James Lyon-Weiler and IPAK are running a dubious “vaxxed versus unvaxxed” study

Yesterday, as I deconstructed the antivaccine nonsense being peddled by a local “holistic” quack named Dr. David Brownstein in response to a pro-vaccine editorial published by the New York Times last Sunday, I couldn’t help but notice that he invoked one of the hoariest of hoary (and favorite) antivaccine tropes, the claim that there are no “vaccinated versus unvaccinated” studies and the call for one. The reasons that it’s a trope are many, but boil down to a few points. First, those antivaxers who actually call for a randomized placebo-controlled trial of vaccinated versus unvaccinated babies (and they exist) clearly don’t realize that such a study would be incredibly unethical because it would leave the unvaccinated group vulnerable to infectious disease. There is no clinical equipoise in such a study. The other reason is that such a study with sufficient statistical power to detect differences in autism rates between the groups would have to be so large as to be impractical. Also, there already exist “vaxxed versus unvaxxed” studies that don’t show what antivaxers think they show, as well as number of large epidemiological studies totaling millions of children enrolled looking for increases in autism and other health issues that have failed to find what antivaxers think that they should find. Finally, we all know that even a negative “vaxxed versus unvaxxed” study would not convince antivaxers that vaccines don’t cause autism. That’s why I thought I’d finish the week writing about another attempt at mining that trope, which comes to us courtesy of James Lyons-Weiler and the Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge (IPAK) via an antivaccine group, Informed Choice WA:

Please join Informed Choice WA helping fund THE study the CDC has refused to do.

The public has been demanding this study for decades.

Public agencies have steadfastly refused to fund or conduct such a study.

That’s why Informed Choice WA is so excited to join the grassroots effort to help fund the IPAK 2019 Vaxxed/Unvaxxed Study.

The Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge (IPAK) is a not-for-profit organization which exists to perform scientific research in the public interest. IPAK is funded by people, not pharmaceutical companies.

Study description from James Lyons-Weiler, PhD , CEO and President of IPAK:

The 2019 Vaxxed/Unvaxxed Study will be conducted with the data from a well-respected practice in the United States that has large numbers of children who are fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and unvaccinated. The data is to be analyzed by IPAK, which provides assurance that the study will be regulatory compliant and will be conducted following Institutional Review Board approval. The study design will be based on the feedback and approval from the IRB, and the study will be published following peer review.

When last we met James Lyons-Weiler, he was a panelist at an antivaccine conference. Prior to that, he was battling Leslie Manookian, the filmmaker who produced the antivaccine propaganda film The Greater Good, over who is the most antivaccine antivaccine crank.

The weird thing about him is that he was once a legitimate scientist. He had a faculty position at the University of Massachusetts Lowell from 1999 to 2002 ande established “a Center for Bioinformatics, taught undergraduate & graduate courses (biology, genetics, bioinformatics),” where he helped “researchers w/microarray data and developed web applications for high-throughput data analysis.” Lyons-Weiler then moved on to the University of Pittsburgh, where he remained for twelve years and in 2007 became director of the Bioinformatics Analysis Core there until the core closed in 2014, according to him due to state budget cuts. Now he runs IPAK, his institute where he promotes a range of medical pseudoscience, including antivaccine pseudoscience. (He also likes to refer to vaccines as “filthy, nasty vials of toxic sludge.”)

So can we figure out what he’s doing here? What is this study that he’s asking for money to do? The fundraising appeal mentions “well-respected practice in the United States that has large numbers of children who are fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and unvaccinated.” So what does that mean? It reminds me of Mayer Eisenstein, an antivaccine “holistic” doctor in the Chicago area. He had a practice of 35,000 children and claimed that none of his unvaccinated children had autism. However, he died four years ago. So who’s left? Well, there’s also Anthony Mawson, whose “vaxxed versus unvaxxed” study was really just a survey with little in the way of controlling for potential confounders. It was retracted, but keeps rising from the dead over and over and over again. He’s not a physician; so it can’t be him.

It can only be one person, the rising star in the antivaccine movement, antivaccine pediatrician Dr. Paul Thomas. For example, check this out:

I could be wrong about this, but I suspect that I’m not. After all, it’s an antivaccine group in Washington, and that’s where Dr. Thomas’ practice is. Dr. Thomas has been promoting his “study” as the Framingham study of our area, a comparison that never fails to make me giggle derisively.

I also can’t help but note that right now there’s a major measles outbreak going on in Clark County, WA, just across the state line from Portland, where Dr. Thomas practices. He’s basically encouraging parents not to vaccinate while the measles rages just across the Columbia river. Now, it appears to me that he’ll be using those children to promote his antivaccine views, while Lyons-Weiler will use IPAK resources to help him massage the data to show what he wants it to show.