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More “proof” that vaccines cause autism? Seriously. This paper sucks.

July 19, 2013

Hi Reader,

Today I would like to walk you through the latest steaming turd of a “study” being bandied about by the anti-vaxxers, which they tout as the holy grail: an allegedly peer-reviewed article showing that vaccines unquestionably cause autism. The paper is written by one John B. Classen, and is such a horrific pile of non-science that it is hard to know where to begin a critique. But try, I shall. In the meantime, one cannot help but wonder if the “peer review” were conducted by the author’s mother or perhaps a 7-year-old child. Regardless, below is a list of reasons why this paper cannot be used for anything other than parakeet cage lining.

1. The introduction omits any information contrary to Classen’s hypothesis, which appears to be that vaccines cause both diabetes and autism.

Classen’s introduction makes the rather bold assertion that vaccines may cause diabetes. This line of thinking is allegedly supported using references from the author of the paper, and ignores several studies showing no increased risk for Type 1 diabetes whatsoever with vaccination. In fact, a ginormous study conducted by Duderstadt et al. among over 2 million individuals, a significantly reduced risk of Type I diabetes was observed with several vaccinations, including hepatitis B, MMR, and yellow fever vaccines. Another study by Blom et al. has also shown that having received an MMR vaccination was associated with a lower risk for Type I diabetes.

In addition to the published literature, Johns Hopkins convened a panel to address the very issue of whether vaccines might cause Type I diabetes. Their conclusion? They do not. As an added bonus,  Classen actually participated in this meeting, though the panel chided him for his over-interpretation of ecological data, as well as stating that, for at least one of his presentations “[Classen’s] analytic methods were incorrect and a careful analysis of data from 10 years of follow-up has revealed no significant differences in the incidence of type 1 diabetes mellitus in children who received one vs. four doses of Hib vaccine”. The evidence from Classen’s latest paper demonstrates that he again appears to fall into the same trap of misinterpretation and flawed data analysis. In short, Classen’s introduction is one big epidemiological no-no. He apparently ignores data that do not support his hypotheses, he relies almost exclusively on his own work, and he continues to do the very things to which the Hopkins panel rightfully objected. Red flags, I see you waving.

2. The methods are a disaster.

It appears that Classen attempted to perform a dubious ecological study comparing prevalence rates of Type I and Type II diabetes and autism, by race. In short, he copied data from this JAMA paper for rates of diabetes by race, and then added on another column of data from this paper for autism prevalence among children aged 8 years, by race.  From here, things begin to degenerate quickly, as can be handily ascertained because these data are quite easy to check. I will use the correlations between Type 1 diabetes and autism as an example. If you conduct the analysis by age group, examining the association between Type I diabetes and autism rates by race, there are no statistically significant findings—not even close. The magic p-values Classen presents are only obtained when you perform a sleight-of-hand whereby the Type I diabetes data from all age groups are counted together in one lump, and the data for autism at age 8 are counted three separate times for comparison. This might be considered to be intellectually dishonest at worst, and statistically inept at best. But regardless of the faux findings, it wouldn’t matter even if they were legit, which leads us to the third fatal flaw with this paper. Remember, all that these “analyses” fail to show is that two diseases—Type I diabetes and autism—tend to be higher in certain racial/ethnic groups when compared to others.

3. The conclusions are not supported by the data.

This may be the worst criticism that one scientist can fling at another. But in this case, I’m afraid it must be said, particularly as Classen himself admits that his conclusions are based in part on stuff that was not even included in the publication. The final sentence in this paper is as follows:

It is the belief of the author, based in part on the data present in this manuscript that the epidemics of Type 1 diabetes and autoimmune autism are more likely than not to share the same etiological cause.

That cause, according to Classen, is vaccination. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this outrageous conclusion is that Classen did not include vaccines as a variable at all in his deeply flawed analysis. Yet somehow, he “believes” that these data support the idea that because certain diseases are diagnosed more often in one racial group than another, it can only be caused by vaccination. He ignores a plethora of other potential confounding factors, which are actually too numerous to be listed in full, but may include socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, or genetic predispositions.

4. The author has a clear conflict of interest.

Oh yes. The author is the CEO of Classen Immunotherapies, Inc., which,  to his credit, he discloses the paper. But we can’t quite get away from the fact that on his company webpage, it states that Classen Immunotherapies, Inc. is

dedicated to understanding the chronic effects of vaccines and developing safer immunization methods for those who choose to be immunized.

Classen also peddles his patented “adverse event discovery and disclosure method” on his website. Thus, we have a gentleman who potentially stands to profit directly from sowing fear of vaccinations.  This type of person generally stimulates cries of “Pharma Shill!” from the anti-vaxxers, yet for some reason he has been accepted into the warm, yet stupid, embrace of the anti-vax community. Curious indeed.

Thanks for stopping by, Reader.

From → Uncategorized

26 Comments
  1. Gods judgement, not mine! is coming for people like you. Read the story in the bible, of the Rich man and Lazarus.

    To this day, the rich man is still burning in torment. He is still wanting just a drop of water, to cool his tongue after being denied any by father Abraham. That was, thousands of yr’s ago.

    If a man gain the whole world,but in the process he loses his own soul. What has he profited?

    Stop selling your soul, to Pharma. You will learn,that it wasn’t worth it.

    • Hi Joe! My day is never complete until you curse me to Hell. Didja read the blog post or are you just stopping by with your road sign to the seventh circle?

    • Just another parent permalink

      Another 9 Commandment Christian, who thinks that God doesn’t care if he lies. He has a surprise coming.

      • No you do, read the simpson wood lost letter. Where those at the meeting, chose to deceive
        their own committee. By removing, all of the bad, findings that were being discussed.

        Have you ever seen it? Why would anybody remove the bad findings,, and do you think that is honest?

        I guess the part where Dr. Brent on page 229 said “The medical legal findings in this study, causal or not, are horrendous and therefore, it is important that the suggested epidemiological, pharmacokinetic, and animal studies be performed.If an allegation was made that a child’s neurobehavioral findings were caused by Thimerosal containing vaccines, you could readily find a junk scientist who would support the claim with “a reasonable degree of certainty”. But you will not find a scientist with any integrity who would say the reverse with the data that is available. And that is true. So we are in a bad position from the standpoint of defending any lawsuits if they were initiated and I am concerned.”

        Could have be used against them, in a court of law.

        You really have no problem, with your own government agencies hiding and manipulating data.

        • Did you miss the point of Dr. Brent’s comment, which you have taken completely out of context? It is that regardless of the truth, which is that vaccines are SAFE and EFFECTIVE, a plaintiff can always find some fraudulent doctor to testify that vaccines cause autism, for example. This poses a major problem in a legal sense. Hence his comment that you can always find a “junk scientist” to support the insane views of the anti-vaxxer. And perhaps you would do yourself a favor by actually reading the preceding comment by Dr. Brent, which states:

          “I say that because I wrote a last paragraph. It is sort of frightening to me, but I will read it. By the way, I have been involved in three lawsuits for the vaccine group, and they happen to be people who were given vaccines who were pregnant and the allegation was that the vaccines caused the birth defects. Let me tell you, if you want to see some junk science, look at those cases. It is amazing who you can find to come and testify that such and such is due to measles vaccine. They are horrendous. But the fact is those scientists are out here in the United States. So let me read what I said.”

        • Marius permalink

          Allow me to interpret Mr. Harris’s sermon.
          1) Place index finger of right hand (or left, depending on your bias) under you nose and top lip on an axis parallel to the ground (while standing upright)
          2) Vocalize a drone note ( I use F, but any will do)and blow a steady stream of air through puckered lips
          3) Oscillate finger up and down, travelling down as far as the chin.
          4) With the unemployed hand, make small circular motions while pointing to your temple on that same side.
          5) Mr Harris’s sermon will now be understood.

        • This post slayed me. I can see clearly now!

  2. Ruben permalink

    Oh, it stinks to high heaven. What’s worse, but not unexpected, yet troubling and disappointing, is that my favorite anti-vax loon – who is studying EPIDEMIOLOGY – ate this study up hook, line, and sinker. When the problems with it and the conflicts of interest were pointed out, he blew us off. In his righteous mind, anything anti-vax is sacrosanct. Sad, really.

    • It is terrifying that Jake is allowed anywhere near Epi. If I were his advisor I would fling myself from the tallest rooftop I could find.

  3. K-Squared permalink

    Wow. I think I just died a little on the inside reading these methods.

    What I find extremely suspicious is that the author copywrites himself, and the DOI does not exist. You would think that would suck most of the credibility out of the “paper”.

  4. Chris permalink

    “Oh yes. The author is the CEO of Classen Immunotherapies, Inc., which, to his credit, he discloses the paper. ”

    If you put the address in Google Maps you will find out it is not an office building, but a house. A very nice house with a pool, but still just a house. Not someplace that would have any kind of research labs.

  5. lilady permalink

    Dorit Reiss, Lawrence and I have been “on” this press release for days…ever since Jake Crosby blogged about this “ground breaking study”.

    http://www.examiner.com/article/new-peer-reviewed-study-strongly-links-autism-to-vaccine-induced-type-1-diabetes

    Open up all the links I provided in my comments to see Classen’s checkered history and his cherry picking of articles for all his “studies”.

  6. Pharmacist-in-Exile permalink

    Well – it is published by the OMICS group. A clearly predatory publisher of open access papers. What struck me as the funniest is that the submission-to-publication time is over a year!!! Almost 18 months can’t be a winning concept for someone trying to make a buck out of bad science…

    • I noticed that, too, and forgot to fit it into my post. That is an insanely long time between submission and publication, particularly for a paper with just a single Table and only epi analyses in it!

      And yes, OMICS group publications are garbage. I cannot even imagine what kind of “peer review” (if any) was conducted!

  7. Michael Brown permalink

    An interesting article on OMICS is online at http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2013/05/government-accuses-open-access-p.html. Not a reputable publisher.

  8. Whom? permalink

    How can someone who is trained as a librarian (i.e. Beall) claim to understand anything about vaccines? Let professionals critique professionals. His claims that most complaints he receives are about Omics. The NIH launched an investigation based on this claim. Where is the proof? Where are the numbers? All else is libel. Unqualified critiques are libelous. The hienas are out tonight, that’s for sure. Dr. Classen considers all his critics as “dogs barking up his tree”. I contacted him about these pseudo-libelous blog entries and invited him to respond to his critics.

    • Chris permalink

      I assume a librarian understands how journals work. One part of being a librarian is learning how to decipher good research from bad research, which would also include being able to do the same with journals.

      In high school you should have learned that a librarian can assist in your research. Their value goes up as you go higher in college and beyond. Also, in high school you should learn that wikipedia and Google are not sources, and to beware of any researcher who just cites himself.

      And if the house with a swimming pool at the address of Classen Immunotherapies, Inc. has any real laboratories, I’d like the see that zoning variance.

    • Classen is more than welcome to respond to this critic. There is no “libel” in my post or any of the comments. Further, Beall is quite renown for flushing out disreputable journals, being as that he is an expert in the area of scientific journals.

  9. Brilliant.

    Refreshing to see someone with passion and intellect :)

    I will be reading more from you.

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  1. OMICS Journal Publishes Pseudo-Science Vaccine Paper | Scholarly Open Access

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