Debunking Anti-Vaxxers

Just over a couple of months ago the video Debunking Anti-Vaxxers was published by Toronto based AsapSCIENCE.

There’s a lot of very helpful information packed into less than seven and a half minutes, and it’s particularly worth visiting the YouTube page for a very comprehensive list of “further reading references”.

You can follow @mitchellmoffitt and @Whalewatchmeplz on Twitter and on Instagram here and here, respectively. There are also links to AsapSCIENCE on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

 

I was also interested to come across Bill and Melinda Gates’ 2018 Annual Letter. It’s entitled The 10 Toughest Questions We Get. The questions are answered with graphs, videos and margin notes.

They are;

  1. Why don’t you give more in the United States?
  2. What do you have to show for the billions you’ve spent on U.S. education?
  3. Why don’t you give money to fight climate change?
  4. Are you imposing your values on other cultures?
  5. Does saving kids’ lives lead to overpopulation?
  6. How are President Trump’s policies affecting your foundation’s work?
  7. Why do you work with corporations?
  8. Is it fair that you have so much influence?
  9. What happens when the two of you disagree?
  10. Why are you really giving your money away—what’s in it for you?
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The fight against anti-vaxxers continues despite Andrew Wakefield’s ongoing deceit

In early August last year the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network held one of many Australian screenings of the fraudulent, debunked anti-vaccine film Vaxxed at Hawthorn town hall in Melbourne Victoria. The director of this nonsense is disgraced former gastroenterologist and persistent enemy of public vaccination, Andrew Wakefield.

At this event the AVN hosted a rogue Melbourne GP who, using bogus claims, was helping parents circumvent No Jab No Play legislation. With video of the GP published online, the outcome was immediate revelation of his identity. Three weeks later Dr. John Piesse faced suspension by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). At that time it was reported he “vowed” to continue placing innocent children and the community at risk until he was indeed suspended. Not long after he agreed to stop practising while AHPRA investigated his conduct.

By mid September he had his licence suspended. The ABC reported;

A Melbourne doctor who has been under investigation for his anti-vaccination stance has had his licence to practise suspended.

Dr John Piesse’s practice in Mitcham was raided by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and police officers last week following allegations he had helped families avoid compulsory childhood vaccinations.

He had agreed to stop practising temporarily while AHPRA investigated the matter.

But the Medical Board of Australia’s Immediate Action Committee met on Thursday and decided to suspend his registration while the investigation into his practice continued.

An excellent and comprehensive summary of Dr. John Piesse may be found at Diluted Thinking.

Because of the danger posed by Piesse and an unknown number of other GP’s who may be engaging in similar conduct, new No Jab No Play laws were recently announced by Victoria’s Minister for Health, The Hon Jill Hennessy MP. [PDF]

The damage done by the anti-vaccination lobby across the developed and developing world continues. Their lies cost lives and quality of life. In addition they promote angst for innocent parents and attack hard working advocates – who may be grieving parents themselves – with relish.

It is now 20 years since Wakefield published his fraudulent paper in The Lancet contending a link between the MMR vaccine, bowel disease and autism. It was ultimately described by The Lancet’s editor-in-chief as “utterly false”. A 2004 investigation by Brian Deer of Britain’s Sunday Times uncovered enormous financial conflicts of interest. Wakefield was exposed as a liar and fraud and struck off the UK medical register. Astonishingly three dozen charges were found proved. Almost all of his fellow authors withdrew their names and support from the fraudulent paper.

With thunderous arrogance Wakefield “rejects” all of the findings against him.

Years of research failed to reproduce or uncover phenomena similar to his claims. Wakefield continues to push his fraud from the USA, profiting now from the global Conspiracy Theory movement, destroying public health and what is left of his callous character as he goes.

One understands Vaxxed is simply his most recent project. If and when more follow, as has been suggested, they too will be debunked.

Recently BBC 4 produced an excellent review of the anti-vaccine movement titled, In the Wake of Wakefield (BBC).

Twenty years ago, in February 1998, one of the most serious public health scandals of the 20th century was born, when researcher, Andrew Wakefield and his co-authors published a paper in the medical journal The Lancet.

  • You can access the audio below, © BBC 4;

Features of the anti-vaccination movement on Facebook

Recently Australia’s most vocal, persistent and offensive anti-vaccine pressure group, The Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network argued vaccination is a breach of religious freedom. They misinformed the federal parliamentary inquiry into religious freedom that vaccines were prepared with “the products of abortion”.

Vaccination was therefore “a moral evil”, violating teachings of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, they contended citing absolutely no evidence to support their stance. The Australian Medical Association noted that their position was “irrational” and “unscientific”.

It was clear that the AVN was trying to find its way around the No Jab No Pay family assistance requirements and the No Jab No Play policy requirements. In April 2015 it was initially announced that religious exemptions for vaccination would cease. This was reinforced by health minister Greg Hunt in March this year. The only grounds for exemption of childhood vaccination are medical. The AVN’s claim that vaccines contain “the products of abortion” is not only baseless, but well refuted.

The AVN’s ignorance of the moral considerations involved are not difficult to discern. A Vatican City 2005 Statement, Moral reflections on vaccines prepared from cells derived from aborted human foetuses, includes in reference 15;

…the parents who did not accept the vaccination of their own children become responsible for the malformations [due to rubella infection] in question, and for the subsequent abortion of fetuses, when they have been discovered to be malformed.

Still it is quite predictable that this morally bereft pressure group will continue to press the fallacious contention that vaccines contain aborted foetal cells. Social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter are means by which the anti-vaccination lobby interact. Indeed the conduct of antivaccinationists on Facebook has revealed much of their conspiratorial, cruel, cult-like nature.

First we witnessed the anti-vaccine lobby grow with simple access to misinformation via the Internet combined with the ability to invent and spread more. With the growth of social media we have witnessed this social malignancy improve it’s networking skills and spread their dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories in real time.

In this light I was grateful that the sharp eyes of others interested in the impact of the anti-vaccination lobby had come across the following research paper.

Mapping the anti-vaccination movement on Facebook. Naomi Smith and Tim Graham.

Information, Communication & Society

Published December 27th, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2017.1418406

It looked at 6 anti-vaccine Facebook pages.

  1. Fans of the AVN
  2. Dr. Tenpenny on vaccines
  3. Great mothers (and others) questioning vaccines
  4. No vaccines Australia
  5. Age of autism
  6. RAGE against the vaccines

Post, like and comment data were further used to generate 6 social networks which were then further analysed.

Abstract;

Over the past decade, anti-vaccination rhetoric has become part of the mainstream discourse regarding the public health practice of childhood vaccination. These utilise social media to foster online spaces that strengthen and popularise anti-vaccination discourses. In this paper, we examine the characteristics of and the discourses present within six popular anti-vaccination Facebook pages. We examine these large-scale datasets using a range of methods, including social network analysis, gender prediction using historical census data, and generative statistical models for topic analysis (Latent Dirichlet allocation).

We find that present-day discourses centre around moral outrage and structural oppression by institutional government and the media, suggesting a strong logic of ‘conspiracy-style’ beliefs and thinking. Furthermore, anti-vaccination pages on Facebook reflect a highly ‘feminised’ movement ‒ the vast majority of participants are women. Although anti-vaccination networks on Facebook are large and global in scope, the comment activity sub-networks appear to be ‘small world’. This suggests that social media may have a role in spreading anti-vaccination ideas and making the movement durable on a global scale.

Some key points from the paper’s Discussion and Conclusion might be listed as follows.

  • There is a large amount of online information that is important to the anti-vaccination (AV) community.
  • Social media acts as an “effective hub” in the communication of AV information. The information is “designed to encourage grass roots resistance”.
  • AV communities are relatively sparse, not functioning as close knit communities of support.
  • Yet participation alone in AV groups can reinforce AV beliefs.
  • AV participants are reasonably active across a number of groups.
  • This suggests AV users participation in various AV groups is more autonomous than would be explained by Facebook’s recommender system.
  • Liking and commenting across a number of AV pages may create a “filter bubble” effect.♠
  • This effect is a pattern of involvement and activity that reinforces AV beliefs and conduct.
  • More research is needed to discern how much of this effect is due to the users own conduct as opposed to Facebook’s algorithmic structure.
  • AV Facebook pages exhibit “small world” network structure characteristics. Information diffuses quickly through the network via user comments.
  • “Small world” characteristics may be due to inherent aspects of the AV movement or may manifest due to the Facebook “platform”.
  • Either the former or latter aspect driving development of “small world” specifics will have unique and interesting implications.♣
  • The former suggests that as a social movement the AV lobby might develop as a “small world” network that may be amplified and made more visible online.
  • If the latter, the Facebook platform may be instrumental in the growth of the AV movement, protecting from disruption of outside influences.
  • Wide sharing of posts suggests the AV community has scope beyond the public Facebook pages.
  • Sharing may be important in spreading AV information and growing the AV movement.
  • Gender composition of AV movement reflects cultural understanding of parenting – primarily maternal.
  • Vaccination is historically “a mother’s question”. AV is described by the authors as “a mother’s question”.
  • “AV movement is primarily led by women”. Note; Sherri Tenpenny runs “Vaccine Info” on Facebook.
  • Whilst anti-vaccination is not gender specific, the “gendered nature” of Facebook page participation suggests the AV movement is “feminised”.
  • Several key pre-occupations of AV communities are evident on Facebook pages; institutional arrangements are seen to be perpetuating the harmful practice of vaccination.
  • AV community is “morally outraged about vaccination and structurally oppressed by seemingly tyrannical and conspiratorial government and media”.
  • There is a strong belief in conspiracies driven by government and media; Cover up of vaccine injury and death, spreading of Zika virus by Bill Gates and belief in chemtrails.
  • Comparison of vaccination to the Holocaust indicates strong sense of persecution within AV Facebook pages studied.
  • Strong anti-science and anti-medicine beliefs in tandem with use of natural remedies.
  • Findings limited by sample size.
  • Further, more comprehensive research is needed.

♠ Commonly referred to as an “echo chamber’.

Final paragraph;

The results of this investigation suggest a robust and highly gendered network structure that has a strong sense of moral outrage associated with the practice of vaccination. This ‘righteous indignation’, in combination with the network characteristics identified in this study, indicates that anti-vaccination communities are likely to be persistent across time and global in scope as they utilise the affordances of social media platforms to disseminate anti-vaccination information.

Concerns about vaccination reveal a community that feels persecuted and is suspicious of mainstream medical practice and government-sanctioned methods to prevent disease. In a generation that has rarely seen these diseases first hand, the risk of adverse reaction seems more immediate and pressing than disease prevention.

♣ Regarding “small world” characteristics being due to either AV specifics or to the Facebook platform, the authors write;

Both outcomes are equally interesting. The former suggests that social movements (like anti-vaccination) may inevitably develop as ‘small world’ networks structure that is further amplified and made visible online. If it is the latter, this demonstrates that Facebook as a platform has important implications for the dynamics, spread, and durability of social movements outside of the specific case examined here. Indeed, if the materiality or architecture of Facebook shapes networks towards ‘small-worldness’, this suggests that such platforms may be instrumental for the anti-vaccination movement and social movements more broadly to blossom, flourish, and resist being dismantled or disrupted by outside influences.

The above paragraph rings true and undoubtedly applies to a number of anti-science movements and conspiracy theories across the developed world.

“Vaxxed” and the manipulation of William Thompson’s telephone audio

Back in April I published a list of 15 reputable references that debunked key claims put forward in the fraudumentary, Vaxxed; from cover up to catastrophe.

They continue to gain relevance. This year the anti-vaccine lobby in Australia has pushed the Vaxxed mantra of widespread fraud at the CDC, targetted ATSI communities and launched an insulting plan for profit. As usual Meryl Dorey is heading the push for hard cash, this time via the Patreon site. Unfortunate donors will get nothing in return beyond access to “bi-weekly webinars” should she manage an income of $2,000 per month. And why? According to her blurb on patreon.com;

…to keep everyone up-to-date on the most recent news and information from around the world regarding vaccination and health rights

This, dear reader, would preclude accepting that one cannot access such misinformation already in countless anti-vaccine echo chambers. However Dorey really wants $5,000 per month. Again the reward is to nothing more than a rehash of her anti-vaccine beliefs and a smattering of more recent anti-vaccine articles with a very likely history of rejection, retraction or both;

This class will aim to help parents and health professionals to make informed choices regarding vaccination by providing them with a broad ranged (sic) of historical and up-to-date references and outlining some of the questions they need to be asking before saying yes (or no) to vaccines.

Dorey is seemingly on a high thanks to recent attention received because of harm the bogus messages spread via Vaxxed and Vaxxed Q and A sessions can cause public health. Reasonable Hank has published an excellent piece pulling back the covers on Dorey’s latest scam, reminding readers there is still the matter of $160,000 raised for the promised High Court challenge of No Jab No Pay legislation. The video clips provided by Hank are just a couple of those in which Dorey is basking in the controversy created by the Vaxxed production team.

This raises the rather inescapable fact that audio from Dr. William Thompson was manipulated on two separate occasions. Discerning this, shall we say, fraudulent presentation of what William Thompson said when talking to Dr. Brian Hooker is thanks to the publication of Vaccine Whistleblower: Exposing Autism Research Fraud at the CDC, by devoted antivaccinationist Kevin Barry. The book contains four legally obtained telephone conversations between Hooker and Thompson. This allowed for a comparison between transcripts of recorded telephone conversations and the conversation audio in Vaxxed.

The first here was when the Vaxxed trailer was released. You can listen to the audio below;


The two segments spliced together come across as (Thompson broaching discussion with Hooker);

you and I don’t know each other very well. You have a son with autism, and I have great shame now.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, 15 reputable references were published here last April. The above audio from the trailer was splendidly exposed by Matt Carey of Left Brain Right Brain in March 2016. Carey clearly explains what has happened with manipulating audio here – and the context Wakefield was trying to create for the audience. This is a trailer, so to be sure listeners are indeed misled as they are supposed to be, Del Bigtree follows the spliced sentence with an explanation (10 second mark).

We see that a single sentence is the result of splicing together two sections of conversation and removing parts of those sections in Call 2. Looking at the transcript one can see that 90 words from Thompson and 39 words from Hooker are omitted. So 129 words of conversation actually lie between the two segments of audio that make up the manufactured sentence;

you and I don’t know each other very well. [129 missing words] You have a son with autism, (and) I have great shame now.

Next is audio describing the same call from Thompson to Hooker, yet produced for the final film itself. This audio is the product of three separate segments spliced together, with the third introduced in between the original two segments. We can now hear Thompson say, “I don’t know how this is all going to play out”.

You can listen to the audio below;


It is quite clear that segments 1 and 2 in the transcripts below have been significantly edited with the purpose of creating a certain context.

Brian, you and I don’t know each other very well. I don’t know how this is all going to play out. You have a son with autism and I have great shame now when I meet families with autism because I have been part of the problem.

 

Click transcript below to embiggen

Click transcript below to embiggen

The anti-vaccine lobby in Australia, particularly members of the AVN should offer their members and those who attend Vaxxed screenings an explanation as to why this audio was tampered with on two separate occasions in two different ways. With apologies to those who dislike colourful annotation I trust the volume of audio modification is clear.

The context sought through modifying the audio is false. William Thompson did not ring Hooker with the aim of revealing that the CDC had suppressed information that any vaccines cause autism. He did not ring to claim the CDC was committing fraud. If Thompson had accused the CDC of fraud in order to hide a link between vaccines and autism, one can be certain that Wakefield would have shouted this far and wide.

I don’t know where in the four transcripts the sentence “I don’t know how this is all going to play out”, has been lifted from. Yet one can see plainly that the sentence has been inserted. It is not an original part of the transcript above.

Finally there’s Thompson’s statement of August 27th, 2014. One cannot reconcile the claims of the Vaxxed charade with Thompson’s position on vaccines. Concerns over the omission of certain findings “in a particular study”, does not a CDC fraud make. As one may well have concluded, Thompson had no control over what his name was attributed to following the deception of Brian Hooker.

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 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 and 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.

It seems that despite the increased efforts of the AVN to promote Vaxxed and to push further lies onto Indigenous Australians the reality remains that there is no demonstrable CDC fraud and no viable CDC whistleblower.

‘Vaxxed’ Debunked – a selection of references

There is absolutely no doubt that the fraudumentary “Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe” is demonstrably bogus nonsense.

It is also potentially very harmful nonsense and as such deserves to be debunked when the opportunity arises. There are a huge number of references that outline just why, and indeed how, this intellectual revulsion is firmly discredited by evidence. More so, there are a range of approaches presented in various critiques. This isn’t a result of authors seeking to be creative. Rather the final product of Vaxxed is so egregiously wrong on so many levels, it can be nudged into a pile of rubble from so many angles.

Interestingly the argument can be made that the main claim put forward in Vaxxed helped in destroying any attempt at credibility. The story of a so-called CDC whistleblower was easily revealed as bogus. The companion claim, that suppressed data showing a 340% increased risk of autism among specific populations of African-American boys resonated only in the echo chambers of antivaccinationists. Particularly when in the only official statement [2] from the “whistleblower”, we read irrefutable support for vaccination;

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. (William Thompson)

I trust these references are helpful.

1) This article from Snopes covers various sources of disinformation that sustain the primary lies in Vaxxed. Using articles that address the fallacious claims of Brian Hooker from an evidence based background and a range of other sources Snopes offers a compelling rebuttal.

Fraud at the CDC uncovered?

Rumour: Data suppressed by the CDC proved that the MMR vaccine produces a 340% increased risk of autism in African-American boys.

2) Did a high ranking whistleblower really reveal that the CDC covered up proof that vaccines cause autism in African-American boys? David Gorski; Science Based Medicine, August 25th 2014 [Source]

3) Autism, Atlanta, MMR: serious questions and also how Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield are causing damage to the autism communities Matt Carey; Left Brain Right Brain, August 26th 2014 [Source]

4) Hey, where is everybody? The “CDC whistleblower” manufactroversy continues apace Orac; Respectful Insolence, August 26th 2014 [Source]

5) Journal takes down autism-vaccine paper pending investigation Adam Marcus; Retraction Watch, August 27th 2014 [Source]

An article purporting to find that black children are at substantially increased risk for autism after early exposure to the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine has been shelved.

Although we don’t know if the events are related, the move comes amid claims that a CDC whistleblower has accused health officials of suppressing information about the link.

Not surprisingly, the prospect that the CDC has been sitting on evidence of an autism-vaccine connection for more than a decade has inflamed the community of activists wrongly convinced that such a link exists.

The paper, “Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young african american boys: a reanalysis of CDC data,” was written by Brian Hooker, an engineer-turned-biologist and an active member of that community. It was submitted in April, accepted on August 5, and published on August 8.

Translational Neurodegeneration, which published the article earlier this month, has now removed it and posted the following notice:

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.

6) Retraction Note: Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young African American boys; a reanalysis of CDC data [Source]

7) CDC Whistleblower William Thompson Breaks Silence Todd W; Harpocrates Speaks, August 28th 2014 [Source]

8) The “CDC whistleblower saga”: Updates, backlash, and (I hope) a wrap-up David Gorski; Science Based Medicine, September 1st 2014 [Source]

9) MMR, the CDC and Brian Hooker: A Guide for Parents and the Media Todd W; Harpocrates Speaks, September 8th 2014 [Source]

10) Kevin Barry, you magnificent bastard, I read your antivaccine book! Orac; Respectful Insolence, August 25th 2015 [Source]

11) Reviewing Andrew Wakefield’s VAXXED: Antivaccine propaganda at its most pernicious David Gorski; Science Based Medicine, July 11th 2016 [Source]

12) Andrew Wakefield releases the trailer for his William Thompson video. Slick production and dishonesty Matt Carey; Left Brain Right Brain, March 22nd 2016 [Source]

I can’t recommend this article highly enough. In just a few paragraphs readers can see how Thompson was exploited by Hooker and Wakefield. We have this claim from the Vaxxed fiction;

“There’s a whistleblower from the CDC who is going to come out and say that the CDC had committed fraud on the MMR study and that they knew that vaccines were actually causing autism.”

Also we find when the genuine chronology of the Hooker/Thompson discourse is applied that Thompson is not a so-called “CDC whistleblower”. The manner in which Wakefield spliced unrelated conversations together to produce his fallacious narrative becomes clear. As Matt Carey writes (emphasis mine);

Well, Thompson never says in his statement that there was fraud or misconduct by the CDC team. He does say “Reasonable scientists can and do differ in their interpretation of information.”

Let’s back up a bit, what is the Hooker/Wakefield claim of fraud? In a nutshell, they claim that the CDC team found a result they didn’t want to make public and then changed the research plan/protocol so they wouldn’t have to report that. In this exchange from a phone call we can see Hooker apparently trying to get Thompson on tape saying this. Trying because Thompson refuses to say it:

Dr. Hooker: And then you basically deviated from that particular plan in order to reduce the statistical significance that you saw in the African American Cohort.

Dr. Thompson: Well, we, um, we didn’t report findings that, um…All I will say is we didn’t report those findings. I can tell you what the other coauthors will say.

As to the claim by the narrator that Thompson stepped forward and stated… “that [The CDC] knew that vaccines were actually causing autism”. Nope.

[…]

Also, Thompson provided a summary statement to Member of Congress Bill Posey. That was made public along with a great deal more documents when I released them here. What does Mr. Thompson have to say about the study in question showing that vaccines “actually cause autism”?

The fact that we found a strong statistically significant finding among black males does not mean that there was a true association between the MMR vaccine and autism-like features in this subpopulation.

It’s clear that Thompson struggled at times with mental illness. He was deeply concerned that it would become public knowledge. Wakefield’s callous disregard is on display again as we read:

The only reason people know about Thompson’s personal medical history is that Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield made it public. Hooker and Wakefield filed a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services and included this statement from William Thompson:

Ya know, I’m not proud of that and uh, it’s probably the lowest point in my career that I went along with that paper and I also paid a huge price for it because I became delusional.

13) Seven things about vaccines and autism that the movie Vaxxed won’t tell you Ariana Eunjung Cha; May 25th 2016 [Source]

14) Vaxxed – a guide to Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent film The Original Skeptical Raptor; December 22nd 2016 [Source]

15) The William Thompson Documents – There’s no whistle to blow Matt Carey; Left Brain Right Brain, January 6th 2017 [Source]

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