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VAXXED pulled in over $1.3M in donations, and most of it went to Wakefield and Tommey’s company

19 Nov

A few years ago Andrew Wakefield (one of Time Magazine’s Great Science Frauds) headed a team promoting a faux documentary called “Vaxxed”. I wrote about this film a great deal at the time, but suffice it to say it exemplified much of what is wrong with the way the anti-vaccine community uses and abuses the autism community.

If memory serves, VAXXED concluded with a long list of sponsors. So they apparently had a fair amount of money to work with to produce the film. The film was a product of the Autism Media Channel, which is a limited liability corporation (LLC) owned by Polly Tommey and Andrew Wakefield, based on tax records. At the same time, Vaxxed was associated with a charity: AMC Foundation. Said foundation is run by Andrew Wakefield with Polly Tommey and Brian Burrowes also listed as directors (at least on past tax forms).

Vaxxed came out in 2016, and nonprofit tax forms for 2016 are now public. Here are the tax forms for 2015 and 2016:

Here is the 2015 tax form.

And here is the 2016 (more interesting) tax form.

There are some very interesting details, but let’s focus on a few. Starting with in 2016 AMC Foundation took in $1,325,098 in contributions and grants. $1.3M. (click to enlarge)

$1.3M. Where did it go? Well, about $207K went to “other expenses”. Of that $50K was travel (they had a bus touring around promoting the movie, but they also had a gofundme campaign to pay for the bus if I recall correctly). Another ~$80k into “other” which doesn’t seem to be itemized. Click to enlarge.

And, then there’s the $1M that was given to the business arm of the Autism Media Channel. Click to enlarge.

As noted above, the Autism Media Channel LLC is owned by Andrew Wakefield and Polly Tommey. So that $1M is roughly $500,000.00 each. Of course, the business has to pay other expenses. For example, one assumes that Del Bigtree was not riding along the tour for free. Also, we don’t know how much of the original expenses for producing VAXXED may have needed to be paid off. Of course, had Ms. Tommey and Mr. Wakefield chosen to pay themselves through the charity arm of VAXXED, we would know the amount. That’s called transparency. Given how large this sum is, transparency would seem to this observer to be a necessity. Also, given how much the VAXXED team complains about lack of transparency, this action strikes me as completely hypocritical. click to enlarge.

Perhaps keener eyes than mine can find where any of the money went to, say, help any of the families who Wakefield and Tommey were so eager to include in videos. Or to perform research on autism and/or vaccines. Or anything that, well, would seem charitable. I guess some would think supporting the next film–by the profit generating business–is a charitable act. By shifting the money to their LLC business, we can’t see how much was paid directly to Mr. Wakefield and Ms. Tommey. Which, in itself, is a practice that bothers me. A prime reason to donate to a charity (rather than, say, offer support for a film directly) is to gain transparency. Note that in 2015, the charity did list salary for Ms. Tommey as well as expense for “FILM PRODUCER. PROGRAM EXPENSES”, which one might reasonably consider as a payment to Del Bigrtree (the producer of Vaxxed). So they apparently chose to stop listing salary/payments in 2016.

Recall that in the past Mr. Wakefield was paid $270K/year at Thoughtful House and, after that job ended, tax records for his charities set his salary at the same annual rate.

I profess to be no expert on taxes or the structure of charitable institutions. In my opinion this transfer of funds is at the very least a questionable practice. Money was collected through a charity–giving donors a tax advantages–and mostly diverted to a business run by the same people as heading the charity. Aside from the fact that I would never willingly let Andrew Wakefield or Polly Tommey get a dime of my money, I personally would not be pleased if money I was donating was handled in this way. But Mr. Wakefield’s supporters have been looking the other way and accepting his excuses for over 20 years. I doubt this will bother many of them at all. If any.


By Matt Carey

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Proud of You

16 Nov

I had the privilege of presenting a second piece on KQED Radio’s Perspectives. The piece, Proud of You, aired earlier this week. The audio is on KQED’s site.

When we were expecting our son a doctor told us he would be very disabled. I had feared hearing that and yet I had never prepared myself. I didn’t even know what questions to ask. After many sleepless nights the question came to me. I called a friend of mine whose daughter is disabled and asked simply, “Is she happy?” Yes, he told me, she is generally happy.

I didn’t know whether my son would be able to be happy. In our society we often equate disability with unhappiness.

A few days later we learned this was a misdiagnosis.

When my son was two we realized he was disabled, for different reasons. There were suddenly far too many things to do than we could manage. But I never thought, “My son and I should set an example.”

I did want to make sure my son got out into the world. For him. I knew it would be very easy to retreat to our home. So we go into the community as often as we can.

People notice us. Once, a man approached us. He was very upset as he was trying to come to terms with his mother’s dementia. He saw a parallel between his mother and my son. And he noticed that my son and I very much enjoy our time together, even though we are very different.

My mother had recently passed away after years of dementia. I told my neighbor what I had learned from my son. This person in front of you is still a valid person. My son is very different from other children. My mother was different than she was when we were younger. But I learned to enjoy the time I have with the people in front of me rather than comparing them to some “normal” person.

I told my son, “I’m talking about you because I’m proud of you.”

People notice my son and me. Sometimes they see us struggle. Struggle hard. Often they see us enjoy our time together.

I don’t mind that people notice us. When they do, I remember when my friend helped me, when my son taught me to accept my mother. And I hope that our struggles and our joys set an example for others.

With a Perspective, this is Matt Carey.

Want to understand acceptance? Listen to I am what I am

8 May

This weekend I saw another production of La Cage Aux Folles. The song “I am what I am” has long been one of my favorites, and the lyrics are posted in my kid’s room. I’ve posted this before, with some explanation. This time, I invite you to listen, read the lyrics and, if you don’t understand why I feel this is so fitting: ask.

I am what I am
I am my own special creation.
So come take a look,
Give me the hook or the ovation.
It’s my world that I want to take a little pride in,
My world, and it’s not a place I have to hide in.
Life’s not worth a damn,
‘Til you can say, “Hey world, I am what I am.”
I am what I am,
I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity.
I bang my own drum,
Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty.
And so what, if I love each feather and each spangle,
Why not try to see things from a diff’rent angle?
Your life is a sham ’til you can shout out loud
I am what I am!
I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses.
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces.
There’s one life, and there’s no return and no deposit;
One life, so it’s time to open up your closet.
Life’s not worth a damn ’til you can say,
“Hey world, I am what I am!”


By Matt Carey

One line from the CDC Autism Prevalence report you will likely never see quoted

28 Apr

The CDC came out with an autism prevalence estimate a few days ago. There have been a number of news stories on the subject and the usual attempts by credulous websites to use this to claim that vaccines cause autism.

It’s right there at the top, in the interpretations section of the abstract:

Because the ADDM sites do not provide a representative sample of the entire United States, the combined prevalence estimates presented in this report cannot be generalized to all children aged 8 years in the United States

The Age of Autism blog (as noted already, always a good place to look for people getting it wrong on autism) ran a piece “Breaking News: 1 in 59 children Born in 2006 have Autism, 1 in 36 between the ages of 3 and 17. What’s going on?” Because, you know, claiming an epidemic is in their mission statement.

SafeMinds, another organization promoting the failed “vaccine-induced-epidemic” idea of autism wrote:

Baltimore, MD, April 26, 2018 – SafeMinds, along with other national autism advocacy organizations, sent a letter today to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials demanding a meeting within the next 30 days to discuss the creation of a Federal Autism Strategic Plan to address the nation’s autism crisis. The urgent letter follows the release of a report this afternoon by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC report found that autism is now diagnosed in one in every 59 American children, representing 2 ½ times more autism in 12 years and a 15 percent increase in just two years.

First, there is an Autism Strategic Plan. A member of SafeMinds helped craft it with HHS while she was on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. She voluntarily decided not to pursue another term on the IACC.

Second, your reason is that ” The CDC report found that autism is now diagnosed in one in every 59 American children”. The CDC told you explicitly in the first few paragraphs that can’t be said.

But I do appreciate that you are implying no epidemic among children. You clearly state that the rate is the same for all American children, not just the 8-year old children of the CDC study. Or did you miss that important point?

So, good luck with that letter. I’m sure your readership will not notice the problems with your logic, but HHS will.

There are more examples, but these make the point.


By Matt Carey

Americans are still failing to identify and serve minority autistic children

27 Apr

The CDC recently published another autism prevalence study. It’s 23 pages long and has 26 authors, took 2 years to put together and no doubt cost millions of dollars. Out of that, the one fact from it that will be quoted is simply–the autism rate is now at 1.68%, or 1 in 59.

There’s so much more. But sometimes focusing on one simple message makes more impact than a lengthy analysis. So I’ll pick my own simple message (of my own):

we are failing to identify minority autistic children. And with that, we are failing to provide them the appropriate services and supports they deserve as citizens and residents of the U.S.

We can and we should do better.

Here is table 3 from the report:

The estimated autism prevalence for Hispanics is 1.4%. For Whites, it is 1.7%. Thousands of Hispanics and other minorities are being missed. Overall, thousands of autistic children, and many, many more adults, are being missed. But that’s another discussion.

By Matt Carey

What Autism Awareness Means

20 Apr

We are often told to be “aware” of autism. But what does that do, really? With awareness comes acceptance. And for my son acceptance means being able to live his life.

A few years ago, I took my son for a walk to our local shopping center. We have done this every weekend day since he was in a stroller. This time we passed Nicco’s hardware store, where they always keep a stock of the American flags my son likes to buy. When they see us pass, they often start a fresh batch of the free popcorn he loves.

At the donut store, Mary and Monica helped him learn to buy things and to wait his turn. We’ve been doing this for years, but they never lose enthusiasm. At the bagel store my son walked right up to the counter as where Sylvia handed him his favorite cinnamon raisin bagel with her traditional “this is for you!” To this day, the workers at the bagel store hand him a bagel with a smile as he walks in. He eats while we wait in line to pay.

At our local market, I got distracted, as parents are wont to do. And my son wandered off, as children are wont to do. I ran to the door panicked because I had to make sure he was safe from traffic. Once I was pretty sure he was still in the store, I ran from aisle to aisle, yelling his name. Still scared. And what I found was a neighbor smiling at me, pointing and saying, “he’s over there”.

She knew us. She was aware that he needed support. When she saw him alone, she kept an eye on him.

He was 7 years old then. He’s 14 now. He still needs a lot of support, and always will.

When my father was growing up, people like my son would be institutionalized. When I was growing up, people with disabilities were hidden. Now that my son is growing up, he lives in a time and a community in which people are aware that he needs support. They accept him and know he deserves respect.

Awareness means my son can be in a community. Acceptance means he can live his life.

With a Perspective, this is Matt Carey.

The above was given as part of the Perspectives program on KQED radio. The original, complete with audio, can be found on the KQED website at What Autism Awareness Means

Merry Christmas

25 Dec

Merry Christmas, little one. I love you.

I am so proud of you. You bring me great joy and I am glad you are my family and part of my life.