[Editor’s note: Jann Bellamy will not be posting this week, as she has a personal family matter to deal with. She should return in two weeks. Fortunately I can fill in and tell a story that should also be told on SBM.]
There is a kind of study that often draws my attention because it just keeps showing up again and again and again. I call such studies, appropriately enough, zombie studies. Depending on my mood when I write about studies like this, I not infrequently add imagery featuring zombies (or, if you’re into The Walking Dead, walkers). Other times, I’ll include imagery featuring slasher movie faves like Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers, two supernatural killers who would routinely mow through misbehaving teens for a whole movie and then die (or appear to die) at the end, only to come back in the next installment in the series to mow down a new bunch of hapless youths. Antivaccine pseudoscience (for example) is a lot like these monsters. In actuality, such studies are probably more akin to Jason or Michael Myers than walkers, the reason being that in the fictional world of The Walking Dead, you can actually kill walkers dead for good. Be that as it may, whenever a truly awful study that should never have been accepted for publication in the first place in a peer-reviewed journal is retracted, you can be sure that it won’t be too long before it is magically resurrected and rears its ugly head again in some form or another, to be wielded not just as a weapon to frighten parents with but as a bogus example of how the peer-reviewed medical literature “suppresses” science that doesn’t support vaccines, to be used to feed the conspiracy theories behind the antivaccine movement. Same as it ever was.
Two, two, two crappy zombie studies for the price of one!
This time around, it turns out that there isn’t just one, but two zombie studies. In actuality, it’s really just one “study” (and, as you will soon see, the scare quotes are entirely appropriate) divided into what we in the biz like to refer to MPUs, or minimal publishable units. Both “studies” derive from one particular zombie study whose inception was in 2012, when antivaxers began fundraising to pay for it. The principal investigator was Anthony R. Mawson, M.A., DrPH. Indeed, J.B. Handley himself, founder of the antivaccine group now most associated with Jenny McCarthy (Generation Rescue), spearheaded the fundraising effort. It is, unsurprisingly, the Holy Grail of antivaccine studies, the mythical “vaccinated/unvaccinated” study.
Antivaxers, at least the ones who retain a bit of reason with respect to medical ethics, have grudgingly come to realize, if not accept, that a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of vaccinated versus unvaccinated children is considered so utterly unethical that it can’t be done. The reason is, of course, that such a study would leave half the children unprotected against vaccine-preventable diseases. Antivaxers might not actually accept just how mind-blowingly unethical such a study would be, but they do realize that scientists do consider such a study unethical; so they talk the talk, even if they don’t believe it.
They don’t give up, however. They fall back on comparing health outcomes in children who are vaccinated to those who are unvaccinated (or undervaccinated). They’re pretty much all crap, because those carrying the studies out are biased and/or incompetent. Examples include a telephone survey disguised as a “study” done ten years ago and a survey disguised as a “study” performed by a German homeopath. This study is different in that it isn’t an antivaccine activist parent with no background in science or a homeopath but an actual academic. He is, however, clearly biased towards antivaccine views, as he has defended Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 Lancet case series and is a vocal supporter of his. Oh, let’s just say it bluntly. We’re dealing with a Wakefield fanboi here.
Hilariously, when this study was published in its first form, the full study wasn’t published, only the abstract. Then the abstract was, in essence, retracted. Even more hilarious, it was a Frontiers journal, which is an even bigger dis because Frontiers journals are known for tending to be pay-to-publish predatory open access journals. If a Frontiers journal retracts your paper, it’s plenty bad indeed. It turns out that the manuscript had been reviewed by a chiropractor and a peer reviewer without relevant expertise.
Then, back in February, the Mawson zombie study rose from the dead again, as antivaxers spread around copies of the retracted article and crowed that it had been accepted for publication elsewhere, and indeed it has. It’s fallen even farther down the food chain than a Frontiers journal, having been published by Mawson et al. in the Journal of Translational Science, a journal published by Open Access Text, as “Pilot comparative study on the health of vaccinated and unvaccinated 6- to 12- year old U.S. children.” A second paper was published in the very same bottom-feeding predatory open access journal by Mawson using the very same survey dataset, “Preterm birth, vaccination and neurodevelopmental disorders: a cross-sectional study of 6- to 12-year-old vaccinated and unvaccinated children.”
Amusingly, when I clicked on the links, I got a “not found” error message. Good thing I downloaded the PDFs the first time I saw the articles. I don’t have to host them here, though. Age of Autism is hosting the first paper, and Claire Dwoskin’s antivaccine group Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute (CMSRI) is hosting both papers, the first one here and the second one here. Thanks, antivaccine cranks. Also, thanks, Retraction Watch for pointing out that these studies appear to have been retracted yet again, although no reason has yet been given. Let’s just put it this way: When a bottom-feeding predatory open access journal as predatory and bottom-feeding as an Open Access Text journal retracts your paper, you’ve fallen so far that you might as well be at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.
MPU #1: In which Mawson flunks Epidemiology 101
I’ll cut to the chase before I explain more. There’s nothing new in the first study that makes it any better than it was in its previous incarnations. Indeed, its introduction alone contains a boatload of fail that gives away the antivaccine leanings of Mawson et al. For example, there’s the implication of “too many too soon”:
Under the currently recommended pediatric vaccination schedule , U.S. children receive up to 48 doses of vaccines for 14 diseases from birth to age six years, a figure that has steadily increased since the 1950s, most notably since the Vaccines for Children program was created in 1994. The Vaccines for Children program began with vaccines targeting nine diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, Haemophilus influenza type b disease, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, and rubella. Between 1995 and 2013, new vaccines against five other diseases were added for children age 6 and under: varicella, hepatitis A, pneumococcal disease, influenza, and rotavirus vaccine.
The implication is, of course, the common antivaccine trope that as a result of the gradual expansion of the recommended vaccine schedule children are getting, yes, “too many too soon,” with adverse health effects. Then there’s this:
A complicating factor in evaluating the vaccination program is that vaccines against infectious diseases have complex nonspecific effects on morbidity and mortality that extend beyond prevention of the targeted disease. The existence of such effects poses a challenge to the assumption that individual vaccines affect the immune system independently of each other and have no physiological effect other than protection against the targeted pathogen . The nonspecific effects of some vaccines appear to be beneficial, while in others they appear to increase morbidity and mortality [22,23]. For instance, both the measles and Bacillus Calmette–Guérin vaccine reportedly reduce overall morbidity and mortality , whereas the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis  and hepatitis B vaccines  have the opposite effect. The mechanisms responsible for these nonspecific effects are unknown but may involve inter alia: interactions between vaccines and their ingredients, e.g., whether the vaccines are live or inactivated; the most recently administered vaccine; micronutrient supplements such as vitamin A; the sequence in which vaccines are given; and their possible combined and cumulative effects .
The wag in me can’t help but provide Mawson with an example of a “complex nonspecific effect on morbidity and mortality” due to a vaccine. He’s not going to like it, though, because it shows that the benefits of the measles vaccine go beyond just preventing measles. Basically, there is a prolonged period of immunosuppression after the measles that lasts up to three years. Vaccinating against the measles prevents that immunosuppression and therefore lowers the death rate due to other infectious diseases to which children are more vulnerable after having had the measles. It’s really a wonderful added benefit of the MMR vaccine (and yet another reason why protecting children by vaccinating them with the MMR is a very good thing indeed), just not the sort of “complex nonspecific effect” that Mawson wants to hear about.
The bias is also apparent in the statement of purpose for the study:
The aims of this study were 1) to compare vaccinated and unvaccinated children on a broad range of health outcomes, including acute and chronic conditions, medication and health service utilization, and 2) to determine whether an association found between vaccination and NDDs, if any, remained significant after adjustment for other measured factors.
This is serious bias, as the authors assume that vaccines cause harm. It’s not quite explicitly stated, but certainly implied. They clearly expected to find an association between vaccination and neurodevelopmental conditions, despite all the copious evidence that there is no such association.
I also can’t help but turn a frequent antivaccine trope back on itself. Antivaxers and promoters of alternative medicine often criticize studies of drugs and vaccines because the drug and vaccine manufacturers are frequently the funding source. That is not an entirely unreasonable objection—to a point. I myself look more skeptically at studies funded by drug companies, but with this caveat. If the study is well-designed, executed, and analyzed, I take its results seriously, regardless of funding. However, since antivaxers seem to think that even a whiff of pharma funding of a study invalidates it, I can’t help pointing out the funding of Mawson’s study (and see this CNN piece on the funding of antivaccine groups):
This study was supported by grants from Generation Rescue, Inc., and the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute, charitable organizations that support research on children’s health and safety. The funders had no role or influence on the design and conduct of the research or the preparation of reports.
Generation Rescue, as I mentioned above, is Jenny McCarthy’s antivaccine organization, and the CMSRI is one of the more—shall we say?—out there among antivaccine groups, so much so that I’m surprised I haven’t addressed it before here. Sure, it’s probably true that Generation Rescue and the CMSRI didn’t directly influence design or execution of the study, but ask yourself this: Would these groups have funded an investigator if they weren’t pretty sure how his study would turn out? I think you know the answer to that question.
Of course a study this flawed is close to guaranteed to find a positive result. The flaws begin with the selection of study population:
The study was designed as a cross-sectional survey of homeschooling mothers on their vaccinated and unvaccinated biological children ages 6 to 12. As contact information on homeschool families was unavailable, there was no defined population or sampling frame from which a randomized study could be carried out, and from which response rates could be determined. However, the object of our pilot study was not to obtain a representative sample of homeschool children but a convenience sample of unvaccinated children of sufficient size to test for significant differences in outcomes between the groups.
We proceeded by selecting 4 states (Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oregon) for the survey (Stage 1). NHERI compiled a list of statewide and local homeschool organizations, totaling 84 in Florida, 18 in Louisiana, 12 in Mississippi and 17 in Oregon. Initial contacts were made in June 2012. NHERI contacted the leaders of each statewide organization by email to request their support. A second email was then sent, explaining the study purpose and background, which the leaders were asked to forward to their members (Stage 2). A link was provided to an online questionnaire in which no personally identifying information was requested. With funding limited to 12 months, we sought to obtain as many responses as possible, contacting families only indirectly through homeschool organizations. Biological mothers of children ages 6-12 years were asked to serve as respondents in order to standardize data collection and to include data on pregnancy-related factors and birth history that might relate to the children’s current health. The age-range of 6 to 12 years was selected because most recommended vaccinations would have been received by then.
Notice how Mawson claims that this is a cross-sectional study, when in reality it’s a survey targeting parents who homeschool, using them as a population of convenience. Of course, parents who choose to home school are not like your average parents. There are a lot of confounding factors that go along with home schooling, including the association between home schooling and antivaccine views. This association is very clear in the data, which show that 261 of the 666 subjects were unvaccinated. Of these 405 who were vaccinated, only 197 were “fully vaccinated.” Thus, less than 1/3 of the children in the study were fully vaccinated according to the CDC’s recommended schedule, and well over 1/3 were completely unvaccinated. This is not in any way representative of the population at large. Add to that the likelihood of selective memory and reporting, and the likelihood of this survey providing useful information is vanishingly small. Also, surveys are not the best means of gathering health data, and in this case it was a particularly bad situation. Mothers were asked whether their children were vaccinated, unvaccinated, or “partially vaccinated,” and what conditions or diseases their children had had. There was no effort to make any independent assessments of the children’s health, nor was there any attempt to account for bias, and there almost certainly was a lot of bias here:
A number of homeschool mothers volunteered to assist NHERI promote the study to their wide circles of homeschool contacts. A number of nationwide organizations also agreed to promote the study in the designated states. The online survey remained open for three months in the summer of 2012. Financial incentives to complete the survey were neither available nor offered.
Even more telling, consider how the subjects were recruited. The authors admit that the “object of our pilot study was not to obtain a representative sample of homeschool children but a convenience sample of unvaccinated children of sufficient size to test for significant differences in outcomes between the groups.” In other words, no effort was made to construct a representative sample.
So what are we to make of the results of this study, which show:
The vaccinated were less likely than the unvaccinated to have been diagnosed with chickenpox and pertussis, but more likely to have been diagnosed with pneumonia, otitis media, allergies and NDD. After adjustment, vaccination, male gender, and preterm birth remained significantly associated with NDD. However, in a final adjusted model with interaction, vaccination but not preterm birth remained associated with NDD, while the interaction of preterm birth and vaccination was associated with a 6.6-fold increased odds of NDD (95% CI: 2.8, 15.5). In conclusion, vaccinated homeschool children were found to have a higher rate of allergies and NDD than unvaccinated homeschool children. While vaccination remained significantly associated with NDD after controlling for other factors, preterm birth coupled with vaccination was associated with an apparent synergistic increase in the odds of NDD.
Nothing. The bias and flaws in this study guaranteed no other result, particularly when you consider another confounding factor, namely that the parents of children who are fully vaccinated are very different in their health-seeking behavior than those whose children are unvaccinated. They tend to take their children to visit the doctor more regularly, which means that health disorders their children have are more likely to be diagnosed and treated. They’re also less likely to be seeing naturopaths and other alternative practitioners.
I note that it is a myth that there are no studies comparing the health of vaccinated children compared to unvaccinated children. In fact, there have been several. It turns out that they don’t show what antivaxers think a vaxed/unvaxed study will show. Basically, all of the vaxed/unvaxed studies not done by antivaccine-friendly scientists or quacks have shown either no differences in the prevalence of neurodevelopmental or chronic diseases between vaccinated children and unvaccinated children or have actually found better health outcomes in the vaccinated population. Mawson concludes by arguing that further “research involving larger, independent samples and stronger research designs is needed to verify and understand these unexpected findings in order to optimize the impact of vaccines on children’s health.” Mawson’s study is so biased, flawed, and incompetently carried out and analyzed that its results can be discounted as almost certainly worthless. It doesn’t provide the rationale for “more studies.” Quite the contrary.
Yet, that’s how antivaxers are spinning it, as they always do.
On to the second “study.”
MPU #2: No increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in preterm infants unless they’re vaccinated?
MPU #2 is, as I mentioned, an “analysis” (if you can call it that) from the same dataset of the same survey data that spawned the first risibly incompetently awful study discussed in this post. When the dataset itself is this badly flawed, the best adage to apply is GIGO, or “garbage in, garbage out.” Also like the previous study, the authors tip their hand early, revealing their antivaccine viewpoint:
Preterm birth (defined as birth occurring before 37 completed weeks of gestation) is known as a major risk factor for neurodevelopmental deficits, including cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, cognitive and speech delays, motor deficits, and visual impairment associated with retinopathy of prematurity. In particular, preterm birth is the leading cause of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD) and disability, including the development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) [1- 3], but the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. Preterm infants receive the same doses of the recommended vaccines on the same schedule as term infants in order to protect them from several infections [4-7]. However, the possible role of vaccination in the development of NDD in premature infants has not been assessed, partly because pre-licensure clinical trials of pediatric vaccines have routinely excluded ex-preterm infants, and because of the assumed overall safety of vaccinations [8-15].
“Assumed overall safety of vaccinations”? If that isn’t a dead giveaway for antivaccine views, I don’t know what is, particularly after pointing out that preterm infants receive the same doses of vaccines that full term infants do. The authors also tip their hand later in the paper:
While the safety of vaccines is officially assured, observational studies have involved only a limited number of vaccines and vaccine ingredients, and none has reported on the long-term outcomes of the present vaccination schedule , which has been expanded and accelerated in recent decades . The current childhood vaccination program now includes 48 doses of vaccines for 14 diseases from birth to age 6 years compared to 3 vaccinations for 7 diseases in the 1970s .
Since special efforts are made to vaccinate preterm infants, the effects of prematurity are difficult to separate from those of vaccination. Given the benefits of vaccination, it has not been thought necessary to do so. On the other hand, vaccine safety assessment in preterm infants is particularly important due to the frequency of adverse events associated with prematurity itself . Adverse cardiorespiratory events including apnea, bradycardia and desaturations (oxygen saturation <90%) are well documented following vaccination in many preterm infants, yet vaccination is strongly recommended regardless of such events, since the prevention of infection is considered paramount.
Of course, it’s also not true that vaccinating preterm infants is just “assumed” to be safe. There is a lot of evidence that it is safe (e.g., this recent study), which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vaccination of medically stable preterm infants on the same schedule as full-term infants based on chronological age. I also note that the studies cited by Mawson point out that the episodes of apnea, bradycardia, and oxygen desaturation sometimes seen after vaccination of preterm infants are transient, do not have serious consequences, and don’t have a detrimental impact on the infants’ clinical course.
This also appears to be another study without a clear hypothesis, just like the last one. The closest I could find to a hypothesis was at the end of the introduction, where the authors state that their purpose was:
This paper presents additional results of a survey designed to compare the health outcomes of vaccinated and unvaccinated children educated at home, based on mothers’ anonymous reports on the birth histories and physician-diagnosed illnesses in their children. The analysis explores the possible role of vaccination in NDD among children born preterm.
So what is the hypothesis? That vaccines are dangerous to preterm infants? That seems to be about as specific a hypothesis as Mawson can come up with. In fairness, sometimes exploratory studies are a perfectly useful thing to do as a hypothesis-generating strategy, but this study is such a mess that it can’t really even be said to be doing that. All the issues about a biased sample of home schooled children, with the same confounders as before in being far less likely to vaccinate and very likely to have significant differences in health-seeking behavior apply, as do the defect of relying solely on the responses of mothers without verifying diagnoses or vaccination status.
So, not surprisingly, this paper reports elevated prevalence of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders attributable to vaccination, with odds ratios in the range of 3.7 to 5.2 depending upon the specific NDD, with an odds ratio for any NDD of 3.7. Not surprisingly, they found that preterm birth was associated with an odds ratio of 4.9 attributable to preterm birth. Whew, right? If they hadn’t found that, it would have been the first study almost ever not to find a correlation between preterm birth and NDD, a finding so well accepted that not finding it would be a serious red flag.
Now here’s the kicker. Mawson et al. claim to find that all of the risk of NDD in preterm infants is due to vaccination. Just sit back and chew on that for a while as I list their key findings (if you can call them that):
- Preterm birth without vaccination (P/V-) was not associated with NDD.
- Term birth with vaccination (P-/V) was associated with a significant 2.7-fold increase in the odds of NDD.
- Preterm birth with vaccination (P/V) was associated with a significant 5.4-fold increase in the odds of NDD compared to the odds of NDD given term birth and vaccination (P-/V).
- Preterm birth with vaccination (P/V) was associated with a nonsignificant 12.3-fold increased odds of NDD compared to preterm birth without vaccination (P/V-) (not technically significant because no child in the sample with an NDD was both preterm and unvaccinated).
- Preterm birth with vaccination (P/V) was associated with a significant 14.5-fold increased odds of NDD compared to being neither preterm nor vaccinated (P-/V-).
And there’s your huge red flag. This study claims to have found that there is no increased risk of NDD associated with preterm birth in unvaccinated infants, a finding so out of whack with a huge, established body of evidence going back several decades linking preterm birth to elevated risk of NDD that it’s hard to believe. I also can’t help but note that some of those data go back to the 1970s, when the vaccine schedule was much less extensive. Then, you’re asked to believe that in vaccinated children preterm birth is a risk factor for NDD, with an odds ratio of 5.4. This is a result that, quite simply, does not make sense. The combination of these findings represents one reason why these results are suspect. Another reason why they’re suspect is small numbers. There were, for example, zero preterm infants who were unvaccinated with an NDD and only 8 infants who were not preterm who were vaccinated. Another problem is that Mawson does five pairwise comparisons but does not correct for multiple comparisons as he should have. At least one of the p-values would cease to be significant and another would be borderline statistically significant.
Based on gruel as thin or thinner than the first report, Mawson plunges deep into antivaccine speculation, suggesting that that preterm birth and vaccination are synergistic in causing NDDs and even speculating—without evidence—on a mechanism. He goes way beyond our reality, and not in a good way:
While additional studies are needed to verify and explain the present findings, a tentative hypothesis of the mechanisms linking preterm birth and vaccination with NDD is outlined as follows. Receipt of one or more vaccines could precipitate NDD in some preterm infants by exacerbating a preexisting inflammatory state associated with prematurity, leading to hepatic encephalopathy and hypoxic-ischemic brain damage. Impaired liver function is a predisposing factor for preterm birth [54,55] and the latter is associated with increased risks of hypoxic-ischemic brain injury . A possible biochemical basis for vaccination-associated NDD in preterm infants could involve the spillage of a membranolytic biliary metabolite from the maternal liver into the circulation and its transfer to the fetus, contributing thereby to the pathogenesis of preterm birth itself  and possibly being further increased to neurotoxic concentrations by the impact of vaccination on the infant’s liver. Consistent with this hypothesis, liver dysfunction is reported as an adverse effect of vaccination  and as a feature of children with autism [58,59]. Furthermore, hyperbilirubinemia is associated with hypoxic-ischemic brain damage  and is a feature of the preterm infant as well as children with later-onset cognitive disorders and ASD [61,62].
This is nothing more than technobabble. For those of you not familiar with what that is, it’s a concept taken from Star Trek, particularly Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which technical-sounding verbiage is used to describe the solution or explanation of scientific, medical, or engineering problem. It’s also a wonderful example of how antivaxers start relating multiple biologic phenomena and observations together as an overall explanation for how autism and other NDDs could be caused by vaccines. Never mind that there is no good evidence that autism is caused by vaccines. Certainly Mawson’s two papers do not constitute anything resembling good evidence that vaccines cause autism.
I can’t help but be amused that these two papers have apparently been retracted (although I hasten to add that the only evidence that they have been retracted is that they no longer appear on the OAT journal website and that OAT has issued no statement that I am aware of at this time). I also can’t help but feel extremely pleasurable schadenfreude, because retraction by an even worse predatory journal than a Frontiers journal is a fate that Mawson richly deserves for conducting two such horrible studies at the behest of antivaccine activists. I also suspect that OAT will probably never issue a statement. Why? For a predatory journal to be able to keep fleecing its marks, it can’t have a lot of attention directed at how awful one of its papers is, regardless of how crappy all of its other papers are. When one or more papers is unlucky enough to attract attention, better for the articles to disappear. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy than Mawson, with the exception of Andrew Wakefield and any number of other antivaccine-sympathetic “scientists.”
Thus far, antivaxers have been relatively silent about the retractions (if retractions they are), but not all of them. I rather suspect that it’s not yet widely known in antivaccine circles that these studies were retracted, but that’s changing. For example, Sayer Ji of GreenMedInfo:
In today’s newsletter, we feature an article about two small but powerful studies. They apparently terrify the vaccine industry champions to such an extent that they will publish falsehoods to keep the studies out of the public eye. Dr. Anthony Mawson, author of “Pilot Comparative Study on the Health of Vaccinated and Unvaccinated 6 – 12 Year Old U.S. Children” and “Preterm birth, vaccination and neurodevelopmental disorders: A cross-sectional study of 6 – 12 year old vaccinated and unvaccinated children” has been the target of Retraction Watch, an online blog of the “Center for Scientific Integrity” which receives “generous” funding from The MacArthur Foundation to promote integrity in science.
This fake news blog, which we hope the foundation will disavow, has been used to target a 35-year career scientist and his research in order to derail publication of two papers that were peer reviewed and accepted on their merits. Retraction Watch falsely claimed that one of the studies had been retracted by another journal, when it had never been officially accepted. They compounded the falsehood by claiming the paper had been retracted a second time, when it had simply been temporarily removed pending a response from the author to the false allegation.
Ah, “fake news”! The all-purpose epithet used these days by cranks to describe any news, analysis, or criticism that they don’t like. Retraction Watch, of course, is highly respected in the biomedical field. It does work that needs to be done, publicizing retractions that otherwise might never come to public attention, shining light into the darker recesses of biomedical research, and doing its part to keep scientists honest. You might be wondering what that bit about the paper not having been “retracted” once before this latest round is about. Basically, as I explained before, the abstract of the study was posted to the website of a Frontiers journal (the first bottom-feeding open access predatory journal) as having been accepted. At the time, I wondered why that was, as I noted that the peer reviewers were a chiropractor and a physician utterly unqualified to review a paper like this. It was never explained. In any case, Ji is using that ambiguity to claim that the article was never retracted. From my perspective, though, accepting a paper and then “un-accepting” it is a distinction without a difference. Of course, Ji might well be embarrassed, given how the day before the retractions were noticed his site had published a glowing review of Mawson’s recent publications by Jeffrey Jaxon that concluded that “the battle now rages between openness and transparency versus the protection, through omission and overt censorship, of Big Pharma’s business model and need for ever-expanding bottom lines at all costs.” Predictably, that’s how the retraction—if true retraction it is—is being spun by antivaxers.
Elsewhere, over on Facebook antivaccine-friendly pediatrician Dr. Bob Sears is claiming that the paper hasn’t been retracted, claiming instead:
Update: The link was temporarily not working due to overwhelming traffic. It is now up and running again. Enjoy, and share!
It wasn’t clear whether Sears was referring to the link to the fawning article over at his Immunity Education Group, “Finally! A Study Compares the Health of Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated Children: The Results May Surprise You.” (A more click-baity title is hard to imagine.) There, Sears claims:
UPDATE: Interestingly, by the time of publishing, this study has been forced offline and some links to it have been de-activated. Some have even falsely claimed the study has been retracted. It hasn’t, but perhaps some believe the results were a little too shocking? You can read the study (and a separate cross-sectional study of the same data) here:
Preterm birth, vaccination and neurodevelopmental disorders: a cross-sectional study of 6- to 12-year-old vaccinated and unvaccinated children, Mawson AR, et al, Journal of Translational Science Apr 24, 2017
I’m amused by Dr. Sears’ contortions defending the study on Facebook. Let’s just put it this way. If Sears thinks these are valid studies whose results should be taken seriously, his approach to scientific studies leaves so much to be desired as to cast into doubt everything he says in his Vaccine Book. For instance, in response to a criticism of the study that this was not a valid study but “was merely a survey of a small group of homeschool moms, and was not scientific in any way” (which is true and similar to my criticism of these garbage studies), Sears responds:
It is labeled as a “Pilot” study, which means that you are correct in that you can’t draw definite conclusions from it, as the article states. BUT, pilot studies can’t be ignored either. Because the CDC won’t research it, others have to, and it begins with pilot studies to see if MORE research is warranted.
Hilariously, another commenter responds by citing the NIH’s National Health Interview Survey, which is a ridiculous comparison. The NHIS is everything that Mawson’s ad hoc survey is not. Another cites a survey by VaccineInjury.info, a survey that’s, if anything, even worse than Mawson’s survey. I had fun deconstructing it a year and a half ago.
I look forward to any statement, if any is forthcoming, from Open Access Text. In the meantime, I will enjoy the pretzels of false justifications and excuses into which antivaxers are contorting themselves over this study and its removal from the Journal of Translational Science website.