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Ben Swann returns, and this time he’s got the CDC whistleblower documents

When it comes to blogging, sometime’s it’s feast or famine. Some days there are more topics and stories that I’d like to blog about than I could ever get to, given that I generally only do one post per weekday, while other days I seriously think about skipping a day because there’s just nothing out there that interests me. This is one of the former kinds of days.

Seriously, there was an embarrassment of riches last night, so much so that I had a hard time making up my mind what story to write about. The one that I ultimately chose only just edged out the second place choice, and then only at the last minute and then only because it is a followup to a post I did about about a month ago. I might well get to the runner up tomorrow, but for now it’s time to revisit a story I’ve done a lot of blogging about because it’s come up again.

How many of you remember Ben Swann? Well, he’s back.

Regular readers might remember that Swann is the clueless, conspiracy-minded “investigative reporter” who anchors the evening news for WGCL-CBS46 in Atlanta. The location is important, because it’ means he’s the local news anchor for a major CBS affiliate who did a highly credulous story about the the “#CDCtruth” rally in October. As you recall, that rally involved the Nation of Islam, Barbara Loe Fisher of the antivaccine group the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) that she founded, and a whole gaggle of other antivaccine activists, the most prominent of whom was our old pal Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who’s risen, Phoenix-like, since his disappearance from the antivaccine movement several years ago, to write a fear-mongering book about mercury in vaccines and, of course, to headline the #CDCTruth rally in Atlanta in October. Basically, this tag team of pseudoscience was the culmination of a partnership between antivaccine activists with Minister Tony Muhammad of the Nation of Islam (NOI) that began when antivaccinationists used the “CDC whistleblower” manufactroversy to persuade high ranking members of the NOI that vaccines can cause cause autism in African-American boys. Using that misinformation, they were able to persuade the NOI to join in the fight against SB 277, the new law in California that will eliminate nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates beginning in 2016.

The whole “CDC whistleblower” saga is a long and complicated story that began in August 2014 and has progressed and metastasized since then to become a major focus of many antivaccine activists and groups. The long version of the tale can be found here and here. As is my wont, before I tell you what Swann’s up to now, I’ll provide a CliffsNotes version for the casual reader and newbie because it’s necessary to know a bit about who the “CDC whistleblower” is, what he claims, and what all this has to do with Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), which is where Swann comes in. Regular readers who are familiar with the story might want to skip ahead. If you don’t know the story, please read the next couple of paragraphs.

The “CDC whistleblower,” as you might recall, is a psychologist who works for the CDC and was involved in planning and carrying out some pivotal studies that failed to find a correlation between vaccination and autism, including a 2004 study whose lead author was Frank DeStefano (henceforth referred to as DeStefano et al). Beginning in November 2013, for reasons known only to himself, Thompson somehow became chummy with Brian Hooker, someone whom I like to refer to as a biochemical engineer turned incompetent antivaccine epidemiologist because that’s exactly what he is. Not realizing that his conversations were being recorded, Thompson spoke to Hooker in several telephone calls in which, apparently racked with guilt over his role in DeStefano et al examining MMR vaccine uptake as a risk factor for autism, he unburdened himself, kvetched about his CDC colleagues, and basically accused the CDC of covering up a finding that MMR vaccination correlated with autism in African American boys. Even if one were to take that finding at face value, it actually was a study that showed that Andrew Wakefield was basically wrong in that no such correlation was found in Caucasians, male or female, African American girls, or any other racial group. That right away should have suggested to Thompson that it’s a spurious finding due to small numbers in the subgroup. It was, of course, a finding that disappeared when proper statistical correction was made for confounders.

As a result of these conversations and the data supplied to him by Thompson, Brian Hooker did an epically incompetent “reanalysis” of DeStefano et al. What this reanalysis claimed to find was that DeStefano et al had done some statistical prestidigitation to eliminate a statistically significant difference in African American males correlating with age of MMR vaccination. Of course, as I discussed at the time (as did many others), Hooker, in his love of “simplicity,” had neglected to control for important confounders and imputed way too much significance to a spurious correlation that disappeared when proper correction for confounders was made. As I’ve put it many times, simplicity in statistical analyses of epidemiological data is not a virtue. In any case, so incredibly incompetent was Hooker’s analysis that the journal actually retracted the paper. Because Thompson’s allegations appeared to confirm the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement (that the CDC knew vaccines cause autism but were hiding it from the public), the antivaccine movement has been beating this dead horse of a scandal for over 15 months now.

Nere’s where Rep. Bill Posey comes in. Back in July, the week before the House of Representatives went on recess, Rep. Posey gave a five minute speech on the House floor in which he claimed that Thompson had told him that his co-investigators on DeStefano et al had destroyed primary evidence for the study, claiming that the “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.” Thompson, as you might recall, stated that he had saved a copy of these documents, and Rep. Posey told the House that he had them and demanded an investigation. Stories have appeared in the antivaccine crankosphere that Rep. Posey had 100,000 pages of documents.

Nothing much has happened since then, other than the tiny and ineffectual “#CDCtruth” rally in October. Certainly, Congress has not investigated the CDC whistleblower charges. So guess what happened? The antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism is more than happy to tell the tale:

Ben Swann began reporting on the problems in the vaccine program two years ago, and today on Age of Autism he discloses that Congressman Bill Posey has released to him the CDC documents turned over to Congress by Dr. William Thompson concerning the cover up of the links between the MMR and autism. Swann discusses Vaccine safety, vaccine choice, potential corruption at CDC and his plans for the #CDCwhistleblower documents in a video interview with Age of Autism Media Editor, Anne Dachel.

Oh, goody. Judging from his previous brain dead coverage of the #CDCtruth rally, we’re in for some entertaining times here on the skeptic side. For one thing, this move on Posey’s part, if he really has given Swann all of the CDC whistleblower documents, strikes me as sheer desperation. He obviously wasn’t getting any traction in his attempts to get a Congressional committee to investigate Thompson’s allegations; so he decided to dump the documents into the hands of a sympathetic journalist, who then gave an interview to the Internet’s premier antivaccine website and blog:

Here we learn where Swann got interested in the topic of vaccines:

It was in 2014*, I was in Minneapolis for an event that I was asked to speak at. It was an event about liberty, and while I was there, I had a chance to meet really two people whose names I did not know: Jennifer Larson and Mark Blaxill. These were two people who came to this event that was in part sponsored by the Canary Party. And I didn’t know what the Canary Party was either by the way, and while we were there, I had a chance to talk with them for a few minutes. They started explaining to me some of the issues with vaccines and concerns about vaccines. (*Correction: 2013)

And:

And then they were beginning to explain about the vaccine schedule, how much it’s increased over the past thirty years vs the number of cases that actually make it into vaccine court. It was really interesting. And so we decided to create a Truth in Media episode with Jennifer and Mark, and to interview Mark about this because the issue of vaccine court was so interesting to me.

Here is the video:

Contained in that video is ten minutes worth of seriously burning stupid. It hits many of the common antivaccine tropes, including the claim that the government has “quietly awarded” families of autistic children damages for vaccine injury. Never mind that the compensation was not for autism and the study used to claim to show this was unethical and poorly designed. Meanwhile, as I listened to Swann’s description of the Vaccine Court and its creation in 1986, I couldn’t help but hear Rob Schneider’s voice, because Swann was clearly cribbing the same talking points that Schneider does, full of the same misinformation and deceptive talking points. Of course, that’s not surprising, given that Swann relies on Mark Blaxill of the antivaccine Canary Party for his information. Swann also engages in—shall we say?—a bit of revisionist history about the Autism Omnibus hearing.

No wonder Swann thinks like this. Get a load of an analogy he makes in his interview:

Because there is this assumption that if you cover a certain subject you’re obviously taking a position on it, you’re taking a side on it. And as a journalist, that should never be true. No matter what issue you cover as a journalist, it should not be based on your own preference or your own opinion.

“As a lot of journalists would look at this story, …they’re told, ‘Well listen, those people are crazy. There’s all these anti-vaxxers out there. And if you do anything that indicates that you’re among them, or you’re one of them, it discredits you.’

“Now what’s completely nonsensical about that is, if we cover terrorism, if we cover ISIS, that doesn’t make us a part of ISIS. If we say, ‘Hey, let’s take a look at how ISIS formed in the first place,’ that doesn’t make you a terrorist or a suicide bomber. And yet if you say, ‘Let’s take a look at what these people are talking about when it comes to vaccination,’ they’ll say, ‘Oh wait, that makes you anti-vax.’ It’s a very bizarre thing.

No, it’s not bizarre at all. Swann’s analogy is ridiculous and deceptive. A better analogy would be if a reporter were to report on ISIS and credulously repeat its propaganda as news and as true. Any reporter that did that would rapidly become viewed as either sympathetic to ISIS or a dupe of ISIS, in just the same way that reporters like Ben Swann and Sharyl Attkisson are quite correctly viewed as either sympathetic to antivaccinationists or their dupes. Given the enthusiasm with which Swann regurgitates antivaccine talking points, I don’t think he’s a dupe. I think he’s become sympathetic to antivaccine views. Sure, it’s possible that he’s just so clueless about science that he thinks he’s really discovered an important story, but his conspiracy mongering about big pharma tends to lead me back to thinking he’s been converted.

He’s also proud of his previous coverage, which he really should not be. He gushes about how many people called him and sent him supportive e-mails and bragged about how “this is by far the largest news organization that’s ever covered this issue, and done it in a very public way.” Of course, given that CBS 46 is only a CBS affiliate, it should tell Swann something that it’s the biggest media outlet that’s covered the story.

He then attacks a straw man:

“One of the claims was that this whole thing was made up.

“As a journalist, that bothers me. It bothers me because, candidly, I haven’t seen the documents either. Maybe they’re right, maybe they don’t exist.

“So the next step for me was to contact Congressman Posey and say I would like to have the documents. Please release to me all those documents. And I’ll let your listeners know that Congressman Posey has complied with that request for the documents.

“So I now have copies of all of the information that Dr. Thompson handed over to Congress. We’re going through that information right now. We’re studying it and we’ll be releasing that information at some point, to the public.

“Again, because it’s not my information–it doesn’t belong to me. It is my job, I believe, as a journalist, to share that information. I want to do it in a responsible way. But it will be shared with the public because I believe they have a right to know.

“And again, the CDC should have done this themselves a long time ago. They should have come clean with it. They didn’t. Dr. Thompson could have come clean on his own, but he didn’t. He’s gone through the channels, based on what his attorneys have told him.

“But as a journalist, I have the ability to share that information. That’s one of the reasons that we’ve established Truth in Media Project and TruthInMedia.com so that truth can reach the public.

“So stayed tuned for that because very soon…you’re going to have access to those documents yourselves.”

Oh, goody.

Here’s the problem. First, no one say said that the “whole thing was made up.” Rather, what we have argued is that the case is almost certainly a major misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what actually happened. Certainly, its key premise, that DeStefano et al showed that African American boys who receive the MMR earlier are at a much higher risk of autism than those who don’t and that the CDC covered it up, is not supported by evidence and rests on the misinterpretation of the DeStefano et al dataset. More importantly, interpreting documents like the ones allegedly provided by William Thompson is not a simple matter. You need to know the science; you need to know a bit about how the CDC works; you need to know a bit of statistics.

Maybe that’s why it looks as though Swann won’t be reporting on these documents for CBS 46 but rather for his own YouTube channel. Indeed, he even uses the opportunity of the interview to pimp his IndieGoGo campaign Global Activist, an Internet series. There’s also another issue. Even if you take Thompson at his word and these are documents “destroyed” by the CDC, how can Swann even be sure that theyse are the real documents? How can we verify the chain of custody? Inquiring minds want to know!

Antivaccinationists have been flogging the CDC whistleblower manufactroversy for well over a year now. All they’ve managed to accomplish thus far are to ally themselves with the Nation of Islam, which has of late become so tightly associated with the Church of Scientology that it might as well be a wholly owned subsidiary, and to stage a small protest at the CDC and in Atlanta. Even if Swann does release all these documents, I highly doubt that he’ll manage to to what antivaccinationists and Twitter were unable to do: Make it into a real story that hits the national news in a big way and triggers a major investigation of the CDC. After all, if a Congressman couldn’t get that to happen after many months, either he wasn’t trying very hard (which is quite possible) or there’s just no there there.

I guess we’ll see. My prediction? We’ll see the same sort of thing we’ve seen with every prior announcement about the “CDC whistleblower”: A lot of heat and buildup from the antivaccine movement and then nothing damning (or even that interesting) when the documents are finally released, even the cherry-picked examples like the ones that have been released before. Whatever happens, my guess is that Rep. Posey got tired of being the point man for the antivaccine lunatic fringe. Giving whatever documents he got from Thompson to Swann lets him wash his hands of the whole affair while appearing to be a hero to his donors the antivaccine movement.

The hot potato has been passed to Ben Swann. I predict that it will be amusing to see what he does with it.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

125 replies on “Ben Swann returns, and this time he’s got the CDC whistleblower documents”

So, the US Government can’t keep some of its most secret and important security documents offline (i.e wikileaks), but somehow the anti-vaxers haven’t released a single document from Thompson’s “stash” in over a year?

Yeah, all of this sounds incredibly fishy, even at face value…..yet another example of anti-vax illogic.

The data has already been scrutinized and the results are in. Wakefield and Hooker have already had these documents for over a year. You will be seeing Wakefield front and center soon enough for a vindication jig. Maybe Jenny will join in. They are being too kind with revealing this information. I would unleash it in all its damning glory without discretion to public health implications. It is the truth after all. I can hear them now, We should have listened to Wakefield, we have to change the timing, single vaccines, if only we did this over a decade ago.

“Maybe that’s why it looks as though Swann won’t be reporting on these documents for CBS 46 but rather for his own YouTube channel.”

I think we have just located the line which marks the boundary of ‘sh!t too crazy for even CBS46* to put on the air.’ Maybe the complaints to the management did a little good.

*Home of the 1% market share

It’s interesting that Posey claimed he couldn’t release the documents when others inquired about them, but suddenly he’s able to release them to a conspiracy-minded hack?

Wasn’t on time delivery of MMR found to be protective for Afro-American boys? I thought the increased odds ratio for autism appeared for boys who received the vaccine late, but not too late, just before an early intervention cutoff. Even Hooker, hard as he might try, could not cook up a correlation between early receipt of MMR and autism.

We should start a pool for when Swann is going to release the documents. Smart money is on never.

@James Lind

Yes. Hooker’s study showed that on-time MMR vaccination (i.e., at 12-15 months) had zero increased risk of being associated with an autism diagnosis. Even slightly late vaccination (18-24 months) had no association. It was only in the (very tiny) 24-36 month group that he found a statistical correlation, and that because, as Orac notes, he didn’t account for confounding variables.

James Lind, don’t you realize that is obviously because of bad study design on the part of the DeStefano et al, just like the fact they failed to show the undoubtedly existing link between the evil vaccine and every other group investigated. Hooker could only unearth so much truth from such flawed data.

Probably have to add the /sarcasm tag just in case some anti-vax troll wanders in.

Rep.”I got the document, looks like it’s all the original data”
Rep’s chief of staff “Original medical documents? Let me check with legal”
CoS “This stuff is all covered by Hipaa, no way you can use it”
Rep “But it’s juicy stuff, lets find a journalist to release it”
CoS “No way any station or editor lets that go out either”
Rep “Tell him it’s getting suppressed by higher powers and to put it on you tube”

@Mu

Now that would be interesting. Wonder if the Office for Civil Rights would be interested in taking a look at the documents that have been released to ensure that no covered PHI has been disclosed.

Maybe that’s what they’re relying on, so that they can scream “cover-up! We’re being repressed! We can’t show you any of this! But take our word for it, it’s dynamite!”, when they realise there’s nothing in there.

@ Rebecca Fisher

Maybe that’s what they’re relying on, so that they can scream “cover-up! […]

The scammers in the lot, yes. But don”t overlook that a number of the involved people may actually genuinely believe it.

The concept of secrecy around medical information is very poorly understood by most people, especially those who like to complain and/or have a narcissist tendency.
They don’t see why they should keep quiet about their medical issues, so why would other people object? After all, they are just revealing that these poor people have been harmed by some nefarious entity. They should be glad to have a champion. It’s a self-sustaining circle: because they are right, they can not do any wrong.
It’s the old “if you are innocent, you have nothing to fear”.

@ Rebecca Fisher:

Wouldn’t you know it but today Ann Dachel, reviewing which television comedians she likes and dislikes based upon inferred vaccine beliefs, mentions Kennedy’s tale of how his ‘Deadly Immunity’ spot was at first welcomed by show producers but was then later cancelled because “higher ups” disapproved. Of course, his fans complained so it was aired but highly cut.
It’s always the “higher ups”, isn’t it?

OT but hey, it’s JP:

@ JP:

Come out, come out** wherever you are and talk to us beyond monosyllable, terse inter-spurts.

** I know you’re already *OUT* but you know what I mean

I submitted Swann’s original reporting on CBS 46 to a writer for an online news site who has done several critical articles on the anti-vaxxer movement. He ended up not writing an article, but he did give me a little insight into how an Alex Jones fanboy like Swann could have been hired by a major-market network affiliate:

Hahaha. WGCL. The station’s new director is Larry Perret, one of the worst people in the business. I had the displeasure of working for him back in the 90s in LA.

@Denice Walter #18: How about Dachel treating Jon Stewart’s comments in the Kennedy as if they weren’t ten years old and might not have any bearing on his current opinions on the issue?

Is anyone aware of some legal reason why Posey/Hooker couldn’t release the documents but this reporter can? I mean they have to have been giving the anti-vaccine loons some kind of explanation as to why they’ve been holding on to these alleged “thousands of pages” of documents without releasing them right?

I was in Minneapolis for an event that I was asked to speak at. It was an event about liberty

This made my antenna twitch. It’s one thing for a journalist like Swann to be attending an event like this in his journalist capacity. It’s quite another to be an invited speaker at such an event, especially since “liberty” has been turned into one of those words that means whatever the speaker wants it to mean, never mind the dictionary definition. If Swann had a competent boss (which as suggested upthread may not be the case), the only satisfactory reason for the latter not to bring Swann in for a long chat about this would be if Swann were being fired.

Oh, and I can make certain inferences about Swann’s political leanings. He’s not the only journalist to have such leanings so thinly disguised, but it’s unseemly for a journalist to be a political crypto-anything. Don’t play games, Mr. Swann; if you are going to drop hints about your political preferences, just come out and say it so that your viewers can take it into account.

Hear ye! Hear ye!

Damning evidence so damning that it had to be secretly recorded over phone conversations and then given to a Congressman as “destroyed data” that apparently now goes to a 3rd rate reporter who’s gonna spill beans on youtube.

Geez, you’d think that BigPharma and the reptilian overlords would have bought off Posey for the mere pittance he sold his soul to Larson and Blaxhill.

Is anyone aware of some legal reason why Posey/Hooker couldn’t release the documents but this reporter can?

Two possibilities, which are not mutually exclusive: (1) Posey and Hooker have better lawyers than Swann, or (2) Posey and Hooker are listening to their lawyers, and Swann isn’t.

Perhaps Posey and/or Hooker want these documents to become public, but know that they can’t have their fingerprints on the doc dump, so they arranged for a patsy like Swann to do the job.

@ JP

I awkwardly second (third?) Not a Troll seconding Denice. Including the good wishes.

@Annie #24: I don’t think the reason Posey said for not releasing the documents is legal – and it’s unclear Hooker ever had them. Posey suggested in comments on his Facebook page that he promised not to release them – not a legal barrier – and apparently now he changed his mind and chose to release them to Ben Swann.

@Dorit

Interesting. Why on earth would he promise not to release them? And who did he make that promise to exactly? And why would that person not want them released if the information is so damning?*

*Not questions necessarily directed at you, Dorit (unless you know the answers, of course!) I’m just thinking out loud here at how nonsensical this whole thing is.

Stories have appeared in the antivaccine crankosphere that Rep. Posey had 100,000 pages of documents.

All traceable back to Swann as the only source of the claim.

Have any of you encountered this clown before?

He sounds nice like another Homeopathy scammer in search of a client base.

@Annie #33: Here is what Congressman Posey said at: https://www.facebook.com/101464786703/photos/a.10150925623976704.407033.101464786703/10153468514926704/?type=3&comment_id=10153471536786704&reply_comment_id=10153472732426704&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R9%22%7D

“I was given the documents with the understanding I could reveal them only before other members of congress and the Oversight Committee. The Committee Chairman has promised me he will hold a hearing after his staff completes its work on the Obamacare exchanges.”

I can only guess at the more full answers to your questions.

“I was given the documents with the understanding I could reveal them only before other members of congress and the Oversight Committee. The Committee Chairman has promised me he will hold a hearing after his staff completes its work on the Obamacare exchanges.”

Pure speculation of course but the lack of Congressional interest could be the reason for shuffling this nonsense off to a patsy like Ben Swann and his YouTube following. It really reeks of desperation to me.

@Science Mom

From what Posey wrote, lack of interest from Congress doesn’t appear to be a reason to divulge the documents to anyone not a member of Congress (e.g., a yellow journalist). Or maybe there were other members of Congress in the room when he handed them over to Swann? Perhaps that’s what he meant.

@Todd

“Yes. Hooker’s study showed that on-time MMR vaccination (i.e., at 12-15 months) had zero increased risk of being associated with an autism diagnosis. Even slightly late vaccination (18-24 months) had no association. It was only in the (very tiny) 24-36 month group that he found a statistical correlation, and that because, as Orac notes, he didn’t account for confounding variables.”

Mind linking the numbers and source for that? Is that what Thompson said in his conversations with Hooker? Thanks! 🙂

@Annie

It’s in Hooker’s retracted paper (see table 2). And I remembered incorrectly. The males vaccinated at 18-24 months had a minor association, but the range was very close to 1. And that association disappears once he excluded low birth weight (table 4).

So, Posey released the documents to …. the Canary Party through its shill Ben Swann?
How surprising.

BTW – Ben Swann has appeared numerous times on Alex Jones’ conspiracy empire. That answers the question of whether he’s a conspiracy loon or just dumb. (Both)
Nice catch CBS46, you’ve hired AJ Jr.

@ Peebs:

You know, I do recall his name but can’t for the life of me remember where I read his crap. Possibly one of TMR’s web seminars? Maybe.

I discovered that he is a CEASE therapist. CEASE is a form of homeopathy created/ dreamt up by a Dutch fellow and adopted by some of the faithful @ TMR as a treatment for autism.
I’m too lazy to scroll through dozens of TMR seminars but that seems like the likeliest place.

#34 Peebs –

He showed up as a quoted cite in the comments of a GreenMedcisInfo article where the anti-semitism from Jim Stone was on garish display for all to see:
greenmedinfo(dot)com/blog/why-china-having-measles-outbreaks-when-99-are-vaccinated-2#comment-1613582754
This post was followed by a post by “GreenMedInfo” (the admin) stating merely – “Approved” showing that GMdI is also an anti-semitic site as well as anti-vaccine. Oh, S. Ji is also a chemtrailer as well. k00k magnetism in action.

That entire post is a quote from from what was a current article at jimstonefreelance(dot)com/

So Jim Stone is an anti-vaccine crank and an anti-semite.
What else is new?

#34 Peebs
Sorry. I misidentified the k00k.
You inquired after alanfreestone(dot)com not jimstone(dot)com.
What can I say?
I was in the middle of making dinner and misread.
Sorry.

As much as anti-vaxxers (and promoters of pseudoscience in general) rely on and are enamored by conspiracy theories, they only seem to consider them shallowly. The majority of conspiracy claimants seem to latch onto the parts that support their claims on the surface, but fail provide such support with further reasoning. They apparently cherry pick the ramifications of their conspiracy theory, while ignoring parts of their conspiracy theory that contradict their claims. For example, many anti-vaxxers scream about a huge government and Big Phrama conspiracy, and use package inserts as purely factual references to support their claims.

I know this is OT, but I have to say thank you ORAC and all and sundry. I am not a scientist, I am not a physician, I make things.
I take materials and construct stuff. What I do is essentially an emperical process, I know that if I do this that will happen. I also know that often stuff goes wrong. Mostly that is dirty inputs. So I clean. If it still happens I have to go to, guess what, science, theory. Physics mostly, where I am a complete naive. But I muddle through.
The point of this burble is that I battle pseudoscience on the small zone I inhabit on the interwebs. Learning from you lot. I have been unfriended, abused, and ignored. But a few have been drawn into ongoing discussions and I think, learning to think. The things that most effect people are not logical fallacies but finding out that the sources they trust tell lies. Explaining look and link is so hard.

@52

The issues are largely caused by cognitive biases and just plain ignorance. Simple ignorance could be solved with education, but there is so much misinformation running around out there, making it a challenge to correct. And that’s just assuming they are innocently ignorant. When people fall prey to cognitive biases, as we wall do to some degree, they can be essentially impossible to argue with. Many in the pseudoscience community encourage and rely on such biases, making it even more difficult.

As Science-Based Medicine’s logo suggest, it is a Sisyphean fight despite its critical importance. Due to the immense difficulty involved in the task, every person who begins to think critically and challenge their ideas with skepticism is a victory.

I applaud you, and other skeptics, for each success.

@ James

Others have pointed out that yes, you’re right. But also, this is typical woo logic. All apparent benefits of mainstream treatments are falsified, but all reported side effects are real.

Thompson has also whined about another study he was coauthor on that he claims shows vaccines cause ticks. The same dataset shows a (similarly insignificant) increase in intelligence…but nope, can’t have that. Only the bad stuff is real.

Much the same as anything good that happens to you after an alt-med treatment was definitely caused by the treatment, but all side effects are not side effects, they would have happened anyway, or are somehow your fault for doing it wrong.

So Jim Stone is an anti-vaccine crank and an anti-semite.
What else is new?

It’s certainly been a while since the drama of his commentariat’s rescue of “Dr.” Megan Heimer.

Do you ever notice that Orac can never simply provide the facts and let the reader draw their own conclusions? Why is that Orac? Do you have that little faith in your readership? (You should.) Every sentence is filled with ad hominem attacks and vitriol, and you always seem to leave out details which are not consistent with the conclusion you wish your readers to draw.

Its fascinating to watch how Orac and everyone else here is so willing to put the cart before the horse. Apparently the credibility of Dr. William Thompson, a senior epidemiologist and research scientist at the CDC, is dubious enough that these kinds of serious claims do not warrant any sort of investigation. We wouldn’t want to learn that everything we’ve been spouting about for years might not be true, now would we?

Think about this seriously for a moment. Dr. Thompson is a senior CDC research scientist and one of the authors of the 2004 DeStefano paper, and he now claims that significant findings were withheld from that paper. If this were about any topic other than vaccines, this whistleblower would have already testified in front of Congress. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s full of it…but at the very least the gravity of his claims warrant serious investigation, and Posey has now tried twice to convince his colleagues to hold hearings. Crickets.

All of you keep yammering on about how nothing has come of this, it’s old news, this happened a year ago and there have been no new developments, and you use this as evidence that Dr. Thompson’s claims must be false.

The continued silence from the media on this story and the inaction from Congress are just more examples of how difficult it is to get any vaccine safety issue adequately investigated, much less even taken seriously. Especially when there are so many pseudo-skeptics who can’t seem to figure out exactly what they should be skeptical of.

Orac says:

“Certainly, its key premise, that DeStefano et al showed that African American boys who receive the MMR earlier are at a much higher risk of autism than those who don’t and that the CDC covered it up, is not supported by evidence and rests on the misinterpretation of the DeStefano et al dataset.”

That is bull puckey. What evidence? The evidence here is the 2004 DeStefano study itself, and when a whistleblower claims that a study withheld significant findings, you can’t use that same study as “evidence” that he is not correct. Right now the only real evidence is Dr. Thompson’s statements, the videos that were made of him talking on the phone, and the documents that he gave to Congressman Posey (you know, the documents he claims the other researchers threw away).

You can make fun of Ben Swann all you like, but the simple fact is that no mainstream media outlet, or mainstream journalist for that matter, would be willing to take this on. It would mean the end of their career, and you all know it.

The fact that you do not see that as a problem tells us everything we need to know about your collective bias on this issue.

David Foster:

Do you ever notice that Orac can never simply provide the facts and let the reader draw their own conclusions?

Did you see those blue words in the text above? They’re called “hyperlinks”, and if you’d clicked on them, you’d have been taken to earlier blog posts on this “controversy” where there are ample data.

Apparently the credibility of Dr. William Thompson, a senior epidemiologist and research scientist at the CDC, is dubious enough that these kinds of serious claims do not warrant any sort of investigation.

There has been a lot said about what Dr. Thompson has supposedly said. Thompson himself appears to have gone to ground and is keeping very quiet.

All of you keep yammering on about how nothing has come of this, it’s old news, this happened a year ago and there have been no new developments, and you use this as evidence that Dr. Thompson’s claims must be false.

The continued silence from the media on this story and the inaction from Congress are just more examples of how difficult it is to get any vaccine safety issue adequately investigated, much less even taken seriously

Or maybe it’s proof that everyone looked at it, realised that there was nothing to it, and moved on.

You can make fun of Ben Swann all you like, but the simple fact is that no mainstream media outlet, or mainstream journalist for that matter, would be willing to take this on. It would mean the end of their career, and you all know it.

See my response above.

The fact that you do not see that as a problem tells us everything we need to know about your collective bias on this issue.

Or maybe, just maybe, this entire palaver is “a tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Apparently the credibility of Dr. William Thompson, a senior epidemiologist and research scientist at the CDC

Funny how a professional’s opinion is de facto credible when this opinion happens to reinforce your own.

I mean, Thompson’s colleagues were also “senior epidemiologist and research scientist at the CDC”, but their opinion that there is nothing amiss with the data is simply dismissed.

Why is it that so many whiners seem to have absolutely no clue about the nature of a blog?
Why didn’t you explain everything that ever happened on the topic since the Big Bang? Why do you have an opinion? Why do you say things that I might find insulting or that hurt my feeling? Why don’t you write about what I want you to? Why are you so mean!?!!

@David Foster

There hasn’t been any convincing evidence of wrongdoing presented. Thompson says that findings were not included, so he pointed Brian Hooker to that data. Hooker published a (now retracted) paper showing that data, and it turns out it was, as everyone suspected after reading the original study, spurious and due (again, as stated in the original paper) to confounders.

As for everything else, we have a whole lotta claims, but no solid evidence to back up any of those claims. And given that the sources are not known to be particularly reliable, you can forgive us for taking those claims with a barrel of salt.

By the bye, take a look at the link I provided up at comment #9, as well as all of those links Orac provided. It may help clear up your confusion.

Does Dr Thompson have a degree in epidemiology? I thought he was a just a psychologist.

Julian — you forgot the rest of the quote. It’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.

David [email protected]:

Do you ever notice that antivax assclowns can never simply provide the facts and let the reader draw their own conclusions? Why is that antivax assclowns? Do you have that little faith in your readership? (You should.) Every sentence is filled with ad hominem attacks and vitriol, and you always seem to leave out details which are not consistent with the conclusion you wish your readers to draw.

FTFY. As others have pointed out, our gracious host is nothing if not thorough in backing up his well-earned insolence with reliable evidence and critical analysis.

It’s very simple really: Evidence or GTFO. If it’s good enough for our cold hard science, it should be good enough for your warm and comfy conspiracist circle-jerk.

Maybe if you all stopped babbling about the vast quantities of absolutely damning evidence of massive govenment conspiracy you possess and actually posted it, it might show us you aren’t just blowing farts out your ass purely so you can huff ’em up again because you enjoy the smell of your own BS so much.

Otherwise, don’t blame us for your credibility being in the sewer. You earned it.

“Do you ever notice that Orac can never simply provide the facts and let the reader draw their own conclusions? Why is that Orac?”

I never before realized that this blog is the equivalent of the news section of the N.Y. Times*, and that posting informed opinion is verboten.

Thanks for cluing me in.

*not that the Times is immune to editorializing in the course of reporting the news.

David Foster:

Do you ever notice that Orac can never simply provide the facts and let the reader draw their own conclusions? Why is that Orac? Do you have that little faith in your readership? (You should.) Every sentence is filled with ad hominem attacks and vitriol, and you always seem to leave out details which are not consistent with the conclusion you wish your readers to draw.

I’m always impressed when someone is able to write a paragraph criticizing someone else’s writing that demonstrates the same traits that they are complaining about. It’s a very self-referential kind of hypocrisy.

Not that I ever expect any consistency from politicians, but even I am surprised at how quickly Posey went from having promised not to release any documents, except to members of Congress, to giving the documents to a journalist.

Does this mean that other members of Congress are completely and utterly disinterested in the documents? I guess so. Or is Posey (or more likely the person who gave Posey the documents) hoping a bit of good old-fashioned bashing in the press will make Congress sit upand take notice? If so, the release of these documents on a conspiracy-mongering internet channel is not going to help.

This all reads ‘DESPERATION’ to me.

P.S. I think all the lurkers here should carefully read David Foster’s comment and ask themselves the question: “If you have any good evidence, why would you write something like this?”

1. The original study protocol was altered and there is no legitimate reason why race was not used as a co-variate for the entire sample.

2. Decreasing the sample size from 230 to only 137 autistic African American boys eliminated the statistically significant association between the age of MMR vaccination and autism in the 2004 CDC study.

3. The CDC has provided no statement contradicting the central claim of Brian Hooker’s re-analysis of the data, that if the entire sample of African American boys was analyzed, it would show a 236% increased risk of autism in those receiving the MMR vaccine before age 3 versus those receiving it after age 3.

http://www.toxicshots.com

@Truth

Couple problems with your points. First off, reliable race data was not available for the entire study population. This is noted in the study. Furthermore, confounding variables, such as maternal education, etc., are not available for the full cohort, but only for the subset that had valid GA birth certificates. Hooker did not account for any confounding variables.

Oh, and there was no analysis of pre-age 3 vs. post-age 3. The groups were:

1) Those immunized before 15 months of age
2) Those immunized before 24 months of age (but after 15 mo.)
3) Those immunized before 36 months of age (but after 24 mo.)

You should make note that for those immunized on-time (i.e., 12mo.-15mo. of age), there was zero association, whether you look at DeStefano’s results or Hooker’s incompetent and retracted results. So if you’re going to put any stock in Hooker’s study, then you should be arguing for on-time MMR immunization.

I’ll give you the same advice I gave David Foster: read the links in Orac’s post, as well as the link in comment #9.

So in reality, Truth, Brian Hooker proved it was better to get the MMR vaccine on time instead of waiting.

Though the more logical reason for those who were vaccinated between their second and third birthday was that it was discovered during that year that the child had symptoms of autism, and needed the MMR vaccine to attend special ed. preschool at the local public school. They were often vaccinated after thirty months.

So, really, try reading the words in the article above.

In related news, the AoA brain trust still can’t figure out that Hooker got his data directly from the CDC. You know, like it says right in the abstract and in the methods section:

Cohort data were obtained directly as a “restricted access data set” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) via a Data Use Agreement. Data were deidentified by the CDC in accordance with Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prior to receipt by the study authors. Use of the CDC specifically for the study described herein was approved by the Simpson University Institutional Review Board, in accordance with U.S. Federal regulations.

@Narad

Ah, but you see, Hooker only wrote that as a placating gesture to seem like he got the data through legitimate channels. That way, us nasty vaccine bullies couldn’t dis his reanalysis for questionable data.

In related news, the AoA brain trust still can’t figure out that Hooker got his data directly from the CDC. You know, like it says right in the abstract and in the methods section

It is amazing how quickly this meme has spread through the anti-vaxxers. This despite the paper saying the opposite.

Clearly it has been a lie to make garbage can gate look like a real thing as opposed to some conspiracy theorising by William Thompson. Which brings me to an unanswered question in my mind about Thompson. How could he not know that the electronic data was all fine when they threw away the analyses? He can’t be that incompetent, can he?

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