Here’s one part of Brian Hooker’s “reanalysis” that shows just how cynical the anti vaccine movement is

18 Dec

When my kid was diagnosed autistic I started reading research papers (I am a Ph.D. researcher by profession) and the raw data. One thing that struck me immediately was the fact that minority children are much less likely to get a diagnosis than white kids. And minority kids are diagnosed later.

This inequity really bothers me. Accurately identifying the needs of a disabled child can focus the appropriate therapies and supports on that child. The need to rectify this inequity is 100% accepted within the autism advocacy and research communities.

This inequity poses a problem to people who claim that autism is an “epidemic”. If we are not identifying all the autistics in any given group (we aren’t), autism prevalence numbers are inaccurate. Being inaccurate, how does one compare, say, one CDC prevalence number with one 2 years later and claim a “real” increase?

One can’t. Plain and simple.

So, for years, groups like those promoting the idea that autism is caused by vaccines have not only ignored this inequity, they have actively denied it. They are stuck between accepting that the data can’t show an epidemic, or accepting that minorities have some sort of protection from this supposed “autism as vaccine injury”.

When was the last time you read something from, say, the Age of Autism blog or Andrew Wakefield calling for efforts to end this inequity? You haven’t. They don’t do it. When have you heard from someone like Brian Hooker that we should study minority populations to see what “protects” them from “vaccine injury”? You haven’t.

Who is Brian Hooker? Brian Hooker is a parent of an autistic child. Brian Hooker strongly believes that vaccines cause autism. He can back this up with his observations of his child’s development. Observations which are contradicted by his child’s medical records. I discussed this before as Double checking Brian Hooker’s story in VAXXED. A Special Master (a judge in the vaccine court) put it very strongly:

After studying the extensive evidence in this case, I am convinced that the opinions provided by Petitioners’ experts in this case, advising the Hooker family that there is a causal connection between SRH’s vaccinations and either the initial causation or aggravation of SRH’s ASD, were quite wrong.

In the original, the Special Master emphasized “quite wrong“.

So, we have someone who believes vaccines cause autism to the point of ignoring the facts in front of him.

A few years ago Mr. Hooker “reanalyzed” some data from an old CDC study, suggesting that evidence showed that the MMR vaccine might increase risk in African American boys. That was discussed in great detail here and elsewhere. (for example: Brian Hooker proves Andrew Wakefield wrong about vaccines and autism and MMR, the CDC and Brian Hooker: A Guide for Parents and the Media).

Mr. Hooker’s study was retracted. In the research world thats a big deal. As in, embarrassingly bad.

Recently, as in 4 years after his original study, Mr. Hooker republished his “reanalysis”. In the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. I’d be completely embarrassed to have a paper in that journal, to be blunt. A lengthy discussion of this reappearance of the study can be found at Respectful Insolence as Brian Hooker’s antivaccine pseudoscience has risen from the dead to threaten children again.

Let me just focus on how Mr. Hooker, in my view cynically, abuses the African American community in order to attack vaccines. From the website of an organization Mr. Hooker belongs to (the ironically–to be polite–named “Children’s Health Defense”), we read this:

Main Points from Reanalysis:

The rate of autism diagnoses has increased alarmingly in the U.S., and is about 25 percent higher in black children. Boys are far more likely than girls to receive this diagnosis.

This is not only wrong, it’s wrong in a way that points to incredible dishonesty.

This first point is that autism is about 25% higher in black children. A “main point from the reanalysis”.

Tell me, when you read that did you think, “this study found that autism is more prevalent in African American children”? If so, you were misled. The 25% higher prevalence is from a different study than Hookers. And that other study says something completely different.

From the Hooker study:

However, one study showed that prevalence of autism in African-Americans was approximately 25% higher than that of whites when the data were adjusted for socioeconomic factors[7].

Reference [7] is Socioeconomic inequality in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder: evidence from a U.S. cross-sectional study.

The Socioeconomic Equality study states:

Also notable is that, although the overall ASD prevalence was higher among non-Hispanic White and Asian children than among non-Hispanic Black or African-America and Hispanic children, when the results were stratified by SES, we saw that the racial/ethnic differences in prevalence varied by SES (Table 3). The lower prevalence among non-Hispanic Black or African-American and Hispanic children was seen only in the low SES category, and the fact that more non-Hispanic Black or African-American and Hispanic children live in poverty contributed to the lower overall prevalence among these groups.

Emphasis mine. Overall ASD prevalence was lower for African American children. Not 25% higher. This lower prevalence was due to lower socioeconomic status. I.e. poverty.

Want to see this a different way? Here’s a figure from the paper (click to enlarge):

The overall prevalence in White non-Hispanic kids was 6.9/1000. For black non-Hispanic kids it was 5.7/1000. About 20% lower. Not 25% higher as Mr. Hooker claims.

Fewer African American kids are getting autism services. Not because they aren’t autistic, but because their poverty keeps them from getting a diagnosis.

This is something we should be working towards fixing. No question. But don’t look to the anti-vaccine community to care or act. It’s an inconvenient fact for their epidemic story.

I guess he has such a low level of respect for the people in his own community (those who believe vaccines cause autism), that he thought no one would check this.

By the way, this paper isn’t the only one that shows a lower autism prevalence among African Americans. You know those CDC autism prevalence reports that come out every two years? Every single one has reported a lower prevalence among African Americans. Every one.

Here’s a line from the latest report:

Previous reports from the ADDM Network estimated ASD prevalence among white children to exceed that among black children by approximately 30% in 2002, 2006, and 2010, and by approximately 20% in 2008 and 2012.

When I saw the claim on Hooker’s organization’s website I figured he must have cherry picked a study that shows what he needed to make his story work. It’s just such common knowledge in the autism community that African Americans get diagnosed less frequently. It’s in every CDC report. I didn’t know he wasn’t cherry picking, he was just misrepresenting the study entirely.

I discuss this as a scientist. He “misrepresented the study”. My father had a word for that sort of behavior: lying.

OK, Brian. You’ve read the studies and decided to do nothing about the fact that many autistic African American kids aren’t getting identified and getting appropriate services. I get that, you have your own cause. But, really, is that community so much of a nothing to you that you can just use them like this? I ask rhetorically. You and your community have always acted with callous disregard.

I once had hope that as it because completely obvious that you and your community were wrong (and that was many years ago), you’d join the actual autism community and put your advocacy to use. I now know that will never happen. And, frankly, we don’t need dishonest people.


By Matt Carey

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4 Responses to “Here’s one part of Brian Hooker’s “reanalysis” that shows just how cynical the anti vaccine movement is”

  1. doritmi December 19, 2018 at 00:46 #

    It’s simply disturbing, both that he is willing to misrepresent this, and that he’s willing to misrepresent something so easily checked on. He’s not just intentionally misleading people, he is assuming his audience – the anti-vaccine activists – will not or cannot check on him. That they’re either trusting him – and he betrays that trust – or incapable.

  2. Sullivanthepoop December 19, 2018 at 01:46 #

    He misrepresented his child’s situation. It might not have been on purpose, but he did

  3. alexandermacinnis8572 December 19, 2018 at 01:56 #

    Thanks Matt, interesting.

    What I find amusing, and it’s apparently the source of Hooker’s conclusion, is that the claimed increased prevalence is “when the data were adjusted for socioeconomic factors”.

    This is appears to be an incorrect use of adjustment. Adjusting is widely misused.

    Adjustment is only appropriate when the variable being adjusted for is a confounder. To be a confounder, the variable must be associated with the exposure, independently associated with the outcome and not on the causal path. In this case, that would mean lower SES is associated with being black, independently associated with being diagnosed with autism and not on the causal path from being black to being diagnosed. Lower SES may be associated with being black. To be independently associated with the rate of diagnosis it would have to apply to blacks and non-blacks. To be not on the causal path, that is, not a mediator, lower SES itself would have to be either not caused by being black or not cause reduced diagnosis. It seems these conditions are not met. You are probably correct that lower SES, particularly very low SES, by itself lowers the probability of those with autism being diagnosed. I seems logical that one should not adjust for SES in this type of analysis.

    When some factor is a bona fide valid confounder then adjusting for it might make sense and sometimes that produces surprising results, which may or may not be valid. Even if lower SES were a valid confounder, which apparently it is not, then the adjusted results would be just that, adjusted, not absolute measured prevalence numbers. It’s possible for the two to be quite different.

  4. Chris December 19, 2018 at 05:24 #

    It seems Hooker was in complete denial. After reading that ruling, it was clear there were several issues with the child before the dreaded vaccine. Most likely it was because his wife, the mother, was dealing with the issues. It only became something he cared about after a certain age.

    This is something I experienced. Dear hubby knew the kid had seizures and needed speech therapy… along with the open heart surgery. But he left most of it to me. Before the kid’s 18th birthday and even before the heart surgery I begged him to let me get him formally diagnosed, because I knew that the neurologist’s pronouncement that he was okay dokay in 1991 was not quite right.

    Finally after the young man graduated from community college (after seven years), and could not get a job… I got desperate, so I made lots of phone calls. I got him diagnosed, and the bonus part was that dear hubby was able to sit in the feedback session because he got to learn more about his kid than he ever expected. The funny part was that when the kid got to the car before us, he did his normal pacing back and forth as he waited for us. Dear hubby noticed and said “Look at that!”… I had to answer I had been seeing that type of pacing for years, which is why I wanted the young man to get a formal diagnosis (along with his hand shaking and messing with hair stims).

    Obviously, Brian Hooker was also living along “De Nile” (pronounced “the Nile”) for a very long time.

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