Three days ago, I noted a disturbance in the antivaccine Force.
Last night, I noticed that that disturbance continues.
The first time around, it was Brian Hooker, a biochemical engineer turned incompetent antivaccine “epidemiologist” completed the circle of clueless conspiracy mongering, who was at the center of the disturbance. His conspira-woo tapped into the Dark Side of the Force by taking a conspiracy theory that the antivaccine movement has been flogging for nearly two years now (as hard as it is to believe, it started in August 2014!), a conspiracy known as the “CDC whistleblower” and bringing it full circle as a means of preparing the people who have believed it for what appears to be an imminent disappointment coming down the pike. He did that by claiming that “The Man” had gotten to the CDC whistleblower, who, if you believe Hooker, is on the verge of basically recanting his claims about vaccines by publishing a reanalysis of the dataset whose original analysis had created him in the first place.
I’ll back up a minute, for the benefit of newbies to this blog. I’ve explained who and what the CDC whistleblower is and how the story of William W. Thompson (the CDC scientist whose indiscretions led him to become known as the “CDC whistleblower”) became so popular in the antivaccine cranksophere many times, most recently here. The reason that the CDC whistleblower myth has resonated so strongly among members of the antivaccine movement is obvious. Taken at face value, saga seems to provide evidence to support to what I like to call the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement, namely that the CDC “knows” that vaccines cause autism, has evidence proving it, but has been covering up that evidence to protect…well, it’s never clear exactly who is being “protected,” but always pharmaceutical companies seem to be involved in some way.
This myth came to be as a result of Thompson having reached out to Brian Hooker, apparently to bitch and moan about his job, how he was not appreciated, and how his colleagues and coauthors on one specific study didn’t listen to his demands that an obviously spurious result suggesting a link between vaccines and autism in African American boys be included in an epidemiological study examining MMR vaccination as a risk factor for autism. Unfortunately, for Thompson, Hooker betrayed him by secretly recording their phone calls together and letting antivaccine guru Andrew Wakefield know he had a live one. Meanwhile, with Thompson’s guidance, Hooker “reanalyzed” the dataset (incompetently) and “found” in the unadjusted data the correlation he as looking for.
In any case, Thompson lawyered up and hasn’t been heard from, publicly at least, since September 2014. For the antivaccine movement, this has been a very good thing indeed, having the salutary effect of letting antivaccinationists attribute to Thompson any viewpoint they wish to impose on him. Certainly, they’ve done just that, using Thompson to claim falsely that the CDC has been “covering up” the link between the MMR vaccine in African-American boys, using that claim to sucker the Nation of Islam into protesting at the CDC with them last fall. For nearly two years, antivaccinationists have milked the CDC whistleblower story for all it’s worth. Fortunately, outside the antivaccine whackosphere, the story hasn’t resonated very much because it’s so obviously a conspiracy theory to most journalists (with the exception of Ben Swann, of course). Then, when all the documents that Thompson had given to Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) that supposedly revealed the coverup were released by Matt Carey, it turned out there was no there there; the documents showed no evidence of a conspiracy to cover up data anywhere to be found.
Then, for some reason, three days ago Brian Hooker pivoted from praising Thompson and using him as “proof” that the CDC has been covering up “smoking gun” evidence of a link between vaccines and autism to seemingly launching a pre-emptive attack on him for being a turncoat. In essence, Hooker claimed that that ”The Man” had gotten to Thompson. Not long after I discussed that development, Brian Hooker issued a press release:
Very recently, Mr. Richard Morgan, Esq., Dr. Thompson’s whistle blower attorney, stated that Dr. Thompson will be publishing a paper in May, 2016, where he will assert that the MMR vaccine is not linked to autism in African American males. Instead Dr. Thompson will state that socioeconomic factors alone in the African American community account for the original MMR-African American male “effect” (the effect that he is on record as stating the CDC purposefully hid). I have not been given access to Dr. Thompson’s reanalysis and therefore cannot comment regarding the forthcoming paper at this time. However, I am suspect of any analysis coming from the CDC due to the historic nature of the agency’s scientific misconduct and conflicts of interest specifically around any link between vaccines and autism.
I laughed out loud—seriously, I did—when I read this paragraph. If there is a single paragraph that distills the antivaccine mindset into about 130 words, it’s the paragraph above, specifically the part about how, even though Hooker has not been given access to Thompson’s reanalysis (if such an a reanalysis is even forthcoming) he is suspect of any analysis coming from the CDC. This is, of course, a stunning turnaround from Hooker’s conversations with Thompson that Hooker surreptitiously recorded, in which the two chatted back and forth like old buddies. Obviously, to Hooker, Thompson’s “recantation” can’t be due to his having decided that maybe he had perseverated too long on a spurious result and, to ease his mind, did the reanalysis and found no correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism in African-American mailes. It must be because nefarious forces in the CDC “got” to him.
As amusing as Hooker’s flailing was, he’s got nothing on his young Padawan, Jake Crosby, who seems to have become disillusioned with both Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker (although certainly less so about Brian Hooker), but has not become any less antivaccine than he ever was back in his Age of Autism days. You remember Crosby, don’t you? I used to take it easy on him because back in the day I felt it unseemly to beat up too much on an autistic teenager and hoped that he might someday find his way out of the antivaccine quackhole that he had found himself in. For instance, when he wrote about his silly conspiracy theory about ScienceBlogs, I largely shrugged, referred to him as a “crazy mixed up kid,” and offered him some fatherly advice, given that I am indeed old enough to be his father.
Even when he lied about me, claiming I had an undisclosed conflict of interest in my research into the drug riluzole. It was a lie that led to an attempt by antivaccinationists to get me fired and, six years later, was regurgitated by Mike Adams (and, to be fair, others) in his recent torrent of abuse aimed at me. These days, Crosby is old enough that he no longer rates any consideration when he attacks me or spews antivaccine misinformation; so I treat him basically the same way I treat most hard core antivaccinationists, enjoying when he turned on his creators, betraying their trust by publishing private e-mails resulting in a massive falling out with the AoA/SafeMinds contingent of the antivaccine movement.
Six years after Crosby’s broadside against me, I think I’ve found my best revenge, and it comes from being able to laugh heartily at Crosby himself. Basically, Crosby’s written one of the silliest, dumbest things I’ve ever read on the Internet. It’s a demand, a hilarious demand:
For the phenomenon that Offit described to occur, one would expect to see a diminished odds of vaccination for those ages among black autistic children compared to vaccination after age three, not an increased risk. In fact, that was probably why the race effect was yanked from the paper and thrown in the garbage in the first place. A comment under Offit’s article seeking to point that out was removed from the thread, even though it was part of an ongoing conversation with a CDC-tied attorney.
But worst of all, this claim will not be confined to Offit’s review. It will also be made in a published “reanalysis” of the CDC’s study due to be published next month, authored by none other than the very coauthor of the original study who raised the alarm in the first place: “whistleblower” William Thompson. According to his initial contact Dr. Brian Hooker, Thompson has been “handled.” He is expected to publish his “reanalysis” with a researcher named Michael Blank – who had advised the MMR vaccine maker GlaxoSmithKline. Among the promises Thompson has been allegedly bribed with are a huge bonus and his own autism research foundation. Not surprisingly, having a scientist claim that vaccination was caused by autism diagnoses likely made after vaccination instead of admitting that vaccines cause autism comes with a steep price. It’s just too bad that that price will also be the unnecessary harm to countless more children. To add insult to injury, Offit will apparently write a commentary accompanying this awful work.
Please write and call Dr. Thompson at the following numbers and email address and tell him to withdraw his “reanalysis” and that he will face ethical complaints against him due to the ridiculous nature of his claims.
Also contact the journal publishing his paper as well and tell them withdraw his paper and that they too will face ethics complaints for publishing it. Here is the email for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where the “reanalysis” will likely be published. You should let the journal know that it too will face an ethical complaint for publishing Thompson’s analysis and should withdraw it from press: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: 202-334-2679.
Yes, you read that right. Crosby is demanding the retraction of a paper that hasn’t even been published yet, a paper that might not even exist. Even more hilariously, he is demanding that retraction of a journal where the paper (if it even exists) might or might not be scheduled to be published. This is, without a doubt, one of the most risible things I’ve ever seen, and I fully expect that Crosby’s “demand” will be roundly ignored; that is, if anyone who has any actual knowledge of what the hell he’s talking about actually sees Crosby’s ranting, which is unlikely. One has to wonder how someone could go through a graduate program in epidemiology and not manage to understand a bit about how academic journals and academic publishing work. I laughed at Crosby. Hard.
My amusement aside I must confess that I don’t quite know what is going on here. The best guess that I can come up with is that Brian Hooker has been in contact with someone who claims to know that Thompson is the co-author on some sort of “reanalysis” of the data used for the 2004 paper that concluded that the MMR vaccine is not correlated with an increased risk of autism or autism spectrum disorders. How he got that information, who knows? Is Hooker’s information correct? Again, who knows? Will the article be published in PNAS? Again, who knows? I tend to doubt it. It used to be pretty much impossible to be published in PNAS if you don’t have a member of the National Academy of Sciences either as a co-author or a sponsor of your article. It’s true that, in response to complaints about how NAS members used to use PNAS as a dumping ground for results they couldn’t publish elsewhere and would sponsor questionable papers written by their buddies, the rules have changed to tighten up peer review such that it is no longer the preferred method to have an NAS member-contributed track. (At least, that’s what the website says; I don’t really believe it.) Even so, it’s still still pretty difficult to be published in PNAS. What member of the National Academy of Sciences would sponsor such a paper, anyway?
In any case, I do rather suspect that something is coming in May, some bit of news that antivaccinationists won’t like, be it a statement from Thompson or a paper in which Thompson and co-authors conclude there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. I can hardly wait, because I just love the taste of antivaccinationist tears of unfathomable sadness: