Gayle DeLong, anti-HPV vaccine and anti-autism, died from breast cancer

Gayle DeLong, who wasn’t a scientist, let alone a vaccine scientist, and who wrote an article that tried to claim that the HPV vaccine causes infertility, recently died of breast cancer. Of course, she blamed her breast cancer on her childs’ autism.

In general, I try to forgive people for their mistakes, especially when they are no longer able to respond to criticism. But, I just can’t. Her unscientific rants against the HPV vaccine probably lead to enough people refusing to get the vaccine, and that will lead to additional deaths from HPV-related cancers. That is unforgivable.

Despite that, I don’t wish she had died, especially of breast cancer. No one deserves that fate.

But I wanted to take one last look at her disinformation campaign about the HPV vaccine and some of the things she said in her life. She shouldn’t be remembered as a hero to the anti-vaccine world, but as someone whose words ostensibly have led to cancer and the deaths of too many people

Who was Gayle DeLong and what did she say about the HPV vaccine?

Gayle DeLong was not a scientist – she had no background, education, or experience in any field related to vaccines like virology, microbiology, epidemiology, public health, immunology, or other critical fields of biomedical science. I know that the anti-vaccine world loves to abuse the argument from false authority, but this takes reaches to new heights of silliness.

She was a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Economics and Finance in the Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College/City University of New York. She has a BA in economics, an MA in International Business, and a Ph.D. in Finance and International Business. I respect someone who has studied and teaches international finance and economics. It’s a very important field in modern business. If she had written about Big Pharma’s profits from vaccines, I might have taken notice, but in the field of vaccines, she had nothing at all.

Not a single nanosecond of her education is in any area of biomedical sciences that are germane to vaccines. None. She may claim she’s done “research,” but as I wrote before, to become an expert is not a 2 hour (or, giving her the benefit of the doubt, 100 hours) on Google  – to be a true expert takes tens of thousands of hours of scientific research.

Vaccine research takes hard work, a thorough understanding of medical statistics, plus expertise in a large number of biological fields. I have no clue why people like DeLong (and every other anti-vaxxer) thought it was easy, but it’s not. I am convinced that DeLong and her minions believe that vaccines are manufactured in a garage with a blender, a handful of viruses, some aborted human fetuses, a dollop of glyphosate, and then, without any testing, is sold for billions of dollars to unsuspecting parents. Well, DeLong was (and is still) WRONG

DeLong has two autistic daughters – as a parent of an autistic child, I empathize with her. Sadly, DeLong believed in all of the pseudoscience for trying to “cure” her children of autism. She has stated that both “have benefited greatly from supplements, diet, chelation, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy,” all of which have been discredited by real science.

Furthermore, and maybe I’m speaking from my bully pulpit here, do autistic individuals really want to be cured? Many of us argue that autism isn’t a disease, it is just a part of the range of human personality and behavior. And trying to “cure” autistic children with pseudoscience and cult science is borderline abusive. No, it’s abusive, period.

And let’s not forget, as I mentioned above, she claimed her breast cancer was somehow caused by her daughter’s autism. Orac wrote recently,

To boil it all down, Gayle DeLong blamed her having developed breast cancer on her daughters’ autism (which she of course blamed on vaccines), publishing an article on the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism entitled entitled The Lesser of Two Evils: Breast Cancer and Autism. (Hint: Guess which of the two DeLong considered to be the “lesser of two evils.” Further hint: It wasn’t breast cancer.”) She even coined a term for her breast cancer, “autism-induced breast cancer” (AIBC) to describe it. Unfortunately, her “AIBC” claimed her life early Wednesday morning after nearly eight years

So not only has she tried quack treatments for her children, but she thinks that autism is worse than breast cancer? This is a horrific person on so many levels, and this is further evidence that she is not trustworthy concerning anything in vaccine science.

Anti-vaccine paper retracted

Her retracted paper

Gayle DeLong’s anti-HPV vaccine paper was published by the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health A. Basically, DeLong claimed that birth rates in women aged 25-29 fell from 2007 to 2015 as a result of HPV vaccines.

Before I get to the meat of this article that continues to circulate among anti-vaxxers, a couple of other major issues should make every science-supporting reader just shake their heads and wonder why the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health A published this awful article. First, let’s look at the acknowledgments section:

The author thanks David Geier, Sabastiano Manzan, Jonathan Rose, and Paul Turner as well as Sam Kacew (the editor) and three anonymous reviewers for insightful comments. Any errors are solely the responsibility of the author.

Hang on, let my head hit the desk a few times. David Geier? The man who was charged by the Maryland Board of Physicians for practicing without a medical license? No, these accusations didn’t result from some oversight on Geier’s part, he is not a physician, never studied to be a physician, and knows nothing about medicine. He, with his father,  pushed unethical “treatments” for autism, mainly chemical castrations.

In other words, DeLong is using the criminal David Geier as someone to thank? Did the editors of the journal spend a minute or two “researching” David Geier?

Maybe you’re wondering if the other people she thanked were real scientists who know something about vaccines. That would be wrong. Sabastiano Manzan is also an economist at the same school as DeLong, and he also lacks any scientific background. Jonathan Rose is DeLong’s husband and is a history professor. In other words, she utilizes the expertise of a quack, an economist, and her historian husband to review her condemnation of the cancer-preventing HPV vaccine.

I shouldn’t go on, but I will.

Before I hit a few points, let’s start right at the top. DeLong looked at birth rates for women 25-29 from 2007 through 2015. User Falls Angel responded with this comment (in an unrelated article) with an important criticism:

The HPV vaccine did not come out in the US until 2006. The upper age limit is 26. Therefore, the number of 25 to 29 year olds who could have received the vaccine in 2007 is only 60% of the total (basically just women ages 25, 26 and 27). Not until 2009 were all women in that cohort eligible to receive the vaccine. What a messed up study!

The cohort used by DeLong didn’t include women eligible for the HPV vaccine over that time! This is a fundamental, amateur error by someone clueless about vaccines. Frankly, this journal ought to retract this article based on this point alone.

But there’s more. DeLong seemed to not understand confounding variables. Confounders are variables that can lead to a spurious association. For example, a lot of studies claim that diet sodas lead to weight gain, which appears to be biologically implausible. However, many of these studies ignore confounding variables, such as those who drink diet sodas may consume more calories per day. Or they may exercise less. Or something else. The point is you need to examine those confounders or the study is, at best, flawed or even invalid.

If we are going to undertake a large epidemiological study, we would want to design it in a way to either reduce the effect of the confounding variable.

DeLong went looking for data to support her conclusion – she dug into birthrate data and make a spurious association with the HPV vaccine while completely ignoring the other dependent variables. She just wanted to believe that the HPV vaccine causes infertility. And science be damned, she was going to manipulate the data in any way, ignoring confounding variables, to get the result she wanted

Real scientific data from the CDC (pdf) shows that the birth rate for this cohort of women has been dropping steadily since the mid-1990s, over a decade before the HPV vaccine became available in the USA. Maybe I missed it, but when I read the article, I found no explanation, because, DeLong employs pseudoscience, not real science, to support her pre-ordained conclusion. That’s just pathetic.

Many researchers believe that the falling birth rate in that group is related to financial situations. The job market for millennial college graduates is rather weak. Did DeLong look at that? Did she examine the income and education of the group? No.

Let’s look at this two ways. First, the evidence that there is a causal relationship between the HPV vaccine and fertility is just not there. The studies DeLong references in that quote are case studies, which rank near the bottom of the hierarchy of biomedical research. There is no possible way to use them to show any type of biologically plausible link between the vaccine and POF. But DeLong wants to use this nonsense as support for her findings.

Secondly, DeLong ignored the huge body of evidence that includes massive, multi-million patient studies that have not detected POF after receiving the HPV vaccine. None. A review of HPV vaccine research did not find any relationship between the vaccine and POF.

I am not a statistician, nor do I claim to be one. Orac does a huge service to the pro-vaccine community by picking apart the statistics of all of these garbage anti-vaccine studies, and he makes it seem that DeLong just threw a bunch of stats at us to confuse us. Orac wondered why DeLong didn’t even bother to look at contraceptive use:

In any case, I can see only two explanations for Gayle Delong’s not having done this analysis, given that the data appear to have been available. Either she was clueless and didn’t even consider it as a covariate, or she did some exploratory analyses and with contraceptive use included the effects that she saw disappeared. After all, they weren’t very robust; so I suspect that it wouldn’t take much.

But there’s one point I noticed while reading the article – I didn’t see a statistical difference between pregnancy rates after 1, 2, and 3 doses. If you’re going to publish in a toxicology journal, the basis of all toxicology is a dose-response analysis. In other words, if one dose is bad, then three doses should be worse. Yet we don’t observe that here, probably because the HPV vaccine is not linked to birthrates.

I don’t know what it is about anti-vaxxers, but their go-to fear, uncertainty, and doubt for vaccines seem to be infertility. Not only do they tout this study from DeLong (despite being retracted, as you will see in the next section), but they are also making similar claims about the COVID-19 vaccines.

Retraction time

This was a garbage study written by DeLong who has zero expertise or knowledge about anything relevant to vaccine science. Well, the editors at the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health A agreed, they decided to retract the article

And this now adds to the long list of anti-vaccine “scientific research” that has been retracted and tossed into the dustbin of useless junk on the internet.

The dedicated people at Retraction Watch have looked into the retraction of this article and stated that, according to the publisher,  the reason for the retraction was:

All of the post-publication reports we received described serious flaws in the statistical analysis and interpretation of the data in this paper, and we have therefore taken the decision to retract it.

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Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Epitaph

Yeah, I know there is some silly cultural norm that I should not speak ill of the dead. Well, I don’t believe in ghosts or demons or gods, so I’ll do what I think is prudent.

Gayle DeLong lied or misinformed people about the HPV vaccine which prevents cancer. And because of that, it saves lives. It empowers young people to live healthy lives with their partners. There is absolutely no evidence that the vaccine does anything to anyone other than preventing the HPV from infecting them and then causing cancer.

DeLong and other anti-vaxxers out there bring harm to people — they have measurably increased the number of deaths of innocent people through their lies and fear and disinformation, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Did I want someone, even Gayle DeLong, to die of a horrible disease such as breast cancer? No, absolutely not. I hope she did not forsake science-based treatments for her cancer and did not suffer.

On the other hand, I’m not sorry that I feel that the death of Gayle DeLong shuts off one source of false claims about the vaccine. And let’s not forget that her comments about autism are reprehensible on so many levels. No matter how much the anti-vaxxers try to deify her, she caused grave harm to people who could be protected from HPV-related cancers.

As the honorable Orac concluded in his review of DeLong’s life:

As I remember Gayle DeLong and say RIP, even as I rail against the disease that finally claimed her, I still can’t help but remember that she spent the last 10-15 years promoting antivaccine misinformation, in particular one flavor of misinformation blaming vaccines for infertility that has become prominent among antivaxxers over COVID-19 vaccines. She didn’t deserve breast cancer or deserve to die of it, but her death from it doesn’t erase her history of misinformation about vaccines, no matter how much antivaxxers try to portray her as a hero.

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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!