Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Journal makes it official, retracting controversial autism-vaccine paper

with 19 comments

translational neurodegenerationA little more than a month after removing a highly criticized article that claimed the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine increased the risk of autism in African American boys, Translational Neurodegeneration has officially retracted the paper.

Here’s the notice, dated yesterday:

The Editor and Publisher regretfully retract the article [1] as there were undeclared competing interests on the part of the author which compromised the peer review process. Furthermore, post-publication peer review raised concerns about the validity of the methods and statistical analysis, therefore the Editors no longer have confidence in the soundness of the findings. We apologise to all affected parties for the inconvenience caused.

We’ve contacted publisher BioMed Central for details, particularly the “undeclared competing interests,” and Brian Hooker, the author of the paper, for more information, and will update with anything we learn. In the meantime, much of the backstory is here.

Hat tips: Irma Aguilar-Delfin, Liz Ditz

  • Lawrence October 4, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    I am eagerly awaiting a more thorough explanation about “competing interests.”

    • Craig Payne October 4, 2014 at 8:44 pm

      I suspect that the “competing interests” are most likely related to the author’s participation in litigation and perhaps his naming of certain people as potential peer reviewers and perhaps not declaring his relationship to those peer reviewers.

      • Narad October 5, 2014 at 1:31 am

        The “competing interests” section reports “Dr. Hooker has been involved in vaccine/biologic litigation.” I suppose this is somewhat dissembling, as the case is still active, but I don’t know that that in and of itself amounts to a retraction.

        • lilady RN November 18, 2014 at 6:46 am

          I’m certain that Mr. Hooker has in his possession a communication from his publisher detailing the reasons why his “reanalysis” was retracted, including his undeclared “Conflicts of Interest” and the undeclared “Conflicts of Interest” of the (unnamed) peer reviewers…yet he still has not provided that communication to Retraction Watch or any of the dozens of journalists/science bloggers who have requested it. I wonder why.

  • Daddy Love (@SemiMooch) October 4, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    When will they learn?

  • littlegreyrabbit October 5, 2014 at 3:05 am

    We often hear about damning with faint praise, but this seems a case of Translational Neurodegeneration praising with faint damns.

    Given all the outrage poured on Brian Hooker, he must be quite chuffed to learn the only charges that could be made to stick was a technicality regarding a lawsuit and some issues found on post-publication review. I don’t think anyone was under any illusion he was an activist-scientist and the world would be much poorer if having a position of activism was a barrier to publication.

    It is rare for a retraction to be a victory for an author, but this must be one of the rare exceptions.

    • Craig Payne October 5, 2014 at 6:10 pm

      So you you think he used the correct statistical analysis of the data?
      This was no victory for the author. He has embarrassed himself by using the wrong method of analysis and apparently sneaking that flawed analysis through the peer review process by not declaring his relationship to his nominated peer reviewers. This was an epic fail for him!

    • herr doktor bimler October 5, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      the only charges that could be made to stick was a technicality
      Well, that was the *easiest* charge they could make stick. Not an exoneration for the other concerns people had raised.
      And I am not sure that “by-passing peer-review by nominating reviewers with COIs” — if that’s what underlies the editor’s hints — counts as a mere “technicality”.

      • Craig Payne October 6, 2014 at 12:24 am

        Exactly; that is probably how he got away with using a flawed statistical analysis!

  • Leonid Schneider October 5, 2014 at 6:08 am

    So the Editors and Publisher of “Translational Neurodegeneration” are entitled to retract a flawed paper. But not those at “Nature”, they need the approval of every single author and a promise from them not to sue the journal. Strange world of science publishing.

  • joejoe October 5, 2014 at 8:19 am

    Well, we see that an article that shows an outcome that the special interest group doesn’t approve of will be retracted only because those affected negatively by it say so, not by real science, how sad the real world of science has become (bought by pharma).

    • Craig Payne October 5, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      The article did not show “an outcome that special interest group did not approve of”!. The article showed “no outcome” as it used the wrong statistical analysis and the author apparently managed to get that flaw through the peer review process by suggesting peer reviewers who he had an undeclared relationship with. its that simple. I would expect all scientific paper t be held to the same standard regardless of who does or does not like the outcome.

      Are you familiar with the statistical analysis of the data that was used? Do you think he used the right method of analysis – how about trying to defend that rather than allege silly conspiracies?

      • Narad October 6, 2014 at 12:16 am

        Are you familiar with the statistical analysis of the data that was used?

        Mr. Harris is a fairly well known figure. The answer to your question is a resounding ‘no’.

        • Craig Payne October 6, 2014 at 2:39 pm

          So, they have no understanding of the issues involved, yet still have an opinion on it! … go figure!

  • A October 6, 2014 at 4:32 am

    I think it is important to declare COI in a paper.

  • JP Sand October 7, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    PREFACE: Yes, indeed, Dr. Julie Gerberding, former Director of the CDC, left the CDC to become President of Merck Vaccines in 2009.


    EXCERPT: From the FierceBiotech profile piece wherein Dr. Gerberding was interviewed as one of the Top Women in Biotech 2013: “For 7 years, Dr. Julie Gerberding served as director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where she led public health initiatives in response to crises such as avian flu, natural disasters and anthrax bioterrorism…But when she learned that Merck, a vaccine leader, had been unable to globalize access to some of its “really incredible vaccines” outside of other highly developed countries, she knew it was time to expand her global efforts even further. “The opportunity to really open access to some life-saving vaccine products was incredibly motivating to me,” Gerberding told FierceBiotech. So in late 2009, Gerberding took up the post of president of Merck’s vaccines division, where she’s worked to expand the reach of the company’s products and bring them to those in need. “Being able to take these products, manufacture them and commercialize them in a more cost-effective way so they can reach the girls and boys who need them most is a wonderful opportunity,” she said…”We really need solutions that make an impact,” she said. “Whatever result you’re aiming for, you should aim big.”

    NOTE: No doubt, opinion will vary as to whether Dr. Gerberding epitomizes the very definition of a revolving door between government and the private sector.

    • JP Sand October 7, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      My above comment is a follow-up to a discussion on a prior thread regarding Dr. Gerberding who was CDC Director in 2004 — when the CDC allegedly, according to Brian Hooker, covered up data showing an association between autism and the MMR vaccine, particularly among African-American boys.

      • Craig Payne October 7, 2014 at 3:15 pm

        WTF has that got to do with Hooker using flawed statistical methods and not declaring his relationship to his nominated peer reviewers?

  • lilady RN November 18, 2014 at 6:38 am

    I already replied to J.P. Sand’s comment on a prior thread, about Dr. Gerberding’s long history working at the CDC.

    Dr. Gerberding was employed at the CDC for several years in key positions, before President Bush Appointed her as the CDC Director.

    On the day President Obama was inaugurated, Dr. Gerberding resigned as CDC Director because the directorship of the CDC is appointed by the current President and she complied with the CDC guidelines for seeking employment in private industry.

    Your attempts to smear and slime a respected physician who has an unblemished record of public service is just another example of the tactics used by anti-vaccine, anti-science groups.

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