A look at the “Garbage Can Quote” in full context

6 Jan

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.

Here is the “garbage can quote” as discussed at Emily Willingham’s column at Forbes.com last summer.

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.

Emphasis added.

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

21 Responses to “A look at the “Garbage Can Quote” in full context”

  1. reissd January 6, 2016 at 12:51 #

    Thank you for doing that.

    I’d also point out that Posey is not a scientist, and skimming the statement may not have understood it all. No need to assume manipulation if someone makes mistakes in conveying professional information not in their area.

    • Chris Preston January 6, 2016 at 22:14 #

      As I pointed out elsewhere, it is almost certain that Posey didn’t write this speech, but it was written by a staffer. That staffer would likely have had some assistance from an ‘expert’, perhaps someone like Brian Hooker. So we shouldn’t be that surprised that important parts of Thompson’s statement were not included. There was no way the whole statement was going to be read if Hooker or Wakefield could help it, because the statement didn’t say what they wanted. However, with a bit of artful trimming, it could be made to do so.

      • Sullivan (Matt Carey) January 7, 2016 at 01:26 #

        I would not be the least bit surprised to find that Brian Hooker wrote at least a draft of the comment for Posey.

  2. Brian Deer January 6, 2016 at 14:03 #

    So, I wonder who will be first to put together the Thompson killer quotes that expose Wakefield yet again for the charlatan that he is. Maybe it’s me. Here we go:

    “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.” – Thompson’s statement of August 2014

    “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.” – Thompson’s statement September 2014

    “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.” – Thompson’s statement September 2014

    Cut out and keep!

  3. Joel A. Harrison, PhD, mPH January 6, 2016 at 22:24 #

    I have a question; but first a couple of points. If I am wrong about anything, please please let me know.

    In the DeStefano article they do include an analysis by race:

    “Results According to Race, Birth Weight, and Maternal
    Characteristics. We further examined associations according to selected
    maternal and birth characteristics that were available from the birth certificate files. For vaccination before 18 months or 24 months of age, all of the
    ORs according to different categories of race, birthweight, maternal age, and maternal education were 1.0 (Table 5). For the 36-month cutoff, there were
    suggestions of possible associations within the subgroups of children whose mothers were older or had more years of education, but the CIs were very wide
    and included 1.0. (DeStefano, p. 262)”

    “TABLE 5.
    Race Black Cases = 137 (ibid, p. 263)”

    The results weren’t significant; but they did analyze race.

    In Hooker’s reanalysis, he writes:

    “When accounting for cases in the cohort that excluded low birth weight (<2500 g) African American children, it was necessary to report results at 31 months rather than 36 months in order to avoid reporting data from age categories or“ cells” that possessed less than 5 individuals. (Hooker, page 5)”

    If Hooker had the complete original data set, why did he have to change the age categories to manage at least 5 in one of the cells? I think it highly unlikely that DeStefano et al, if they even did an analysis on the subgroup of Afro-American boys would have changed the age range of one analysis. Since it would have been a “post-hoc” analysis of a sub-group, something usually done to develop future hypotheses and not for any possible results, I doubt they would have changed the range. However, if they had changed the range, then Thompson should have informed Hooker and Hooker should have explained that he was doing the exact same analysis as the alleged discarded one and not just manipulate the data set as he did.

    So my question: Mainly on antivaccinationist websites and now the quotes from the transcripts of Thompson that you have produced, we are told that a subgroup analysis of Afro-American boys was discarded. Is there any independent verification for this? From the transcripts you have studied, from DeStefano, from anyone besides Thompson. Several antivaccinationists directed me to Sharyl Attkisson’s interview of DeStefano. (https://sharylattkisson.com/cdc-possibility-that-vaccines-rarely-trigger-autism/#audio) I listened to the audio and carefully read the transcripts and NADA. So, I am getting old and maybe missed something. In any case, I would greatly appreciate it if there are independent sources if you would give me the names and URLs to each one.

    DeStefano F, Bhasin T, Thompson WW et al. (2004 Feb) – Age at First MMR Vaccination in Children with Autism & School-Matched Control Subjects: A Population-Based Study in Metropolitan Atlanta. Pediatrics; 113(2): 259-266.

    Hooker BS (2014. Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and
    autism among young african american boys: a reanalysis of CDC data. Translational Neurodegeneration; 3: 16

  4. Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH January 7, 2016 at 15:52 #

    I submitted a comment yesterday. When I look at the article it states: “6 Responses to “A look at the “Garbage Can Quote” in full context”” but only four comments appear, the last one from Brian Deer. Where did two of the comments go?

    • Science Mom January 7, 2016 at 16:22 #

      Joel Harrison, they are Trackbacks/Pingbacks.

  5. Marsha McClelland (@Mofmars333) May 2, 2016 at 21:21 #

    You liars still at it? Truth’s out. You losers are busted as the world wakes. #Vaxxed #CDCwhistleblower #Hearthiswell #Justiceorelse

    • reissd May 2, 2016 at 21:29 #

      Since there really is not much new in Vaxxed, and the movie’s reach goes only a bit beyond the believers, I’m not sure what the basis is for thinking anti-vaccine misinformation is going to spread.

      • Sullivan (Matt Carey) May 3, 2016 at 00:00 #

        exactly

        If Vaxxed had a broad audience appeal, Wakefield wouldn’t have to do personal appearances to boost ticket sales.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) May 2, 2016 at 22:57 #

      I’ve been hearing this from you for about 10 years.

      And your argument is about as convincing now as it was then.

      I’m truly sorry you got fooled by Wakefield. But at least the shrillness of your approach does a good job warning people that you don’t know what you are talking about. You will always be able to attract more bullies like yourself, though.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) May 2, 2016 at 23:15 #

      So, Marsha, what did you think of the edits made to the quote? Or did you even read the article above before proclaiming it to be “lies”?

      And did you read the full statement by Thompson? Or are you just repeating Wakefield’s talking points?

      Did you get to the point where Thompson says that the data doesn’t show a causal connection between MMR and autism? What do you think about Wakefield spreading misinformation on that topic?

      Here’s my guess

      A) you just accept what Wakefield says. He tells you what you want to hear and you don’t spend time actually checking facts, so this would be very consistent with your behavior.

      B) you don’t care if people lie. You and your community lack the integrity to stick to the truth. So even if you see Wakefield spreading misinformation, you just repeat it.

  6. Marsha McClelland (@Mofmars333) May 2, 2016 at 23:39 #

    LOL. No matter how many ways you people lie they won’t be sticking these days. Too many awake & paying attention for that. #CDCwhistleblower #Hearthiswell #Justiceorelse

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) May 2, 2016 at 23:50 #

      Either participate in the discussion or leave. You are just trolling. And poorly at that.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) May 3, 2016 at 00:59 #

      It was nice of Marsha to leave the hashtags here so that people searching those terms will have an easier time finding good information.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The CDC whistleblower data dump redux: Even William Thompson appears not to believe the antivaccine spin – Respectful Insolence - January 6, 2016

    […] Yesterday was kind of busy and a long day in the operating room rather drained me. So I only had time for a quick followup to yesterday’s post on how Matt Carey obtained the entire document dump that the “CDC whistleblower” William W. Thompson gave to Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), who then gave it to Alex Jones wannabe Ben Swann, who promised a story on it over a month ago but thus far hasn’t delivered. Brian Deer, appropriately enough, pointed out some quotes that I hadn’t really elaborated on sufficiently, as did Matt Carey in a followup post. […]

  2. Vanliga missförstånd om vacciner | dagens kvacksalveri - January 7, 2016

    […] en längre förklaring på LeftBrain-RightBrain där även det finns en länk till det data som skulle ha […]

  3. Ben Swann’s long-awaited report on the “CDC whistleblower” goes over like a lead balloon of antivaccine misinformation – Respectful Insolence - January 27, 2016

    […] to the punch, obtaining all the documents himself and doing an excellent analysis that shows that there was no coverup. For your edification, he even provided a link to download all the files yourself if you wish. […]

  4. An Interview with Andrew Wakefield – Violent metaphors - February 15, 2016

    […] If by the “statement to Bill Posey” Dr. Wakefield means the full statement that Representative Posey excerpted in his House speech, that is indeed publicly released. I released the documents Representative Posey’s office provided to me. I discussed the full statement here. […]

  5. An Interview with Andrew Wakefield | Left Brain Right Brain - February 16, 2016

    […] If by the “statement to Bill Posey” Dr. Wakefield means the full statement that Representative Posey excerpted in his House speech, that is indeed publicly released. I released the documents Representative Posey’s office provided to me. I discussed the full statement here. […]

  6. The Great Myth of Vaccines and Autism | Thoughtscapism - June 4, 2016

    […] of a study was lifted out of the context of its clear confounding factors, covered well by Left Brain Right Brain, Science-Based Medicine, and Respectful Insolence, discussed more also in the comments-section of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: