Why are we so obsessed with pointing out that he has been discredited? Because he has become, through media manipulation and many anti-vaccine acolytes and sycophants, the face of the “vaccines cause autism” meme. Note to the casual reader – there is absolutely no evidence that vaccines cause autism.
Is Andrew Wakefield discredited? Damn straight he is.
Shaw and Tomljenovic have quite a history in retracted anti-vaccine articles. Last year, they wrote an article about aluminum adjuvants in the HPV vaccine – it was retracted, and eventually republished almost word-for-word in an inferior journal.
According to Retraction Watch,Inorganic Biochemistry’s editor, John Dawson of the University of South Carolina, stated that:
The paper by Shaw and co-workers is being retracted jointly by the authors and the editor.
Yup, another anti-vaccine paper retracted. Of course, the article was roundly criticized in numerous posts across the skeptical universe soon after it was published. For example, the piercing Orac wrote in his blog,
given Shaw and Tomljenovic’s history, it is not unreasonable to be suspicious of this study as well…
At best, what we have here are researchers with little or no expertise in very basic molecular biology techniques using old methodology that isn’t very accurate overinterpreting the differences in gene and protein levels that they found. At worst, what we have are antivaccine “researchers” who are not out for scientific accuracy but who actually want to promote the idea that vaccines cause autism….If this were a first offense, I’d give Shaw and Tomljenovic the benefit of the doubt, but this is far from their first offense.
Orac called the paper, “antivaccine pseudoscience.” Not that anti-vaccine is anything but pseudoscience.
Other bloggers, like The Mad Virologist, who is also an expert on DNA analysis, and the Blood Brain Barrier Scientist, who writes about the blood-brain barrier and heavy metal music, jointly analyzed the paper by Shaw and Tomljenovic. They did a masterful job in looking at some of the technical errors and other issues with the paper. I won’t pretend to summarize what they write, so I’ll use their own summary:
Based on the methods that were used in this paper, Shaw et al. went too far in declaring that aluminum adjuvants cause autism. But there are six other key points that limit what conclusions can be drawn from this paper:
1) They selected genes based on old literature and ignored newer publications.
2) The method for PCR quantification is imprecise and cannot be used as an absolute quantification of expression of the selected genes.
3) They used inappropriate statistical tests that are more prone to giving significant results which is possibly why they were selected.
4) Their dosing regime for the mice makes assumptions on the development of mice that are not correct.
5) They gave the mice far more aluminum sooner than the vaccine schedule exposes children to.
6) There are irregularities in both the semi-quantitative RT-PCR and Western blot data that strongly suggests that these images were fabricated. This is probably the most damning thing about the paper. If the data were manipulated and images fabricated, then the paper needs to be retracted and UBC needs to do an investigation into research misconduct by the Shaw lab.
Taken together, we cannot trust Shaw’s work here and if we were the people funding this work, we’d be incredibly ticked off because they just threw away money that could have done some good but was instead wasted frivolously. Maybe there’s a benign explanation for the irregularities that we’ve observed, but until these concerns are addressed this paper cannot be trusted.
Also, a lot of criticism occurred on PubPeer, a website devoted to a kind of extended peer review of published papers. The commenters were harsh. Oneclaimed that there was a “clear and deliberate” removal of control results in the paper. And many others either hinted or outright stated that DNA gel bands were duplicated, photoshopped or taken from a 2014 paper by Shaw and Tomljenovic (and published in a journal that’s not even indexed on PubMed).
Added to all of this is that the primary author has left the University of British Columbia, where Shaw and Tomljenovic do their “research,” taking all of the data with her. I don’t mean to be cynical, but I will be – yeah right.
As an aside, I don’t know why the University of British Columbia continues to house Shaw and Tomljenovic. They have had their “research” utterly discredited by the World Health Organization. They have had papers retracted. And when they do publish, they’re in low ranked, low impact factor journals. Finally, their “research” is supported by some of the most profoundly anti-vaccine sponsors in the world. Frankly, the only good Shaw and Tomljenovic do for the anti-vaccine world is to allow those of us who are pro-science/pro-vaccine lots of fodder in embarrassing the anti-vaccine world.
So there we go. Another Shaw and Tomljenovic anti-vaccine paper retracted, and will probably be republished in the Journal of Homeopathy Vaccines (no, it doesn’t exist). By the way, I won the betting pool on when it would be retracted. Hopefully, the shills pay me for winning.
We will discuss how human foreskin is related to vaccines, and it is fairly interesting. But you can guess that the only reason this is a thing is because there is a huge intersection between the intactivists, those who oppose circumcision, and the anti-vaccine world.
We’re going to ignore the whole circumcision argument, even though there is a lot of scientific evidence supporting it as a medical procedure, as this article is solely about vaccines, or at least the use of human foreskin in developing and producing vaccines. And why human foreskin in vaccines is another zombie myth.
I was having a peaceful evening. I fired up my Apple TV to watch the Trailers app to see upcoming movies that I might watch. Unfortunately, right at the top row, I see Andrew Wakefield’s face on the trailer for a new documentary about him, “The Pathological Optimist“.
Why would anyone want to see another documentary about this man? Well, it’s horror film season, and Wakefield is one scary man.
In 2016, we got his self-serving fraudumentary, “Vaxxed,” a film that invented a conspiracy about the so called CDC Whistleblower, a thoroughly debunked myth. However, “The Pathological Optimist” was not produced by Wakefield himself, it was developed and produced independently. However, the film ended up putting him in a favorable, and complicated, light.
Let’s take a look at the movie, but I want to remind everyone that Andrew Wakefield is not a favorable character in any play about vaccines. He committed a demonstrable fraud which has harmed children across the world. He might be “The Pathological Optimist,” but there is a lot of evidence that he is a pathological something.
So you’ve decided to forsake the flu vaccine because you buy into the easily-debunked myths of the anti-vaccine world. Then you catch the flu, which is considered a very dangerous disease despite some of the myths. Then, you send someone to go down to the local drug store to find one of those advertised flu treatments. It’s time to look at these common “flu treatments” and determine whether there is any scientific evidence supporting their usefulness.
These ineffective treatments exist for one reason – money. Common cold and flu treatments are a significant part of the estimated global US$278 billion supplement and nutraceutical industry. And the industry is largely unregulated, so they can make unsupported claims, and people buy them based on the woo.
Firearms mortality, either murder, accidental or suicide, has always been a public health issue in the USA. There have been several good epidemiological studies that have examined whether gun control regulations and firearms mortality risk are related – and the results are surprisingly vigorous.
From recent epidemiological research, there is some convincing evidence that establishes a correlation between state-level gun control regulations and firearms mortality rates. However, the link is not as black and white as one might wish – the relationship between firearms regulations and mortality depends on the quality of the law.
The nation’s leading public health organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is essentially prevented from analyzing and publishing any epidemiological research that would help us understand what, if any, links there are between gun control and firearms mortality. The Republican dominated congress have done everything they can to prevent the CDC from using any funds to study the issue.
Furthermore, because the CDC cannot (or will not) fund research into gun control, it has lead to a chilling effect on gun control research in academia. According to the Washington Post, “young academics were warned that joining the field was a good way to kill their careers. And the odd gun study that got published went through linguistic gymnastics to hide any connection to firearms.”
Like with a lot of other controversial topics, the Twitter outrage about the danger of vaccines doesn’t actually reflect a sudden surge in anti-vaccine beliefs amongst the general population. According to a recently published peer-reviewed article, most of increase in these anti-vaccine tweets represent a very specific demographic. Individuals from affluent, populated areas in five states – California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania – seem to be the backbone of this sudden increase in anti-vaccine tweets.
On an episode of his HBO political talk show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher repeated his contention that the Republican Party, more generally the right wing of the American political spectrum, is the party of science denialism politics.
One caveat about this article – it is primarily focused on American politics. In many countries, both the left and right accept the consensus on scientific principles like evolution and vaccines. Only in America is science denialism the default position, crossing party boundaries.
Let’s take a look at left vs. right ideas about science, and how each embrace science denialism and pseudoscience. It’s quite a bit more complicated than you can imagine.