Jon Poling and Bernadine Healy

7 Aug

As Kev has noted, Dr. Jon Poling has a Letter in the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

As I read Kev’s piece I knew I wanted to make a comment. But as I saw that comment would be really long I saw that it would end up looking more like a mini-blog post. Since I have the keys to the car, as it were, I figured I’d go straight to the blog post.

Dr. Poling makes mention of Dr. Bernadine Healy’s interview at CBS. He states that he agrees with her statement:

“I don’t think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you’re afraid of what it might show. . . . If you know that susceptible group, you can save those children. If you turn your back on the notion there is a susceptible group . . . what can I say?”

All those dotted lines just begged for someone to look at the parts cut out.  The parts in red below are what Dr. Poling used for his quote. [edit: sorry, the red shows up in the editor, but not the post]

Healy said: “There is a completely expressed concern that they don’t want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people. “First of all,” Healy said, “I think the public’s smarter than that. The public values vaccines. But more importantly, I don’t think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you’re afraid of what it might show.”

and

“What we’re seeing in the bulk of the population: vaccines are safe,” said Healy. “But there may be this susceptible group. The fact that there is concern, that you don’t want to know that susceptible group is a real disappointment to me. If you know that susceptible group, you can save those children. If you turn your back on the notion that there is a susceptible group… what can I say?

Dr. Poling says he agrees with her. A HUGE question in this community involves the parts Dr. Poling left out: that “[t]here is a completely expressed concern that they don’t want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people.

Dr. Healy threw the conspiracy theorists a huge bone with that statement. It was a big statement to make and one that is left completely unsupported.

As an aside–this is my biggest complaint about Sharyl Attkisson. Given the nature of the statement and the ramifications of it, she should have asked Dr. Healy for sources or some way to back that statement up. The fact that Ms. Attkisson didn’t and, in fact, helped lead Dr. Healy through her (unsupported) claims gives a lot of credence to the idea that Ms. Attkisson is promoting her own agenda rather than trying to report a story.

But, back to the post at hand: Does Dr. Poling agree with all the statements? Because, he should realize that people will assume he does and blog posts and internet discussions will appear with people generalizing to “Dr. Poling agrees with Bernadine Healy”.

Consider this, Dr. Healy stated that there “…is a completely expressed concern…”. Note the present tense.

Dr. Poling states in his Letter “Also commendable is the new 5-year research plan of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, which will entail the study of minority subpopulations, including patients with mitochondrial disorders”. He cites this document: “Draft ISO Scientific Agenda for NVAC Vaccine Safety Working Group, April 4, 2008

Let’s not quibble on the fact that Dr. Poling’s statement implies that the idea of a study is already accepted, when it is a draft. I think we can all agree that the study is very likely going to happen.

Notice the date: April 4, 2008. The Vaccine Safety Working Group recommended looking at people with mitochondrial disorders. (another aside, Dr. Poling makes a big case, joined by Mr. Kirby, that Hannah Poling has a dysfunction, not a disorder. Is the CDC going to look at the wrong subgroup, those with disorders?)

OK, back to the date: April 4, 2008. The date of Dr. Healy’s interview: May 12, 2008.

Dr. Healy’s statement that there (present tense) “…is an expressed concern….”

Not only is the statement completely unsupported….I’m at a loss for the words here. Should I use, “erroneous”, “creates a false impression”, “ignorant of the recent history in the very subject she was discussing”?

So, I, for one, would like to hear Dr. Poling’s opinion on all of Dr. Healy’s statements. I fear that I will not like the result, but at least we’d have all the facts.

(note: I made some edits after posting–just changing a few words to make it read better)

3 Responses to “Jon Poling and Bernadine Healy”

  1. isles August 8, 2008 at 03:45 #

    I don’t even know what “there is a completely expressed concern” is supposed to mean. Is English not Healy’s first language?

    Science didn’t turn its back on any hypothesis. They investigated both MMR and thimerosal – not just once, but several times, on each occasion taking the risk that the outcome would lead to a difficult choice between the dangers of vaccinating and the dangers of not vaccinating. Happily, all of the studies showed that vaccinating was safe, but they were certainly not averse to finding out otherwise.

  2. Navi August 31, 2008 at 22:01 #

    Isles,

    I think she’s referring to looking for susceptible groups. Not sure about whether or not there’s been any studies into susceptible groups… Most of the studies I’ve seen discussed cover the population at large…

    and ‘completely expressed concern’ is English. At least it is in the US. It means there is a concern that has been entirely expressed. Whether or not there is any backing to who is completely expressing this concern on the other hand…

    I mean poking holes in the story is fine but lets poke some valid holes…

  3. isles August 31, 2008 at 23:19 #

    I’m sure that as soon as somebody actually describes a “susceptible group” in a way that has even a smidgen of plausibility, funds to research that group will be forthcoming. But no, the antivaxers have learned not to make specific claims, because they keep getting disproved. Better to keep making darkly vague insinuations and let listeners make up their own meanings…in which “susceptible group” invariably means “my kid.”

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