The use of Poul Thorsen to distract from inconvenient facts about vaccine safety continues apace

AThe the nonsense from the anti-vaccine movement on the issue of Poul Thorenson, the Danish scientist indicted for defrauding the CDC of approximately $1 million in grant money continues apace…

Just yesterday I pointed out how the anti-vaccine loons at Age of Autism were busily trying to poison the well over the Poul Thorsen case, as though whether or not he committed fraud with his CDC grant has anything to do with the quality of the science of the Danish studies that failed to find a link between either the MMR vaccine or thimerosal in vaccines and autism. Being on the mailing list of quite a few pseudoscience, anti-vaccine, alt-med, and other crank organizations (for research purposes, of course), now it’s the Autism Action Network’s (formerly A-CHAMP) turn:

Danish Researcher Indicted on Multiple Counts
Poul Thorsen Claimed Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism

A Danish researcher who was a key figure in two of the earliest studies purporting to show no connection between vaccines and autism, has been indicted by the federal government for a host of crimes related to defrauding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of more than $1 million. These accusations follow tax evasion charges brought by the Danish government against Poul Thorsen who is accused of having forged documents including signatures by CDC officials to obtain funds intended for use in a group of epidemiological studies paid for by the CDC.

Critics of these studies have long contended that highly suspect methods were used to arrive at the conclusion that there was no association between exposure to either thimerosal or the MMR vaccine and autism, even though standard epidemiological methods showed an association.

Reports of the indictment have been met with almost complete indifference by the mainstream media. Our friends at Age of Autism, however, have been closely following the Thorsen story since the first report of his misdeeds was made public by the University of Aarhus in Denmark in 2009.

Please follow this link to the Age of Autism website for the further reporting on the new indictment and links to their reporting on this eye-opening story on the seamy side of medical research.

Notice the clever linking of Thorsen’s indictment for defrauding the federal government of research funds with anti-vaccine crank criticism of the two main Danish studies that provide strong epidemiological evidence that failed to find a link between the MMR vaccine and autism or thimerosal in vaccines and autism. Again, Thorsen’s fraud has no bearing on the scientific validity or methodological soundness of these studies and their conclusions. As I pointed out last time, Thorsen’s fraud didn’t even happen until at least a year after the publication of the thimerosal study. Of course, the anti-vaccine movement truly hates these studies because they do not show what they want them to show. That’s the only reason.

But A-CHAMP is nothing compared to the crazy that our “friends” at AoA bring home. You really should check out the comments after its original blog post on Thorsen yesterday. Get a load, for instance, of commenter Barry:

The more likely scenario is that the CDC no longer has a use for this academic prostitute. When the thimerosal scandal broke, the CDC was facing allegations that were almost too heinous to comprehend. And if those allegations weren’t refuted fast, this issue had the potential to bring the entire medical industry to it’s knees! Fortunes would be lost, careers would end in shame, and some pretty rich people would be facing some pretty real jail time. The CDC was in desperate need of some new “tobacco science”, and Thorson was just the person to provide it.

And I guess the rest is history. Thorson delivered on the CDC’s request, and public fear was once again allayed by an industry funded study that could “find no link”.

Unfortunately, Thorsons “science” was especially bad, and the fraudulent nature of his analysis was immediately apparent once the right people actually took the time to have a look. As word started to spread, the CDC now had a new problem on it’s hands. Thorson’s “science” reeked of a contrived effort to hide the devastating effects of mercury, and ties between Thorson and the CDC were by now well known. The CDC now had to somehow distance itself from Thorson, and the best way to do that was to start a campaign to discredit his character.

It may sound counter intuitive at first, but if you think about it, the CDC’s options were quite limited. They could look like:
a.) an organization that hired a scientist to hide the dangers of Thimerosal, or
b.) an organization that hired a respected scientist to investigate a link between Autism and Thimerosal. While this scientist concluded that “no link could be found”, a retrospective look has astonishingly revealed that his work was poorly done. At no time did the CDC knowingly mislead the public on this issue, because they honestly didn’t realize that they’d hired a criminal to investigate such an important health issue

While neither of these options makes the CDC look good, one looks a whole lot less criminal than the other. And the added bonus is that if this scientist ever decides to implicate YOU, who’s going to believe him??? He’s just a common criminal now.

The contortions of “logic” required to come up with a conspiracy theory like that are truly astounding, even to me, and I’ve been studying anti-vaccine conspiracy theories for nearly a decade now. Think about it. Barry honestly seems to believe that the CDC is both evil enough and stupid enough to have hired a crooked scientist to get the results it supposedly wanted and then to frame him because his results were allegedly so badly done. I have serious problems wrapping my brain around the paranoia that it takes to believe a story like this without even a shred of skepticism.

Then, of course, the anti-vaccine crank group Safeminds had to weigh in with its own press release. Sallie Bernard, unphased by reality and science, stares bravely into the abyss that was once what little credibility she has, and insists that “many biological studies support a link between mercury and autism, but these Danish studies have been used to suppress further research into thimerosal. With clear evidence of Dr. Thorsen’s lack of ethics, it is imperative to reopen this investigation.”

And there you have it, the clearest (and, for all its neuron-apoptosing stupidity) the most honest statement of the intent of the anti-vaccine movement. In essence, all they want is any excuse they can find to try to demand “more studies,” even as the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism continues to pine for the fjords. Like Polly, it is still an ex-hypothesis, while, like Frankenstein, Bernard thinks she can infuse life into the dead, except that using electricity she uses BS. Like a mad reiki master using BS instead of channeling energy from the “universal source” (of BS), she bends the flow of BS to her will.

BS like this:

In addition, internal emails obtained via FOIA document discussion between the Danish researchers and Thornsen which acknowledge that the studies did not include the latest data from 2001 where the incidence and prevalence of autism was declining which would be supportive of a vaccine connection. The emails also include requests from Thornsen to CDC asking that the agency write letters to the journal Pediatrics encouraging them to publish the research after it had been rejected by other journals. A top CDC official complied with the request sending a letter to the editor of the journal supporting the publication of the study which they called a “strong piece of evidence that thimerosal is not linked to autism”.

The latter accusation above is just plain silly, as this link shows. Basically, it’s a letter of support from the CDC for the Danish thimerosal article, and there’s nothing there in any way incriminating. I do find it odd, however, that clearly the second page of the letter is missing, which makes me wonder why that is. The e-mails already say who signed the letter; so I can’t imagine that it’s to protect anyone’s identity, which makes me wonder whether SafeMinds left that page out. As for the e-mails about the data from 2001, it’s impossible to tell exactly what the correspondents are saying. There are only two brief e-mails, and much of them are redacted with black marker, that consist of an exchange between Marlene Lauritsen, who’s second author on the paper, and Kreesten Madsen, the first author. It’s cryptically mentioned that the incidence and prevalence are “still decreasing in 2001,” but the sentence immediately following it is redacted. Most of Madsen’s reply to this e-mail is also redacted.

In other words, it tells us little or nothing. Moreover, the rejection of the hypothesis that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism does not even depend on this study. This study supports rejecting the hypothesis as false, but rejecting that hypothesis as false does not depend on it. In any case, it’s not at all clear what this e-mail means; it reeks of the “climategate” e-mails, which were cherry picked and taken out of context. Like AoA and Generation Rescue, SafeMinds is doing nothing more than using Thorsen’s indictment as an excuse to slime everyone associated with the Danish studies and, of course, the Danish studies themselves. This is then further used as a dubious excuse to cast doubt on the scientific validity of the Danish studies and call for an “independent” investigation.

It’s so transparently cynical that it makes me wonder how anyone can be stupid enough to fall for it

Of all the reactions to the study, though, there is one that made me laugh out loud when I read it. I’m talking about Katie Wright:

Who would make serious health care decisions based upon the work of a thief and a fraud.

Come on CDC, you cannot be serious.

Given that Wright and the many AoA drones, shills, and minions routinely made health care decisions based upon the work of Andrew Wakefield, who, while not a thief, was clearly a scientific fraud, I posit that Wright owes me a new irony meter. She blew mine up again–melted that sucker into a pool of gurgling plastic, rubber, and copper wire so that it’s now sputtering pathetically on my desk. Yet Wright and her fellow travelers defend Wakefield to the death metaphorically speaking while castigating Thorsen before he’s even had his day in court. Double standard? You be the judge.

To a certain extent, I understand the assertion of “once a cheat, always a cheat.” I understand that the lead author (Madsen) and Thorsen’s other co-investigators might now want to check over Thorsen’s contribution to the two papers (as relatively small as it appears to be compared to the other authors), even for the paper whose work was not funded by the CDC at all and therefore has zero financial dependency on the CDC. That’s normal caution. However, normal caution is most definitely not what these attacks by Safeminds and AoA are about. They’re about the denialist technique of spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) about vaccines. Let’s just put it this way. Let’s say the anti-vaccine movement’s wet dream about Thorsen came true and it was somehow discovered that his science was also falsified and that, further, his fraud was enough to call the conclusions of the Danish studies in doubt. Even in that highly unlikely scenario, in which both studies were somehow completely discredited as a result of Thorsen’s financial chicanery with grant funds, it would not be nearly enough for scientists to call into question the scientific consensus that neither the MMR nor thimerosal are associated with an increased risk for autism. The reason is that there’s so much other evidence that is consistent with the Danish studies and similarly shows that neither the MMR nor thimerosal in vaccines is associated with autism.

What AoA, Safeminds, and other denialists refuse to understand is that science is rarely, if ever, a matter of a scientific consensus being based on one study. A scientific consensus is based on examining all the evidence from all relevant studies, deciding which studies are most methodologically powerful, and then synthesizing it all into a conclusion. Meanwhile, studies are are almost always challenged when they come out–by scientists themselves. It’s not the pseudoscientists who test whether a scientific study has come to the conclusion most in line with the evidence; it’s other scientists, and other scientists can be incredibly harsh critics.

Contrast this to how the anti-vaccine movement treats its “brave maverick doctors” like Andrew Wakefield, Mark Geier, Rashid Buttar, et al, and the difference between real science and anti-vaccine pseudoscience couldn’t be clearer.