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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.


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

Movie review: VAXXED

2 Apr

Andrew Wakefield’s film, VAXXED, opened today in a theater in New York. Mr. Wakefield somehow convinced Robert De Niro to break the rules of the Tribeca Film Festival and personally insert the film into the lineup of TFF. When this was discovered, Mr. De Niro first defended his decision and, after getting input from people whose expertise is science, pulled the film. Mr. Wakefield, with no apparent sense of irony about having avoided due process to get into the festival, cried out that he was denied due process in the removal process. But didn’t hesitate to add the tagline to his film poster, “the film they don’t want you to see”.

The opening of VAXXED had about 20 people in the audience by one account. I couldn’t attend, but someone I know did and gave me a lot of feedback. I was preparing to give summarize that feedback here when a review on indewire came out: ‘Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe’ is Designed to Trick You (Review) which concurs with the impressions I was about to relate here. Here’s a paragraph from that review:

In a statement leading up to the film’s release, Wakefield’s co-writer Del Bigtree claimed that “Vaxxed” is “not an anti-vaccine movie,” which is kind of like saying “Triumph of the Will” is anti-Hitler. Strung together in obvious ways to induce a constant sense of dread (look out for the slo-mo shot of a crying child!), “Vaxxed” shamelessly repeats the same non-arguments over and over again, drowning facts in murky proclamations.

VAXXED purports to be the story of a “CDC Whistleblower”, William Thompson, who contacted Brian Hooker, a vocal proponent of the idea that vaccines cause autism. The “about” page for the movie pretty much only talks about Thompson. One thing people going to see VAXXED will find is that the CDC study/William Thompson part is a very small part of the film. Most of it is filler, much of the conversation that goes on all the time online about vaccines.

But what is the Thompson story and why is it supposedly so explosive? Well, William Thompson was researcher who worked on vaccine epidemiology at the CDC. Most of that was many years ago. In fact the research discussed in VAXXED started in 2001. Thompson sought out Brian Hooker, a very vocal proponent of the idea that vaccines cause autism and led Hooker to a finding that was not reported when the paper was published in 2004.

Since this is really the heart of the film, allow me to go into some detail. The main claim was that the CDC team found in their first pass/rough analysis that autism was more common in African American boys who got the MMR vaccine than those who didn’t. Another finding was that for children without other conditions, there also appeared to be a higher autism risk. This group was called at the start of the study “isolated autism”, as in autism isolated from other conditions.

Let’s take that second one first, isolated autism. Here’s the thing–when the CDC team published their study in 2004, they did report on this. Instead of autism isolated from all other conditions, they showed autism without intellectual disability. The CDC reported that the calculated risk for this group was “statistically significant”.

In other words–what did they hide? Nothing. It’s the same result that Wakefield says was hidden. The only question I have– if this result is so important, why didn’t Wakefield or Hooker notice for the 10 years after it was published?

So, what about the other result? Thompson told Hooker that the CDC team another possible result. This result was limited to only African American boys, a fact that is largely glossed over in a film of largely white people. And this Autism/MMR/African American boys result didn’t remain statistically significant under the CDC planned, more complete, analysis. Which is to say, it’s not strong, it’s not really controversial.

But let’s ignore that for the moment. Let’s ask ourselves, if this is the smoking gun, the finding that was so explosive that a CDC researcher reached out to Brian Hooker to tell him about it, why don’t we don’t hear about that that finding until about 1/2 way through the film? And why is so little time spent on it? I’d think this would be a huge part of the film.

Let’s take another step back, a step away from the film. Here’s the thing about this from my perspective as an autism parent–if you believe this represents a real effect (that the MMR causes autism in African American males), you act very differently than Andrew Wakefield. You try to answer the question. Wakefield was at one point running a charity whose stated purpose was autism research (in the end, about half the money went to Wakefield’s salary). He is reported to have raised $400k for this film. Four hundred thousand dollars. I have seen no effort whatsoever by Mr. Wakefield to investigate this claim of a link between MMR and autism in African American boys. Instead we keep hearing about efforts on getting a congressional hearing on the subject. For those outside the autism community: there have been two autism related congressional hearings in recent years. While they have provided much YouTube footage for people pushing the idea that vaccines cause autism, they haven’t done anything to make life better for the autism communities. Nothing.

But one might argue, William Thompson tells us that this shows vaccines cause autism, right? No, he doesn’t. Here’s a public statement (one of only 2 I am aware of) that Mr. Thompson wrote:

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

But you won’t find that point emphasized in VAXXED. Instead you will find Wakefield and cowriter Del Bigtree claiming that Thompson says that the CDC “…knew that vaccines were actually causing autism”

There’s a huge difference between “does not mean a true association” and “knew that vaccines were actually causing autism”. I don’t know how big the difference is in film producer land, but in science, it’s night and day.

While we are exploring whether this claim of an MMR/autism link in African American boys, it’s worth noting that just yesterday the CDC came out with their latest autism report (they do this every year at the beginning of April). The CDC autism prevalence numbers show a very different story about the possibility of the MMR causing autism in African American boys. The autism prevalence in African American children is lower than that in whites. If the MMR/Autism link were real and as large as the rough analysis claimed, it would be higher.

And what about the dramatic claim of research fraud by the CDC team? This claim not only doesn’t hold up, but it’s morphed a bit over time. Originally Wakefield and Hooker claimed that the CDC changed their analysis plan after finding the “race effect”. That is–they saw a result they didn’t like and then changed the analysis plan. Let me show you. Here’s a quote from an earlier Wakefield video on the subject

“Over the ensuing months, after the data after the data had been collected and analyzed, and strictly forbidden in the proper conduct of science, the group abandoned the approved analysis plan, introducing a revised analysis plan to help them deal with their problem.”

We also see this claim in the press release that accompanied Brian Hooker’s “reanalysis” of the CDC data:

According to Dr. Thompson’s statement, “Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data was collected.” Thompson’s conversations with Hooker confirmed that it was only after the CDC study co-authors observed results indicating a statistical association between MMR timing and autism among African-American boys, that they introduced the Georgia birth certificate criterion as a requirement for participation in the study. This had the effect of reducing the sample size by 41% and eliminating the statistical significance of the finding, which Hooker calls “a direct deviation from the agreed upon final study protocol — a serious violation.”

Emphasis added.

The problem with that statement was that the final “revised analysis plan” was dated Sept 5, 2001 and the “race effect” wasn’t seen until late October/early November 2001. Two months later. In other words, for this version of the fraud claim to work, the CDC team would have to travel back in time. We know this timeline because the William Thompson documents are now public and we can compare the analysis plans and analysis.

If this seems confusing, it gets worse in VAXXED where we are taken into a discussion of the CDC team switching from using race data from school records to birth certificates and how this reduces the statistical power and hides an effect and all.

Rather than go into details about that, I’ll state this: this argument is a red herring. And wrong, but a red herring. Yes the CDC had data from both school and birth records. But they always planned on using the birth certificate data for their final analysis. From the analysis plan we read:

For the subset of children with Georgia birth records, sub-analyses will be performed in which potential confounding variables from the birth certificate will be used to adjust the estimated association between the MMR vaccine and autism. The variables that will be assessed as potential confounders will be birth weight, APGAR scores, gestational age, birth type, parity, maternal age, maternal race/ethnicity, and maternal education

Or to put it simply, the school records didn’t include things like APGAR scores and so much more that the CDC team planned to use from the start.

So much for “research fraud”.

We can go through the details, but let me just say that a great deal of VAXXED is not really directly the story–the story that is promised in the VAXXED web page. A lot of discussion about and by Andrew Wakefield, for example. We also get parents speaking about their beliefs that vaccines caused their child to be autistic. While very emotional and not something to be dismissed, this doesn’t address the question of whether vaccines cause autism or if there was malfeasance at the CDC.

We a significant amount of filler in the “Big Pharma is bad” sort. The industry insider they get to speak is person who worked in sales for Vioxx. No expertise on vaccines, no experience on the inside for vaccines. And more that I just won’t go into detail about.

Does that mean it won’t be convincing? Well, a large part of the audience for this is already convinced. But will they convince more people with this film? Sadly, the answer is yes. People are not afforded the chance to see the counter arguments. And the appeal to emotion that is much of the film will play. Much better than dry analysis like the above that I have provided. But do I find this movie in the least accurate? No.

By Matt Carey

Todd Drezner: Cinema Libre Studio and “Vaxxed”

31 Mar
Below is an open letter by Todd Drezner, director of Loving Lamposts, to Cinema Libre  the distributors of Andrew Wakefield’s VAXXED.

Dear Cinema Libre,

I’m writing to explain why I’m so disappointed in your decision to distribute “Vaxxed.” I have three main objections:

1) Perhaps of most relevance to Cinema Libre is that Andrew Wakefield has assembled his film using unethical and dishonest editing techniques. As documented here, the “Vaxxed” trailer splices excerpts from two different phone calls together and then inserts a narrator giving an interpretation of those calls that is not supported by the facts. And this is merely one example from a brief trailer. Who knows how many misleading edits Wakefield has made in the full film?

Given Cinema Libre’s commitment to the idea that documentaries can make a social impact, I would think you would want to be associated with filmmakers who follow ethical practices and journalistic standards when making documentaries. When a dishonest filmmaker like Wakefield receives distribution and a theatrical release, it undermines all documentary filmmakers. We depend on the trust of our audiences. Your decision to support a dishonest film like “Vaxxed” destroys that trust. Documentary filmmaker Penny Lane outlines these issues nicely here.

2) Cinema Libre’s blog post about “Vaxxed” refers to “the suppression of medical data by a governmental agency that may well be contributing to a significant health crisis.” This is, I’m sorry to say, no more than a fever dream. First, as you will remember from watching “Loving Lampposts,” the autism “epidemic” can be explained by a combination of changing diagnostic criteria, increasing awareness of autism, and the benefits of receiving a diagnosis (in terms of the access to services and support the diagnosis provides).

Secondly, the CDC “whistleblower” around whom the trailer (and I assume the film) revolves did not reveal anything nearly as sinister as the trailer suggests. It is true that William Thompson of the CDC revealed to Dr. Brian Hooker that a 2004 study of the possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism supposedly found an association between the vaccine and autism in African American males.

Before I say anything about that finding, let’s note what that finding rules out: any association between the MMR vaccine and any other group besides African American males. Even if Thompson’s assertion were true (it’s not), it still doesn’t support the idea that the MMR vaccine causes autism in the many people who are not African American males.

But what about the supposed link between the vaccine and African American males? It’s nothing. Basically, the original study of the association between the vaccine and autism did not leave out African Americans on purpose. Rather, it did so to eliminate “confounders” — that is, any factor other than the vaccine that could have been associated with autism. The authors of the study wanted to be sure that any effect they saw was caused by the MMR and not something else. Dr. Hooker’s “re-analysis” of the study does not account for confounders properly and even if it did, the population of African American males in the study is too small to support any broad conclusions. And one more time, even if the supposed link between African American males and the MMR vaccine were significant, it still rules out any link between the vaccine and all other groups. You can read about these issues in much more detail here and here.

It’s well known that Andrew Wakefield’s research into the MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent. His film is based on equally poor science.

3) Despite Richard Castro’s statement on your blog that the Tribeca Film Festival succumbed to “pressure to censor” “Vaxxed,” there was no censorship. As I’m sure you’re aware, the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech prohibits the government from restricting speech. The Tribeca Film Festival is not government. It is a private organization that is free to screen, or not screen, any film it chooses for any reason. Indeed, Tribeca rejects the work of thousands of filmmakers every year. I’m sure Cinema Libre rejects many filmmakers as well. Are they being censored? Of course not.

On the “Vaxxed” website, Andrew Wakefield and Producer Del Bigtree claim that they were “denied due process” when Tribeca decided not to screen “Vaxxed.” This is absurd. There is no such thing as due process when it comes to the decisions of a film festival selection committee. Nor should there be. If such a thing existed, every prestigious film festival would spend all its time sifting through complaints from unhappy filmmakers. There will always be unhappy filmmakers who are denied admission to film festivals. Andrew Wakefield is now one of them. But he is not a censored filmmaker.

On a personal note, I was and remain grateful for the work Cinema Libre did to promote “Loving Lampposts” when it was released. You got the film screened at venues I could not have and publicized it through news coverage I did not have access to. I hoped and believed that along the way, you came to appreciate the film’s message that autistic people can thrive when they are accepted and when they receive the support they need to function in a world not built for them. Apparently, and much to my dismay, this message did not sink in.

By releasing “Vaxxed,” Cinema Libre is actively harming thousands of autistic people. While we should be discussing ways to best support autistic people and help them lead fulfilling lives, you would instead have us follow a discredited scientist and dishonest filmmaker down a rabbit hole that leads only to long debunked conspiracy theories. I am profoundly disappointed.

I don’t expect that Cinema Libre will change its decision. But given our long business relationship, I felt I owed you this explanation of where I stand. I hope that sometime in the future you may find ways to undo the damage you are about to cause.

Wakefield responds to his film being pulled by the Tribeca Film Festival. And it’s very classic Wakefield

28 Mar

If you don’t want to go through this whole article, and just want the most interesting bit here it is–Wakefield has responded to the Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) pulling his film. Wakefield had pulled strings somehow to get Robert De Niro (who founded TFF) to push TFF to accept the film. Immediately after it became public that Wakefield’s film was “selected” for TFF, criticism rained down from all over the world. In is defense, Wakefield brought in a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives to lobby to keep the film in. Now that the film has been officially pulled, Wakefield is decrying the “lack of due process” afforded him.

One wonders, doesn’t one, how legitimate film makers whose films were both accepted and rejected by TFF are swallowing that bit of irony. I mean, this is the first time in the history of the TFF that De Niro forced a film into the lineup. And, yeah, having a Member of Congress spend an hour talking to De Niro? I’m sure each and every budding film maker brought her/his own Member of Congress into the process right?

Lack of due process? Really? Wakefield had the temerity to decry a lack of due process? Wakefield would never have been in TFF if he had believed in and practiced the actual “due process” of applying, being good, being selected.

The irony is thick. As it so often is with Andrew Wakefield.

Now to what I wrote–

What are some of the classic traits we’ve come to know from Andrew Wakefield? First, he’s a martyr who suffers for the cause, but the rock of strength. He tells us he’s lost everything, his job, his career, his country…heck, there’s even a film out there where he talks to a mirror and tells us he’d gladly die for the children. I find this imagery rather difficult to accept given the size of his house from his Austin days (5900 square feet, one of four properties listed in the Austin area as owned by the Wakefields) and $270k/year base salary (my guess significantly higher than “academic gastroenterologists” make in the UK). But more to the point, why did he keep half the money from his autism research charity as his salary? But, again, it seems one can’t watch Wakefield speak without hearing about how strong he is and how much he’s given up for the cause.

Given how he frames himself, his response to having his film pulled by Tribeca was pretty much true to form:

To our dismay, we learned today about the Tribeca Film Festival’s decision to reverse the official selection of Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.

Robert De Niro’s original defense of the film happened Friday after a one-hour conversation between De Niro and Bill Posey, the congressman who has interacted directly and at length with the CDC Whistleblower (William Thompson) and whose team has scrutinized the documents that prove fraud at the CDC.

It is our understanding that persons from an organization affiliated with the festival have made unspecified allegations against the film – claims that we were given no opportunity to challenge or redress. We were denied due process.

We have just witnessed yet another example of the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art, and truth.

Tribeca’s action will not succeed in denying the world access to the truth behind the film Vaxxed.

We are grateful to the many thousands of people who have already mobilized including doctors, scientists, educators and the autistic community.

We will be pressing forward and sharing our plans in the very near future.


– Andrew Wakefield (Director) and Del Bigtree (Producer)

We get the whole “we are the downtrodden” while at the same time “we are strong” messages. He claims wide support, including bringing to bear a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives while decrying “the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art, and truth.”

As always, check every word Wakefield says.

First off, here’s a HUGE irony. Giant. He tells us he was denied “due process”. What is due process in a film festival? You submit your work and get it judged on a level playing field along with every other submission. What did Wakefield do? He pulled strings and got Robert De Niro to personally select VAXXED for the festival. He jumped the queue, possibly pushing some worthy selection out, and now he’s crying about due process?

Classic Wakefield. Absolute classic.

Was Bill Posey involved with the original push to get this film included in TFF? We don’t know, but we know that Bill Posey was involved with keeping it in, at least for a day.

How many other film makers pull that sort of pressure to get their films into Tribeca? But it’s Wakefield who was denied “due process”. But, hey, his movement is strong. They have a Member of Congress on their side. And Mr. Posey has received donations as a nice thank you for his support over the years.

Mr. Wakefield tells us about Representative Posey’s office “..whose team has scrutinized the documents that prove fraud at the CDC”. Nice phrasing there. Wakefield doesn’t come out and actually say that Posey’s office has claimed that the documents prove fraud, but the causal reader might not catch that.

By the way, the documents don’t show fraud. Everyone can read the documents now. Andrew Wakefield was given many, if not all, of the Thompson documents and never made them public. I remain grateful to Representative Posey’s office for providing those documents to me, and I did make them public. Mr. Wakefield carefully controlled information. I welcome people checking my facts.

Wakefield tells us “It is our understanding that persons from an organization affiliated with the festival have made unspecified allegations against the film”

Unless he’s been hiding behind a rock, there’s also been a media storm of very specific allegations against the film. There’s also the fact that Wakefield’s story surrounding William Thompson doesn’t hold up. There’s also the fact that Wakefield classifies his film as a “documentary” but within the first 30 seconds of the trailer he left facts behind.

What’s then interesting to read is that he moves from “an organization affiliated with the festival” to “the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art, and truth”

So it’s either a group working with the Tribeca Film Festival, or it’s corporate interests”. And, here’s the thing, Tribeca is a private enterprise. They get to pick what is shown under their name. Declining or removing a film from their list is not censorship. Any more than it would be censorship if I asked Wakefield to host all of my writings about him on his “about” page and he declined my request.

And, if this film is like the others Mr. Wakefield has produced, “art” is not a term I would associate with it. Nor is the word “truth”.

Now, here’s a great turn of phrase:

“Tribeca’s action will not succeed in denying the world access to the truth behind the film Vaxxed”

See what he did there? He made a simple, “this isn’t a film we want to show. Go somewhere else with it” from Tribeca into a sinister act by Tribeca to keep the world from seeing this film.

Nice job, Wakefield. You are making it clear to Tribeca that they were right. Who at Tribeca even thinks they hold such power as you seem to claim? I’ll give you a hint: no one.

Wakefield closes with a claim of far reaching support. Even within the “autistic community”. The term “autistic community” usually refers to the community of actually autistic people. That is a community that has little love nor offers support to Wakefield. That aside, Wakefield never tells people that even among autism parents, the majority do not believe that vaccines might be a cause of autism. This study put vaccines well behind genetics and the “will of God”. Other have put the fraction of parents who believe vaccines could be a cause as low as 20%. And saying, “sure it could be possible” is very different from “I believe this is what caused my child’s autism”.

Wakefield’s following is far too large, but it isn’t actually that large.

But all this said, let’s bring this back to the biggest irony of Wakefield’s response–his outrage at the lack of “due process”.

Yeah, all he had was Robert De Niro picking this film for TFF. And an hour of a sitting Member of Congress lobbying Mr. De Niro. We weep for the lack of opportunity Wakefield had, don’t we?

By Matt Carey

Tribeca Film Festival pulls Wakefield’s (faux) documentary

27 Mar

Below is a copy of statements posted to the Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) Facebook page. Responding to criticism about hosting a film promoting Wakefield’s failed views on vaccines and autism, Mr. De Niro first acknowledged that he had taken an active role in placing the film at TFF. Later, Mr. De Niro announced that the film was pulled from TFF and why.

I called the film a faux documentary, neither TFF nor Mr. De Niro has. My reasons are spelled out here.

I would like to thank Mr. De Niro for pulling TFF’s support from this film. While Mr. Wakefield will certainly find another venue to present this film, the stamp of legitimacy of having his film a “Tibeca Film Festival Official Selection” would have given Mr. Wakefield’s message a level of legitimacy it does not deserve.

vaxxed trailer screenshot

However, it must be said: this film should never have been a Tribeca Film Festival selection to begin with.

Here are the statements from Robert De Niro, from their Facebook page:

UPDATE: 3/26/2016 Statement from Robert De Niro, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, regarding VAXXED at the Festival:

“My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.

The Festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy. However, we have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the Festival program. We have decided to remove it from our schedule.”

3/25/2016 Statement from Robert De Niro, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, regarding VAXXED at the Festival:

“Grace and I have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”

By Matt Carey

Andrew Wakefield releases the trailer for his William Thompson video. Slick production and dishonesty

22 Mar

Remember the disasterous “Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis” movie? That’s the one where Andrew Wakefield was trying to create an autism reality TV show where he would swoop in with his “A”utism TEAM and solve problems for families and show that he was right all along. Except that after the “A”utism team filled a family with false hope, Alex’s mother and godmother brutally murdered Alex. Wakefield took on no blame. Instead he shifted blame from those who committed the act to mainstream medicine. Basically whitewashing a gruesome murder of a disabled young man.

I will note that in the trailer for “Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis”, Wakefield spliced video from a completely different story.

Or, remember when Brian Hooker published a paper claiming that CDC data shows that vaccines cause autism and Wakefield followed up with a YouTube video that was so over the top bad that he claimed that non only were the CDC (including a civil rights pioneer) were engaging in a new Tuskegee Experiment, but that they were worse than Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot? Because, you see, those brutal dictators were at least sincere. No, I’m not making that up.

Wakefield has been working for some time to make a feature length film out of the Brian Hooker/CDC story. He has an early trailer for “Feast of Consequences” (as it was called then). Just as with the Alex Spourdalakis story, this trailer includes video unrelated to his actual story (the video of a police standoff and the pictures of the girl in the wheelchair appear to be from the Maryanne Godboldo story).

Well, not to be deterred from the film making business, Mr. Wakefield is at it again. This time with the full length movie, now called “Vaxxed”. Here’s the trailer:

The trailer starts with what appears to be a reenactment of a conversation between Brian Hooker (vocal advocate for the failed idea that vaccines cause autism) and William Thompson (CDC researcher):

Brian Hooker:

My phone rings and it’s Dr William Thompson

This is followed by recordings of a phone call with William Thompson:

“you and I don’t know each other very well. You have a son with autism, and I have great shame now.”

Then a narrator.

“There’s a whistleblower from the CDC who is going to come out and say that the CDC had committed fraud on the MMR study and that they knew that vaccines were actually causing autism”

Sit back for a moment and consider what your first impressions of this intro are. I know mine–they seem to be setting this up as the first or perhaps one of the early phone calls between Thompson and Hooker. Since the actual audio clips from Thompson weren’t that sensational, the narrator is quickly pulled in to tell us what really happened.

But this is Andrew Wakefield. And if we’ve learned anything about Andrew Wakefield over the years it’s that you have to check every single detail of what he’s saying. He does a lot of leading you to the conclusion he wants you to believe, whether the facts say something entirely different or not.

Let’s start with a small detail. I suspect many have already wondered why I referred to the clips from Thompson in the plural. It’s because that 10 seconds or so of audio is actually two different comments from Thompson spliced together. And taken out of context. We know this because a book was released with the transcripts of the calls that Brian Hooker secretly recorded.

“You and I don’t know each other very well” is from this part of a conversation. Well into the second call that Hooker secretly recorded. And Hooker didn’t start recording calls until later in their relationship, so this isn’t an introduction at all. We will get into the discussion of what Thompson meant later:

You and I don't know each other very well

“You have a son with autism, and I have great shame now.”

I have great shame

OK, the two clips are from completely different parts of a phone call that happened well into the Hooker/Thompson relationship. Wakefield spliced them together to create a story and, just in case we missed his point, brought in a narrator to tell us what the story “really” is.

So, documentary producer/director he is not. But we didn’t really expect that, did we?

Let’s take a look at those two exchanges in a bit more detail, shall we?

First, “we don’t know each other very well”, was Thompson saying that even after multiple previous exchanges, Hooker doesn’t understand Thompson’s motivations and fears. Hooker appears to be digging for dirt. Something about the behaviors of people at CDC. Likely to smear them later. This seems to be a bit of a trigger for Thompson as he has battled mental illness. He’s not comfortable because he can already see the day when people will say, “Well, he’s [Thompson] mentally ill and why would you believe anything he says, it’s just hearsay”. Hooker assures him that it’s none of their business, and that “I [Hooker] don’t want that to happen, period.”

That’s a heavily ironic thing to read now. Why? The only reason people know about Thompson’s personal medical history is that Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield made it public. Hooker and Wakefield filed a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services and included this statement from William Thompson:

Ya know, I’m not proud of that and uh, it’s probably the lowest point in my career that I went along with that paper and I also paid a huge price for it because I became delusional.

And this exchange between Hooker and Thompson

Dr. Hooker: Did you raise that…did you raise that issue at the time?
Dr. Thompson: I will say I raised this issue…I will say I raised this issue, the uh…two days before I became delusional.


Dr. Thompson: It is one of the reasons I became delusional because I was so paranoid about this being published.

So, not only is “you and I don’t know each other very well” not a “Hi, you don’t know be very well, but I’m about to spill the beans” sort of statement, it’s basically Thompson saying that one of his big fears is, well, exactly what Hooker did to him: out his struggles with mental illness.

With friends like Brian Hooker…

So, the second part of the spliced statement that Wakefield included in his trailer, what is that in context? “You have a son with autism, and I have great shame now.” Is it, as the narrator leads us to think, a statement about fraud and that vaccines are proved to cause autism?

No. Or, in Thompson’s own words:

“No, no, no, no. Here’s what I shoulder. I shoulder that the CDC has put the research 10 years behind. Because the CDC has not been transparent, we’ve missed 10 years of research because the CDC is so paralyzed right now by anything related to autism.”

It’s a statement that in William Thompson’s view, the CDC hasn’t done enough vaccine/autism research. It’s a sentiment that I disagree with, given how much effort has been spent on researching the failed idea that vaccines are a primary cause of autism. But let’s move on.

Let’s instead move to the narrator. Recall his statement

“There’s a whistleblower from the CDC who is going to come who is going to come out and say that the CDC had committed fraud on the MMR study and that they knew that vaccines were actually causing autism”

So, what about Thompson saying the CDC committed fraud on the MMR study? Didn’t happen, that’s what. Yes, he had criticisms. He starts his one voluntary public statement with, “I regret that my coauthors and I omitted statistically significant information in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. ” But let’s stick to what we know Thompson said, rather than what Wakefield and Hooker claim he said in regards to fraud, shall we? What makes the decision to not report a finding “fraud” over a scientific decision? Well, Thompson never says in his statement that there was fraud or misconduct by the CDC team. He does say “Reasonable scientists can and do differ in their interpretation of information.”

Let’s back up a bit, what is the Hooker/Wakefield claim of fraud? In a nutshell, they claim that the CDC team found a result they didn’t want to make public and then changed the research plan/protocol so they wouldn’t have to report that. In this exchange from a phone call we can see Hooker apparently trying to get Thompson on tape saying this. Trying because Thompson refuses to say it:

Dr. Hooker: And then you basically deviated from that particular plan in order to reduce the statistical significance that you saw in the African American Cohort.

Dr. Thompson: Well, we, um, we didn’t report findings that, um…All I will say is we didn’t report those findings. I can tell you what the other coauthors will say.

As to the claim by the narrator that Thompson stepped forward and stated that …”that [The CDC] knew that vaccines were actually causing autism”. Nope.

Consider this part of the public statement by Thompson, a statement I doubt will be prominent in Wakefield’s movie

I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.

That is not the statement of a person who believes that vaccines have been shown to cause autism and that the studies to the contrary are “fraud”.

Also, Thompson provided a summary statement to Member of Congress Bill Posey. That was made public along with a great deal more documents when I released them here. What does Mr. Thompson have to say about the study in question showing that vaccines “actually cause autism”?

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.

Let’s give this finding the greatest benefit of the doubt. Let’s ignore that it is an incredibly weak and almost certainly spurious result. Even then, it doesn’t show causation. A study like this can’t. And anyone who has done scientific research (such as Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield) should know that.

But, hey, let’s just make this simple–if Thompson had said something clearly claiming fraud, clearly claiming that the CDC knew vaccines cause autism, Wakefield would have included that in his video. Instead he splices disparate conversations together and has his narrator tell us what we should think.

In other words, if Wakefield had the facts, he’d use them. Instead all I see is more smoke and mirrors.

And that’s just the beginning. The first 30 seconds. We could go on and on, dissecting the trailer frame by frame. It’s that bad. And this is just the trailer. He has a full film out now.

By Matt Carey

An Interview with Andrew Wakefield

16 Feb

Andrew Wakefield recently participated in a cruise/meeting called the ConspiraSea cruise.  Among the audience was Colin McRoberts, a skeptic.  He reported back during the cruise and, as you will see below, interviewed Dr. Wakefield.  Since much of the interview involves William Thompson, Mr. McRoberts asked for my input.

The interview is below.  Mr. McRobert’s words are in black, Mr. Wakefield’s in red and mine in green.  (If there are any mistakes in that formatting below, they are mine.)

The original interview can be found at  An Interview with Andrew Wakefield at


Andrew Wakefield and I were both on the ConspiraSea Cruise in January 2016. By the last full day of the cruise, we’d had a few encounters ranging from standing in the same line for coffee to a fairly tense exchange during one of his lectures. I asked Wakefield after that lecture if he would answer a few questions regarding the so-called “CDC Whistleblower.” He consented, and this is the interview that resulted. Wakefield was aware that I was recording and that I am a critic of his position on vaccines and autism; he did not refuse to answer any of my questions.

2016-01-29 15.13.13
Wakefield lecturing on the cruise

This transcript is my own work, and I welcome any corrections. I’ve edited it slightly to make it more readable and remove irrelevant dialog. I have also added parenthetical comments to note where a statement is inaudible on the recording, which is not of high quality, and provide my best guess at what was said in a few places. I have not changed the substance of any question or answer.

Wakefield answered several questions before I turned the recording on. According to my memory and my notes, I asked him questions about the Thompson documents such as what specific deviations there were from the approved study plan (as he had alleged such deviations in two lectures). He referred me generally to his letter of October 2014, written with Brian Hooker and attorney James Moody, and directed to the federal Office of Research Integrity. He indicated both that he had documents from Thompson at the time he wrote that letter, and that Congressman Posey subsequently received additional documents from Thompson. At that point I began the recording.

I am not an expert in the documents Wakefield discussed. So in order to provide context for these answers, we have asked Matt Carey of Left Brain Right Brain to provide commentary. Carey is a published scientist, a parent of an autistic child, and extremely familiar with the Thompson documents. He has written an in-depth analysis of the Thompson documents and was able to provide an important counterpoint to Wakefield’s claims. Please read that excellent analysis prior to this interview if you are not familiar with the affair. The questions and answers will make little sense without context.

My questions are in black, Wakefield’s answers are in red, and Carey’s comments are in green. We welcome your own comments as well.

So the Posey documents that were released are, as far as you know, the documents Posey was given? He hasn’t held anything back?

I think he has probably given Posey more documents than he’s given me. The reason for that is that I’ve just been given the Posey documents, and they’ve been released and they’re available to anyone—you can get them.

I’ve got them.

And I have not been through them as yet, so I do not know to what extent they overlap completely with the documents I’ve got. And the reason I say that is that there may be additional documents he provided to Posey on Thimerosal or other things, because he was involved in two other vaccine safety studies. I have (inaudible: “all the”?) documents relevant to the MMR studies.

The two thimerosal studies were much larger studies and are more significant than the DeStefano MMR study in the evidence against the idea that vaccines cause autism. Given that, it’s interesting that there isn’t much on the thimerosal studies in the Thompson documents. In Thompson’s personal statement he makes no indication that the results of those studies are anything but valid or that the CDC team acted in any way other than ethically in performing those studies.


And then do you know if there are documents you have from Thompson that Posey does not?

I have documents that Posey does not because Thompson and I were in private correspondence.

And when you say that, are they documents that were that correspondence, or were they documents from the DeStefano days?

They are correspondence between us.

So do you have documents from the research or from his work at the CDC that Posey doesn’t have, other than the correspondence?

I don’t know, because I haven’t been through Posey’s documents yet.

One has to ask why he has not yet been through those documents? They’ve been public for some time. I put them online January 4th, nearly 3 weeks before the cruise. A journalist announced he had received the documents from Representative Posey’s office. That was in November of last year. Dr. Wakefield could have submitted his own request then. If Dr. Wakefield felt there was a possibility of evidence of misconduct in these documents, wouldn’t he have read through them at his first opportunity? In his role as creating a documentary about these events, why isn’t he jumping at the chance to add to or confirm his story?


That will answer a lot of my questions, actually. So, Hooker’s study came out, and again, I’m not a scientist—I’m not qualified to review or really have intelligent commentary on a statistical research study. Do you support the conclusions Hooker drew? Do you endorse them?

Do I –

It would be interesting to know what conclusions Dr. Wakefield is thinking of when he responds. There are the conclusions in the paper and there are the conclusions Dr. Hooker has stated publicly since. The last sentence of Dr. Hooker’s retracted study is “Additional research is required to better understand the relationship between MMR exposure and autism in African American males.” That’s quite different from concluding that the study shows a causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism. I believe both Dr. Wakefield and Dr. Hooker have made the latter claim publicly. It is worth noting that an epidemiological study like Hooker’s cannot, on its own, show a causal connection even if the correlation found is strong. The African American males/autism correlation in the Hooker reanalysis is far from strong.

Do you endorse the conclusions Hooker drew in his study based on the DeStefano research?

Yes, I do. I know, and I know you’re going to say it was retracted. It was retracted on the basis that the did not disclose a conflict of interest. There was absolutely no – on the initial basis, the initial rationale for the retraction was nothing to do with the scientific analysis. Which was a very simple analysis, a very simple statistical manip- analysis, which replicated what Thompson found. It was withdrawn on the basis that there was an undisclosed conflict. And that’s why it was withdrawn. There was no undisclosed conflict, and I suspect that there was pressure on the journal to withdraw [inaudible].

First, as I noted above, we aren’t entirely sure what conclusions he stands behind.

As to the retraction, Dr. Wakefield only gives part of the reason why the Hooker study was retracted. Here is the full statement from the journal:

The Editor and Publisher regretfully retract the article [1] as there were undeclared competing interests on the part of the author which compromised the peer review process. Furthermore, post-publication peer review raised concerns about the validity of the methods and statistical analysis, therefore the Editors no longer have confidence in the soundness of the findings. We apologise to all affected parties for the inconvenience caused.

The editors were concerned about the validity of the methods and analysis and “no longer have confidence in the soundness of the findings.” That’s a pretty stinging rebuke of the study itself in a retraction and completely avoided by Dr. Wakefield.

But you don’t know that.

No I don’t.

I’ve heard, and again I’m not qualified to even understand the criticism, that Hooker misunderstood how to analyze case control studies. Are you familiar with that criticism?

No I’m not. The criteria for the, if you go to the criteria for the journal, Translational Neurodegeneration, it says papers will be published on the basis of expert peer review. And only when they pass that expert peer review will they be published. The paper went expert peer review which included a statistical analysis and whether he used appropriate methodology. So it passed muster on the basis of the journal’s own rigorous criteria. That gives me cause for concern, because there was nothing in Hooker’s analysis which substantiates or supports the contention that he did not know how to analyze a case control study.

Again, look to the retraction statement by the Journal: Furthermore, post-publication peer review raised concerns about the validity of the methods and statistical analysis, therefore the Editors no longer have confidence in the soundness of the findings. Peer review specifically looking at the statistical analysis found the paper lacking.

I’ve peer reviewed many papers, and even edited the proceedings of a large conference. Some peer reviewers are more rigorous than others. We don’t know what “statistical analysis” Dr. Wakefield is claiming that the reviewer(s) performed. A referee could not replicate Dr. Hooker’s analysis as the data are not in the paper. And datasets like these are not “public use”, they are intended only for those who have shown in their application to be “qualified researchers.” Dr. Hooker should not be sharing the dataset with referees or others.

Also, one question that has been in a lot of people’s minds was who did the first peer review of the paper. Often an author can suggest to a journal potential referees and can use that to get people involved who would be favorable to the authors and/or their conclusions. I can’t say for certain that this occurred in this paper, but it is a possibility.

And of course it’s possible that the peer review was just not very rigorous. A while back a peer reviewed paper included the parenthetical comment, “should we cite the crappy … paper here?” That inappropriate comment made it past referees, editors, type setting, and proofs.


Would it be fair to say that you’ve analyzed the statistical work Hooker did, or –

No I didn’t. I’m not a statistician, although I’ve been involved in a lot of statistical analyses, I would not consider myself an expert in statistics and I am not qualified, certainly over and above the expert who clearly was involved in peer review of the paper, to approve or disapprove of it.

Brian Hooker is also not a statistician. Like many of us in research, Dr. Hooker has some knowledge of statistics, but his own statements (for example, “I reanalyzed the datasets using what’s in a very, very simple statistical technique”) show that he is not an expert in the field.

First, in statistics simple is not always the most valid approach. In this case it certainly is not the most valid approach. Second, and more importantly, this isn’t a statistics study. It’s an epidemiological study. In epidemiology strong studies are those that correct for factors that can lead to false conclusions. Here’s a simple example: rich people can afford healthcare and, as a result, tend to see doctors more often. They are more likely to be diagnosed for many diseases because they seek out healthcare. If a study ignores such factors—takes a “simple statistical technique” it could erroneously conclude that rich people get some diseases more than poor people. Dr. Hooker’s analysis is not only too simplistic statistically, it is too simplistic from an epidemiology standpoint.

Here are two technical critiques of the statistical analysis Dr. Hooker used:

Analysis and Reanalysis: The Controversy Behind MMR Vaccinations and Autism, part 2

Directed Acyclic Graphs and the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism

If you’re comfortable saying so, are you still in contact with Thompson?

No. When we – let me qualify that. I write to Thompson. Updating him on our progress. I do not anticipate a response. Because in getting him or encouraging him to get a whistleblower lawyer, his lawyer advised as any good lawyer should that he should make no further comment until a congressional hearing or the equivalent. And therefore I have not heard back from him.

If Dr. Thompson has whistleblower protection, why does he need to only comment in a congressional hearing? The vast majority of whistleblowers are not called before congressional committees.

More to the point, if Dr. Thompson felt that there was ongoing harm—that there was strong evidence of an actual connection between vaccines and autism–he would be ethically compelled to come forward and speak out. In fact, in his public statement Dr. Thompson made it very clear that parents should vaccinate:

“I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.”

And just to make sure I understand, is that what you understand what his lawyers have told him to do or what you expect his lawyers would tell him to do?

He has said something to that effect in a text. I can’t remember precisely what it is, but he said based upon my lawyer’s advice, I can now have no further contact. So it’s explicitly based on his lawyers.

I’m not surprised. You made a comment that I hadn’t heard before, that it was not true that the data Thompson released showed a protective effect for on-time MMR vaccinations in non-African American male children.


It’s an awkward question. So I had understood that the Thompson data showed a protective effect for on-time MMR vaccinations in non-male, non-African American children. And in your first –

Quite the opposite, quite the opposite. This is the greatest, one of the most misleading things of all, is when the head of science over Autism Speaks, Dr. Wang, was interviewed by Ronan Farrow, that was precisely what he said and what he took from the fraudulent paper. And that underlines just how deceitful the paper was, that the head of science for an organization which is the biggest autism charity in the world, gets it completely wrong when presenting in national media, that giving MMR vaccination on time appears to be protective against autism is the most egregious of all of the sins that they committed.

Dr. Wakefield appears to be misremembering the interview. The Paul Wang/Ronan Farrow interview can be found here. In discussing the DeStefano study, the one that Hooker reanalyzed, Paul Wang stated:

“If you look at children who got the vaccine on time, there is no increased risk.”

Not that there is a “protective effect” but that there is “no increased risk.”

Later in the interview, discussing a different study, Wang mentioned the “protective” effect found. A good discussion of this can be found at Forbes. Allow me to include a few paragraphs from that discussion because it makes an important point about why simplistic statistical analyses can lead to possibly false findings:

Even more surprising was the relative risk among children who had an older sibling with autism: in this smaller group, children with 2 doses of MMR were just 44% as likely to be diagnosed with autism as unvaccinated children. This statistically significant finding indicates, unexpectedly, that vaccines might actually protect children from autism.

The authors were quick to note that there are other good reasons for this apparent protective effect of vaccines: in particular, if parents of autistic children withheld vaccines from their younger children, this could explain the effect. Why? Because we know that autism has a genetic component, and that if one child has autism, his younger sibling is more likely (because they share many genes) to have autism as well. Jain and colleagues explained that if these parents withheld vaccines–because of fears spread by the anti-vaccine movement–then their children could contribute to the apparently lower rate of autism in children who were vaccinated. The authors couldn’t rule out a protective effect of vaccines, but scientifically it seems unlikely, and they wisely offered an alternative explanation.

The “protective” effect is likely an artifact of the study design and the authors acknowledged it. The first thing a good researcher does when she/he finds a result is to challenge it, test it. “If I do a more in-depth analysis, does this finding hold up?” “Is there an alternate explanation that could be causing this and make this result spurious?” Simple is not elegant, as Dr. Hooker asserts. Simple is the first step. And if you don’t take the next steps, your study is weak and your conclusions more likely to be wrong.

This may also be in the letter you told me to look up, but the destruction of documents—are you aware of specific documents that were destroyed, or types of documents that were destroyed? Or was it just an allegation that documents were destroyed?

Well, what I have are all of the serial outputs of the data covering that period during which the documents were destroyed, and what was quite clear was that the data tables showing highly significant association between autism and vaccination [inaudible: “on time”?] were there before the alleged destruction of documents and were gone afterwards. In other words, the documentary evidence provided by Thompson confirms exactly what he said, that data were destroyed.

This is the story made public in the “garbage can quote” read into the Congressional record by Representative Bill Posey. That can be found in the statement by William Thompson included with the document provided by the Representative to me (and made public by me). Here’s the end key paragraph quoted by Representative Posey. Note that the last line was not read into the record:

However, because I assumed this was illegal and would violate both FOIA laws and DOJ requests, I kept hard copies of all my documents in my office and I retained all the associated computer files. This included all the Word files (agendas and manuscript drafts), Excel files with analysis and results, and SAS files that I used to generate the statistical findings. I also kept all my written notes from meetings. All the associated MMR-Autism Study computer files have been retained on the Immunization Safety Office computer servers since the inception of the study and they continue to reside there today [emphasis added].

Emphasis added. All the files have been retained. If printouts were shredded but the files kept, what’s the controversy? Dr. Hooker and Dr. Wakefield appear to have been claiming that Hooker recreated the CDC team’s analysis solely using the dataset maintained by the CDC and provided upon request to qualified researchers. So, again, what data was deleted?

One might think, well personal notes were shredded and those could show actions that indicate wrongdoing on the part of the CDC team. We don’t know what notes the other researchers retained. But we do have William Thompson’s notes—notes by the person most likely to record wrong doing. We don’t have statements in his personal notes–taken while the study was ongoing–that suggest fraud. In fact one of the few notes that goes to the mindset of the research team states, “we all have good intentions.”

I don’t understand what that means in this context. You have a report of what’s on the servers? Or you have a report of what was in file cabinets? Or you have –

No, I have printouts, or well, sorry, I have email documents. These are documents generated in Word with a date of creation, so that you can confirm that those documents were created contemporaneously with when Thompson said they were created. And they reflect meetings that took place on a serial basis every month, or twice monthly, between the group, the coauthors for that paper. And in September 2002, when Thompson alleges these documents were destroyed, then the African American effect, for example, and the isolated autism effect, were there. And then afterwards, they were completely gone. So that would support Thompson’s contention that documents were destroyed.

The story is much more mundane than Dr. Wakefield is implying here. What is clear in these documents is that this timeframe–around Sept. 2002–is when the research phase of this project ended. Dr. Wakefield tells us, “And then afterwards, they were completely gone.” When you go through the documents you see that after September 2002 there are pretty much no more research group meetings. There were a handful of meetings after this, but the analysis was over and the figures basically finalized. A preliminary draft of the study manuscript is dated Oct. 2002. So the idea that the team met to discuss what to archive and what to shred, and that the figures were finalized about this time is not only not surprising, it’s expected.

And this is where it’s good to have the actual documents. Dr. Wakefield did not share the documents he had, only quotes and screenshots. Bits that supported the arguments he was making. When we see the actual documents we see a different story. When I put up my own analysis of the documents, I made the documents publicly available so people could form their own opinions. From what I can see Dr. Wakefield did not do this.

Speaking of mundane, yes the documents “reflect meeting that took place on a serial basis” as Dr. Wakefield states. In one folder there are about 500 pages of agendas, tables and graphs for those meetings. And when one goes through these documents one finds they are very redundant. The same talking points, the same graphs and tables meeting after meeting. We are asked to be shocked that the CDC team discarded documents. I’ve posed this question publicly–what in those documents needed to be kept? Do we really need multiple researchers archiving every meeting agenda? The answer is simple: no, we don’t. I not only expect them to discard much of this paperwork, I hope they aren’t hanging on to all this paperwork for every project they work on.

I still don’t understand quite what this means. So there was a word document, and in that document, it refers to the African American effect, the isolated autism effect –

It shows the data. It shows the data table.

And in later versions of that document, those tables are gone?

I’ll give you an example. All of the data are contained in a table called Table 5. That table is there in September and it’s gone in October. Never to be seen again.

The last one of these documents– that has “table 5” is, as Dr. Wakefield says, in September 2005. So is Table 8, which includes things like variables “M_AGEC11” and “B_MULTB.” Why is that important? Because those are variable names important to the researchers but were obviously not intended for the final study. The fact that Table 8 (or table 5 for that matter) got cut isn’t a smoking gun, just evidence that these were preliminary tables and that study hit the turning point of finalization.

Most of the attention in this discussion goes to the African American effect. Let’s consider the “isolated autism” effect. “Isolated” autism means autism without other disabilities. What happened to that? The CDC team published it. They narrowed it down to autism without MR, but it’s basically the same thing as “isolated.” They also showed that in the simple analysis (the sort that Dr. Hooker claims is “elegant”) there is an apparent association, but that association disappears when one does a more rigorous analysis. Aside from debunking the controversy over “isolated” autism, this serves as another example of why simple isn’t the best.

But the data that was used to create Table 5 – was that destroyed?

Very good question, was the data destroyed. No. No it was not. Because it was not – it was intended to be destroyed. All of the – it was Thompson’s claim that all of the hard copy documents, and all of the computer files, relevant to this paper were targeted for destruction. The original data tables or data files from which the tables were generated were preserved by Thompson and are available and can be reconstructed in order to generate the information. As an example, the data tables – the excel – sorry, they were SAS spreadsheets – provided to Hooker, by which he then did an analysis.

Personally, I want to check the source every time Dr. Wakefield or Dr. Hooker claim to be speaking for William Thompson. Thompson has made very few public comments, plus a few conversations secretly recorded by Brian Hooker and since released by Hooker. Given this, let’s ask ourselves: instead of Dr. Wakefield giving his interpretation of what Dr. Thompson said, why not just quote Thompson? For example, consider the very strong claim “it was Thompson’s claim that all of the hard copy documents, and all of the computer files, relevant to this paper were targeted for destruction.” Now Thompson’s statement, “All the associated MMR-Autism Study computer files have been retained on the Immunization Safety Office computer servers since the inception of the study and they continue to reside there today.”

We don’t know what hard copy documents were kept by the other authors. Or what notes were in notebooks they kept. We hear that they discarded some, but we don’t know that they may have kept. Also, consider this: if “all the hard copy documents” were “targeted for destruction” why meet to decide which documents to shred if the decision is to shred them all? Is it so they can watch everyone discard documents? If so, consider this: we know from Thompson’s own statements that one of the MMR study leaders was missing from the “garbage can” meeting. The story just doesn’t make sense.

We should address the question of discarding research documents: is it unethical? I’ve been a researcher for 30 years. It is common practice to periodically decide what documents to keep in my office, which to archive to a warehouse and which to discard. When I would clear out documents my company would provide me large confidential bins. They look like “garbage cans” except the lid is locked and the only access is through a slot in the top so people can’t fish documents out. After these bins are collected they are sent to a confidential shredder. [Colin: Although I’m not a scientist, I’ve seen similar procedures in very many offices where confidential documents like legal or financial files are used.] I would expect the CDC to have a similar procedure. A researcher keeps the documents that are required to recreate the final analysis and, in my case, determine dates of invention.
Bins like these are used to dispose of confidential documents in many offices, to protect privacy when clearing out old hard copies containing things like social security numbers or health records.

As long as we are talking about the few public statements Dr. Thompson has made, allow me to repeat this one:

I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.

So that data exists, so far as you know, only in Thompson’s files and not in the CDC’s main files, wherever those may be?

According to Thompson, all of those – he was the only one who preserved all of those records. Beyond that, I do not know the infrastructure of the CDC’s filing system, so I don’t know – I think I’ve probably reached the limit of my knowledge about that. Is there some sort of backup system that retains the original SAS files, I don’t know [inaudible].

“I don’t know.” I believe he should. I see it as ironic that Dr. Wakefield claims to speak for Dr. Thompson (“According to Thompson”) while having not read all the documents Dr. Thompson released to Representative Posey. As I’ve already noted above, Dr. Thompson made it explicitly clear that all the associated MMR-Autism Study computer files have been retained on the Immunization Safety Office computer servers since the inception of the study and they continue to reside there today. At the very least, the raw data exist. Clearly, since Dr. Hooker used those data for his analysis. Also, I’d be curious how Dr. Wakefield knows that Thompson “was the only one who preserved all of those records”. We know that some documents were discarded, but we don’t know what was kept by the other team members.

And then are you referring to statements that Thompson made that have been released, or statements that are still confidential regarding his allegation that those files were deleted?

Both. Both. So his statement to Bill Posey and other documents that I have obtained that are in the documentary. Documents which are not publicly released.

If by the “statement to Bill Posey” Dr. Wakefield means the full statement that Representative Posey excerpted in his House speech, that is indeed publicly released. I released the documents Representative Posey’s office provided to me. I discussed the full statement here.

The full statement is much longer than the excerpts that Representative Posey read. It includes the statement:

“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.”

Emphasis added. I’ll be curious to see if this statement (and others that are problematic for Dr. Wakefield’s story) appear in the documentary.

You mentioned that you’ve analyzed the notes, and that you know who the coauthor was who made some handwritten annotations. Would you disclose who that coauthor is?


Would you disclose how you did the analysis?


Will that be in the documentary?


Both the type of analysis and the name of the author?

As yet undecided. [Inaudible: “As yet”?] a matter of discussion.

I was talking to Nick Begich earlier as he dropped these off [pointing to DVDs], and he kind of referred to the breadth of opinions expressed at the conference. And some – I wouldn’t say alarm, but some surprise at some of the views that have been expressed here. And I know that you haven’t been at all the various panels that haven’t involved vaccines or autism, but I think you’ve heard some relatively wild statements. Would you be comfortable establishing a line at which you feel it’s irresponsible to speculate about the cause of autism, or about conspiracies related to medical care?

So sorry, is there a line –

At which you’d object to some of the speculation that’s gone on at the conference.

My reason for coming, or what persuaded me to come, was that Jeffrey Smith was presenting. And Sherri Tenpenny. The other people I don’t know. I’ve met one other person one time. So I know nothing about any of the other people. But I’ve been someone who’s followed Jeffrey Smith for a long time. And I think his approach to his subject is very thorough, is informed, and very valuable. And so every time I get an opportunity to listen to him then I’m very grateful. Sherri similarly. A great deal of knowledge and understanding of the subject. The others, as you say I haven’t been to the talks. I don’t know what their discussions were about.

I am less interested in his “reason for coming” as for why he didn’t consider association with many speakers a reason for not coming.

I’m thinking for example of Len Horowitz’s discussion of the 528 frequency –

Yeah, I didn’t hear that. [Inaudible: “I wasn’t there”?] I just don’t know. So no, I just don’t know. I wasn’t there. So it would be unfair of me to comment on [inaudible].

I heard you speak in Austin, when we were still living there, at an Autism Speaks conference. [I was mistaken; it was an Autism Trust event called the “Give Autism a Chance Summit.”] You were MCing, I think it was Autism Speaks, at the music center downtown in Austin. There were people on the stage like Dr. Kriegsman, and I can’t think of the other guy’s name, who was instructing parents to turn off their routers and their cell phones so the EM waves wouldn’t hurt their autistic children. And I was hoping at the time you would comment to the parents in the room as to whether you thought that was reasonable advice or not, and you haven’t made a statement on it as far as I know. Is that kind of advice something you think is reasonable?

I don’t – if I do not know the subject, I’m not going to give advice. I’m just not going to do it. It’s irresponsible. I’m not going to give advice that could even be potentially construed as medical if I have not done a thorough analysis of the data. Now that said, I keep my mind open to the possibility that there are co-factors that may influence autism risk [inaudible]. I don’t know what those co-factors are. But I’m never going to advise people on what to do based on something about which I know nothing. I’m going to confine myself to the things which I know and I’ve worked on and I’ve read and understood. And where I don’t know I’m going to say I don’t know. If someone has a competing theory of autism, OK, let them talk about it.

One of the reasons my wife and I came to this country is that has a constitution that includes the values we respect. And god forbid that people should be censored or excluded from expressing opinions. Just like the journalists on this trip feeling threatened, that they couldn’t be in discussions, that’s not right, that’s not the way I operate. I encourage dissent because in the end, it’s only through the presentation of competing arguments that truth is going to win. Just in the same way that I talked to you about how it was not our job to censor the parents’ story just because others found it inconvenient or didn’t believe it. It’s not my job to censor other people expressing opinions that may not concur with my own.

I find this highly ironic given the legal threats Dr. Wakefield has made to journalists. He’s even brought suit multiple times against a journalist. A judge in one case referred to Dr. Wakefield’s use of litigation “as a weapon in his attempts to close down discussion and debate over an important public issue.”

Do you feel that given your high profile, your presence might be an endorsement, or at least perceived that way by people who don’t have a chance to talk to you personally?

Well if that is the case, then I should shut myself in a cave on a high mountain, become a hermit. And that’s not going to happen because that’s not the way in which knowledge is going to spread. If people take it as that then it is because they want to take it as that. Because that’s the spin that’s placed on it.

I wanted to ask just one more question.

Go, one more question.

And feel free not to answer. What evidence would change your mind, about a link between autism and vaccines?

What evidence would change my mind… [long pause] What is my position, firstly let’s define what my position is. That’s very very important. Vaccination should operate from a position of an abundance of caution. What you’re doing is you’re taking healthy children and exposing them to a risk or a potential risk. And you’re doing it on the background of the available data on the safety and efficacy of that vaccine. It’s not like you’re taking patients with end-stage cancer, where you say, “Look, you’ve got a fifty percent chance of dying and a fifty percent chance of living, and there may be some benefit but we don’t know.” You’re taking entirely healthy children and you’re giving them an exposure, which incurs a risk. And the risks are all spelled out in the product insert.

So my position, and the position that medicine should be in, is that you operate from an abundance of caution. If there is even a possible risk of harm, then you do everything in your power to either exclude that risk or stop the vaccination policy. First do no harm.

So my position is not that it’s black and white. It is that you operate from an abundance of caution. You have to be very very clear that what you are doing has a minimal, an absolutely minimal risk, for the maximum benefit.

The interesting thing here is the for years the narrative that I recall from his supporters was that Dr. Wakefield didn’t say that vaccines cause autism. He was just posing questions.

That said, see what Dr. Wakefield has done here? He’s framed the question as though there is only one source of risk–vaccinating (and implies falsely that one of those risks is autism). He doesn’t even approach the question of the risk in not vaccinating and leaving one’s self vulnerable to disease. Ignoring that is hardly an “abundance of caution.” Quite the opposite, it’s an abundance of irresponsibility in my opinion.

The positions and the rhetoric that you’ve taken at this conference make it pretty clear you feel that there is extremely good reason to believe that the MMR vaccine in particular, and possibly vaccines in general, and possibly GMOs as well, have a causative link to autism.


What would change your mind?

That is because I’ve sat in this field now for twenty years, and nothing has persuaded me that the science is wrong. And what now convinces me that there is a real cause for concern is William Thompson coming forward and saying that a hypothesis that I put forward in the year 2000 is proven to be correct by the year 2001 and was kept concealed for 13 years. How would you feel in that position? Would you feel that it reaffirmed your concern that the parents’ story was right? Or would you think, well, we can dismiss that because – no. It is quite clear that there is a problem they have covered up. So it makes me feel more strongly than ever that we need good, independent science—and I mean independent, independent of the CDC, independent of influence by government or the pharmaceutical industry—that gives us the answers. Will we ever get that? No. We will not get that. Why? Because the system is so distorted, and that’s very very sad. And I’m a scientist, I’ve published 140 papers and I’ve never committed fraud in my life. And I’ve published papers which suggest my hypotheses is wrong. Very few people do that. I publish them. I publish papers – and you can look them up, in the Journal of Medical Virology, saying “we do not find this virus in these tissues.” Despite that being our hypothesis [inaudible]. So I’m perfectly open to the counter-argument. But nothing so far has persuaded me that there isn’t a link, and Thompson’s revelations have reaffirmed to me that there is a link. There is no question, there is a link, they’ve found it. [inaudible] So there we are.

Let’s take on the most important statement here first:

“But nothing so far has persuaded me that there isn’t a link, and Thompson’s revelations have reaffirmed to me that there is a link. There is no question, there is a link, they’ve found it. [inaudible] So there we are.”

But that is not what Thompson says. Again, I’ll quote him directly:

“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.”

 Thompson doesn’t say there is a link. He doesn’t say “without question.” So, there we are.

Also, it’s worth noting that the above response is worthy of a politician. Ask yourself, did Dr. Wakefield ever answer the question (what would change your mind)? If so, I don’t see it.

If I may, let me discuss the general question of vaccines and autism. I’ve taken this very seriously from the start. This is personal to me in a way that it will never be to Andrew Wakefield as I have an autistic child. I am also a researcher, a Ph.D. I’ve immersed myself in the literature—especially that which claims to show a link between vaccines and autism.

Actually it is Dr. Wakefield’s science, and that of many others who purport to show a link, that showed me that there is no substance to the claim of vaccines being linked to autism. And from that I can say this: it isn’t a question of refuting that claim, it’s a matter of the fact that the claim just isn’t strong at all to begin with.

For example, look at Dr. Wakefield’s conclusion here “Thompson’s revelations have reaffirmed to me that there is a link.” He ignores the bulk of even Hooker’s analysis (most groups show no increased risk of autism) and clings to one small subgroup. OK, that’s a weak stance on his part, but it gets worse. He claims that subgroup result shows not only a correlation, but causation. Even though such a study as this cannot show causation. Even though Thompson himself says this finding “…does not mean that there was a true association.”

There is a large body of evidence, epidemiological and biological, that says that the Wakefield MMR/Autism hypothesis is wrong. But the fact is that the Wakefield MMR/autism hypothesis was never very strong. It’s built on arguments such as “Thompson’s revelations have reaffirmed to me that there is a link.” And, ironically, Wakefield’s work is some of the strongest in the “vaccines cause autism” portfolio.

This post has been edited to restore formatting to the links in Carey’s comments.

A look at the “Garbage Can Quote” in full context

6 Jan

Last summer Representative Bill Posey read a statement in the House regarding William Thompson of the CDC. In it was a quote from a statement that quickly became known as the “garbage can quote”. The statement basically said that the CDC got rid of a number of documents related to one of their MMR studies, that William Thompson thought this was inappropriate, and that he had retained copies of the documents.

I obtained copies of the documents provided to Representative Posey’s office, posted them online and discussed them here at Left Brain/Right Brain.

Here is the “garbage can quote” as discussed at Emily Willingham’s column at last summer.

At the bottom of Table 7 it also shows that for the non-birth certificate sample, the adjusted race effect statistical significance was huge. All the authors and I met and decided sometime between August and September ’02 not to report any race effects for the paper. Sometime soon after the meeting, we decided to exclude reporting any race effects, the co-authors scheduled a meeting to destroy documents related to the study. The remaining four co-authors all met and brought a big garbage can into the meeting room and reviewed and went through all the hard copy documents that we had thought we should discard and put them in a huge garbage can. However, because I assumed it was illegal and would violate both FOIA and DOJ requests, I kept hard copies of all documents in my office and I retained all associated computer files. I believe we intentionally withheld controversial findings from the final draft of the Pediatrics paper

The statement in its entirety is in the package provided by Representative Posey’s office, so I was able to read it in context. Let’s take a quick look, shall we?

12. On June 28, 2002, all coauthors met and examined subgroup analyses by RACE for Whites and Blacks. (See page 17 in the Agendas Attachment and handout that includes Table 5).

13. In the Excel File named “describe_results_2002_0702.xls”, Table 7 shows the RACE analyses that I had run using ONLY the BIRTH CERTIFICATE Sample — the unadjusted RACE effect was statistically significant. (OR=1.51, [95%CI 1.02 – 2.24]). At the bottom of Table 7, it also shows that for the NON-BIRTH Certificate Sample, the adjusted RACE effect statistically significance was HUGE. (OR=2.94 [95%CI 1.48 – 5.81). That is the main reason why we decided to report the RACE effects for ONLY the BIRTH Certificate Sample.

14. In the Excel File named “describe_results_2002_0801.xls”, I split Table 7 into three different Tables (Table 7a, Table 7b, and Table 7c) to further investigate the RACE subgroup analyses.

15. All the coauthors met and decided sometime between August 2002 and September 2002 not to report any RACE effects for the paper.

16. Sometime soon after the meeting where we decided to exclude reporting any RACE effects, also between August 2002 and September 2002, the coauthors scheduled a meeting to destroy documents related to the study. Dr. Coleen Boyle was not present at the meeting even though she was involved in scheduling that meeting. The remaining 4 coauthors all met and brought a big garbage can into the meeting room and reviewed and went through all our hard copy documents that we thought we should discard and put them in the large garbage can. However, because I assumed this was illegal and would violate both FOIA laws and DOJ requests, I kept hard copies of all my documents in my office and I retained all the associated computer files. This included all the Word files (agendas and manuscript drafts), Excel files with analysis and results, and SAS files that I used to generate the statistical findings. I also kept all my written notes from meetings. All the associated MMR-Autism Study computer files have been retained on the Immunization Safety Office computer servers since the inception of the
study and they continue to reside there today.

Emphasis added to highlight text that appears to have been left out in the speech by Representative Posey.

Note that the last line in what was quoted by Representative Posey, “I believe we intentionally withheld controversial findings from the final draft of the Pediatrics paper”, was in the conclusion. Which was about 14 paragraphs after the rest of the text he quoted. I don’t think that is significant, but it’s worth noting.

I find a few things interesting in this. First, the omission of the sentence about Coleen Boyle (Dr. Coleen Boyle was not present at the meeting even though she was involved in scheduling that meeting.) Without that the paragraph reads as though Thompson was not present for the meeting. Instead, we now see that he was one of the “four remaining authors”. As such, why doesn’t he comment on the criteria for shredding documents? Second, it is very interesting that Coleen Boyle wasn’t there. Wakefield and Hooker have specifically targeted her in their attacks, and the fact that she wasn’t participating in this meeting goes against their narrative. If for no other reason that we don’t have any idea now what Ms. Boyle kept or didn’t keep.

A more important ommission, dare I say a significant omission: “All the associated MMR-Autism Study computer files have been retained on the Immunization Safety Office computer servers since the inception of the study and they continue to reside there today.”

Many people have claimed that the “garbage can” quote means that the data were deleted. Well, that’s not what Thompson said. It’s also a clearly false claim as Brian Hooker was able to obtain the data for his own version of the analysis. Here’s what Dan Olmsted of the Age of Autism blog had to say just a few days ago (he’s listing his “true” conspiracies) “The conspiracy by William Thompson and his colleagues dumping raw data into a wastebasket after they had twisted it into obscuring a link between the MMR and autism.”

It’s hard to dump raw computer data into a wastebasket, Dan. Delete, sure. Well, unless you are at a government lab that mandates backups of important raw data. Leaving that aside, data weren’t dumped. It appears that they discarded a huge amount of redundant paper based on what Thompson held on to. Most if not all of which could clearly be sent to a confidential shredder without any question of ethical lapse.

Another line of that statement also is of importance to note. Specifically because a lot of people are claiming that Thompson has said that the CDC team found that the MMR vaccine causes autism. He doesn’t:

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.

Emphasis added.

As to those who think I am skipping over the really important statements like “the adjusted race effect statistical significance was huge”. Let’s consider that a moment. One does adjustments, say with data from birth certificates, specifically in order to make sure that one doesn’t announce a possible association that is spurious. Beyond that, what Thompson doesn’t do is say, “here’s the scientific arguments that were given to not report this result and here is why I disagree.” Instead we are left to assume that the reason was to hide the result. If so, back it up. Where in his contemporary notes does he say, “they are doing this and it is wrong”. He says he’s not comfortable not presenting it, but he also says they all have “good intentions”.

But let’s get back to what the statement does say, rather than what it doesn’t.

Data were not deleted.

Even if the race effect isn’t considered spurious, it does not mean that there is a true association between the MMR and autism.

And some people are telling you that Thompson said the opposite.

Edit to add:

I am in no way suggesting that Representative Posey edited this statement to be manipulative. He may not have even been the one who wrote his statement in the House. But I do think that there is something to learn from the ommitted parts.

By Matt Carey

Press Release: New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Behavior or Neuroanatomy in Infant Primates

30 Sep

Below is a press release from the Johnson Center for Child Health and Development (formerly Thoughtful House). The press release discusses a recent study which investigated the safety of vaccine schedules (present and past) using monkeys as test subjects.

The study is a follow on study to a previous series of pilot studies involving some of the same authors. The pilot studies were considered by many to be an indication of evidence that vaccines cause autism and other neurological conditions. This larger study shows no evidence of adverse effects from vaccines.

Here is the press release:

New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Behavior or Neuroanatomy in Infant Primates

(Austin, Texas) – September 28, 2015 – New research finds no evidence that thimerosal- containing vaccines cause negative behaviors or result in neuropathology in infant primates, according to a study that will be published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In this study, conducted by Dr. Dwight German of the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine, and colleagues, infant rhesus macaques received several pediatric vaccines containing thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) in a schedule similar to that given to infants in the 1990s. Other animals received just the measles-mumps- rubella (MMR) vaccine, which does not contain thimerosal, or an expanded vaccine schedule similar to that recommended for US infants today. Control animals received a saline injection.

Regardless of vaccination status, all animals developed normal social behaviors. Cellular analysis of three brain regions, the cerebellum, amygdala and hippocampus (all known to be altered in autism), was similar in vaccinated and unvaccinated animals.

“This comprehensive analysis of social behavior and neuropathology in 12-18 month old rhesus macaques indicated that vaccinated primates were not negatively affected by thimerosal; the same was true for animals receiving an expanded 2008 vaccine schedule, which is similar to that recommended for US infants today” explained Dr. Laura Hewitson of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development, one of the principle investigators working on the study. Hewitson was part of a team of researchers from The Johnson Center; the University of Texas Southwestern; the Center on Human Development and Disability Infant Primate Research Laboratory; the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) at the University of Washington, Seattle WA; and Texas A&M Health Science Center & Central Texas Veterans Health Care System.

According to Hewitson, the study was designed to compare the safety of different vaccination schedules, including the schedule from the 1990s, when thimerosal was used as a preservative in multi-dose vaccine preparations. The data from this study indicate that administration of TCVs and/or the MMR vaccine to rhesus macaques did not result in neuropathological abnormalities,or aberrant behaviors, like those often observed in autism.

Administration of thimerosal-containing vaccines to infant rhesus macaques does not result in autism-like behavior or neuropathology. Bharathi S. Gadad, Wenhao Li, Umar Yazdani, Stephen Grady, Trevor Johnson, Jacob Hammond, Howard Gunn, Britni Curtis, Chris English, Vernon Yutuc, Clayton Ferrier, Gene P. Sackett, C. Nathan Marti, Keith Young, Laura Hewitson and Dwight C. German. PNAS

This article can be downloaded for free here.

This study was supported by The Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, and the Johnson and Vernick families. This work was also supported by WaNPRC Core Grant RR00166 and CHDD Core Grant HD02274.

About The Johnson Center
The mission of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development is to advance the understanding of childhood development through clinical care, research, and education.

Previous Press Releases
For Immediate Release

By Matt Carey

D.A.I.R. Foundation 2013 tax form, about $100k in revenue, $20k in program expenses

5 Mar

A few years back Andrew Wakefield decided to sue the BMJ and Brian Deer.  This followed a series of articles and public statements that Mr. Wakefield’s work was an “elaborate fraud” and Mr. Wakefield himself was a fraud.   Lawsuits involve attorneys and attorneys cost money, so a few efforts arose to help Mr. Wakefield pay for these costs.  I believe the first was the “Dr. Wakefield Justice Fund”.  This didn’t come across as a major effort, the twitter account made three tweets, the website appears to be down (here’s an archived version), and it doesn’t appear to have made charity status.  Another effort that came out was the Academic Integrity fund.  Again, the website seems to be down, but again there’s the archive.  In many ways it’s too bad that site didn’t continue as it because a place for Mr. Wakefield to place essays.  And his writing, while tedious, produced interesting insights into his thoughts. For example:

Obama must meet the autism tragedy head on and deal with the proximate cause of the epidemic – unsafe and untested vaccination practices.

This from a man whose supporters claim never says that vaccines cause autism.

And we can also read the approach that would later prove fatal for Alex Spourdalakis: autism must be considered a medical, especially gastrointestinal, condition and that psychiatric medications to be avoided and that are behind mass murderers.

Tragically, predictably, there will be more events like at Sandy Hook Elementary. The vast number of individuals with developmental disorders presages such events. This is not because of their diagnosis, per se, but rather I would suggest, because they may be at increased risk for adverse reactions (due to pre-existing conditions) and are being inappropriately medicated with drugs for which violence is a recognized adverse reaction. These drugs are being prescribed by a “mainstream”

Not all the fundraising efforts failed.  We also saw the rise of a group calling itself the “Defending Academic Integrity and Research” or D.A.I.R. Foundation.  D.A.I.R. states under “what we do”:

Justice is accessible only to those who can afford it. D.A.I.R. Foundation provides legal aid, coordinated public relations support, and educational materials that support the work of our sponsored applicants.

Reading their site, one applies for support and D.A.I.R. provides financial support, PR and other help.

D.A.I.R. Foundation has an open request for proposals from researchers, physicians, scientists, and academic policy drivers who have come under attack and are interested in applying for legal aid. Please Contact Us and note in the subject line “Applicant Inquiry”. Applicants follow an approval review process. Applicants who are accepted will be expected to agree to terms and conditions of the legal aid process to include partnership in strategy that assures success and can be leveraged in future cases, proceeds to D.A.I.R. Foundation following legal compensation, and development of educational and public relations materials. We also assist in reputation management

I emailed them asking for a copy of their “terms and conditions” but they did not reply.  I find it interesting that people are expected to work with D.A.I.R in developing educational an public relations materials, and apparently provide a share of the proceeds of any legal settlements they achieve.

They hold fundraisers, and it appears that Andrew Wakefield is a featured speaker at these events.  The event linked on their website was not inexpensive, but also appears to have left a large number of seats unsold. (click to enlarge)

DAIR fundraiser

Of course this leaves us wondering, how much money did D.A.I.R. bring in and how did they use it?  Well, here’s the D.A.I.R. Foundation 2013 form 990.

From this we learn that they brought in $104,488.  Of that $20,859 was spent on a grant (I assume to Andrew Wakefield).  But that is less than 1/3 of their expenses. (click to enlarge)


They spent $14,889 on salary for Dawn Loughborough (the executive director). They spent $15,256 on catering and $7,383 on travel, plus other expenses. (click to enlarge)


Or, to put it simply: they took in about $100k.  Of this about $20k went to actual program expenses, over $45k went to salary and other expenses and about $37k was left in the bank.

If you dontated, about $0.20 of each dollar went to program expenses (presumably Mr. Wakefield’s expenses) about $0.45 went to overhead and about $0.35 may be used for program expenses at a later time.

Should this grant have gone to Mr. Wakefield, I don’t see that covering a large fraction of his expenses for his failed lawsuit.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but the effort involved multiple lawyers and many, many pages of documents.

By Matt Carey