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The Wakefield Rehabilitation? Not really.

18 Oct

Reading about Andrew Wakefield gets old and tiring. I’m sure that isn’t news to readers here. Writing about Andew Wakefield gets very tiring. Who wants to keep reminding him/her self about a man who has caused so much harm to both the autism communities and public health in general? Who wants to read about dishonesty and unethical behavior?

I can only imagine that Brian Deer must want to put his award on a shelf and move on.

Which all begs the question: why do I think people reading Left Brain/Right Brain might want to read about him again? Because in this case it isn’t about Mr. Wakefield. Rather it is about his supporters. People who put aside the proved charges of dishonesty and unethical behavior. People such as Kent Heckenlively of the Age of Autism blog who are looking for The Wakefield Rehabilitation. It’s about how and why authors cite previous literature, and not reading too much into citations.

Beyond the hopes of those supporting Andrew Wakefield, there is some good research here and a bit of information about how and why people cite certain papers in the scientific literature.

First, how is Mr. Wakefield being “rehabilitated”? Answer: his papers were recently cited in a recent study. Seriously, something that small. That’s how hard people have to look for validation for Mr. Wakefield. A few citations and he’s on the road to rehabilitation.

The new paper isn’t by just any team, though. The study, recently out in PLoS One is Impaired Carbohydrate Digestion and Transport and Mucosal Dysbiosis in the Intestines of Children with Autism and Gastrointestinal Disturbances. The study is a follow-on to the PLoS One paper by Hornig et al., Lack of association between measles virus vaccine and autism with enteropathy: a case-control study.

Why is that important? “Lack of association…” is the paper which definitively put an end to the Wakefield MMR hypothesis. The team tried, with meticulous attention to detail, to replicate the most important factors of various Wakefield MMR-autism papers. They studied children with autism and gastro-intestinal complaints. They restricted their study to children who had demonstrated clear need for endoscopy (one major difference from the Wakefield studies). They were very careful about correctly reporting the patient histories (another major difference). They tested intestinal biopsy samples for measles virus (similar to as study by the Wakefield team), but were very careful to avoid contamination (unlike the Wakefield studies). The recent study used multiple laboratories to test for measles virus (Wakefield used two: his own and the O’Leary laboratory). Unlike Mr. Wakefield, the recent study reported on results from all the laboratories (Mr. Wakefield neglected to mention the results from his own laboratory which were contradictory to his theory).

Hornig et al. wrote:

The work reported here eliminates the remaining support for the hypothesis that ASD with GI complaints is related to MMR exposure. We found no relationship between the timing of MMR and the onset of either GI complaints or autism. We also could not confirm previous work linking the presence of MV RNA in GI tract to ASD with GI complaints.

About as clear a conclusion as I’ve ever seen. “The work reported here eliminates the remaining support for the hypothesis that ASD with GI complaints is related to MMR exposure.”

So, what about the new paper and the citations? Well, members of the team that produced the Hornig et al. study did further research on the tissue samples taken. Brent L. Williams heads up the author list on the new study.

Here is the (highly technical) abstract from the new study by Williams et al.:

Gastrointestinal disturbances are commonly reported in children with autism, complicate clinical management, and may contribute to behavioral impairment. Reports of deficiencies in disaccharidase enzymatic activity and of beneficial responses to probiotic and dietary therapies led us to survey gene expression and the mucoepithelial microbiota in intestinal biopsies from children with autism and gastrointestinal disease and children with gastrointestinal disease alone. Ileal transcripts encoding disaccharidases and hexose transporters were deficient in children with autism, indicating impairment of the primary pathway for carbohydrate digestion and transport in enterocytes. Deficient expression of these enzymes and transporters was associated with expression of the intestinal transcription factor, CDX2. Metagenomic analysis of intestinal bacteria revealed compositional dysbiosis manifest as decreases in Bacteroidetes, increases in the ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes, and increases in Betaproteobacteria. Expression levels of disaccharidases and transporters were associated with the abundance of affected bacterial phylotypes. These results indicate a relationship between human intestinal gene expression and bacterial community structure and may provide insights into the pathophysiology of gastrointestinal disturbances in children with autism.

If this were really about the autistics and not about Andrew Wakefield, those claiming that there is something different about the GI disturbances in autistics should be extatic. Here is a top notch team pointing to a possible real difference. In the kids tested, the genes were expressing enzymes and transporters–i.e. the genes are performing differently–for autistic kids. Also, they are seeing differences in the bacteria in the autistic kids.

Not only that, but these kids benefited from dietary intervention, although it isn’t specific to the autistic kids: “Beneficial effects of dietary intervention on GI disturbances were reported for all AUT-GI and Control-GI subjects with FA.”

But, it apparently isn’t about the autistics or the research when it comes to the Age of Autism. It’s about rehabilitating Andrew Wakefield’s reputation. (With apologies in advance–the image that comes to mind is a team that has been performing CPR on his reputation for years now. It’s time to move on.)

The important piece of this study, according to Mr. Heckenlively, is that they cite some of Andrew Wakefield’s papers. In particular:

Wakefield AJ, Anthony A, Murch SH, Thomson M, Montgomery SM, et al. (2000) Enterocolitis in children with developmental disorders. Am J Gastroenterol 95: 2285–2295.

Wakefield AJ, Ashwood P, Limb K, Anthony A (2005) The significance of ileo-colonic lymphoid nodular hyperplasia in children with autistic spectrum disorder. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 17: 827–836

Ashwood P, Anthony A, Torrente F, Wakefield AJ (2004) Spontaneous mucosal lymphocyte cytokine profiles in children with autism and gastrointestinal symptoms: mucosal immune activation and reduced counter regulatory interleukin-10. J Clin Immunol 24: 664–673.

Mr. Heckenlively appears to have built a nice straw man argument in which every thing Mr. Wakefield has done is now discredited. Somehow citing a paper by Mr. Wakefield then becomes some sort of a statement that everything he did was actually right. Both sides of that argument are false. The authors should cite what is in the literature. By citing, say, the Ashwood (2004) paper, they aren’t saying that, say, the 1998 Wakefield Lancet paper is now “rehabilitated’.

Notice that the authors didn’t cite the 1998 Lancet paper. One big reason: it’s been retracted. Which begs the question, why are the authors citing Wakefield et al. (2000)? The paper in the American Journal of Gastroenterology has also been been retracted:

On 28 January 2010, the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practice Panel raised concerns about a paper published in the Lancet by Dr Wakefi eld et al. (1). The main issues were that the patient sample collected was likely to be biased and that the statement in the paper, that the study had local ethics committee approval, was false. Th ere was also the possibility of a serious conflict of interest in the interpretation of the data. Th e Lancet has now retracted this paper (1). Th is paper in the American Journal of Gastroenterology (AJG) (2) also includes the 12 patients in the original Lancet article and therefore we retract this AJG paper from the public record.

One really shouldn’t cite things that have been retracted from the public record. So, is there some message that Williams et al. are trying to send us? Are they saying that Andrew Wakefield was correct all along? Hardly. That paper was retracted in May of 2011, the same time that Impaired Carbohydrate Digestion and Transport and Mucosal Dysbiosis in the Intestines of Children with Autism and Gastrointestinal Disturbances was submitted to PLoS One. The authors weren’t aware of the retraction. Says a lot about how closely they follow Andrew Wakefield, don’t it?

Apparently, the authors have contacted PLoS about the citation, and it will be corrected to notify readers of the retraction. That is the right thing to do. It isn’t a statement about Mr. Wakefield’s research, other than this paper was retracted.

Authors can’t control the message bloggers may try to create from their research (heck, one of the authors, Ian Lipkin, consulted on the recent movie “Contagion”, a main character is a blogger whose message is unscientific and irresponsible). From what I’ve heard, the authors are still very clear on the message of their first PLoS paper: “The work reported here eliminates the remaining support for the hypothesis that ASD with GI complaints is related to MMR exposure. ”

I think the point was made pretty clearly. Mr. Heckenlively in his excitement read way too much into this new paper. Not surprisingly, he just goes on and on making more mistakes. Consider this paragraph:

Isn’t Dr. Wakefield supposed to be some super-villain, leading all of us gullible parents to believe that vaccines aren’t quite as safe as sugar water? Didn’t he make up fake diseases? So, after being stripped of his license to practice medicine in the U. K., it turns out there really is something called autistic entercolitis and ileo-colonic lymphoid nodular hyperplasia in children with autism. At least Dr. W. Ian Lipkin seems to think so.

Wow. All this is extrapolated from a single sentence in the introduction of the paper: “Macroscopic and histological observations in ASD include findings of ileo-colonic lymphoid nodular hyperplasia, enterocolitis, gastritis, and esophagitis [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7].”

What does that sentence mean? Simple interpretation: others have reported these findings. Not “we confirm that these findings are real”. Given that reference [3] (a retracted Wakefield paper) may be removed or noted to be retracted, the only support for “enterocolitis” will be gone from the paper.

Mr. Heckenlively wrote “Although this study used a relatively small sample of gut biopsies from children with autism (Hey, isn’t that what Wakefield got in trouble for? Or is my memory failing me?),”

Mr. Heckenlively, your memory is failing you. The findings of the General Medical Council are easily found online.

Let me remind you of some of that document:

The Panel concluded that Dr Wakefield’s shortcomings and the aggravating factors in this case including in broad terms the wide-ranging transgressions relating to every aspect of his research; his disregard for the clinical interests of vulnerable patients; his failure to heed the warnings he received in relation to the potential conflicts of interest associated with his Legal Aid Board funding; his failure to disclose the patent; his dishonesty and the compounding of that dishonesty in relation to the drafting of the Lancet paper; and his subsequent representations about it, all played out against a background of research involving such major public health implications, could not be addressed by any conditions on his registration. In addition, the Panel considered that his actions relating to the taking of blood at the party exemplifies a fundamental failure in the ethical standards expected of a medical practitioner. It concluded that conditional registration would not mark the seriousness of such fundamental failings in his duty as a doctor


The Panel made findings of transgressions in many aspects of Dr Wakefield’s research. It made findings of dishonesty in regard to his writing of a scientific paper that had major implications for public health, and with regard to his subsequent representations to a scientific body and to colleagues. He was dishonest in respect of the LAB funds secured for research as well as being misleading. Furthermore he was in breach of his duty to manage finances as well as to account for funds that he did not need to the donor of those funds. In causing blood samples to be taken from children at a birthday party, he callously disregarded the pain and distress young children might suffer and behaved in a way which brought the profession into disrepute.

Mr. Heckelively also poses the question: “Didn’t he [Andrew Wakefield] make up fake diseases?”

That would be “autistic enterocolitis”, a term Andrew Wakefield coined and a condition which still, 13 years later, doesn’t have support. Autistic enterocolitis is not just any and all GI disturbances in autistics. Enterocolitis is “…an inflammation of the colon and small intestine”. Note the “and”, there. Even more important, the PLoSOne paper is not about inflammation at all.

Mr. Heckenlively finishes with the rather hopeful, wishful thinking statement: “But if a big shot scientist like Dr. W. Ian Lipkin is quoting Dr. Andrew Wakefield as a reliable source, maybe the rest of the world will soon be doing the same thing.”

Again, wow. Here we have Ian Lipkin, one of the team that just put an end to the Wakefield-MMR hypothesis. Again, let’s remind ourselves, Ian Lipkin is part of the team which wrote: “The work reported here eliminates the remaining support for the hypothesis that ASD with GI complaints is related to MMR exposure.” There is such a major disconnect between that statement (which, yes, Dr. Lipkin stands by) and what Mr. Heckenlively wrote that I am just left in amazement.

This isn’t a story about rehabilitation. This is a story about diversion. Diversion of attention away from important subjects in autism. These include the medical treatment of major health problems. How does one treat something like bowel problems in individuals with communication and/or sensory difficulties? That’s a big question that gets lost in this whole “Andrew Wakefield” discussion. Research like this new paper is important in that respect: is there something specific to kids with autism, regression and GI disease? Leave aside any discussion about GI being linked to the regression, how do you treat it? I, for one, am glad to see something come out of this research project than just the “MMR doesn’t cause autism and GI disease” conclusion. Instead of trying to read the tea leaves of this paper and try to recoup the damage Andrew Wakefield did to his reputation, why don’t we just read the paper in the context of what this might tell us about the health problems of autistics?

A busy week in vaccine-injury news: the Cedillo appeal

4 Sep

The past week has had three somewhat major news events in the world of vaccine injury: the denial of the Cedillo appeal, the award of damages in the UK for an MMR case and the damages award in the Hannah Poling case. I thought I would write about them all, but the Cedillo appeal part is already long so I will leave the other subjects for another time.

The Cedillo Appeal

Kev blogged the denial as Cedillo appeal denied. I had blogged the hearing in June as Another appeal heard in the Autism Omnibus, then blogged the actual audio from the hearing as Audio of the Cedillo appeal part 1 and Audio of the Cedillo appeal part 2.

The arugument used in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding for MMR causing autism is basically the model that grew out of the work of Andrew Wakefield: that measles virus (MV) from vaccines persisted in the body, particularly in the digestive tract. Wakefield’s theory involved the MV infection causing intestinal permeability which allowed substances to “leak” out into the system (the “leaky gut” hypothesis). The Cedllio’s attorneys argued that the measles virus itself traveled to the brain, causing inflammation and autism.

This is not the first appeal for the Cedillo family, or for the test cases in the Omnibus. It is likely the last, however. The next step would be the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court would be unlikely to hear an appeal. The Supreme Court does not hear all the cases submitted, instead choosing to hear mostly cases which clarify points of law. The Cedillo appeal so far has not been about the laws for the most part but about the procedure of the case. One exception is the question of whether the correct standard was applied to reviewing the admissibility of the evidence. The Court used the Daubert standard, which the Cedillo’s attorneys argued was incorrect. This is not the first time the Court used Daubert, and it is not the first time the appeals court upheld it.

The other arguments made include whether the testimony and reports of Dr. Stephen Bustin should have been allowed. Dr. Bustin’s reports were obtained very shortly before the hearing and were based on closed documents from a U.K. proceeding on MMR and autism. The Cedillo’s attorneys argued that they were unable to prepare a counter argument to Dr. Bustin on short notice and that since they did not have access to the underlying data and documents. In a civil court, these arguments would have carried much weight. However, in the vaccine court, much flexibility is allowed. In this case, the Special Master allowed the evidence to be heard, and gave the Cedillo’s attorneys over a year to obtain the background data from the UK and mount a counter argument.

The Cedillo’s attorneys did not attempt to obtain the background data for the Bustin testimony in year that followed the hearing. Yes, it isn’t that they were unsuccessful, they didn’t try to obtain it. They stated that their consultants in the UK advised them that it was unlikely that they would be able to obtain the documents without the permission of the experts. However, Dr. Bustin gave his permission.

From the appeals court decision:

Petitioners considered making such a re-quest from the UK court, but never did so. They contend that British counsel informed them that it was unlikely that the UK court would permit disclosure of the expert reports without the consent of the experts, which peti-tioners stated that they could not obtain. But Dr. Bustin did consent to the release of his reports. Once his consent for the release of his reports had been obtained by the government, there is no reason why the data underlying his reports could not also have been requested

Dr. Bustin’s testimony focused on a critical part of the argument used to claim that MMR causes autism: the claimed presence of measles virus in the bodies of autistics like Miss Cedillo. Dr. Bustin is arguably the worlds top expert on PCR, the method used by the Unigenetics Laboratory to test tissue samples for measles virus. Dr. Bustin discussed at length multiple reasons why the Unigenetics Laboratory results were not reliable.

A few points to be made here.

(1) The Cedillo’s attorneys presented an expert (Dr. Kennedy) to claim that the Unigenetics laboratory was reliable. Dr. Kennedy also had worked on the UK litigation and Dr. Kennedy’s underlying data were also under seal in that litigation. In other words, the Cedillo’s attorney’s were asking that the Special Master apply one standard to the government’s witness (rejecting his report without the underlying data) while applying the exact opposite standard to their own witness (Dr. Kennedy, who also didn’t have the underlying data).

(2) Michelle Cedillo was one of three “test cases” used to test the question of “general causation”. The other two children used as test cases did not have evidence of persistent measles virus in their bodies.

There is only one paper with reliable data showing the presence of measles virus in the tissues of an autistic child. This paper came out after the Cedillo hearing. The paper: Lack of Association between Measles Virus Vaccine and Autism with Enteropathy: A Case-Control Study. In that study they found measles virus in one autistic child, and in one non-autistic “control”. The Cedillo’s attorney’s argued that this was “significant new evidence” that showed the reliability of the Unigenetics laboratory.

I found it very odd that a paper titled “Lack of association between Mealses Virus Vaccine and Autism with Enteropathy” would be used as evidence for an association between measles virus vaccine and autism. But the argument is that this paper validates the Unigenetics laboratory as being able to produce reliable results. The argument is not valid, and the court did not agree with it. The work done by Unigenetics on Miss Cedillo was performed in 2002. The research on the paper was performed much later, after significant criticism was already levied against Unigenetics. Quite simply put, it is possible that Unigenetics “cleaned up its act” by the time of the recent paper.

(3) It was noted that the arguments about Dr. Bustin’s testimony were essentially moot, as the Special Master would have come to the same decision without his testimony.

(4) It was also noted that the appeals court had already decided on Dr. Bustin’s testimony in an appeal mounted by the attorneys for the Hazelhurst family (another of the Omnibus test cases).

The Cedillo’s attorneys further argued that it was unfair that evidence was brought in from the other “test case” hearings (Hazelhurst and Snyder). The appeals ruling noted that the Cedillo hearing was not a stand-alone proceeding. As a test case in an Omnibus Proceeding, evidence from all the test cases would be used to answer the question of general causation. I was surprised at the time of the appeal that the Cedillo’s attorneys were arguing that they were not actively monitoring the other test case hearings. What, in the end, is the point of an Omnibus Proceeding or a “petitioners steering committee” of the petitioners are not acting in some way as a group?

The Cedillo’s attorneys argued that the Special Master did not give enough weight to Miss Cedillo’s doctor, Dr. Krigsman, who stated that her condition was caused by MMR. The fact is that the Special Master rejected Dr. Krigsman’s argument with good cause:

He [the special master] also concluded that Dr. Krigsman’s opinion should be rejected because 1) he relied on the discredited Unigenetics testing in forming his opinion, 2) he misunderstood Michelle’s medical history and his testimony was inconsistent with her medical records, and 3) his conclusion that Michelle suffered from chronic gastrointestinal inflammation was substantially out-weighed by Michelle’s medical records and the testimony of the government’s experts.

The Cedillo’s attorneys argued that sufficient weight was not given to Miss Cedillo’s other physicians whom, they assert, associated her condition with the MMR vaccine:

Petitioners cited nine notations in Michelle’s records from eight individuals, including four physicians who treated Michelle and four non-physicians who exam-ined Michelle, in which the treating physicians mentioned her vaccinations, as support for the proposition that these individuals concluded that her autism was caused by her MMR vaccine.

The appeals court disagreed:

The Special Master did not err in failing to afford sig-nificant weight to the opinions of Michelle’s treating physicians. As the Special Master observed in his deci-sion, in seven of the nine notations, the physician was simply indicating an awareness of a temporal, not causal, relationship between the fever Michelle experienced after her MMR vaccine and the emergence of her autistic symptoms sometime thereafter. Initial Decision, slip op. at 100. In one of the other notations, the physician sim-ply noted that an exemption for Michelle from vaccination requirements could be arranged. In the other notation, the physician speculated that Michelle’s fevers might have caused her neurological abnormalities. However, he expressly stated that it would be “difficult to say” whether this was “a post-immunization phenomenon, or a separate occurrence.” Id. at 100. Thus, “none of the treating physicians concluded that the MMR vaccine caused Michelle’s autism.” Final Decision, 89 Fed. Cl. at 176. The Special Master

In the end, the appeals court decision takes on the arguments by the Cedillo’s attorneys point by point and refutes them. The closest the Cedillo’s attorneys got to making a point stick was in the case of Dr. Bustin’s testimony, which the appeals court stated:

We agree with petitioners that the government’s fail-ure to produce or even to request the documentation underlying Dr. Bustin’s reports is troubling, but we think that in the circumstances of this case, that failure does not justify reversal.

The fact of the matter is, the petitioners in general, and the Cedillo’s in specific, did not have a good case for MMR causing autism. The mechanism they proposed was not sound, the data they had was poor and incomplete and the experts speaking for the government were excellent and refuted the petitioner’s arguments. The Omnibus cases were, as the Special Masters noted, not close.

Really bad blogging by Sharyl Attkisson

9 Sep

As I noted before, My fax complaining that Ms. Attkisson missed the big story in the autism/vaccine discussion just about the same time she was posting on exactly that story (the Hornig MMR paper).

Ms Atkisson’s blog post is titled

New Study Disproves Vaccine/MMR/Autism Link

Wow. I didn’t expect to see that from Ms. Attkisson.

Below is the full extent of Ms. Attkisson’s contribution to the piece

There’s a new study in the Public Library of Science regarding vaccine measles and autism which purports to disprove a vaccine/MMR/autism link.

Also, researchers at ThoughtfulHouse wrote an opposing analysis:

She then posts the ThoughtfulHouse press release. No kidding, of the blog piece, 90% (an estimate on my part) of the words are written by someone else! And, not even the researchers involved.

Dang. Recently we have seen a lack of homework on the Dr. Offit conflict of interest story, and now this.

At least there was some effort put into the story on Dr. Offit.

What happened to the CBS I grew up with? I can’t see Walter Cronkite getting paid for “Richard Nixon has resigned in disgrace. Now, here is Mr. Nixon’s press release verbatim.”

Another fax for Ms. Couric

9 Sep

Note: I didn’t do my homework–Ms. Attkisson has discussed the Hornig paper. She manages to do exactly what we would expect: toe the ThoughtfulHouse line. The blog piece by Ms. Attkisson was posted while I was finishing my fax, given the time stamp.

As you will read below, I didn’t find Sharyl Attkisson’s recent blog post to be what I expected. OK, I wasn’t expecting her to be convinced by the recent study by Hornig et al., (paper here) but I at least expected her to comment on it. Instead, she dodged the issue completely. Worse yet, her post boils down to (a) assuming that the government doesn’t do vaccine safety research then (b) apparently implying that she and Dr. Bernadine Healy are somehow responsible for a “new” effort by the government to study vaccine safety.

So, CBS news has two new pages in their fax machine (to go along with a previous fax). In an effort to save their staffers the time of forwarding the fax, I quote it below.

September 8, 2008

Katie Couric, Managing Editor
CBS Television Network
524 West 57th Street
6th Floor
New York, NY 10019-2902


Dear Ms. Couric,

I have faxed you recently about my concerns with the reporting of Ms. Attkisson. I would love to be writing you now with word that things have improved. But, sadly, they have not.

Ms. Attkisson appears to have avoided the key story of the week (if not month) in vaccines and autism: the study by Hornig et al. which shows (again) a lack of a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Instead, Ms. Attkisson ran a blog piece that perpetuates the myth that vaccine safety is not a high priority for the nation’s health researchers.

Hornig et al. is precisely the sort of study that Dr. Bernadine Healy (in an interview by Ms. Attkisson) claimed the research establishment was “afraid” to perform: a study looking not at large populations, but specifically at children with autism. In this paper, the study group critera were very narrow: children with autism who regressed and have significant GI problems. The study sought to answer questions raised by Dr. Wakefield’s flawed study, which has caused much distress in the autism community for 10 years. The study found that MMR is not linked to autism: a conclusion accepted by autism advocate Rick Rollens, one of the most vocal spokespeople for the autism/vaccine link.

You can imagine that, yes, I expected Ms. Attkisson to address this study in her blog or reporting. Instead I read with dismay her blog piece on September 4th, “Vaccine Watch”. In her introduction, she references her interviews with Dr. Healy, but avoids the issue of the Hornig MMR study. Instead, she discusses recent NIH grant solicitations in the area of vaccine safety, and presents them as though vaccine safety research is something new. As noted above, this perpetuates the myth that vaccine safety is not being studied.

In addition to the Hornig et al. study, there is another study soon to be released on autism and thimerosal containing vaccines. Again, a targeted study looking at the exact population of interest. I would hope that this one doesn’t escape Ms. Attkisson’s attention. Also, one need look no further than to find ongoing studies on vaccine safety and adverse events. It is difficult to find a way that will not appear sarcastic to point out that the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Office is a very clear example of the government’s ongoing commitment to tracking vaccine safety.

If you have any question of how important the Hornig study is in the autism community, take a look at the comments on Ms. Attkisson’s own blog post. You will find that, even though Ms. Attkisson avoided the study, the autism community considered the Hornig study to be the news of the week, not the NIH grant solicitations.

Accusations of media bias are often applied too quickly by readers who disagree with the stances taken on certain stories. However, in the case of Ms. Attkisson, I find it difficult to understand how she could avoid a story which not only was so important to the community, but also answered the precise questions she has posed in her previous reporting.

I appreciate your time in this matter, and will gladly clarify any statements above that may not be clear.

Autism Parent

Experts comment on Hornig et al.'s MMR paper

6 Sep

It’s been interesting reading the news reports following the Hornig MMR/regression/bowel-disease study. That has been picked up by most major outlets (and minor outlets). It has been extensively blogged (Kev, Orac, Kristina, Anthony, Steve, Phil (bad astronomy), to name a few).

I have enjoyed reading the various experts that have been brought in to comment on the paper. I list some of them here.


“This really puts this issue to bed,” said Andy Shih, vice president for scientific affairs of “Autism Speaks,” an advocacy group.

ABC News

Dr. Marie McCormick of the Harvard School of Public Health said these results are definitive and significant.

“This is the nail in the coffin,” she said. “The final bit of research we were looking for to finally discredit this link between the measles vaccine and autism” is proven. But there have been dozens of studies over the years debunking a link between vaccines and autism and the controversy has still continued.


“This really closes the scientific inquiry into whether measles or MMR vaccination causes autism,” Schaffner tells WebMD. “It is convincing because it takes the original concept of the profoundly flawed [earlier] study and does it the way it should have been done the first time.”

One of the most amazing parts of this event was the participation of Mr. Rick Rollens. Scientific American included some of Mr. Rollens’ statements:

Rick Rollens, who has an autistic son who suffers from a “horrible bowel disorder,” called the new research sound science and praised it for calling attention to an underserved subset of the autism spectrum: those children who also suffer from GI problems. But he insists that it does not give the all clear to all vaccines.

“I’m totally convinced that a vaccine caused the autism my child suffers from,” Rollens says. “This study by itself does not exonerate the role of all vaccines”—only the MMR.

On the stranger side (is it possible to get stranger than using Rick Rollens’ quotes in support of a study unlinking a vaccine from autism?), Sallie Bernard, quoted at WebMD states

“On the plus side, this study has shown a link between gastrointestinal distress and regression in autism,” Bernard tells WebMD. “A lot of people don’t accept this and deny parents’ perspective when they say their kids’ with autism have GI trouble.”

I call this one strange because (a) the study didn’t show this link and (b) she complains that the study size is too small to be significant. Too small for the parts she doesn’t like, just fine for the conclusions she wants to create.

What’s missing so far is a statement from some of the people whom we all expect to not accept this study. The good people at the Age-of-Autism have warned us that they have a “powerful response” from Mr. Olmsted coming out on Friday. It’s 11:38 now on the west coast, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it didn’t happen. Julie Deardorff (Julie’s Health Club, a blog run by the Chicago Tribune) skipped past it and blogged about the vaccine uptake data that came out the next day. Sharyl Attkisson…well, it doesn’t seem to be on her radar that yes, indeed, researchers have not turned their backs on the question of vaccines and autism. Yes, indeed, they are looking at “the children that got sick”. Odd, since she has a vaccine-oriented blog post dated Sept. 4. It would have been very easy to include this new study there. I guess correcting her old stories wouldn’t be much fun.

What is fun, and totally off topic, was a bit from this blog post by Ms. Attkisson. She was complaining that the CDC wastes money. She talks about

“…grants being awarded to projects that investigators have found in some cases to have “no objectives,” are “not performing,” or have been rated as “abysmal.” In other cases, grants have gone to community-based groups with very little oversight.”

I hope she (and others) apply similar rules when considering whether to include projects in the IACC’s Strategic Plan that are likely to be rated “abysmal”, or are expected to be “not performing”.

I wonder how she would feel about hundreds of thousands of dollars in pork sent to one of autism’s alternative medical groups with no oversight, no results.

Well, I’ve wandered off topic. It is 11:59 and still no “powerful response” from Mr. Olmsted. Time to hit “publish”.

Before the MMR science, the press conference

4 Sep

As I’ve already posted not once but twice, yet one more study has been published showing yet one more time that the MMR doesn’t cause autism.

Prior to the lifting of the embargo on the study itself, there was a press conference featuring some of the study authors (Lipkin and Hornig were both in attendance) and several journalists as well as ‘freelance writer’ David Kirby.

Most of the questions concentrated on what this study showed, however someone there wanted to try and use this new study to (somewhat bizarrely) exonerate the O’Leary lab’s role in the poor science done by Wakefield and in the lab’s role in the Cedillo hearing (where it was trounced for poor science).

The whole press conference is here.

As an example, here is David’s first question.

Now thats more a set of questions than _a_ question, the initial question regarding Hannah Poling is both inaccurate and pointless. Inaccurate as, regardless of what David claims, no statement has been published by anyone that states Hannah Poling’s autism was caused by a vaccine. Pointless as this science has absolutely no bearing on her case. It has never been claimed she had measles virus in her gut.

David’s second point regarding O’Leary is fascinating. Because one of the labs used in this new paper was O’Leary’s and because the lab performed well, David seems to be claiming that that exonerates the O’Leary lab from past errors. I’m not sure how that can be true. As Stephen Bustin clearly showed during the Cedillo hearing, the errors of the O’Leary lab were twofold. The first was one of methodology. They forgot to do an RT step. Now I don’t know what that means but it was clear that it was a fairly serious (and basic) error. What it caused was the O’Leary lab to falsely identify contaminants as measles RNA. The second error was failing to pick this contamination up. So its not just a case of contamination, its a case of poor procedure.

I’m going to hazard a guess here and suggest that since the time of Bustin’s initial investigation (some years ago now) the O’Leary lab have figured out how to do an RT Step.

David’s second question followed:

So, we’re back to the very small sub-population argument. I really want to know – if the leading supporter of the vaccine hypotheses is now angling towards this ‘sub-sub’ group, what impact does that have on the autism epidemic idea? I mean, how can you have an autism epidemic generated by a very small sub-sub group?

Anyway, the answer to David’s question from the assembled scientists was ‘uh, who knows? That’s not what our study was about’. Or words to that effect.

David’s third (and fourth) questions followed. Please listen carefully to the answers which I’ve left on. You might also want to note the (somewhat amusing) deep sigh from the guy answering David as David keeps trying to make him say that MMR isn’t totally 100% safe.

And then by the time of David’s attempted fifth question, the answering team were obviously getting a bit fed up.

So that (to me) is a pretty fascinating insight into the denial that exists even at the very highest levels of the autism/vaccine hypotheses.

Just as a postscript, David asked them (totally randomly it seemed) if the best study would be one of vaccinated vs unvaccinated kids. Here is the reply. A reply grounded in real science.