A year ago we learned that a CDC researcher (William Thompson) had reached out to Brian Hooker (of all people!) and was talking about his (Thompson’s) view of what goes on inside the CDC. Most especially, Thompson appears to have guided Hooker towards a spurious result one can obtain from an old CDC dataset: that if one avoids controlling for any possible confounding variables one can claim that in a small subset of the study population, there is a calcluated risk of autism from the MMR vaccine.
There are so many strange aspects of this story. So many. One that has wracked my brain for the past year is this: why did Thompson reach out to Brian Hooker? Brian Hooker is not an unknown quantity. In the world of people claiming vaccines cause autism, far from it. Brian Hooker is a fixture in the community that promotes the idea that vaccines cause autism. His claim to fame for years was that he was constantly placing freedom of information act (FOIA) requests for documents from the CDC. His family are petitioners to the Court of Federal Claims (i.e. they have a claim in about a family member whose autism they believe was caused by vaccines). Mr. Hooker even spoke with CDC vaccine researchers–including William Thompson–many years back.
In the end, Brian Hooker published a paper (now retracted), teamed up with Andrew Wakefield, totally misused their spurious result in an ugly, race-baiting attack on the CDC, and betrayed Thompson’s trust by outing him.
And pretty much all of that was predictable, if you had any idea who Brian Hooker is.
Given that, there were two possibilities in my mind as to why Thompson reached out:
1) William Thompson was so stressed by what he thought was an unreleased result that he reached out to someone, anyone outside of CDC to get the result out. That he wasn’t aware of who he was working with.
2) William Thompson either didn’t care about the harm that would be cause by his actions, or wanted to cause harm. Let’s face it, Thompson chose the precise person who could make the most damage with the information. It wasn’t a strong result, or even a good result. But it was something that an intellectually dishonest person could sensationalize.
(2) Was very hard to believe. Thompson has spent many years working on public health. He was the lead author on one paper that showed no risk of neurodevelopmental disorders from thimerosal in vaccines. The idea that he would willingly ally with someone whose efforts are very much, let’s say, vaccine antagonistic, is difficult to accept.
As noted above, Brian Hooker betrayed the trust of William Thompson: Hooker not only outed Thompson, but Hooker secretly recorded at least 4 phone calls. And purported transcripts of those calls have been gathered together in a book. The forward is by Robert Kennedy Jr. (who has a long history of claiming he’s “pro vaccine” while acting completely the opposite) and is filled out by a someone named Kevin Barry. It’s a thin book and the material by Kennedy and Barry is basically filler, so you are left with transcripts from 4 phone calls.
From the conversations in the book we see that Thompson is angry. Angry at people. Not as much angry about science or omitted data. You can read more about that at Science Based Medicine.
Was Thompson aware of who he was dealing with in Brian Hooker? Yes. He says, “I see a lot of your stuff online. I saw that you interviewed Congressman Posey, is it?”
There’s a lot of talk of Posey and Congressman Issa. It seems like Hooker’s connections with congress were a big draw for Thompson.
Here’s one exchanges. Not about congress, but we get an idea of Thompson at work.
Dr. Hooker: I’m afraid of those people. I’m afraid of Kevin Malone. I’m afraid of Deborah Tress, I mean, these people, ya know, they don’t like me.
Dr. Thompson: They’re scumbags. But here’s the deal. She is like a twenty-five-year-old and I apologize as I am saying this, she’s like a twenty-five-year-old bimbo that they have do their dirty work. So her sending this email, the fact that they didn’t come from someone with a lawyer. It came from this woman who’s just out of school and just doesn’t know her head from her ass. This is the type of stuff they do. They don’t say who it’s from, they just say OGC.
Here’s a quote attributed to Mr. Thompson:
“But I also have to say these drug companies and their promoters, they’re making such a big deal of these measles outbreaks and they are now, they’re making a big deal that polio is coming back and polio comes back all the time in third world countries. It’s like a never- ending thing where the press loves to hype it and it scares people. It scares the crap out of people when they hype those two types of outbreaks”
Really? A vaccine researcher at CDC thinks it’s “hype” to talk about polio coming back?
Here’s the thing–we want to eradicate polio. That’s what vaccine researchers at CDC are supposed to be helping. Polio is really bad. If it weren’t for people like Brian Hooker, Thompson’s new friend, we might have done that by now. Any outbreak is a big deal. But not to William Thompson.
Boggles the mind.
In discussing the MMR paper–the one where Hooker claims a large risk for MMR in African American boys who are vaccinated late (by not controlling for any confounding variables)–Hooker notes in his conversation:
“I mean, whites are getting diagnosed twice as much as blacks”
That’s a pretty key observation. If you are going to claim a large risk for African American’s, you have to discuss in your paper the fact that this doesn’t mesh with the actual prevalence. The raw prevalence has African American’s not getting counted as much as caucasians.
Does Brian Hooker bring this up in his paper? Address it? No. He ignores a significant result of the analysis. That’s right, he does exactly what he claims is fraud. Well, not exactly–he compounds his error. Let’s look at his (now retracted) paper:
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 .
Yes–even though the data he is analyzing says exactly the opposite, he claims a higher than average prevalence of autism in the African American population.
Let’s belabor that one step further–if he actually believes a higher prevalence in this population, there is a huge issue with the data he’s analyzing. He doesn’t account for this, controlling for any socioeconomic factors, for example. He doesn’t even mention it. It appears that he intentionally omitted significant findings from his paper.
Hooker at one point notes, “I am not an epidemiologist by training”.
Got that right.
You can read more about the conversations at Science Based Medicine as
Vaccine Whistleblower: An antivaccine “exposé” full of sound and fury, signifying nothing
And I’m sure there will be more.
By Matt Carey