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Irish Examiner: US film studio threatens to sue autism-rights advocate

26 Jul

As I wrote about yesterday, Andrew Wakefield’s “Vaxxed” team, led by distributor Philipe Diaz of Cinema Libre Studio, threatened Fiona O’Leary (an autistic adult who is also the parent of autistic children). Well, it looks like the story has been picked up by the Irish Examiner.

The article starts:

A US film studio has threatened to sue an Irish autism-rights advocate if she continues to speak out against its controversial anti-vaccine documentary, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,.

West Cork-based mother, Fiona O’Leary, who wants to block the film’s release in Ireland and Britain, said she was outraged to receive a legal letter from California-based Cinema Libre Studios over the weekend.

Read the rest at US film studio threatens to sue autism-rights advocate


By Matt Carey

Del Bigtree crosses the line: tells Vaxxed audience “Now’s the time” for guns.

19 Jul

Del Bigtree helped Andrew Wakefield produce a faux documentary called Vaxxed. Vaxxed has been discussed here and elsewhere a great deal, but here is a review from Science Based Medicine if you are looking for more details (Andrew Wakefield’s VAXXED: Antivaccine propaganda at its most pernicious).

The team that made Vaxxed has been using the screenings as a platform to give personal appearances. Below is a clip from one of those personal appearances. I would encourage you to watch for yourself:

In case you couldn’t watch or skipped the video, here are the concluding statements of this particular speech by Mr. Bigtree:

“Anyone who believes in the right to bear arms. To stand up against your government. I don’t know what you were saving that gun for then. I don’t know when you planned on using it if they were going to take control of your own body away.

It’s now. Now’s the time.”

We need to stop here and do what neither Polly Tommey nor anyone in that audience had the guts to do: stand up to Del Bigtree and say No! No, this is not the time to use guns.

This is no joking matter. Bigtree’s comments are at best beyond irresponsible and at worst a call for armed violence.

Whatever was in Bigtree’s mind, why didn’t anyone speak out against this? There was nervous laughter when Bigtree made his call to arms so people can’t claim they didn’t hear or didn’t understand what he was suggesting. Here’s the Facebook post with the full video. There are over 1500 comments. And I can’t find one that says, “No, Del, we reject a call to violence.”

I want to keep this short, but I will repeat myself for emphasis: Del Bigtree crossed the line in a big way with his comments. His comments are reprehensible.

But standing by silent while he makes these reprehensible statements is also wrong.

Ironically Del Bigtree’s facebook page has this as the top saved image:

13529029_1095999520470545_3497709959753327622_n

You fans of Del Bigtree, you need to walk the walk. Stop patting yourselves on the back for being “brave” and show that you are indeed brave individuals. Disavow these statements.

Del Bigtree, you need to dial this back. You need to apologize and take back these statements.

By Matt Carey

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

8 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Matt Carey

Double checking Brian Hooker’s story in VAXXED

7 Jul

One of the arguments so often given for “vaccines cause autism” is that of “then why do so many parents tell exactly the same story?”

Well, they don’t. As we saw with JB Handley (Which is it, Mr. Handley?) even a single parent can shift and change stories over time. And he’s just one example. But we have also seen many times that once the stories we are told are compared to the facts, like say the medical records or videos in vaccine court, parent recollection is shown to be wrong.

Well, now we have Brian Hooker’s two stories. We have what he says in Vaxxed, and we have his recent vaccine court case. An in-depth legal analysis is provided by Prof. Dorit Reiss as BRIAN HOOKER’S VACCINE INJURY CLAIM DENIED BY NVICP.

From the video from Vaxxed, we hear Brian Hooker describe his son’s story starting at 3:26.

My son [SRH] was born in [month] of [year].

(home video with Brian Hooker saying: “[SRH] what does the cow say?”).

(second home video: Brian Hooker: “tweet tweet”, SRH vocalizes which parents interpret as “doggie”).

“Two weeks after his 15 month vaccines, then he lost all language. He lost all eye contact. You would pick him up and he would just hang limp.”

That’s pretty dramatic. And the sort of story that convinces many that, yes, indeed, vaccines might cause autism.

But ask this question, if this happened, why doesn’t Brian Hooker’s son’s medical record say anything like that?

From the Court’s decision, we see that the medical records show that Brian Hooker’s son was already delayed at 15 months. In fact, he was already showing signs of delays at 4 months. First, to be clear: Brian Hooker’s argument before the Court changed with time, and this can lead to some confusion. He first argued that one set of vaccines caused his child’s autism. When the Court informed Mr. Hooker that his cases was filed after the statute of limitations (filed more than 3 years from when the alleged vaccine injury occurred), Mr Hooker amended his complaint to add the claim that the 15 month vaccines (the ones he appears to be referring to in Vaxxed) “aggravated” the ASD as well. Since this event was later, it was not “untimely filed”.

In the end the court found that Mr. Hooker’s claims failed on their merits, so timely or untimely filed didn’t matter.

That all said, here’s an excerpt from the Court’s decision that discusses the 15 month vaccinations:

SRH received his 15-month well child examination on [DATE], and was found to be “healthy.” (Ex. 35, p. 13.) However, at this visit his developmental progress chart indicates that SRH had not achieved most of the expected milestones. (Id., p. 24.) His Denver II developmental progress chart indicates that he could not speak six words, could not run or climb stairs, could not remove garments or use a spoon, and could not stack two cubes, — indeed, he failed all but one of the developmental milestones for 15 months. (Id.) Following a physical examination of SRH, Dr. Heller-Bair administered the usually recommended vaccinations — i.e., DTaP #4, Hib #4, and OPV. (Id., pp. 13, 26.) (These vaccinations of [DATE], were the vaccinations that Petitioners now allege to have “significantly aggravated” SRH’s autism.)

OK, that’s the 15 month vaccination visit. But as to “two weeks after his 15 month vaccines” that Mr. Hooker describes in Vaxxed? What does the record show happened? The Court transcript reads:

Nineteen days later, on [DATE], both parents accompanied SRH to the pediatrician’s office, where she recorded that his temperature was 101.8°, and that both tympanic membranes appeared normal. (Ex. 35, p. 14.) She included the following description.

One-year-old with 1-day history of low-grade fever, irritability, decreased appetite, nasal congestion. Child has a history of recurrent ear infections. Is scheduled for typanostomy tube placement by Dr. Fong in about 4 days’ time. Mom is concerned that he may have an ongoing ear infection prior to surgery.

(Id.) No other recent symptoms were noted. Dr. Heller-Bair determined that SRH had a viral upper respiratory infection — in other words, “a cold” — and reassured the parents that he did not have an ear infection. (Id.)

Emphasis added. And now repeated: no other recent symptoms were noted. Not “he lost all language”. Not “he lost eye contact”. Not “he was hanging limp”.

As to signs of autism before the vaccines in question, we read this (Dr. Leventhal was an expert witness for the government):

Also included in Dr. Leventhal’s list of early symptoms of developmental disorders was another symptom particularly indicative of ASD — “evidence of language delay and reports of social interaction problems” at age 12 months. (Ex. C, p. 30, para. g.) Language delay and social interaction problems, are classic symptoms of autism.

Of course, many will discount this as coming from the government’s expert (even though he’s reporting the medical record).

So, what did the parents have to say?

Third, several representations by the Petitioners themselves indicate that SRH was suffering from developmental problems, likely early symptoms of his ASD, well prior to [DATE–about 15 months]. For example, SRH’s parents reported that at one year of age (about [DATE]), he seemed “delayed in interactive skills.” (Ex. 2, p. 46.) On [DATE], SRH’s parents reported that they had been worried about developmental delays “for about 6 months,” which would put the onset around [DATE–about 13 months]. (Ex. 6, p. 19.) And on occasions, SRH’s parents identified the onset of SRH’s developmental problems as occurring about the time of his MMR vaccination, which took place on [DATE–about 12 months]. (See Ex. 5, p. 30 (SRH lost eye contact “after his MMR shot”); Ex. 14, p. 38 (“delays, deterioration of verbal skills coincidental [with] MMR”)).

Emphasis in the original.

Parents reported loss of eye contact at about 12 months. But in Vaxxed Brian Hooker says his child lost eye contact two weeks after the 15 month vaccinations. So again we see that the stories don’t match up. And recall that Brian Hooker apparently didn’t mention this loss of eye contact to the doctor nor did the doctor notice 19 days after those 15 month vaccines.

Finally, it’s worth noting that pretty much the time that Vaxxed has been touring, Brian Hooker and the rest of those doing personal appearances have known that the Hooker case failed. And let’s not downplay this, the case was not even close. The Court decision includes in the conclusion:

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

emphasis in the original.

The experts were quite wrong. The science was the same as was extensively argued in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, and which failed to come close to being convincing then. The case history showed no sign of vaccine injury or developmental regression. On every count, Brian Hooker’s case failed. But we don’t hear that in the public talks. Why would Brian Hooker, Andrew Wakefield and the rest want to tell the public that not only are the “facts” in Vaxxed wrong, but the science had also been tested yet again and failed yet again? I mean, it’s not like they are calling this a “documentary” or anything. Except that’s precisely what they claim.


By Matt Carey

If you are using California data to claim an autism epidemic, you’re doing it wrong. Or:The great anti-epidemic of intellectual disability in California.

22 May

If you’ve been reading about autism online, you have almost certainly read that autism “rates” are on the rise. But what if I told you that here in California intellectual disability has been dropping for over 20 years?

For many years the mainstay of the “autism is an epidemic” idea was the California Department of Developmental Services data. The CDDS keeps track of how many Californians are getting support under a number of specific disability categories. These data are publicly available (although not as easily available in the past), which makes them an easy source of data.

It’s easy to take a cursory look at the CDDS data and think “these are official data. Look at how much autism has increased!” Or claim “the CDDS only serves “severe” autism, there’s no way they were missed in the past.” You can even find a few publications to cite to back up these observations.

About a year ago I asked CDDS for some data. I hadn’t checked in a while and I wanted to see what trends are ongoing. Coincidentally, the Autism Society of San Francisco put out a report shortly after that: Autism Rising, A Report on the Increasing Autism Rates in California. So I was not alone in asking for data.  The Autism Society of San Francisco made the argument that the CDDS data are accurate and show an epidemic.

The Autism Society of San Francisco graph the data in many different ways, but the one that was closest to the way I was looking at the data was in Figure 5 (click to enlarge):

AS-SF Autism Rising Figure 5

and here is the caption for Figure 5:

Births of individuals later deemed to have DDS-eligible autism have been increasing sharply every year since the early 1980s. Typically intake into the system occurs between 2 and 7 years of age. The data reflects about 200 DDS autism births per year into the 1980s, but now the system is reflecting nearly 5,000 such births per year. The drop off in cases after birth year 2008 is likely attributable to usual delay in cases entering the system, and likely does not represent an actual decrease in DDS-eligible autism cases.

You can stop there and support your argument. And that’s just what most people do. Or you can question–how can I test if this is a “real” autism increase? For example, is the autism rate the same among different races? The answer is no. Is the autism rate the same in, say, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Kern County? The answer is no. And there are many more questions one can ask of these data and over and over, the answer is no.

Either we aren’t counting all the autistics in our state, or there is something much more complex going on than vaccine, toxins, epigenetics, or whatever the claimed causes of the rise are. And I’ve gone through many of these discussions over the years. Let’s make this simple then. If one claims that the CDDS counts everyone within each disability category accurately and that the definitions they use aren’t changing with time, why is intellectual disability (mental retardation) dropping so fast in California?

You see I also graphed intellectual disability. I got autism counts, intellectual disability counts and “unduplicated” (total, each disabled person counted once) by birth year. I also got census data by birth year. And I graphed them. And anyone claiming CDDS data show an autism epidemic needs to do the same and to explain this graph, complete with the sharp peak for birth year 1993. (click to enlarge):

CDDS including ID

Intellectual disability has dropped. Off about 40% of the peak value.

If you think your idea for the rise in autism is correct, let’s take the failed vaccine idea as an example, you need to also explain how that resulted in far fewer people with intellectual disability. Plain and simple. And none of these claimed causes of an “epidemic” can explain the drop in ID.

Why bother challenging the people claiming an autism epidemic? Because it denies the existence of undiagnosed autistic adults. We have very little effort to identify those who were missed in past generations. And the likelihood is that these people–our people–are not being supported appropriately because of their misdiagnoses. And not only are we abandoning the misdiagnosed, we are failing to learn. What worked for past generations, the adults of today? What failed? What are the appropriate supports for the various needs of autistic adults? We don’t know today. And are unlikely to know by the time my kid is an adult, especially if we aren’t even looking at autistic adult needs today.

And then there’s the whole autism causation question. People spending their time trying to correlate CDDS data–data clearly confounded by numerous social influences–are unlikely to ever find a real answer.

But, for those who want to keep trying, include all the data. Give an explanation for this and you may be on to something.

CDDS including ID

By Matt Carey

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

22 Apr

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

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

I’ll just quote one email:

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

Andy Wakefield
Director
Autism Media Channel

Just to be clear, Mr. Wakefield:

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Matt Carey

Why do people have to see Vaxxed to criticize it? Wakefield’s own description of us tells us Vaxxed is bogus.

21 Apr

Andrew Wakefield got an interview on Fox to defend his film Vaxxed (the video and transcript are at Fox Provides Platform For Discredited Doctor To Claim CDC Is Hiding Evidence That Vaccines Cause Autism). And he’s shooting back at his critics: if you haven’t seen the film you can’t criticize it. It’s doubly ironic. First Wakefield’s team didn’t send out DVD’s to the press, and, second, many critics have seen the film. But the “you can’t comment on the film because you haven’t seen it” is the same argument he used with his horrible “Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis” film. (For those who are unfamiliar with it, it’s a film where Wakefield defends a mother and caregiver for the brutal murder of an autistic young man.) That film was worse than I expected it to be. And I was expecting bad.

Wakefield describes his film in the Fox interview. And just based on Wakefield’s own words, we can see that the film is inaccurate.

Wakefield:

Dr. William Thompson comes forward and says they have known for 14 years that MMR vaccine is causally associated with autism and they have covered it up.

This is wrong. First, the study Wakefield is talking about can not show causality. This sort of epidemiology can show researcher “here’s a place to look for causality”. Anyone who has been in this field for 20 years, like Andrew Wakefield, would know that. ]

But let’s get more to the point–Thompson didn’t say that they showed a causal connection.

From a statement by William Thompson:

The fact that we found a strong statistically significant finding among black males does not mean that there was a true association between the MMR vaccine and autism-like features in this subpopulation.

no “true association” means it doesn’t show causality.

Wakefield goes on:

And so the film, it’s his words, it’s his opinion, it’s his documents that really carry the message of this film that there has been a huge cover-up which has put millions of American children in harm’s way and it was totally unnecessary.

But as we’ve just seen, the key point of the film is precisely not Thompson’s words or opinion.

Wakefield appears to be using William Thompson as a sock puppet. We are told what Wakefield seems to either believe or wants us to hear. And with the claim that it’s not Wakefield doing the telling but Thompson.

But Wakefield’s own words about Vaxxed don’t match Thompson’s own words.

But per Wakefield people can’t criticize the film.

For whatever it’s worth, it’s not just William Thompson who stated that the study doesn’t show a causal connection. Even Brian Hooker, a colleague of Wakefield, didn’t claim a causal connection in his re-analysis of the CDC data. Here’s as close as Brian Hooker gets to claiming causality in his (now retracted) paper:

Additional research is required to better understand the relationship between MMR exposure and autism in African American males

Not “we found a causal connection”, but effectively “someone should test this for causality”. Frankly I don’t think this was a moment of intellectual honesty from Brian Hooker as much as pragmatics: referees know that this study can’t show causality so they would have rejected Hooker’s paper had he tried.

Thompson’s documents don’t show a causal connection either. I’ve made them public so people can check what is in them. Wakefield hasn’t. But Wakefield asks people to “make up their own mind”. The documents don’t show a “huge cover-up”. They don’t show “millions of children in harm’s way”.

Simple check of facts here: The “huge cover-up” putting millions of American children in harm’s way”, shouldn’t we address this? Wakefield is discussing one preliminary result in the CDC study: African American boys vaccinated before age 3. In all other groups, the study (confirmed by Brian Hooker) shows what all the other MMR studies show: no indication of an MMR/autism link. This point, by the way, isn’t stressed in Vaxxed. Even when they bring in autism families, they are mostly white.

But, back to this result. Leaving aside that Vaxxed isn’t accurate, shouldn’t we be concerned? Well let’s do some checking. Brian Hooker in his paper is saying that African American boys are 3.36 times more likely to be diagnosed autistic if they get the MMR vaccine before 36 months. If that is due to a real causal connection, we should easily see that in other data. MMR uptake is generally comparable by race. So even though African Americans are a minority in the U.S., 3.36 is high enough that some indication of a risk would have shown up in one of the other autism/MMR studies. But let’s not just handwave like that. Let’s check directly: is the autism prevalence higher in African Americans? Boys are roughly 4 times more likely to be diagnosed as girls, using Hooker’s 3.36 increased risk for African American boys (and if I’ve done my math correctly) African Americans should have an autism prevalence 2.9 times higher than Caucasians.

2.9 times higher autism prevalence. That’s big. We would see that on autism prevalence studies easily.

The CDC recently released an autism prevalence estimate. And they show that African Americans are less likely to be diagnosed.

Estimated ASD prevalence was significantly higher among non-Hispanic white children aged 8 years (15.5 per 1,000) compared with non-Hispanic black children (13.2 per 1,000), and Hispanic (10.1 per 1,000) children aged 8 years.

Yes, African Americans are less likely to be diagnosed (about a factor of 0.85). Again, using the data that Wakefield claims shows a “causal” connection between the MMR and autism, we expect 2.9 times higher prevalence. The facts just don’t match up with Wakefield’s claims.

The fact that autistic people from racial/ethnic minorities or low income families are less likely to be diagnosed is a problem true autism advocates are trying to fix. Many are not receiving the appropriate services and supports. But that’s what real autism advocates are working on, not Andrew Wakefield.

So, we have a film that by comparing Andrew Wakefield’s own description with the facts is inaccurate. But per Andrew Wakefield people can’t criticize Vaxxed if they haven’t seen it. That’s a bit of a logical fail on Mr. Wakefield’s part. Not like we have a shortage of those.


By Matt Carey

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