Thursday, August 28, 2014

CDC Whistleblower William Thompson Breaks Silence

Things have certainly been progressing quickly in wooville, specifically in the anti-vaccine neighborhood. Earlier this month, anti-vaccine activist and petitioner in the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, Brian S. Hooker, PhD, published a study in the journal Translational Neurodegeneration titled Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young african american boys: a reanalysis of CDC data. [Update (10/4/14): Hooker's study has been fully retracted by the journal.] Basically, Hooker took a dataset that was used by CDC researchers DeStefano et al. in their 2004 study looking at whether on-time, slightly late or late MMR vaccination was more common among autism cases than among controls. It was a case-control study that looked at both a large population, as well as a smaller population limited to those who had a Georgia birth certificate. After receiving word from a whistleblower that the DeStefano study found an association among African American males, but did not include that in the finished report, Hooker waded in to find the holy grail of government malfeasance and cover-up. Except, he did not use the same methods to examine the data that the CDC did. Using a dataset designed for a case-control study, he conducted a cohort study, applied statistics inappropriately and reached a spurious conclusion.

Although it made a splash among the conspiracy-minded, it didn't garner much attention right away. Science bloggers held off putting up any immediate posts, opting instead to examine the study to see if Hooker's methods were sound, particularly since his conclusion had no plausible biological basis. In the interim, the British doctor who engaged in research fraud and was stripped of his medical license, Andrew Jeremy Wakefield, put together a video in which he exploited the victims of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment in a cynical attempt at using the race card to drum up outrage at the CDC. At the same time, he said the CDC was actually worse than Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. Wakefield also included in his video carefully edited snippets of audio recordings that, presumably, are the whistleblower. He released two versions of that video, one with the whistleblower's name bleeped out and his voice distorted, and one where the audio is unobscured and his name, William Thompson, is plainly stated. Interestingly, anti-vaccine blogger Jake Crosby condemned Wakefield for outing Thompson without Thompson's permission, an allegation that Wakefield strongly denied.

Early this week, science bloggers began posting their analyses of Hooker's study, noting the flaws and questioning the validity of its conclusions. They also pointed out that not one anti-vaccine activist called out Andrew Wakefield for race-baiting, but instead praised and shared his video, the implication of which is that one of the original DeStefano authors was a race traitor.

On Tuesday evening, the Wakefield/Hooker sycophants threw a collective tantrum on Twitter, whining about how no one takes them seriously.

That brings us to the momentous events of Wednesday.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Anti-vaccine Activists Throw Twitter Tantrum

Unlike Kitty, the anti-
vaxxers don't learn.
Last night, in a stunning display of groupthink, a whole bunch (gaggle? swarm? what's the collective noun for a group of loons?) of anti-vaccine activists took to Twitter in a cynical ploy to draw attention to their latest torturing of science and statistics. I'm talking about the recently published paper by Brian Hooker that appears to have used an improper study design and the wrong statistical measures to reach a preconceived conclusion that MMR vaccine is associated with autism, except that it showed there was zero association with any children except for African American boys who were vaccinated off-schedule. They used the hashtag #CDCwhistleblower to do what really amounted to the social media equivalent of a temper tantrum, whining about how the mainstream media is not reporting on the study. It was really a sad display, as they simply all copied and pasted from the same list of talking points, not even adding their own interpretation. And when presented with links to analyses of Hooker's study, they didn't even bother reading. Instead, what we got were the shameless exploitation of victims of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, implications that one of the DeStefano authors was a race-traitor and whining that no one was taking them seriously, all while posting links to a video in which the CDC is compared to Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Pol Pot. Oh, and accusing the mainstream media that they want to cover the story of being part of the cover-up. And they wonder why people think they're missing a few screws?

Just a short post to let y'all know about the shameful, sad display. Without any actual science on their side, they're left with smearing those they don't like and trying to game the system. I'll leave it at that, as it doesn't warrant a full-length post.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Andrew Wakefield Tortures History

I've written before about how the anti-vaccine movement regularly gets the science wrong (see, for example, here and here). Most often, it involves how they interpret (or, rather, misinterpret) studies that they think support their view that vaccines are the root of all evil, causing all manner of disorders. They regularly misrepresent and torture the scientific literature to fit their agenda. But occasionally, it involves actually attempting to do science themselves, the latest of which being a study [Edited to Add: this study has been fully retracted by the journal.] recently published by Vaccine Injury Compensation Program petitioner, Brian Hooker, PhD and funded by the anti-vaccine group Focus Autism. This study has been examined by an epidemiologist, another epidemiologist, and a cancer researcher. The players have also been examined by a dyslexia consultant and autism advocate (see also here). This study, in addition to being of questionable validity, has spawned quite the brouhaha among anti-vaccine activists. In short, Hooker took a dataset that was analyzed by a group of CDC investigators. Their finding was that age at first vaccination with MMR did not appear to [edited to clarify and correct] affect the risk of be associated with autism [ETA: cases (those with autism) were no more or less likely to have been vaccinated with MMR than controls before 18, 24 and 36 months; the study design could not establish causation, only correlation]. The results of their study were published as a case-control study. Hooker used the same dataset to create a cohort study and found that there was no increased risk of autism in any of the groups (i.e., MMR does not cause autism) except one: African American males, for which he puportedly found a 3.36-fold increased risk of autism when they were vaccinated between 24 and 31 months. Read the two posts by those epidemiologists for why his analysis is suspect.

I'm not going to go into the science behind the studies, because it relies very heavily on statistics, and I'm not a statistician or epidemiologist. As an aside, neither is Dr. Hooker. Instead, I want to focus on some statements made by one Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor who committed scientific fraud, resulting in the full retraction of his 1998 case series study on MMR and the stripping of his medical license. Wakefield boldly added himself to the list of not only torturing science, but now adds to his accomplishments torturing history and ethics (granted, we already knew he was ethically challenged). You see, in his videos (here and here) about the alleged "whistleblower", William Thompson,Wakefield compared the purported "cover-up" to the Tuskegee syphilis debacle. It's a false comparison used simply to inflame people and claim the race card.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

For Balance, We Turn To... - Jen Eyer Edition

This seems to be the week for lazy journalists falling for the false balance that is the epitome of sloppy reporting. I had originally planned to write about this particular bit of nonsense yesterday, but the article giving a platform to anti-vaccine bully Becky Estepp took precedence. Also, Dr. Steven Novella and Orac both beat me to the punch. But, there's still plenty of meat in the story to go around.

I'm talking about the latest verbal vomitus from anti-vaccine activist Mary Tocco, titled No one should be forced to vaccinate their children". Ms. Tocco's letter was in response to a science-based op-ed, "Anti-vaccination movement threatens the health, safety and well-being of Michigan children", by Dr. Anthony F. Ogjnan and Dr. Sandro Cinti. The original letter is well worth the read, particularly for those who live in Michigan and are concerned about their legislators being gulled by the dishonest misinformation campaigns of anti-vaccine groups, like Michigan Opposing Mandatory Vaccines (MOMV - apparently Ms. Tocco is as bad at making acronyms as she is at everything else, since she calls it "MOM", i.e., "Michigan Opposing Mandatory"). Ms. Tocco's response is an exercise in name that logical fallacy and an excellent illustration of how "research" (in anti-vaccine world) is a far cry from actual research in the real world. I'm not going to delve into her letter very much, since Dr. Novella and Orac both covered a good deal of what was wrong with it, but I will point my readers to discussions of how Ms. Tocco she tried to twist the Bible to support her ideology.

What I want to focus on is the person responsible for giving Ms. Tocco space to spew her bile, Michigan Live's Director of Community Engagement, Jen Eyer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

For Balance, We Turn To...

Over a dozen current and former students in the Carlsbad High School broadcast journalism program have found themselves in the middle of a long-running bullies' rights and health debate after they produced the film Tangible Harm. We turn to Candy Wenpigzfly for her armchair report.

The film debuted online more than a year after it was completed. Students say that's largely due to the backlash they've faced, even during the production stage.

Chad Stryker, an intern with this station, worked on the film during his junior year. He said the idea came from the San Diego Traffic Circle Club two years ago. Their members were impressed by the students' previous award-winning documentaries and wanted the journalism class to do one on the topic of bullying victims' health and rights.

"We told the Traffic Circle Club we would do the film, but only on our terms. That meant we would approach the subject with serious journalism and investigation," Stryker said. "We wanted to make sure the story we would end up telling would be unbiased and free of the false balance so common among many media outlets. We would go where the evidence led."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice Pick Cherries to Sow Fear

If there's one thing that never seems to change, it's that anti-vaccine types just do not understand science. They love to pick and choose from the literature when they think they find something that supports their "vaccines are the root of all evil in the world" ideology, but more often than not, the source actually does not support their viewpoint. Some think, for example, that recent measles outbreaks have occurred predominantly among the vaccinated, when nothing could be further from the truth. To support their position, they cite studies where the majority of cases were unvaccinated, or where none of the cases were vaccinated (and the index case was a patient of an anti-vaccine doctor), or a report of a 30-year-old outbreak occurring under very different conditions than today. More often than not, they latch onto a phrase or a few sentences from a study that they think supports their position without taking into consideration the rest of the study. Some simply copy and paste from other anti-vaccine sites without even reading anything for themselves. The end result is that they make a fool of themselves.

The latest example of this come courtesy of the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice (VCVC), a horribly misnamed offshoot of the even more horribly misnamed National Vaccine Information Center. Though asserting themselves as "pro-safe vaccine", their actions and words reveal them to be fervently opposed to any and all vaccines. I first wrangled with VCVC in the comments on a Vermont news article. Since then, they have accused me of being paid by "Big Pharma", have tried to find out who I am and "out" me (though why I can only speculate) and have contributed to the spread of misinformation about vaccines that has led to the largest outbreak of measles in decades.

Their latest foray into cherry-picking quotes from sources they either do not understand or purposefully misrepresent is similarly about measles. It's a comment on a Portland Press Herald (Maine) titled More Maine families are skipping or delaying childhood vaccines:

Monday, August 4, 2014

Richard Dawkins is Illogical and Insensitive

There's been a bit of a to-do recently in the skeptical community. Usually when something like that occurs, it has to do with women's rights, harassment, sexual abuse, or some combination of those. This time is no different, and it involves an individual who has gotten in trouble on these topics before. He apparently just is incapable of learning. It's like there is some sort of psychological block that comes down, a subconscious censor in his brain sticking its fingers in its ears, going "Lalalala! I can't hear you!", preventing him from really understanding what is explained to him.

Trigger warning: this post is going to discuss rape.

I hadn't planned on writing anything about this, but then I read something by the aforementioned individual that I felt I just had to say something. The person we are talking about is Richard Dawkins. He is a very big name in the skeptical community, and an even bigger name in the atheist community. Certainly, he's done a lot to get people thinking and asking hard questions when it comes to religion, creationism, intelligent design, and the like. But, and here's where skepticism comes in, we need to judge his words for what they are, not because of who said them. And when it comes to rape, he has been found wanting.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Imunization Awarness Month - The Vaccination Chronicles

It's National Immunization Awareness Month! I didn't have time to write up a big, long post, so instead, I thought I would share this video from Richard Saunders. This short documentary, The Vaccination Chronicles, was a personal endeavor by Saunders as an effort to educate the public about the importance of vaccinations. Enjoy.