On Objectivity and Subjectivity in Vaccine Safety Research

IN ALL THREE of my books, I have been careful to be forthright that the books are not offered under any pretense of being objective works.  The least objective of my three books, “The Environmental and Genetic Causes of Autism” is specifically and intentionally biased because it was written with the intention of bringing forward the research ignored by CDC when they cherry-picked their sad lot of poorly designed, underpowered, over-analyzed retrospective studies that failed to detect association between vaccines and autism.

As an author, I can expect detractors, and critics. And I welcome rational criticism pretty well: in fact, I find insightful review to be an essentially important part of science.  Free and open discussions on the basis of studies, the assumptions, the known connections, the background knowledge, the data, the results, the interpretation, possible biases are all critically important topics worth debating in any study under peer review.

Criticism of subjectivity can also be levied against a review if it is represented by the authors as unbiased.

However, if an author specifically identifies their own book as subjective, and especially if such a book exists specifically to undo subjectivity falsely represented as objectivity, the criticism “it’s subjective!” rather loses its punch.

Now, I’m going to double-down on the truth: my book written after close review of 2,000 studies, and based on closer reading of 1,000 studies, is subjective. It exists specifically because I had the specific intention of setting the record straight.

So, today, when I was alerted by a reader to this tweet by Dr. Sean Gallagher

sean

 

I was excited!  A pediatrician, reading my book, after the months of labor, the painstaking care to bring the balance of the missing science forward…

But no. The teachable moment was, I’m afraid to say, utterly lost on Dr. Gallagher.

Here is Dr. Gallagher’s Amazon review, unedited, with my comments [in brackets].

“I’m a Pediatrician who’s active on twitter and was sent this book as a challenge to my advocacy of the objective science regarding vaccination. I accepted this challenge – as a physician, it’s a disservice to ignore supposed evidence pertaining to your patients. Having been told this book described a summary of over 2,000 sources, I was a little nervous prior to starting. I’m young and am early in my career – I certainly don’t know everything. It’s written by a geneticist (a scientist who studies genes.) Scientists are supposed to be objective, right?

Well, the author gives a shout-out to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. right in the dedication. Having recently issued a $100,000 prize to whoever can prove vaccines are safe (which they already have been,) RFK Jr. is a public and vocal critic of vaccination. The entire preface is an impassioned plea rehashing many common claims made by the anti-vaccination community.

[Step 1. Cast those discussing Vaccine Risk as “Anti-Vaccine”]

I asked the author about this on twitter and he said “give me credit – in all three books, I make clear they are not objective.” Fine. But, he tossed aside his greatest strength in this emotionally charged topic: his objectivity as a scientist. He also wrote to a follower “it’s up to him…,” me, “…to either accept the reality of objective research.” I’m not convinced one can be not objective and objective simultaneously. And, it’s disingenuous to claim both.

[All individual scientists are, by definition, individuals, and all have a subjective component.  Their background knowledge varies from other scientists, for example. Their degree of proficiency in certain aspects of biology varies. Their command of current research varies.  Thus, it is disingenuous to claim that one is being objective in their assessment of others’ research.  Remember, the book is about other’s research, not my own.  So my statement is that it is up to Dr. Gallagher, or any reader, to accept the reality of the massive volume of research brought forward is, by definition, up to them. If they choose to turn a blind eye to the available research, and perpetuate their own, and others’, ignorance of the research being conducted all over the US, and abroad, that informs on causes of autism, that, too, is their call.  Their subjective call.]

As a scientist, the author certainly writes like one. He off-handedly mentions a multitude of scientific concepts without explaining what they are or why they’re relevant. I majored in biology in college and attended medical school. Even I sometimes found myself struggling to keep up. How can those without a scientific background hope to understand the case the author makes? What isn’t vague is the loaded summary statements littering the pages. They’re typically tucked in as conclusion sentences after jargon-loaded paragraphs, as if to suggest the conclusion is self-evident based on the preceding information. Well I read, and re-read, multiple passages like this and couldn’t see why he found these conclusions so obvious. It’s dangerous for an objective scientist to draw premature/unfounded conclusions. And, when one isn’t objective, you can’t be sure they aren’t misrepresenting data to fit an agenda. As the author told me, his book isn’t objective.

[Dr. Gallagher could have asked me – after all, we were in contact via social media – whether I had an agenda.  But then, he did not have to.  I’ve made it clear: I’ve never hidden my agenda. My agenda in “Causes” (which is stated, by the way, in “Causes”), is to bring forward the rest of the science, the science left over after CDC’s failed cherry-picking exercise that led Rr. Adm. Schuchat to testify to Congress that no credible science exists that supports the idea that vaccines cause autism.  Dr. Gallagher fails to address the rather obvious fact that SO MUCH science exists that I could fill a book with it; rather, he seems stuck on big sciency words (he calls them “jargon”.  I’m sorry if neurobiology and neurodevelopment and immunology use words that he cannot understand. I’m glad he at least tried to keep up (his words, not mine!)

In all seriousness, I confess I learned a great deal while reading all of the studies I read for the book, and I often found myself looking up terms in reference sources.  I had hoped to carry that learning experience foward, by defining terms for the reader as the book progressed.  Where I failed, I take full responsibility and invite readers to find un-defined terms and pass them them on to me for the second edition.]

But science itself IS objective. I know that’s true. So, I continued reading. The crux of the author’s claims is that the cause of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is largely environmental in nature.

[That’s not my claim, that’s what the science says.  By the way, “I know that’s true” is a subjective statement…]

The foundation on which the author builds his claim is a single pedigree (genetic family tree) describing the spread of ASD within a single family: the ASD in this family is all in the more recent generation. He doesn’t mention that the source he cites covers just one family, instead calling this distribution of ASD “typical.” It’s a leap to conclude something common based on one instance of it. But, as the author told me, his book isn’t objective.

[Now this is a misrepresentation of the foundation of the book.  The pedigree is given as an example of the distribution of autism in families in which are thought to have ASD risk.  Parents of kids w/autism don’t have autism.  In reality, the foundation of the book are the largest genetic studies conducted; they form the observation that autism is mostly environmental.  I review the study that found that 20% of autistics have increased copy number variation, which needs an explanation; I review the largest concordance studies, which, while not actually studying environmental factors, found that ASD liability is 40-50% environmental.  I also observe that because genetic studies have not included environmental factors, the genetic x environment interaction term is unstudied; therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that autism risk is no more than 50% genetic, and at least 50% environmental.]

With regards to citations, there aren’t 2,000 of them in this book. Granted, it’d be unfair to expect someone to cite 2,000 sources in a book.

[I have stated elsewhere: I downloaded 3,000, I reviewed 2,000 closely, and I read over 1,000.  The book cites over 1,000 of those I reviewed. But then,  I told Dr. Gallagher my book was subjective. I subjectively believe that 1,000 is a lot.]

Then, it is also unfair to refer to this book as “objective science” if it doesn’t consistently cite its sources (as objective science does.) It shouldn’t be up to the reader to go to the author’s website to comb through the comprehensive source list and try to figure out what backs up each of the claims made. As such, the list of sources only serves to impress those who trust the author to have read them and to have included information from each in his book. That’s hard to believe in a book whose author claims isn’t objective.

[I invite the readers to please see envgencauses.com to see the studies for yourself. Armed with the knowledge of they whys and hows “Causes” was written, you won’t be surprised that I do not spend time taking fudged data, biased studies, underpowered studies etc. at face-value.  Thus, CDC’s “dozens” (which are really only 5, because IOM rejected 17/22 studies CDC brought forward as flawed), already having been reviewed and promoted by CDC, did not qualify as “science ignored by the CDC”.  I’m not sure Dr. Gallagher understands the premise of “Causes”; he’s looking for “Fair and Balanced” in a book clearly defined, by its author, as “setting the record straight”.

But subjectivity in vaccine safety research ABOUNDS.

CDC subjectively decided to omit the positive association results in the DeStefano et al. (2004) study; according to Dr. DeStefano, they were excluded because they did not believe they were real (see his interview with Sharyl Attikisson).  They subjectively decided to work for four years to find a way to make the association discovered by Dr. Verstraeten go away.  Those involved in the Madsen et al. study subjectively decided to overfit their model by using highly collinear variables – and by failing to show any interest in the interactions.  These subjective studies are not science.

“What’s more, I was surprised to find a geneticist concluding that because we haven’t found a slam-dunk genetic cause of autism, it must be environmental in nature. At the time this book was published (November 2016,) the author pointed to 790 potential genetic causes. He concluded that because there are so many potential mutations, and each mutation is rather rare, it has to be environmental in nature. That’s one way to look at it. I think it’s premature to conclude that our scientific understanding, methods, and techniques are so advanced that we’ve reached the limit of what we’re able to discover.”

[Dr. Gallagher should not be surprised; the lack of a so-called ‘slam-dunk’ genetic cause of autism is not for the want of trying. It is very clear that there are few true ASD risk alleles.  Importantly, that is not to say they do not exist.  They are just so rare that they chances of them being found in the same person is vanishingly small. These observations are based on the genetic studies conducted to date.

There are also ASD phenotype modifier genes that would have contributed to a person’s phenotype, without ASD diagnosis, were it not for environmental toxins. Most of the genes found to date, however, are clearly (to me anyway; ahem, based on my subjective understanding of molecular biology, genomics, pathways, etc…), environmental susceptibility loci.

I didn’t make it necessary for endoplasmic reticulum genes to work correctly for ER proteins to work correctly, to allow proper cellular detoxification.  Natural selection set that up.  And I didn’t make it so that thimerosal disrupts ER protein shortening by selectively inhibiting ERAP, or that aluminum also compromises ER function. I’m also not responsible for that study that shows that 10% of the aluminum that makes it into our body goes to the brain and stays for decades.  I’m not responsible for the science that shows that chronically activated microglial cells destroy dendrites and neural precursor cells.  Dr. Gallagher would, it appears, like to be able to blame all of these studies, and the facts on my subjectivity.  Unfortunately for his agenda, such liability does not begin, nor end, with me.]

Like an objective interpretation of objective science, what also can’t be found in this book is any reference to the evolving definition of ASD. ASD, autism spectrum disorder, hasn’t always been called ASD. It hasn’t always been considered a spectrum (a wide range of variations on a single condition.) It used to just be called “autism” with only the more severe cases receiving a diagnosis. As our understanding of the condition has grown, so have the number of diagnoses. Throw in an explosion of the number of developmental-behavioral pediatricians, the specialists trained to diagnose ASD, and you can account for the increase in cases. Even if one doesn’t believe this to represent 100% of the increased incidence of ASD, any reasonable person would conclude it would have at least SOME responsibility. As the author told me on twitter, this book isn’t objective.

[In reality, “Causes” includes a highly detailed review of the moving target of ASD diagnosis, and and even a table of the differences in the core symptoms used to diagnose ASD.  Dr. Gallagher’s intention is to make the reader believe that I gave no consideration to changes in diagnosis to fool them into believing that I was someone ignorant of the role that changes in diagnosis might have had. The level of detail, in fact is extraordinary: I present the results of a thorough search for regression autism within DSM-5.  I can only assume that Dr. Gallagher skipped that part of the book, including this passage from: “Causes”:

“Nevison (2014) studied the factors that might contribute to the increase, including chemicals—pesticides, flame retardants, and total adjuvants (immune system stimulating compound vaccines—and concluded that changes in diagnosis was not sufficient to explain the exponential increase. She attributed 75 to 80 percent of the increase in autism since 1988 to an actual increase in the disorder, rather than to changing diagnostic criteria. Another study reached very similar conclusions, attributing approximately 25 percent of the increase in California to diagnostic artifacts (King and Bearman, 2009). (From “Causes”)

[How could Dr. Gallagher miss this important passage if he read, and re-read “Causes”?]

This book represents another entry in the long line of so-called “objective” works that are anything but.

[Dr. Gallagher: Are we in the same review here?  I thought you said many times that I told you that “Causes” was, intentionally and by design, subjective?]

It will only serve to cause further confusion to well-meaning parents who want to do what’s best for their children.

[There is NO confusion. Vaccines cause harm to some people.  Vaccine injury is real. Your vaccine risk denialism is irresponsible, and will only serve to create more vaccine-risk aware Americans.]

Believe me; if vaccination were the root of all evil, it would bear out in actual objective scientific study, not just one non-objective author’s interpretation of it.

[Looking past Dr. Gallagher’s emotion-evoking “root of all evil” phrase, because I don’t know what purpose it serves: Here Dr. Gallagher would like the reader to believe him… an appeal to authority, perhaps?  I agree however that actual objective scientific studies would show causal association. My professional opinion is that the studies put forward by CDC do not qualify as “actual objective scientific studies” – for all of the reasons that I have outlined both in my blog, in “Cures vs. Profits”, and in “Causes”.]

And, we would toss our vaccines in the trash.

As such, it hasn’t been born out in actual objective scientific study.

[Actually, Dr. Gallagher, I would not go that far.  I would conduct studies on alternative schedules, to see if spacing out vaccines reduced chronic aluminum toxicity, and reduced adverse events.  I would work systematically to make artificial immunization safer. And, because I read 2,000 actual, objective scientific studies, that’s precisely what colleagues and I are doing.]

“Vaccines are safe.”

[>$3.4 billion in awards paid compensating families for vaccine injuries safe?]

“Vaccines save lives.”

[Sometimes.  And sometimes they maim, and sometimes they kill.]

“Vaccines work.”

[This is going to surprise some, but not others.  Of course they do.  But one has to define “work”.  HPV vaccines, for example, protect against the vaccine-targeted types.  But they do not protect against the remaining 100 or so types they do not target, some of which are in fact oncogenic.  So it would be scientifically inaccurate to say that HPV vaccine protects against HPV infection.]

8 thoughts on “On Objectivity and Subjectivity in Vaccine Safety Research

  1. Thank you for this. Surely, if he is a pediatrician, he has seen vaccine injury in his own patients. Perhaps he is in denial. Objective denial?

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  2. Doctors are not scientists. In fact they tend to be liberal art majors. They jam and cram and memorize to pass exams and then they go through this weird hazing ritual and are set up with mentors who really teach them everything they know.

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  3. Hey James, the confusion seems due to science actually not being objective, and most ‘defenders’ of objectivity in science don’t actually realize that the human mind just cannot be objective. The data may be fact, but the interpretation, by us, has to be subjective. We move forward with the best subjective interpretation of the data. that moves the field and society. This has always been the case.

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  4. You can give the young pediatrician some credit for his curiosity, and for actually reading the book. If he were older, more entrenched in the establishment view and a fear of reprisal from the AMA, he wouldn’t have bothered. I hope he will at least think twice before piggybacking vaccines on his tiny vulnerable patients with a lifetime ahead of them. Perhaps he will spend a few more minutes on informed consent. Small incremental victories.

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  5. It’s interesting that the doctor also does not disclose that he is paid quite a bit of money if a large majority of his patients are vaccinated on schedule, which by definition would make him very subjective. It doesn’t take a lot of objective research to discover that vaccines aren’t rigorously tested at all, and that the pharma mafia actually controls almost everything in the mainstream medical world. Then again, he’s been brainwashed in medical school NOT to look for and treat causation, but to treat symptoms with drugs.

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