I know that when last I commented, I expressed the desire to move on from the topic of the CDC whistleblower case after having covered it for a week. And so was my intent. However, this being a holiday in the US and my having had an odd experience on Friday led me to think that one last update is in order. Those not familiar with the story can recap here:


Over the weekend, there have been a lot of attacks directed at those who have made critical comments about Brian Hooker and his conspiracy theory, or who have, quite reasonably, pointed out that the statement of the “CDC whistleblower,” senior CDC scientist William W. Thompson, does not demonstrate that the CDC engaged in a “massive coverup” of evidence showing that MMR vaccination is associated with autism in African American males. These days, the attacks are coming in the form of a potentially libelous CNN iReport regurgitating Jake Crosby’s unfounded charges, and, of course, Twitter attacks galore:

This all sounds rather…threatening. One wonders if Ms. McClelland thinks it’s wise to post such Tweets.

There was a time when such vilification would have bothered me, but I’m used to it now. Indeed, I wear it as a badge of honor. They don’t have anything else, and the intensity of the vitriol directed at me is proportional to my effectiveness in dismantling antivaccine claims.

Of course, the biggest unknown in this entire misbegotten saga is William W. Thompson, the “CDC whistleblower.” Over the last week and a half, I’ve wanted to ask him time and time again, “What on earth were you thinking?” Thompson now writes in his statement that he is willing to collaborate with “unbiased and objective scientists” to reanalyze vaccine safety datasets. That’s great. But, if that’s the case, why on earth did he ever contact Brian Hooker? Oddly enough, there are some Tweets that ask the key questions about Thompson’s motivations that echoed my own questions:

Excellent questions. At first, I thought we were left with two potential explanations. One was that Thompson had gone antivaccine. I don’t think he has, but some selected quotes publicized in which he criticized recommending the thimerosal-containing version of the flu vaccine for pregnant women, stating that it causes tics in children and tics are “autism-like.” So, although I don’t think he’s gone antivaccine (yet), he’s clearly imbibed at least some of that world view from Hooker. The other possibility was that Thompson had an unresolved scientific disagreement with his co-authors, a “beef,” if you will, that he is now resolving. But if that were the case, then surely there must have been better ways to resolve that than cozying up to an antivaccinationist who has been trying to get first Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and then Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) to hold hearings looking into a vaccine-autism link.

Friday, I was made aware of a possible third reason.

Based on some of my previous posts over at the not-so-secret other blog, I was unexpectedly contacted by Rick Morgan, William Thompson’s lawyer, who wanted to speak with me. So I gave him my number, and he called me on Friday. It was a brief, but very strange conversation. Morgan didn’t tell me much, but I didn’t expect him to, although he stated that he understood that I thought Thompson either had a beef with his co-investigators or had gone off the deep end. However, he wanted to “plant a seed” that maybe—just maybe—there might be another explanation, that this had been torturing Thompson all these years and he just had to do something because he couldn’t take it any more.

And maybe that is true. I have no way of knowing. I do know that, whatever his motivation, Thompson had done horrible damage and almost certainly endangered African American children to suffer from measles who might not have contracted it otherwise.

Assuming that what Mr. Morgan told me in that brief, cryptic conversation is true, it just goes to show how a guilty conscience, whether justified or not, can drive a man to do some really stupid things. Make no mistake, there is no doubt that what Thompson did was either incredibly naive and/or stupid. Maybe his conscience was torturing him for a decade. Again, who knows?

That thought led me to another thought, though. The central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement states that scientists and bureaucrats at the CDC are involved in a massive coverup of The Truth, undeniable scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism, all done in the service of big pharma. Now think about Thompson again. If what Morgan says is true, then Thompson’s conscience has been torturing him over a relatively scientific disagreement in which he didn’t really believe, based on the data presented in DeStefano et al, that there was a true correlation between MMR vaccination and autism, but he did believe that further studies should be done. Now his conscience has led him to ruin his scientific career and reputation over just that.

Now imagine if there had been a real conspiracy to suppress compelling evidence indicating that vaccines cause autism. In that case, there wouldn’t just be a single man torturing himself over decisions made, as Thompson, if we believe Morgan, apparently has. It would be men and women at every level of the CDC. If the CDC couldn’t “keep Thompson quiet” over this, if Thompson was willing to risk destroying his career over a small subgroup analysis with almost certainly spurious results that weren’t followed up on when he thought they should be, imagine what would happen if real data demonstrating a strong link between vaccines and autism had been covered up. There would be Bill Thompsons crawling out of the woodwork everywhere, beginning not long after the coverup began. To believe the CDC whistleblower conspiracy theory, you have to believe that virtually everyone at the CDC is either so ideologically blinded that they would have no trouble covering up a definite link between vaccines and autism or that they’re all so terrified that they stay silent.

Indeed, as a commenter this morning put it:

As for the three scientists discussed in the article, we all know full well that these men are NOT performing these experiments alone. There are people working under their direction with direct access to the data and ought to have seen this train wreck coming as well.

This is exactly the reason why, although I have little doubt that large organizations can cover up relatively minor issues, which is what Thompson’s insinuations amount to, they can’t for long cover up something huge, such as intentionally covering up a link between vaccines and autism. Ironically, the case of William Thompson is an excellent example of why such conspiracy theory beliefs are so incredibly implausible. Indeed, it reads like a bad movie script.

Worse for Thompson, even the tinfoil hat conspiracy contingent won’t be giving him much love any time soon. See, for instance, Ken Heckenlively’s post at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism this morning:

I really do want to thank Dr. Thompson for coming forward at this time, although it would have been much better if he’d done it earlier, when his conscience first troubled him. I think of the good scientists, like Dr. Andrew Wakefield, Dr. Brian Hooker, or my co-author, Dr. Judy Mikovits, who held firm to their principles. Wakefield has often said that the MMR controversy has cost him, “His job, his career, and his country.” Dr. Mikovits has endured a similar level of torment as have other honest scientists who have presented inconvenient findings. For me, that is the definition of scientific courage. Scientists like Wakefield, Hooker, and Mikovits would NEVER dream of concealing data. For them, that would be the equivalent of a crime against humanity.

Of course, this statement shows such a breathtaking lack of awareness that it’s hard not to guffaw out loud. After all, Andrew Wakefield almost certainly committed gross scientific fraud far worse than even the most uncharitable interpretation of Thompson’s insinuations of fraud could ever support, and Brian Hooker tortured data in a manner most foul until it “confessed.” If you don’t believe me, take a gander at Hooker’s talk in front of a cancer quackery conference in which he brags at around 17:00 how “simple” the technique he used was and how “simplicity is elegance” in statistics and how he likes to do “simple” things rather than intellectually challenging things. Any statistician will tell you is a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys. He also at around 27:30 basically admitted that he recorded Thompson’s conversations, but claims he did so legally. Finally, arguably, Mikovitz is a bigger fraud than Wakefield. Yet Heckenlively views them as “heroes” because they are on “his” side and support his pseudoscientific quack beliefs.

The bottom line is that the antivaccine movement is very much like a cult. They follow their heros and reject any information that disconfirms their beliefs. There is one good thing, though. Andrew Wakefield’s behavior in this whole sordid affair was so vile, his lies so obvious, that even one of his acolytes realized it. If that can happen with a true believer, maybe that true believer will eventually realize that the rest of the antivaccine world view is built on pseudoscience, quackery, and lies. And if one can come to that realization, maybe others can.

A guy can hope, can’t he?

Comments

  1. #1 Larz
    September 28, 2014

    I find there are many things such as the following. These are things that you never hear about in school or in your medical training but seem to be an actual part of the real history of the world:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_syphilis_experiment

    Why should I feel enthusiastic about an establishment where experts go on NPR and claim that vitamins and minerals have little or no value and your average doctor seems to not know much about basic nutrition, vitamins. Pretty much every herbal treatment, every and all alternative treatments that have been used for thousands of years are laughed at and attacked by your atheist promoters. With the cost of health insurance going up, people end up going bankrupt.

    To all you doctors on this blog, I avoid you like the plague. I am wise to the nonsensical promotion of prostate tests, vaccine brainwashing at all the pharmacies. I resent that the government is forcing me to pay all this money for health insurance so you can live in your big houses.

    Whenever I go to a pharmacy I see one of the clerks who has the button on that says ‘get your vaccinations today’, I ask them if they got their vaccination. Most of them laugh and realize it’s all a big scam. Inject aluminum into your body ? Doesn’t aluminum cause Alzheimer latter in life ..

    I’m sure many of you believe the brainwashing you have received in your medical education, so in some sense I feel sorry for you I guess ..

    Human medical experimentation in the United States: The shocking true history of modern medicine and psychiatry (1833-1965)

    http://www.naturalnews.com/019189.html

  2. #2 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    September 28, 2014

    @Larz,

    I find there are many things such as the following. These are things that you never hear about in school or in your medical training but seem to be an actual part of the real history of the world:

    How do you know what I or anyone else here heard about in school? Please be specific on your source of knowledge for the particular case of the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. I don’t believe any reasonable person would deny they took place. A quick Google search show that it seems to be discussed in a variety of courses in various universities.

    Why should I feel enthusiastic about an establishment where experts go on NPR and claim that vitamins and minerals have little or no value

    They do this because the science shows that people who eat a varied diet get all the vitamins and minerals they need from their food. Use of vitamin and mineral supplements has not been demonstrated to have a health value unless you are suffering from some deficiency.

    and your average doctor seems to not know much about basic nutrition, vitamins./blockquote>Citation needed, please. In particular, what basic nutrition information do you believe the average doctor doesn’t know that would be important to their practice?

    Pretty much every herbal treatment, every and all alternative treatments that have been used for thousands of years are laughed at and attacked by your atheist promoters.

    In what way is it wrong to demand proof that a treatment be both safe and effective? Over the centuries people have used a variety of treatments that have been shown to be ineffective or outright harmful. Asking for objective evidence that a treatment is effective would seem to be the minimum level of due diligence.

    In what way does someone’s belief in a deity play into the discussion of traditional or alternative treatments? Is it better if someone with a strong spiritual background says an herbal remedy doesn’t work rather than if an atheist does so? Is, say, a Christian more likely to embrace unproven therapies?

    Doesn’t aluminum cause Alzheimer latter in life .

    It is my understanding that the current best evidence shows that it doesn’t.

    I’m sure many of you believe the brainwashing you have received in your medical education, so in some sense I feel sorry for you I guess ..

    I’m sure the feeling is mutual. It is sad to see someone so confused about the world, and I hope you really think about some of the things you’ve said and how wrong they are.

  3. #3 TBruce
    September 28, 2014

    @Larz

    Funny you should refer to the Tuskeegee Experiment. That particular experiment bears a very close resemblance to the Big Experiment that your antivax buds keep yelling for: the double-blind Vax vs No-Vax Study.
    You also use Natural News as a reference. I also in some sense feel sorry for you (if by “feeling sorry” means pointing and laughing).

  4. #4 Chris
    September 28, 2014

    Larz: ” Pretty much every herbal treatment, every and all alternative treatments that have been used for thousands of years are laughed at and attacked by your atheist promoters.”

    So Larz, how well do you think vitamins, herbs and other alternative treatments would work for syphilis? Do tell us, because that is all the Tuskegee subjects were actually really offered. Don’t you think it would have been better if they had been actually given antibiotics?

  5. #5 Krebiozen
    September 28, 2014

    I came across an interesting discussion about the AD aluminum hypothesis, which should, by rights, be pushing up the daisies, should anyone be interested.

    tl:dr;? Here’s a soundbite:

    First, contrary to initial indications, aluminum salts do not induce neurofibrillary changes that are similar to the neurofibrillary tangles of AD. Second, the hypothesized similarity between aluminum-induced dialysis encephalopathy and AD was shown to be incorrect: while dialysis encephalopathy is clearly caused by aluminum, neither the symptoms nor the underlying neuropathology bear any resemblance to that of AD. The third, showing an increase in aluminum in the brain with aging, has despite extensive investigation proven to be of unknown functional significance.

  6. #6 Dangerous Bacon
    September 28, 2014

    “your average doctor seems to not know much about basic nutrition, vitamins.”

    Translation: “doctors don’t buy into my goofy theories about nutrition.”

    “To all you doctors on this blog, I avoid you like the plague. I am wise to the…vaccine brainwashing ”

    In which case, you may wind up carrying the plague (or at least influenza or other vaccine-preventable disease) to your unfortunate contacts.

  7. #7 Denice Walter
    September 28, 2014

    Whilst I am not a medical doctor, my own education and training went to great lengths to criticise itself:

    – clinicians treated mental illness w/o respect for human rights of patients
    – people of diverse ethnic origins were treated as second class citizens w/o consideration of communication/ social differences
    -gay people were labelled as mentally ill
    – women were marginalised
    – research in the third world didn’t take cultural differences into account when investigating cognition
    – testing was biased towards the privileged classes
    – intelligence tests were biased through fixed data ( Burt)
    – early research had little real world applicability
    – some experiments were inhumane

    I could go on but won’t
    -btw- I’m an atheist
    but LORD this thread is a b!tch to type/ load!

  8. #8 herr doktor bimler
    September 28, 2014

    I see one of the clerks who has the button on that says ‘get your vaccinations today’, I ask them if they got their vaccination. Most of them laugh and realize it’s all a big scam

    Strange! When *I* fo to the pharmacy, most of the pharmacists laugh and tell me that Larz is making stuff up.

  9. #9 sadmar
    A Random House
    September 28, 2014

    I have a mental double-wide, not a mental palace. The upkeep’s better suited to my thought budget.

    Big houses? Primary care doctors don’t live in big houses. They’ve been thoroughly proletarianized by the corporate health care system, and live in little pink houses like you and me. MDs of the world, you have nothing to lose but the compound interest on your Med school loans!

    I suppose I’d resent the government for forcing me to pay for Larz’ health insurance, if he was actually going to the doctor. I do wonder where someone who avoids doctors like the plague gets the scrips for his seemingly regular trip to the pharmacy.

    Speaking of Ritalin… Somehow I came down with a chronic ADD (sans H) thing in my 50s w/o any childhood history. Used to take Ritalin. Made me jumpier. As I said on earlier thread, psych med scrips are like tossing darts in the dark. Different people react really differently to small differences in med chemistry. Celexa may be a lifesaver for Tom, do squat for Dick and mess up Harry, with the opposite results for Lexapro which is almost the same thing. My life improved 100+% which they switched me from Ritalin to Adderal. Had a friend with a severely ASD son in CT, loves her.kid to death. If he takes his Ritalin he can go dancing with her at Arthur Murray. Sometimes Ritalin is beautiful.

    “I am wise to the nonsensical promotion of prostate tests…” Huh? Do tell! I don’t thing the MD likes sticking their finger up your colon any more than you like getting it stuck up there, so that’s gotta be one heck of a conspiracy.

    Took that AQ for fun. Got 18. Doubt it’s reliable. To much depends on how you interpret the terms in a 4 point Likert scale. I refuse to do Likert scales of any kind for realz if I have the option. I’m very bad at that abstract visual skill stuff: puzzles upside down, seeing words in a roll of Boggle cubes. I do understand Baudrillard at least some of the time though, and I wonder what that says about my neurology.

    I can’t say normal’s over-rated as I’ve never been. But if you’re ever in Normal, go to Avanti’s for a plate of awesome mid-American style ravioli or spaghetti.

    Why are people complaining about being punk’d by Sasha Baron Cohen?
    {In which Borat learns Science in America…)
    BORAT: A man yesterday, tell me if I buy a car I must buy one with a pussy magnet. Do this have a pussy magnet?
    CAR DEALER: No. The vehicle itself would be a magnet.
    BORAT: If this car drive into a group of gypsies, will there be any damage to the car?
    CAR DEALER: It depends on how hard you hit them and all that..

    Cohen has retired Ali G., Borat, Bruno and his other previous personae and is developing new charac…….

    Tim??

  10. #10 herr doktor bimler
    September 28, 2014

    I am wise to the nonsensical promotion of prostate tests
    This sounds like a very personal issue.

    Doesn’t aluminum cause Alzheimer latter in life ..
    No, you need some other excuse.

  11. #11 Tim
    September 28, 2014

    No, Sadmar. I still haven’t forgiven the man for that stunt with Ron Paul. Idk, perhaps a kinder, gentler ‘Tim’ should revisit the aforementioned Pustulance of Penzantz’ performance and reconsider his position…

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=F7RnlPQCKBQ

    Umm… Just vote for pedro…

  12. #12 Tim
    September 28, 2014

    ‘Pustulante’ of Penzantz

  13. #13 Tim
    September 28, 2014

    Pustulante-excellance of Penzantz, even …

  14. #14 Tim
    September 28, 2014

    I do understand Baudrillard

    I had to look that one up. Much to my surprise, it was not an old terminal emulator like Kermit…

  15. #15 sadmar
    What Happens In Vegas... is supposed to be OK with Libertarians, right?
    September 28, 2014

    Bruno did make a mistake with Ron Paul there…

    He should have gotten him drunk first.

    Ron complained to his son, but amazingly Rand he didn’t do anything about it.

    Since SBC isn’t doing Bruno anymore, I think it’s safe for Tim to reconsider his, uhh… position.

  16. #16 Graeme Bird
    Australia
    October 2, 2014

    Scienceblogs as a brand is all about pushing mainstream science fraud. You guys must really be twisting in the wind over this one.

  17. #17 Lawrence
    October 2, 2014

    @Graeme – yeah, not so much….

    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com/2014/09/mmr-cdc-and-brian-hooker-media-guide.html

    The only people that seem to care are you anti-vax screwheads….

  18. […] decade-old scientific disagreement over how to analyze the data that he lost. Naturally, there was no evidence presented that the CDC did anything wrong other than the cherry-picked and highly edited quots and snippets of text from Thompson provided by […]

  19. […] that it doesn’t discuss much that I haven’t already covered in detail here, here, here, here, here, and here. That’s not to say that there aren’t any new revelations, but most of them have […]

  20. […] said indicated a conspiracy, fraud, or cover up can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here. Ultimately, Brian Hooker’s paper was retracted, but that didn’t stop Andrew Wakefield […]

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