Brandeis Hoot Letters to the Editor: On Dr. Wakefield
By Jake Crosby
By Readers of The Hoot
April 29, 2011
To the Editor:
While The Hoot’s article covering Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s April 13 lecture at Brandeis presented both sides, the accompanying editorial titled, “Don’t let Wakefield go unchallenged,” was completely biased and provided no support for its claims that Wakefield’s work has been “discredited” and contains “errors and flaws,” or that he “committed great harm through his research, which is filled with fraud and unethical conduct far more than it is with facts.”
In truth, Dr. Wakefield’s greatest harm is to the bottom line of the pharmaceutical companies when he points out serious risks in the vaccine schedule. One such example is the recommendation to delay the Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis vaccine by a mere two months, which has been shown to halve the risk of developing asthma according to a 2008 Canadian study from the University of Manitoba, as cited by Dr. Wakefield in his lecture.
The Hoot editorial also stated that Dr. Wakefield should have debated a Brandeis health policy or science professor. That’s exactly what I’d intended but those who were invited to debate him declined.
A January op-ed in The New York Times written by my former professor, Michael Willrich, criticized Dr. Wakefield. Yet neither Professor Willrich nor anyone from the social or natural science departments who opposes Dr. Wakefield and who was approached with the idea of debating him was willing to do so.
In The Hoot’s article, Dr. Steven Miles—a gerontologist who said Dr. Wakefield “scared” Minnesota’s Somali community—neglected to mention that autism affects a whopping one in 28 Somali children in Minnesota and that Dr. Wakefield was actually invited to speak by the Somali community.
The Somalis had plenty to fear from autism before they were visited by Dr. Wakefield, who advocated an initiative to study why the condition affects their population so profoundly. This is something the state health department and Steven Miles—who was quoted as calling Minnesota’s Somali community “unsophisticated and desperate”—are not publicly supporting.
Parents at the event who came from off-campus—many of whose children had been as sick as the children in Dr. Wakefield’s presentation—were represented as an “angry group” who had “gobbled up” “atrocious science and statistical fudging” in graduate student Zach Feiger’s statement to The Hoot. Yet he did not question the science or the statistics at the question and answer session. Isn’t it “atrocious science” to continue giving every infant the Hep B shot on the first day of life, which is associated with a three-fold greater prevalence of autism in boys according to a SUNY Stony Brook study cited in Dr. Wakefield’s presentation?
That there are people who would not debate Dr. Wakefield, ask him questions or even hear what he has to say is their own responsibility—not that of the speaker, the organizer or anyone else in attendance that night.
I am proud that Dr. Andrew Wakefield had this opportunity to address the allegations against him as well as the science of autism and vaccine risks. He spoke to a diverse audience of students, faculty, staff, parents of children with autism, scientists, a pediatrician and professionals in the field of autism.
—Jake Crosby ’11
Jake Crosby organized Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s Brandeis lecture and is a contributing editor to ageofautism.com.
I'm going to say one last thing about Honda et al. because I don't think I'm explaining it right. (I'm explaining it a lot, though.)
The authors could have said that the cumulative incidence of ASD was 47.6 for birth year 1988, rose to 85.9 for 1990, decreased to 55.8 for 1991 and increased thereafter to a high of 161.3 for birth year 1994, but because the incidence of ASD continued to rise after MMR was discontinued in 1993, MMR cannot be responsible for the increase. That's a reasonable argument and a fair statement of the over-all picture of change in ASD.
So why *didn't* they say that? Here's what they do say: "...the cumulative incidence of ASD rose progressively from 47.6 per 10,000 children born in 1988 to 117.2 for those born in 1996...and that no decline in ASD incidence occurred in the five-year period from 1988 to 1992...." This is not a true statement, as one glance at the graphs and tables shows. The authors say earlier that they're going to use 1996 as the "standard" and this makes the incidence of ASD low until 1992. This statement seems nonsensical because the incidence is substantially higher in 1990 than 1992. (Besides, the ward under study was redistricted in 1994 so why pick 1996 as the "standard"?)
In statement analysis, omissions and attempts to distract are red flags. One might say that they're evidence of consciousness of guilt. But guilt about what? The authors could given an accurate picture of the changes in ASD incidence and still made their argument about MMR, but they didn't. Why?
Posted by: Carol | May 03, 2011 at 12:29 PM
But, Theresa, at least Charles Schwab tells you he's throwing out those data points. I don't have that much of a problem with that.
If "Honda et al." was writing an economic history of the United States, he'd leave out the Great Depression in the analysis but include it in a graph.
Whoever wrote Honda et al. has a set of brass balls.
Posted by: Carol | May 03, 2011 at 09:44 AM
'That's reassuring, John. I was starting to think I was crazy--or at least not fit to breathe the same air as epidemiologists.'
Worry NOT Carol!! Sir Michael Rutter is a psychiatrist NOT an epidemiologist!! Psychology is loosely classified as a science, presumably because it is an 'ology', but it is certainly NOT an EXACT one; how can you 'measure' human emotions, egos and psyches?
As for epidemiology, it may be another 'ology', but it is just a fancy name for statistical data shuffling. ANYONE can call him/herself an epidemiologist. These days all that's required is a list of data and a computer software programme. Rutter might be an 'expert' in statistical analysis, just as Brian Deer is apparently an 'expert' in the field of histopathology!! Both have published papers on these subjects within 'respected' medical journals!!
Posted by: Jenny Allan | May 03, 2011 at 02:20 AM
Carol and John Stone,
Throwing out inconvenient data points is an old trick. My husband frequently mentions Charles Schwab's use of this clever stratagem in his book *You're Fifty--Now What? Investing for the Second Half of Your Life.* One big takeaway from the book is that fifty-year-olds to invest a significant percentage of their retirement funds in the stock market--because hey, Schwab owns a stockbroking firm.
In order to arrive at the recommendation that a person should have a nest egg of $230,000 for each $1,000 per month that he plans to withdraw during retirement, Schwab does a little fancy math that involves (I kid you not) excluding the Great Depression as a data point. From pages 270-271:
"After seeing the results for that first time period--1926 to 2000--and reflecting on them, I felt that that time period was not a good basis for the test, the reason being that the Depression skews those numbers... so I asked them to test a second time period, from 1950 to 2000, allowing for recovery from World War II. I feel that that second time period, 1950 to 2000, is a better representation."
Using the 1950-2000 data instead of the 1926-2000 data allows Schwab to say that investors need only set money aside at a 230:1 ratio, rather than a 280:1 ratio. It is obvious to see that this is a pretty big difference--but hey, he's Charles Schwab, so he can forget about the Great Depression if he wants to.
Maybe Rutter is just a big fan of Schwab's investing strategy! I wonder how his retirement portfolio looks ;-)
I guess this is just to say that if you're a big enough name, you're given carte blanche to screw with whatever numbers you want, and no one calls you a fraud. Depressing...
Posted by: Theresa O | May 02, 2011 at 09:37 PM
From the BMJ Editorial by Godlee et al:-
'Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent'5-01-11
'What of Wakefield’s other publications? In light of this new information their veracity must be questioned.'
This 'new information' which alleges 'fraud' on the part of Dr Wakefield (and by association his colleagues),was NOTHING TO DO with the GMC findings or verdicts, but was all recently commissioned by the BMJ and 'manufactured' by Brian Deer, that SAME medically and scientifically unqualified non parent who made the original complaint to the GMC and, according to Fiona Godlee on the BBC Radio 4 programme 'Science Betrayed' actually 'helped' the GMC with their investigations!!
It seems that the BMJ 'paymasters', admitted belatedly by Godlee to include MMR vaccine manufacturers Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, now want to discredit ALL of Dr Wakefield's previous research, and have instigated some kind of retrospective so called 'investigation' via Professor Pepys at UCL. Yes! that SAME pharma 'superstar' Professor Pepys, who has some research deal with GSK via UCL's 'commercial arm'. (It was Pepys who recently admitted telling Dr Wakefield to leave his employment at the Royal Free.)
It seems that those persons who rely on vaccine manufacturers for their own employment and personal funding have a different definition of 'fraud' from the rest of us!! (Brian Deer has NEVER admitted obtaining funds or sponsorship from vaccine manufacturers. Who or what is paying HIM?)
Posted by: Jenny Allan | May 02, 2011 at 06:23 PM
That's reassuring, John. I was starting to think I was crazy--or at least not fit to breathe the same air as epidemiologists.
I suspect that Michael Rutter didn't bother to read Honda et al. before it was published and that the paper had different contents in at least the minds of the Japanese authors. Maybe it was ghostwritten as so many articles are, perhaps especially those from Asia.
Posted by: Carol | May 02, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Well Carol, it is certainly not lost on me. My only point was that it is really quite typical that paper after paper has the most blatant anomalies and inadequacies, the conclusions don't match up to the data, but each in turn was trumpted as the end of the controversy.
Posted by: John Stone | May 02, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Well, I'm not sure I'm getting across what seems most outrageous to me about Honda et al.
The authors were free to explain the mountains and valleys any way they wanted. But they didn't. They were free to note the mountains and valleys and not explain them. But they didn't.
It's as if I told a creditor (or somebody) that my bank account had "risen progressively" from $4000 to $20000 without mentioning that for a while it was -5000. And to be equally outrageous I'd have to declare the $4000 to $20000 rise in a cover letter attached to a balance sheet that showed the -5000 in big red numerals.
Posted by: Carol | May 02, 2011 at 05:01 PM
I don't know whether it was thought that Rutter's involvement was critical to getting the immense of publicity that the study achieved in the UK (by whom?): otherwise it is very hard to know what he is doing there at all. His answers were certainly less than adequate.
As we know as one study appeared after another absolving either MMR or thimerosal the actual content mattered very little, and usually bore little scrutiny. They could always dodge that: it was getting the publicity that counted.
Posted by: John Stone | May 02, 2011 at 04:16 PM
When I read Rutter's comments I got the impression that he wasn't very familiar with the study he co-authored. Did he notice that the study conclusions were at variance with the graphs in the article?
The authors not only ignore the mountain peak of ASD at b.y. 1990, they also ignore the one at b.y. 1994, the one with the cumulative incidence of 160+. Instead the study authors say that the graph rises progressively to 117.2 in 1996. But of course, the graph has *fallen* in the interval 1994 to 1996, from 160+ to 117.2. This is undoubtedly due to the redistricting in 1994 of the ward under study. That doesn't stop the authors from declaring that 1996 is the "standard."
Posted by: Carol | May 02, 2011 at 03:45 PM
This is how Rutter waffled to Private Eye when challenged in 2005 over the study:
"One of the co-authors of the Honda paper was Professor Sir Michael Rutter, of the Institute of Psychiatry, who had prepared a draft report for GlaxoSmithKline, one of the defendant drug companies in the UK litigation but who was not retained by them. He told the Eye that as he was not an immunlogist he could not comment on the suggestion that giving three separate vaccines a short time apart was the same as administerng the MMR triple vaccine. But he added that although it was unfortunate there was little relevant material published on any possible interference between vaccine components, immunologists whom he had consulted doubted that this was a significant issue."
It still doesn't explain what Rutter was doing as a co-author of this paper, and he wriggles out of the issue of combined exposure to separate vaccines by just saying his immunologist colleagues didn't think it was "a significant issue", but then they didn't think exposure to MMR was significant either, and what is the point of conducting research if vague unsubstantiated opinions will do just as well?
Posted by: John Stone | May 02, 2011 at 02:48 PM
I'm sure Dr. Wakefield talked about The Honda, Shimizu, Rutter study "No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study": http://14studies.org/pdf/MMR_5.pdf (This study was presented to the IOM as being the best evidence that MMR doesn't cause autism.)
The extremely odd thing about this study is that it pretends the peak of autism at birth year 1990 doesn't exist. The discussion baldly says that no decline in autism occurred from 1988 to 1992. Well, if you look at any version of the graphs in the article, you'll see that a gentle rise in incidence starts at b.y. 1988, gets steeper at b.y. 1989, peaks at b.y. 1990 and then steeply declines until b.y. 1991 where it starts to rise again. (Wakefield suggests that this can be explained by introduction of MMR, reduced uptake of MMR and then introduction of M & R on the same day. The study authors prefer to give no explanation.)
Michael Rutter reportedly has said that this little autism mountain might be a "blip." (You'd think even a blip might deserve some mention, wouldn't you?) But is it a blip?
There's another 2005 study by Honda: "Cumulative incidence of childhood autism: a total population study of better accuracy and precision." In this study, Honda examines two wards, including the ward in the "No effect" study. He discusses the exacting method the Japanese use to screen children for autism starting at 18 mos. of age. On page 6, there's a graph of cumulative incidence of autism. The same increase in autism is seen with a peak at birth year 1990. (On this graph, though, the rise from b.y. 1988 to 1989 looks steeper.) According to the authors, they've increased the level of precision in this study. There's no mention of a blip. They track children with autism in and out of the catchment area. But even if you eliminate the autistic children who moved in and just use the kids born in the catchment, the pattern remains.
Here's the "Cumulative Incidence" study: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=274667&jid=DMC&volumeId=47&issueId=01&aid=274666&bodyId=&membershipNumber=&societyETOCSession=
I assume the original of the "No effect" study was written in Japanese. Did a ghostwriter produce the (American) English version? One wonders.
Posted by: Carol | May 02, 2011 at 01:18 PM
Any possibility Dr Wakefield could visit Australia??
There are a few "so-called" experts that are constantly making an appearance on television in support of Dr Paul Offit and promoting the safeness of all vaccines currently on the market. Watch links below with "Dr Rachie" (real name Rachel Dunlop)she has a website called "The Sceptic Zone" and is very good at misinforming the public.
Well done Jake!
Posted by: AussieMum | May 02, 2011 at 06:33 AM
I'm just loving this, and soaking it in. Never give up the fight. Bravo Wakefield
Posted by: Ross Coe | May 01, 2011 at 10:06 PM
Jake, I am so glad you organized Dr. Wakefield's appearance at your school. It takes such guts for a person of your age to speak out for what is right, and to arrange for such a prominent speaker to be heard at your university. You have such a bright future, Jake. You are outspoken, a leader, too, and you will go far. All the best to you.
Posted by: Not an MD | May 01, 2011 at 08:11 PM
Thank you Jake for carrying on the battle in the real world. I'm battling all I can in the smaller world of my 14 year old son, but I read Age of Autism to remind myself there are people out there still advocating for us. Thank you Dr. Wakefield for sacrificing yourself for our kids. Thank you for your awesome book. Thank you for meeting with smart drs like Dr. Mercola and also for meeting with dishonest people who only want to hit and run.
Posted by: amanda blinn | May 01, 2011 at 07:14 PM
For some reason, no one from the CDC has yet to visit the Somali Autism cluster in Minnesota. With a 1 in 28 Autism rate and nearly 100% ADHD rates.... what BETTER PLACE to "search for the Autism gene" or the ADHD gene..
No one would ever agree to debate Dr. Wakefield, as they have no real science & usually have never met with or treated an Autistic child.
Posted by: cmo | May 01, 2011 at 06:54 PM
Well done, Jake--we are ALL proud of you!
Posted by: Taximom | May 01, 2011 at 05:20 PM
Offit remarked on the ease of which Wakefield presents the truth, he said, Wakefield is convincing because he's convinced..then went on to say something to insinuate a religious like belief that shouldn't cross over into science..OH YEP< Offit has the words, probably weighing in at several "dollars each", and likely scripted in a "counter cheat sheet foremat". Those such as Offit have set back autism/vaccinations where they want it, it's become the "career breaker" the "don't touch" issue, the research to avoid. Last week's presentation with MacNeil, showed us a peek at where the power is, no one wanted to openly discuss the prospect of vaccine , vaccine was the dirty word in the room, even when faced with the same set of injuries no one dared suggest Dr.Buie was seeing the same thing as Wakefield . Alison MacNeil was allowed her say, but clearly we were to understand that she was "just" a mom. I am left to understand that no one will speak out because of fear, and this type of fear has played out before in history as a kind of cowardess that contributes to ugly impacts on other human beings. I applaud you Jake for having courage and commitment and Wakefield ,as well, who has the courage to believe in science.
Posted by: barbaraj | May 01, 2011 at 03:00 PM
Dr. Steven Miles typifies the institutional hubris that has helped perpetuate the autism epidemic. It's hard to believe tht someone of his academic standing can spout such awkward and offensive blather.
Recently Dr. Miles' name was noticeably absent from a U of M bioethicists' group petition decrying the death of a psych drug study participant.
Posted by: nhokkanen | May 01, 2011 at 02:47 PM
Of course these academic drones want no part of a debate with an actual practicing research gastro-enterologist - he'd eat 'em alive!
Posted by: Theodore Van Oosbree | May 01, 2011 at 02:26 PM
Was Paul Offit at this talk? He maintains that he doesn't know what Wakefield's evidence is regarding harm from vaccines and says that it's akin to a religious belief. Remarkably, Offit can't stop talking about it even though he apparently doesn't know exactly what he's talking about. Even the representatives of Merck who follow Dr. Wakefield around can't seem to clue Offit in.
It's no wonder that Offit isn't willing to debate. In all these years, he hasn't been able to get up to speed.
Posted by: Carol | May 01, 2011 at 01:57 PM
None of these guys want a fair fight, they want to throw sucker punches and then run away. They are all cowards, and they know it. To debate Dr. Wakefield, and especially to debate him in public, is something they would never do because Wakefield would mop the FLOOR with their sorry butts!
Posted by: Sylvia | May 01, 2011 at 11:04 AM
Sounds like a great presentation. I am constantly amazed at the arrogance of the medical profession who speak of parents in such disparaging terms. It seems that when it comes to vaccines, scientists forget about the basic principle of observation, which was taught in the high school science lab.
Posted by: CT teacher | May 01, 2011 at 08:59 AM
Jake -- Thanks for putting together this great event. I wish we lived near Brandeis so that I could have heard Dr. Wakefield speak. He's one of my personal heroes -- and it was his 1998 Lancet case series that made me realize what had happened to my autistic son, who was born in 1989. I read Dr. Wakefield's paper and a light went on.
You are an incredible young man and your parents must be very proud of you. I wish there was a way we could lobby to have you replace Ari Ne'eman on Disability Council.
Posted by: Aimee Doyle | May 01, 2011 at 08:31 AM
This is a great statement, Jake. Ultimately these people are condemned by their conduct.
Posted by: John Stone | May 01, 2011 at 08:29 AM
The good professor could not have debated him, because he did not know enough about the issue. Yet, we then get to read some little short snippet written up in some magazine or newspaper that sums it all up wrong in a short little paragraph.
And as for college professors, oh, yeah, I know college professors.
In the very scientific words of my once upon a time microbiology professor;
"Vaccines are safe they don't cause harm, because --well-- they just don't".
If I had answered a question like that on one of his test he would have given me a big fat F.
Posted by: Benedetta | May 01, 2011 at 08:25 AM
Thank you Jake. This event was terrific, really well done.
Posted by: Alison MacNeil | May 01, 2011 at 07:55 AM
Great job, Jake. Thank you.
I'd love to find a psych Ph.D candidate to write a thesis on what makes some people with autism/Asperger's work for positive change with an open heart (Jake, Sondra Williams, John Robison, Temple Grandin, Stephen Shore) and others work for only the negative or to tear down or make sure people don't think a certain way, and think only in their own selfish way. I'll never understand it.
Posted by: Stagmom | May 01, 2011 at 07:11 AM
Posted by: Andrea | May 01, 2011 at 06:56 AM
Jake .. again thanks for all you do for our community .. and .. a special thanks for inviting Dr. Wakefield to speak at Brandeis University.
Personally .. I don't blame "Professor Willrich nor anyone from the social or natural science departments who opposes Dr. Wakefield" for refusing the golden opportunity afforded them to publicly debate him. After all, anyone who has heard Dr. Wakefield speak realizes within moments his manner reeks of a calm, reasoned, self-confidence .. self-assuredness .. that only those speaking "truth to power" possess.
Their refusal to publicly debate Dr. Wakefield in the friendly confines of Brandeis University was predictable .. which is why they continue to lose in the only court that matters .. the court of public opinion .. where common sense and truth will ultimately prevail.
Posted by: Bob Moffitt | May 01, 2011 at 06:36 AM
Thanks for organising this Jake Crosby. I am sure that EVERYONE who actually heard Dr Wakefield speak at Brandeis will have realised they were hearing TRUTH, as averse to all the lies and misinformation about child vaccines, promoted in the US press and media.
I think the fact that NO 'learned' professors or pharma 'experts' were prepared to stand up and publicly debate an opposing view speaks for itself!! Those nasty TV interviews were actually counter productive to the likes of Cooper and Gupta. Most right thinking persons DON'T LIKE rude interruptions and 'talk overs'!!
Jake, you are doing WELL. Be proud of yourself!!
Posted by: Jenny Allan | May 01, 2011 at 06:15 AM