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Supreme Court unanimously decides: Special Ed students deserve more than the bare minimum

22 Mar

The U.S. Supreme Court decided today on an important Special Education case: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The case involved an autistic student from Colorado who also has and ADHD diagnosis. The school district argued that they only had to offer a program that was above the bare minimum of education, basically show any benefit, to be appropriate.

NPR reports this as The Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of A Special Education Student, including this paragraph:

School districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, “appropriately ambitious” progress, the Supreme Court said Wednesday in an 8-0 ruling.

The decision was written by Chief Justice Roberts. He is quoted by an Education Week blog (Unanimous Supreme Court Expands Scope of Special Education Rights):

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” Roberts said.

“For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to ‘sitting idly … awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out,'” he added, quoting from key 1982 Supreme Court precedent on special education, Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, that also dealt with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“The IDEA demands more,” the chief justice said. “It requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

I will add: making progress in light of the child’s circumstances is what we expect for all students. This may be seen as “expanding the scope” of special education rights (as Education Week put it), but it is just brining special education rights up to the same standard as everyone else.

By Matt Carey

Court Clarifies: Hannah Poling case “does not afford any support to the notion that vaccinations can contribute to the causation of autism”

8 Jul

One of the most common arguments in the “vaccines-cause-autism” discussion involves the case of Hannah Poling. Miss Poling is autistic and was compensated by the government through the vaccine-court system. Online discussions usually end up going around in circles with people explaining why the concession doesn’t mean the government has stated that vaccines cause autism, and the other side saying “but it does”.

Well, the Court has clarified the situation. Here is a footnote from the decision in Brian Hooker’s case.

I am well aware, of course, that during the years since the “test cases” were decided, in two cases involving vaccinees suffering from ASDs, Vaccine Act compensation was granted.
But in neither of those cases did the Respondent concede, nor did a special master find, that there was any “causation-in-fact” connection between a vaccination and the vaccinee’s ASD. Instead, in both cases it was conceded or found that the vaccinee displayed the symptoms of a Table Injury within the Table time frame after vaccination. (See Section I above).

In Poling v. HHS, the presiding special master clarified that the family was compensated because the Respondent conceded that the Poling child had suffered a Table Injury–not because the Respondent or the special master had concluded that any vaccination had contributed to causing or aggravating the child’s ASD. See Poling v. HHS, No. 02-1466V, 2011 WL 678559, at *1 (Fed. Cir Spec. Mstr. Jan. 28, 2011) (a fees decision, but noting specifically that the case was compensated as a Table Injury).

Second, in Wright v. HHS, No. 12-423, 2015 WL 6665600 (Fed. Cl. Spec. Mstr. Sept. 21, 2015), Special Master Vowell concluded that a child, later diagnosed with ASD, suffered a
“Table Injury” after a vaccination. However, she stressed that she was not finding that the vaccinee’s ASD in that case was “caused-in-fact” by the vaccination–to the contrary, she
specifically found that the evidence in that case did not support a “causation-in-fact” claim, going so far as to remark that the petitioners’ “causation-in-fact” theory in that case was “absurd.” Wright v. HHS, No. 12-423, 2015 WL 6665600, at *2 (Fed. Cl. Spec. Mstr. Sept. 21, 2015).

The compensation of these two cases, thus does not afford any support to the notion that vaccinations can contribute to the causation of autism. In setting up the Vaccine Act
compensation system, Congress forthrightly acknowledged that the Table Injury presumptions would result in compensation for some injuries that were not, in fact, truly vaccine-caused. H.R. Rept. No. 99-908, 18, 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 6344, 6359. (“The Committee recognizes that there is public debate over the incidence of illnesses that coincidentally occur within a short time of
vaccination. The Committee further recognizes that the deeming of a vaccine-relatedness adopted here may provide compensation to some children whose illness is not, in fact, vaccine related.”

While the arguments may still not convince those who wish to believe, the conclusion is clear: The compensation of these two cases, thus does not afford any support to the notion that vaccinations can contribute to the causation of autism.

The Special Masters (basically the judges in this special court) are not only the experts in the decisions (they work every day in the court and write the decisions), they are legally bound by the decisions. If a case sets a precedent, they must follow it. Or they will be overturned by higher courts.

I agree that following the logic takes time and effort, but, again, if you don’t have the time to go through that, the conclusion is very clear. And repeated again for emphasis

The compensation of these two cases, thus does not afford any support to the notion that vaccinations can contribute to the causation of autism.

By Matt Carey

TPGA: Black and Autistic – Is There Room at the Advocacy Table?

8 Jul

An excellent article came out on the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism last month: Black and Autistic – Is There Room at the Advocacy Table?

This article speaks to me because it takes on two topics that are very important to me. First, the under diagnosing and under serving of racial/ethnic minorities in the U.S.. Second, the recent cynical abuse of the African American community by people who are antagonistic towards vaccines.

In Black and Autistic – Is There Room at the Advocacy Table?, Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett gives her perspective. Here’s one paragraph:

As both a Black pediatrician and mother of a son with severe mental health and learning disorders, I know that vaccines prevent diseases, save lives, and do not cause autism. Many studies unequivocally show that there is no connection between vaccine components and the development of autism. Autism manifests independently of the vaccine schedule. The reality is that autism is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that likely has both genetic and environmental components – components that do not include vaccines.

The full article is brief and to the point (my discussion is longer than the original article). I encourage readers to go to TPGA and read it.

This said, let me add a few thoughts of my own.

First, we do a poor job as a society in supporting people with disabilities, but this is a much bigger issue in racial/ethnic minority communities. This is very obvious. I found this over and over as I first explored the question of whether autism was an epidemic caused by vaccines. Countering this failure by our society has been a topic of my advocacy here, on the IACC and elsewhere.

Over the years it has been extremely frustrating to watch the groups who claim vaccines-cause autism deny this under diagnosing and under serving. The fact is that almost all autism prevalence studies show a lower apparent prevalence in minorities. And this presents a problem to the groups promoting autism-as-vaccine-injury: they need to explain why would vaccines (in their view) not affect minorities as much as non minorities?

I will also point out that these vaccines-cause-autism groups seem to be conveniently ignoring their past. Consider this example, an excerpt from an Age of Autism blog article from a few years ago (The Tipping Point: Questions about Autism, History, Race and Melanin)

Two years ago, it was unknown whether African American or Hispanic children had lower rates of autism than white children. Now there’s evidence—for what it’s worth— that certain groups are less affected.

A few years ago they were claiming that the lower rates of autism identification meant that African American and Hispanic children were “less affected” by vaccines. Now, with Brian Hooker’s (retracted) re-analysis of an old CDC dataset, they are claiming the opposite. Either way, they are wrong.

Why do they twist themselves into these logical pretzels? They have to accept that autism prevalence numbers are accurate counts of autistics (they aren’t) in order to support the idea of an epidemic. If they accept the fact that we still not diagnosing all autistics, then the data that shows an epidemic is in question. African Americans and Hispanics have lower reported prevalence numbers in the CDC autism studies. So they are forced to come up with explanations for some groups being “less affected”.

Getting back to that Age of Autism article we read:

Until it unfolded that the highest rate of autism in the world might be among the Minnesota Somali (1/28 or 1/26 depending on the source), it was a vague impression within the vaccine injury community that autism was, for lack of a better expression, a “blonde disease” or even a “redhead disease”. It just seemed to many that, with some exceptions, the paler the kid, the more likely they’d be impacted.

As we now know, the autism prevalence in the Minnesota Somali community is the same as the rest of the community around them. Moving past that point, did you catch that “blond disease” comment? Yes, rather than try to solve the problem of actually helping solve the problem of under diagnosis and lack of services in minority communities, they went into full denial mode and were labeling autism as a “blonde disease”. The same writer then goes into a complex (and confused) argument about how melanin is protective against mercury poisoning.

Did I mention that these Age of Autism articles are confused? The author ties herself into logical knots trying to cover all aspects of the discussion, while considering the conspiracy possibilities of each angle. Consider this line from the article:

On the other hand, if the CDC merely underreported rates of autism among minorities as part of a cover up of lack of assistance of minority children with autism, it would be appalling but not surprising.

Such a profound lack of awareness of facts there. First off, the CDC has been clear that the racial/ethnic disparities could be due to lower identification rates. CDC tends to be conservative in their language, but this early CDC report makes it clear that the disparities could be driven by socioeconomic factors. By this year’s report, CDC are actively calling for “[t]argeted strategies are needed to increase awareness and identification of ASD in minority communities.”

And, of course, there’s that “but not surprising” comment from the Age of Autism. Because one can expect people at the CDC, people who have dedicated their lives to helping people with disabilities, to be engaging in “cover ups”. One can believe this, if one abandons logical thinking. Ironically, it’s the Age of Autism and like-minded people who have abandoned their responsibility to advocate for communities with under-diagnosed autism. Yes, AoA, this is a big example of where you show that you are fake autism advocates and will abandon our community for your own attacks on vaccines.

We can also read this rather astounding logical pretzel–if vaccines don’t affect minorities as much, then that would mean that the CDC and others are somehow less evil than expected. No really, read this:

But if that disparity in autism incidence is real, considering government health agencies’ and mainstream medicine’s history of supporting racist policies like the Federal Violence Initiatives, etc., if differences in melanin or other forms of natural resistance among certain minorities do play a protective role against vaccine toxins, then one thing would be clear: the epidemic probably wasn’t planned. That’s because these same “eugenitic” general authorities and often racially exploitative pharmaceutical corporations (deaths from Pfizer’s Trovan in Nigeria?) would probably never have deliberately culled white children over black and Hispanic in the US.

Yes, somehow in their eugenic plan to use vaccines to to eliminate racial/ethnic minorities, the CDC missed the mark and “culled” whites instead. Per the Age of Autism’s amazing logic.

All this rather than AoA actually advocating for better awareness, better access to diagnosis, better access to services in racial/ethnic communities. You know, the sorts of things the CDC and research community have been working on for some time.

But now with bad Wakefield documentaries and junk science from Brian Hooker the African American community is no longer seen as a liability to the “vaccines-cause-autism” movement.

The sudden turnaround to embrace the African American community is so very cynical and hypocritical.

I could go on as I feel very strongly about the failure of our society to serve racial/ethnic minority communities. But I see that I’ve already written more than Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett did in her excellent article: Black and Autistic – Is There Room at the Advocacy Table?.

By Matt Carey

The next Hannah Poling. Not vaccine injured. No mitochondrial disease.

27 Jun

One of the main talking points for the idea that autism is a “vaccine induced epidemic” is the case of Hannah Poling. Hannah Poling was chosen as one of the test cases for the Omnibus Autism Proceeding (OAP). But before the case went to hearing, the Department of Health and Human Services conceded her case on the grounds that she met the criteria for a table injury. If you want more details there are a lot of discussions online, including a lot of misinformation. But basically a table injury means that Miss Poling met certain criteria in a prescribed time frame after receiving vaccines, so she is presumed vaccine injured. One can go into length about how this isn’t “the vaccine court decided vaccines caused her autism”, but that’s another story (if you are interested, Prof. Dorit Reiss discusses it in Vaccine Injury Compensation and Mitochondrial Disorders).

At the time, the Poling concession was big news, on CNN and elsewhere. The story broke when David Kirby released some of the details of the concession (the Rule 4c report, a report written by Department of Justice attorneys on behalf of HHS describing the concession.) Kirby was journalist/PR man working with groups promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism. Much of his writing was problematic at best, much more PR than journalism. Kirby stayed with the Poling story for some time, pushing the idea that mitochondrial disorders are highly prevalent in the autistic population and suggesting that these disorders were caused by vaccines. As part of that PR effort, he wrote this article:

The Next Vaccine-Autism Newsmaker: Not Isolated, Not Unusual

Which begins:

In February, I leaked news of the Federal government’s admission that vaccines had triggered autism in a little girl named Hannah Poling. The stunning revelation, though still reverberating around the world, was roundly downplayed by US officials, who insisted that Hannah had an extremely rare, genetic case of “aggravated” mitochondrial disorder, with zero bearing on other autism cases.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rushed to the airwaves, exhorting parents to adhere to the nation’s intensive and virtually mandatory immunization schedule, and brushing off their legitimate anxieties by saying: “We’ve got to set aside this very isolated, unusual situation.”

Well, the days of setting aside are over: Hannah Poling is neither isolated nor unusual.

In fact, the boy who was selected to replace Hannah Poling as the first-ever thimerosal “test case” in so-called Vaccine Court, has just been found with many of the same unusual metabolic markers as… you guessed it, Hannah Poling.

You see, Hannah Poling was supposed to be a test case for the OAP. One of the arguments the families and attorneys were going to argue in the OAP was that autism is a form of mercury poisoning caused by thimerosal (which used to be in infant vaccines as a preservative.) That idea (and the Wakefield inspired MMR causes autism and bowel disease) failed to even come close to the rather lenient standard of proof of the vaccine court. No one knew for sure before the OAP hearings that the thimerosal argument would fail so completely. Those involved actually had a great deal of confidence. But even with this confidence, some families decided to leave the OAP when the Poling concession was made public.  Most notably Robert Krakow (an attorney and activist in the autism-is-vaccine-injury community) pulled his son’s case from the OAP. His son was to be one of the three thimerosal test cases and is the one Mr. Kirby was discussing in his “Not Isolated, Not Rare” article quoted above.

In many ways it was a strange decision on the part of Mr. Krakow. The expert report on the Krakow boy (made public as part of the OAP and since pulled) made no mention of mitochondrial dysfunction. Also, the court hadn’t decided that the idea that vaccines aggravate mitochondrial disorders causes autism. While many deny this, as an attorney Mr. Krakow must have known this point. Miss Poling was compensated because she showed signs of an encephalopathy soon after vaccination, so it was presumed that encephalopathy was caused by the vaccines. The Krakow boy’s history did not show this.

In another recent case, a vaccine court Special Master noted,

In Poling v. HHS, the presiding special master clarified that the family was compensated because the Respondent conceded that the Poling child had suffered a Table Injury–not because the Respondent or the special master had concluded that any vaccination had contributed to causing or aggravating the child’s ASD.

So the situation for the Krakow boy (and Hannah Poling)  was very, very different than David Kirby painted (as was often true). This wasn’t another Poling case. Mr. Krakow and his attorneys and experts would have to show that (a) his son had real signs of mitochondrial dysfunction, (b) the hypothesis that vaccines vaccines contribute to causing autism was valid (recall, it hadn’t been decided by hearing), (c) this hypothesis applied to his son even though his son didn’t show signs of encephalopathy following vaccination.

As you will see, none of these points were valid.

Mr. Krakow pulled his son’s case  in 2008. The case dragged on for 7 years as the Krakows tried to put together their argument. And it appears that they did not win. Based on the facts presented, these documents appear to be the final decision and a ruling on motions in the Krakow case. These have been anonymized so it is possible that these are not a discussion of the Krakow case, but since the facts so closely match, I will write as though it is the Krakow case for brevity and clarity.

The decisions are lengthy. This case is as involved–if not more–than those in the OAP itself. It’s as if this is the test case for a third OAP argument.

Here is a key paragraph from the documents:

“Petitioners have failed to show that A.K. had an underlying mitochondrial disorder. They have also failed to show that the onset of A.K.’s ASD was in any way related to his influenza vaccinations. Indeed, respondent persuasively presented significant evidence indicating that A.K.’s ASD onset predated his vaccinations. Nor did petitioners establish by preponderant evidence that A.K. experienced any regression of skills related to his ASD or his vaccinations””

The Krakow boy’s history is in no way similar to that of Hannah Poling. Since her case was conceded, we don’t know if she showed signs of autism before vaccination. We do know now that the Krakow boy did show signs of autism. Poling regressed. Krakow didn’t. Poling has evidence of mitochondrial disease. Krakow doesn’t.

There are other interesting statements in these documents. Here are a few. First:

“The measles, mumps, and rubella [“MMR’] vaccines are ordinarily administered in a combined MMR vaccination, but A.K. received his in three separate vaccinations administered on December 1, 2000 (mumps); December 19, 2000 (measles), and January 2, 2001 (rubella), when he was between 13-14 months of age”

Yes. The Krakow family was following the Wakefield-recommended “separate the MMR into single vaccines” schedule. Didn’t prevent autism. This seems like valuable information for the autism community, but Mr. Krakow chose to hold this information back.

The Special Master took on the general idea that vaccines trigger regression in people with mitochondrial disorders. The evidence is very much lacking and “remain speculative”.

Here, petitioners’ experts strained to stretch the idea of mitochondrial regression to encompass vaccines as triggers of such regression. As described above, that extension is completely unsupported by any scientific literature; it was presented in this case almost entirely through the opinion of Dr. Kendall, supported by one case report (Poling, Res. Ex. MM, Tab 14). Doctor Kendall’s and Dr. Shafrir’s further reliance on the Shoffner and Weissman papers was misplaced and their opinions that vaccines can act as triggers of mitochondrial regression were unpersuasive. Evidence that regression in ASD, a well-described phenomenon involving the loss social communication and behavior, “looks like” mitochondrial regression was also nearly non-existent. “Mitochondrial autism” may someday be accepted as a descriptor for co-morbid autism and mitochondrial disorder diagnoses, but there is little evidence that autism itself is caused by such disorder, and no evidence that autism causes mitochondrial disorders. While Dr. Kendall is one of the few mitochondrial disorder specialists in the U.S., her opinion that vaccines can trigger either onset of a mitochondrial disorder with symptoms looking like ASD, or ASD via a mitochondrial regression are insufficiently supported and remain speculative.

We parents are often hit with testimonials about how alternative medicine works wonders on autistic kids. With the OAP cases we heard about a child who had adverse reactions to chelation. In this case we hear that these alternative therapies just didn’t work:

Doctor Boris recommended a gluten-free, casein-free diet for A.K. and began therapies such as chelation, supplements to counteract the effects of his MTHFR gene defect, and autoimmune medications. Tr. at 168-69. He testified that A.K. “did not respond very well to most of the treatments [he] administered.”

In an interesting twist, The Krakow boy’s geneticist  recommended he get vaccinations:

I [the special master] noted that the geneticist who had been seeing A.K. had specifically recommended that he continue to receive vaccinations and indicated that he was a “good candidate” to receive seasonal vaccinations, such as influenza.

Many people have been trying to characterize the “vaccine court” (the Court of Federal Claims) as highly adversarial. But Mr. Krakow writes that “The tenor of VICP proceedings is exceptionally hostile and adversarial”. The record show the Court was far from hostile and adversarial.

Consider this. The record shows that Robert Krakow (an attorney who appears in the vaccine court) and the attorney he chose to take over his son’s case were not proactive in prosecuting their case:

Other than the filing of medical records, petitioners did little to advance their claim during the period in which [A.K.’s father] was attorney of record.


However, the glacial pace of progress toward a causation hearing continued for many months thereafter. Mr. McHugh’s representation has been marked with missed deadlines, repeated requests for delays, late filings, and difficulties in properly designating and filing exhibits. His failure to meet deadlines nearly cost petitioners the opportunity to fully litigate their son’s claim.

That last sentence refers to the fact that after years of delays and missed deadlines, the court was finally forced to dismiss the case for inaction:

Accordingly, after petitioners missed the deadlines set forth in my August 18, 2010 order, I ordered them to show cause why their case should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute and comply with court orders. See Order to Show Cause, issued Sept. 3, 2010 (ECF No. 98). After petitioners ignored the deadline in the show cause order, I dismissed their petition on October 13, 2010.

The Court allowed the family to petition and re-enter the vaccine program. Not only that, but the Court granted the motion to redact parts of the dismissal. The dismissal was available on the vaccine court website (where I found and read it) but was pulled.

Many in the “autism is a vaccine epidemic” community call for a repeal of the vaccine act and a return to the time when vaccine manufacturers could sued directly.  How many cases in regular court are dismissed and allowed back in?

We could go on as the decisions are lengthy but instead let’s get back to the key points above.  When David Kirby wrote his article he concluded “And there are many more Hannah’s out there, waiting to be counted.”  Just not so.  First off, the real Hannah Poling case isn’t what Kirby claimed. The Court has stated that neither they nor the government  “…concluded that any vaccination had contributed to causing or aggravating the child’s ASD.”  More importantly, this new  case isn’t about a child with mitochondrial disorder, or even regression. It is a case of a child who showed signs of autism before the vaccines the parents claim caused autism.

This is a case of one of the most vocal proponents of the idea that vaccines cause autism misleading the public.  Mr. Krakow probably believes the story he tells of his child’s development.  He probably believes the story about how contentious the vaccine court is. But the facts tell a very different story.

I am often asked why I can not support the idea that vaccines cause autism.  Thousands of parents tell the same story, I’m told.  The problem is that the parents stories don’t match the facts. We saw this with Jenny McCarthy. We saw this with the Omnibus Autism Proceeding test cases.  We’ve seen this with more vaccine court cases.  We’ve seen this with parent stories shifting in online discussions. And now we’ve seen this with “the next Hannah Poling”.

By Matt Carey

FDA proposes a ban on electric shock devices such as used at the Judge Rotenberg Center

28 Apr

I’ll keep this simple and direct: the FDA has proposed a new rule: Banned Devices; Proposal to Ban Electrical Stimulation Devices Used to Treat Self-Injurious or Aggressive Behavior.

Here’s the summary from that document:

SUMMARY: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or we) is proposing to ban electrical stimulation devices used to treat aggressive or self-injurious behavior. FDA has determined that these devices present an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury that cannot be corrected or eliminated by labeling. FDA is proposing to include in this ban both new devices and devices already in distribution and use.


We are aware of only one manufacturer, JRC, that has recently manufactured ESDs and that currently uses ESDs, including devices that we have not previously cleared.

JRC is the Judge Rotenberg Center, a residential school in Massachusetts for disabled students, many of whom are autistic. The JRC uses the ESD’s (electrical stimulation devices) as punishments to try to control behavior for some of their students. According to the document, the JRC used their devices (called GED at the school) on 82 individuals in 2014.

The document states that a parent group from the school and 2 former students provided comments in support of keeping the shock devices. One student and

In addition to NASDDDS and a JRC parents group, referenced earlier, 15 other organizations concerned with the treatment and the rights of individuals with disabilities spoke at the Panel Meeting, all of which supported a ban. Twenty-two disability rights organizations submitted written comments to the Panel Meeting docket, one of which was signed by 23 disability rights groups. Nine of these organizations were among the 15 represented at the Panel Meeting. All of these comments support the ban. FDA also received a comment from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division supportive of a ban, and we considered information from the National Council on Disability, the National Institutes of Health, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.

The FDA is not just relying upon community input. They also note the scientific literature which shows significant risks of PTSD and anxiety and other adverse events following the use of shock devices.

Here is a survivor’s letter, an account from a former JRC student who was subjected to the shocks.

The JRC was in the news after a student was tied to a board for 7 hours and shocked 31 times. The original news story links are no longer valid, but I will try to find them and link to them here.

The shock devices just do not have a sound backing–scientifically or ethically. If this FDA rule goes into place, the days when disabled students in America can be subjected to electric shocks like these will come to an end.

By Matt Carey

Andrew Wakefield to Grace Hightower: “your family’s life [has] been blighted by autism”

22 Apr

One thing I have noticed over the years–those who are antagonistic towards vaccines are quite willing to use the disability community, but are rarely willing to offer us respect. Consider Andrew Wakefield, who introduced one book with a fictionalized account of a mother murdering her autistic child. He framed it as an act of love by the mother. Or his film, “who killed Alex Spourdalakis”. Alex was an autistic young man with extraordinary needs. Andrew Wakefield tried to make Alex’s life  into an episode for his (now failed) reality TV show. When Alex was brutally murdered by his mother and another caregiver, Wakefield took his footage and made a film.  It was an apology piece for the murders, using Alex as a hammer to attack mainstream medicine.

So now we have Wakefield apparently leaking his celebrity emails and showing again his misunderstanding for and contempt of autistic people. This is discussed at length by ScienceMom at JustTheVax: Paging De Niro and Hightower…Wakefield isn’t really in it to help autistics

I’ll just quote one email:

On Mar 29, 2016, at 9:18 AM, Andy Wakefield wrote:
Grace, whatever may have happened – and I guess I will never know – in truth my heart goes out to you and Bob. Not only has your family’s life been blighted by autism, but you have experienced some of the relentless and ruthless pressure that has been my life for as long as I can remember.
In truth and healing

Andy Wakefield
Autism Media Channel

Just to be clear, Mr. Wakefield:

My child is not a blight. On me, my family or on anyone else.
My child is not blighted.
My life is better for my child. Challenges, struggles and all.

Just to be clear Ms. Hightower: if you didn’t respond to Mr. Wakefield in a way similar to the above, shame on you. But, while I am at it, shame on you for promoting this man and his damaging message. If you believe him, take a moment and ask yourself: if he’s lying (he is) how much harm has he caused to me, my family and mostly my son?

When you dehumanize people Mr. Wakefield, you make it easier for people to murder my child. You made it easier for people to abuse my child. You make it easier for people to disrespect my child. It is already a struggle to get adequate supports and assistance. How much will people be willing to help the “blighted”?

My child doesn’t need the charity of pity. My child needs the helping hand of respect.

And you, Mr. Wakefield, are in the way of that.

People ask me why do I spend my time countering your misinformation. This is why.

By Matt Carey

The William Thompson Documents. There’s no whistle to blow.

4 Jan

For those unfamiliar with the story of William Thompson, here’s a brief introduction. William Thompson is a CDC researcher who has worked on vaccine/autism studies. About 2 years ago he approached Brian Hooker (an autism parent and very vocal advocate for the idea that vaccines cause autism) stating that a statistically significant result was not only left out of an old study but that this represented not a scientific decision, but misconduct on the part of the CDC. It is worth noting that “statistically significant” is not the same as “proof of a connection”. Brian Hooker published his own analysis (incorrectly claimed as being the same as the CDC analysis method) in a now retracted paper. The result he presented was that there was an apparent increased risk of autism for one small subset of the study population: African American males, who were vaccinated not on schedule but before age 3.

There are some questions, of course, that this raises. Is this result very strong? Does the lack of inclusion in the paper represent scientific fraud or a legitimate scientific decision?

A few epidemiologists and other scientists have chimed in (for example here, here and here) and stated that the result was very likely spurious and that Hooker’s approach is somewhat flawed and definitely overplayed.

In fact, Brian Hooker’s paper was more of a publicity event than a scientific inquiry. When the paper was published, Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield released a video. It is difficult to describe just how bad this video was but here are a two examples. Wakefield tried to put forth the inflammatory claim that the CDC’s vaccine program was a new Tuskegee experiment. Which is to say that the CDC are intentionally allowing African Americans to become autistic due to vaccines as part of some sort of study. Second, according to Andrew Wakefield, the CDC team is so evil that they are worse than Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin. =Mr Wakefield’s logic being that those dictators were sincere and the CDC team were not. No, really, Hitler was sincere per Wakefield.

In a series of phone calls between Thompson and Hooker (secretly taped by Hooker and released without Thompson’s permission), we find that Thompson was very interested in testifying before congress. It turns out that William Thompson kept much (if not all) of the paperwork involved in this study and, probably at least in part motivated by the hope for a hearing, passed these along to a member of Congress: Bill Posey. It has been claimed that this cache of documents numbers as many as 100,000 pages. Many have hoped that these documents will expose fraud by the CDC. (They don’t)

Congressman Posey released the documents to a journalist recently and, given that they are now in the public domain, Dorit Reiss and I requested that they be made available to us as well. Mr. Posey’s office graciously granted our request and I have spent some time going through them.

For those hoping for an exciting look into CDC malfeasance, sorry to disappoint you. Not only is it not present here, but these documents are very mundane and repetitive. Many people seem to think there will be evidence that the CDC are covering up. No “Vaccines cause autism! How do we cover this up”. Nothing like it. Wakefield and Hooker have already cherry picked–and misrepresented–whatever they could to “best” make their case.

For more introduction, I point you to these articles as a start:

MMR, the CDC and Brian Hooker: A Guide for Parents and the Media

Did a high ranking whistleblower really reveal that the CDC covered up proof that vaccines cause autism in African-American boys?
The “CDC whistleblower saga”: Updates, backlash, and (I hope) a wrap-up
Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield accuse the CDC of scientific fraud. Irony meters everywhere explode.

Given that long introduction, what is in the documents? Well, there’s about 1000 pages, not the claimed 100,000. Documents provided by Mr. Thompson and, also, documents that submitted as part of the complaint that Wakefield and Hooker filed with HHS were included in the zip file. Which is convenient as I had submitted a FOIA request for those.

There are multiple drafts of the analysis plan. Analysis Plan is the same thing as the “protocol” that Wakefield and Hooker claim was changed after the first race data were analyzed. And the fact that we have the revisions gives us the chance to check two of the fundamental claims behind the Wakefield/Hooker “fraud” charge against CDC. (1) Did the CDC plan to look at race as an exposure variable? Wakefield and Hooker are claiming (although they use different words) this is what the CDC was doing. This is different from using race as a control variable. (2) Did CDC add the birth certificate analysis after the first race analysis was done, in order to dilute the effect?

No. Very clearly no. I’ve covered (2) already based on information Wakefield and Hooker made available. The final analysis plan was dated Sept.5, the first race analysis wasn’t until late October or early November. And we see the same in these documents.

But now we have new information that answers (1). Here is what appears to be the first draft of the analysis plan. And here is a capture of a very important part:

First Draft Analysis plan segment 1

Note that this draft analysis plan is from April 3, 2001. Well before the final version, the “protocol”, which was September 5. More importantly, this is a long time before a race analysis was started. But even more, notice how there’s an annotation “I would include race as a covariate, not as an exposure variable.” That’s critical–they decided against using race as an exposure variable from the start. Before they did a race analysis. Another point: they were already planning on using birth certificate data right from the start.

William Thompson certainly should have known this, it’s very probable that he did know this. Wakefield and Hooker likely knew this. They showed documents from this collection in their video and elsewhere. But they told us the opposite.

Whether they knew or not, they were wrong. Wildly irresponsibly wrong.

Ever wonder why they didn’t make documents public? We can’t tell if Hooker and Wakefield had all the Thompson documents, but we know they had some. While they cry out for transparency, they were carefully guarding information in order to craft the story they wanted told. The full documents tell a different story.

Let me put this more simply: if Wakefield and Hooker worked for me they would be fired for just their handling of the Thompson story (of course, they would have been fired years ago for many other causes, but promoting this sort of misinformation is simply wrong.)

Also in that same directory appears to be the first draft of the paper (A000071.PDF), with William Thompson as first author. I find it interesting that Thompson is first author there as later it would be Frank DeStefano who would be first author of the published study.

There are also meeting notes. Lots of meeting notes. Here’s the first batch, as near as I can tell. Meetings were held every month or two.

Now is a good time to address the “garbage can” quote. Congressman Posey read a statement from William Thompson into the congressional record. Emily Willingham discussed this in A Congressman, A CDC Whisteblower And An Autism Tempest In A Trashcan. On the other side, here’s an article by Jon Rappoport Bombshell: CDC destroyed vaccine documents, Congressman reveals Bombshell: CDC destroyed vaccine documents, Congressman reveals; CDC whistleblower case is back.

Here’s the thing–there’s zero “bombshell” involved in putting these documents into a confidential bin for shredding/recycling. There’s no reason to keep all these revisions of the analysis plan, all these meeting notes, all this redundant material. I hope people at CDC are not keeping all this paper. Beyond that, the rules are that they have to keep enough information to recreate the study. Aside from the fact that all these meeting notes are not required for that, Brian Hooker proved that requirement was met when he claimed to have done exactly that–recreated the study.

Mr. Thompson also provided a file with ALL Agendas for mmr autism meetings with written interpretation. Which is to say Thompson added his own annotations (purple pen) to the agendas.

Here’s an example of his annotations. And a great example of trying to make data fit a story. Thompson appears to be trying to support the idea that the CDC team changed the protocol to include the birth certificate analysis in response to analyzing the race data:

Race examined before final protocol

The implication that the race analysis and had somehow influenced the final protocol (as Wakefield and Hooker have claimed and this comment appears to support) is just plain wrong. First, as we have already seen, the birth certificate analysis was included from first draft of the analysis plan, in April 2001. That’s four months before this meeting note. Second, the so-called “race effect” isn’t seen in this meeting note. In fact, we see the opposite: “not statistically associated with case/control variable”.

From the phone conversations between Brian Hooker and William Thompson (secretly taped by Hooker), we have found that Thompson was very interested in participating in a congressional hearing. Hooker and his colleagues had been involved in arranging a previous congressional hearing on autism. Frankly it appears to me as though Thompson was involved in a bit of a quid pro quo: Thompson coaching Hooker in ways to spread fear about vaccines in exchange for a chance to be involved in a hearing. Which begs the question: why no hearing based on all that Thompson has laid out?

In case it isn’t already abundantly clear: there’s no hearing because there is no reason for a hearing. There’s no evidence of fraud. Many of the reasons given by Wakefield and Hooker to call this fraud are, well, just flat out wrong. Contradicted by the evidence. For those hoping that Thompson’s personal notes would show some evidence of a cover up, here they are mmr autism study 2001-2002 hand written notes.

Ah, one will say, what about the finding of an association between the MMR and autism for African American boys vaccinated late (between 18 months and 36 months)? Why wasn’t that included in the published paper or public presentations? The reasons given by Thompson/Hooker/Wakefield don’t hold water as I’ve shown. So, what was the scientific reason for not including this result in the paper? Many online writers have discussed how weak this result is; how it is a spurious result. But I’d like to know the reasoning at the time behind the CDC decision to leave this out. As a community member–an autism parent–I’d like to see all the results and understand the reasons why certain results are spurious. Of course it is easy to say now, but leaving this out of the public’s eye was a mistake. It gave Thompson, Hooker and Wakefield the chance to cherry pick, hide information and craft a story that has been very damaging to the autism communities and to public health.

The first thing I did when I heard about this story was email a few epidemiologists I know and point this story out and ask them if they had the data to address the question raised. I no longer feel this way. Why should the autism communities spend precious funds and researcher time every time Andrew Wakefield (Time Magazine’s #1 on their list of great science frauds) comes up with a new story? Especially now that we know the story was built on lies. But consider this: Wakefield and Hooker have not been calling for more research. Instead they are calling for a congressional hearing. If you watched any part of the previous hearings you know they are political theater and have done nothing (NOTHING) to help make a better life for autistics. They have done nothing except provide video and blog fodder for those promoting the failed idea that vaccines cause autism.

Also, consider this: before Thompson Wakefield and Hooker didn’t talk about the issues of racial/ethnic minorities. For the most part, the entire “autism is caused by vaccines” community have ignored minority communities. Why? Because they are a clear example that the vaccine hypothesis is a failure. Prevalence estimates for racial/ethnic minority groups have been typically much lower than for Caucasians (Hispanics are diagnosed at a rate of 1/3 that of Caucasians in California. And this has been consistent for over 10 years.) This presents a huge problem for the likes of Hooker and Wakefield. If vaccines are a major cause of autism, why do minority groups have such low prevalences? If they were honest about their own beliefs, they would be calling for a study into the “protective” effect for minorities. But they don’t. More importantly, if they were real autism advocates they would be calling for better diagnosis, better awareness, better services for these under served communities. Instead they have just ignored these minority communities. That is, until they could use them as part of their campaign against vaccines.

And they still aren’t calling for better services better diagnosis in these underserved groups. Instead they are just trying to recruit as many parents as they into the vaccines-cause-autism camp. Imagine being convinced, wrongly, that you participated in injuring your own child. The charlatans who prey on our community with fake–and sometimes abusive–therapies rely on the vaccine/autism idea for the majority of their business.

The vaccines-cause-autism story is built on lies and it is very damaging. There has been nothing since the Kanner/Bettleheim “refrigerator parent” idea that has caused so much damage to our community. And that is the real story here. A group of people perpetuating a failed idea by carefully crafting a story.

The Zip file provided to me by Representative Posey’s office is at this DropBox link

Again, I am grateful to Representative Posey and his staff for providing these files to me.

By Matt Carey