Let’s say that I have a secret. Well, not that I have the secret but more like I discovered a secret. Let’s say that it is a secret so heinous that telling it to the world may change the world or, at the very least, save a lot of lives. And let’s say that I’ve vetted the information contained in that secret and I have found it to be true. Do I…
- Go to the media with the secret and the evidence and make the news?
- Bury the secret in a bunch of convoluted science-speak in a paper that I want to publish in a bottom-feeding journal that no one with any real credentials has heard about while I make a video, edit the video, narrate the video, edit some more and post the video online only to take it down, edit some more, and then post it again?
Me? I’d go to the media immediately. I’d take all the money I’ve been given by fearful parents and call a press conference ASAP. What Andrew Jeremy Wakefield decided to do is, well, you’ll see.
If you remember correctly, there’s a PhD biochemist by the name of Brian Hooker. Dr. Hooker has actively sought legal relief for his son’s autism. In his mind — as that of others — it was the vaccines his child received that caused the autism. So Dr. Hooker has time and again tried to play epidemiologist and biostatistician and try to debunk studies that have debunked the autism-vaccine myth.
Hooker’s latest “research” dealt with a study by CDC epidemiologists where children with autism and children without autism were compared to see when they got the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. That study (DeStefano et al) found no difference in the odds of receiving the MMR shot between groups of autistic and neurotypical children of the same age all living in the Atlanta, Georgia, metropolitan area. Hooker has come along and claims that data left out from the DeStefano paper shows that there is an increased risk of autism in African-American children receiving the vaccine at 36 months.
I read Hooker’s paper, and it is rife with problems. First, he uses as his references papers written by the Geier father-and-son team. The Geiers were involved in some shady treatment of autistic children by using chemicals typically used to chemically castrate people. They contended that, because mercury binds with testosterone in a petri dish at high temperatures, then the same must be true in a human being. In their mind, mercury in thimerosal binds with testosterone and triggers autism. Their solution? Chemically castrate male children by giving them chemicals that reduce their testosterone. For that, the father lost his medical license in just about every state he had one. The son faced charges for practicing medicine without a license.
Next, Hooker cites Andrew Jeremy Wakefield’s paper, a paper that has been retracted for being an “elaborate fraud.” So, right off the bat, the Hooker paper is not looking too good. Next come the statistics. Hooker uses Pearson’s chi squared test to see if there is a significant association between MMR and autism in children at different ages. DeStefano et al used conditional logistic regression. For the non-biostatisticians out there, the technique that DeStefano et al used accounts for confounders and effect modifiers, different traits in their population that could skew the results. Hooker’s technique doesn’t really do that, unless you stratify results and use very, very large datasets. Hooker’s approach is more “conservative,” meaning that it will detect small effects and amplify them, and those effects can come from anything.
Even with that approach, Hooker found that the risk of autism associated with getting the MMR vaccine was not there or it was negligible, except in one population: African-American male babies. He found that African-American male babies at 36 months had a higher than 3-fold risk of autism if they had received the MMR vaccine. Pretty damning, right?
Well, as is the case with most anti-vaccine activities, there is more than meets the eye. I’ll explain that in a second. First, I want to show you what Andrew Jeremy Wakefield and Hooker did with this information:
Yes, instead of calling a press conference or otherwise going to the media with this information, thereby maybe halting all MMR vaccination of African American babies at 36 months, Andrew Jeremy Wakefield decided to create a video, edit it, narrate it, edit it some more, and then post it online. This is not the first version of the video, mind you. There is another version where the “whistleblower” is not named by name. If you want to believe another anti-vaccine activist (The Kid), Hooker never wanted to reveal the identity of the whistleblower. I guess Andrew Jeremy Wakefield just did it because the internet, or something.
So, just so we’re clear before I go into why Hooker is wrong in his assertions, we have Wakefield admitting he was wrong (as we all knew) and we have Hooker on the phone with a researcher of a well-known paper, on video, but the whistleblower’s identity was supposed to be kept secret. Right.
Hooker is wrong in his assertions because the DeStefano paper did not leave out African-American children on purpose. Children were excluded from the analysis because of very legitimate and scientific reasons. They either were not the right age, did not have autism but some other neurodevelopment disorder, or were born outside of Georgia. Even if they were tossed into the analysis, DeStefano et al used a statistical analysis that took into account things like birth weight and mother’s age when analysing the data. They wanted to make sure that what they were seeing was most likely because of the MMR vaccine and not because of some other factor associated with autism.
The nail in the coffin for the Hooker paper is that autism is usually diagnosed by the time a child is three years old. There was no increased risk at 18 months, higher but not by a whole lot at 24, and then the three-fold increase at 36 months. Gee, was it the MMR vaccine, mister? No, the effect is being modified by age. It’s as if I asked you if your shoe size was bigger at 36 months because you drank milk vs because you were 36 months. It’s age. It’s the way that autism is diagnosed. You’re going to have more children diagnosed as autistic at 36 months than you will at 18 months or at 24 months. Using the chi square test doesn’t tease this out, Dr. Hooker! That’s more than likely why DeStefano et al used conditional logistic regression, to take age into account in the analysis.
So why did we not see this in the other ethnic groups or in girls? The answer here is simple, again. Hooker had a limited dataset to work with when he boiled it down to African-American baby boys. In this table, for example, he tells us that he had to modify the analysis to 31 months instead of 36 because he had less than 5 children in that group. It’s the same goddamned mistake that Andrew Jeremy Wakefield wanted to pass off as legitimate science. You cannot, and must not use small numbers to make big assertions… Big, racially-charged assertions:
“Dr. Hooker stated “The CDC knew about the relationship between the age of first MMR vaccine and autism incidence in African-American boys as early as 2003, but chose to cover it up.” The whistleblower confirmed this.
When asked if there could be any scientific basis for excluding children born outside of Georgia, Hooker responded, “I know of none, and none has been provided by the authors of the DeStefano study.” He added, “The exclusion is reminiscent of tactics historically used to deprive African-Americans of the vote by requiring valid birth certificates.””
That is pure race-baiting right there. With the situation in Ferguson, MO, as it is, I am wondering if Hooker and Wakefield didn’t try to capitalize on that and bring even more racial tension into the mix. I mean, Tuskegee and autism, really?
Autism is not syphilis. It cannot be cured with a shot. It cannot be cured, period. It is also not like the Holocaust or genocide, like Wakefield claims toward the end of his little video montage. Autism is not a death sentence. It’s time that parents of autistic children and autistic adults put an end to Andrew Jeremy Wakefield’s lies and his propaganda machine by speaking out against him and by convincing his devout followers not to fund him anymore. After all, if the paper by Hooker and the assertions of the video are true, Wakefield and his “Autism Media Channel” chose to sit on the information in order to make a good video (and maybe even a good buck) while thousands upon thousands of African-American babies continued to receive the MMR vaccine the world over.
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Well, that didn’t take long:
The Hooker paper has been removed & an investigation is pending by the Journal.
Wow, its even worse (for Hooker) – here is the new language:
“This article has been removed from the public domain because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions. The journal and publisher believe that its continued availability may not be in the public interest. Definitive editorial action will be pending further investigation.”
So, where is he?? Where is Thompson? If your name was being used to perpetuate lies, and you were the subject of a viral video using your name and your work to spread false information, wouldn’t you speak out? WHERE IS HE?
If it were me, I’d be quiet too. You don’t want to show your hand when you’re preparing a libel suit for millions.
You are going to cry when he comes out and tells the truth and shares the documents to back him up, aren’t you?? You cling to your science, but those who wrote the science lied. So, its not science, its lies. http://www.naturalnews.com/images/CDC-DOJ-Investigation-MMR-Vaccine-Autism-NN-Watermark.jpg
Did you actually read Reuben’s post about Hooker’s lame attempt to change the type of study conducted by the CDC, by torturing the data? I doubt it.
You’re actually linking to “Natural News” as your source? Really?
Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! That letter is a secret? How? And how does it prove anything? Please do quote for us all from it where the damning evidence is.
He isn’t preparing for a libel suit. He’s preparing to be sued by millions.
Oh, and what about the CDC? Where are they on this? It’s a little too hot to ignore, don’t ya think? No official statement on Thompson. The things that make you go hmmmm…..
If Thompson is worried about liability, he’s probably been advised not to speak either way.
If Thompson did not expect to be outed, he is probably upset and overwhelmed.
Note that he did not confirm Hooker’s statement. If Hooker had proof Thompson said what he claimed, he’d make it public.
I wonder why Hooker / Wakefield don’t play the entire statement by Thompson, instead of the snippets they did….they are so used to their own little bubbles where they can get away with making crap up & slandering people. Well, they are in the big leagues now & if they don’t have the evidence to back up their current set up claims, they could find themselves in a world of trouble they can’t even imagine.
I doubt the CDC would have put out the release they did (as benign as it was), if they thought this was a real issue (especially given what they’ve experienced recently being in the limelight).
Things that make you go “hmm” indeed, my dear. Check it, Orac published the same letter as Mike “Health Danger” Adams. Why would he do that if it was a “sooper” secret? http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2014/08/26/the-cdc-whistleblower-manufactroversy-continues-apace/
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thank you Reuben for this analysis. I included it in my introductory post to the issues.
But this isn’t what was going on; there wasn’t information about date of first diagnosis. It’s a group of children aged 3–10 who simply were identified as cases from the MADDSP data.
True, but one of the assertions floating around is that it was because of the MMR shot that there were more autistic children as time went on, not because it’s an artifact of how autism is diagnosed.
Thanks for that excellent summary!
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Thanks so much for your expert analysis of Brian Hooker’s paper.
O/T: There is a PBS NOVA program scheduled to be aired about vaccines and a *big pharma shill* mentioned your excellent post.
Thank you for an excellent write-up that, along with some other blog posts, managed to soothe my mind after being rather upset about this new salvo shot by the anti-vaccination mob.
Excellent post, fully agree and have some additional points. All of which will lead me to use this garbage as a teaching example of how to do pretty much everything wrong.
The author is erroneous in calling this a cohort study. Cases were selected and a control group was identified that was similar. Hence, this is a case-control study. Conditional logistic regression, as opposed to plain old logistic regression, is needed when a correlation is created artificially by the study design (eg an individually matched case-control study). What this goober actually did was frequency matching (selected controls on borad age groups etc), which means that the matching variables absolutely have to be included in the model. If individual matched, not using conditional logistic regression could affect the point estimate and standard error, but it is difficult to say in which direction. With frequency matching though, this association is utterly meaningless, as the artificially created relationships were not accounted for, which doesn’t even begin to touch on confounders that were not frequency-matched.
And I love how he states that a Pearson Chi-Square test of association (and then shows a Fisher’s Exact test?) is a conservative approach. Nope, you are just providing a crude association that is rife with confounding. This stinker also loses on style points, as these tables are horrendous and no useful information is shown (population characteristics of any kind?).
Excellent points, Reuben.
It was so damn miserable having to listen to Wakefield’s lugubrious droning. It reminded me of the Bishop in the Princess Bride when he was marrying Buttercup to Prince Humperdink. That was funny, but Wakefield was just a new level of hell.
The anti-vaxxers are getting desperate….since the Science doesn’t support them, it must be a conspiracy.
Looks like another “climate change email” fiasco. A load of noise about nothing.
Aren’t you ignoring the CDC whistleblower, one of the authors of the original paper, who expressed remorse for his involvement in the data manipulation (some say fraud)?
Did he? The video only shows small soundbites of his conversation with Hooker. I don’t hear the person who is allegedly Thompson say “I am remorseful for my involvement in the data manipulation (some say fraud).” Unless and until that person is confirmed as Thompson and unless and until they play the full interview with Hooker, his “priest,” I refuse to fuel those speculations.
And, just so we’re clear, the “data manipulation” is in the way that two groups (well, one group and a person) decided to analyze the data. DeStefano et al used epidemiology and biostatistics to choose their cases and controls carefully, make sure they were comparable in the necessary ways, and then accounted for confounders and effect modifiers in their analysis. Hooker, on the other hand, is not an epidemiologist and not a biostatistician, and the clear evidence of this is that he didn’t account for effect modifiers and confounders. He did a very “conservative” analysis, the kind you do in basic biostats to discover anything that could be meaningful, the kind of analysis I’m sure DeStefano et al started with and then moved on to conditional logistic regression.
Thank you for providing a clear picture to the history behind this poorly written paper. It’s also important to note who funded this study- an organization called Focus Autism who, on their website states that “Autistic children are not mentally ill. They are brain damaged.”
What a disgusting organization to associate with.
Nice write-up, Reuben. One thing to note, if DeStefano et al. were intentionally and preferentially excluding black children over others, then we should see that there should have been a larger proportion of black children excluded than white children. Yet roughly the same proportions of blacks and whites were excluded due to not having a birth certificate in Georgia.
And DeStefano et al. did do conditional logistic regression modelling inclusive of the non-birth certificate children and didn’t find any statistical significance.
Nice summary Reuben. It’s important to note that Hooker, Wakefield et al. are making hay about African American children being selectively removed from the DeStefano et al. analysis but they weren’t and even that dimwit John Stone knows it but isn’t saying a word. Furthermore, we don’t know the temporal relationship between MMR receipt and ASD diagnosis or first reports of symptoms and the more likely explanation for this observation is that African American children have barriers to healthcare access and are vaccinated later. But I guess that’s too mundane for Wakefield’s performance art piece.
Thanks for going through that and pointing out the flaws in this new rounds of claims. I think this is one of the biggest non-scandals I’ve seen being pushed forward.
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