In reporting on controversies in health and science, reporters tend to be tone deaf to what counts as scientific authority: national scientific bodies, which reflect the expert consensus on various topics can find themselves put on an equal footing with anyone who has an M.D. or Ph.D making any sort of sensational claim, thanks to the “he says/she says” formula for achieving balance in the service of “good journalism” (truth being too difficult to adjudicate).
So, for example, when the Washington Post described the opening of a “vaccine court” in June 2007 to deal with some 5,000 plaintiffs’ claims that vaccination caused their children’s autism, proponents of the mercury link were described thus:
“Scientific advocates for the vaccine-autism theory, such as the father-and-son team of Mark and David Geier of Silver Spring, say fears about damaging public health programs have prompted scientists and the government to hide evidence of a problem. Many of the families believe that the medical establishment and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have conspired in a massive coverup. “
No mention was made in the story of a truly astonishing trail of scientific controversy that has dogged the Geiers, or the fact that their research has been denounced by the Institute of Medicine. But now, in the case of Blackwell v. Sigma Aldrich, Inc. et al., the blog neurodiversity notes that a judge has thrown out not only the Geiers’ testimony, but rejected the “expertise” of a whole slew of the plaintiff’s experts as not being scientifically relevant to the case. Here’s a flavor of the document:
“[The] Plaintiffs proffered Dr. Mark Geier as their lone expert witness in the field of epidemiology. For the reasons that follow, this Court rejects the methodology utilized by Dr. Geier pursuant to the Frye-Reed test, and further finds that Dr. Geier is not an expert in the field of epidemiology.
In that context, the only published epidemiological studies that purport to find an association between exposure to thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism were written by Dr. Mark Geier and his son, Dr. David Geier. The Geiers maintain that they have found epidemiological evidence of causation in all 11 of their studies. Wyeth [one of the defendants] contends that their articles were published generally in relatively obscure or unknown journals that are not typically used to report significant epidemiological studies. Accordingly, this Court must review these studies in order to address the issues associated in this Frye-Reed proceeding.
Each of the Geier and Geier epidemiology studies uses one or more of the following databases: the Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System (“VAERS”); the Vaccine Safety Datalink (“VSD”); the Department of Education database (“DOE”); and the California Department of Social Services. On the record established in this proceeding, this Court finds that Geier and Geier improperly use these databases and draw conclusions from the data that could not be drawn through the use of generally accepted principles of epidemiology.
Dr. Geier testified that the methodology that he and his son utilized in their VAERS studies strictly replicated the methodology used by the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”). On the record established in this proceeding, this Court finds that to be facially incorrect; indeed, there are significant and material distinctions between the CDC studies and the Geier and Geier publications.
The Geier and Geier studies refer to two CDC publications, namely Niv, et al. and Rosenthal, et al. Both of these articles address the adverse events that were previously accepted to result in some cases from administration of the vaccines. Accordingly, unlike Dr. Geier, the CDC authors were not attempting to prove or disprove that such adverse events were caused by vaccination. Instead, the authors sought to compare the relative frequency of the reporting of such events following vaccinations with two different vaccines.
Further, and significantly, while the CDC authors analyzed relative rates of reported reactions from different vaccines, they did not treat their findings as proof of causality. The CDC authors noted that a finding of a statistically significant difference in the reported rates of reactions between two vaccines does not allow one to conclude that one vaccine is more reactive than the other. Indeed, such a hypothesis, generated by VAERS data, can only be confirmed by use of a database that allows for a controlled study, such as VSD. As a result, Dr. Geier’s claim that the Geier and Geier studies using the VAERS database were done in a manner that the CDC instructed is factually incorrect.”
It goes on:
“…the American Academy of Pediatrics (“AAP”), in a May, 2003 posting to their website, strongly denounced the Geier and Geier publication identified as PX 48 (“Study Fails to Show a Connection Between Thimerosal and Autism”). The AAP expressed the concern about using the VAERS database in the manner utilized by Geier and Geier, stating: “This paper uses data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) inappropriately and contains numerous conceptual and scientific flaws, omissions of fact, inaccuracies, and misstatements.”
Critically, with regard to the pre-2004 published Geier and Geier VAERS database studies, the Institute on Medicine opined:
(1) The three studies have serious methodological limitations that make their results uninterpretable. [Emphasis added];
(2) The results of their studies are likewise improbable;
(3) The articles also lack a complete and transparent description of their methods and underlying data, making it difficult to confirm or evaluate their findings.
The blogger neurodiversity deserves thanks for this massive act of transcription and putting this valuable evidentiary memo properly into the public domain. It’s a pity no-one in the press has picked it up or the developments in the Baltimore case.
In fact, it’s more than a pity; it’s a shame: the Baltimore Sun, in a January 9 article discussing why new evidence dismissing the mercury-vaccine link is not persuasive to all, cites not just Dr. Mark Geier without any note of his recent professional embarrassment in the city, but also Dr. Richard Deth a pharmacologist at Northeastern University in Boston, who believes mercury to be “a prime suspect” in autism.
Dr. Deth was also axed as an expert witness in Blackwell v. Sigma Aldrich, Inc. et al., because the Court found that “[I]n light of his expressed reliance on Dr. Geier’s studies… he lacks a sufficient factual basis to support his testimony.”
But that’s never a problem when it comes to talking to a journalist.