Kevin Barry, you magnificent bastard, I read your antivaccine book!

I don't review books that often. The reason is simple. My posts for this blog sometimes take as much as a several hours to write (particularly my more "epic" ones that surpass 5,000 words), and I usually don't have the time to add several more hours to the task by reading an entire book. Also, by the time I've read a book I might want to review, weeks—or even months—have often passed, and a review is no longer of much interest to our readers anyway.

Today, I'm making an exception for a book hot off the presses. The main reason is curiosity, because the book is about a topic that I've blogged about many times here, and I really wanted to find out more about what was going on. I didn't expect to find out what really happened, because I knew from the beginning that the book, Vaccine Whistleblower: Exposing Research Fraud at the CDC by an antivaccine lawyer named Kevin Barry, would be highly biased. However, as I found out a few weeks ago, the book promised four complete transcripts of telephone conversations between the "CDC whistleblower," a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) psychologist named William W. Thompson who has been a co-investigator on important CDC studies since the late 1990s.
Vaccine Whistleblower
Given my rather public skepticism about the particulars of Thompson's story, I was quite surprised when my request to Barry's publicist for a review copy of Vaccine Whistleblower was enthusiastically answered in the affirmative, thus giving me time to read the e-book before it was released. I'm guessing she won't make that mistake again. In any case, all I have to say to Barry is this: "Barry, you magnificent bastard, I read your antivaccine book!"

#CDCWhistleblower: The background

Thompson, as you will recall, was a CDC psychologist and co-author on several pivotal papers examining whether vaccines cause autism. All of the studies were negative, of course, but to antivaccine activists that just adds to the conspiracy. Thompson's rather implausible "revelations" that the CDC covered up data showing a link between the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and autism in African American boys birthed the whole "CDC whistleblower" phenomenon almost exactly a year ago. Most recently, I summarized the whole situation when Rep. Bill Posey (R-Florida) got up on the House floor to demand an investigation into the "scandal" and then again when the announcement was made that the book would soon be published. The two recent incidents provided me with enough quotes attributed to Thompson that I concluded he had gone antivaccine. Indeed, he accused his former co-investigators of outright scientific fraud in the form of improperly (or so it was implied) throwing away original data. Thompson based his claim of a cover up on a truly incompetently done "reanalysis" of Destefano et al., which he later touted for its "simplicity," apparently not realizing that simplicity in statistical analyses of epidemiological data is not a virtue. Suffice to say, the original correlation was based on small numbers and disappeared when proper corrections for confounders were made. Not surprisingly, Hooker's reanalysis was ultimately retracted.

Thompson himself has been silent—at least publicly—since last summer, when this whole kerfuffle erupted, and probably wisely so. Whatever his motivation, he has caused considerable damage with his foolishness in having trusted Brian Hooker. Or so I had thought. It turns out, if Vaccine Whistleblower is any indication, that Thompson was actually an enthusiastic participant in bringing about this scandal. Indeed, he appears to have turned antivaccine in such a way that he distinctly reminds me now of Andrew Wakefield, albeit without the charisma and hunger for the spotlight but with at least as much anger, resentment, and narcissism. You'll see what I mean soon enough, but here's a taste. At one point, Thompson accuses drug companies of "hyping" measles outbreaks and the failure to eradicate polio, describing them as a "never-ending thing where the press loves to hype it and it scares people and how "it scares the crap out of people when they hype those two types of outbreaks.”

Yes, Thompson has gone full antivax.

The setup

Vaccine Whistleblower is a rather short book designed to showcase the transcripts of four telephone conversations recorded—legally, Barry is quick to point out multiple times—between Brian Hooker and William Thompson on May 8 (Transcript #1), May 24 (Transcript #1), June 12 (Transcript #3), and July 28, 2014 (Transcript #4). The first two conversations are rather brief (around 5,000 words each), while the last two are quite long (over 8,000 words each).

Barry begins with a Foreword by, of all people, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Right away, all I can say is: Way to go, Mr. Barry! If you want to portray yourself as being "not antivaccine," as you say in the book so many times, there's no better foreword writer to pick than RFK, Jr.! Hilariously, RFK, Jr. begins his Foreword by declaring again, as he did on The Dr. Oz Show, that he is "fiercely pro-vaccine":

I have always been fiercely pro-vaccine. I had all six of my children vaccinated. I believe that vaccines have saved millions of lives and that broad vaccine coverage is desirable. To achieve those goals, we need safe vaccines, transparent and reliable science, and an independent regulatory agency. The extraordinary revelations in this book by CDC insider and whistleblower Dr. William Thompson prove that, unfortunately, we have none of these.

RFK, Jr.'s declaration is risible in the extreme.

It's also apparent that these four transcripts were carefully selected. I base this conclusion on two observations. First, in the transcripts, Hooker and Thompson pal around as though they've been buddies a long time. For example, in Transcript #4, before anything of substance is recorded, the reader is treated to three and a half painful pages of Hooker and Thompson bantering about Hooker's new iPhone 5s, Thompson's family vacation in Chicago (where his kids played drum and guitar in a blues camp), and Hooker's vacation near Mt. Shasta and the drum and bugle corps he enjoyed watching, which ended with his tale of hitting a deer, complete with a description of the gore flying back at them as semis hit the deer again and again. Clearly these passages are included to emphasize that Thompson and Hooker had become best buds, and it works. I've changed my opinion of Thompson. He wasn't duped; Hooker was duped after he told Wakefield about the transcripts of his phone conversations. Thompson himself was all in.

The other observation is that the first contact between Hooker and Thompson was in November 2013, earlier than I had thought. It's not clear who reached out first, but it's clear from the gist of the transcripts that Thompson had been planning long before that to "go rogue" and that his colleagues didn't trust him—with good reason, it turns out. Also, RFK, Jr. states in his foreword that there were "over thirty conversations with Hooker" in which "Thompson disclosed in great detail the CDC's tricks for executing the fraud." So why were just these four chosen for publication in Vaccine Whistleblower? Inquiring minds want to know, particularly given that these four conversations actually don't reveal that much. If, as is presumably the case, these are the best Hooker could come up with, I wonder about the rest. It's not as though the book was so long that he couldn't have included a couple of more or omitted the pointless hundreds of words' worth of dull pleasantries between Hooker and Thompson to make room.

Be that as it may, May 2014 is, according to the May 24 transcript, when Thompson was becoming concerned enough about his situation at the CDC that he engaged Frederick M. Morgan, Jr. of Morgan Verkamp, a lawyer specializing in whistleblower claims, who is representing him pro bono and issued the last known public communication by Thompson in the form of his statement dated August 27, 2014. It thus appears that, even if Andrew Wakefield hadn't "outed" Thompson a year ago, it probably wouldn't have been too long before he went public, particularly given that Hooker wanted him to and news of his existence had begun to percolate through the antivaccine underground. Indeed, at the time of the phone conversations documented in Vaccine Whistleblower, he had already long been in contact with Rep. Posey, pushing him to investigate and providing him with "100,000 pages"'s not exactly clear what.

Predictably RFK, Jr. links Thompson's "revelations" with his claims of CDC malfeasance and conspiracy mongering about a study looking at thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism and the CDC conference in which the data were discussed that ten years ago formed the basis of his abysmally antivaccine pseudoscience article, "Deadly Immunity". It's a lot of the same ol', same ol', as RFK, Jr. seems incapable of thinking up a new antivaccine schtick. Similarly, disgraced antivaccine chemist Boyd Haley shows up to write a preface in which he touts his "extensive study of this issue over many years" to claim that thimerosal-containing vaccines are dangerous.

Revisionist scientific history I: Thimerosal, vaccines, and tics, oh, my!

The first time through the book, I wondered why on earth the preface and the foreword both featured antivaccine activists who are all about mercury in vaccines. After all, what originally vaulted Thompson into the "CDC whistleblower" status were his accusations of scientific malfeasance against his former colleagues over a study from 2004 examining whether the MMR vaccine was associated with autism in African American boys, which, I noted, was the only subgroup where an effect was found. That's why I originally characterized Hooker's "reanalysis" of the DeStefano et al. data, purged of all those pesky statistical techniques designed to correct for confounders, as proving Andrew Wakefield wrong in his assertion that the MMR vaccine was correlated with an increased risk of developing autism. Getting a "positive" result in African-American boys required small numbers of this subgroup (which the study had) and ditching corrections for confounders that produce a spurious correlation, as I've discussed before. Even so, I was surprised at how little emphasis, relatively speaking, was given to DeStefano et al. in the transcripts chosen to be included in Vaccine Whistleblower. Maybe it's because, as Jim Frost described, there's just no there there.

Far more discussion occurred between Thompson and Hooker over a study on which Thompson was the first author. Even more astonishingly, these transcripts show that Thompson doesn't even know how to interpret his own data, which were quite clear. The study I'm referring to is a 2007 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) by Thompson et al. entitled "Early Thimerosal Exposure and Neuropsychological Outcomes at 7 to 10 Years." It's a study that, as RFK, Jr. takes pains to point out, Dr. Paul Offit characterized as "wonderful" and "definitive." And so it is, but that doesn't stop Thompson from now reinterpreting it in the wrong way.

It also doesn't take long for the first inkling to appear in the transcripts that Thompson has gone antivaccine. This exchange occurs in Transcript #1 early on:

Dr. Thompson: I just think there has to be a mantra. The mantra should be, "We know thimerosal causes tics." That's been demonstrated. That's been demonstrated in the big studies. And just keep saying that, "We know thimerosal causes tics." 'Cause the CDC never said that thimerosal doesn't cause tics. The CDC always says thimerosal doesn't cause autism. You have to take it off that. You have to take it off that. And I really do think it's a public relations campaign. But I also have to say these drug companies and their promoters, they're making such a big deal of these measles outbreaks and they are now, they're making a big deal that polio is coming back and polio comes back all the time in third world countries. It's like a never- ending thing where the press loves to hype it and it scares people. It scares the crap out of people when they hype those two types of outbreaks. I think as they teach you at the CDC, you have to stay on message. And the message I think to start getting out and then you wouldn't have the press jumping on you saying, "Well vaccines don't cause autism." If you said, "Yeah, that's true, but vaccines do cause tics." And then eventually, eventually you could get the message over to oh tics are like five times as common among kids with autism.

Dr. Hooker: Right, it's about four times, but, yes, absolutely.

Dr. Thompson: I do think that it's staying on message with something different than autism because the press and everyone, you know, Jenny McCarthy, all those people. You bring up autism and vaccines you just get hammered. Who's the company that, who sponsored one of your groups?

Dr. Hooker: Oh, Chili's.

Dr. Thompson: Yeah, Chili's just got fried. They just completely got fried.

Yes, you read that right. Immediately after the "Hello, how are you?" pleasantries, we see Thompson coaching a biochemical engineer turned antivaccine warrior on how to properly sell an antivaccine message. Forget about autism (for now), Thompson says. That's too toxic, too associated with kooks like Jenny McCarthy. Instead, say that vaccines cause tics and go from there! It's rather ironic how Thompson, after complaining how people working for the CDC "have to stay on message," immediately provides Hooker a message to counter what he dismisses as the CDC message. Then Thompson complains about how Chili's got "fried." Most readers probably don't remember this event, but in 2014 Chili's came under fire for having scheduled a day to donate 10% of the day's proceeds to the National Autism Association, which is, of course an antivaccine group posing as an "autism advocacy" group. Indeed, the NAA has explicitly stated on its website that one of its core beliefs is that vaccines can cause autism.

But is Thompson correct about thimerosal-containing vaccines acting as a cause of tics? The answer is no. However, before I get to how Thompson is now misinterpreting his own study, let me briefly touch on other articles that Thompson cited as evidence that thimerosal-containing vaccines cause tics. The first is what is commonly referred to as the Italian study:

Dr. Thompson: ...And you can point to that Italy study (Tozzi et al. 2009) and just look at the means and the means are quite different in that study for tics. I really do think that study actually supports the idea. And then the other thing about the Italy study, the Italy study was the only randomly assigned study and it was a much smaller exposure so if you find something in there and they found two positive effects, right, if I'm recalling correctly, so again, ya know, a study that is randomly assigned, it's the only study I know where there was random assignment and you found two negative associations where it was increased likelihood of maternal, I mean, verbal IQ and I can't remember the other one. But tics, I'm telling you, if my recollection is correct, tics were significant in earlier drafts of the paper.

Really? Let's go to the tape, so to speak and see what Tozzi et al. really concluded. This particular study was clever in that it took advantage of an existing randomized study of two different diptheria-tetanus-acellular-pertussis (DTaP) vaccines, one that contained thimerosal and one that did not. This produced two groups of children who had been randomized, one whose vaccine schedule contained a cumulative intake of ethylmercury, the mercury metabolite of thimerosal, of 137.5 μg for the children who were assigned randomly to receive the DTaP vaccine that contained thimerosal ("higher intake group") and 62.5 μg for those who received the thimerosal- free DTaP vaccine ("lower intake group").

Ten years later, the children from this study living in the Veneto Region were studied. 1,403 children (697 belonging to the high thimerosal group and 706 belonging to the low thimerosal group) were recruited and subjected to a battery of eleven neurodevelopmental tests that produced a total of 24 neuropsychological outcomes to assess their development. The results were unsurprising. Most outcome measures showed no difference between the low and high thimerosal group, and the ones that did were small and entirely compatible with random chance due to multiple comparisons.

As I described when I discussed the study in detail, for 78 different univariate statistical tests between all the outcome measures of all the tests (some outcome measures were tested by more than one test, and separate tests were done for males, females, and the entire sample), by random chance alone they would expect four "statistically significant" associations by univariate analysis. They found two. Girls had slightly lower scores in a measure of motor function, the finger-tapping test with the dominant hand, and a language test, the Boston naming test. As the authors described it, the differences were very small and of doubtful clinical relevance. My guess is that these apparent associations would probably disappear if a correction for multiple comparisons were applied. Moreover, only one case of autism was found, and that was in the group with the lower thimerosal dose. As for tics, the study reported that motor tics were observed for 2.56% of patients in the lower thimerosal intake group and 2.91% of patients in the higher intake group (RR: 1.13; 95% CI: 0.60–2.13; p = .744, Fisher's exact probability test) and that phonic tics were detected for 0.43% of patients in the lower intake group and 0.87% of patients in the higher intake group (RR: 2.04; 95% CI: 0.51–8.13; P = .338, Fisher's exact probability test). In other words, it was not statistically significant; so Thompson is reduced to insinuating that the effect was statistically significant in earlier drafts of the paper. The Tozzi study was not without weaknesses, but antivaccine complaints against it were generally without a basis in science and did not invalidate its results.

Revisionist scientific history II: Thompson misinterprets his own study

The other study that Thompson harps on in the transcripts is one by John Barile at the CDC published in 2012. Here's what he says about it:

Dr. Thompson: It's going to take two or three years, right. They tell me, they're two and a half years behind, and they actually said with Posey thing treat it as a FOIA because he's not the head of a committee. So, I just, again, you gotta come up with a different message where you won't get hammered and they can't deny it. Right? The only thing I know for sure, is that I can say that pretty confidently, vaccines cause tics. We replicated that. The Barile article replicated that and showed that once you took into account the number of tests and reduced them down to constructs, the one thing you couldn't get to go away was the tic effect.

Dr. Hooker: Was the tic effect, right. I agree. And I'm even using that in my son's vaccine court case, because he has tics and so, we have that. It's been confirmed in several studies, not to mention your study and then the Barile study that was the reanalysis from 2012. And I'll go back and look at those means on Tozzi as well.

Thompson is also listed as a co-author on Barile's study. A word of explanation regarding authorship is in order here. Thompson is last author, which usually signifies the corresponding author, the senior author who was the one overseeing the research. However, the article lists John Barile as the corresponding author, which means that Thompson, listed last, was deemed the author who contributed the least to the study. The study itself is a reanalysis of Thompson's own 2007 NEJM study that he is now misinterpreting. So it's not unreasonable here to discuss the Thompson 2007 study. This is a study that pointedly did not look at autism but rather at other neurodevelopmental outcomes. Basically, it was a cohort study that studied children from four HMOs that participate in the CDC's Vaccine Safety Datalink. A total of 1,047 children between the ages of 7 and 10 were evaluated with a battery of standardized tests assessing 42 different neuropsychological outcomes and these outcomes were correlated with exposure to mercury, estimated from prenatal maternal exposures to thimerosal-containing vaccines and exposures after birth.

As Steve Novella and yours truly explained at the time, for some reason the investigators chose not to adjust for multiple comparisons. It is thus not surprising that they found some statistically "significant" exposures. One of these adverse associations was between thimerosal and tics in one HMO population and between thimerosal and language delay in another. Here's where Thompson goes off the rails, taking a page from antivaccine activists like Sallie Bernard and David Kirby, Thompson cherry picks the negative association and ignores the positive. Why does this matter? Simple. By examining 42 neurodevelopmental outcomes and not correcting for multiple comparisons, Thompson made it virtually certain that a handful of the outcomes would be "statistically significantly positive." Consistent with random chance, some of these were positive (as in mercury is protective against an adverse neurodevelopmental outcome) and some were negative. As a blogger other than Steve or me put it so aptly at the time:

The CDC study looked at 42 different outcomes, and determined multiple confidence intervals in each case, since different levels of exposure were tested. In total, I understand there were over 300 confidence intervals. Consequently, assuming the null hypothesis is correct, you should expect that an RR of 1.0 will be outside the 95% confidence interval in over 15 measures. What the study found was that in 12 measures there was an apparent protective factor, and in 8 measures there was an apparent risk factor. This is completely consistent with the null hypothesis. Therefore, the conclusion of the study, namely that the results of the same do not support a causal association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and neurological outcomes, is absolutely the correct conclusion.

Exactly. If you accept that thimerosal "causes" tics, then you have to accept that it also increases IQ. There is no basis to accept one correlation and reject the other. The most parsimonious explanation is that this study found no differences not attributable to random chance.

So what did Thompson do? He reanalyzed the data, with the help of John Barile, and published it in a pediatric psychology journal using "measurement models to assess more efficiently the associations between thimerosal exposure and theoretically meaningful neuropsychological constructs using a subset of the outcomes from the original study" and items "primarily based on the previous studies that found significant associations between methylmercury exposure and neuropsychological outcomes." In other words, they got rid of all the other comparisons by organizing "25 of the measures into the following theoretical constructs based on expert opinion and previous literature: general intellectual functioning, verbal memory, fine motor coordination, executive functioning, behavior regulation, tics, and language." By torturing the data this way, they found one statistically significant association between exposure to thimerosal-containing vaccines and the presence of tics among boys but not among girls. They concluded that "given that the association between thimerosal and tics has been replicated across several different studies, it may be informative to consider additional studies examining these associations using more reliable and valid measures of tics." The problem is that those previous studies were not particularly convincing, and neither is this one, particularly given that the effect was only seen in boys. In the transcript, Thompson is even quite blatant when he explains why he chose to publish his reanalysis in a psychology journal:

Dr. Thompson: ...And here is the other thing, is you gotta get it out of the medical journals, you gotta move it to the psychology journals. I don't know if you saw but the Barile article got published in a psychology journal. It wasn't actually, it was like Pediatric Psychology.

Dr. Hooker: It was the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, I saw that.

Dr. Thompson: Right, but if you get it out of the medical world and into the psychology world, you are not going to get as much bias from the medical establishment that has such a strong hold over these medical journals.

Dr. Hooker: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I'm not as well traveled in that realm. Is the Journal of Pediatric Psychology a good one to look at?

Dr. Thompson: It's a great journal. It is a very good journal. We got great reviews from that journal. I'll tell you. They actually made us [unintelligible] our discussion. They actually said, why are you downplaying the association with tics? So, actually made [UI] . . .

In other words, he looked for a sympathetic journal with a relatively low impact factor (2.472). Next, I predict, he'll be publishing in bottom-feeding pay-to-publish journals.

To sum it up, Thompson didn't understand why a statistically insignificant result was statistically insignificant while his co-authors did understand. They didn't describe this statistically insignificant result as statistically significant, as Thompson wanted them to. Wracked with misplaced guilt over having "participated in a coverup," Williams is trying to "expose" his former co-authors by buddying up with an antivaccine "researcher" named Brian Hooker. In the process, all he's doing is demonstrating his ignorance of statistics and a number of not-so-admirable qualities.

Inside politics and "persecution" at the CDC

One thing that becomes apparent reading this book is that Thompson, like Barry, has a definite agenda. He also doesn't think very much of his colleagues at the CDC. Interestingly, despite Rep. Posey's use of an alleged quote by Thompson accusing his co-authors on DeStefano et al. of destroying data, no such statement is found in the book. Instead, however, on many occasions, Thompson expresses concerns that he'll be labeled as "mentally ill" or "crazy" by the higher-ups at the CDC. For example, in Transcript #2, there is this exchange:

Dr. Thompson: Well I [laughing], Brian, this is where you and I don't know each other very well and I . . . Here's what I struggle with, is I struggle with saying anything that isn't in writing that can't be backed up. Here's my fear okay? Let's say you go public with anything okay? Whatever and then it becomes clear that you got information from call me. And then people will immediately say, "Well, he's mentally ill and why would you believe anything that he says, it's just hearsay."

Dr. Hooker: How do people know about your business? Why do they know about ya know . . . It's really none of their business your mental state or whether you're quote-unquote mentally ill or not.

Dr. Thompson: I know but it will become, it will become, that will be the way they undermine me.

It's hard for me not to point out here that Thompson's "allies" Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield have already basically thrown him under the bus with respect to whether he suffers from any form of mental illness. They even alluded to this when they wrote a letter to the CDC demanding an investigation of Thompson's allegations, quoting Thompson as saying that he had become "delusional" in a conversation dated May 24, 2014. When I went back to look at their letter, I noticed that that's the same date as Transcript #2 in Vaccine Whistleblower, and there is no mention of that transcript. There are, however, two notations of "edited due to sensitive personal information" in this transcript, specifically:

Dr. Thompson: I know, maybe, maybe not, but I'm saying what he [Thompson's whistleblower lawyer] and I agreed to. This is a lawyer that was reading through these documents that had never seen them before. And I basically was telling this guy I was complicit, and I went along with this, we did not report significant findings. Ya know, I'm not proud of that and uh, it's probably, it's the lowest point in my career that I went along with that paper. [Edited due to sensitive personal information.]

Thompson was quoted in Hooker and Wakefield's letter as saying:

Ya know, I'm not proud of that and uh, it's probably the lowest point in my career that I went along with that paper and I also paid a huge price for it because I became delusional

The match between the last sentence of the first quote and the first sentence of the last quote tell me I found the right place. There is another example as well.

As I said at the time, how low can Wakefield and Hooker go? In order to imply that the magnitude of the "crime" Thompson was being forced to be party to was so massive that it led him to some sort of mental breakdown, Hooker betrayed Thompson's confidences about a very personal health issue. Barry, at least, left this part and another quote about Thompson's having been delusional out of his book. I have no idea what Thompson's mental state was or is (and deem it irrelevant for the purpose of assessing his veracity and credibility), but it's odd that he fears that the CDC might paint him as mentally ill to discredit him but willingly cozied up to people who have already painted him as mentally ill when it suited their purpose.

Be that as it may, what comes through loud and clear in all of the transcripts is Thompson's utter contempt for and fear of his former co-authors and colleagues, as well as other people in the government. He's also a bit of a misogynist, referring to a woman at one point as being "like a twenty-five-year-old bimbo that they have do their dirty work." Time and time again, he unloads to Hooker about how he fears that they will collude to deny anything he claims and turn it into his word against theirs, the presumption being that their word will be what is believed. He claims that the CDC "watered down" DeStefano et al and his own NEJM study when, even by his own account, what happened sounds like the normal give and take that goes on in the multiple layers of approval that any study done by a government agency has to go through before it is approved for submission for publication. He even brings up Poul Thorsen being suspected of committing fraud with CDC research grants, a man that antivaccinationists like to portray as being somehow "central" to the CDC's studies that failed to find a link between vaccines and autism, when in reality he is anything but and those of us who oppose antivaccinationists would be more than happy to see him face justice. It's just another place where Thompson sounds just like an antivaccine activist.

He and Hooker even talk about how Mark and David Geier tried to do what needed to be done when they tried to go beyond the IRB and merge Vaccine Safety Datalink datasets and lamenting how it's not possible any more to do what they tried to do. Amusingly, though, Hooker points out that "it doesn't really do me any favors to publish with the Geiers." Given the Geiers' history of atrociously unethical science in the name of blaming thimerosal for autism and Mark Geier's history of having his medical license revoked, that has to be the understatement of the year!

Perhaps the most telling part of this whole exchange is here:

Dr. Thompson: Yeah, it's all there. Um, but I've never looked at it yet. But I could actually go into the database right now and do a frequency count on things. But, I'm not going to do anything like that right now. I'm just really trying to sort this all out. I'm trying to, ya know I'm being in trouble because I'm blowing up and stuff like that and I'm getting really agitated and I just have to settle down.

Dr. Hooker: Right, you had mentioned on I think on a previous voicemail something about maybe taking a leave of absence or um or uh putting in for a new assignment.

Dr. Thompson: Yeah, I was considering getting detailed out of the branch. The downside to that is I would no longer have access to this type of information that I am sharing with you. I'm learning more and more. As I ask more and more, I'm learning more and more. I am, these people are like in one big bubble, they uh and their bubble is getting smaller and smaller.

So, on May 24, 2014, Thompson admitted to Hooker that the only reason he's sticking around his branch of the CDC even though everybody there had come to distrust him (as well they should!) was to have access to information that he could funnel to Hooker, such as the existence of the SEED project, a dataset that contains the health records of 1,200 children, 800 of whom are confirmed autistic, with complete vaccination records. Thompson was also royally ticked off about the lack of use of this resource:

Dr. Thompson: So, um, what's amazing, now this is what's going to be shocking to you, it shocked the crap out of me. They have ya know six different sites interviewing data and um they all put in proposals to do studies. So far there is about sixty proposals in, um, for people ready to do studies. Not a single one of them looks at vaccines, not one! [laughing] So, I, well, I ripped into these people this week. And I'm like, "These vaccine studies have to be done. This is the largest case-control study you could ever do. They're all objectively identified as kids with autism. You have the vaccine records."

So, assuming this is true, Thompson is outraged that, of all the sixty proposals for studies using SEED project data thus far submitted, none of them looks at vaccines? If that's not an indication that he's become antivaccine, I don't know what is! Let's just put it this way: Did it ever occur to Thompson that the reason there are no proposals for studies using the SEED data that examine vaccines is because, from a strictly scientific standpoint, there is no interest in vaccines as a cause of autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders. The reason for that is simple. It's been studied to death, and there is no credible evidence to support the hypothesis that vaccines (or just thimerosal-containing vaccines) cause autism. Like any good antivaccinationist, William Thompson cannot accept the science.

In fact, so antivaccine has William Thompson become that he and Brian Hooker gleefully trash other antivaccine groups for betraying the cause. Sallie Bernard, for instance, comes in for particularly harsh criticism, with Hooker dismissing her as a "double agent." Mady Hornig, who produced the widely derided "autistic mouse" is disparaged by Hooker as "shacking up" with Ian Lipkin, whom Thompson chimes in to dismiss as an "arrogant dick," even though they were married at the time. Of course, Hornig later did a study that tried to replicate Andrew Wakefield's case series in The Lancet and failed to find a correlation between MMR and autism. How fast antivaccine heroes fall when they embrace science!

Kevin Barry's agenda

I see little reason to write extensively about the rest of the book, the chapters that Kevin Barry wrote to fill it out to a measly 172 pages, counting the foreword by RFK, Jr., the preface by Boyd Haley, and Barry's "executive summary" of the four transcripts. However, these still must be briefly discussed. This book is, if nothing else, intended as antivaccine propaganda, in which a former member of the hated "other side" recants and changes sides. Barry clearly wants to use Thompson to attack the vaccine program and to use Thompson as a motivator to prod antivaccinationists to agitate for political action and investigations into vaccine safety. That's why the last three chapters of the book are dedicated to using Thompson's betrayal of the CDC and science to demand that the President act:

The entire vaccine program is under the Executive Branch. It's long past time for presidential leadership to take the issue of vaccine safety seriously. If President Obama won't do it, then the next president must clean out the Immunization Safety Office and replace everyone but Dr. Thompson. Ideally, the replacements should do their best to resist unethical behavior, resist omitting significant data, and not lying in the first place.

Barry also demands that Congress "schedule hearings, issue subpoenas, and compel testimony under oath" and asserts:

As Dr. Thompson indicates, the lack of accountability must end. The White House, Congress, and the press need to hold CDC accountable for the lies and deception regarding vaccine safety over the past fifteen years. The same applies to the American Academy of Pediatrics—the nation's pediatricians have also been deceived.

The funny thing is, nothing in Vaccine Whistleblower actually demonstrates this. All we have are the words of a very angry man, William Thompson, who clearly has been nursing a grudge against his former colleagues since at least 2003 and is willing to make accusations without significant evidence at them. All we have from this very angry man are a highly select number of transcripts, only four out of over 30, in which this bitter man makes his accusations. It's all very one-sided, and unfortunately the CDC, probably because Thompson has lawyered up with one of the best whistleblower attorneys in the country, is being painfully vague and discreet in its response:

CDC is aware that employee Dr. William Thompson has raised concerns regarding an article he co-authored that was published in 2004 in Pediatrics. Consistent with CDC's existing policies and procedures, the agency, through its Office of the Associate Director for Science (ADS), and in coordination with the HHS Office of Research Integrity, is reviewing these concerns. The agency will provide further information once the review is completed.

The bottom line is that this book is nothing more than propaganda, and deceptive propaganda at that. The sad thing is that a formerly reputable scientist, William Thompson, provided the grist for the propaganda because he apparently has an ax to grind against his former co-investigators. In any other organization besides a government organization, Thompson would have been fired a long time ago for incompetence and being a troublemaker, and he would have deserved it. Instead, Thompson has kept his job and is, of necessity, treated with kid gloves.

As for Barry's book, it is propaganda, nothing more. What's worse is that it isn't even very good propaganda. It's hard to read, and hits the reader over the head with its message, which isn't even earned based on the thin gruel that the four transcripts provide. Indeed, if there was one impression of Thompson that I got from reading all the transcripts, it was of narcissism. Therein lies the comparison to Andrew Wakefield. As I read Thompson's complaint, what came through loudest was his unshakable belief that he is right and everyone else at the CDC is wrong, that the only reason anyone could disagree with him is because they're indoctrinated or bought off. To him his colleagues are not just wrong but incompetent, ideologically blinded boobs who are out to destroy him.

In fact, I can't help but wonder if we are seeing a new Andrew Wakefield being born and if his name is William Thompson. I'm just thankful that, unlike the real Andrew Wakefield, the "CDC whistleblower" appears to be retiring and publicity-shy, preferring to act behind the scenes. Unfortunately, he can do a lot of damage to the vaccine program just the same.

Additional reading:


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Before yesterday, I had never heard of Ben Swann. Apparently he is the new anchor for the early evening news broadcast of the local Atlanta CBS affiliate, having joined the station in June. Apparently he is also prone to antivaccine conspiracy theories, which is a very bad thing to be prone to as a…
It is as I had feared. I must do one more post on a story that I’ve been blogging about for one solid week now. Hopefully after this, I will be able to move on to other topics last week, but after spending this whole week writing just about this, I figured, “What the heck? It’s Friday. Might as…
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Hum, much as I love a great quote, there's absolutely nothing magnificent about an antivax shill doing his dirty work. Perhaps some King Lear, or even Titus Andronicus, would be more apropos?

Hooker points out that “it doesn’t really do me any favors to publish with the Geiers.”

A quick search identified 7 papers that Hooker has co-authored with David Geiers in the past 3 years (1 in 2013, 4 in 2014 and 2 in 2015). All in pay to play journals.

If publishing with the Geiers is doing Hooker "no favours", you have to wonder why he keeps doing it.

RFK, Jr. states in his foreword that there were “over thirty conversations with Hooker” in which “Thompson disclosed in great detail the CDC’s tricks for executing the fraud.” So why were just these four chosen for publication in Vaccine Whistleblower?

So anyone buying the book will quickly be informed that they were ripped off completely, because the author is not divulging any of the juicy material that they paid for.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 24 Aug 2015 #permalink

@herr doktor bimler:

Don't forget the sequels...

Vaccine Whistleblower: The CDC Strikes Back
Vaccine Whistleblower: Return of the Geiers
Vaccine Whistleblower: The Pharma Menace

and so on.

I only disagree with the last sentence. I think the power Thompson has to do damage is very limited. I highly doubt anyone who isn't already interested in the vaccine "debate" has heard of him or the CDC Whistleblower. I imagine I could easily walk down the streets where I live, stopping everyone I see, and asking them if they have heard of any of this without anyone saying that they had.

The association with an Obama Birther like Posey isn't good for the antivaccine side, I believe.

Maybe I am just being optimistic, but I find it hard to believe this will influence any one, or even reach anyone whose mind was not made up a long time ago.

Yvette, I agree with you. We are a whole year out from the initial noise, and if this was going to really take hold, it would already have done so.

Thompson looks to me like one of the series of scientist that went off the rails and embraced nonsense. Linus Pauling and Peter Duesberg come to mind. Is there a term for this phenomenon, I wonder? Here are some more examples:

By Broken Link (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

The association with an Obama Birther like Posey isn’t good for the antivaccine side

This matters much less than it should. Posey's party is in the majority, and known for anti-intellectualism. All he needs is a sympathetic committee chair, and it shouldn't be too hard to find one. And judging from the recent track record, that the ensuing investigation will find nothing won't deter them from continuing to flog those claims--we've seen this not only with birthers but Benghazi investigations. All that matters is if they think Thompson can make the government look bad. Also, I have yet to see anybody pay a political price for subscribing to the birther conspiracy theory--one of its leading proponents, Donald Trump, is currently the leading contender for the Republican nomination for President.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Is there a term for this phenomenon, I wonder?

It's sometimes called "going emeritus", partly because the most prominent examples are near or beyond retirement age (this was certainly true of Pauling and Brian Josephson). At that age, tenured faculty can officially retire and no longer have to care about winning grants (unless they want to support students), but they are allowed to remain active at whatever parts of the job they like to do.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

increased likelihood of maternal, I mean, verbal IQ

Yeah, yeah, honest mis-speaking, yeah, but a vaccine increasing maternal intelligence would still be awesome.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Oh well, the markets look better today.

SO I was able to re-listen to Barry on Null's show ( at PRN/ @ AoA) because I know that many sceptics would shy away from such a burdensome and unseemly task.

( 37 minutes in- to 59)
Orac already discussed details of the transcripts so I'll focus upon Barry himself who sounded nervous and hesitant ( I suppose he infrequently addresses such a huge audience)
- he has a 17 year old son whom he saw "regress" between ages 1 and 2 when he was diagnosed.
-he believes that there is "corruption at the highest levels of the CDC"
- In congress, "no one wants to touch the issue of vaccine safety"- no chair stepped forward to start hearings
-Obama censored material and had Sibelius lie about vaccine safety when interviewed
- ( in response to Null's clip of Boyle saying there is no association between vaccines and autism) she lied as well
- we need a "special prosecutor", hearings, Thompson under oath
- it's a "culture of corruption" at the CDC
- protests will begin with black group in October
- News shows like '60 minutes' won't touch it
- other parents saw and documented regression
( #hearthiswell has videos)
-Null wants a "class action suit"- Barry didn't respond
- there's so much corruption everywhere ,it may be difficult to move forward
- Barry will return with Hooker for Null's Progressive Commentary Hour ( next week, Tuesday?)
- Null asked if these 'revelations' will exonerate Andy. Barry said yes

Null: "Crimes against humanity.. with malice aforethought"
Somebody watches too many old timey court movies.

I swear that I am quoting these fellows as accurately as possible: they really said things ike that.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

What isn't going away is the 1 in 68 with autism. You can bring in all the condescending attitude you want but they are still there, there educated parents some Dr's or scientists themselves, know what happened to them and all the lies from anyone can't change it. If Dr Thompson was no threat it wouldn't have taken over a year for anyone to take action. He is a major threat and that is the reason it has unfolded as it has. Your article attacking this Dr and anyone else who speaks out or even questions the safety of these drugs (vaccines) is in for attack and ruination and maybe even worse as has been in the news lately with other Drs who are no longer with us. You might look up the class action suit regarding Vioxx, Australia, it shows the drug company at work behind the scenes. Some emails came to light there, threats on Stanford researchers, plan of attack towards dissenters, false medical journals with ghost writers...Vioxx killed at least 60,000. The problem of autism, 1.4 million, is not going away nor can it be dismissed with falsifying data, or designed studies to show no correlation, threats, bribes or anything else. You underestimate the power of parents fighting for their children.

@Denice Walter: Did you understand class action for what?

(And thank you for doing that for the rest of us).

By Dorit Reiss (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

@ Dorit:

I think that Null doesn't understand what 'class action' means but it's a legal-ish term he likes to toss about in order to sound as though he knows something.

And I actually have a good time reviewing and laughing at nonsense and if it forwards our cause, why not?

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

If Dr Thompson was no threat it wouldn’t have taken over a year for anyone to take action.

Hi Linda, no one is taking any action because there doesn't appear to be anything actionable. All this is is a lot of puffery to make Thompson look more important and credible than he is.

By Science Mom (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

If all the parents you claim to represent are so smart then they will understand that Thompson's claims have no merit.

The 1 in 68 is a marvelous number that has no relevance to anything. You claim a correlation to vaccines. Evidence shows otherwise. You claim to want to fight for your children. Why then do you keep bashing vaccines after millions have been spent proving no link? If you want results, wouldn't it make more sense to fund research on something (anything?) else?

@linda - yet, because there is no connection between vaccines and autism, your entire statement is nothing but a factless rant.

"In fact, I can’t help but wonder if we are seeing a new Andrew Wakefield being born and if his name is William Thompson. I’m just thankful that, unlike the real Andrew Wakefield, the “CDC whistleblower” appears to be retiring and publicity-shy, preferring to act behind the scenes."

Give him time. In another few years he may be joining Wakefield et al, doing antivax lectures on the Woo Boat.*

*though he may be on a more secure financial footing than Wakefield, seeing that he's got a job at the CDC for however long he wants it, no matter what his performance is (can't fire a Whistleblower, nuh-uh).

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

What isn’t going away is the 1 in 68 with autism.

And not only is there no evidence the observed increase in diagnoses of autism is causally associated with routine childhood vaccination but there is evidence it’s in large part a function of factors other than vaccination such as broadened diagnostic criteria, diagnostic substitution, changes in reporting practices, improved surveillance, etc.
In fact, the same CDC report that found the incidence to be 1 in 68 attributed much of the increased to improvements in the ability of clinicians to accurately diagnose ASD’s.

You can bring in all the condescending attitude you want but they are still there, there educated parents some Dr’s or scientists themselves, know what happened to them and all the lies from anyone can’t change it.

But they don’t know what happened to them (i.e., that vaccination caused their children’s autism)—they believe they know what happened to them, on no basis other than a post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy, but that isn’t the same thing at all.

If Dr Thompson was no threat it wouldn’t have taken over a year for anyone to take action. He is a major threat and that is the reason it has unfolded as it has.

Whereas if he were a threat it would take over a year? Explain the logic behind that to me.

The problem of autism, 1.4 million, is not going away nor can it be dismissed with falsifying data, or designed studies to show no correlation, threats, bribes or anything else.

And your evidence that fata regarding a causal association between routine vaccination and autism spectrum disorders has been falsified (by anyone other than Andrew Wakefield, that is) would be…what, exactly?
Oh…that’s right. You don’t have any.

An actual epidemiologist looks at the Hooker-Thompson transcripts:…

That right there is a huge source of bias. When you compare five people here and six people there, even if you pick them at random, you’re going to find some differences that are big between the two groups. You need larger sample sizes to make sure that what you are seeing continues to be true on average and in the long run. It’s basic epidemiology, but Thompson and Hooker continued down that path, even as they recognized that these low numbers could be criticized and could be a problem.

As BJ Hooker said:

Bill, I am not an epidemiologist by training.

And it shows.

Go read the whole thing.

Linda, point by point.
The apparent increase in autism incidence has been shown over and over to be due to broader definitions of autism, and increased awareness among the professions and the public. Remember that it wasn't until after 1989 that the diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome and its identification as part of the autism spectrum was added in. Because of these factors there was a lot of retrospective diagnosis, so my diagnosis at age 50 was part of the perceived increase.
What people who think that vaccination caused autism in their child have done is notice that two events happened near to each other in time. Currently, when autism is diagnosed is near to part of the vaccine schedule, whether the child has been vaccinated or not. The Boston Marathon always occurs right around the Federal income tax deadline; which one is the cause of the other?
It took a year for Dr. Thompson to be taken notice of precisely because he is *not* a threat. If he were, he would have been dealt with promptly by the conspiracy, if only it existed. It took a year for his proponents to dig up someone who takes him seriously.
Would you care to tell us where these 60,000 deaths supposedly occurred? If it was Australia, it would be three times their total annual mortality. If in the US it would still be a big bump in the statistics. Besides, Vioxx, in case you didn't notice, is not a vaccine, but in your hands it's a red herring. I will not go any further down that rabbit hole.
Just who is falsifying data, designing studies to show no correlation, making threats, or paying bribes? If you or anyone else should have actual firsthand evidence of these actions, you should be talking to a district attorney, not to Orac. Oh, wait, I forgot the entire court system is in the pay of Big Pharma, which is undoubtedly run by the Freemason/Jesuit/Elders of Zion/New World Order/reptiliolizardoidians/other (specify). Select all that you believe apply.

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

@ Liz Ditz--if you've the stomach for it, Bob Sneers is on Null today. Almost a guarantee he'll blather about this big book of nothing (which fits nicely with the talk show host's last name).

By Chris Hickie (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Does that 1 in 68 include Asperger's? If so, it might start to shrink since Asperger's was removed from the DSM.

Anti-vaccine advocates often cite figures HOWEVER

- figures changed BECAUSE the way ASDs are defined,, diagnosed and counted has CHANGED over the decades- many people with autism years ago were called 'mentally retarded', or had "childhood schizophrenia', or were 'odd" or were not diagnosed with anything at all.
- advocates ( the Canaries) say 50% of children today have chronic conditions BUT because of how they define chronic conditions perhaps that was ALWAYS true ( they add asthma, allergies amongst other conditions). I would fit in there although I never was diagnosed with anything more than allergies.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

@ Chris Hickie:

I only heard the first part which featured Gerald Celente preaching about world economic Ragnarok as usual.
I'll have to listen to umm... Sneers.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Here's an interesting exchage, given the history:

Dr. Thompson: And, you know, I've tried to share with you as much information as possible. And if you say you spoke to me, I promise you, everyone will paint me out to be the bad guy, and they'll dig up stuff. And I'll become the story about why I've become the next Brian Hooker and can't be listened to.

Hooker responds (and remember, Hooker knows the conversation is taped. Thompson doesn't).

Dr. Hooker: Yeah, see, see...In thinking about History and posterity and all that type of stuff, I wouldn't...I can't forsee doing that to you.

Hooker was taping the conversation precisely so he could "do that" to Thompson. Hooker and Wakefield outed Thompson and released personal information about Thompson's mental health.

With friends like that, Bill...

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

50% of children today have chronic conditions

If you count oxygen addiction, I'd venture to say that 100% of children today have one or more chronic condition.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Hooker was taping the conversation precisely so he could “do that” to Thompson. Hooker and Wakefield outed Thompson and released personal information about Thompson’s mental health.

Exactly. Kevin Barry at least deleted the "personal information" that related to Thompson's mental health in multiple places in the transcripts. Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield gleefully used Thompson's descriptions of his having become delusional in their public letter to the CDC. Hooker utterly betrayed Thompson by letting Wakefield know about his existence and the existence of his recordings; Wakefield in turn betrayed Hooker by "outing" Thompson.


Hooker utterly betrayed Thompson by letting Wakefield know about his existence and the existence of his recordings; Wakefield in turn betrayed Hooker by “outing” Thompson.

This chain if events is why even as recently as your last #CDCWhistleblower post I still had a bit of faith in Thompson. I didn't think they would betray one of their own. In retrospect there was really no good reason to think that, I've read reasonablehank's great posts on AV infighting.

In the end, I guess this is a better scenario though. Better they turn on another AVer than take advantage of someone's psychological issues to twist their words into AV propaganda.

By capnkrunch (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

^ "...the rules of fair play do not apply in love and war."

Or when someone has a big ego, an agenda and a wallet to serve.

By Not a Troll (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

telephone conversations recorded—legally, Barry is quick to point out multiple times

Is Barry a lawyer? I'm asking because, given what he is saying about the transcripts, I have no reason (absent evidence that he has legal training) to trust his interpretation of the law. It's possible that he is correct on this point (IANAL), but I'm not about to take his unsupported word for it. And even if he is a lawyer, he might be misinterpreting the relevant statutes. In some states, what Hooker did would be legal (because those states only require one party to know that the conversation is being recorded), but in others it would be illegal (because Thompson didn't know he was being recorded).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Does that 1 in 68 include Asperger’s? If so, it might start to shrink since Asperger’s was removed from the DSM.

Nope. The committee merely decided to prove (by voting on it) that there's no difference between Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism and classical autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, so they were only removed as separate categories. A massively retrograde step IMO but no-one consulted me.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Short bio:

Kevin Barry, Esq. is the father of three sons, one with regressive autism. After receiving his JD from the Hofstra University School of Law, he worked at the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in the civil division. Mr. Barry is currently copresident of the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law & Advocacy. He is also the president of First Freedoms, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the freedoms guaranteed by the first amendment of the Constitution. Mr. Barry is the former president of Generation Rescue.

By Not a Troll (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Dr. Hooker: How well though … If you’ve got … You know, and you, like you said before, you’re not really the person to answer this but, how well do you have those records? Because a lot of times if you have an isolated autism case, you’re going to have mental retardation. I don’t … You know, I don’t know; I’m out in the community; I don’t really know many autistic kids that aren’t mentally retarded.

Dr. Thompson: Oh, I don’t know. I actually don’t know that for sure, but my reading of our own papers, the recent papers, is there’s a huge increase in the number of kids who don’t have mental retardation. That number is going, proportionately is going up.

Dr. Hooker: Right.

Dr. Thompson: So, I still … I still say …

Dr. Hooker: But that could be … Part of that could be a health-care-seeking behavior, because if it’s in vogue to get an autism diagnosis … And I deal with this as a parent all the time. You know, some genius walks up and tries to have a conversation with my kid, and I’ll look at the parent and say, “Oh, my son has autism. He’s non-verbal; he doesn’t speak.” And they’ll look at me and they’ll say, “Yeah, my kid has autism too.” And I’m just like, “What the fuck! Really?” We should be so lucky to have that kind of autism.

Did they just describe increased autism rates due to broadening of criteria?

^^ Emphasis added.

Herr Doktor Bimmler:

In some states, what Hooker did would be legal (because those states only require one party to know that the conversation is being recorded), but in others it would be illegal (because Thompson didn’t know he was being recorded).

Exactly. California, Hooker's resident state is a two-party consent state whereas Thompson's state, Georgia is a one-party. Given mobile phones, it would all depend upon what state(s) the parties were in at the time of the calls and I believe that the stricter state law would prevail but IANAL either. No matter what, I'm not sure it's even an issue unless Thompson wishes to pursue it. Other more knowledgeable people may want to weigh in on that though.

By Science Mom (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

One of these phone calls in the transcripts (May 24) occurred when Hooker was in Illinois, though, specifically around the time he was at Autism One.

@Science Mom: criminal law is not solely a matter for the parties. It's the state enforcing norms. But frankly, I wouldn't fight this on that. It's probably not worth going into, and if Hooker says he had legal counsel before recording and was told the behavior was legal, I'll accept it.

The many misrepresentations in the press release about his paper and about this whole affair are a different matter.

By Dorit Reiss (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink


Yes, and no. Thompson described the increase as due to a broadening of criteria (or of a shif in the population)

Hooker comments that at least part of the increase isn't real.

Thompson was also discussing how kids like Hooker's would not be part of the population that he thinks could be autistic due to thimerosal.

There is a lot of hypocrisy in those calls.

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Gaist not grist...

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Regardless of their conversation, the 2013 review correctly explains the perceived increase as mainly a greater awareness in mild spectrum.

Hooker has stated he made the calls from Oregon. The transcripts say he was at a site for his research for one call. Said research site could be Oregon.

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Thompson was also discussing how kids like Hooker’s would not be part of the population that he thinks could be autistic due to thimerosal.

Hypocrisy indeed. Thompson flat-out states that thiomersal doesn't cause autism, but in another statement he says that thiomersal causes tics and thus biological plausibility for "autism-like symptoms". Hooker's NVICP case is predicated upon thiomersal causing his son's autism so he has a lot invested there and doesn't even question Thompson. The whole thing is so bizarre.

Oh and thanks Prof. Reiss.

By Science Mom (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

I think that Null doesn’t understand what ‘class action’ means

The whole concept of the Federal Tort Claims Act tends to come as a surprise to these yo-yos.

@ Narad:

Unfortunately, I believe that there was EVEN MORE of Null, Hooker and Barry this evening ( @ Progressive Commentary Hour, but fortunately, I had other commitments.
It should be available soon at that website. Oh joy. This crap is forever enshrined for posterity.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Well, Denice, at least we have a fresh supply of tp to go along with it.

@ MarkN:

You're exactly right.

I think however that I should develop a system that rates the horrendous, miserable verbal biofilm which I preview in order to warn potential readers/ listeners about its ( lack of ) value.

I don't have really good symbols on this machine ( I know, I know there are alternative means to that end) but Vonnegut used an asterisk to denote a particular orifice.
For example, whilst the Barry- Null fiasco would rate ( IMNSHO) 2 'star's, the recent Celente-Null would have to be at least 3.

But at any rate, all deserve at least one ((shudder)).

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

You underestimate the power of parents fighting for their children.

Oh, dear, was this AoA's Linda1/Disqustink's LZ? A non–hit-and-run could be be a laff riot.

Keith, #23 & 36

Much of the rest of the world uses ICD-10 rather than any flavour of DSM.

ICD-10 still uses Asperger's (F 84.5), although as the good Herr Doktor points out the changes in DSM affect the label only.

As BJ Hooker said:

Bill, I am not an epidemiologist by training.

This has got to be the understatement of the year.

But seriously, if Hooker recognises that he doesn't really understand epidemiology, why did he write a paper about it?

Great post. Much of the rest of the world uses ICD-10 rather than any flavour of DSM. Very informative.

By Medora Centre (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

if Hooker says he had legal counsel before recording and was told the behavior was legal, I’ll accept it

Recall Ambrose Bierce's definition of "lawyer" as someone skilled at the circumvention of law. Hooker's lawyer might be misinterpreting the law. Or there might be a legitimate gray area: if one party is in a two-party-consent state and the other in a one-party-consent state, which law prevails? Or, as mentioned upthread, Hooker may have placed the calls in other states, where one-party-consent is the applicable rule (which means there is no conflict, since Thompson was presumably in Georgia, a one-party-consent state).

Of course, as you say, prosecuting the case (if the recordings were in fact illegal) is something the state would have to do, and absent a complaint from Thompson, that's not going to happen.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

@Chris P : Because you know, epidemiology is not that hard, same for statistic, you just have to apply some easy test to some group of people and there you go, you are an epidemiologist.

Or, Hooker is saying a bunch of crap, as usual.

Hooker’s lawyer might be misinterpreting the law. Or there might be a legitimate gray area

Or Hooker could be straight up lying about having taken legal counsel, or that the lawyer said it was legal. And given his demonstrable dishonesty, that strikes me as highly likely.

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

"But seriously, if Hooker recognises that he doesn’t really understand epidemiology, why did he write a paper about it?"

It's not science. It's politics and public relations.

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

if Hooker recognises that he doesn’t really understand epidemiology

I don't think he does. He said he isn't an epidemiologist by training. That doesn't mean he doesn't understand it. I mean, how hard could it be?

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

I think where this could potentially be damaging beyond what we all might expect is when the book (or just the transcripts) is given to sympathetic legislators who don't know the details of the anti-vaccine nonsense.

Anyone in Statistics 101 would know that if you have a 5% probability of statistical error in your results, the probability of a mistaken result approaches 100% as the number of results goes past 20. So it's much more plausible that the "slightly higher risk of autism in African American boys under conditions XYZ" is just a statistical error than that somehow they're uniquely susceptible to autism under conditions XYZ.

If they didn't bother to correct for multiple comparisons, this is failing at statistics in ways that are covered in basic Stats.

Thompson looks utterly incompetent at statistics.

Kathryn is correct.

-btw- Barry appears with Dr Sears and Mary Holland at Gary Null's Progressive Commentary Hour @ shows/
yesterday. I didn't listen but it's available.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

So it’s much more plausible that the “slightly higher risk of autism in African American boys under conditions XYZ” is just a statistical error than that somehow they’re uniquely susceptible to autism under conditions XYZ.

Also to consider is that the temporal relationship between vaccination and age at first signs of an ASD are not reported which makes Hooker's and Thompson's over-reaching the results even more stupid. DeStefano et al. commented that this spurious result is most likely a result of later ("catch-up") vaccination for entry into a special ed programme. A reasonable speculation for most of us.

By Science Mom (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

@Kathryn #60

You are fundamentally correct in your estimation of Thompson and his spectacular incompetence at statistics, but I think the larger story of multiple comparisons is sufficiently interesting to deserve greater publicity.

For a test that gives 5% false positives, applied to batches of 20 uncorrelated cases, one would expect to find:

zero false positives in 36% of the batches
one false positive in 38% of the batches
two or more false positives (perhaps, but rarely, many more) in 26% of the batches

So in running one series of twenty tests, your one hit could be a true positive or it could be dumb luck; your two hits could be both true, or both false, or one of each; with no internal test at this point for which is which, you have to move on to replication and cross validation. This is why some of us are deeply contemptuous of fishing expeditions, as they are commonly used, and are staunch advocates for precisely tailored hypothesis tests. In any case, "p < 0.05" is the weakest tea acceptable for declaring something as "perhaps this is interesting, we could follow this up if we have the time" and is never acceptable for declaring "we have proven Proposition X to be True."

Had nature been more cruel with Thompson, he might have been granted two spurious hits. Presumably he then would have run naked through the city yelling "'Eureka!" in his eagerness to publish.

By Robert L Bell (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

For a test that gives 5% false positives, applied to batches of 20 uncorrelated cases, one would expect to find:

zero false positives in 36% of the batches
one false positive in 38% of the batches
two or more false positives (perhaps, but rarely, many more) in 26% of the batches


There are also methods for keeping the overall Type 1 error at 0.05 with multiple comparisons. For 20 tests, you would reduce the critical P value to 0.0026.

In any case, “p < 0.05" is the weakest tea acceptable for declaring something as "perhaps this is interesting, we could follow this up if we have the time" and is never acceptable for declaring "we have proven Proposition X to be True."

Absolutely. But I treat all epidemiology like this. It is only a 'significant' correlation. One then has to prove causation rather than racing around crying X will give us cancer.

My academic advisor and I were just talking about how enamored researchers are with the p-value. In fact, one of my comprehensive exams had several essay questions based on a paper where the p-value was well above 0.05 but it was the only paper on the subject. The question was whether or not to use the evidence in the paper to form public health policy. The answer was "yes, use it," but explaining why took me about two hours to write up right then and there on the spot. So don't be too enamored with that p-value kids... And by "kids" I mean anti-vaxxers.

P value is a tool, as with any tool you can use it properly to get important work done or you can swing it around wildly and make yourself look foolish.

My favorite math professor led me to understand that a theorem is not important so much for the specific result that is proven (although these can be most useful down the road) as for the reasoning that goes into the proof. Understand this, like the Banach-Tarski Paradox, and you become a better person.

I would suggest that each of us has presented a bit of reasoning, under the umbrella of P-value, that casts an important light on the question at hand. This kind of open discussion is of a different character from the ill educated and the crackpot, who merely point to a specific number and insist "but p is less than 0.05, it must be true."

By Robert L Bell (not verified) on 27 Aug 2015 #permalink

@ChrisP #64

Speak of the Devil and regarding the Proof of Proposition X: there has been some work recently a potential association between use of statins and elevated risk of type 2 diabetes. The work appears to be well founded, and the highest dose of statins appears to be associated with a 50% increase in diabetes risk.

So far so good, but I was just now on another site - which commentariat is, shall we say, way less well educated than Orac's crew - where people were saying things like "statins made my friend diabetic." Which, actually, no: trusting that he was even taking statins to begin with, the friend might be the unlucky one in three whose diabetes is associated (through some as yet unknown mechanism) or he might be one of the two in three who were going down that road anyway but now have someone to blame for all their ills.

Statistical thinking is subtle but not malicious, an idea I like to keep in mind when dealing with people. People can be malicious as all hell and will pick up any convenient rock in a fight.

By Robert L Bell (not verified) on 27 Aug 2015 #permalink

Statistical thinking is subtle but not malicious, an idea I like to keep in mind when dealing with people.

My preferred way of expressing that is "statistics are truthful, not honest".

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 27 Aug 2015 #permalink

@Todd W. # 59

I'm curious about your, and others, take on how the transcripts will likely play. Sure, it is not good, at all, to have a senior scientist at the CDC unburden himself this way. I would not count on congressmen to be familiar with various studies discussed or the scientific stakes. But it is abundantly clear that Thompson has a massive chip on his shoulder. I realize that could be attractive to a Republican looking to cause mischief for the administration, but the chip is so large that I would think (wishful thinking?) that it could scare people away. Thompson has by now a long history as a disgruntled employee, and there is no hint of a trace of evidence I can see of wrongdoing in the text, having waded through it. Nor did Barry do either of them any favors by publishing this with Skyhorse, with its inimitable house style. Watching Hooker and Thompson use each other was thoroughly revolting.

The one thing that gives me pause is Thompson's lawyer taking the case pro bono. Anyone have a take on that element?

By James Lind (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

******** BREAKING NEWS ********* !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Two men have been arrested in the murder of Teresa Sievers, the "holistic" Florida physician whose death has been cited as part of the Big Pharma/Medical Mafia plan to eliminate alternative doctors.…

One of the men has been identified as a "close friend" of Sievers' husband.

It would not appear that either man has ties to a mainstream medical conspiracy, but this could after all be misdirection by the authorities to protect the Establishment. Stay tuned...

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

You know what I find weird? How scant the attention to this book has been from Age of Autism and the rest of the vaccines-cause-autism crowd.

You know what I find weird? How scant the attention to this book has been from Age of Autism and the rest of the vaccines-cause-autism crowd.

Hmm, that is rather strange isn't it? I find it hard to believe that have the awareness to realise how damaging it actually is to their "cause".

By Science Mom (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

I spoke too soon, AoA has a piece up today:

In Vaccine Whistleblower, Dr. Thompson stated Dr. Boyle would never testify before Congress again, after being pummeled for finding no negative health links in either Agent Orange or Autism. And she is a public servant for good.

The book is highly recommended for people who want to learn about the health crisis of our time and how CDC had quit on protecting American’s and their children from harm long time ago.…

But it still seems not like the full-court press I was expecting.

I'm not as surprised. Of course, I'm not that familiar with the crowd over there but as a common person just reading this, I think Vaccine Whistleblower makes a much better headline than a story. It is dry and boring and doesn't say much at all. In addition, people have to be confused about the fact that if there is evidence why hasn't it gone anywhere legally.

On the other hand, I'm surprised not much is being said about the qui tam action against Merck.

Merck whistleblowers – mumps and motions, the actual story.

Is it because it has nothing to do with autism? Clock & dagger secret phone calls? Cover up of harms?

IDK, seems a more interesting story if you're interested in the sins of Big Pharma.

By Not a Troll (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

Unfortunately, *le grand idiot* de PRN has never shut up:
he had Barry as a guest on his noontime woo-fest and on this past Tuesday night's show with Sears and Holland ( I didn't listen to it but it's available). He has harped upon Thompson and embellishes the tale, weaving it into his various set pieces. You know the drill.

Mikey did quite a bit but more recently has focused on end-times scenarios- like today's which hypothesizes that when cataclysms occur ( and they will) all of those gosh danged LIBERULs in the BIG Cities are gonna DIE and leave resourceful country folk like him to inherit the earth.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

I've monitored their reactions to this past week's economic woes and believe me, it's so unrealistic it's hilarious.
I just hope that their ardent fans don't follow their advice.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

They're all at Trace Amounts screening. I'd expect more soon. Agreed with NaT #74, this is more twitterbait and headline than something anyone would ever read.

Ginger has something cryptic about Chaffetz having started an investigation. Did I miss something?

By James Lind (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

Oh and then there's that Thunderclap event by Ginger Taylor et al - lots of committed twits tweeting, is it?

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

On p-value fetishism, there is also the phenomenon of the statistically significant difference that isn't clinically significant, a favorite of altmed. I'm reminded of acupuncture studies that find a statistically but not clinically significant reduction in pain (nausea, depression, existential angst or whatever other subjectively assessed or self-limiting conditions they claim it works for). Effect size matters, and all too often it is eclipsed by the p-value.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

"...I’ve monitored their reactions to this past week’s economic woes..."

Zombie world apocalypse!?! Now that's much more exciting. Although I don't know why they aren't experiencing 'end of the world fatigue' yet. A few years ago a 26 year old co-worker once asked me if I thought the world was going to end on Dec 21, 2012. All I said was "No, no it isn't." Boy, did he walk away disappointed.

Regarding, Ginger Taylor's tweet on Chaffetz, the most information (although not much) I found was at Vaccine Impact:

"Congressman Jason Chaffetz is going to hold hearings on this matter this fall and invite Dr. Thompson to testify. It is important that we all contact the Congressional Oversight and Reform Office and request that he subpoena Dr. Thompson. Dr. Thompson will not be able to speak freely unless it is under subpoena. Why, you may ask does Dr. Thompson need to be subpoenaed? Because the CDC will not let him speak out without a subpoena."

By Not a Troll (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

@Krebiozen Excellent example!

A parallel fetish adheres to the Peer Reviewed Paper among certain groups that one encounters in the crackpot world. They get tired of being smacked around for trying to pass off press releases from Natural News as important research because the Science Bullies sneer at anything outside the peer reviewed literature.

You know what happens next, somebody sneaks a crap article into a crap journal and the enthusiasts won't stop cackling with glee. You would think they had found the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, capable of blasting through any objection. Another round of trench warfare ensues, educating people - who don't to understand - about such concepts as preponderance of evidence.

That is why I find it wise stress that all of these tools are there to help us, help us guard against wishful thinking and foolish preventable errors, but they don't do the thinking for us. We are responsible for keeping the main point in sight and for ensuring that what we write is actually reasonable (if not necessarily, in the end, correct).

It's a tough business and it takes a great deal of discipline as well as knowledge: precisely what the enthusiasts lack.

By Robert L Bell (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink


Do you think the information in Dance of the p Values is correct and helpful for beginners?

I apologize for the length of this You Tube video. Over 11 minutes long. But perhaps you've already heard of it and don't have to waste your time watching this.

By Not a Troll (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

@ Not a Troll:

End of the World fatigue? Not these guys.
You cannot believe how both these charlatans will use any news item to conjure up visions of the end times - earthquakes, droughts, tornados, hurricanes, floods, AGW
( Null only,) terrorism, gang war, police states, nuclear plant meltdown, bank failures, stock market crashes, solar flares, food shortages, riots, looting etc

Then they tell you how to protect yourself - Mikey says guns are the answer and Null believes in a fold-up bicycle and hazard suit to escape the radiation and traffic leaving the city.

HOWEVER they advocate living in the country, off the grid, farming organically, living sustainably. The city is over..
I swear this is their main focus- survivalism. Obviously, you need to be healthy so buy their products.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

1. The UN Trace Amounts screening showed to a handful of people, judging by the images I saw. It's being played as if it was to the entire UN membership body. Still shameful but not a big deal.

2. The #cdcwhistleblower people on twitter (primarily) have been trying to get Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who is the Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to schedule a hearing on alleged wrong-doing at CDC relative to vaccine safety, specifically about the autism issue. Evidently this morning, one prolific blaming-autism-on-vaccines tweeter, "TannersDad" (Tim Welsh) tweeted the following:

Chaffetz staffer said "very aware" of the issue & Oversight has begun internal investigation NOT the CDC #CDCwhistleblower #HearUs Vaccines

That's it. That's the whole nut.

You cannot believe how both these charlatans will use any news item to conjure up visions of the end times – earthquakes, droughts, tornados, hurricanes, floods, AGW
( Null only,) terrorism, gang war, police states, nuclear plant meltdown, bank failures, stock market crashes, solar flares, food shortages, riots, looting, etc

"What are you saying, man? Some kind of race war in New Jersey? ... I don't know what to say. Lectroids? Planet Ten? Nuclear? Extortion? A girl named John?"

Narad FTW!

By Robert L Bell (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

Liz , thank you for the update. That was a very anti-climatic tweet there but I guess when you run on fumes a little something is all that is needed.

Denice, they must laugh all the way to the bank knowing that they can keep repeating the same old tape with different scenarios. But if they ever run short of ideas it looks like Narad can help them out with that.

By Not a Troll (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

That’s it. That’s the whole nut.


They didn't get that that just means "Stop calling"?

@ Not a Troll:

Although they are charlatans, they deceive people and they do make money
BUT I sincerely wonder if they entirely 'laugh all the way to the bank' because I think that they also believe in their own spiel- they know the truth, they're enlightening others, they're spectacularly gifted and humanitarians sharing the wealth -
in other words, they're somewhat delusional.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

"..I think that they also believe in their own spiel..."

Point taken. I don't often entertain this idea because I find it to be the more frightening option. But it seems to be the most plausible.

Liz - yes, you are correct, I've never seen the movie. I'll have to rectify that soon. But I am never watching Titanic. Ever.

By Not a Troll (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

Not a Troll,

Do you think the information in Dance of the p Values is correct and helpful for beginners?
I apologize for the length of this You Tube video. Over 11 minutes long. But perhaps you’ve already heard of it and don’t have to waste your time watching this.

Thanks, that's an excellent way of explaining the problem - I hadn't seen it before. It's a compelling argument for replication, and that one study, or even two, shouldn't get people too excited. I think what people don't always get is that a sample isn't always representative of the full population. Humans are especially annoyingly heterogeneous in that respect, and they tend to cluster in unexpected ways.

I'm familiar with similar attacks on p-values from the effect size perspective: this paper gives a good explanation.

I'm thinking of examples in conventional medicine where a p-value has justified what may not be very good treatments, and I think we find them in the same places we find altmed claiming victory: lower back pain, knee osteoarthritis, mild depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, mild pain, hot flashes... I think we also see this in cancer treatment, where a new drug offers a few weeks of additional life p<0.05, and I wonder if such a small difference is really measurable given the uncertainties of RCTs.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 29 Aug 2015 #permalink

On the other hand, I’m surprised not much is being said about the qui tam action against Merck... Is it because it has nothing to do with autism? ...seems a more interesting story if you’re interested in the sins of Big Pharma.

My take: Yup, it's partly because it has nothing to do with autism. You'd think the argument would be, 'if Merck would fudge this, they'd cover up the autism link, too.' But IHMO the movement AVers just need someone to blame for their kids' ASDs, and the idea that 'Big Pharma' is corrupt is merely a tool to that end. That is, they're not interested in the sins of the pharmas in general. They assume that corruption as a given, not something that needs to be established with evidence. They yap on about the supposed profits of vaccines being large enough to justify an elaborate conspiracy employing a multitude of "shills" without EVER providing evidence of what those profits are, or that the "shills" are actually being bought. Because, well, there ain't no evidence, since the profits aren't that big, and the pharmas put their actual budget for 'shills' toward the new proprietary meds that do bring in the big bucks.

The qui tam action, first of all, only alleges the MMR II isn't as good as Merck says it is, not that it does anything bad, which would presumably get the AVers excited. Moreover, the claims of the whistleblowers are being handled together by the court along with the class action suit based on the Sherman Act. Prof. Reiss wrote:

The plaintiffs argued that Merck’s misrepresentation – claiming their vaccine was 95% effective when it was actually much less – guaranteed it a monopoly on the market by deterring other competitors with lower effectiveness from trying to compete for government contract...

This reveals something quite uncomfortable to the AV mind: there is no Big Pharma conspiracy because the various pharmas compete against one another, and thus there's a motive for smaller firms to expose any unethical practices by the bigger firms that work toward functional monopoly. (IIRC, while Merck is the largest contractor in the U.S. for the MMR, it's also supplied by at least two other firms here and abroad, so the class action claim may run afoul of that... IANAL etc.)

To me, though, if the AV fringe is silent on the mumps whistleblowers, that's evidence of just how far into their own bubble they are, and poorly equipped to make their case to a broader audience. I'm guessing J. Doe Public might have suspicions about the activities of pharmaceutical companies, but remains unconvinced of wide venality on their part. Thus, the anti-vax case would indeed be bolstered by actual evidence of misconduct by Merck, in terms of maintaining it's now falling social and political traction.

That they seem to be taking Thompson's advice to 'make tics their new mantra' — despite the fact, as ScienceMom noted "Thompson flat-out states that thiomersal doesn’t cause autism" and tics being "autism-like features" means nothing whatsoever — and NOT discussing the qui tam action, just suggests to me that they're flailing about cluelessly in their delerium...

This is truly amazing! So somebody who states that he is pro vaccine and was part of the hungry lie for so long comes forward to tell the truth and is labeled as anti-vaccine. And with that label all the nitwits are happy to discount anything that may come from that source.
Just one question at which point would you take this whistleblower situation seriously? I just want to know so I know when to come back and rub your nose in it.
Thank you!

By David's Dad (not verified) on 19 Sep 2015 #permalink

@95: your first mistake was assuming that someone proclaiming himself "pro-vaccine" is actually pro-vaccine. I'm afraid it's much like "I'm not a racist but..."
Secondly, Thompson (I assume that's whom you're referring to) has been discussed here already. Let's just say that not all is as it seems with him.

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 20 Sep 2015 #permalink

Just one question at which point would you take this whistleblower situation seriously?

That's a good question, actually. I think everyone should ask themselves such questions regularly: "What would it take, in terms of evidence, to convince me that the beliefs I currently hold are incorrect?"

In terms of the Thompson situation, it would most likely be an actual epidemiologist or biostatistician coming forward and saying "Yes, this result, despite only showing up after you slice the data up by race and sex and age, and then showing up only in one subgroup, is actually a meaningful result. Every person well-educated in the sciences knows that when you slice up a dataset multiple ways, you're very likely to create spurious results that look meaningful even though they're not. But speaking as someone who's specificially trained to answer the tricky question of 'is this result due to chance or due to an actual signal in the data?' - I say that this result, which doesn't even show up in African-American males in general, *only* in African-American males in a given range of preschool age, almost certainly must represent an *actual* cause-and-effect relationship between MMR and autism."

See, that's what's missing right now. Thompson says "We covered up this result which was meaningful!" but the assertion that it's meaningful is not one that he's trained to make. He isn't an epidemiologist or a biostatistician. He's a psychologist. When he says "We should have waved these results around and asserted that they were meaningful!" he is claiming that his non-expert opinion on that question is more meaningful than the opinion from the experts who were on the team, who were faced with that very same question and said "No, given how many ways we had to slice the data before the appearance of a correlation appeared, it's unlikely that this is a meaningful result." Hooker says "this result was meaningful; look at my 'reanalysis'!" but not only is he no more expert on the matter than Thompson (and possesses a significant conflict of interest) his "reanalysis" is poor science, which is why it has been retracted.

Now it's your turn, "David's Dad". Please explain to us what evidence it would take to convince you that, even if Thompson and Hooker have fully convinced themselves that they found a big "smoking gun" that got covered up, it's actually the rest of the scientific world, which considers their 'smoking gun' a mere spurious subgroup correlation, which has the right of things.

If you can't or won't answer the question, I'm afraid it will signify to everyone that you are the one guilty of exactly the "I need this to be the answer; it doesn't matter what it takes to get that answer!" attitude that you accused us of.

By Antaeus Feldspar (not verified) on 21 Sep 2015 #permalink