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Did the “CDC whistleblower” William W. Thompson apologize to Andrew Wakefield in a text message? A hilarious challenge is issued!


Two months ago, one of the strangest stories ever to be flogged by antivaccine activists was insinuating its way throughout social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and everywhere else, where antivaccine activists were engaged in a frantic effort to get the attention of mainstream media regarding their belief that there was a “CDC whistleblower” who had revealed a “cover up” that results from a CDC study looking at age of receiving MMR vaccination was studied as a potential risk factor for autism had shown that African-American boys showed a more than three-fold increased risk due to MMR vaccination. It’s actually a lot more complicated than that and details can be found in the links that follow. This story came to after Brian Hooker published a paper that was a reanalysis of the data from that CDC study (DeStefano et al) that claimed to show the correlation between MMR vaccination and autism in African-American boys (but only African-American boys, not any other subgroup).

As I pointed out at the time, in reality what Hooker had done was to confirm that Andrew Wakefield was wrong in claiming that MMR could cause autism. It was further revealed that Brian Hooker had been speaking with a senior psychologist at the CDC named William Thompson, and that Thompson had said some unflattering things about his employer. This all led to the claim that he was a “whistleblower” who was revealing a “cover up” of this data, complete with Andrew Wakefield himself likening this “cover up” to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Pol Pot all in one. More details about how bad Hooker’s study was, how deceptive Andrew Wakefield’s video was, and how nothing Thompson said indicated a conspiracy, fraud, or cover up can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here. Ultimately, Brian Hooker’s paper was retracted, but that didn’t stop Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker from sending a disingenuous, misinformation-packed complaint to the CDC about “research fraud.” Everyone yawned, as well they should have.

One of the weirdest parts of this whole thing was an incident where Celia Farber, a well-known HIV/AIDS denialist, posted a text message exchange allegedly between William Thompson and Andrew Wakefield, in which Thompson appeared to be apologizing and Wakefield appeared to be giving him absolution. It was all very weird and very stilted, leading me to question whether the text messages, sent on iPhones using iMessage, were real or not. At the time, I speculated whether they might be fake or not. Overall, it was not a major part of the story, as far as I was concerned, although if the messages were legitimate it would greatly lower my opinion of Dr. Thompson. Certainly there was nothing in them that “proved” a cover up or research fraud, although certainly the antivaccine movement went absolutely nuts trying to claim that they did.

There was a flurry of commentary, with my post garnering 300+ comments. Then, as is usually the case with blog posts, there was nothing; that is, until a couple of days ago, when Farber showed up in the comments to “challenge” me and posted an article entitled Challenging Orac To Determine Authenticity Of Wakefield/Thompson Exchange: Were The Texts Fake?. She also posted the text of her “challenge” in my comments:

You and your readers have spent an inordinate amount of time and energy speculating about the veracity of the text message exchange I posted to my website The Truth Barrier, seen here:

On your blog, people even Google mapped my building,published my address, and speculated about my son’s age and computer equipment.

But you never thought to contact me, and ask me.

It’s Nov 4, 2014, and this is a matter of public record:

I am inviting you to engage in a resolution of this, so that the questions raised can be answered. Typically, as a journalist. when you want to find something out, you start by contacting people close to the story. You ask questions. Unless, of course, you don’t really want to know the answer.

Journalists don’t rely on comments from readers of their blogs to find things out, nor merely consult their own thoughts and suspicions. They investigate.

So let’s find out of the texts are fake.

I challenge you to go to the source–to write to Dr. William Thompson at the CDC and ask him if he had these exchanges with Dr. Wakefield and his wife.

Then I’d like you to ask me anything you like, about the texts.

Present me with terms of proof that would satisfy you and your readers that they are real not fake.

You want to know that beneath the name “William” on Dr. Wakefield’s phone, there is a cell phone number belonging to Dr. Thompson, correct? We all understand that we are not at liberty to make this number public.

Let us agree that if the texts are proven real, you will publish the results, and apologize to me for the false and slanderous accusations that I published falsified materials.

My question to you is this: If they ARE proven real, what does that mean?

It means that Dr. William Thompson is a real, as opposed to “fake” CDC Whistleblower. It means that he was not at all “taken out of context” by Dr. Wakefield and Dr. Hooker. It means that he stands by what he said in his press release, namely that the CDC significantly altered (falsified) data, and deliberately sought to eliminate the link between MMR vaccines given at a certain time in neurological development, and autism.

If you do not think this is what Dr. Thompson means to convey, please say so here and now, and we will answer that question next. I am inviting you to pose, investigate, and weigh evidence to three questions, publicly:

  1. Are the texts real?
  2. Does Dr. Thompson confess to partaking in scientific fraud at the CDC?
  3. Does Dr. Thompson feel Dr. Wakefield’s career was unjustly destroyed, and that his own study, done right, would have backed up the paper Dr. Wakefield lost his career over?

Your reputation is at stake. I await your reply.

I responded to her in the comments and was going to leave it at that, but apparently Farber is not so easily deterred; so I’m turning this into a full post. I should probably not have allowed this silliness to have intruded into my blogging, so utterly daft is it, but I did. Hopefully, I can be forgiven because, I must confess, rarely have I been so amused by a “challenge.” As you can see, its hilarity is epic.

It’s hard for me not to note that Ms. Farber has things exactly backwards (as usual given her history as a notorious HIV/AIDS denialist). She apparently received an a screenshot of an alleged text exchange between William Thompson and Andrew Wakefield from Andy Wakefield and/or his wife and immediately took it at face value, based only on evidence that, boiled to its essence, consisted of, “Andy says it’s legit.” The image went viral (at least in the antivaccine crankosphere, and the best she could come up with when people noted that she’s sending around a picture of a computer screen showing the alleged text exchange was a screenshot. Then, when I (and others) pointed out reasons to doubt its authenticity and described how it would be incredibly easy to spoof such a text exchange just by having an exchange with a friend and then assigning Thompson’s name to the phone number or e-mail address from which the iMessage was sent (or using various other methods), what did she do? Did she provide corroborating evidence demonstrating the authenticity of the messages? Of course not! Instead, she shifts the burden of proof to me!

Seriously, though, Farber posted it first without bothering to provide evidence that it was legit, even though providing such evidence was her job if she wanted to be taken seriously. At the very least, if she had done additional investigation, she should have described it in order to provide evidence of the text message’s provenance. I can’t repeat this often enough: Andrew Wakefield’s word is not enough, and I’m not going to do her work for her. I’m certainly not going to try to contact Dr. Thompson. Having briefly been in contact with his lawyer, I know that he’s aware of the things I’ve written about him; so it’s highly unlikely that he would agree to talk to me anyway. As for my “credibility,” let’s just put it this way. In my post, I was measured and discussed a lot of alternate explanations, conceding that the text exchange might actually be real. Let me reemphasize the point near the end of my post:

The other two possibilities are either that this screenshot was faked (which seems possible, although I could be mistaken, given that, despite extensive Googling I haven’t been able to find a screenshot that uses “Back” instead of “Messages” my search is not comprehensive) or that Wakefield faked a text exchange and made it appear to be someone named “William,” the implication being that that’s William Thompson, something that is incredibly easy to do. All you need is a friend with an iPhone to do it. There’s no concrete evidence to argue for or against this last possibility, but I also note that there’s no concrete evidence (just Farber’s and apparently Wakefield’s word) that the screenshot represents a real text exchange between William Thompson and Andrew Wakefield, either. That doesn’t even take into account the content of the text exchange, which is bizarre and stilted, to say the least. Even if it is real, it’s no doubt highly cherry picked.

Note the conclusion: I don’t know whether this text message was faked. There’s no slam dunk evidence that it was, but there are lots of anomalies to lead me to doubt its authenticity. More importantly, there’s no slam dunk evidence that it’s real, either. Unless Farber—yes, Farber, not I—can provide really strong evidence for the iMessage exchange’s authenticity, such as a public statement or affidavit by Dr. Thompson that he had that exchange or irrefutable forensic evidence that the message is legit, then I stand by my conclusions, which are that there are plenty of reasons to doubt the authenticity of this exchange. It’s Andy friggin’ Wakefield, fer cryin’ out loud!

Finally, regarding my “reputation,” I was amused that someone who is an HIV/AIDS denialist who has misrepresented the science of AIDS for many years and posted a BS explanation denying that fellow HIV/AIDS denialist Christine Maggiore actually died of AIDS and then took it down after she realized that her “explanation” was actually very consistent with a death due to an AIDS-defining pneumonia, would lecture anyone about “reputation.” Hubris, apparently, thy name is Farber.

In any case, I suggested that Farber go up to comment #59: “Hey, worst case scenario, I get a little mud on my face, but such is life. I’m willing to risk being wrong sometimes.” I’ve already straightforwardly admitted that I might be wrong (although I still doubt that I’m wrong about this exchange’s complete authenticity). And guess what? If you—or someone else other than Andrew Wakefield, whose word is not to be trusted in my opinion, or Brian Hooker, who is complicit with Wakefield and is therefore not to be trusted either—were to provide evidence irrefutable evidence that the iMessage exchange is legit, I’d admit my mistake and move on. The only change I’d have in my opinion is that Thompson has gone antivaccine; it wouldn’t demonstrate that there was a conspiracy to “cover up” the “true” results of DeStefano et al. It would just demonstrate that Thompson has gone off the deep end, which is a conclusion I’ve pretty much come to since September anyway.

Apparently Farber still doesn’t get it. Overnight in my comments, she responded:

You make an assumption that I did not know the veracity of the texts before I published them. I did.

They are real, and you know it, and yes, I did note the third possibility, that the texts are real.

You’re the one who has a relationship with Dr. Thompson’s attorney. The challenge is that you take any steps of any kind to FIND OUT if YOUR OWN published suspicions are valid. You can’t publish wild suspicions and accusations and then expect the recipient of the accusations to jump around and attempt to extinguish all your concerns.

A journalist takes responsibility for trying to find answers to their own questions. The way you do that is by contacting the parties involved and asking for comment on or off the record.

So, we’ve established that you don’t do journalism. That you react with indignation upon being asked to lift a finger to find out whether any of your conspiracy theories are valid. That all your reader’s brain bubbles about the interfaces of iPhones were and are absurd. That the only journalist present here, Brian Deer, tried to set you straight, but even that had no sobering effect on your thought processes.

That you can’t even stick to the point enough NOT to throw Christine Maggiore’s corpse into this. (Her cause of death was renal failure. And she had pneumonia and bronchitis at death.)

I am not in a position to start demanding affidavits from William Thompson.

In two months, he has in no way denied either sending the texts, nor objected to their being published.

Does that tell you anything?

I urged you to contact him, as a means of showing you that I DO know they are real, and inviting you to ALSO learn that they are real.

If you care, if you want to know the truth, try to find out. All I can do is state publicly that were you to unearth a shred of real evidence, from Thompson or anybody else, that the texts are false, I would heartily participate in the process of correcting the record. But they are real, so that won’t happen.

You also have no evidence Thompson ever said his comments were taken out of context. Note the wording: “Taken out of context.”

Where does he say that?

The context is given BY Thompson IN his own press release on Aug 27, in which he states that he regrets partaking in the research fraud at the CDC.

You can hear his voice on those recordings, can’t you?

It doesn’t matter what you think. The matter is moving toward congressional hearings and there are criminal implications in this.

Dr. Thompson expressed clearly that his conscience had become unbearable.

In your mystification about what “motivates” Dr. Thompson, I don’t know how to translate to you what it means to have a conscience. That’s the story.

Read or listen to his own words, maybe, as a start?

Journalism is nothing if not this: Listening.

When I saw this this morning, I couldn’t help but nearly laugh hysterically. First off, as I’ve documented extensively, “Williams’ own words” that we’ve heard are very much cherry picked. If Wakefield and Hooker had quotes from Williams that really were slam-dunk accusations of scientific fraud and conspiracy on the part of the CDC, don’t you think that, given how their initial “drip, drip, drip” strategy of releasing “revelations” failed so utterly, Wakefield and Hooker would have released them by now? The best they could do were some fairly unconvincing comments included in their “complaint” to the CDC. Also particularly hilarious is Farber’s argument that, because Thompson hasn’t said anything or denied the authenticity of the texts, that’s a good reason to think they’re authentic (and, no, that’s not a straw man argument). Come on! Thompson lawyered up and tried to claim whistleblower status. He issued exactly one statement (which, contrary to Farber’s reality-challenged claim, did not even allege research fraud, just a scientific disagreement) and, given the likelihood of legal actions, has issued exactly zero more statements since then, as would be expected given his legal claim of whistleblower status.

More importantly, this whole thing provides an important insight into how cranks think. Farber put out a text message exchange, allegedly between Andrew Wakefield and William Thompson, based apparently on Wakefield’s word alone that it’s real. I and my readers questioned whether it was real or not, listing some pretty good reasons to doubt the provenance of the text exchange, and what did Farber do? Did she produce a statement from Thompson that it’s real? No. Did she present additional evidence supporting the story behind it? No. What she did was…nothing. Well, not quite “nothing.” Actually she did have a bit of a Twitter tantrum first. Then there was nothing for two months, until Farber decided to “challenge” me two days ago. Why did she wait two months? Does she need attention now? (I realize that I’m giving her what she wants, but I was amused enough by the whole exchange that I couldn’t resist. Forgive me.) Does she hope to resurrect the issue, which has been dead for two months? Some other reason? Who knows?

The other insight that this exchange gives is the apparent belief of Farber (and, it seems, Wakefield, Hooker, and the rest of the merry band of antivaccine activists promoting the “CDC whistleblower” myth) that the entire existence of scientific fraud in the DeStefano et al study and an ensuing cover up by the CDC of “real” results showing that vaccines cause autism in African-American boys rests on whether or not Thompson is telling the truth and that the alleged iMessage exchange is slam dunk evidence that Thompson really did accuse the CDC of fraud. Based on that belief, the further assumption on the part of Farber is that I’d be utterly discredited and devastated if Wakefield’s iMessage exchange with Thompson were ever to be shown to be authentic. Neither assumption is true. Seriously. Farber seems to think that my whole argument against the existence of a grand conspiracy by the CDC to cover up research “fraud” would fall apart if Wakefield’s texts were ever authenticated. It wouldn’t. If that were the case, then I might have actually pursued this oddity of a claim beyond one quickie blog post. I didn’t, because I view the whole text message incident as little more than a curiosity, a quirky and strange desperate little sideshow to the whole “CDC whistleblower” affair that piqued my curiosity just enough to write about it.

It really doesn’t matter all that much to me whether the texts are authentic or not, other than the prospect of some mild embarrassment over my previous post, which, given how old it is, wouldn’t be much and wouldn’t last long. As I said before, all that would happen in the event Farber could adequately authenticate these texts is that I’d think a lot less of Thompson, which now, two months later, is largely irrelevant. After all, if there’s anything that’s happened over the last two months, it’s that I’ve already come to think a lot less of Thompson than I did when the first “CDC whistleblower” manufactroversy broke. Finally, Farber should also know (but apparently doesn’t) that I never accused her of falsifying these iMessages herself, only of passing them along as true without providing any evidence that we should believe them. Now I’m pointing out to her that she has the standard of evidence backwards. It is not up to me to prove the iMessages were spoofed. It is up to her to show they are authentic.

In any case, unless Farber can come up with new evidence, I’m done with this curiously amusing little sideshow to the main show of the “CDC whistleblower” gambit. Fortunately, it’s a show that’s bombed massively, both critically and popularly.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

95 replies on “Did the “CDC whistleblower” William W. Thompson apologize to Andrew Wakefield in a text message? A hilarious challenge is issued!”

I don’t know how it looks in other law systems, but where I live we have a simple rule regarding the burden of the proof. The side, that makes a claim has the duty to present the proof of that claim.

If miss Farber KNOWS that messages are real, one may assume she does have some sort of proof. Why not do away with all the challenge silliness and produce it?

To me, the interesting revelation here is that Wakefield apparently pals around with HIV/AIDS denialists. I did not think my opinion of Wakefield could go any lower, but it just did…

@BKsea – he also consorts with 9/11 Truthers and ChemTrail conspiracy theorists….he hasn’t met crazy he hasn’t fallen in with……

Wakefield has to pal around with the nutters, they’re the only people who will give him house-room..

I don’t even own an iPhone and I’m pretty sure I could present the world with a convincingly genuine text exchange between me and President Obama…

@Johanna – my “Shill” Platinum card gives me direct access to the White House, doesn’t yours?

@ Darwy

I went and had a look to this iphonetext generator website.

I feel weird. A website dedicated to fake a whole conversation by text messages on iPhone.

In my days, you needed to practice your penmanship on a few dozens slips of paper before undertaking to fake an epistolary exchange. Nowadays, it’s so easy.

Re: the alleged Wakefield/Thompson exchange

I was going to say that the debate on whether the discussion is genuine or not was a bit silly, because some much time and speculation has been focused on such a small bit of the whole affair.

Although I have to ask: do anglophone people really, seriously, exchange such purple prose sentences by text messaging? “the price you paid for my dishonesty” “I forgive you completely”. I feel like reading a bad romantic novel (no, not romance. romantic, like 19th-century)

Now that I have seen the above-mentioned website, I’m saying the debate – and the newly issued challenge – has become very silly, but for entirely different reasons.
By the conspiracy theoreticians’ usual logic, if someone can show that something could have been faked, then it has been.
Maybe we should just stop here and declare the challenge resolved in favor of Orac’s position.

An HIV/AIDS denialist believing a screenshot of a supposed text message between a known fraudulent, de-licensed physician and an alleged “whistleblower” who’s faded to black since his initial “confessions”.

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Orac said : ” What she does is…nothing”

Exactly, Mr Dr.

Over the past ( nearly) 15 years I’ve observed a coterie of fearmongers operating on the fringes who seek an audience by purporting to have ‘news” or ‘new science’ or ‘news about science’. And it’s usually ‘groundbreaking” or suchlike with ‘scientific revolutions’ occuring about every two weeks or so.

Although they promise you a solid slice of cake, they provide nothing but frosting, icing and whipped cream because they deal primarily with peripheral issues.. what someone said about someone else or who is friends with whom or who betrayed somebody. Or they have secret documents squirreled away somewhere.

The material I read at websites I’ve discussed exhaustively use techniques beloved of advertisers and yellow journalists: creating attention grabbing headlines and emotionally charged language rather than producing solid evidence and data. Where are the ( un)adulterated, (un) snipped tapes? When accusations are made, why is there only rumour and innuendo rather than photos and documents? There should be a lot since apparently there are lurid conspiracies lurking behind every desk and startling, incriminating revelations made over cellphones daily everywhere.

Obviously, they not only continue to beat a dead horse but want to resuscitate the poor thing and then run it around a track a few times.

On the other thread, I’ve mentioned a few of Ms Farber’s cohorts if you recall. They’re quite a selection of fabricators, dodgy marketers, fearmongers, woo-meisters, histrionic personalities and professional liars who have been rewarded financially for their nasty business. Why shouldn’t Ms Farber attempt to make a living in a similar manner since she doesn’t appear to possess the ability to discriminate what is responsible writing from balderdash.

not “some much time”, but “so much time”, in my previous post.

@ Lawrence

he also consorts with 9/11 Truthers and ChemTrail conspiracy theorists

Hah! Why am I not surprised?
This focus on small parts of the whole was reminding me of truthers. As someone else said, that doesn’t improve my views on Wakefield. Or on truthers.

“If you care, if you want to know the truth, try to find out. All I can do is state publicly that were you to unearth a shred of real evidence, from Thompson or anybody else, that the texts are false, I would heartily participate in the process of correcting the record. But they are real, so that won’t happen.”

Ms. Farber, if I brought to you irrefutable evidence that HIV causes AIDS, would you then “heartily participate in the process of correcting the record”? No, you wouldn’t. We’re not idiots. You really wouldn’t.

An AIDS denialist asking a scientist to be willing to change their mind based on evidence is laughable. Because that’s all you are and all you’ll ever be, Ms. Farber, an AIDS denialist, someone who spits on the graves of the millions who have died and the millions who will die from AIDS.

do anglophone people really, seriously, exchange such purple prose sentences by text messaging?

Well, there is (at least) one site called which is dedicated to the embarrassing results that sometimes result from poor spelling and/or use of unusual jargon terms in text messages. But that usually doesn’t create prose like this. You’re right about the 19th century vibe: “…the price you paid for my dishonesty” sounds like something Dickens or (more likely) Bulwer-Lytton might have written.

It sounds like something Wakefield would have written himself….kind of like the lines from a Shakespearean Play.

Wait… people are surprised that a crank suffers crank magnetism?

@ Reuben Gaines:

Well, hiv/aids denialism seems to have withered away so I suppose that anti-vax holds more promise as an attention-getting mechanism.

It was a dark and stormy night the day I made you pay the price for my dishonesty.

(And yes, mixing night and day is entirely deliberate, in the grand Bulwar-Lytton Competition tradition, though I am but a rank amateur.)

Funny you should mention Shakespeare, Lawrence.

Celia Farber interviewed by Robert Scott Bell regarding those text messages between Thompson, Andy and Carmel. Farber only confirms she got those text messages in her email inbox, without naming the sender. Bell invited Andy to be interviewed with Farber…but Andy was reluctant to take attention away from Farber. Bell asked Andy if the text messages are real and Andy said “yes”.

There’s a whole lot of blather about Andy’s ruined career because of the evil forces out to get him. Farber refers to the bard and how amazingly Saint Andy forgives Thompson for lying.

The whole burden of proof shift attempt is a classic rhetorical dodge. As an observer of the Brther controversy, I see it all the time from those loons. They demand that the POTUS provide proof to their personal satisfaction that he was born in the USA. They have no interest in providing compelling evidence that he was not. (Yes, they try, and their attempts fail at the first hurdle).
This is exactly what is happening here. The only sensible response to a demand that Orac prove the authenticity of the text messages is laughter and ridicule.

DW@10 et al:

The fact that the cranks often argue by referring to authority, and avoid getting into the evidentiary details is something I noticed about the creationists way back when. Duane Gish would do some simplistic argument about the likelihood of getting an exact repetition of some DNA sequence by chance (essentially a non sequitur if you know anything about protein structure and function), and then segue into a mention about some supposed scientist who was doing interesting work on why the surface of the moon implies creationism, or whatnot.

Re: the non-whistle blower and the non-scandal: The mainstream media and journalism seem to follow their own trends, and perhaps the anti-vaccine trope has become “so 1990s.” It will, we can hope, eventually be relegated to the long list of things that are no longer treated as serious issues, essentially a tin foil hat story. The reason that this is likely is that any news editor or tv producer is going to be subject to derision for even thinking about running a “balanced” story on the autism argument. This is particularly the case as these same outlets run stories about real scientific advancements on the genetic basis for autism. A good subject for an article.

Do keep the crazies coming, dearest Orac, I would much rather read these posts than go back to watching Days of our Lives. DRAMA! What can beat an AIDS denialist demanding proof! Love! Betrayal! Broken promises! What will happen on next week’s episode of ‘Science Deniers World is Spinning Out of Control’?!

It would be better, though, if these people didn’t exist in real life 🙁

As the author of the comments most thoroughly detailing the case that the text message was forged, I nevertheless agree with Orac that whatever William Thompson did or did not say to Brian Hooker or Andrew Wakefield has no bearing on the lager questions of vaccine safety, a CDC “cover-up”, yada yada yada.

In terms of the public health issues “the whole text message incident [IS] a curiosity, a quirky and strange desperate little sideshow.”

However, this quirk is representative of a very broad and disturbing form of non-medical quackery: the abuse of audio-visual material as evidence, enabled by wide illiteracy about how media technologies work that is as profound and damaging as the scientific illiteracy that enables anti-immunization woo, and various other nut-job conspiracy theories.

I shan’t take up RI’s bandwidth with any detailed examples, nor attempt to dcuent how often this occurs. That’s too much even for me. ; -) Suffice it to say that in the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman case major media outlets repeatedly made ridiculous false claims about what could be discerned from recorded images and sounds, while utterly missing valid evidence residing in those materials, properly understood. And the same thing is happening now in the Michael Brown / Darren Wilson case. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

So, yeah, to me, if Andy Wakefield can get away with forging a text message from William Thompson, that matters a lot, for reasons that have nothing to do with the CDC or Brian Hooker’s bogus and now withdrawn ‘research.’ So…

Yo. Celia Farber. Leave Orac out of this. I”M your huckleberry. My Ph.D. from an R1 School of Journalism says you wouldn’t recognize actual journalism if it bit you in the ass.


As a journalist. when you want to find something out, you start by contacting people close to the story. You ask questions. Unless, of course, you don’t really want to know the answer… Ask me anything you like, about the texts.

OK, Ms. Farber. You’re close to the story. I’m asking you. And I really want to know the answers. Surely, one journalist to another, you’ll want to aid my investigation.

Question 1. How did you “know the veracity of the texts before [you] published them”?

Question 2: How and from whom did you receive the alleged screen grab of the alleged text message? What words did you receive or send to the person who transmitted it to you? If these communications were via email, will you release them to the public? If not, why?

Question 3. As the screen cap of the alleged text message originally appeared on your website, it was nested inside an HTML table cell, with the cell background set to the same shade of gray behind the camera logo and ‘Send’ at the bottom of the screen cap. The chance of that color match occurring by accident is nil. It could only be achieved by sampling the color value of the screen cap in some software program with an “eye dropper” color-picker, and entering the resulting numeric value in the program generating the HTML for the web-page. In that table cell, under the screen cap, are the words “Text exchange between Dr. Andrew Wakefield and Dr. William Thompson, Aug 27, 2014.” Since the cell and the screen cap appear on screen as a single visual element, the wording appears to be part of the image, when, in fact, it is not. Why did you do that?

Question 4. Do you understand that in and of itself a bitmap file of a screengrab has no value as evidence and would never be admitted in a court of law? Do you understand the only person who can KNOW a screen grab is authentic is someone who watched the exchange occur in real-time, and even then such an individual cannot verify the person sending text strings on the other end actually is who he or she claims to be, as even the incoming phone number can be spoofed by a clever enough hacker? Were you present, observing Andrew Wakefield’s phone, when he engaged in the alleged text exchange?

“You can hear [William Thompson’s] voice on those recordings, can’t you?”
Christ on a cracker! Send me five hours of your recorded phone conversations, and I’ll give you back a short recording where you confess to a string of murders and the Lindberg kidnapping to boot. Nobody has to ask William Thompson if he was taken out of context. BRIAN HOOKER HAS THE RECORDINGS. Have you heard them in toto? Have you asked Hooker to release them? As your truthfulness has come under scrutiny, why have you not DEMANDED Hooker release the full recordings? Is Dr. Hooker somehow “not at liberty to make public” the full contents of the material he recorded without Thompson’s knowledge, and from which the AMC has already cherry-picked and edited a few selected quotes in videos presented to the world on the Internet? If this is your claim, can you cite legislation or case law to that effect?
As far as the CDC/vaccine thing is concerned, even if Celia Farber comes up with new ‘evidence’ (snort!), her sideshow has bombed. Orac and the true Oracians don’t give a flying fig about the ‘text message’, really. (And who’s that Dr. Corgi she addressed that comment in the old thread to? This is Orac’s blog. Duh!) Farber’s post couldn’t be more disingenuous. She knows Orac won’t take up her challenge, as she knows Orac knows Rick Morgan is anything but an idiot. Her post is pure PR BS, created for the purpose of rallying the faithful against the evil paranoid pharma shill.

‘See, I challenged him, and he’s got NOTHING. That proves the text is genuine. Which proves Thompson blew the whistle on DeStafano. Which proves vaccines cause autism!’

How bad has that gambit bombed with the anti-immunization crowd? There’s one comment under Farber’s ‘Challenging Orac’ post. One. Uno. The lonliest number. Just one…

I must close with a confession. I was being disingenuous in implying Ms. Farber is ‘not a journalist’ as it is a misconception, we might even call it a myth that journalism has anything to do with facts, evidence, blah blah blah. The definition of ‘journalist’ is ‘someone who creates content for regularly published non-fiction media’. Op-Ed pundits are journalists. Movie reviewers are journalists.

More to the point, all the ‘news media’ employees of any category rolled together make up a relatively small fraction of professional journalists. Most of the work is in some form of corporate media or communication. At the big J-School where I received my PhuD (full disclosure, NOT in journalism, though I did work as a professional journalist before and after my grad studies…) the undergrad students seeking careers in any kind of news reporting were far outnumbered by the students studying PR, that is to say training to be professional liars and spinners.

Celia Farber is indeed a journalist. She’s just a lousy journalist, which is to say she’s not a very effective PR flack. One comment. I can blow better PR than that out of my butt. I just don’t care to.

I can usually hold my sh*t together pretty well in the face of most woo. It’s been almost ten years since I binned magical-thinking for scientific skepticism, but HIV denialism still pegs my Rage-o-Meter. Farber has blood on her hands. She has the blood of my friend Paul who died with an unopened bag of protease inhibitors an arm’s length away. She’s a nut. A crank. A fear-monger masquerading as a journalist. I don’t know if I can ever forgive myself for believing all the books and Spin articles that poor, terrified Paul produced to defend his HIV denialsm. That I fell for it was bad enough, that he died for it will haunt me for the rest of my life. You’re a monster, Celia Farber. I pity your child when he or she realizes what you’ve done. You’re as low as a person gets on my scale.

@ Bob G:

Right. They rely upon ‘studies’ and ‘authorities’ that they haul out whenever necessary-
there is a growing body of spurious research that forms a scaffolding that supports woo. The anti-vaxxers have a load of this- much of which Orac has mercifully de-constructed already so that we don’t have to spend time wading in those rivers of tripe-infested biofilm in which they flail. Also they mis-use entirely un-related, but meaningful, research.

There are mottos and urban legends aplenty which are dragged out :
‘No one has ever isolated hiv’, “Vaccines contain aborted foetus cells’, ‘ Vaccines lead to huge profit’

It should be remembered that the faithful amongst their followers hear the same material repeated over and over which leads to its better recall and perhaps, a air of certitude.

In addition, woo-meisters’ papers add a cargo cultic list of references grafted unto their volumic tomes and scientific miming articles.

@ Pareidolius:

As you may know, people with hiv/aids have been a concern of mine for a long time; fortunately I have not ever known one whose life was cut short because of the deadly alternative called denialism- I’m sorry to hear that you have personally lost someone. It’s a miserable bloody shame. They all have blood on their hands. How can they show their faces in public ?

Poor Celia. She reminds me of the character Valerie Cherish in HBO’s The Comeback. Instead of a fading actress on a C level sitcom, we have an irrelevant “journalist”. Instead of the delusional, clueless and optimistic ambition of a plucky gal brilliantly played by Lisa Kudrow, we have Celia who is just delusional and clueless. Oh, and lazy.

Pareidoliu —

I don’t know if I can ever forgive myself for believing all the books and Spin articles that poor, terrified Paul produced to defend his HIV denialsm. That I fell for it was bad enough, that he died for it will haunt me for the rest of my life.

That’s really heart-wrenching, not just your friend’s death but your own feelings that you’re partially responsible.

You sound like a fine person, who would never, never hurt your friend. I am sure you were doing the best you could at the time. Please, for your own sake, try not to blame yourself for your own ignorance at the time, and focus on what you can do to help the people around you from now on.

All the best.

Pareidoliu: I sat through any number of cafe conferences with denialists in the days when there was fifteen minutes worth of interest in listening to them. To this day, I regret not having written up an interview I did with Duesberg in 1990. It was worth 800 words on page 84.

Because I didn’t, somebody else at The Sunday Times was able to mislead the editor into thinking that denialism had something in it.

A friend of mine, literally down the street from me now, had Kaposi’s, was falling down in the street, and was indefinitely hospitalised. Then he went on HAART, climbed off his deathbed and went dancing.

That was in 1996.

In other news, some wingnut by the name of Gayle DeLong (is she one of the drinking Moms?) has a weapons-grade offensive post up at AoA, claiming a new syndrome – Autism Induced Breast Cancer. Were I not a paragon of patience, virtue, reasonableness and calm, I’d want to repeatedly knock some sense into her with the cluefist. Not content with the brainless start she makes, she goes on to say she’s going to “question the established wisdom” and “look for alternatives [to radiotherapy]” for her treatment. So quite possibly depriving her kids of a mother should she persist in that.

Autism Induced Breast Cancer?
What would that be? Reading to much in the work of Geerd Ryke Hamer and his New German Medicine?

So, she’s fine with surgery, but god forbid she get follow up radiation and chemo to kill off any Cancer that gets missed?


The stress of autism caused her breast cancer? Of course–nothing at AoA could ever happen based on statistics (you know like 1 in 9 women having breast cancer at some point in their lives).

I know one breast cancer surgeon who almost certainly won’t have to worry about seeing Gayle DeLong on his schedule….

She is basically trying to say that vaccinating her children is the reason she has breast cancer.

I see that Jonas Salk was a past graduate of her college – he must be proud…

Y’know, Chris, if by some bizarre coincidence she did end up as Orac’s patient, she would receive first-rate and entirely appropriate care, because that’s what good doctors do.

Thanks for the kind words, I give a talk about Paul in skeptic circles to reinforce the fact that no matter how smart you are, fear and the unreason it feeds, can kill. I don’t beat myself up over this, but it does fuel my activism. Brian, Paul died in 1996, that’s how new the drugs were. Paul also introduced me to Peter Duesberg. I admit I fell for a combination of the fallacy of authority and wishful thinking when I listened to him talk. Farber and Maggiore were just the messengers, Duesberg is the kingpin of this dwindling lunacy. Hmmmm, it looks like I was so irate in that last post that I forgot my s.

Oh.. -btw- where’s Celia?

She’s enlisting the help of that dynamic duo of John Stone and Cliffy Miller to do ah something about that meanie Orac.

Celia has gone off the grid again. She has deactivated her facebook account. She seems to do this every so often. She will display some righteous indignation and then slink away to lick her self-induced wounds.

Ooops, my bad. She is back on facebook. She says she took a break…for 24 hours. Why? She explains:

FB breaks are part of the ever growing tool box with which I try to fix shattered attentiveness.

Not sure why she got done in 24 hours, though.

“Not sure why she got done in 24 hours, though.”

Perhaps a tantrum and a nap like any other toddler.

Denice Walter @10:

Although they promise you a solid slice of cake, they provide nothing but frosting, icing and whipped cream because they deal primarily with peripheral issues.. what someone said about someone else or who is friends with whom or who betrayed somebody. Or they have secret documents squirreled away somewhere.

When you put it that way, the authoritarian model sounds like it makes decisions based on gossip columns instead of scientific journal articles with objective data and statistical analyses. Sounds about right.

@ JTD:

I cannot understand for the life of me why she wouldn’t want to come and mingle amongst the lovely ladies and gentlemen on this thread
After all, she did challenge Orac
and he did react. And now I suppose the proverbial ball is in her court.
I’m waiting.

@Denice Walter

In true crank fashion, Ms. Farber, on her FB page, complains and whinges about being called “Spongecake” rather than focusing on any of the substantive critiques levied at her, such as, y’know, journalistic integrity. Her sycophants likewise latch onto the trivia and call us bullies and stalkers instead of addressing the meat of the comments.

who died with an unopened bag of protease inhibitors an arm’s length away

When last I’d seen that related, I took it to be in jest. Especially given the uncannily accurate stab at my documentable chronologic spread across this material plane. Otherwise, I would not have been so quippably insensitive.

My sympathies

Wait, she comes here and accuses Orac of serious lapses of judgment and ethics and then complains that she’s called “spongecake” in response?

In true crank fashion, Ms. Farber, on her FB page, complains and whinges about being called “Spongecake” rather than focusing on any of the substantive critiques levied at her

I’m still curious about the “other journalists” she mentioned. In fact, it was pretty much the only thing of interest in that performance.

Wait, she comes here and accuses Orac of serious lapses of judgment and ethics and then complains that she’s called “spongecake” in response?

That was specifically elicited by her retort that nobody was allowed to reply but Orac.

So she is having another toddler tantrum. Perhaps she needs a nap. And to get a clue.

@JGC – I saw the ending and there was cake. With a lit candle. Just before getting put back in deep freeze.

Oh.. -btw- where’s Celia?

She’s enlisting the help of that dynamic duo of John Stone and Cliffy Miller to do ah something about that meanie Orac.

Seriously? Because I would pay $20USD to see that. Our host would be able to hand 3 people’s asses back to them in one go.

I don’t know what’s the big deal about *spongecake*- I’m sure Narad has an arsenal of epithets that make ‘spongecake’ sound like a compliment.

Ms Farber has made a career of denying aids: profitting through her work and gaining publicity- she shouldn’t be surprised if her presence is not greeted with whoops and cheers by SBM supporters, many of whom have assisted, supported, lost or worried about people with hiv/aids. She’s not a doctor or a scientist but her so-called journalism has helped to spread the Duesberg’s myth virally, mis-educating vulnerable patients.

She’s not a harmless kitten writing about baking bread or style trends for a magazine.

I’m sure Narad has an arsenal of epithets that make ‘spongecake’ sound like a compliment.

As with this one, I try to make them up on the spot to avoid repetition, of which I’ve certainly been guilty.

Celia Farber?? Oh HELL naw. Nothing – not even autism-vaccine-crankery – cause my hackles to rise like HIV/AIDS denialism. I am a social worker in HIV medical services for a large, public ID clinic in Texas, and I hate to say it but that scourge seems to be making a comeback… Just last month I had to bite my tongue while I listened to a PREGNANT (like, 9 months pregnant) HIV+ patient tell me with a straight face that HIV (and Ebola, incidentally) are “CDC and Big Pharma scams” to make money. Color me shocked when that newborn tested last week… Unfortunately we can only threaten them with CPS AFTER the child is born – at that point, damage was already done.

That story is pretty dramatic, and it doesn’t happen that way very often, but the effects of medical conspiracy-mongering and HIV denialist tropes are far-reaching and devestating. I work with HIV+ adolescents and young adults – adherence to HAART is already a major challenge just by virtue of their emotional immaturity and social problems, but then you want to add on a vague sense of distrust of the medical authority? It’s no wonder we struggle to keep them in care. These people (the denialists) are the scum of the Earth and I have nothing but antipathy for them and anyone who would countenance their irresponsible bullshit.

Oh, and I LOVED Farber’s line re: Maggiore’s cause of death (“renal failure”). Does that somehow discount that she died of AIDS? Um, duh, ever heard of AIDS-related renal disease? It’s one of those “AIDS-defining conditions,” along with PCP pneumonia (which she had) and thrush. Healthy 52 year olds don’t typically die from any of the above.

RF:”So quite possibly depriving her kids of a mother should she persist in that.”

The kids are autistic and she’s with AOA. They haven’t had a mother for a long while.

In any case, isn’t the real issue the total lack of evidence for a vaccination/autism link? Even if it turned out that Orac was a liar and a dog-molester, that would have no bearing on the real issue. Even if Thompson begged Wakefield for forgiveness: irrelevant, irrelevant irrelevant!

I know I am coming into the conversation way late, but one thing that sticks out to me regarding that supposed text exchange is the tone.

It comes across as groveling hero worship on the part of Dr Thompson. Which leads me to further doubt its veracity.

If I were to ask ‘what would a narcissist write if writing a fake apology’, that is pretty much what I would come up with.

@EBMOD – I agree. Right from the beginning it never seemed like that was a “real” conversation. People don’t talk (or text) like that…..

it never seemed like that was a “real” conversation

On the other hand, it looks like the sort of a over-the-top, lyrical exchange amateur actors may have in front of a public.

In other anti-vax non-news:

Louise Kuo Habakus ( Fearless Parent/ AoA) continues to frantically beat a dead horse by pestering an insurance company for dropping an actor’s commercial: sparkling like gems set atop her finely-honed wordsmithery are these bon mots:
” There is no ‘anti-vaccination’ movement. Calling parents ‘anti-vaccine’ is a distorted construct created for the express purpose of labeling and dismissing legitimate concerns”.

I hope State Farm continues to tell her to pound sand. Politely.

(Hey, they’re a major local employer. I want them to stay profitable).

“There is no ‘anti-vaccination’ movement.”

Right. And Louise’s book: “Vaccine Epidemic: How Corporate Greed, Biased Science, and Coercive Government Threaten Our Human Rights, Our Health, and Our Children” is not anti-vaccine either.

Why would anyone misconstrue this fine woman’s beliefs?

Right. And Louise’s book: “Vaccine Epidemic: How Corporate Greed, Biased Science, and Coercive Government Threaten Our Human Rights, Our Health, and Our Children” is not anti-vaccine either.

Point 3 in her letter is a gem:

“Vaccines are indeed filled with toxins. This is how they work and how they cause autoimmunity and other harm.”

Nope, not antivaccine in the slightest.

“Calling parents ‘anti-vaccine’ is a distorted construct created for the express purpose of labeling and dismissing legitimate concerns”.

I know! The term creates an impression of “scientific debate”, or even of “opinion”, when it is really a matter of unassailable facts suppressed by the establishment!

I thought this ludicrous individual styled herself “Executive Director and co-founder of the Center for Personal Rights”.

It’s incredible the way these people make up titles for themselves and then hawk themselves around as if anyone could give a damn for their open letters – what was it she said? – “on behalf of parents” or something?


It’s incredible the way these people make up titles for themselves and then hawk themselves around as if anyone could give a damn for their open letters

It’s doubly incredible that she can hawk herself around as Executive Director and co-founder of an anti-vaccine organisation and then try to convince the targets of her wrath that ”There is no ‘anti-vaccination’ movement”.

Narad, I don’t see momma Nicole’s statement that she was banned from posting comments on AoA. They need all the comments they can get on their blog.

I thought this ludicrous individual styled herself “Executive Director and co-founder of the Center for Personal Rights”.

Ah, but she is. It says so right in the Forms 990.*

* OK, maybe it doesn’t; I just looked them up.

ZOMG, where’s Anne? Check out Schedule O. Habakus’s “charity” owes Habakus for “consulting fees”?

Ms Kuo Habakus has quite a bio ( Orac has covered her)
– she went to Stanford
– worked for Bain ( or is it Bane?) Cap
– has children with ASDs
-started her own woo

Sorry, I didn’t mean to post yet….. new system

– started her own woo company
– got involved with Null, AoA, TMR, Mary Holland
– lives next door to a rock star- when he had a fundraiser for a liberal pro-vax politician, LHK picketed
– has a show on PRN ( Fearless Parent) w/ Alison MacNeill who dropped out when she stopped her meds
– has a book, lectures and does public events

She is the proverbial ‘piece of work’ one hears
mentioned frequently

@ Narad:

Ha! I’m sure that that 19K will go really far where she lives-
probably enough to reimburse the pool boy.

– lives next door to a rock star- when he had a fundraiser for a liberal pro-vax politician, LHK picketed

It looks like the Murphy and Bon Jovi events were separate fundraisers.

$74,355 for 2012 for the Executive Director. But she is a hard worker and is remunerated for 60 hr/week.

$74,355 for 2012 for the Executive Director. But she is a hard worker and is remunerated for 60 hr/week.

Not everybody can cut a $10,000 check to Birt and inventory $11,502 worth of “books, DVD and magnetic boxes,” you know.

The notion that they spent $28,131 on a “social media presence” is farcical. “The org estimates that it reaches several thousand unique viewers through these outlets”; what’s “several thousand”? Five thousand? You’re alleging that you “pay” five bucks per page view?

Part III is just screamingly fraudulent on its face. The site appears to have been updated exactly once in 2012. Even better, the 2011 video isn’t publicly accessible.

Jeezums, what’s her other nonprofit?

@Dorit Reiss,

I made myself watch the video just because it was short.

What a bunch of junk.


Perhaps silence and universal neglect will do it justice instead.

Jeezums, what’s her other nonprofit?

It is called Life Health Choices and it is also anti-vax.

Nah, that’s not a 501(c)(3). I could’ve sworn I saw another one.

I came across this letter which is purportedly from Brian Hooker about his “reanalysis” of the DeStefano et al study and the full retraction of his paper by the publisher:

Hooker apparently wants to thank his supporters, yet still does not explain why the publisher full retracted his paper. Is it any wonder now, why we haven’t heard from Hooker, Wakefield or Thompson about Hooker’s “reanalysis”?

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