Saturday, September 13, 2014

Research Shenanigans At The CDC

Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you might have noticed a little story going around about a "CDC Whistle-blower" or whatever you want to call it.  Most of you probably know the story so I am not going to talk about the study, counter study, recording of secret informants, or whatever the current drama is surrounding the story.  Plenty of other people have done that, and badly I might add (no, it IS a doctored picture of cell phone text message screen and I should know because I am a doctor).

Nor am I going to add yet another opinion to the ever growing set of opinions about what the data really shows or doesn't show because I am sick and tired of reading those myself.  The data in question doesn't have the ability to give any answers one way or the other.  

What I do want to talk about is the the underlying story that no one seems to be talking about - the CDC's reoccurring problem with its researchers connected to its vaccine/autism research.

In the current situation you have a senior scientist at the CDC hiding behind lawyers and putting out a press release - that simple act should raise massive red flags about the situation.  If there was nothing to the story there is no reason why a scientist should be responding to his critics via press release and absolutely no reason to involve lawyers.  The gentleman hired lawyers for a reason and it wasn't because this is a simple scientific dispute about the interpretation of data.  The fact that he admits committing research fraud in his press release only makes it worse -
I regret that my coauthors and I omitted statistically significant information  in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. The omitted data suggested that African American males who received the MMR vaccine before age 36 months were at increased  risk for autism. Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data were collected, and I believe that the final study protocol was not followed.
Since this statement made it into a press release vetted by a law firm you can assume that the truth of the matter is much, much worse.

The thing that bothers me is that if this study covered any other topic besides autism/vaccines the above admission would trigger the retraction of the study in question and intense scrutiny of every other study that this gentleman was involved in.  Science is based on trust and here you have someone admitting that they lied.

However that wasn't the CDC's response to the issue - the CDC put out a response that basically said that they are standing by the study.  What makes this worse is that this isn't the first time the CDC has stood by questionable research about vaccines and autism.

Anyone remember the controversy surrounding Poul Thorsen?  He was involved in quite a few autism studies for the CDC and he stands accused of embezzling almost 1 million dollars from the CDC in connection with those studies.  He is currently under indictment and awaiting extradition to the US on 22 counts of wire fraud and money laundering.

You would think that if a lead researcher embezzles money in connection with a study that you might want to question the study's results.  But no, the CDC didn't pull any of the studies that Thorsen was connected to either.

Forget the whole vaccine/autism issue - that isn't the real story here.  The real story here is how the CDC is handling problems with its research.   By sticking its head in the sand and refusing to confront misconduct by its researchers head on it is weakening its own reputation.

2 comments:

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