Search results for 'brian hooker'

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

6 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasis added.

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

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

Data were not deleted.

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

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

Edit to add:

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


By Matt Carey

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

4 Jan

For those unfamiliar with the story of William Thompson, here’s a brief introduction. William Thompson is a CDC researcher who has worked on vaccine/autism studies. About 2 years ago he approached Brian Hooker (an autism parent and very vocal advocate for the idea that vaccines cause autism) stating that a statistically significant result was not only left out of an old study but that this represented not a scientific decision, but misconduct on the part of the CDC. It is worth noting that “statistically significant” is not the same as “proof of a connection”. Brian Hooker published his own analysis (incorrectly claimed as being the same as the CDC analysis method) in a now retracted paper. The result he presented was that there was an apparent increased risk of autism for one small subset of the study population: African American males, who were vaccinated not on schedule but before age 3.

There are some questions, of course, that this raises. Is this result very strong? Does the lack of inclusion in the paper represent scientific fraud or a legitimate scientific decision?

A few epidemiologists and other scientists have chimed in (for example here, here and here) and stated that the result was very likely spurious and that Hooker’s approach is somewhat flawed and definitely overplayed.

In fact, Brian Hooker’s paper was more of a publicity event than a scientific inquiry. When the paper was published, Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield released a video. It is difficult to describe just how bad this video was but here are a two examples. Wakefield tried to put forth the inflammatory claim that the CDC’s vaccine program was a new Tuskegee experiment. Which is to say that the CDC are intentionally allowing African Americans to become autistic due to vaccines as part of some sort of study. Second, according to Andrew Wakefield, the CDC team is so evil that they are worse than Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin. =Mr Wakefield’s logic being that those dictators were sincere and the CDC team were not. No, really, Hitler was sincere per Wakefield.

In a series of phone calls between Thompson and Hooker (secretly taped by Hooker and released without Thompson’s permission), we find that Thompson was very interested in testifying before congress. It turns out that William Thompson kept much (if not all) of the paperwork involved in this study and, probably at least in part motivated by the hope for a hearing, passed these along to a member of Congress: Bill Posey. It has been claimed that this cache of documents numbers as many as 100,000 pages. Many have hoped that these documents will expose fraud by the CDC. (They don’t)

Congressman Posey released the documents to a journalist recently and, given that they are now in the public domain, Dorit Reiss and I requested that they be made available to us as well. Mr. Posey’s office graciously granted our request and I have spent some time going through them.

For those hoping for an exciting look into CDC malfeasance, sorry to disappoint you. Not only is it not present here, but these documents are very mundane and repetitive. Many people seem to think there will be evidence that the CDC are covering up. No “Vaccines cause autism! How do we cover this up”. Nothing like it. Wakefield and Hooker have already cherry picked–and misrepresented–whatever they could to “best” make their case.

For more introduction, I point you to these articles as a start:

MMR, the CDC and Brian Hooker: A Guide for Parents and the Media

Did a high ranking whistleblower really reveal that the CDC covered up proof that vaccines cause autism in African-American boys?
The “CDC whistleblower saga”: Updates, backlash, and (I hope) a wrap-up
Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield accuse the CDC of scientific fraud. Irony meters everywhere explode.

Given that long introduction, what is in the documents? Well, there’s about 1000 pages, not the claimed 100,000. Documents provided by Mr. Thompson and, also, documents that submitted as part of the complaint that Wakefield and Hooker filed with HHS were included in the zip file. Which is convenient as I had submitted a FOIA request for those.

There are multiple drafts of the analysis plan. Analysis Plan is the same thing as the “protocol” that Wakefield and Hooker claim was changed after the first race data were analyzed. And the fact that we have the revisions gives us the chance to check two of the fundamental claims behind the Wakefield/Hooker “fraud” charge against CDC. (1) Did the CDC plan to look at race as an exposure variable? Wakefield and Hooker are claiming (although they use different words) this is what the CDC was doing. This is different from using race as a control variable. (2) Did CDC add the birth certificate analysis after the first race analysis was done, in order to dilute the effect?

No. Very clearly no. I’ve covered (2) already based on information Wakefield and Hooker made available. The final analysis plan was dated Sept.5, the first race analysis wasn’t until late October or early November. And we see the same in these documents.

But now we have new information that answers (1). Here is what appears to be the first draft of the analysis plan. And here is a capture of a very important part:

First Draft Analysis plan segment 1

Note that this draft analysis plan is from April 3, 2001. Well before the final version, the “protocol”, which was September 5. More importantly, this is a long time before a race analysis was started. But even more, notice how there’s an annotation “I would include race as a covariate, not as an exposure variable.” That’s critical–they decided against using race as an exposure variable from the start. Before they did a race analysis. Another point: they were already planning on using birth certificate data right from the start.

William Thompson certainly should have known this, it’s very probable that he did know this. Wakefield and Hooker likely knew this. They showed documents from this collection in their video and elsewhere. But they told us the opposite.

Whether they knew or not, they were wrong. Wildly irresponsibly wrong.

Ever wonder why they didn’t make documents public? We can’t tell if Hooker and Wakefield had all the Thompson documents, but we know they had some. While they cry out for transparency, they were carefully guarding information in order to craft the story they wanted told. The full documents tell a different story.

Let me put this more simply: if Wakefield and Hooker worked for me they would be fired for just their handling of the Thompson story (of course, they would have been fired years ago for many other causes, but promoting this sort of misinformation is simply wrong.)

Also in that same directory appears to be the first draft of the paper (A000071.PDF), with William Thompson as first author. I find it interesting that Thompson is first author there as later it would be Frank DeStefano who would be first author of the published study.

There are also meeting notes. Lots of meeting notes. Here’s the first batch, as near as I can tell. Meetings were held every month or two.

Now is a good time to address the “garbage can” quote. Congressman Posey read a statement from William Thompson into the congressional record. Emily Willingham discussed this in A Congressman, A CDC Whisteblower And An Autism Tempest In A Trashcan. On the other side, here’s an article by Jon Rappoport Bombshell: CDC destroyed vaccine documents, Congressman reveals Bombshell: CDC destroyed vaccine documents, Congressman reveals; CDC whistleblower case is back.

Here’s the thing–there’s zero “bombshell” involved in putting these documents into a confidential bin for shredding/recycling. There’s no reason to keep all these revisions of the analysis plan, all these meeting notes, all this redundant material. I hope people at CDC are not keeping all this paper. Beyond that, the rules are that they have to keep enough information to recreate the study. Aside from the fact that all these meeting notes are not required for that, Brian Hooker proved that requirement was met when he claimed to have done exactly that–recreated the study.

Mr. Thompson also provided a file with ALL Agendas for mmr autism meetings with written interpretation. Which is to say Thompson added his own annotations (purple pen) to the agendas.

Here’s an example of his annotations. And a great example of trying to make data fit a story. Thompson appears to be trying to support the idea that the CDC team changed the protocol to include the birth certificate analysis in response to analyzing the race data:

Race examined before final protocol

The implication that the race analysis and had somehow influenced the final protocol (as Wakefield and Hooker have claimed and this comment appears to support) is just plain wrong. First, as we have already seen, the birth certificate analysis was included from first draft of the analysis plan, in April 2001. That’s four months before this meeting note. Second, the so-called “race effect” isn’t seen in this meeting note. In fact, we see the opposite: “not statistically associated with case/control variable”.

From the phone conversations between Brian Hooker and William Thompson (secretly taped by Hooker), we have found that Thompson was very interested in participating in a congressional hearing. Hooker and his colleagues had been involved in arranging a previous congressional hearing on autism. Frankly it appears to me as though Thompson was involved in a bit of a quid pro quo: Thompson coaching Hooker in ways to spread fear about vaccines in exchange for a chance to be involved in a hearing. Which begs the question: why no hearing based on all that Thompson has laid out?

In case it isn’t already abundantly clear: there’s no hearing because there is no reason for a hearing. There’s no evidence of fraud. Many of the reasons given by Wakefield and Hooker to call this fraud are, well, just flat out wrong. Contradicted by the evidence. For those hoping that Thompson’s personal notes would show some evidence of a cover up, here they are mmr autism study 2001-2002 hand written notes.

Ah, one will say, what about the finding of an association between the MMR and autism for African American boys vaccinated late (between 18 months and 36 months)? Why wasn’t that included in the published paper or public presentations? The reasons given by Thompson/Hooker/Wakefield don’t hold water as I’ve shown. So, what was the scientific reason for not including this result in the paper? Many online writers have discussed how weak this result is; how it is a spurious result. But I’d like to know the reasoning at the time behind the CDC decision to leave this out. As a community member–an autism parent–I’d like to see all the results and understand the reasons why certain results are spurious. Of course it is easy to say now, but leaving this out of the public’s eye was a mistake. It gave Thompson, Hooker and Wakefield the chance to cherry pick, hide information and craft a story that has been very damaging to the autism communities and to public health.

The first thing I did when I heard about this story was email a few epidemiologists I know and point this story out and ask them if they had the data to address the question raised. I no longer feel this way. Why should the autism communities spend precious funds and researcher time every time Andrew Wakefield (Time Magazine’s #1 on their list of great science frauds) comes up with a new story? Especially now that we know the story was built on lies. But consider this: Wakefield and Hooker have not been calling for more research. Instead they are calling for a congressional hearing. If you watched any part of the previous hearings you know they are political theater and have done nothing (NOTHING) to help make a better life for autistics. They have done nothing except provide video and blog fodder for those promoting the failed idea that vaccines cause autism.

Also, consider this: before Thompson Wakefield and Hooker didn’t talk about the issues of racial/ethnic minorities. For the most part, the entire “autism is caused by vaccines” community have ignored minority communities. Why? Because they are a clear example that the vaccine hypothesis is a failure. Prevalence estimates for racial/ethnic minority groups have been typically much lower than for Caucasians (Hispanics are diagnosed at a rate of 1/3 that of Caucasians in California. And this has been consistent for over 10 years.) This presents a huge problem for the likes of Hooker and Wakefield. If vaccines are a major cause of autism, why do minority groups have such low prevalences? If they were honest about their own beliefs, they would be calling for a study into the “protective” effect for minorities. But they don’t. More importantly, if they were real autism advocates they would be calling for better diagnosis, better awareness, better services for these under served communities. Instead they have just ignored these minority communities. That is, until they could use them as part of their campaign against vaccines.

And they still aren’t calling for better services better diagnosis in these underserved groups. Instead they are just trying to recruit as many parents as they into the vaccines-cause-autism camp. Imagine being convinced, wrongly, that you participated in injuring your own child. The charlatans who prey on our community with fake–and sometimes abusive–therapies rely on the vaccine/autism idea for the majority of their business.

The vaccines-cause-autism story is built on lies and it is very damaging. There has been nothing since the Kanner/Bettleheim “refrigerator parent” idea that has caused so much damage to our community. And that is the real story here. A group of people perpetuating a failed idea by carefully crafting a story.

The Zip file provided to me by Representative Posey’s office is at this DropBox link
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/jxtr06s5ddc82s7/AADaZvp7yu_daBhbuZwMfQy4a?dl=0

Again, I am grateful to Representative Posey and his staff for providing these files to me.


By Matt Carey

So, you supposed champions of autistic minorities, why aren’t you commenting on the new autism prevalence report?

17 Nov

One of the first things I check when I see a new study on autism prevalence is how the prevalence varies among racial and ethnic sub populations. In the U.S., this usually means comparing autism rates among Caucasians to that among African Americans and Hispanics (the most reported minority groups). I am especially interested given that in the past year the groups that promote the failed notion that autism is a vaccine-induced-epidemic have tried to position themselves as champions of the African American community.

So with the new autism prevalence study out, I decided to check on what these various “champions” are saying. I look specifically because the reported autism prevalence estimate is slightly lower among African Americans and much lower among Hispanics.

AutPrevalence race-ethnicity

In case you want the conclusion–few of these groups seem to have even read the new study, and none of them have anything to say about the disparities among racial/ethnic communities.

And this is a shame. Under diagnosis means under-served autistics. It means autistics likely getting the wrong supports.

Here’s a non scientific survey of various groups and their reactions to the new autism prevalence study:

The Age of Autism blog has New Estimate 1 in 45 American Children Have Autism. There’s no evidence that whoever put this article up actually bothered to read the CDC report. Much less comment on the racial disparity reported.

This should shock Americans for two reasons. One, the sheer epidemic numbers of this life and demographic landscape altering diagnosis is appalling and unacceptable. Two, the CDC continues to prove its inability to keep track of American medical conditions and provide any measure of protection. Like school shootings, autism has continued to rage across the nation unabated. Cui bono? Not families. Not the children, many of whom are now young adults.

The article is just listed as “Posted by Age of Autism” but the wording is very characteristic of Kim Stagliano. Likening autism to schoo shootings that continue “to rage across the nation unabated” is very much in her style. It’s not a style I appreciate. My child is not like a school shooting, thank you very much Age of Autism, and you are doing zero to help and much to harm my child’s chances for a better life with your stigmatizing approach.

Focus for Health (formerly Focus Vaccines), the organization that funded the Brian Hooker “reanalysis” of the CDC data and the media campaign to try to create a controversy around the so-called link between the MMR and autism in African American boys? They have a confusing article “Do vaccines cause autism?” which doesn’t address the question of race/ethnicity at all.

“Dr. Bob” Sears, who recently claimed to speak for all autistic students in California posted a link to a TACA (Talk about Curing Autism) blog article. TACA gives little indication that they read he CDC study beyond the one number, and doesn’t address racial/ethnic disparities at all. The TACA article is titled Autism is now 1 in 45 – will anyone listen?. Hey, Lisa Akerman–Autism is STILL under diagnosed in the Hispanic community. When will you listen? And, “Dr. Bob”, gee thanks for cutting and pasting a link to someone else’s blog post. That’s going to make a change in our community. And by “our” I don’t include you.

Andrew Wakefield’s “Autism Media Channel” copied a link to an NBC article about the new study. Nothing more. Wakefield and his Autism Media Channel were the primary force in promoting the supposed controversy about the MMR vaccine and African American boys. Well, the autism prevalence is slightly lower in African Americans, Wakefield. And much lower in Hispanics. Do you care?

The self-named (and inaccurately named) National Vaccine Information Center is another group that only put a link to someone else on their facebook page. And, you guessed it, nothing about race/ethinic groups.

I don’t see anything on the Generation Rescue blog, but a short blurb on their Facebook page that, again, looks like they didn’t even read the study. Much less comment on under served communities.

OK, basically nothing so far. Let’s look at some of the smaller players in the vaccines-cause-autism arena. Like the “Thinking Mom’s Revolution”. Nothing on their Facebook page or their blog that I can see about the new prevalence numbers. So, naturally, nothing about under served communities. They do have a few FB posts asking people to take a survey (because an online survey only advertised to a skewed demographic is accurate, right?). The survey is calling asking if people want a congressional hearing on vaccines.


By Matt Carey

Mr. Kennedy, if you know the science, why did you claim that the MMR vaccine contains mercury?

16 Nov

Robert Kennedy (son of Robert F. Kennedy) has been focused on reducing mercury exposure for some time. His advocacy against mercury led him to focus on vaccines (infant vaccines used to contain a mercury compound as a preservative). And, the main argument against mercury in vaccines is the (now totally failed) idea that mercury in vaccines causes autism.

It’s important to keep that autism is not his priority. It’s his tool to allege dangers of vaccines. He’s not out to help us out, but instead to use us to help him.

Add to this that he’s a lawyer, not a scientist and he’s from a very political family. Three are lawyers and politicians actually understand science. Mr Kennedy claims he is in that number (he’s “rabidly pro-science”), but in reality he either doesn’t understand the science or the facts are just be a political tool for him.

That Mr. Kennedy feels the need to instill in us the message that he understands science may stem from the fact that his first attempt at discussing autism and vaccines met with disaster. He published an article “deadly immunity” (because, you know, very pro-vaccine people use terms like “deadly immunity” to discuss vaccines, right?). This article was published both in Rolling Stone and Salon.com. In Salon’s Correcting our record, We’ve removed an explosive 2005 report by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. about autism and vaccines. Here’s why we read:

In 2005, Salon published online an exclusive story by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that offered an explosive premise: that the mercury-based thimerosal compound present in vaccines until 2001 was dangerous, and that he was “convinced that the link between thimerosal and the epidemic of childhood neurological disorders is real.”

The piece was co-published with Rolling Stone magazine — they fact-checked it and published it in print; we posted it online. In the days after running “Deadly Immunity,” we amended the story with five corrections (which can still be found logged here) that went far in undermining Kennedy’s exposé. At the time, we felt that correcting the piece — and keeping it on the site, in the spirit of transparency — was the best way to operate. But subsequent critics, including most recently, Seth Mnookin in his book “The Panic Virus,” further eroded any faith we had in the story’s value. We’ve grown to believe the best reader service is to delete the piece entirely.

“I regret we didn’t move on this more quickly, as evidence continued to emerge debunking the vaccines and autism link,” says former Salon editor in chief Joan Walsh, now editor at large. “But continued revelations of the flaws and even fraud tainting the science behind the connection make taking down the story the right thing to do.” The story’s original URL now links to our autism topics page, which we believe now offers a strong record of clear thinking and skeptical coverage we’re proud of — including the critical pursuit of others who continue to propagate the debunked, and dangerous, autism-vaccine link.

“…critical pursuit of others who continue to propagate the debunked, and dangerous, autism-vaccine link”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Mr. Kennedy’s approach nor the “science” he still promotes.

One take a moment here to discuss Mr. Kennedy’s strong record of advocating for real changes that would benefit autistics. Or we could if there were such a record. Again, we aren’t his focus. We are his tool.

So, given this long introduction, what about the claim that that the MMR vaccine contains mercury? It is in this video Mr. Kennedy produced recently. And while it may seem like a small thing, it is a clear example of misunderstanding or ignoring simple facts in order to support his argument that mercury in vaccines cause autism. Mr. Kennedy is jumping on the controversy that Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield tried to make last year about the MMR vaccine.

Now for those who have a basic understanding of the science, one will immediately wonder, “why is Kennedy latching on to this MMR story when there is no mercury in the MMR vaccine?” Not only does the MMR vaccine not contain mercury, it can’t contain mercury. The MMR vaccine is a live virus vaccine. Mercury is a preservative; it’s specific purpose is to kill bacteria (mostly) and viruses.

Let’s leave out the other huge warning flags here–such as the current MMR controversy Wakefield and Hooker tried to create is based on a huge amount of misrepresentations. Let’s ignore that and ask, surely Mr. Kennedy wouldn’t claim that the MMR vaccine contains mercury, right? Because that would mean either he doesn’t care about the facts or doesn’t understand the facts. It would suggest that sticking to very simple facts is taking back seat to political advocacy.

Why care, one might ask? Politicians have been ignoring facts for millennia. I care beause of the harm Mr. Kennedy brings to my community. I care because he is be scaring parents, especially African American parents, needlessly and convincing them to avoid a vaccine which prevents three very serious diseases. But more, he’s instilling in a new community the guilt and shame that comes with belief in the vaccines-cause-autism idea.

Given that long intro, here’s the video where Mr. Kennedy sends out his message to the African American community:

You can jump right to the point I’m discussing (6:45 into the video).

“…it proved that these vaccines, these mercury containing vaccines particularly, were causing autism”

When he’s talking about the William Thompson story, he’s talking about this study, Age at first measles-mumps-rubella vaccination in children with autism and school-matched control subjects: a population-based study in metropolitan atlanta. He’s talking about the MMR vaccine.

Again, the MMR doesn’t contain mercury. Never has. In fact, it can’t. And there’s no good reason why after all these years why Mr. Kennedy would not know this. In his book “Thimerosal, let the science speak”, Mr. Kennedy on two occasions (Kennedy MMR-not thimerosal 1 and Kennedy MMR-not thimerosal 1) notes that the MMR vaccine does not contain mercury.

Again, this may seem like a small thing–he got this fact wrong. So what?

There was a time when I thought that the leaders of the movements that promote the idea that vaccines cause autism were just misguided. Probably good, decent people who somehow got themselves to believe wrong ideas. It’s not that hard to believe in something false, and just because you are wrong doesn’t mean you are lying.

Well, in my opinion, that doesn’t describe Mr. Kennedy. And as I’ve noted, the consequences for my community are huge. And I don’t appreciate Mr. Kennedy what appears to be Mr. Kennedy using us as his tool.


By Matt Carey

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

4 Sep

As I’ve noted a few times already, the taped conversations between William Thompson at the CDC and Brian Hooker, proponent of the failed autism/vaccine notion, are very telling. There are certainly aspects of these conversations which I doubt Mr. Hooker’s team would like to be made public (and, as we will see, may be keeping out of the public eye). For example, when Hooker pressed Thompson to state that the CDC team worked to dilute an apparent association between the MMR vaccine and autism, Mr. Thompson declined (discussed here).

Here’s another statement by Mr. Thompson. This time it is in relation to Mark and David Geier, a father/son team that has written a great deal of junk science trying to promote the idea that thimerosal in vaccines and autism are linked. The Geiers have been criticized in many venues, being called “intellectually dishonest” as one of the more polite ways of characterizing their work. Brian Hooker relies upon the Geiers for his own beliefs about autism and thimerosal and even calls the Geiers his friends.

Dr. Thompson: But it’s a marketing thing. It’s a marketing thing. You have to figure out how to market this. And this has to come from other voices, it can’t just come from you because you…they made you the poster boy of, they want to portray you as crazy and you know um, and honestly I think, you’ve been persistent. You have been right most of the time. I will say the Geiers were not right and the Geiers…you know the Geiers; I do not know them personally. But, I know the things they did. They took exact copies of papers we wrote and published them under their own names. Word for word and I just thought that [UI].

Want to bet this quote doesn’t end up in the “documentary” Andrew Wakefield is making on Thompson?

[UI] likely means unintelligible. As in, “we can’t provide the transcript here because we can’t understand the recording.” I really have to wonder if [UI] means, “Thompson harshed on the Geiers even more and we decided to edit here.”

Who knows. We have enough to see that Thompson clearly thought the Geiers were wrong. And calls them out for their unethical attempt at getting a paper by copying the CDC’s team’s work.

There’s a list of papers out there that people claim shows there’s a link between vaccines and autism. I bet a lot of papers on that list are authored by the Geiers. And even their own hero, the “CDC Whistleblower” calls those papers out as junk.

The Geiers–the team that claimed that chemical castration was an autism treatment–criticized by Mark Blaxill* (another vocal proponent of the idea that vaccines cause autism) and now by the new hero to the movement.


By Matt Carey

*Although it must be said that Mr. Blaxill never showed the courage to make his opinion public.

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

3 Sep

For those who know the story of William Thompson–he’s the CDC researcher who decided it was a good idea to coach vaccine-antagonist advocate Brian Hooker in how to scare people from using vaccines–you know that he’s become a favorite sock puppet for the people who claim vaccines cause autism. I’ve seen many discussions where people say Thompson said this, or Thompson said that–all without any evidence.

Here’s a quote from Robert Kennedy Jr. in the book

“Dr. Thompsom told Dr. Hooker that whenever the CDC finds an adverse effect from vaccines, the agency supervisors assemble CDC scientists in a room and order them to massage the data until they have devised a gimmick for eliminating the unwanted signal.”

One does wonder if Kennedy actually read the transcripts. Because that isn’t in there anywhere. I don’t expect accuracy from Kennedy. Politics. Misguided politics. That’s what I expect. And he came through with his introduction to the book.

One more claim made by Mr. Hooker’s team is that the CDC abandoned their initial research plan (which, now that we’ve seen the plan, we know isn’t true) and that they did so in order to dilute an effect they saw in the African American Cohort. And this is all somehow backed up by William Thompson’s statements in the phone conversations.

Well, now we have transcripts of some of the calls. And here we can see Brian Hooker trying to get Thompson to say that and Thompson, well, not saying 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.

Recall that Brian Hooker knew he was recording. He wanted this on tape. And that it appears Thompson didn’t know he was being recorded, but he still wouldn’t say what Hooker wanted him to say.

As I said–don’t expect this exchange to be widely discussed. It doesn’t fit the story they want to tell.

edit to add–here’s a screenshot of this exchange (click to enlarge):
Thompson---all I will say


By Matt Carey

Emily Willingham takes on the Tempest in a Trashcan

21 Aug

In case you missed it (and count yourself lucky if you did), Congressman Bill Posey recently read a statement into the record in the U.S. House of Representatives. That was 2 weeks ago (July 29th). I put off writing about it for various reasons, including not having the time to do check on some of the facts. Luckily, Emily Willingham did: A Congressman, A CDC Whisteblower And An Autism Tempest In A Trashcan.

For those unfamiliar with the story, here’s a background timeline–

About a year ago it became public that a CDC researcher by the name of William Thompson had made the monumentally bad decision to ally himself with Brian Hooker. Brian Hooker is an autism parent and a major proponent of the idea that thimerosal in vaccines cause autism. As an autism parent myself, I find Mr. Hooker’s stance to be damaging to our communities. As a researcher, I find Mr. Hooker’s lack of scientific integrity (see this discussion for example) to be an example of the worst that the research community has to offer. To put it simply, he lies with statistics to make a political point. While one could argue that he sold out for his own cause, the fact remains that he sold out. So, again, I consider Mr. Thompson’s decision to reach out to Brian Hooker to be an incredibly bad choice. Perhaps someday we will learn why Mr. Thompson didn’t take his concerns to the appropriate channels.

That all said, Mr. Thompson appears to have turned over a number of documents as well as statements to Congressman Posey’s office. And Mr. Posey read excerpts of a statement into the record. Before we get to the “trashcan quote” let’s focus on one word–excerpts. Excerpts mean that we aren’t being told everything. And as anyone who has followed Andrew Wakefield for any period of time knows, often it’s what people aren’t telling you that matters.

So, what is the “trashcan quote”? Per Emily Willingham:

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

(note–one punctuation changed. I believe it to be incorrect in the original at Forbes).

As you can imagine, people are focused on the idea that the CDC destroyed documents.

Let’s back up for a moment and go back to fact that these are excerpts. That means that we don’t know what was deleted or where. Between any two sentences there could be other sentences or another paragraph. Take for example, these two sentences from Posey’s talk:

“‘At the Sept. 5th meeting we discussed in detail how to code race for both the sample and the birth certificate sample. At the bottom of table 7, it also shows that for the non-birth certificate sample, the adjusted race effect statistical significance was huge.”

Here’s the thing–I’m, pretty sure there is content missing between those two sentences. Why? Because the Sept. 5 meeting was a planning meeting. They were deciding how to analyze the data. And then, bang, we hear about “table 7” and a race effect. But there wouldn’t be data at the September 5 meeting. The team didn’t start getting results until November. This according to the information released by Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker themselves. There’s no reason for “also” in that last sentence in the present context.

Why point this out? Well, for one it shows that we are getting an edited version of the statement. And it’s not just a random edit. The above statement appears to me to be crafted to support the story that Wakefield and Hooker put out a year ago: that the CDC team added the birth certificate analysis after seeing the race effect. You read the above and it’s easy to get the feeling, “Dang, they had table 7 in front of them and they added the birth certificate analysis”. But that’s not what the actual timeline tells us. According to the information Wakefield and Hooker themselves presented, the first race data were analyzed and presented a few months later.

That’s an example of creative editing of the excerpts that makes me want to see more. And not just more of what Mr. Thompson has to say as, frankly, I want the facts and I don’t think that his side of this story will be the complete truth.

So, let’s get back to the “garbage can quote”. Are there sentences edited out? Who knows. Does it represent the facts? Also, unknown. But let’s consider the idea that the CDC team met and discarded documents. Am I surprised? No. Researchers don’t keep every document. I’ve been a researcher for 30 years (almost all in a non-government position, I admit), and I can say that as someone who had to be prepared to (and in fact did have to) defend an invention against legal action: you don’t keep every document. You keep what you need to keep, what allows you to recreate the study.

I started back in the day when most data were on paper. A lot of paper. Think a 3″ binder of paper in a week or 2. Over years. That’s a lot of paper. Here’s the process my former employer used–possibly different at CDC, but I’m guessing not too different. After a while one would have to decide: what do I keep, what do I put into storage and what do I discard? What I may need to look through again stays in my office. The core of the work goes into storage. (There are probably still boxes and boxes of my old results and notes in my former employer’s wharehouse.) The rest–the stuff that you don’t need to keep, and this can be a lot–gets shredded.

How do you shred lots of confidential material? Well, you order a big bin. One could call such a bin a “garbage can”, but that would be misleading. Here’s what the bin looks like:

It looked like that except that it said, “Confidential” on the side and something about shredding. Notice the lock on the bin? It’s because you are working with confidential materials. It’s routine. Dull really. But that’s not what people want to hear. They want to hear “garbage can”.

And here’s another thing–you don’t get a group of people together to decide what to discard. That’s easy. I imagine especially if you think that the paper documents are incriminating–you would destroy everything. You get together to decide what to keep. No reason for everyone to keep every printout from every internal presentation.

What would happen if a team at the CDC dumped a bunch of confidential material into a garbage can? Well, a big batch of paper would get noticed by the people handling the garbage. And that would create a huge problem for you–mishandling of confidential materials.

Throwing a lot of material into the garbage is not a way to hide your tracks. Much the opposite.

I wasn’t there to see what happened with documents for that study. And, per the statement that Congressman Posey read, neither was William Thompson. And there is an investigation ongoing into this study. Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker filed a complaint with HHS/CDC and it is being investigated.

Sorry, but Congressman Posey’s statement really is just not that interesting right now. Well, I am interested if he wrote it and if (as I assume) someone else did, who that someone is. But that’s just mild curiosity.


By Matt Carey

I like living in a free country

25 May

In the world of vaccine antagonistic groups and the fake-medical approach to “treating” autism (how can you “treat” anything with fake medicine like MMS?) we hear a lot about the lack of freedom and how we are in some sort of a police state. Anyone who openly counters the misinformation is likely to be branded a “Nazi” or similar epithet (remember Andrew Wakefield’s video where he claimed the CDC were running a new Tuskegee experiment with vaccines, and that the CDC were worse that Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin? And remember how many groups and blogs actually promoted this embarrassment?)

Much as it is aggravating to watch my own community (autism parents) spread misinformation and work against public health (remember J.B. Handley bragging that his team are “… in the early to middle stages of bringing the U.S. vaccine program to its knees”?). Much more, it’s very, very painful to watch groups like AutismOne promote fake medicine (for example chelation, chemical castration, bleach enemas) for use in disabled childen.

I’d be very happy if these practices ended. But I do not, have not and will not advocate that these groups be “silenced”. I and others counter the misinformation. And that’s the way of a free society.

I was reminded of this in a recent business trip. To Beijing, China. I did not blog during that time and not just because I was very busy. WordPress (the platform on which LeftBrainRightBrain.co.uk is hosted) is blocked in China. As are Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, Gmail, Google and many other sites.

Groups with misinformation complain that they aren’t given “balance” in the press in the U.S.. They complain over and over (and over) again in ways which are just not available in a non free society.

I was attending a science/engineering conference. Conferences are very different from parent conventions like AutismOne and the newer Generation Rescue meetings. While they bill themselves as conferences and they have “scientific” talks, they lack one very important thing: criticism. No one stands up and speaks out against clearly wrong ideas. Mark Geier, for example, can stand up and give a ridiculous talk about mercury and testosterone (which is in reality just an advertisement for his “Lupron Protocol”) and no one will stand up and say, “Mark, could you explain how your logic, in which you discuss mercury/testosterone complexes produced in beakers of hot benzine, has anything to do with the brains of autistic children?” (which is how scientists say, “your talk was a bunch of hokum”).

No. No one speaks out. Not any of the self-proclaimed leaders of this movement. Not Andrew Wakefield. Not Mark Blaxill. Not Brian Hooker. Not anyone at the Age of Autism Blog, the so called “thinking mom’s revolution”, AtuismOne. The list goes on and on of the fake leaders. They lack courage. Plain and simple. They will never stand up to people who claim that vaccines cause autism, no matter how wrong or harmful their proposed “therapies” are. They will circle the wagons and accuse their critics of being against treating autistics.

You want to talk courage? Of all the sites in Beijing that people wanted to see, Tiananmen Square was number one. And for only one reason: to stand where perhaps the bravest act I’ve ever seen happened. I’m speaking of the man who stopped a row of tanks in 1989.

Tienanmen Square is the fourth largest public square in the world. But public is an interesting word. The square is closed to the public from 10pm to 5am. And when it is open all entry points require a security check. And there are security cameras. Everywhere cameras. To get to the Palace (the Forbidden City) one must walk through a few large gates. No big deal there. But at the first gate, the one leaving the square (the one with the giant picture of Mao on it), I counted no fewer than 20 security people watching people walk through.

After you pass through the first two gates, at the entrance to the Forbidden City, just across from the Palace Museum ticket booths, there is a small garrison.

DSCN1852

Think that is a ceremonial guard? Well, if you come back later, the guys are training in camo gear. And how about the armored personnel carrier?

DSCN1900

Those who throw out terms like “police state”, “Nazi” and “censorship” belittle those who live under a very real, very strong, controlling government.

And don’t mistake the fact that my ability to write here is very dependent on living in a free society. As I noted above, WordPress is blocked in China. And I have little doubt that many of those who ask for “health freedom” would not support a free criticism of their actions were they in power.

Coincidentally, today is Memorial Day in the U.S.. A day when we remember and thank those who served and especially those who gave all in the protection of our freedom. I am more aware than ever of what they have given to me and my family. I don’t think that those with failed ideas about autism, vaccines and more who cry about a lack of “freedom” honor the people who fought for that very freedom.

There’s a reason why those ideas don’t gain traction. It’s not because they aren’t heard. They are heard. The ideas fail because they aren’t right.


By Matt Carey

Andrew Wakefield discusses “his war with vaccines”

20 Feb

For many years Andrew Wakefield put forth the image of the reasonable scientist who has been persecuted for merely asking questions about vaccines. Over the past year, that image has been fading as Mr. Wakefield has taken a more direct approach to criticizing vaccines and those involved with vaccines. His video claiming the CDC were involved in a “Tuskegee” like experiment and were worse than Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot was an epic departure from his previous restraint.

His latest interview, while not quite in the epic stature of the “Hitler et al.” video comments, is another example of Mr. Wakefield’s evolving rhetoric. He was interviewed by Alex Jones. Just being on the Alex Jones show is a poor choice for anyone who values accuracy over meager publicity.

The title of the video is “Dr. Unloads On Safe Vaccines”. And beneath that we can read this line:

Published on Feb 13, 2015
Alex Jones welcomes Dr. Andrew Wakefield to the studio to talk about his war with vaccines.

Here’s a screenshot of the YouTube page (click to enlarge):

alex jones on Wakefield

So, we get Mr. Wakefield’s “war on vaccines”. We of course get the obligatory, “We aren’t anti-vaccine”. OK. We also get comparisons of the vaccine program to Nazi Germany. More than once.

Mr. Wakefield seems to be saying that the MMR vaccine does not protect against measles, only the single measles vaccine does. Right. Amazing how we’ve gone so long without major outbreaks of measles with the MMR in use.

Readers may recall that last year Mr. Wakefield bungled the PR campaign for a paper by Brian Hooker. Mr. Hooker’s paper (since retracted) presented a reanalysis of an old CDC dataset on autism and claimed:

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

It was at best not a strong result in a not strong paper. But even in that paper the assertion that a causal connection was not made. But, how is this work being described now? From Mr. Wakefield on the Alex Jones show:

“And now that Dr. William Thompson, senior CDC scientist, has come forward and said that they have known for 13 years that MMR vaccine is causally associated with autism and they have hidden it from the public, from doctors from public health officials, from everybody.”

The “reanalysis” doesn’t say there’s a causal connection. Mr. Thompson’s public statement doesn’t say “causal” at all. But, hey, Alex Jones and his listeners are not the types to actually fact check Mr. Wakefield.

One could go on and on analyzing the misinformation in that interview. But statements like these make the point: Mr. Wakefield is moving away from his “reasonable guy just asking questions” mode. But we knew that when he put out his race baiting YouTube video last year.

I would be very interested in how Mr. Thompson feels about how he is represented by Mr. Wakefield. Mr. Thompson has made only the one public statement and it does not say what Mr. Wakefield claims.


By Matt Carey

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

20 Nov

Andrew Wakefield, the British former academic surgeon who fueled the MMR scare, has turned to film making as his career.  Someone chose Mr. Wakefield to manage the publicity for what they termed the “CDC Whistleblower” incident. to recap that: a William Thompson from the CDC had the extreme bad judgment to approach Brian Hooker with concerns about an old MMR/autism study.  Mr. Hooker is well known for his antagonistic stance on vaccines and his bad science attempting to link vaccines and autism.  Mr. Hooker published a (now retracted) study based on the information given to him by Mr. Thompson at CDC.  To publicize this “CDC Whistleblower” incident, Mr. Wakefield came out with probably the most over-the-top bad video I’ve ever seen.   It’s basically the Plan 9 From Outer Space of mini documentaries, complete with Mr. Wakefield’s voice over claiming that the CDC are worse that Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin.  Those dictators, you see, were at least sincere in Mr. Wakefield’s view.

Well it seems Mr. Wakefield wants to expand the “CDC Whistleblower” story to a full documentary.  He has an indigogo campaign to raise funds. As of now, it has collected $2,213 of his $230,000 goal.

And now he has a trailer.  It is seriously worth a look.  And before you read my own commentary on this one.  Here, go ahead:

Thankfully it is not as long at the Hitler/Pol Pot/Stalin video so I could manage to watch it again.  Because on one view I just had to say–really? Is this for real?

We start out with a shadowy figure. Presumably an actor playing the role of the whistleblower (although, physically he looks more like Poul Thorsen than Mr. Thompson).

Feast-shadow figure

Interspersed with video of autistic kids in severe distress, we get images of police in riot gear.  Because, that’s what one does in a documentary, splice in footage that has nothing to do with the story, right?feast-riot gear

And, lest we forget, a helicopter.  Black.  Has to be black.  OK, it looks like only the bottom is black, but as that quick clip went by all I could think was “really?  A black helicopter? ”

feast black helicopter

And in case we had any remaining thoughts that this was a documentary, enter the image of a house as seen through a sniper scope.  As the sniper scope zooms in we see that the target is an African American in a wheel chair.

feast sniper

Perhaps this is some sort of allusion to Mr. Wakefield’s first video, the Hitler/Pol Pot/Stalin video where he claimed that the CDC was engaging in a new Tuskegee experiment.   If so, why is the image of an African American female? I ask because the alleged controversy Mr. Wakefield is trying to highlight was about African American males.

The video ends with footage of parents telling us that vaccines cause autism and an actor (presumably representing the “whistleblower”) walking up some stairs.  Finally, Congressman Darrell Issa is shown banging a gavel at a congressional hearing.  From the start of these events, Mr. Wakefield and Mr. Hooker and their team have been calling for a congressional hearing.  I do hope they sent this video (and the Hitler/Pol Pot/Stalin video) to Mr. Issa’s office.  I have a feeling that since the time that Mr. Issa accepted $40,000 in donations from people seeking a congressional hearing, he’s learned a great deal and this video will further his education.

The sad part of this is the exploitative use of autistic children seen under severe distress.  This exploitation does nothing to serve the very real needs of our community.  Also seen towards the end are images of Avonte Oquendo, who went missing from his school and was found dead months later.  Again, exploitation which does nothing to serve our communities.  Mr. Wakefield is grabbing whatever film clips he can whether they are related or not to his purported story.  This is the same trick he used with a previous trailer he produced, where he spliced video from the Judge Rotenberg Center into a completely different story.

If Mr. Wakefield weren’t doing so much damage to my community, his videos would be laughably bad.  I’m not laughing.

By Matt Carey