Search results for 'brian hooker'

Anti vaccine activists are angry about a new study…and they didn’t even bother to read it

14 Mar

This is a big piece of what the “vaccines-cause-autism” idea is built on. Really bad analyses. Another study shows up showing that vaccines don’t cause autism. People immediately jump to give talking points to their community: “ignore this study! In fact, it’s just another conspiracy to defraud you!!!!!”*

But they know from history, their community doesn’t check. They don’t test whether the talking points hold up. Either that, or they really are this bad at simple math.

One reason I slowed down a lot on writing debunks of the “vaccines cause autism” community is that it’s very repetitive. It only takes a few minutes to see where they make their mistakes. I admit, I have the training and the time to do that checking, but it leaves me wondering. As in, it’s hard to not ask: “are they really this bad at science? Are they so biased they don’t know they are wrong? Or, are they lying?” I don’t know. What matters most is they are wrong. I am grateful that I had the time to spend checking their claims and was able to not get sucked into that world.

That intro aside, there was a recent study that, once again, shows that the MMR vaccine doesn’t increase autism risk. 21 years since Wakefield’s junk study and we are still spending time and money countering his misinformation. When you look at what the autism community needs, it’s just sad to see resources used this way. But I get it. The anti-vaccine community is doing real harm (note the rise in measles in the US and elsewhere). But, dang, I’d like more work done to help my kid.

So, what’s this new study? Measles, Mumps, Rubella Vaccination and Autism: A Nationwide Cohort Study. With the conclusion:

The study strongly supports that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination. It adds to previous studies through significant additional statistical power and by addressing hypotheses of susceptible subgroups and clustering of cases.

Thanks for doing this, but, again, the results are not surprising in the least.

Naturally this brought about a big response from the anti-vaccine community. The go-to place for defense of “vaccines cause autism” used to be the Age of Autism blog. I went there and found they just recycled a piece from a guy named James Lyons Wieler. Apparently he was once a scientist, but he now seems to be a guy asking autism parents for money to write bad articles about how vaccines cause autism. In this case has found the “Smoking Gun” for why the MMR study is so wrong.

(1) The smoking gun is the study-wide autism rate of 0.9-1%. The rate of ASD in Denmark is 1.65%. Where are the missing cases of ASD? Given past allegations of this group’s malfeasance and fraud, the rest of the study cannot be accepted based on this disparity alone: the study group is not representative of the population being studied.

Clearly they must be fudging the data!!!!!

This appears to have become the talking point that the anti-vaccine community is passing around. It was picked up by Brian Hooker. He wrote “A Scientist’s Rebuttal to the Danish Cohort Study“:

1. Children were notably missing from the study sample:

First and foremost is the underascertainment of autism cases within their data sample. The study authors used Denmark population registries of children born in Denmark of Danish-born mothers which should reflect the current reported autism incidence in Denmark at 1.65% (Schendel et al. 2018, JAMA). However, the autism incidence within the sample of the Hviid et al. paper is 0.98%, meaning that approximately 4,400 autistic children are missing from this study. The authors do not discuss the discrepancy in the number of cases.

Again, his number 1 point, the missing children!

Even JB Handley (remember him? Yes, he’s back) wrote about this. Focusing his whole piece on this “missing” group in the MMR study: New Danish MMR study shows autism rate of 1 in 100—CDC should rush to Denmark!

2. The most compelling data in the study will never get covered: why is the autism rate in this study only 1 in 100?

Here in the U.S. we’re at 1 in 36! Shouldn’t CDC researchers rush to Denmark to figure out why their autism rate is so much lower than ours? For every 1,000 Danish kids, only 10 have autism. But here in the U.S., we have 28 per 1,000, that’s 177% more autism! I thought Paul Offit wanted everyone to believe the autism rate was the same everywhere? What gives?

Hold on to your seat, Handley. It’s about to get discussed.

I had thought I’d take the easy route and just email the study author for an explanation. That could have answered the big question for Handley, Weiler, and Hooker. But that would take a day or two to get a response from Denmark. Why not just, you know, read the paper? Or, just the introduction?

Under the “Abstract” section of the MMR paper, which has the “missing” autistic kids and a lower prevalence rate:

Participants: 657 461 children born in Denmark from 1999 through 31 December 2010, with follow-up from 1 year of age and through 31 August 2013.

Under the methods section for the earlier Denmark paper, which has the higher prevalence rate:

All live births in Denmark between 1980 and 2012 were identified in the Central Person Register and followed through 2016 for an ASD diagnosis

It’s not that hard to compare the two studies.

One study looked at Danes born from 1999 to 2010. And took data from 2013. This is the MMR study.

The other study looked at Danes born from 1980 and 2012. And took data in 2016.

Apples, meet Oranges.

Seriously, people are surprised that they came to different answers as to the overall prevalence? I mean, this is your “smoking gun”? This is the best the “vaccines cause autism” community can do? If nothing else, one study took data later than the other. You are the “it’s an epidemic!” team, surely you accept that the autism rate is higher in the later dataset.

But, hey, this didn’t take the full 5 minutes I allocated to check the claims of this “smoking gun” against this new study. I still had 4.5 minutes.

So, let’s see if the data really are compatible. Can we take the data from the prevalence study and get the same number as in the MMR study? Yes, I’m a geek and this is what I do. But we just saw that 2 Ph.D.’s (Hooker and Wieler) and a business guy (Handley) didn’t think to do that. Is it really that hard? (I do wonder how Handley made money. Seems like he must have relied on someone else to do the numbers.)

I just wrote about the autism prevalence study: Yes, there are a lot more adult autistics than commonly thought. The real question is what we do with this information. I have the graph from the prevalence study, so I ran the numbers quickly. If we limit ourselves to the autistics in the MMR study (born 1999 to 2010) and take data in 2013, we get a prevalence value of 1.02%.

1.02% using the prevalence study. Compared to 1% in the MMR study.

They are the same. No “malfeasance”. No “fraud”. No “discrepancy”. And, Mr. Handley, no evidence you can use to blame the HepB vaccine for autism.

Now for the dull part. Here’s my math.

Step 1: I digitized the graph. The red points are where I took prevalence data from the graphs. Each line represents 2 birth years, so I took points where for the age of the average kid in each cohort in 2013.

Here’s the summary table from those data points.

I did this fast. Let me know if I made a mistake. That’s why I’m showing my work. It’s not precise because, well, it’s done by hand. Also, there’s the fact that the MMR paper was for kids born from 1999 to 2010. The prevalence study has kids grouped by 2 years. So I have data for 1998-99 where I only really want 1999. It’s good enough. The “age in 2013” is what the digitizer gave me for the datapoint positions I chose. I can’t get exactly, say, 10.5. But, again, it’s good enough.

Anyway, there’s no “smoking gun” as James Lyons Weiler says. There aren’t children “notably missing” as Brian Hooker claims. And the “most compelling data” according to JB Handley is just that he can’t read a scientific paper.

This is a big piece of what the “vaccines-cause-autism” idea is built on. Really bad analyses. Another study shows up showing that vaccines don’t cause autism. People immediately jump to give talking points to their community: “ignore this study! In fact, it’s just another conspiracy to defraud you!!!!!”*

But they know from history, their community doesn’t check. They don’t test whether the talking points hold up. Either that, or they (people like Handley, Hooker and the rest) really are this bad at simple math.


By Matt Carey.

*Yeah, you guys are pushing a conspiracy theory. I know you like to say “oh, he called us conspiracy theorists, therefore we don’t have to listen to him.” Surprise me. Grow a backbone and defend the points in this commentary rather than either (a) ignoring it or (b) dismissing it because I pointed out that you are claiming scientists conspired to fool the world.

Why are Robert Kennedy Jr. and Wakefield’s Vaxxed team allying with someone who spreads holocaust denialism?

31 Mar

Simple answer: because she’s anti vaccine.

But I’m sure readers would like a bit more detail than that. Today Robert Kennedy Jr. spoke at an event for vaccine antagonistic activists. On the list of speakers: Sherrie Saunders. Ms. Saunders has been part of Andrew Wakefield’s “Vaxxed” team for some time.

Here are some posts from Ms. Saunders’ facebook feed. She’s “educating” her readers with writings from a “fb historian”. I will post screenshots for the most part as this is disgusting material.

Here’s one post. And a screenshot of the start of the post:

That post includes a paragraph from the “Protocols of Zion”. Here’s the start of the Wikipedia page on the Protocols of Zion:

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Russian: Протоколы сионских мудрецов) or The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion is an antisemitic fabricated text purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. The forgery was first published in Russia in 1903, translated into multiple languages, and disseminated internationally in the early part of the 20th century. According to the claims made by some of its publishers, the Protocols are the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting where Jewish leaders discussed their goal of global Jewish hegemony by subverting the morals of Gentiles, and by controlling the press and the world’s economies.

Again, the so-called “Protocols” are a racist fraud.

That same post includes a picture of Hitler with text entitled “Hitler knew who the real jews were”. I will not copy it to this site.

Here is a screenshot of another of her posts from that day (link). Again, “via Fb historian”. It’s more of the same. One of the pictures with that post is again of Hitler, with the caption: “They told you we were the monsters. We were the last warriors who fought the satanic jewish banking cartel that rules you today.”

Another of Ms. Saunders’ pages from that day is entitled by her “AGENDA OF THE ZIONIST MOVEMENT” (link).

So, Robert Kennedy, why are you associating with this person?

So, Andrew Wakefield, why are you associating with this person?

So, Polly Tommey, why are you associating with this person?

So, Brian Hooker, why are you associating with this person?

So, Barbara Loe Fisher, why are you associating with this person?

Surely if the information she has is valid, you can find someone to present it who doesn’t share such offensive lies as these.

By Matt Carey

A look back at the so called “CDC Whistleblower” story and how Vaxxed is misleading

10 Feb

A short while ago I was asked to speak on a conference call for Voices for Vaccines. The topic was the events that are behind (and misrepresented in) the movie Vaxxed. With Wakefield trying to bring his movie to Europe, and the fact that President Trump spoke with Robert Kennedy on vaccines and autism, I though an analysis might be worthwhile now. So, here’s an edited version of that talk.

I have written a great deal about these topics. Specifically the topics of Vaxxed and William Thompson. I will try to embed those links where relevant below. Until then, they are at the bottom of this article (in no particular order).

Let me introduce myself: My name is Matt Carey. I hold a Ph.D. in physics and have been an active researcher for 30 years. More importantly–I am the parent of autistic child. I take the question of whether vaccines cause autism very seriously.

When my kid was diagnosed I did what many do: I went online to find information. I found claim after claim that autism is caused by vaccines. As a researcher, I pulled papers and dove into the question. I also dove into online discussions, reviewing published studies and news. I’m still doing this. Even though the answer has come back time and again, there isn’t evidence that vaccines cause autism, I keep checking on many of the claims that come up.

So when the story that became the movie “vaxxed” first came out, I took it seriously and I started investigating the claims. It’s too important not too. I’ve followed the story since.

Having done this, let me start by avoiding the trap that the “vaxxed” team has set out. They have worked hard by limiting access to information to not only get their conclusion out, but to control how we discuss the topic.

Here’s how they describe their film:

An investigation into fraud on the MMR autism study at the CDC as revealed by Senior Scientist & Whistleblower Dr. William Thompson.

No. Just no.

Sure, fraud may be what they made a film about—but that isn’t the topic that is important. The important question, the one real advocates would focus upon, is whether they unearthed proof that vaccines cause autism.

The answer is simple and clear: NO.

Before I discuss my reasoning and the results that the Vaxxed team are misrepresenting, here is one of the few public statements made by William Thompson (the so-called “CDC-whistleblower” himself):

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.

These are not the words of someone who thinks that vaccines have been shown to cause autism. They just aren’t. So, don’t take my word for it, or my analysis below. There isn’t proof of vaccine causation in this story.

If you want a very direct quote from Dr. Thompson on this point, here is another statement you won’t find quoted by the Vaxxed team:

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.

Put in simple language–no matter how you look at the data, it doesn’t show that vaccines cause autism.

What he’s saying there isn’t even that surprising. The type of study he’s talking about can’t—it just can’t—show causality. But that fact, and the fact that Thompson has made this statement, doesn’t stop the Vaxxed team from claiming the opposite.

These statements aren’t in Vaxxed. They aren’t discussed in the public appearances I’ve seen by those promoting the movie Vaxxed. They are in a statement that Thompson provided to Representative Posey. Mr. Posey read part of that statement into the public record–but not the very important parts quoted above.

Vaxxed is often billed as “the movie they don’t want you to see”. It’s pure hypocrisy given that there are important facts the Vaxxed team apparently doesn’t want you to know.

The vaxxed team apparently doesn’t want us talking about the fact that they haven’t unearthed evidence that vaccines cause autism. They seem to want us to just assume that they have evidence of causation and keep us talking about supposed fraud.

The fraud discussion is a diversion. As is much of the film. Again, the question that should be discussed is whether vaccines cause autism. And even their source, their so-called “whistleblower” isn’t saying there is a causal link shown.

The film Vaxxed and the activities by Andrew Wakefield’s team before and since has been from what I have seen largely about controlling the information so they can try to control the conversation. Rather than talking about the important questions, they want us to skip over that, skip over whether vaccines cause autism, and instead talk about parents’ stories, and claims of fraud.

I think it is important in discussions about these events to try to focus on the important topics and not let them get buried. And that’s why I bring the above points up first. That’s why I bring up those statements by Dr. Thompson. Statements which, as I noted, are not in Vaxxed. They do not get brought up by Wakefield’s team. And people should be questioning why such important statements are left out. From the beginning, they haven’t released documents and only given us partial information.

At this point, it’s worth posing the question–Why are we even asking again whether vaccines cause autism? To answer that, we need to now get into the narrative of the so-called “CDC-Whistleblower”.

This story revolves around a CDC researcher named William Thompson. Dr. Thompson was involved with a number of vaccine studies, but the story here centers on an MMR/autism study that was started in 2001. For this study, the CDC team chose to analyze data from an existing CDC autism study on Atlanta school kids—basically the prototype for the CDC prevalence estimates we see today. For that study the researchers added information on vaccines and other factors. The study was published in 2004 with Frank DeStefano as the lead author.

Dr. Thompson felt there were problems with the way the CDC handled this study and, years later, he reached out to Brian Hooker. Mr. Hooker is an autism parent, and a very vocal proponent of the failed idea that autism is a vaccine-induced epidemic. Thompson exchanged phone calls, emails and a number of CDC documents from the time of the study was being performed with Mr. Hooker.

Thompson raised two main concerns about the MMR study, and these are an important part of Vaxxed. The first concern was that there was an association found between the MMR vaccine and autism for African American boys. The second was that in a group the CDC termed “isolated autism”, that is to say autism with no other disabilities, there was an association with MMR and this was not correctly reported.

These points are important to Vaxxed, but not in the way a responsible advocate or documentary film maker would. Wakefield apparently wants us to believe that these are direct evidence that vaccines cause autism and they were hidden. The facts tell a different story.

Let’s talk about “isolated autism” first. In his written statement to Congressman Posey, Thompson stated:

In addition to significant effects for black males, we also found significant effects for “isolated autism cases” and for the threshold of 24 months of age. If we had reported the 24 month effects, our justification for ignoring the 36 month significant effects would not have been supported.In the discussion section of the final published manuscript, we took the position that service seeking was the reason we found a statistically significant effect at 36 months.

That’s sort of a long quote for this sort of talk, but I wanted to use his exact words before giving my own summary: Thompson basically said that the CDC team saw an association between autism and MMR for kids vaccinated by 36 months—and he acknowledges that they did report this. I’ll repeat that–they did report this. It wasn’t hidden. The CDC team attributed this to families who vaccinated their disabled children late. They needed vaccinations to be up to date for early start or special ed programs at age 3.

Thompson also claims that they saw an association between MMR and the isolated autism group vaccinated before 24 months, and that this means that the interpretation is wrong: the association can’t be driven by services seeking behavior near age 3.

The problem with that claim is that the CDC team did NOT find an association at 24 months. This is directly counter to what Thompson said and what Vaxxed The authors presented the 24 month data in the paper and there is no association there and—more importantly—there is no association at 24 months in the preliminary results Thompson provided in the documents recorded at the time of the study. Documents I made public and the Vaxxed team did not, even though they had them for over a year longer than I have.

I know that can be hard to follow in this sort of talk, but to put it simply: Thompson’s claim in this written statement and in what he apparently told Brian Hooker doesn’t match the facts. The facts in his own documents.

There is no substance to the “isolated autism” complaint.

Given that, what about the second argument, the one about the finding of an association between the MMR and autism found for African American boys? This is the finding that Brian Hooker presented in his now-retracted study. Based on the contemporaneous notes, yes, the CDC did find an apparent association between the MMR vaccine and autism in African American boys. As I mentioned earlier, Thompson himself has said this doesn’t mean that there’s a causal relationship. Now we can say even more: it was a spurious result. How can we say that? Because if that result were due to a true causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism, the autism prevalence in African Americans would be double that of Caucasians. And in study after study, that isn’t seen.

Let’s take an example. Here’s a recent CDC autism prevalence study. They state:

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),

African Americans are being diagnosed less often than non-Hispanic white kids. Less often. If the claim that Vaxxed is making were true, African Americans would be diagnosed twice as often.

It was a spurious result.

So in the end, both of the pieces of evidence that Vaxxed claims supposedly show vaccines being linked to autism aren’t really links.

Having addressed that, what about the claims of “fraud” that we keep hearing? Wakefield’s fraud claims are convoluted, and don’t hold up to scrutiny. Let me explain.

Before starting the research, the CDC team laid out an analysis plan, which Thompson and Wakefield also refer to as the protocol. This plan went through many revisions over a period of nearly 6 months. From April to September of 2001.

One of the claims Wakefield made in his first videos was that the CDC saw the result for African American boys and needed to bury it. So they supposedly abandoned the protocol and introduced a new part of the study where they used data from birth certificates. According to the story, this birth certificate group was introduced to reduce the number of children in the analysis and reduce the statistical power of the result.

That would have been very problematic if it were true, but it simply isn’t. The plan to use birth certificates was included in the very first analysis plan, months before they actually did any analysis. This is clear from the documents Thompson had. I know this because Thompson turned those documents over to Congressman Bill Posey, and Mr. Posey was gracious enough to give them to me on request. This is also made clear in the timeline that Thompson spelled out in his written statement to Congressman Posey.

Let me make an aside here—if you are starting to think, this is going by really fast, you are correct. It’s very hard to really go into the details here simply. Which is another reason why it’s important to focus on the point that there isn’t really evidence here that vaccines cause autism. That Thompson’s own words are that the results don’t mean that there’s a causal link, and that he recommends people not skip vaccines.

And we can go on with what Thompson actually said, rather than what people claim he said.

In all the material made public to date, there isn’t a statement by Thompson that fraud was committed. In fact, his notes at the time include the statement that “everyone has good intentions”.

He did feel that the African American result should have been made public. Apparently feels this very strongly. And felt that not making that public amounted to lying. But he also states, “Reasonable scientists can and do differ in their interpretation of information.” That’s not, “my coworkers are fraudsters”, that’s stating that there were scientific disagreements.

Scientific disagreement isn’t fraud.

Thompson also discussed an event where he says many of his team got together at the end of the study to decide which paper documents to discard. He makes a very strong statement that he felt this was possibly illegal and he kept copies of the documents.

Let me first point out something: I’ve worked with confidential documents my whole professional career. Back when most communication was paper, one would collect a great deal from each project. It was completely appropriate to order a confidential bin—which looks like a garbage can with a lock—and discard those documents not critical to keep.

Let me point out something else: I have copies of the documents Thompson retained. He gave electronic versions to Congressman Bill Posey, and upon request, the Congressman graciously let me have a copy.

There are about 1000 pages of documents. Many will claim 10,000 or even more, but it’s roughly 1,000 pages. And I can see no reason why at the least most if not all of those could not have been discarded. There are pages and pages of meeting itineraries. There are multiple versions of the protocol—the analysis plan for the study. While these are interesting to look over, they show nothing that indicates anything unethical. The analyses presented can all be recreated with the original data. Which was preserved and offered to any qualified researcher, and this was made clear on the CDC website.

One can also piece together the timeline from these documents, and in so doing show that the claim that the CDC team added the birth certificate study after finding problematic results is, well, just false.

And that’s only one of the claims one can check in the “whistleblower “ story, details that just don’t match with facts.
At this point it is worth noting that Wakefield’s team supposedly had these documents, or many of them, well before they went public with their PR effort. And, they have to my knowledge never made the documents public. They did not allow people to check their claims. I think that is very telling.

You can find the documents online. I put them online. When I got them I worked to digest them and put a discussion online as quickly as I could. And with that discussion I put the documents so people could check my claims. This is something Wakefield and his team did not do.

And with that, let me bring this back to the beginning: Vaxxed, the “cdc whistleblower”, however this effort is labeled, it isn’t about disclosing hidden information to bring the truth to people. It has been about controlling information to get a specific message out. As far as I can see, that message is “vaccines cause autism and don’t trust research that says otherwise”.

And the bottom line here is that this isn’t evidence that vaccines cause autism. It is very easy to get bogged down in all the details, all the fact checking of Vaxxed (believe me, I could go on much longer about the inaccuracies in the film and public statements by their team). But that diverts attention away from this simple message—this doesn’t show vaccines cause autism—and that diversion plays into the apparent strategy of their team.

If you want to read the William Thompson documents, here’s the link

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

Another William Thompson quote they won’t tell you: “I will say the Geiers were not right”

Here’s a statement by William Thompson that they won’t be quoting

The Hooker/Thompson conversations: were significant analyses omitted from Hooker’s paper?

The Brian Hooker/William Thompson conversations

“Statement of William W. Thompson, Ph.D., Regarding the 2004 Article Examining the Possibility of a Relationship Between MMR Vaccine and Autism”

Movie review: VAXXED

Todd Drezner: Cinema Libre Studio and “Vaxxed”

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

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

Emily Willingham takes on the Tempest in a Trashcan

Andrew Wakefield’s CDC Whistleblower documentary trailer. Words can not do this justice.

Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker complain. Not honestly, but they complain

A new Autism Media Channel video. A chance to watch some sleight of hand

A look at the analysis plan for DeStefano’s MMR study: no evidence of fraud
Harpocrates Speaks on: MMR, the CDC and Brian Hooker: A Guide for Parents and the Media

Comment on: Expression of Concern: Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young African American boys: a reanalysis of CDC data

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

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

8 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Matt Carey

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

8 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting back to that Age of Autism article we read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Matt Carey

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

21 Apr

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

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

Wakefield:

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

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

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

From a statement by William Thompson:

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

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

Wakefield goes on:

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

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

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

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

But per Wakefield people can’t criticize the film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Matt Carey

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.

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.

and

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.

Sorry…

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.

http://www.lbmedwaste.com/products_confidential_document.html
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?

No.

Would you disclose how you did the analysis?

No.

Will that be in the documentary?

Yes.

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.

Yes.

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.