Dr. Brian S. Hooker gets the Andrew Wakefield treatment

A few days ago, a biochemist by the name of Brian S. Hooker, PhD, published a paper in the online journal “Translational Neurodegeneration.” In it, he claimed that a 2004 study by CDC personnel was flawed. The paper had a lot of flaws,which I explained to you in detail in a previous post. Following the publication of that paper, Andrew Wakefield — known for his fraudulent study about MMR and autism — released a very inflammatory video. In that video, narrated by Andrew Wakefield, a CDC scientist allegedly confesses to wrongdoing as part of the 2004 research group (DeStefano et al). Furthermore, Andrew Wakefield compares CDC and its employees to mass murderers from history like Hitler, Pol Pot and others. The video then finishes with very inflammatory language about the government’s treatment of African Americans.

Hooker’s paper stated that a reanalysis of the DeStefano et al study shows that African American children have a higher risk of autism if they are immunized between 24 and 36 months. The statistics are very poorly done, and it even seems to me and others who know epidemiology and biostatistics that Hooker was calling “relative risk” something that is actually odds ratio. That is a big mistake in statistical reasoning. He also called a “cohort study” something that was designed as a case-control study. Another big mistake, this time in epidemiological reasoning.

The publication of Hooker’s paper caused an uproar in anti-vaccine circles. Many anti-vaccine groups and their members were hailing the paper and the secret recordings of the CDC scientist — since identified as Dr. William Thompson — as the “smoking gun” in an elaborate plot to hide the MMR vaccine as a cause of autism. Some were calling for Congressional investigations. Others were calling for criminal indictments. Still others were calling for “blood.” Even actor/comedian Rob Schneider got into the celebration of the Hooker study, threatening to spend money in advertisements about it if no one in the mainstream media and/or government did something about it.

Mind you, they were doing all this based on one study and one study alone. They seem to look the other way or go completely blind when they are confronted with the dozens of other studies that have tried and tried again to connect any vaccine — including the dreaded MMR — to autism, with really good epidemiological and statistical reasoning, and have found nothing. Like with the 1998 Wakefield study, all they seem to need is one study.

However, like the Wakefield fraudulent study, the Hooker paper has now been taken down from the Translational Neurodegeneration site and this message posted:

“This article has been removed from the public domain because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions. The journal and publisher believe that its continued availability may not be in the public interest. Definitive editorial action will be pending further investigation.”

First, different blogs written by different people pointed out the unsound reasoning — biostatistically and epidemiologically speaking — behind the paper. Then the journal takes it down. What could possibly happen next?

What has happened next is that Dr. William Thompson, the alleged whistleblower in this whole affair, the one whose confidence Wakefield and Hooker betrayed, has issued a statement through his attorneys. Here is a scanned copy:

SCANNED COPY

Click on it to enlarge and read it. Here is the text:

“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—AUGUST 27, 2014

STATEMENT OF WILLIAM W. THOMPSON, Ph. D., REGARDING THE 2004 ARTICLE EXAMINING THE POSSIBILITY OF A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MMR VACCINE AND AUTISM

My name is William Thompson. I am a Senior Scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where I have worked since 1998.

I regret my co-authors and I omitted statistically significant information in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. The omitted data suggested that African American males who received the MMR vaccine before 36 months were at increased risk for autism. Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data was collected, and I believe that the final study protocol was not followed.

I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.

My concern has been the decision to omit relevant findings in a particular study for a particular sub-group for a particular vaccine. There have always been recognized risks for vaccination and I believe it is the responsibility of the CDC to properly convey the risks associated with the receipt of those vaccines.

I have had many discussions with Dr. Brian Hooker over the last 10 months regarding studies the CDC has carried out regarding vaccines and neurodevelopmental outcomes including autism spectrum disorders. I share his belief that CDC decision-making analyses should be transparent. I was not, however, aware that he was recording any of our conversations, nor was I given any choice regarding whether my name would be made public or my voice would be put on the Internet.

I am grateful for the many supportive emails that I have received over the last several days. I will not be answering questions at this time. I am providing information to Congressman William Posey, and of course will continue to cooperate with Congress. I have also offered to assist with reanalysis of the study data of development of further studies. For the time being, however, I am focused on my job and my family.

Reasonable scientists can and do differ in their interpretation of information. I will do everything I can to assist any unbiased and objective scientists outside of the CDC to analyze data collected by the CDC or other public organizations for the purpose of understanding whether vaccines are associated with an increased risk of autism. There are still more questions than answers, and I appreciate that so many families are looking for answers from the scientific community.

My colleagues and supervisors at the CDC have been entirely professional since this matter became public. In fact, I received a performance-based award after this story came out. I have experienced no pressure or retaliation and certainly was not escorted out of the building as some have stated.

Dr. Thompson is represented by Frederick M. Morgan, Jr., Morgan Verkamp, LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio.”

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t read like some damning statement from Dr. Thompson. It reads like a carefully-crafted “I shared some concerns and Hooker ran with it way too far” statement to me. What do you think?

My problem with Dr. Thompson’s statement is that the data were not omitted willy-nilly. There was a protocol that was established, and it excluded from the analysis children of different ethnicities, not just African Americans. In that exclusion, a vaccine-autism signal that was confounded by different factors was lost. It wasn’t lost out of bias but out of properly adjusting for different factors.

As I’ve said before, the issue of autism and vaccines (or any other cause) is a delicate one because it involves children. Our society — like any prosperous society should — sees children as innocent of any and all evil and worthy of the most protection by all of us. When we believe that something is harming them, we rally to protect them against all odds, not matter what the price. As a result, parents who were told and now believe that vaccines caused their children to be autistic will stop at nothing to protect their children and other children from the perceived threat.

The problem is that the threat continues to be just that, perceived. It is not real. Nothing has given us a definitive answer that vaccines cause autism. On the contrary, we have had plenty of evidence that vaccines do not cause autism. And we have plenty of evidence that vaccines have saved an unimaginable number of children from horrible deaths. My best hope is that parents who believe that vaccines cause autism re-think their position in light of the shenanigans perpetrated by Andrew Wakefield since 1998 and Brian Hooker as of late. They have been led down a path of fearing something that is essential to keeping children safe and healthy, and that cannot be a good thing.

Unfortunately for Dr. Brian Hooker, he is now as toxic to the vaccine-autism controversy as Wakefield is.

 

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen