The return of the revenge of the “CDC whistleblower”

A couple of weeks ago, I first took note of a new conspiracy theory that’s been brewing in the antivaccine crankosphere, namely the claim that big pharma has been systematically murdering alternative medical doctors, starting with autism quack Jeff Bradstreet, who committed suicide the day after the FDA raided his office. Of course, it didn’t take long for various supporters of quackery to conclude that it was a hit job. Heck, just yesterday, Julie Wilson, a staff writer working for uber-crank Mike Adams, posted a whopper of a conspiracy theory in which Bradstreet and other alternative docs were executed because vaccines supposedly increase the level of an enzyme called nagalase, which blocks the activity of a compound called GcMAF, which was the “treatment” for autism that Bradstreet was peddling, leading to autism, cancer, and practically every disease under the sun. According to this whopper, because GcMAF is a universal cure for cancer (which, by the way, it is not), big pharma couldn’t let him live, particularly since he “discovered” that vaccines induce nagalase production and thus cause cancer.

From there, the slaughter apparently began, the most recent victim being cancer quack Nicholas Gonzalez. That’s the new conspiracy theory. However, never let it be said that the antivaccine movement is incapable of concentrating on more than just one conspiracy theory at a time. In fact, they’re capable of concentrating on many. So it’s no surprise that an older conspiracy theory has been resurrected. I’m referring, of course, to the “CDC Whistleblower” conspiracy theory, which is a variant of the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement, namely that the CDC is covering up smoking gun evidence that vaccines cause autism.

The so-called CDC whistleblower is a CDC psychologist named William Thompson. He was an author on several pivotal papers examining whether vaccines cause autism. All of the studies were negative, of course, but that just adds to the conspiracy. Basically, nearly a year ago, Thompson was featured in a short film by Andrew Wakefield as a “whistleblower” who had “confessed” to a biochemical engineer named Brian Hooker that for one of the studies for which he had been a coauthor in 2004 (Destefano et al) investigators had “covered up” a correlation between MMR vaccination and autism in African-American males and had not followed the protocol as written. He based this claim on a truly incompetently done “reanalysis” of Destefano et al, which he later touted for its “simplicity,” not realizing that simplicity in statistical analyses of epidemiological data. Suffice to say, the original correlation was based on small numbers and disappeared when proper corrections for confounders was made. Not surprisingly, Hooker’s reanalysis was ultimately retracted. None of this has stopped Hooker and Wakefield from trying to make hay about this “CDC Whistleblower” scandal or antivaccinationists from swarming Twitter on the #CDCWhistleblower hashtag. Thompson himself has been silent since last fall, 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.

So yesterday, an antivaccine legislator that you might or might not heard of before, Rep. Bill Posey (R-Florida) apparently got up on the floor of the House to speak at something called Morning Hour, where members can basically say what they want for a few short minutes. (Given that there are 435 voting members of the House, there isn’t time to let every Representative blather on interminably.) Posey’s speech is about 1:02 in:

I know this because the team behind the antivaccine crankfest of a propaganda “documentary,” The Greater Good, sent out a missive touting what Posey said:

US Congressman Bill Posey spoke today on the floor of the US House quoting CDC whistleblower Dr. Bill Thompson stating that CDC DESTROYED DOCUMENTS to cover their tracks when they concealed their own study’s findings that MMR vaccine caused a huge risk of autism in black boys when given before 3 years of age.

Thanks to our friends at Age of Autism who broke this story.

PLEASE EMAIL CONGRESSMAN POSEY:
Send EMAILS of support directly to Bill Posey’s assistant Patricia Febro at Patricia.Febro@mail.house.gov.

PLEASE ALSO EMAIL/CALL/WRITE YOUR OWN CONGRESSPERSON. Include the link to the C-SPAN video. Find your Representative here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Emails become permanent records, unlike faxes or postal mail, which might become ‘lost’. Emails do NOT have to be long, just say “I support Bill Posey and thank him for his testimony today regarding the CDC’s intentional destruction of documents. I am grateful William Thompson retained hard copies documenting the truth and as a parent of a vaccine injured child, I am requesting a full investigation into this issue.” or something like this. Request that Congress subpoena Dr. Thompson to testify in front of Congress.

First of all, I’m not sure about that claim that postal mail is less “permanent” than e-mail. Be that as it may, what’s far more important is what Posey said, rather than what cranks who made an antivaccine movie are urging their fellow cranks to do; so let’s take a look at that. Age of Autism helpfully has provided a transcript, so that I don’t have to do the painful thing I’ve sometimes done and make a transcript myself.

I’ll also dispense with Posey’s denial that he is antivaccine, stated thusly, “To begin with, I am absolutely, resolutely pro-vaccine. Advancements in immunization have saved countless lives and have greatly benefited public health.” This is almost as risible as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. characterizing himself as “fiercely pro-vaccine.” It’s nonsense. Posey is a man who has been on the side of the antivaccine fringe for quite some time. Heck, he even appeared at the antivaccine quackfest Autism One in 2013 as part of a “Congressional panel”! He even introduced legislation that’s gone nowhere requiring the CDC to do a retrospective “vaccinated vs. unvaccinated” study. As I put it, Posey appears to be vying to take over the title of most antivaccine legislator in the U.S. Congress since Dan Burton retired. Not surprisingly, he has received not-insubstantial donations from prominent members of the antivaccine movement, several with names that, if you typed them into the search box of this blog, would bring up multiple posts packed with pristine Insolence. Whenever someone who is a associated with the antivaccine movement and has demonstrated antivaccine proclivities through his actions so piously denies being antivaccine, a good rule of thumb is that he is almost certainly antivaccine, and in this case Posey is just that.

After citing Thompson’s one and only public statement on the issue since Wakefield’s, issued nearly a year ago, Posey read a new statement allegedly made by Thompson. Most of it is stuff I’ve heard before and blogged about, but this part was new:

At the bottom of Table 7 it also shows that for the non-birth certificate sample, the adjusted race effect statistical significance was huge. All the authors and I met and decided sometime between August and September ’02 not to report any race effects for the paper. Sometime soon after the meeting, we decided to exclude reporting any race effects, the co-authors scheduled a meeting to destroy documents related to the study. The remaining four co-authors all met and brought a big garbage can into the meeting room and reviewed and went through all the hard copy documents that we had thought we should discard and put them in a huge garbage can. However, because I assumed it was illegal and would violate both FOIA and DOJ requests, I kept hard copies of all documents in my office and I retained all associated computer files. I believe we intentionally withheld controversial findings from the final draft of the Pediatrics paper.

If this is a legitimate statement actually by Thompson, which is certainly possible, given that it’s known that Thompson has been in contact with Posey, this is the first time Thompson has alleged anything actually unethical or illegal. All his previous accusations before could easily be explained as being disagreements based on Thompson’s misunderstanding of statistics, how to control for confounding variables, and the perils of relying on such a small subset to make any conclusions. This is the first time he’s accused his coinvestigators of outright destruction of data, which is a very serious charge. Destruction of the primary documents for a government-funded scientific study is not only scientific fraud, but a federal crime as well.

I’m sure his former co-investigators are very happy to hear this. I’m also sure that saying such things will make Thompson even more popular at the CDC than he is now, which is almost certainly not very after what he did last year, taking his disagreements with co-investigators public, speaking to an antivaccine loon like Bill Hooker, and giving Andrew Wakefield ammunition to make more trouble. (One wonders what he does all day at the CDC these days.) Be that as it may this story doesn’t sound very credible at all. For one thing, the data for an epidemiological study would be not just on paper records, but in many computer files, in particular SPSS files used to do the statistical analysis and perhaps spreadsheets and databases storing all the data on the subjects. These would be stored on government servers, which are backed up every day, with backups kept for a long time, if not indefinitely. In other words, it’s not that easy to do what Thompson is accusing his co-investigators of doing. There would be both an electronic and paper trail that would be difficult to erase. Surely Thompson knows that; his co-investigators almost certainly did as well. Does that mean these allegations shouldn’t be investigated? At this point, there is probably little choice, but, given Thompson’s track record, my guess is that there is nothing to his charges, which would make him truly despicable to have made them.

Another rather curious issue is why Posey called for the Appropriations Committee to investigate. This makes no sense at all to me, given that the most appropriate committee to investigate charges of major research fraud at the CDC would be, as much as I hate to say it, Dan Burton’s old committee, now chaired by that tool of the supplement industry, Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Appropriations Committee isn’t the usual committee to look into allegations of governmental wrongdoing of this type.

That’s not the only curious issue, though. I also find it very strange that posey didn’t produce any actual documents. After all, if the documents are as damning as claimed and Thompson has given Posey his copies, why not be specific about what was destroyed? Why say only that he would provide the documents to any Congressional representative who asked? That’s still not all, though. If, as Posey claims, this scientific fraud is so bad, why did he bring it up during a Morning Hour session. Morning Hour Debates are usually held on Mondays and Tuesdays and are dedicated to members speaking about whatever topic they like. Of course, this being Congress, it’s more complex than that, with rules over who is chosen to speak for an individual session, and the like, but that’s basically it. Another pertinent fact is that this is the last week Congress is in session before the August recess. So why give this speech in a Morning Debate the week before everyone in Congress heads back to his district for five weeks?

My guess is that Posey is doing this as a favor for his paying supporters in the antivaccine movement, but doing it in such a way that he’s on C-Span giving a speech asking for an investigation of Thompson’s allegations, but at a time when no one in Congress is paying attention to anything but getting major work done in time to be able to blow out of town. Given that Andrew Wakefield is working on a movie (oh, joy!), as we learn from this interview:

Hilariously (or sadly, depending on your point of view), in the section about the CDC Whistleblower, starting at about the 31:00 mark. In between the rants about big pharma, pharma shill gambits, and attacks on the CDC, Wakefield claims that he has all the documents as well. He claims that Thompson is a statistician and epidemiologist. Thompson is neither. He’s a psychologist. He also claims that he “outed” Thompson to protect him, because otherwise they were going to be dredging the river for him. That’s right. Wakefield actually claimed that he was looking out for Thompson’s best interests, rather than Wakefield’s best interests. Anyone who has studied Wakefield knows how ridiculous that claim is, because Wakefield is about nothing if not his own self-interest. But damn if it doesn’t add spice to the conspiracy theory. Maybe with all the excitement among antivaccinationists about the conspiracy theory in which alternative medicine docs are being systematically murdered by big pharma, Wakefield had to come up with a claim that William Thompson would be murdered by the government if it weren’t for his intervention. Who knows?

Whatever the case, Wakefield is continuing to flog the CDC whistleblower fiction, and Thompson appears to be going along with it while Posey is using it to keep antivaccinationists funding his campaign. What I highly doubt is that there is any malfeasance to be found. Indeed, if this statement from Thompson turns out to be genuinely from him, I’d wonder how long it will be until DeStefano and the other co-authors of the original sue Thompson for libel because he just accused them of a major federal crime.