Last summer Representative Bill Posey read a statement in the House regarding William Thompson of the CDC. In it was a quote from a statement that quickly became known as the “garbage can quote”. The statement basically said that the CDC got rid of a number of documents related to one of their MMR studies, that William Thompson thought this was inappropriate, and that he had retained copies of the documents.
I obtained copies of the documents provided to Representative Posey’s office, posted them online and discussed them here at Left Brain/Right Brain.
At the bottom of Table 7 it also shows that for the non-birth certificate sample, the adjusted race effect statistical significance was huge. All the authors and I met and decided sometime between August and September ’02 not to report any race effects for the paper. Sometime soon after the meeting, we decided to exclude reporting any race effects, the co-authors scheduled a meeting to destroy documents related to the study. The remaining four co-authors all met and brought a big garbage can into the meeting room and reviewed and went through all the hard copy documents that we had thought we should discard and put them in a huge garbage can. However, because I assumed it was illegal and would violate both FOIA and DOJ requests, I kept hard copies of all documents in my office and I retained all associated computer files. I believe we intentionally withheld controversial findings from the final draft of the Pediatrics paper
The statement in its entirety is in the package provided by Representative Posey’s office, so I was able to read it in context. Let’s take a quick look, shall we?
12. On June 28, 2002, all coauthors met and examined subgroup analyses by RACE for Whites and Blacks. (See page 17 in the Agendas Attachment and handout that includes Table 5).
13. In the Excel File named “describe_results_2002_0702.xls”, Table 7 shows the RACE analyses that I had run using ONLY the BIRTH CERTIFICATE Sample — the unadjusted RACE effect was statistically significant. (OR=1.51, [95%CI 1.02 – 2.24]). At the bottom of Table 7, it also shows that for the NON-BIRTH Certificate Sample, the adjusted RACE effect statistically significance was HUGE. (OR=2.94 [95%CI 1.48 – 5.81). That is the main reason why we decided to report the RACE effects for ONLY the BIRTH Certificate Sample.
14. In the Excel File named “describe_results_2002_0801.xls”, I split Table 7 into three different Tables (Table 7a, Table 7b, and Table 7c) to further investigate the RACE subgroup analyses.
15. All the coauthors met and decided sometime between August 2002 and September 2002 not to report any RACE effects for the paper.
16. Sometime soon after the meeting where we decided to exclude reporting any RACE effects, also between August 2002 and September 2002, the coauthors scheduled a meeting to destroy documents related to the study. Dr. Coleen Boyle was not present at the meeting even though she was involved in scheduling that meeting. The remaining 4 coauthors all met and brought a big garbage can into the meeting room and reviewed and went through all our hard copy documents that we thought we should discard and put them in the large garbage can. However, because I assumed this was illegal and would violate both FOIA laws and DOJ requests, I kept hard copies of all my documents in my office and I retained all the associated computer files. This included all the Word files (agendas and manuscript drafts), Excel files with analysis and results, and SAS files that I used to generate the statistical findings. I also kept all my written notes from meetings. All the associated MMR-Autism Study computer files have been retained on the Immunization Safety Office computer servers since the inception of the
study and they continue to reside there today.
Emphasis added to highlight text that appears to have been left out in the speech by Representative Posey.
Note that the last line in what was quoted by Representative Posey, “I believe we intentionally withheld controversial findings from the final draft of the Pediatrics paper”, was in the conclusion. Which was about 14 paragraphs after the rest of the text he quoted. I don’t think that is significant, but it’s worth noting.
I find a few things interesting in this. First, the omission of the sentence about Coleen Boyle (Dr. Coleen Boyle was not present at the meeting even though she was involved in scheduling that meeting.) Without that the paragraph reads as though Thompson was not present for the meeting. Instead, we now see that he was one of the “four remaining authors”. As such, why doesn’t he comment on the criteria for shredding documents? Second, it is very interesting that Coleen Boyle wasn’t there. Wakefield and Hooker have specifically targeted her in their attacks, and the fact that she wasn’t participating in this meeting goes against their narrative. If for no other reason that we don’t have any idea now what Ms. Boyle kept or didn’t keep.
A more important ommission, dare I say a significant omission: “All the associated MMR-Autism Study computer files have been retained on the Immunization Safety Office computer servers since the inception of the study and they continue to reside there today.”
Many people have claimed that the “garbage can” quote means that the data were deleted. Well, that’s not what Thompson said. It’s also a clearly false claim as Brian Hooker was able to obtain the data for his own version of the analysis. Here’s what Dan Olmsted of the Age of Autism blog had to say just a few days ago (he’s listing his “true” conspiracies) “The conspiracy by William Thompson and his colleagues dumping raw data into a wastebasket after they had twisted it into obscuring a link between the MMR and autism.”
It’s hard to dump raw computer data into a wastebasket, Dan. Delete, sure. Well, unless you are at a government lab that mandates backups of important raw data. Leaving that aside, data weren’t dumped. It appears that they discarded a huge amount of redundant paper based on what Thompson held on to. Most if not all of which could clearly be sent to a confidential shredder without any question of ethical lapse.
Another line of that statement also is of importance to note. Specifically because a lot of people are claiming that Thompson has said that the CDC team found that the MMR vaccine causes autism. He doesn’t:
The fact that we found a strong statistically significant finding among black males does not mean that there was a true association between the MMR vaccine and autism-like features in this subpopulation.
As to those who think I am skipping over the really important statements like “the adjusted race effect statistical significance was huge”. Let’s consider that a moment. One does adjustments, say with data from birth certificates, specifically in order to make sure that one doesn’t announce a possible association that is spurious. Beyond that, what Thompson doesn’t do is say, “here’s the scientific arguments that were given to not report this result and here is why I disagree.” Instead we are left to assume that the reason was to hide the result. If so, back it up. Where in his contemporary notes does he say, “they are doing this and it is wrong”. He says he’s not comfortable not presenting it, but he also says they all have “good intentions”.
But let’s get back to what the statement does say, rather than what it doesn’t.
Data were not deleted.
Even if the race effect isn’t considered spurious, it does not mean that there is a true association between the MMR and autism.
And some people are telling you that Thompson said the opposite.
Edit to add:
I am in no way suggesting that Representative Posey edited this statement to be manipulative. He may not have even been the one who wrote his statement in the House. But I do think that there is something to learn from the ommitted parts.
By Matt Carey