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Vox Day, Scientist

The anti-vaxxers are excited. A recent paper, Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young african american boys: a reanalysis of CDC data, claims that there is evidence that vaccinations cause autism. Only one problem: it’s a crappy paper.

Orac has covered it to an Oracian level of detail, so let me give the short summary:

  • The author, Brian Hooker, is unqualified. He is trained as a chemical engineer, although he now has a position as a biologist in a nursing program at a Christian college.

  • The journal, Translational Neurodegeneration, is a new something-or-other with no reputation, in the BioMed Central stable of journals. It’s not clear if it’s legit or not — to its credit, it’s not one of those journals that levies large page charges or fees to publish, so maybe it’s OK (but you never know…there sure are a lot of flaky fly-by-night journals popping up). It is not to its credit that it published this paper.

  • Notice the title: it’s a reanalysis of CDC data. That means that they sucked in a bunch of previously published data and rejiggered it, searching for possibly significant correlations. You don’t get to do that. We’re not talking about a meta-analysis, in which multiple data sets are pooled, but taking one data set and dividing it down into smaller, finer subsets, and then doing statistics on these fragments to test hypotheses not made by the original researchers. This is invalid, because when you subdivide data specifically looking for bits with low p values, you will always find them. It’s a probability game. Not to mention that it violates basic principles of experimental design.

It’s appallingly bad. Even someone like with only minimal statistical knowledge (and maybe a bit more knowledge about how to properly design an experiment) can see that it’s really an awful paper.

So it got published. Orac wrote a rebuttal that was probably longer than the original paper. Where’s the hilarity in all that?

Vox Day/Theodore Beale got in the act. Not only does he cheer for conclusions for which he has no understanding at all about how they were reached, he he accuses the CDC of fraud and conspiracy, and rejects the entirety of the evidence for the safety of vaccines. We’re in Alex Jones territory here.

Not only does this "reanalysis of CDC data" reopen the possible MMR-autism link, but it calls into question the integrity of the entire field of vaccine research. If Hooker is correct and CDC doctors such as Dr. Colleen Boyle have engaged in vaccine fraud, it will entirely explode the basic assumption that vaccines are safe because it will render all of the CDC’s data and assurances suspect.

Then Day/Beale went into a back-and-forth with Orac on Twitter. In the utterly daft exchange, Flaming Sword Boy accuses Orac of being a mere surgeon, who is scientifically illiterate. Right. Orac is a cancer researcher who publishes in the peer reviewed scientific literature, while Vox Day writes bad fantasy novels and despises women.

But then he drops a bombshell. Vox Day does too have scientific credentials!

No, says the guy whose scientific hypotheses have been turned into multiple published papers and cited by Nature.

Nature has also cited one of my original hypotheses. And it doesn’t erase your basic blunder re statistics.

Wait, what? I did a search; no, neither Vox Day nor Theodore Beale have published anything in Nature, or any other science journal, and they also haven’t been cited anywhere in the scientific literature. Weird. How can he make this claim?

As it turns out, his claim is so tenuous and absurd that you have to laugh.

Here is his ‘hypothesis’, which is his: Religion doesn’t cause wars. He said this in his blog, and he also says it in his self-published ‘I hate atheists’ book, both of which hardly anyone reads, and which aren’t exactly popular with scientists.

However, he now claims that anyone anywhere who even says something vaguely like that (for instance, Scott Atran, who has argued that religion is not the primary causative agent in terrorism), is “citing” him, even if they don’t mention his name or his source, or explicitly acknowledge other sources. It’s all him. It is entirely his idea. It’s not as if people have been making excuses to exonerate religion from all blame for centuries, it was his idea.

This opens up new possibilities for me. My grandmother used to have a collection of my drawings of animals, made when I was four or five, before I learned to read. Therefore my hypothesis has to be entirely original and mine and mine alone. I would draw these animals, a crocodile, an elephant, a cow, mom and dad, and with a purple crayon, I would draw a convoluted squiggle in their heads, which I announced was their brains. Therefore, this is my hypothesis: animals have brains.

My CV is going to get really long as I add every paper ever published in the comparative neuroscience literature. Heck, I’m adding every paper ever published in neuroscience — they were all citing me, even if they didn’t know it. I am obviously the most influential man in the entire history of the science of the brain!

Maybe I should draw the line at every paper that mentions “animals”, though. That would be pretentious and narcissistic and slightly dishonest.

So, what’s your innovative hypothesis that qualifies you as a True Scientist, far more important than some guy with a scalpel and a set of grants and a long list of published papers in prestigious journals? Vox has shown the way. You can all be the greatest minds in science!

Comments

  1. says

    We should always be suspicious of effects among very specific sub-groups, even if the author of a paper doesn’t say they are subsetting data post hoc, it is likely the case. Especially if it is not an investigation into that group motivated by a clear theoretical or empirical impetus.

    As far as I can tell, autism is less prevalent as a diagnosis among African American children. Which tells us that there’s little empirical reason to fish there for an effect. Nor would there be a good theoretical one.

    Looking for significant p-values is like looking for trouble. If you disregard logic, you can always manage it.

  2. taiki says

    This from the guy who thought that Orcs, Goblins and Dragons were historically OK but women were not?

    This guy finally jumped the shark. Why does anyone even pay any attention to him?

  3. John Pieret says

    When I was four years old I realized that money was a very helpful thing to have and that it would be better to have more of it than less. Therefore, all those economists who write papers and books about monetary policy are really just quoting my hypotheses about money. John Maynard Keynes, move over! I’ve got to pack to pick up a little prize in Stockholm.

  4. doubter says

    One of the 16 core maxims of being a misogynist dipshit Alpha Male Game Player is “Be irrationally self-confident”. Voxy definitely has that one down.

  5. says

    But Vox Day is the interweb’s super intelligence!!1!!11! 64-button mouse. He is an alpha male. Not a beta male. Not even an koppa male. flaming sword!!!!!!1!! How can he be wrong?! You all must be white-knight-gamma-male-something-something-vagina.

  6. doubter says

    @holytape:

    Oh gawd, you’re right! I am an inferior specimen of maleness who cringes at your proudly thrusting exclamation points.

  7. says

    So, what’s your innovative hypothesis that qualifies you as a True Scientist, far more important than some guy with a scalpel and a set of grants and a long list of published papers in prestigious journals? Vox has shown the way. You can all be the greatest minds in science!

    Wheels on public transport vehicles rotate.
    The number of men mowing meadows increases with time. (I do not propose to prove this.)
    If bottles fall from walls, there will be fewer bottles on walls.

  8. davidk44 says

    Ah, give poor ole Vox a break – he’s just trying to to find a new gig, after his “Hugo award-winner” one got buried…

  9. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Bullshit never dies. I still get people asking me about cell phones and cancer. (Can’t happen.)

  10. Arren ›‹ neverbound says

    To jump the shark, good Pharyngulites, Beale would have had to establish some prior baseline of non-worthlessness.

    Vox Day [sic] must be said to’ve jumped the shark when he emerged from his mother’s womb.

  11. johnwoodford says

    Arren><neverbound@13: They had a shark tank set up in the maternity ward and everything.

  12. carlie says

    By the time I was in college, I had developed a conclusion, based on my own interactions with society, that “shit happens”. Therefore, every sociological and anthropological study requires a citation of my findings.

  13. jamiejag says

    Should have given those sharks the laser beams they were asking for. They might have been able to cut Vox off at the pass… so to speak.

    I’ve cured my need for sleep on a daily basis since as far back as I can remember. I’m willing to share the process with anyone willing to sign the non-disclosure forms.

  14. Rich Woods says

    Orac wrote a rebuttal that was probably longer than the original paper.

    Orac always writes a rebuttal which is longer than the original paper. And vastly more educational, too.

    I did a search; no, neither Vox Day nor Theodore Beale have published anything in Nature, or any other science journal, and they also haven’t been cited anywhere in the scientific literature. Weird. How can he make this claim?

    Because he’s a lying shitweasel who thinks the rest of humanity shares his lack of interest in fact-checking?

  15. says

    Given that this is Vox Day I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the little creep does believe in vaccination, but hopes spreading antivax nonsense will do in some of the people he doesn’t like.

  16. raven says

    but taking one data set and dividing it down into smaller, finer subsets, and then doing statistics on these fragments to test hypotheses not made by the original researchers. This is invalid, because when you subdivide data specifically looking for bits with low p values, you will always find them. It’s a probability game. Not to mention that it violates basic principles of experimental design.

    QFT!!! This is true.

    Subsetting is Fake, Fraud, astonishingly dishonest. It’s usually done by conpeople for their own dishonest purposes. Anyone with any knowledge of biomed knows what subsetting is and why people do it.

    Subsetting is hypothesis generating. Not hypothesis confirming. Usually when people try to repeat a subset in another trial, it fails. Because it was just statistical noise.

  17. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Someone should put Vox Day and Scott Adams in a room together and let them amuse each other with their inflated self-importance while the rest of us get on with life. Hell, throw in a Slymepitter or two.

  18. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    In middle school, I was playing around with numbers. I was thinking about infinities and the differences between them.

    At some point I decided that the absolute value of the slope of a line paradoxically could not indicate the ratio of all numbers on the Y-axis to all numbers on the X-axis.

    At that point, I asserted that
    1. different infinities, even with non-isomorphic relationships, were in fact “equal” for important senses of “equal”.

    I further took this to mean that despite careless usage by both teachers and peers,
    2. infinity is not a number.

    Later I concluded that
    3. infinity raised to the power of infinity, however, is not “equal” to the infinity resulting from, say, counting all rational numbers on the X-axis.

    Thus, some very serious mathematics is all down to me.

    Further, in high school, I derived
    4. conservation of momentum from F=ma.

    Just a bit later, I showed that
    5. the conservation of momentum predicts and requires entropy.

    Thus there’s a hell of a lot of physics that owes its existence to me as well.

    I think I’ll make up some business cards:
    Crip L D Dyke, Sooooper Genius

  19. colnago80 says

    Proving that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Beale’s father, Robert, a tax felon, is currently serving a sentence in a federal slammer for tax evasion and threatening a federal judge.

  20. F.O. says

    Orac’s take down is very interesting.

    Even if we accept the conclusions of the (flawed) article, it pretty much proves that there is NO correlation between MMR and autism in white babies.
    This is awesome!

  21. Anathema says

    I’m a history major. There have been times when I’ve started a paper, gone to do further research when I was halfway through, and found an article which made a similar argument to one that I’d made in the paper that I was working on.

    Obviously, this means that historians who wrote this articles are stealing my ideas! It’s just not possible that we could have independently come to the same conclusion because that conclusion was really obvious. And the fact that we were dealing with the same information and drawing on many of the same sources in order to make our arguments couldn’t possibly have factored into it. No, Vox Day has shown me the truth. Anytime anyone makes an argument that’s similar to one that I’ve made, there work must be based on my original ideas!

    Those historians really ought to be ashamed. Not only did they steal work from an undergrad, but they must have used a time machine to do it!

  22. Ichthyic says

    Anytime anyone makes an argument that’s similar to one that I’ve made, there work must be based on my original ideas!

    I made a website long before Beale did.

    I can haz lawsoot?

  23. Ichthyic says

    Crip L D Dyke, Sooooper Genius

    warning: the laws of the known universe* dictate that anyone using that handle should never order products from ACME supply company.

    *as detailed in Saturday morning cartoons.

  24. Ichthyic says

    omeone should put Vox Day and Scott Adams in a room together and let them amuse each other with their inflated self-importance while the rest of us get on with life. Hell, throw in a Slymepitter or two.

    make sure the walls are non-stick ’cause that’s gonna be a giant bukkake of stupid.

  25. Ichthyic says

    Given that this is Vox Day I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the little creep does believe in vaccination, but hopes spreading antivax nonsense will do in some of the people he doesn’t like.

    If so, it would have to be a very long-term plan, as he’s been spouting antivaxxer stupidity since at least 2005.

    here he is in 2008:

    If the vaccine industry wasn’t hiding so much information about the children being harmed by vaccines, if Congress wasn’t indemnifying both the industry and the medical personnel who inject vaccines into non-consenting children, if millions of dollars weren’t being paid out by VAERS, if there weren’t very good medical reasons to avoid going along with the insane U.S. vaccination schedule, she still wouldn’t have a point.

    source:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/03/28/vox-day-mindlessly-parroting-antivaccina/

  26. Ichthyic says

    Beale is one of those people I seriously consider warranting exception to the 1st amendment, since he is entirely toxic to proper public discourse.

  27. Anathema says

    And now that Ichthyic (#30) quotes one of the lines I made in my last comment, I see the obvious typo.

    Why is it that I never notice these mistakes until after I’ve clicked the “Post Comment” button?

  28. David Marjanović says

    No, says the guy whose scientific hypotheses have been turned into multiple published papers and cited by Nature.

    Anyone who says “cited by Nature” has no idea how scientific journals work.

    Hint: the papers are not written by journal staff.

    (I want Comic Sans back!)

    warning: the laws of the known universe* dictate that anyone using that handle should never order products from ACME supply company.

    You have three guesses about who owns ACME Supply Company®; and the first two don’t count.

  29. Lofty says

    Why is it that I never notice these mistakes until after I’ve clicked the “Post Comment” button?

    Their, they’re, don’t fret so. Your meaning is still clear, unlike VD’s

  30. neuroguy says

    @23:

    but taking one data set and dividing it down into smaller, finer subsets, and then doing statistics on these fragments to test hypotheses not made by the original researchers. This is invalid, because when you subdivide data specifically looking for bits with low p values, you will always find them. It’s a probability game. Not to mention that it violates basic principles of experimental design.

    QFT!!! This is true.

    Subsetting is Fake, Fraud, astonishingly dishonest. It’s usually done by conpeople for their own dishonest purposes. Anyone with any knowledge of biomed knows what subsetting is and why people do it.

    This isn’t always true. It’s true only when the original experiment yielded a null result. Then the dishonest researcher can p-value fish until the cows come home (or until the magical < 0.05 is reached) with more and different arbitrary subgroups in order to avoid the unwanted null result. When the original null hypothesis is rejected, however, it isn't in itself wrong to ask the question are these results driven mainly by males, or females, or older, or younger individuals, etc. However, what you don't do is test the original hypothesis on each subgroup and then infer merely based on one subgroup reaching statistical significance and the other not. What you do is test the interaction (independent variable X subgroup) on the dependent variable.

    So, with regard to this paper, there actually was a significant result in the original analysis (more prevalence of autism in those who had received the MMR by 36 months). Breaking it out by boys vs. girls, or African Americans vs. other races would have been OK had the interaction been tested (it wasn't). Just looking at the 95% confidence intervals from the tables, it certainly doesn't seem like any interaction would have been significant. However, let's assume for the sake of argument that there was a significant MMR – X – race interaction. The conclusion in the original study was that autistic children were given the MMR by 36 months in order to qualify for interventions. It wouldn't be out of line (assuming a significant interaction) to infer that maybe there was greater pressure on African-Americans and less acceptance of excuses given by parents for not having the MMR vaccine. Of course the authors had their own agenda.

  31. hiddenheart says

    timgueguen@22: I had the same thought. Beale will always be up for more reasons to feel good about denying basic health care to those who fail at being as white as him, and for excluding them from his vicinity for carrying all those yucky diseases.

  32. otrame says

    Voxy and his new hero are trying to get black parents to not vaccinate their kids. I wonder why?

  33. raven says

    This isn’t always true.

    Subsetting itself is just subsetting. It is how it is used, and it legitimately can be used as hypothesis generating. Which requires a further study, experiment, or trial. What it isn’t is conclusive by itself.

    1. It is very often used for FRAUD. A form of lying. It’s a favorite fallacy of conpeople. When you see someone subsetting watch out. FWIW, i’ve seen various conpeople subsetting for decades by the dozens.

    It’s remedial fraud, Fraud 099. Simple minded. Common. Amateurish. The Ponzi scheme, three card monti, or shell game of biomedical research.

    2. In this case, fraud, lying, misleading is exactly what Vox Dumbhead and Brian Hooker are using subsetting for.

  34. says

    One day in early 1989, just after I’d started high school, I was playing a Donkey Kong handheld game. I thought “Wouldn’t it great if these came with cartridges, so you could swap them over like with an NES home system?” Three months later Nintendo released the Game Boy.

    WHERE ARE MY ROYALTIES.

  35. bcwebb says

    Clearly we misunderstood VoxDay. “Nature” is only capitalized because it is the first word in his sentence; what he means is a bird crapped on his text, thus nature “sighted” his work.

  36. spamamander, internet amphibian says

    “Giant Bukakke of Stupid” will now be the name of my Ted Nugent cover band.

  37. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Therefore, this is my hypothesis: animals have brains.

    *Points at Vox Day*

    Sorry, professor, back to the drawing board.

  38. anteprepro says

    I almost feel sorry for Mr. Unvoxxinated. His attempts to claim that he was cited by scientists who sort of say one idea similar to what he has said just reeks of desperation. More than usual.

    But as for Vox Day jumping the shark? Impossible. He is the shark.

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