The conspiracy circle is complete: Brian Hooker claims “The Man” has gotten to the “CDC whistleblower”

There is a disturbance in the antivaccine Force. I can sense it.

Actually, it doesn’t take any special talent to detect this. You don’t have to be some sort of pro-science Jedi. The evidence is everywhere. The most prominent examples of posts in the antivaccine crankosphere that tipped me off are on—of course!—the antivaccine propaganda blog Age of Autism, which references another blog’s post with blaring capitalized headlines, BREAKING: CDC WHISTLEBLOWER “DR. THOMPSON HAS BEEN HANDLED” SAYS DR. HOOKER AT MANHATTAN VAXXED Q&A. Elsewhere, He Who Shall Not Be Named (and to whom I shall no longer link, even with the rel=”nofollow” tag) proclaims: The vaccine empire strikes back: “Rumors swirl that Dr. Thompson has been bought off by the CDC and will submit ‘reanalyzed’ MMR research to destroy vaccine safety skeptics.” Google the title if you really want the source.

Regular readers of this blog will remember who William W. Thompson is. He is the so-called “CDC whistleblower.” In brief, Thompson is a CDC scientist who, for whatever reason, thought his concerns about a study examining whether there was a relationship between MMR vaccination and the risk of autism and autism spectrum disorders. were not adequately addressed. Again, for whatever reason, he struck up a budding friendship with Brian Hooker, a biochemical engineer turned incompetent antivaccine epidemiologist and researcher and exchanged several phone calls with him, complaining about the CDC. At the root of Thompson’s anger was his perception that a finding possibly implicating the MMR as a risk factor for autism had been intentionally left out of a paper on which he was co-author (DeStefano et al).

Basically, an almost certainly spurious finding in a small subgroup of the study that MMR vaccination was associated with an increased risk of autism in African-American boys. This increased risk was seen in no other subgroup and disappeared when proper correction for confounders was made. Still, that didn’t stop Thompson from tipping off Brian Hooker, who did a “reanalysis” of the dataset. Consistent with his general incompetence, Hooker did the wrong analysis. He analyzed a dataset designed for a case control study as a cohort study. Basically, Hooker tortured the data until it confessed what he wanted it to, but even then it didn’t confess all that he wanted. Torture the data as he might, the only “result” he could produce was an association between MMR and autism in African-American males. As I said at the time, he basically proved Wakefield wrong, because there wasn’t a hint of a whiff of a whisper of a positive correlation in any other group, and he had to do the wrong analysis to “show” a correlation in African-American boys. So bad was Hooker’s study that a new journal retracted it.

Not surprisingly, Hooker betrayed Thompson, providing recordings of their conversations to Andrew Wakefield, who didn’t waste much time going public with them. Because Hooker and Wakefield’s story seemed to confirm the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement, namely that the CDC was “covering up” some sort of slam-dunk evidence that vaccines cause autism, thus was born the legend of the “CDC whistleblower.” It didn’t matter that Thompson lawyered up and issued a statement that didn’t exactly support Wakefield’s spin. He also gave his documents to Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL). The antivaccine movement used it to complain to the CDC, launch Twitter storms, and to hold protests, while Wakefield used it to make a documentary.

Unfortunately, that documentary, VAXXED: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, somehow found its way into the Tribeca Film Festival. After a few days of head scratching about how a film that was so obviously a propaganda film that it would have made Leni Reifenstahl blush got into such a prestigious film festival, Robert De Niro himself, one of the festival’s founders who turned out to be antivaccine himself, ‘fessed up and then soon after yanked the film, causing antivaccinationists to lose it. Now the film is being screened in several cities.

At a screening at the smaller Manhattan Film Festival, the Q&A afterwards was videotaped:

Hilariously (and appropriately) the Q&A was moderated by antivaccine “journalist” Sharyl Attkisson and included Brian Hooker, Andrew Wakefield, Polly Tommey, Stephanie Seneff, Del Bigtree, and Mark Blaxill. Attkisson’s introduction of the panel is nauseating, too. Her nose was so far up Wakefield’s nether regions that she could probably tell what Wakefield had for dinner, as she it all the tropes about his being a persecuted truth teller and how science is supposedly broken. She continued on about the HPV vaccine, which she seems particularly to dislike. So busy is Attkisson buffing Wakefield’s credentials and, even more so, hers, that it isn’t until nearly 9 minutes into a 31 minute Q&A that she actually gets to the questions, and even then she starts things rolling with an utter softball question to Wakefield. Not surprisingly, Attkisson’s question gives Wakefield the opportunity to repeat the same lie that Thompson is an “inside source” at the CDC who has accused the CDC of fraud and repeat a variant of his offensive sentiment about how autism is a blight.”

No. He. Did. Not. Of course, it is Wakefield, and if Wakefield said it was raining outside I would look out a window to verify it before taking his word. He can’t be trusted. Hilariously, Del Bigtree has the utter lack of proportion to say, not long after Wakefield’s self-serving blather, that the “CDC whistleblower” case “makes Watergate look like a child’s case.” I definitely chuckled when I heard that. The audience, unfortunately, did not. It applauded lustily, leading Bigtree to put on a faux humble act about how he’s “just a journalist.” Meanwhile, Mark Blaxill lays down some seriously burning stupid about Paul Offit. Of course, when it comes to vaccines (or science, for that matter), Blaxill is the very personification of the Dunning-Kruger effect. He has no clue what he’s talking about, but that sure doesn’t stop him from pontificating confidently.

The vast majority of what was said in the Q&A was nothing that regular readers here haven’t heard before. What caught everyone’s attention was when Hooker claimed, in response to a question by Attkisson about whether he’d be surprised if Thompson “recants” (note the choice of a word describing religious belief rather than science):

One of the things I asked Dr. Thompson to do in September 2014 was to leave the CDC and bring this all to light so he could come forward, go public, talk to congress, talk to the press directly — he choose not to. Dr. Thompson has been handled and will most likely submit a revised version of his analysis and try to absolve the MMR vaccine in early May 2016. This is typical of what we’ve seen at the CDC. The CDC analyzes data and when they see an effect they don’t like, they reanalyze data and the effect goes away. The CDC has done this historically from Agent Orange to Thimerosal and now to MMR vaccine.

I did not want this to come but certainly anticipated that while he was in the CDC it would come. In exchange for what Dr. Thompson is doing — and believe this [info] is a little bit shaky — I believe he will get his own autism research foundation. And so there has been some very, very dubious activities that went on because he stayed in the CDC. He also got a major cash reward from the CDC for maintaining his employment he said, until he qualifies for retirement. But there are a lot of things that happened since the last conversation I had with Dr. Thompson which was in September 2014. And I do want to warn you and I do want to anticipate this. But again, it’s the same thing we’ve heard and we’ve seen from an agency that’s been completely captured but the pharmaceutical industry. And it’s [CDC] there not to tell the truth but in order to manipulate the public. In order to do what they think the best thing to do is for society.

My first thought was that Hooker’s just making stuff up, but then I thought about it. Maybe Thompson is getting ready to break his silence, and Hooker’s trying to get ahead of it, to get the story he wants Wakefield’s minions to here out there before Thompson says anything. Thompson has, after all, issued no public statements since late August 2014; he’s long overdue. In any case, given how widely throughout the antivaccine crankosphere this specific quote has traveled, being posted and reposted far and wide, I’m very suspicious that this is an intentional strategy. Given that He Who Shall Not Be Named picked up on this right away, now, more than ever, I suspect Wakefield and he are colluding, or at least coordinating their efforts. One thing I’m surprised Hooker admitted was that, because he knew that it is illegal to record telephone calls in California (where he lives) without both parties’ consent, he drove to Oregon to record; on the other hand, he claims Thompson laughed uproariously when he found out.

Be that as it may, as long as Thompson remained silent, Wakefield and his minions could attribute whatever claims and statements to him that they wanted to attribute to him, and he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) respond. Wakefield even dishonestly spliced together unrelated statements by Thompson in Hooker’s recordings to make it appear he was saying something he never said. Of course, this is conspiracy loon thinking writ large. If Thompson says something supportive of Wakefield and Hooker (or at least something that can be spun by Wakefield and Hooker as supportive), he’s the “CDC whistleblower,” a courageous fighter for the truth. If, on the other hand, Thompson says anything critical or does actually do a reanalysis that doesn’t show what Hooker wants it to show, then it’s obvious that “they” got to him and either induced him through financial rewards and protecting his retirement fund or somehow forced him to “recant.” Of course, given his behavior over the years and having cozied up to antivaccinationists as famous as Wakefield, the claim that the CDC and/or someone else would fund some sort of autism research foundation for him to shut him up is risible in the extreme, so much so that even some of the “brain trust” at AoA can’t quite swallow it. The only people likely to fund anything by Thompson would be allies of Wakefield; that is, if they thought he’d churn out reliably anti-MMR work.

Meanwhile, I do wonder if something is up, as He Who Must Not Be Named makes some predictions for May:

Watch for CNN to roll out its usual lineup of sellout doctors and pharma shills. Watch for a major ratcheting up of attacks against Dr. Wakefield and the VAXXED film. Just as importantly, watch out for social media to be taken over by social engineering robots who vilify and shame anyone that questions vaccine safety.

Gee, he says that as though it were a bad thing.

Again, this coordination makes me wonder if someone somewhere heard something. It’s not entirely implausible. On the other hand, this is Brian Hooker. This is Andrew Wakefield. it’s at least equally likely that they’re just pulling this story out of their posteriors.