk for MMR and autism in everyone else”. Here is table 2 from his paper showing that.

hooker table 2

He states a relative risk that is statistically significant for African American boys who get the vaccine before 24 months (RR=1.73) and before 36 months (RR=3.36). No increased risk for African American girls. And, as Table 3 shows, no increased risk for non African Americans.

Mr. Hooker says his results are statistically significant. Others have questioned whether his analysis is really appropriate to say this, but for now let’s just benchmark this by checking how large his sample group for that large relative risk is anyway. Just so we know. The high risk group are kids vaccinated before 36 months. Here’s a figure from Table 2 of DeStefano et al.:

DeStefano table 2

There are 45 autistic kids vaccinated between 24 and 36 months. African Americans account for 40% of the total population, but let’s say about 1/2 of this 24-36 age group are African American. Or about 22 kids. 22 kids and Mr. Hooker is doing no adjustments for factors such as those found on birth certificates. The sort of socioeconomic parameters that he notes are important to get an accurate prevalence in the African American population.

Which is to say: this is not a strong finding by any stretch of the imagination.

Mr. Hooker took a subgroup–African American males–and found that there was in the unadjusted data a statistically significant relative risk. An increased relative risk is not the same thing as showing causation, especially when you are working with unadjusted data and many other limitations in this. This is enough to raise the question of whether we should do more studies to show if this increased risk holds up to further scrutiny. This is how Mr. Hooker concludes his paper:

Routine childhood vaccination is considered an important public health tool in reducing the morbidity and mortality associated with infectious diseases. However, consideration should be made in the current United States vaccination schedule for genetic subpopulations that may be associated with vaccine adverse events. Additional research is required to better understand the relationship between MMR exposure and autism in African American males.

A study relying largely on a small group of subjects (about 20) with the conclusion that more work is needed. Sounds vaguely familiar. And, as we will see, Mr. Hooker has teamed up with Andrew Wakefield to put out a video where they jump past the whole this indicates more research is needed through this is absolute evidence of MMR causing autism directly to the CDC are engaging in a racist experiment sacrificing children to autism. It’s like the events around Mr. Wakefield’s 1997 Lancet paper cranked up to 11.

Even though Mr. Hooker’s analysis is quite limited, as in it would be (and you will see is) incredibly irresponsible to jump from this to say “MMR Causes Autism in African American Males”, I’d like to see either more data or a good explanation why someone shouldn’t do it. If for nothing else, precisely to head off the sort of irresponsible and damaging PR campaign that Mr. Hooker and Mr. Wakefield have engaged in. There are a lot of data on MMR and autism since DeStefano first published (especially Hornig et al.) showing that MMR doesn’t increase autism risk. And Mr. Hooker himself has shown that autism risk is not raised in everyone other than African American boys. One can easily argue (and should) that the MMR/Autism/African American Boys result is spurious. But I’d like to see more evidence to support that. I don’t see evidence so far that this is fraud, but I don’t agree with the scientific decisions made.

All this said, can reasonable people really raise a concern about autism risk given how inflammatory that discussion can be? Yes. Here’s an example of how a study found a possible risk factor and follow up studies answered the question. The Price study was one of the largest studies on thimerosal exposure and autism risk. As part of that study they considered folic acid intake in mothers as one confounding variable for thimerosal exposure. They reported that there could be an increased autism risk from taking folic acid. The calculated risk for mothers who reported taking folic acid was about double that of those who didn’t. Keep in mind that folic acid supplementation for pregnant women is a major public health program as it reduces the risk of some developmental disabilities, so the possibility that it was increasing autism risk has major public health implications. This is a good parallel to the question of vaccines (public health program) and autism.

After the Price study, multiple studies were performed looking folic acid intake and autism risk (I can’t say that these were prompted by Price et al., but it seems reasonable to think they might):

Maternal periconceptional folic acid intake and risk of autism spectrum disorders and developmental delay in the CHARGE (CHildhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment) case-control study.

Association between maternal use of folic acid supplements and risk of autism spectrum disorders in children.

How can we summarize the folic acid history? A possible risk factor was found. It wasn’t plausible since folic acid seems to be protective for birth defects. But people did a second check (and even a third) and found that not only is folic acid not a risk factor, it may even reduce autism risk. Which even though this is what people would have said was biologically the most probable outcome at the start, this was a needed exercise.

Can we draw a parallel? Well, DeStefano et al. and later Hooker found a possible risk for MMR and boys (with Hooker citing African American Boys) getting the MMR vaccine late but before 36 months. It doesn’t seem plausible or even self consistent with the other results of the study dataset as has already been discussed. Reasonable people could move forward on this and see if existing data could answer this or if a new study is warranted.

Reasonable people could. As I’ve alluded to, we aren’t really dealing with a “and reasonable people” scenario. And here’s where we get into the “these people are their own worst enemies” part of the discussion. We’ve already seen how Mr. Hooker has made incorrect statements about the birth certificates of the DeStefano study. Let’s look another of Mr. Hooker’s statements and ask, “is this the statement of a reasonable person”?

He added, “The exclusion is reminiscent of tactics historically used to deprive African-Americans of the vote by requiring valid birth certificates.”

And here we see Mr. Hooker and Focus Autism playing the race card for sensational effect. One can’t even say this is a stretch. It’s just ridiculous. There was no exclusion and certainly people didn’t say, “let’s exclude African Americans and deny them their rights.” Maybe some will say this still within the realm of what a reasonable person might say. I would then ask you to watch this video produced to promote this study and the events surrounding it. The really inflammatory statements are made by Andrew Wakefield, but this looks to be a joint effort between Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Hooker. If Mr. Hooker would like to explain that he disagrees with the approach Mr. Wakefield took, I’ll be quick to rewrite this. But for now, here’s what team Wakefield/Hooker has prepared for you:

As promised above here are Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker claiming that the CDC are running a Tuskegee like experiment, where in Mr. Wakefield’s view African American boys are allowed become autistic by MMR for some nefarious and unexplained reason (because there are so few autistics that we need to create some for study?). I suspect Mr. Hooker will take offense at me stating that he is claiming this as it’s Mr. Wakefield who says the words. OK. Go ahead and put out a statement distancing yourself from this irresponsible attack Mr. Hooker. And, yes, I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that Mr. Wakefield thinks that the CDC are even worse than Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. The dictators, you see, were sincere. (8:40 into the video).

No one has yet responded in the mainstream media to the press releases and the Hooker study. And many of Mr. Wakefield’s supporters online are noticing this and asking why. Here are some possibilities:

1) The press has been burned by 17 years of bad science and unethical behavior by those promoting the vaccine/autism link.

2) perhaps the most famous person in that bad science and unethical behavior is your spokesperson on this new media campaign: Andrew Wakefield.

3) members of the press are not generally attracted to stories where people who have devoted their lives to preventing infectious diseases and to understanding developmental disability are called worse than Hitler.

4) after years of a campaign to instill fear about vaccines, we are in the midst of outbreaks of multiple vaccine preventable diseases. The founder of the blog where Mr. Hooker chose to release and discuss his new results famously once bragged that his groups was going to bring the “U.S. vaccine program to its knees

Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Hooker probably (and some of their followers certainly) have been wondering why their news of a CDC “informant” hasn’t garnered media attention. If you read the press releases and have followed the online discussions, you know that the idea for this reanalysis of the DeStefano data came from documents obtained by Congressman Issa and from phone conversations Mr. Hooker had with a CDC epidemiologist.

In their first press release, Mr. Hooker’s team noted that

According to Dr. Hooker, the CDC whistleblower informant — who wishes to remain anonymous — guided him to evidence that a statistically significant relationship between the age the MMR vaccine was first given and autism incidence in African-American boys was hidden by CDC researchers.

That was released on a Tuesday. The video came out the Monday previous, but was censored and the voice of the “informant” was obscured. On that same Monday, Mr. Wakefield noted on his Facebook page “He will be identified very soon” (referring to the “informant”). In other words, they had no intention of keeping this man’s identity secret. And a few days late, on Thursday night, the video was changed so that the censoring was gone and the voice was not obscured.

So, we have an informant who was obviously working with the Hooker/Wakefield team for months who wanted to remain anonymous. The Wakefield/Hooker team left clues about who this person was: they noted that he works for the CDC and has for some number of years and Mr. Hooker spoke of the informant as “him”. There are only two males who worked on that paper: W.W. Anderson Thompson (who has been named as the informant) and a statistician in the acknowledgments. Which of those two are on record within CDC as having voiced a strong opinion about the African American boy data? Heck, I nearly called Mr. Thompson myself to ask if he was working with Mr. Hooker. I wouldn’t be surprised if people at the CDC figured it out and that’s why his name was so quickly divulged by Mr. Wakefield. Why keep his name secret if you’ve already given out enough information to his superiors for them to break his cover?

And with that let’s get back to the “these guys are their own worst enemies” discussion. When you have someone you consider a whistleblower, it is your duty to protect that person. Not out him/her. Mr. Wakefield doesn’t seem to understand that. Years after having ignored the information given to him by a whistleblower in the UK, Mr. Wakefield not only outed that whistleblower, he first threatened the man with disclosure:

If Mr. Thompson intended to stay anonymous, and I have no reason to suspect otherwise, he chose poorly in his confidants.

Mr. Thompson had many options of to whom he could reveal his information. Many people would have taken him seriously and not taken the highly irresponsible approach that Brian Hooker has with the race-baiting video and more. I’ve read a number of people speculate that Mr. Thompson didn’t know what he was getting himself in to. If he really chose to work closely with Mr. Hooker, I can’t see how he didn’t see the extremes this information would be put to.

Mr. Hooker has had much communication with the CDC over the past decade and more. Here is some of that communication (about 3MB worth), selected by Mr. Hooker himself as an exhibit in his FOIA case with the CDC.
People at the CDC, likely Mr. Thompson included, would know of Mr. Hooker’s very strong opinions of them. A letter sent to then CDC Director Julie Gerberding is entitled “War Crimes in Your Fight Against Infectious Disease and recommends: “I would personally urge you to review the Book of Matthew 18:6 and consider your own responsibility to all children of the U.S. including my own son.” Italics in the original. Here is one version of Matthew 18:6:

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Former CDC director Gerberding almost certainly did not share this with Mr. Thompson. But Mr. Thompson may have had similar exchanges with Mr. hooker in the past. As I’ve noted above, Mr. Hooker had at least some contact with Mr. Thompson previously. Also, one need only google Mr. Hooker’s name to see that he tends to exaggerate the importance of his CDC FOIA findings, his critiques of vaccine safety science are heavily biased, he is a board member of Focus Autism (Focus Autism was born out of Barry and Dolly’s desire to put an end to the needless harm of children by vaccination and other environmental factors.) and more.

Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield present at parent conventions such as AutismOne, where other presenters are selling their goods and services with faux autism treatments. Treatments such as bleach enemas and drinks (MMS), Lupron (a drug which shuts down sex hormone production. Essentially chemical castration), chelation, megadoses of “supplements” and more. They are sold largely on the promise of healing “vaccine injury”. By handing the Hooker/Wakefield team this PR win, Mr. Thompson will be feeding that industry.

This all said, we only have a few sentences on a video purporting to be Mr. Thompson. I have no reason yet to doubt that his his voice. I also don’t have the full conversations in context. Nor do I have evidence that Mr. Thompson agreed to be outed. Nor do I have evidence that Mr. Thompson agreed to have his phone conversations recorded. Nor do I have evidence that Mr. Thompson continues to communicate with Mr. Hooker. In fact he’s been silent since this story broke and no new quotes from him have been passed by Mr. Hooker or Mr. Wakefield.

What’s more, and rather odd, is that MMR is not really either Mr. Thompson nor Mr. Hooker’s primary interest. Mr. Thompson was author on a number of major thimerosal papers. First author on one. Mr. Hooker’s primary focus on the vaccine/autism discussion has been on thimerosal. I have been reading people online claiming that these events are what they’ve expected and hoped for: someone from CDC exposing that all the vaccine/autism work is fraudulent. But this isn’t the case at all. Nothing so far on thimerosal. One re-analysis of some MMR work that, while important to discuss, is not very strong at all. And while I have written what is possibly my longest article yet (out of something like 2000), there isn’t, as they say, much there there when it comes to anything substantial about vaccines and autism. What we do have is a public relations mess. A story that will be exploited by unethical people to frighten parents and try to revamp their own image and take some revenge.

More recently, at least one (non reliable) site is reporting that Mr. Thompson has spoken through his attorney. The message (and I paraphrase): in getting the preliminary result on African American boys out, he did what he set out to do.

In the end, it is once again public health and autism families that will pay the price. People will use this in their attempt to “bring the U.S. vaccine program to it’s knees”. More autism parents will be dragged into the self blame and guilt that comes with the vaccines-cause-autism beliefs. And disabled children will be subjected to abusive faux therapies in attempts to heal their “vaccine injury”.


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

UK families suing MMR litigators for pursuing “hopeless” claims

27 Jun

The saga of the U.K. MMR litigation continues. In this case a family is suing a law firm involved for mishandling the case. Per one story, one of the original MMR litigants (McCafferty) is now suing:

McCafferty, 23, from Falkirk, central Scotland, is seeking damages to “include compensation, distress, expense and inconvenience of engaging in hopeless litigation”.

I’m not sure how sound this case is, but here we have a family arguing that they suffered by being sucked into the MMR litigation. The effort and expense they put into the case was not only wasted, but the case was “hopeless” and, thus, the attorneys were at fault for dragging them through this.

The story at The Times is behind a paywall, but it starts:

MMR families sue their legal aid lawyers

Families who failed to win compensation cases driven by flawed research into the MMR vaccine are suing their lawyers for pursuing “hopeless” claims and enriching themselves on legal aid.

Matthew McCafferty, 23, who received the vaccine and three years later developed autism, is taking action against his former legal team over a claim that he says had no chance of succeeding, was issued out of time and raised false hopes

MMR vaccine: lawyers sued for pursuing claim based on link to autism
Man claims Hodge Jones & Allen was negligent in litigating a hopeless claim while profiting from part of £15m legal aid funding

A man is suing his former legal team for pursuing “hopeless claims” based on flawed research into the MMR vaccine, it has emerged.

Matthew McCafferty, who was diagnosed with autism three years after receiving the vaccine, is taking legal action over a legal claim that he says had no chance of succeeding, according to a report in the Times.

The law firm is Hodge Jones & Allen. In MMR and Autism: What Parents Need to Know, Michael Fitzpatrick discusses how Richard Barr, the attorney who worked closely with Andrew Wakefield, started at Dawbarns, moved to Hodge Jones & Allen and then moved on to Alexander Harris, “always taking his burgeoning portfolio of MMR cases with him.”


By Matt Carey

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