Andrew Jeremy Wakefield plays video director while African-American Babies die, or something

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…

  1. Go to the media with the secret and the evidence and make the news?
  2. 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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Then we’ll just have to fight, won’t we?

There’s a scene in “The Dark Knight Rises” where Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, tells Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, that “there’s a storm coming.” The scene starts off innocently enough with the aged Bruce Wayne showing up at a high-society party. There, he ends up seeing Ms. Kyle and asking her to dance. He deduces that she is there to swindle some rich guy out of money, but she is part of a bigger plot, a more sinister plot.

I was stupid enough to email an anti-vaxxer a snarky message asking her when they were going to give up, when evidence would be enough that vaccines are perfectly safe and effective, especially when compared to what the natural diseases that they prevent can cause. She told me that I didn’t even know what was coming and that a storm would take us scientists all out to sea, signing her email with X’s and O’s, internet speak for “hugs and kisses.” It seemed odd. Realizing my stupidity and that most everything I write or say to them can be used against me, I left it alone.

Last night, a friend emailed me a link to a video where Andrew Jeremy Wakefield compares the alleged MMR-autism link to the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, where African-American men were purposefully held back from receiving penicillin in order to study the natural history of syphilis. To Andrew Jeremy Wakefield, autism is like syphilis, I gather; a disease that is curable and whose cure is being held back by the government.

I’m not going to share the video with you because it’s ten minutes of your life you’ll never get back. I don’t want to do that to you. Suffice it to say that the accusations him and others make in that video would mean the downfall of a lot of epidemiologists if it were true. I have the sneaking suspicion, based on Andrew Jeremy Wakefield’s “elaborate fraud” from 1998 that not everything in his video is true.

However, I do know this… A storm is coming, and we better batten down the hatches.

When that happens, we’ll just have to fight, won’t we? Like we always do. Like we’re have to do.

Not an epidemiologist and definitely not a lawyer

Honestly, I didn’t know that “echoey” was a word. It is. I had heard it before, but I never really had to use it. Anyway, let’s get on to what’s on my mind.

Have you ever heard of totalitarianism? It a term commonly used by anti-vaccine and anti-science activists to describe those of us who advocate for vaccine requirements to keep us all safe. Like with most other terminology that is complicated and multi-faceted, they get it wrong. Totalitarianism is when the government wields absolute (“total”) control over the lives of its citizens. We see examples of these kinds of governments today in some of the dictatorships that still dot the globe. Totalitarianism is different than authoritarianism in that authoritarianism has one party (or person, or small group) in power, with very little to no opposition. Totalitarianism is when the government, no matter what kind of government it is, controls all. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

You know who wants a totalitarian state? The kid. Follow me on this one. In his latest rant, the kid talks about wanting the courts to decide whether or not The Lancet re-publishes the already retracted, fraudulent paper from Wakefield et al. I’m not joking. Go over and read it. He wants The Lancet to re-publish it because in Crosby’s Labyrinth matters of science should be settled by the courts, i.e. the government. Can you imagine?

The kid even went and emailed the ombudsman at The Lancet, complaining like a little girl with scraped knee that Wakefield’s paper should be un-retracted. His logic?

“A paper remains retracted by your medical journal on the basis of findings since overturned by a High Court Ruling. It is long past due that that paper, “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular-hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children” by Wakefield et al. be fully restored to the published record.

A 2010 judgment by the General Medical Council was the basis for the Lancet’s retraction…”

Was it the 2010 judgment that led to the retraction of the paper? Nope, it was the fraud. The judgment just confirmed what everyone saw coming for years. Like with other things, the kid gets causality all jumbled up. He thinks that the editors at The Lancet saw the GMC judgment and went, “Hey, we need to retract this.” Not so. They saw the evidence put forth by Brian Deer since about 2004 and decided that the GMC finding was the final straw. Wakefield et al did not stand up to scrutiny anymore, and it should not be part of the evidence in evidence-based medicine. Take away the GMC finding, and the paper still doesn’t stand to scrutiny.

But that doesn’t matter to the kid and his team. They want the courts to rule:

“I must say I am very puzzled as to how there are not sufficient grounds to overturn this retraction when the GMC findings it was based on have been overturned by the High Court. As you can see from the quotes in my previous email, the ruling judge explicitly stated in his findings that the GMC was wrong to deny that the patients described in the paper were consecutively referred. He also struck down the GMC’s findings that the investigations described in the paper required ethical approvals that were not obtained, which the Lancet also cites as its basis for keeping the paper retracted. So how can this retraction stand without remaining in contempt of the High Court?”

I tried to keep myself from laughing. Why? What’s so humorous? He wants The Lancet to un-retract a fraudulent paper based on a court decision, a decision that didn’t order The Lancet to un-retract it. He actually thinks that not un-retracting the paper makes The Lancet be in contempt of court. It’s hilarious!

Again, it’s par for the course for anti-vaxxers. When the science doesn’t support them, they turn to the courts, the government. They want totalitarianism when they can’t have a democracy of rationally-minded people looking over evidence and weighing it appropriately, scientifically. If it were up to them, we’d have creationism instead of biology in school, validating their views instead of reality.

The kid should stick to, uh, whatever he’s doing right now because neither epidemiology nor law are his forte.

Andrew Jeremy Wakefield, Litigious Bully

You remember Andrew Jeremy Wakefield, don’t you? He’s the British physician who conducted a case review of autistic children and, despite what his “study” had to say on the matter, he told the world that it was his gut feeling that the MMR vaccine caused autism. Here we are, more than 15 years later after that case series was published, still having an argument about vaccines and autism. This in spite of the fact that there have been no credible, repeatable, peer-reviewed studies confirming Wakefield’s findings, or the conspiracy theories of others about thimerosal in vaccines leading to autism. (The MMR never had thimerosal in it, nor did any of the live-virus vaccines.) If anything, the science is moving more and more toward confirming the theory that autism is a manifestation of our neurobiology. That is, we’re all normal, and autistics are on one end of the spectrum of normal. Or, better stated, we’re all autistic, and those of us who don’t exhibit autistic behaviors are on one end of the spectrum of autism.

Despite years and years and years of research and spent resources on trying to confirm Andrew Wakefield’s study, there has been nothing moving the theory that vaccines cause autism. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Then along came Brian Deer, an investigative journalist who uncovered fraud in the Wakefield study. “Fraud”… That’s such a strong word. What does it mean? According to the dictionary, “Fraud is a deception deliberately practiced in order to secure unfair or unlawful gain (adjectival form fraudulent; to defraud is the verb).” What was Wakefield’s gain in stating that the MMR vaccine caused autism? (And, let me be absolutely clear, he did say it, no matter how much anti-vaccine activists say he didn’t.) For starters, he was hired by a law firm in Britain that was attempting to bring suit against vaccine manufacturers. And he was also trying to patent his own measles vaccine. (Read all about it here.) Continue reading

Utilitarianism, Science, and Public Policy

One of the things that you hear over and over again from the anti-science crowd is that public policy should not “sacrifice” the life of one person for the good of the population. In the case of vaccines, many of the people who are convinced that vaccines cause autism will tell you that we should not “sacrifice” a child to autism even if it means preventing a whole lot of death and disability from vaccine-preventable diseases. Mind you, autism does not equal death for a child. But such is the mentality of the fanatic.

I wish that I could live in a fantasy world where there were no sacrifices for the good of the population, where no one in the absolute would have a reaction to a vaccine (no matter how mild). Unfortunately, such a world does not exist. However, there is this thing called science, and it prescribes the tools we can use to minimize the amount of suffering in humanity. With it, we’ve been able to cure diseases that used to kill people by the thousands (maybe millions) in centuries past. Sadly, there are those who have not benefited from the science and may have even been hurt by it. But such is life. Continue reading

It is now okay to kill your child

UPDATE: Here are others’ thoughts on this subject. I’ll update as I see more speaking out against this madness.

http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2013/08/31/whitewashing-the-brutal-murder-of-alex-spourdalakis/

http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/vaccine-deniers-think-murder-alex-spourdalakis-acceptable/

http://paulacdurbinwestbyautisticblog.blogspot.com/

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2013/09/02/sharyl-attkisson-and-cbs-news-an-epic-fail-in-reporting-on-the-murder-of-autistic-teen-alex-spourdalakis/

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Yeah, I was not supposed to come back to the blog until Sunday. In fact, that blog post has already been written. It’s just that something came to my attention today, and you, my two or three readers, must know about it right now. It is almost an emergency because it is placing children in harm’s way.

I’m talking about this report from CBS. I need to warn you that it is very hard to look at. It has images of a child with autism by the name of Alex being mistreated and it describes in some detail how his mother and his caretaker killed him. The most infuriating part of the report is that, in my opinion, it attempts to explain why the child was killed, completely forgetting that a child was killed. Giving the mother and caretaker’s difficulties in having the child treated, the report, to me, tries to justify what they did. And, in my humble opinion, now puts it out there that it is okay to kill your neurodevelopmentally delayed child if he or she becomes too much of a burden to you.

Continue reading

I wouldn’t put this past Andrew Jeremy Wakefield

In case you haven’t heard, a whole bunch of dolphins have died from measles in Italy. Since he’s showing himself to be a media whore during the outbreak of measles in humans in Wales, someone went and wrote up a parody of what Andrew Jeremy Wakefield would have said if he were to also attract attention from measles in dolphins. Enjoy:

“Over one hundred dolphins have died due to measles and washed ashore on the coast of Italy. Like the current measles outbreak in Swansea, Wales, is nothing more than the ill-effects of a vaccine policy that continues to favor the profits of big pharma over the safety of the dolphins that receive the combined measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination.

I have in my possession, a 25,000-page report, written by myself, single-space, 0.5-inch margin, in which I detail the problems with the MMR vaccine one-by-one as well as the findings of two of my closest associates on the government cover-up conceived by the reptilians. My “porpoise” in writing this report, if you’ll pardon the pun, is to show that the single jab vaccine that I patented would have been safer and easier to use on dolphins than the MMR. It’s one jab instead of the triple jab. You try jabbing a dolphin three times!

Further, the fact that there are no autistic dolphins should be a clear signal to the medical establishment of the implication of MMR in causing autistic enterocolitis autism. If we were to give them the MMR shot to contain this outbreak of measles, we will surely see a rise in the number of cases of autism in the dolphin community. I have spoken to leaders in the dolphin community, and they have told me that they do not wish to lose any of their children to autism.

Should my lawyers allow me to release this report, the world will indeed see that the measles occurring in the dolphins is not a result of my fraud. Rather, it is the result of Dr. Salisbury not debating me live on television and with Piers Morgan as the host and moderator. The world deserves to see us both in wet suits as we negotiate an obstacle course and prove once and for all that I am not a fraud when it comes to my thighs.”