Friday, August 16, 2013

Follow-up on Journalist Matthew Mientka

Last week, I wrote a post in response to an article by a journalist named Matthew Mientka. His article was an illustration of sloppy, lazy journalism (though I suppose to be charitable, he may also have been overworked by Medical Daily's editors, though that just speaks even worse for the online paper). Mientka's post was so riddle with errors that could have been avoided with just a modicum of basic research. As I ended my post, I said that if he did the right thing and retracted his article, I would write a follow-up post.

Well, his article is no longer up (note I have an update at the end of my post with a link to the cached version). He does, however, have a new article up that includes a little of the original, but goes beyond that to discuss autism, MMR and thimerosal in a more expansive manner. The version that is currently up, however, is not the original.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Snapshot of the Deep Pockets of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Research is expensive. Lab techs, study coordinators, grad students and post-docs have their salaries (often a pittance compared to the importance of their work and the skills required); primary investigators (PIs) have theirs. Then there are the costs for materials - drugs or other substances under investigation, reagents, etc., as needed. Statisticians, equipment. The expenditures add up.

And PIs spend a considerable amount of their time just seeking out grants to support their research. Many rely heavily on government entities like the National Institutes of Health, one of the largest funders of research in the United States. Some research funds come from industry sources, the results of which need somewhat greater levels of attention to suss out the valid results from the bias. Others find support from private donors and foundations.

This latter source is the bread and butter of cranks and pseudoscientists (well, with the addition of the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, but that's a whole other post). For example, Mark Geier (who has had his various medical licenses stripped for unethical conduct) and his son, David (who has no medical licenses and was found by the Maryland Board of Physicians to have practiced medicine without a license), essentially fund themselves through their non-profit corporations CoMeD, Inc. and Institute of Chronic Illnesses, Inc. Other anti-vaccine researchers, perhaps lacking their own wealth, rely on other individuals and families devoted to the "vaccines cause autism" myth who happen to have significant assets to fund their dubious research.

Such is the case with a new study by Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, titled Administration of aluminium to neonatal mice in vaccine-relevant amounts is associated with adverse long term neurological outcomes (back in December 2011, Orac pointed out the flaws of the study [Edited to add February 5, 2015: the study Orac discussed formed the basis for the 2013 study I discuss here.]). This study received significant funding from The Dwoskin Family Foundation and the Katlyn Fox Foundation, both of which have funded previous studies by one or both of this duo.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Matthew Mientka, MMR, Autism and Lazy Journalism

I try to be a patient person. In general, I give people the benefit of the doubt, assume that they are well-intentioned. And for the most part, I think people do try to do what is right. But every now and then, I find that my trust is misplaced. It isn't necessarily that they are malicious. No, they may just be lazy, failing to do due diligence when really they ought to do at least some measure of basic research.

Such was the case recently. I came across an article by Matthew Mientka in Medical Dailty titled Vaccines And Autism: Evidence Shows ‘Strong Link’ Between Autism And MMR Vaccine. When the post originally went up, the title was a bit different: Vaccines And Autism: New Evidence Shows 'Strong Link' Between Autism And MMR Vaccine. Notice the very slight difference? The word "new" was dropped after I called the author on some errors in his article.