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CNN: The money behind the vaccine skeptics

6 Feb

CNN Money has a short video up that makes a point that a few of us have been making for the past few years: much of the vaccine antagonistic message is funded by a few wealthy people. A good discussion can be found at A Snapshot of the Deep Pockets of the Anti-Vaccine Movement on Haprocrates Speaks. The CNN piece is called “The money behind the vaccine skeptics“. I can’t get the video to embed here, but one can find it here.

Here’s a screenshot from CNN showing the organizations, people and money that CNN discusses (click to enlarge)

cnn money

CNN points out that the self-styled National Vaccine Information Center and others (such as Chris Shaw’s group at the University of British Columbia) get a lot of money from the Dwoskin family. The Dwoskin Family Foundation told CNN that they are not antivaccine but are, instead, advocates for safer vaccines. It’s a story we hear a lot.

Claire Dwoskin is or was a board member of the NVIC and made this statement about vaccines. John Stossel had aired a piece about how his daughter had fought off a whooping cough infection and in her response to one of his producers she stated:

What his daughter went through is NOTHING compared to what the families of autistic children go through every day of their lives. No disease can match this record of human devastation. Vaccines are a holocaust of poison on our children’s brains and immune systems. Shame on you all.

I’m not sure how that sentiment fits in with being “advocates for safer vaccines”. One has to accept that vaccines are safe before advocating for safer vaccines.

Also mentioned is Barry Segal who funds Focus Autism (now Focus for Health) and A Shot of Truth. And Generation Rescue’s JB Handley and Jenny McCarthy. Both Focus Autism and Generation Rescue are noted for funding Andrew Wakefield’s “Strategic Autism Initiative”. All these groups are discussed in previous articles here at Left Brain/Right Brain.

The piece is short and perhaps that’s why they don’t mention Generation Rescue’s hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on full page ads claiming vaccines cause autism, or their poorly performed phone survey on vaccines. Lots of money spent on promoting fear and distrust of vaccines.

I’ve never seen evidence of these groups actually funding work into safer vaccines. I’ve never seen, say, funding for research into a new vaccine or even something simple like improved storage and transportation for vaccines into the developing world to reduce the use of thimerosal, a preservative these groups claim (without good evidence) cause autism and other disabilities.


Matt Carey

The Brian Hooker article “…has been removed from the public domain because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions”

27 Aug

The paper recently published by Brian Hooker, Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young african american boys: a reanalysis of CDC data has been pulled. Currently the journal’s website has this in place of the article:

This article has been removed from the public domain because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions. The journal and publisher believe that its continued availability may not be in the public interest. Definitive editorial action will be pending further investigation.

I wish they had thought this through before publishing it. Be that as it may, my own view (as an author and one-time editor) is that the revelation that this is not an original work by Mr. Hooker should have warranted some action. Mr. Hooker has discussed how the idea to do this study came from someone else and the analysis is a recreation of a previous analysis. Minor point, I know. And I know my online friends did not agree with me on that.

I do appreciate the journal taking this step. While Mr. Hooker, Andrew Wakefield and their team try to make as much political hay out of this paper as they can.

More discussions of this paper

Autism, Atlanta, MMR: serious questions and also how Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield are causing damage to the autism communities

Here’s the press release for the recent reanalysis study

Here’s a discussion of that study by an epidemiology grad student:
Directed Acyclic Graphs and the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism

And another discussion of that study from The Poxes Blog:
Andrew Jeremy Wakefield plays video director while African-American Babies die, or something

And Surgeon/Scientist Orac takes on the study and more here:
Brian Hooker proves Andrew Wakefield wrong about vaccines and autism

Educator and Advocate Liz Ditz discusses the PR approach that has been taken by those promoting the study here:
L’affaire CDC-MMR: Hooker, Wakefield, and Focus Autism Accuse African-American Senior CDC Researcher of Being A Race Traitor

And the CDC have a simple statement here:
CDC Statement Regarding 2004 Pediatrics Article, “Age at First Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination in Children With Autism and School-matched Control Subjects: A Population-Based Study in Metropolitan Atlanta”


By Matt Carey

Autism, Atlanta, MMR: serious questions and also how Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield are causing damage to the autism communities

26 Aug

The groups promoting vaccines causing autism have been handed probably their biggest story in a decade. They are claiming, and it seams likely, that a senior CDC epidemiologist came to them with information that a statistically significant result of possible increased autism risk from the MMR in a specific subpopulation was not reported.

I’ll go into a lot of background below, but if you wish to read up about these events:

Here’s the press release for the recent reanalysis study

Here’s a discussion of that study by an epidemiology grad student:
Directed Acyclic Graphs and the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism

And another discussion of that study from The Poxes Blog:
Andrew Jeremy Wakefield plays video director while African-American Babies die, or something

And Surgeon/Scientist Orac takes on the study and more here:
Brian Hooker proves Andrew Wakefield wrong about vaccines and autism

Educator and Advocate Liz Ditz discusses the PR approach that has been taken by those promoting the study here:
L’affaire CDC-MMR: Hooker, Wakefield, and Focus Autism Accuse African-American Senior CDC Researcher of Being A Race Traitor

And the CDC have a simple statement here:
CDC Statement Regarding 2004 Pediatrics Article, “Age at First Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination in Children With Autism and School-matched Control Subjects: A Population-Based Study in Metropolitan Atlanta”

Even with multiple press releases and no doubt other efforts to gain media attention, this story has yet to break out into a mainstream news story. Some alternative news sources and many parent supporters of the vaccine/autism idea have discussed this lack of media attention. And there’s a YouTube video by Andrew Wakefield that I’ll embed below. That video deserves and probably will get it’s own article here on Left Brain/Right Brain. It is remarkably bad.

It has often been said that the parents promoting the idea that autism is a vaccine-induced epidemic are their own worst enemies. As the parent of a multiply disabled autistic child I can say without reservation that these groups are no friends to the majority of the autism parent community either. Nor are they friends to the real majority of our community: autistics. The vaccines-caused-an-autism-epidemic parents have refused to support any research which goes against their idea that autism is a vaccine-induced epidemic. They don’t support research into the prevalence of autism in adults. Likely because they worry that this will show that their epidemic idea is false. In the process we lose the chance to learn from the previous generations of autistics about what has worked and what has not. Information which is critical to this autism parent. These groups have failed to accept that the lower prevalence of identified autism in racial and ethnic minorities indicates that the prevalence numbers we so often hear are not the a true count of the fraction of our population that is autistic. Because to admit that is to admit that they are misusing the numbers they rely upon to claim an epidemic. Their lack of support has hindered attempts to improve identification and get appropriate services for autistics in racial and ethnic minorities. This is a point that is incredibly ironic given the way these groups are framing their recent news as you will see (or have seen if you read Ms. Ditz’ article linked above). On top of this they have produced a way over-the-top PR campaign about their news, demonstrating their deep hatred for the CDC. If I were to tell you that Andrew Wakefield is claiming that the CDC are worse than Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Pol Pot (because, you see, in Mr. Wakefield’s eyes at least those dictators were sincere), would you believe me? Would you think I was making this up? If I said that Mr. Wakefield has played the race card in a disgusting way, claiming that the U.S. vaccine program is a new Tuskegee experiment, would you believe me? You can skip down to the bottom if you want to see that discussion and video. I’ll start with the science.

About 10 years ago a team from the CDC published a study: Age at First Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination in Children With Autism and School-Matched Control Subjects: A Population-Based Study in Metropolitan Atlanta (full paper here). They took data from the CDC’s Metropolitan Atlanta Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Program (MADDSP). In order to control for potential confounding variables–like mother’s age, birth weight and more, the authors of the MMR follow-up study pulled birth certificate records. They only pulled them for kids born in Georgia. Could be there was a logistics issue (trying to track down records across the country) or if birth records were not consistent across the US. Also, they would have had to find control kids for those born outside Georgia, and that would have been a big logistics issue. In the end there were two analyses presented–one on the raw data with all the kids, and one with a more detailed analysis done with this smaller “birth certificate” cohort.

Here’s an example of one of those analyses (click to enlarge):

DeStefano table 3

This is a good table to review this study. What did they find? The general result is that time of MMR vaccine receipt was similar between autistic kids and non autistic kids, but was statistically more common among autistic kids. In the table above we see that for the most part, the sub groups reported had generally no increased risk of autism with MMR. I.e. in most examples the 95% confidence intervals encompass 1. The unadjusted sample “all cases” and “boys” do not encompass 1. If those were all the data we had, we’d say “let’s look more closely at these”. We’d start with exactly what the authors do–check for confounding variables and see if the effect gets bigger or smaller. In the adjusted data, all the odds ratios encompass one. Some are high enough to warrant a closer look: kids aged 3-5 and boys. Combining these two I’d probably ask, “what about boys aged 3-5”, but the authors take on the age 3-5 question in general in the discussion citing that the 3-5 age group autistics were mostly in special ed preschool and were thus required to have MMR.

If you look at Table 5 (click to enlarge) you see an interesting and very strange trend. It was in the other data but it’s really clear here. The odds ratio is much larger for kids who got MMR before 36 months than for kids who got it before 24 months. The odds ratios still encompass 1, but there is something going on in the data for the kids who got vaccines between 24 and 36 months. And by “something going on” we always have to consider social factors. But take a look:

DeStefano table 5

Take, for example, maternal education. Kids with mothers who had more than 15 years of education had an odds ratio of only 0.61 if their kids got the MMR before 24 months, but that odds ratio jumps up to 2.76 if their kids got the vaccine before 36 months. In both the confidence intervals encompass 1, so we can’t say “MMR before 24 months is protective but MMR before 36 months increases risk”. But that difference is striking. Even if these results were statistically significant, it doesn’t make sense to say, “the MMR vaccine causes autism in kids when it is given between 24 and 26 months if their mothers are well educated. And, by the way, it’s protective if given before 36 months.”

While not as striking, the differences between the unadjusted and adjusted analyses in table 3 are notable. Odds ratios change when you take into account other factors. I’m no epidemiologist, but if this isn’t covered in epidemiology 101 I’ll be stunned. In physics (the field of my Ph.D.) we talk about “hidden variables”. You see one thing correlated with another but in reality a third, “hidden”, variable is actually causing the association.

That said, the CDC MMR paper is not a study without limitations (no study is). One major limitation was the need discussed above–to argue why the 3-5 age group kids had a higher prevalence.

At this point researchers (both the study authors and those reading this paper) and advocates can take a number of approaches. Here are 4:

1) They can say, “yep, that’s plausible enough. We’ve worked this dataset enough. This tells us that MMR doesn’t cause autism. Let’s move on from MMR.”

That didn’t happen and rightfully so. This isn’t a particularly strong study. It’s not the final word and I don’t think it was intended to be. It was a relatively quick study using an existing population. In the end there were more studies on autism and MMR.

2) Advocates and researchers could take the approach: “There’s an association there, but these data are too limited to really answer the question of causation. Can we do a study to nail down if there’s something about those kids born in those specific years (the 3-5 year olds) who got the MMR between 24 and 36 months? Maybe look at further subsets?” And, while it’s easy to say with hindsight, this is the approach that should have been taken in my opinion. I am unaware of work by this team of researchers or external researchers which addressed this question. I am also unaware of calls by the autism community to do such a follow up, by the way.

3) Advocates and/or researchers could say, “I think we can tease more out of these data. Hey, CDC, can I have that dataset to review myself?” Because the CDC did make these data available for serious researchers to review. CDC researchers moved on to other topics in autism and vaccines, but other researchers or qualified advocates could have taken this up.

4) Advocates (not so much researchers I suspect) could say, “I don’t trust the CDC to add 1 and 1. Give me those data and I’ll do the analysis myself. Even those areas where you show a lack of association are probably wrong.” And, yes, there are advocates like that. Well, except that no one asked for the data back then. More recently, though someone did. Which leads us to:

An autism parent and strong proponent of the failed mercury hypothesis, Brian Hooker, recently published a study re-analyzing that old CDC dataset on MMR and autism. His financial backers put out a press release claiming that not only does this study show that vaccines cause autism in a specific subgroup, but that this study was prompted by a CDC “whistleblower”. I.e. someone who was inside CDC and knew about the details of the CDC study was in contact with Mr. Hooker.

That’s a pretty dramatic press release. Let’s take some time on it.

Focus Autism Releases Findings on 2003 CDC Autism Study – Higher Autism Rate Among African-American Boys Receiving MMR Shot Earlier than 36 Months
Focus Autism releases their findings of a possible reduction in the sample size of a major 2003 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This sample size reduction negates statistically significant findings from the study.

This title is why I jumped to the press release before talking about Mr. Hooker’s paper. With this title we know (a) that Mr. Hooker is claiming an association among a specific subgroup only (African American boys) and (b) he’s claiming that there was some sort of sleight of hand by the CDC where they reduced the sample size.

Well we already know from the CDC study that autism rates were higher in kids who got the MMR before 36 months. It’s right there in the conclusion statement of the abstract. But not so much before 24 months. And we know autism rates were higher in boys. We didn’t see the analysis narrowed down to African American boys.

The press release states:

“However, CDC researchers did not include any children that did not have a valid State of Georgia birth certificate – reducing the study’s sample size by 41% . Dr. Hooker explains that by introducing this discretionary criteria into the analysis, the cohort size was sharply reduced, eliminating what would have been a higher statistical finding. ”

This is a rather odd statement. And by odd, I mean so obviously false that I wonder why it was written. See for yourself above, the study includes *both* the group with the birth certificate data and the raw data. Mr. Hooker’s explanation is, well, lacking. Sure, it is “discretionary” to try to account for confounding variables. It’s the sort of discretion I expect from epidemiologists. It’s like saying, “the engineers designing the Tacoma Narrows bridge decided against including the discretionary criteria of wind”. Also, consider that a result can be both statistically significant and wrong as is often the case when one finds something “statistically significant” without looking for or correcting for hidden variables.

In another press release Mr. Hooker calls the birth certificate data “irrelevant and unnecessary”. Again, why put out statements that anyone familiar with epidemiology would know to be false?

Elsewhere Mr. Hooker has even challenged the fact that one can obtain the stated data from birth certificates. He is in effect stating that not only is there no point in controlling for such factors, but that the CDC just lied and didn’t even have those data from the birth certificates.

Despite your assertions and the assertions of Destefano, Birth Certificates do not contain the information on the covariates you cite: birth weight, maternal age, maternal education, parity, etc. If you had read my paper, you would see that I repeated the analyses of the CDC and obtained the same results that they obtained in both what was published originally and what was withheld. Also, the birth certificate restriction was NOT applied to other race categories outside of African Americans.

Readers interested in whether Mr. Hooker is correct can take a look at the U.S. Standard Certificate of Live Birth. While this is the revised version, states standardized on birth certificates back in the 1990’s.

Epidemiologists are aware that the piece of paper a parent takes home isn’t necessarily the same birth certificate data that is in the full record.

And “Also, the birth certificate restriction was NOT applied to other race categories outside of African Americans”. Here we see the race card being played. A card that we will soon see was played with a very heavy hand. But to address the assertion made by Mr. Hooker, I wonder how he explains that there are 333 white autistic kids in the “total sample” and 199 in the “birth certificate sample”. Which is to say, his statement is false.

In one of the press releases, Mr. Hooker states

When asked if there could be any scientific basis for excluding children born outside of Georgia, Hooker responded, “I know of none, and none has been provided by the authors of the DeStefano study.”

Again, children born outside of Georgia were not excluded as Mr. Hooker asserts. Analyses were presented on both those born within Georgia (including adjustments for vital statistics found on the birth certificates) and a total sample including those born outside Georgia (the unadjusted analysis). If Mr. Hooker is “unaware” why people would do such an elementary epimiological task as adjusting data with covariates, I suggest he was a poor choice to perform Focus Autism’s study. Another thought would be that Mr. Hooker could read his own paper where he states:

It should be noted that a recent publication has shown that the prevalence of autism in African Americans is nearly 25% higher than that of whites. This value was obtained when CDC data were appropriately analyzed based on socioeconomic status

Mr. Hooker notes that when one does an analysis “appropriately” one includes socioeconomic status (such as with data found in the full birth certificates).

If Mr. Hooker would like to ask why the CDC team didn’t look for birth certificate data on kids born outside of Georgia, that’s would be a better place to start. Then we can discuss whether the CDC would then need 3 controls for each non-Georgia born kid, controls from the same place of birth as the study team did with Georgia born kids. And we could discuss how difficult that would be. And whether that would introduce more problems than it might solve. That’s a reasonable discussion. Claiming there’s no reason to gather important data is not.

Enough of the inconsistencies in Mr. Hooker’s recent statements. What was Mr. Hooker’s method and what did Mr. Hooker find in his analysis? The Poxes Blog and
epidemiologcal.net discuss this with more expertise than I can. Mr. Hooker does not recreate the CDC’s case-control study. That would require that match autistic kids and non autistic kids on the parameters he says aren’t available, and adjust for those same parameters. Instead he does a cohort study without adjustments. As discussed elsewhere, this is a much weaker approach. His main result is as the press release states “Higher Autism Rate Among African-American Boys Receiving MMR Shot Earlier than 36 Months”. He does not note in his press release “no risk for MMR and autism in everyone else”. Here is table 2 from his paper showing that.

hooker table 2

He states a relative risk that is statistically significant for African American boys who get the vaccine before 24 months (RR=1.73) and before 36 months (RR=3.36). No increased risk for African American girls. And, as Table 3 shows, no increased risk for non African Americans.

Mr. Hooker says his results are statistically significant. Others have questioned whether his analysis is really appropriate to say this, but for now let’s just benchmark this by checking how large his sample group for that large relative risk is anyway. Just so we know. The high risk group are kids vaccinated before 36 months. Here’s a figure from Table 2 of DeStefano et al.:

DeStefano table 2

There are 45 autistic kids vaccinated between 24 and 36 months. African Americans account for 40% of the total population, but let’s say about 1/2 of this 24-36 age group are African American. Or about 22 kids. 22 kids and Mr. Hooker is doing no adjustments for factors such as those found on birth certificates. The sort of socioeconomic parameters that he notes are important to get an accurate prevalence in the African American population.

Which is to say: this is not a strong finding by any stretch of the imagination.

Mr. Hooker took a subgroup–African American males–and found that there was in the unadjusted data a statistically significant relative risk. An increased relative risk is not the same thing as showing causation, especially when you are working with unadjusted data and many other limitations in this. This is enough to raise the question of whether we should do more studies to show if this increased risk holds up to further scrutiny. This is how Mr. Hooker concludes his paper:

Routine childhood vaccination is considered an important public health tool in reducing the morbidity and mortality associated with infectious diseases. However, consideration should be made in the current United States vaccination schedule for genetic subpopulations that may be associated with vaccine adverse events. Additional research is required to better understand the relationship between MMR exposure and autism in African American males.

A study relying largely on a small group of subjects (about 20) with the conclusion that more work is needed. Sounds vaguely familiar. And, as we will see, Mr. Hooker has teamed up with Andrew Wakefield to put out a video where they jump past the whole this indicates more research is needed through this is absolute evidence of MMR causing autism directly to the CDC are engaging in a racist experiment sacrificing children to autism. It’s like the events around Mr. Wakefield’s 1997 Lancet paper cranked up to 11.

Even though Mr. Hooker’s analysis is quite limited, as in it would be (and you will see is) incredibly irresponsible to jump from this to say “MMR Causes Autism in African American Males”, I’d like to see either more data or a good explanation why someone shouldn’t do it. If for nothing else, precisely to head off the sort of irresponsible and damaging PR campaign that Mr. Hooker and Mr. Wakefield have engaged in. There are a lot of data on MMR and autism since DeStefano first published (especially Hornig et al.) showing that MMR doesn’t increase autism risk. And Mr. Hooker himself has shown that autism risk is not raised in everyone other than African American boys. One can easily argue (and should) that the MMR/Autism/African American Boys result is spurious. But I’d like to see more evidence to support that. I don’t see evidence so far that this is fraud, but I don’t agree with the scientific decisions made.

All this said, can reasonable people really raise a concern about autism risk given how inflammatory that discussion can be? Yes. Here’s an example of how a study found a possible risk factor and follow up studies answered the question. The Price study was one of the largest studies on thimerosal exposure and autism risk. As part of that study they considered folic acid intake in mothers as one confounding variable for thimerosal exposure. They reported that there could be an increased autism risk from taking folic acid. The calculated risk for mothers who reported taking folic acid was about double that of those who didn’t. Keep in mind that folic acid supplementation for pregnant women is a major public health program as it reduces the risk of some developmental disabilities, so the possibility that it was increasing autism risk has major public health implications. This is a good parallel to the question of vaccines (public health program) and autism.

After the Price study, multiple studies were performed looking folic acid intake and autism risk (I can’t say that these were prompted by Price et al., but it seems reasonable to think they might):

Maternal periconceptional folic acid intake and risk of autism spectrum disorders and developmental delay in the CHARGE (CHildhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment) case-control study.

Association between maternal use of folic acid supplements and risk of autism spectrum disorders in children.

How can we summarize the folic acid history? A possible risk factor was found. It wasn’t plausible since folic acid seems to be protective for birth defects. But people did a second check (and even a third) and found that not only is folic acid not a risk factor, it may even reduce autism risk. Which even though this is what people would have said was biologically the most probable outcome at the start, this was a needed exercise.

Can we draw a parallel? Well, DeStefano et al. and later Hooker found a possible risk for MMR and boys (with Hooker citing African American Boys) getting the MMR vaccine late but before 36 months. It doesn’t seem plausible or even self consistent with the other results of the study dataset as has already been discussed. Reasonable people could move forward on this and see if existing data could answer this or if a new study is warranted.

Reasonable people could. As I’ve alluded to, we aren’t really dealing with a “and reasonable people” scenario. And here’s where we get into the “these people are their own worst enemies” part of the discussion. We’ve already seen how Mr. Hooker has made incorrect statements about the birth certificates of the DeStefano study. Let’s look another of Mr. Hooker’s statements and ask, “is this the statement of a reasonable person”?

He added, “The exclusion is reminiscent of tactics historically used to deprive African-Americans of the vote by requiring valid birth certificates.”

And here we see Mr. Hooker and Focus Autism playing the race card for sensational effect. One can’t even say this is a stretch. It’s just ridiculous. There was no exclusion and certainly people didn’t say, “let’s exclude African Americans and deny them their rights.” Maybe some will say this still within the realm of what a reasonable person might say. I would then ask you to watch this video produced to promote this study and the events surrounding it. The really inflammatory statements are made by Andrew Wakefield, but this looks to be a joint effort between Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Hooker. If Mr. Hooker would like to explain that he disagrees with the approach Mr. Wakefield took, I’ll be quick to rewrite this. But for now, here’s what team Wakefield/Hooker has prepared for you:

As promised above here are Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker claiming that the CDC are running a Tuskegee like experiment, where in Mr. Wakefield’s view African American boys are allowed become autistic by MMR for some nefarious and unexplained reason (because there are so few autistics that we need to create some for study?). I suspect Mr. Hooker will take offense at me stating that he is claiming this as it’s Mr. Wakefield who says the words. OK. Go ahead and put out a statement distancing yourself from this irresponsible attack Mr. Hooker. And, yes, I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that Mr. Wakefield thinks that the CDC are even worse than Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. The dictators, you see, were sincere. (8:40 into the video).

No one has yet responded in the mainstream media to the press releases and the Hooker study. And many of Mr. Wakefield’s supporters online are noticing this and asking why. Here are some possibilities:

1) The press has been burned by 17 years of bad science and unethical behavior by those promoting the vaccine/autism link.

2) perhaps the most famous person in that bad science and unethical behavior is your spokesperson on this new media campaign: Andrew Wakefield.

3) members of the press are not generally attracted to stories where people who have devoted their lives to preventing infectious diseases and to understanding developmental disability are called worse than Hitler.

4) after years of a campaign to instill fear about vaccines, we are in the midst of outbreaks of multiple vaccine preventable diseases. The founder of the blog where Mr. Hooker chose to release and discuss his new results famously once bragged that his groups was going to bring the “U.S. vaccine program to its knees

Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Hooker probably (and some of their followers certainly) have been wondering why their news of a CDC “informant” hasn’t garnered media attention. If you read the press releases and have followed the online discussions, you know that the idea for this reanalysis of the DeStefano data came from documents obtained by Congressman Issa and from phone conversations Mr. Hooker had with a CDC epidemiologist.

In their first press release, Mr. Hooker’s team noted that

According to Dr. Hooker, the CDC whistleblower informant — who wishes to remain anonymous — guided him to evidence that a statistically significant relationship between the age the MMR vaccine was first given and autism incidence in African-American boys was hidden by CDC researchers.

That was released on a Tuesday. The video came out the Monday previous, but was censored and the voice of the “informant” was obscured. On that same Monday, Mr. Wakefield noted on his Facebook page “He will be identified very soon” (referring to the “informant”). In other words, they had no intention of keeping this man’s identity secret. And a few days late, on Thursday night, the video was changed so that the censoring was gone and the voice was not obscured.

So, we have an informant who was obviously working with the Hooker/Wakefield team for months who wanted to remain anonymous. The Wakefield/Hooker team left clues about who this person was: they noted that he works for the CDC and has for some number of years and Mr. Hooker spoke of the informant as “him”. There are only two males who worked on that paper: W.W. Anderson Thompson (who has been named as the informant) and a statistician in the acknowledgments. Which of those two are on record within CDC as having voiced a strong opinion about the African American boy data? Heck, I nearly called Mr. Thompson myself to ask if he was working with Mr. Hooker. I wouldn’t be surprised if people at the CDC figured it out and that’s why his name was so quickly divulged by Mr. Wakefield. Why keep his name secret if you’ve already given out enough information to his superiors for them to break his cover?

And with that let’s get back to the “these guys are their own worst enemies” discussion. When you have someone you consider a whistleblower, it is your duty to protect that person. Not out him/her. Mr. Wakefield doesn’t seem to understand that. Years after having ignored the information given to him by a whistleblower in the UK, Mr. Wakefield not only outed that whistleblower, he first threatened the man with disclosure:

If Mr. Thompson intended to stay anonymous, and I have no reason to suspect otherwise, he chose poorly in his confidants.

Mr. Thompson had many options of to whom he could reveal his information. Many people would have taken him seriously and not taken the highly irresponsible approach that Brian Hooker has with the race-baiting video and more. I’ve read a number of people speculate that Mr. Thompson didn’t know what he was getting himself in to. If he really chose to work closely with Mr. Hooker, I can’t see how he didn’t see the extremes this information would be put to.

Mr. Hooker has had much communication with the CDC over the past decade and more. Here is some of that communication (about 3MB worth), selected by Mr. Hooker himself as an exhibit in his FOIA case with the CDC.
People at the CDC, likely Mr. Thompson included, would know of Mr. Hooker’s very strong opinions of them. A letter sent to then CDC Director Julie Gerberding is entitled “War Crimes in Your Fight Against Infectious Disease and recommends: “I would personally urge you to review the Book of Matthew 18:6 and consider your own responsibility to all children of the U.S. including my own son.” Italics in the original. Here is one version of Matthew 18:6:

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Former CDC director Gerberding almost certainly did not share this with Mr. Thompson. But Mr. Thompson may have had similar exchanges with Mr. hooker in the past. As I’ve noted above, Mr. Hooker had at least some contact with Mr. Thompson previously. Also, one need only google Mr. Hooker’s name to see that he tends to exaggerate the importance of his CDC FOIA findings, his critiques of vaccine safety science are heavily biased, he is a board member of Focus Autism (Focus Autism was born out of Barry and Dolly’s desire to put an end to the needless harm of children by vaccination and other environmental factors.) and more.

Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield present at parent conventions such as AutismOne, where other presenters are selling their goods and services with faux autism treatments. Treatments such as bleach enemas and drinks (MMS), Lupron (a drug which shuts down sex hormone production. Essentially chemical castration), chelation, megadoses of “supplements” and more. They are sold largely on the promise of healing “vaccine injury”. By handing the Hooker/Wakefield team this PR win, Mr. Thompson will be feeding that industry.

This all said, we only have a few sentences on a video purporting to be Mr. Thompson. I have no reason yet to doubt that his his voice. I also don’t have the full conversations in context. Nor do I have evidence that Mr. Thompson agreed to be outed. Nor do I have evidence that Mr. Thompson agreed to have his phone conversations recorded. Nor do I have evidence that Mr. Thompson continues to communicate with Mr. Hooker. In fact he’s been silent since this story broke and no new quotes from him have been passed by Mr. Hooker or Mr. Wakefield.

What’s more, and rather odd, is that MMR is not really either Mr. Thompson nor Mr. Hooker’s primary interest. Mr. Thompson was author on a number of major thimerosal papers. First author on one. Mr. Hooker’s primary focus on the vaccine/autism discussion has been on thimerosal. I have been reading people online claiming that these events are what they’ve expected and hoped for: someone from CDC exposing that all the vaccine/autism work is fraudulent. But this isn’t the case at all. Nothing so far on thimerosal. One re-analysis of some MMR work that, while important to discuss, is not very strong at all. And while I have written what is possibly my longest article yet (out of something like 2000), there isn’t, as they say, much there there when it comes to anything substantial about vaccines and autism. What we do have is a public relations mess. A story that will be exploited by unethical people to frighten parents and try to revamp their own image and take some revenge.

More recently, at least one (non reliable) site is reporting that Mr. Thompson has spoken through his attorney. The message (and I paraphrase): in getting the preliminary result on African American boys out, he did what he set out to do.

In the end, it is once again public health and autism families that will pay the price. People will use this in their attempt to “bring the U.S. vaccine program to it’s knees”. More autism parents will be dragged into the self blame and guilt that comes with the vaccines-cause-autism beliefs. And disabled children will be subjected to abusive faux therapies in attempts to heal their “vaccine injury”.


By Matt Carey

Is Autism Speaks supporting vaccine-autism causation proponent Congressman Bill Posey?

19 Aug

Someone forwarded an email from the “Autism Action Network” recently. The email asked people to support Congressman Bill Posey’s election campaign by attending a fundraiser. Looks like a few big donors to Mr. Posey were going to attend, including Sallie Bernard of SafeMinds and Autism Speaks. Ms. Bernard certainly is with both organizations, but I wonder if she was attending as an Autism Speaks officer or if Autism Speaks was even aware that their name was being used to promote the fundraiser.

Perhaps Ms. Bernard wasn’t aware that her Autism Speaks affiliation was being used this way. I’ve seen some of my affiliations used where I didn’t expect nor want them. Perhaps Ms. Bernard was aware that the AS affiliation was being used in this advertisement, but Autism Speaks wasn’t. Perhaps Autism Speaks was aware and supported this effort. I’m not betting heavily on that last option though.

Here’s the list of donors for the fundraiser in the email I got:

Jennifer Larson of the Canary Party and Health Freedom
Sallie Bernard of Safeminds and Autism Speaks
JB Handley of Generation Rescue
Tony Lyons of Shy[sic] Horse Publishing
Barry Segal of Focus Autism
Mark Blaxill of the Canary Party and Health Freedom
Dr. Gary Kompothecras
Teri Costigan

The Autism Speaks name adds a legitimacy to this fundraiser that the other groups just can’t. The Canary Party and Health Freedom (which I assume to be Americans for Health Choice) are basically the same people with “Canary Party” as a political party and “heath freedom” as a charity. The Canary Party/Health Freedom team is led by the same people who funded large donations to Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chair Daryl Issa ($40k plus). JB Handley is not as vocal as he once was, but he founded Generation Rescue on the notion that “autism is just a misdiagnosis for mercury poisoning“. Sky Horse publishing is boutique publisher of many of the books on vaccines and autism, including “Age of Autism” and books by Andrew Wakefield. Barry Segal (Focus Autism) has been a large supporter of groups like Generation Rescue, the Age of Autism, SafeMinds and is very vocal on his belief that vaccines cause not only autism, but many other health problems as well. Gary Kompothecras has been funding Mr. Posey for years and is an autism parent and benefactor of groups promoting the vaccine/autism idea.

Without Autism Speaks’ name added to this, this would be very clearly all about a small but wealthy group of people pushing the failed ideas of vaccines and autism. People with failed and damaging ideas have the right to lobby members of congress along with everyone else. I, for one, am glad that the vast majority of Congress has moved on from the vaccine/autism-epidemic idea. I look forward to the day when that majority reaches 100%.


By Matt Carey

More Canary Party financial documents

2 Mar

The Canary Party grew out of the “vaccines caused an autism epidemic” movement. It’s a small group based in Minnesota. They bill themselves as:

The Canary Party is a movement created to stand up for the victims of medical injury, environmental toxins and industrial foods by restoring balance to our free and civil society and empowering consumers to make health and nutrition decisions that promote wellness.

Last July I wrote about their financial documents in Financial documents for the Canary Party. In that article I made the incorrect statement: “The Canary Party is not a charity, so they do not file form 990′s with the IRS.”

It turns out that they do file form 990. I can’t find them on Guidestar (perhaps because they are new?), but I found this one online. It’s for 2011, when the party formed.

When I wrote last July about the Canary Party, I noted that the financial statements on the Minnesota State Websites indicated that in their founding year (2011) they were largely funded by donations from Canary Party members/officers/founders Jennifer Larson ($40,665) and Mark Blaxill ($15,000).

The form 990 linked to above was an amended form, filed in July of 2013. Coincidentally, filed 10 days after my article about their financials. Per that amended IRS tax form for 2011, those amounts were not donations but loans.

The description of the organization’s mission is given as:

The time has come for a change. The mounting crisis in the health of children and other vulnerable groups has not only been ignored by medical authorities, it has been suppressed. As parents, citizens and advocates for the health of future generations, we must rise up to call attention to this crisis and take action to end it. In nominally democratic societies, which sadly are increasingly corrupted by the power of entrenched interests and economy of influence that surrounds the medical industrial complex, we can most effectively effect change by mobilizing for political action in order to take action against these corrupt forces. It is time to come together to form the Canary Party.

There’s another description as well, but you get the point. It’s a bit much, in my view, but not really out of line with their statements since.

At the time I wrote my previous article, it looked like the revenue to the Canary Party was decreasing. I wrote, “The Canary Party pulled in $72,000 in 2011 and $49,000 in 2012.” (at the time I didn’t know that a large part of the 2011 cash might be from loans). I noted that in 2012 a large fraction of their revenue came from a single donor, one Barry Segal, who apparently has since become disaffected with the Canary Party. I noted:

Per another comment posted to Respectful Insolence, the association between the Canary Party and Mr. Barry Segal appears to be strained. As Mr. Segal accounted for $30,000 of the party’s $49,000 revenue in 2012, one does wonder what 2013 revenue will look like.

Well, from the State of Minnesota site, here is the 2013 financial report on the Canary Party.

The Canary Party took in $17,245 in 2013. Of that, $15,000 was from Mr. Segal on January 2nd. The Canary Party started the year with $15,562.14 and, after $32,300.02 in expenses, ended the year with $687.12 in the bank.

To recap revenue in the last three years:

2011: $72,000 (of which $55,665 may have been in the form of loans)
2012: $49,000
2013: $17,245

Year-end assets

2011: $9,259.07
2012: $15,694.19
2013: $687.12

In other words: revenues and assets are way down. One does wonder how long the Canary Party will last, given these trends.

I find redefining the initial donations as loans to be very interesting. I don’t see evidence that the Canary Party paid back any portion of the loans in 2013. And, given their financial status, I don’t see the possibility of paying back the loans as highly likely. I do have a speculation as to why they might redefine the donations as loans, but I’ll hold off on that for now.

edit to add: here’s the part of the form 990 where they state that they are correcting the original to classify the contributions from the board members as loans.

CP Form 990


By Matt Carey

Financial documents for the Canary Party

12 Jul

There seems to be a large number of groups promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism. A large number of groups who share the same principle members. SafeMinds, the National Autism Association, Generation Rescue and others come to mind. A few years ago, another group was formed, this time as a political party: the Canary Party.

The Canary Party is not a charity, so they do not file form 990’s with the IRS. They appear to not be a national political party a they are not listed with the FEC. Recently, a commenter at the Respecful Insolence blog (Narad)found that the Canary Party is organized in Minnesota and files their financial reports there.

Forms have been filed for 2011 and 2012.

The Canary Party pulled in $72,000 in 2011 and $49,000 in 2012. The major contributors are (assuming I did my sums correctly):

2011:

Jennifer Larson (Canary Party President), $40,665
Mark Blaxill (Canary Party Chairman), $15,000

2012:

Barry Segal (founder of Focus Autism): $30,000
Mark Blaxill (Canary Party Chairman), $10,000

The largest expense is for a “media consultant”, Jennifer Taylor (apparently Ginger Taylor, a blogger).

$36,600 in 2011
$9,000 in 2012

Plus many expenses for advertising and other promotional expenses.

In 2012, travel became a larger expense. For example:

On January 26, 2012, $3,399.79 for expenses with Hyatt/Four-Seasons/Hyatt
(February 2nd 2012 was the date of the “Health Freedom Expo”, where other expenses were incurred)

On February 2, 2012, $1,841.43 for expenses with Hyatt/Ritz

It’s difficult from this to tell how many people were lodged at these hotels for these dates. One expense seems more clear: On 6/15/2012, expenses attributed to Canary Party president Jennifer Larson amounted to $1,541.42 for another Health Freedom Expo hotel stay, this time at the Hilton. Health Freedom Expos are typically 3 day events.

On 10/22/2012 the party hosted a convention, with apparently a tab of $11,382.02 for Hotel/Beverages/Hotel Fees.

Nothing particularly interesting. Per another comment posted to Respectful Insolence, the association between the Canary Party and Mr. Barry Segal appears to be strained. As Mr. Segal accounted for $30,000 of the party’s $49,000 revenue in 2012, one does wonder what 2013 revenue will look like.


Matt Carey

Lobbying, donations and the Congressional Autism Hearing

5 Mar

Last year the U. S. Congressional Committee on Government Oversight and Reform held a hearing on the government’s response to the rise in autism diagnoses. One of the people at the hearing, photographed with the Focus Autism team, is “Dr. Gary”. “Dr. Gary” appears to be Gary Kompothecras, a Florida chiropractor whose chain of offices reportedly doing $70M in business annually. Kompothecras is also the parent of two autistic children and strong proponent of the idea that vaccines are responsible for the rise in autism diagnoses. Both children were petitioners to the vaccine court for autism as a vaccine injury. (Both cases were denied due to failure to prosecute. This example was under appeal during the events laid out below.)

Mr. Kompothecras has already been linked to the effort to initiate the hearing, however this from a far from reliable source. If you aren’t familiar with this gentleman, feel free to peruse his website (the link is to google cache).

Taking that source as highly questionable, consider this. He claims “Dr Gary is very influential with the Republican Party and is friends with two US Congressmen – Buchanan and Posey.

I won’t speak to “friends” or “very influential”, but I will point out that members of Congress Posey and Buchanan have received campaign donations from Mr. Kompothecras over the past few years. Here are donations from Mr. Kompothecras and Beth Kompothecras made to support Posey and Buchanan in 2008.

The unreliable source claims that Gary Kompothecras and Andrew Wakefield met with members of Congress Posey, Buchanan and Issa on May 1st. Essentially, he met with the two members with whom he had a past relationship plus the chair of the committee who was to hold the proposed hearing.

As an aside: I realize that Mr. Wakefield can spin a good yarn, good enough to take in even members of congress, who are rather too busy to check on his claims and credentials, but members of congress have health care legislative aides who should be able to offer advice on the fact that this man has been found guilty of unethical behavior and his research is, at best, fatally flawed.

That said, keep in mind that given the Kompothecras family’s support for Posey and Buchanan in the past, it isn’t surprising that they donated again in 2012. That doesn’t mean the timing is not interesting. The “Friends of Bill Posey” received donations on May 2nd (Mrs Kompothecras ) and Vern Buchanan for Congress on May 4th (Mrs. Kompothecras) and again on June 30th.

If you followed the links above, you may have noticed that the Kompothecras family also made donations to Darryl Issa, on May 14th. Congressman Issa, of course, is the chair of the committee which held the hearing. These appear to be the first donations to Mr. Issa from the Kompothecras family. Per our unreliable source, congressman Issa committed to hold hearings on May 18th, 4 days later.

Now there is nothing wrong with making political contributions. And if you look at Mr. Issa’s PAC, it is clear that he gets donations from around the country. It is also disingenuous to claim some shock that a congressional hearing involved lobbying and that donations were made in the same time frame. All three of these members of congress are honorable people. These details are, however, ones that the public has a right to know, hence the transparency laws which allowed me to find the donations.

It is worth noting that Mr. Wakefield obviously has a major personal and financial stake in seeing the vaccine discussion become publicly viable again. A factor I hope the members of congress weighed. It is also worth noting that Mr. Wakefield’s ideas on autism causation are flawed and that he was sanctioned for ethical lapses. Another factor I hope was weighed. If our unreliable source is accurate in revealing that Andrew Wakefield met with the members of Congress, I again ask, why would members of congress listen to him seriously? Frankly, if someone is lobbying congress and brings out someone with Mr. Wakefield’s history, I would be strongly disinclined to favor whatever position they brought forward.

I first heard of Mr. Kompothecras when a story came out (Crist backer Gary Kompothecras bullies Florida health officials) where Mr. Kompothecras was described as attempting to “bully” Florida’s health officials into allowing Mark and David Geier (yes, the Geiers) access to immunization records. Per the Miami New Times:

So it’s bound to turn heads when the man known to occasionally lend his private jet to the governor uses his political clout to try to bully Florida health officials into turning over scores of the state’s sealed immunization records. Especially when they’re for a father-son team, Dr. Mark and David Geier, infamous for injecting autistic children with Lupron, a drug used to chemically castrate prostate cancer patients and pedophiles.

For those unfamiliar with the Geiers, here’s the link again. It leads to the neurodiversity.com website where Kathleen Seidel’s investigations of the Geiers are laid out. Their work has been termed “uninterpretable” by the IOM and “intellectually dishonest” by the special masters of the vaccine court, to pick two out of many critiques. When they previously were given access to a different set of immunization records, they had their access cut after attempting to go beyond the approved study, including increasing the risk of breaching confidentiality.

For anyone wondering, I don’t think anything of the sort of improprieties in the Kompothecras/Crist news article are at play with the congressional hearing. I do think it is important to remind ourselves of past activities of Mr. Kompothecras to understand his approach to politics.

Having read a few “six degrees of separation” type articles online in the autism/vaccine discussion, and the reliance on one of the least reliable sources on the internet for some details, I’d be cautious about making too much out of this. But as far as details go, they are on one level rather interesting in adding to the stories which are online about how the hearings came to be. On the other hand, “wealthy person gains access to government officials and makes political donations” is rather a “dog bites man” story, isn’t it?


By Matt Carey