Antivaccine nonsense Medicine

A blast from the past: Jake Crosby retracts his antivax criticism of an MMR study

One quirk of having blogged so long is that sometimes cranks you’ve blogged about reappear after a long disappearance. So it was when antivax wunderkind Jake Crosby retracted a bogus critique of a study that failed to find a link between MMR vaccines and autism.

As hard as it is to believe, I’ve been at this blogging thing nearly 20 years. Even more unbelievable, I’m still at it at least twice a week, although back in the day I was much, much more prolific. Such is life, I guess, although I’m trying to get back into the swing of, if not daily, at least three times a week posting. (Life intervenes, I guess.) In any case, last week, I was tweaked and surprised to get an email from a journalist asking me about someone whose name is truly a blast from the past, namely the antivax wunderkind named Jake Crosby from that wretched hive of scum and antivax quackery, Age of Autism. Of course, back in the pre-pandemic day AoA really was the main wretched hive of scum and antivax quackery, but since COVID-19 I’ve been wondering if I should bestow that title on one of the unfortunately huge number of even more wretched hives of scum and antivax quackery that have proliferated on Substack and elsewhere. The problem was that there are just too damned many to pick from these days.

But back to Jake Crosby.

Basically, last week a reporter from The Transmitter, a neuroscience news site, emailed me for comment regarding a study that failed to support a link oft-claimed (falsely) by antivaxxers between the MMR vaccine and autism. Specifically, our antivax wunderkind the Young Mr. Crosby—who is no longer quite so young, given that I estimate that he must be in his mid-30s by now—had retracted his criticism of the study. His criticism had originally published in a letter to the Annals of Internal Medicine. See what I mean when I say that one quirk of having blogged for nearly two decades is that the strangest things, things that I blogged about long ago and then forgot, sometimes pop up? Unfortunately, I was not able to be interviewed by the reporter before her deadline. (Remember what I said about life interfering with my blogging, particularly over the last couple of weeks?) Fortunately, a couple of days ago The Transmitter did publish the story by Calli McMurray entitled Anti-vax blogger retracts critique of study that debunked vaccination-autism link, subtitled, The commentary contained misguided criticisms of the study’s statistical methods, the lead investigator says.

Let’s see what happened:

A former anti-vaccination blogger has retracted his critique of a study that found no link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.

The blogger, Jake Crosby, ran the now-defunct site “Autism Investigated”—where he wrote and edited posts that supported the false link between vaccines and autism—from 2013 to the end of 2020.

In his now-retracted commentary, published in September 2019 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Crosby critiqued the statistical methods of a paper, published in March 2019 in the same journal, that found no difference in autism prevalence between vaccinated and unvaccinated children in a cohort of nearly 660,000 people born in Denmark.

Crosby retracted the article because he “is no longer confident about the validity of some of the cited supporting information,” according to the retraction notice posted in the journal on 21 May.

To be honest, before Ms. McMurray contacted me, I hadn’t thought about Jake Crosby in a very long time. Back in the (prepandemic) day, he had been a fairly frequent topic on this blog, because he had started out as the high school student who, on the spectrum himself, had come to believe fervently that it was vaccines that had caused his autism and then progressed as he matured into a die-hard antivax activist running his Autism Investigated blog, after having become a regular blogger at AoA as a college student at Brandeis University in 2008. Perhaps the most depressing thing I ever saw Mr. Crosby write was his 2009 post Discovering I Was Toxic, because it epitomized the effect that antivax messaging could have on young people with autism, namely leading them to believe that they had been “poisoned” and somehow “damaged” and that, as a result, they were something that they shouldn’t be. Basically, antivax messaging encouraged young people like Mr. Crosby to view themselves as having been damaged, “poisoned,” and even “toxic,” and to blame something (vaccines, pharma, doctors, the government) for their being autistic, rather than just accepting it as having occurred naturally and learning to live with it. This need to blame “something” is likely what led Mr. Crosby to be so angry all the time and ultimately be named in the Encyclopedia of American Loons.

One of the first times I encountered him, I referred to him as a “crazy mixed-up kid” who had come up with a “crazy mixed-up conspiracy theory,” but as time went on my view of him became less benign, particularly as he increasingly developed into a one trick pony of a hard core antivax propagandist, inviting Andrew Wakefield to speak at Brandeis University and attacking me on more than one occasion, as well as stalking scientists like Dr. Paul Offit. I will admit, however, to some amusement when the Young Mister Crosby turned, Frankenstein monster-like, on his creators when the antivax group SafeMinds kept him from testifying at a Congressional hearing that it had arranged, apparently viewing him as too much of a loose cannon (which he was), leading to an internecine kerfuffle at the AoA collective that I found most entertaining at the time.

That history aside, it was actually rather odd to be reminded of the Young Mister Crosby, as well, because I clearly hadn’t been paying attention to him in a long time, to the point that I hadn’t noticed that his blog had gone kaput sometime after August 2020, which is the last time it shows up in the almighty Wayback Machine. Before I go on to indulge myself in a trip down memory lane, though, I must admit to some amusement at the reaction of Anders Peter Hviid, the lead author of the study, upon learning that the No-Longer-So-Young Mister Crosby had retracted his criticism:

“I don’t care, because I don’t understand why he’s retracting it,” says Anders Peter Hviid, lead investigator of the 2019 study and professor of epidemiology at Statens Serum Institut. “I mean, why, after so many years?”

Why, indeed? Especially given:

Crosby’s critique cited a 2004 editorial by Andrew Wakefield, the former physician who falsified data in a since-retracted 1998 study that purportedly linked the MMR vaccine to autism. Wakefield’s editorial alleged that Hviid and his colleagues had skewed their findings in a 2002 study that found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism, because they had controlled for age, a criticism Crosby repeated in his 2019 comment.

Because of course the No-Longer-So-Young Mister Crosby cited Wakefield. Back in the (prepandemic) day, he was one of Wakefield’s biggest fanbois. Indeed, back in 2009 he showed up in the comments of my blog stating bluntly:

“This is about as great a use for some of that Obama stimulus cash as I can think of. State vaccination programs have been underfunded for a long time. Moreover, there’s funding there for education.”

I could have predicted that, unfortunately your little celebration is two months too late.

“No amount of science…will ever convince them that vaccines don’t cause autism.”

“Amount” doesn’t matter. A million “studies” claiming the Earth were flat wouldn’t make it true. Likewise, pseudostudies claiming no association to autism consistent with overwhelming evidence of a CDC-cover up will only further convince me that vaccines cause autism.

That was indeed his mindset, which is what led to his attacking Prof. Hviid’s study. To be honest, after all this time I don’t really know if I want to go into the weeds of Crosby’s criticism of the study. In brief, Hviid et al was a perfectly fine observational cohort study looking at 657,461 children born in Denmark from 1999 through 31 December 2010, with follow-up from 1 year of age and through 31 August 2013. It was a large study that, predictably given prior studies, found no association between MMR vaccination and risk of being diagnosed with autism, with a fully adjusted autism hazard ratio of 0.93 (95% CI, 0.85 to 1.02). However, it was valuable because it was a large study and found no increased risk for autism after MMR vaccination in subgroups of children defined according to sibling history of autism, autism risk factors (based on a disease risk score) or other childhood vaccinations, or during specified time periods after vaccination.

No-Longer-So-Young Mister Crosby’s critique boiled down to a very common antivax trope, namely that associations observed in raw, uncorrected data that disappear when the appropriate corrections for confounders are made are, in the fevered imagination of antivaxxers, intentional attempts by scientists to “ignore” (as Crosby put it in his letter) the “very real link between the MMR vaccine and autism.” Basically, Crosby claimed that the reason that Hviid et al had found no association between MMR vaccination and autism was because he had controlled for age. Seriously. That was the critique in a nutshell.

Hviid’s comment to The Transmitter was quite scathing, and appropriately so:

But controlling for age is an appropriate way to analyze this type of observational cohort data, Hviid says. In the study’s raw data, there appear to be more autistic children in the group that received the MMR vaccine than in the group that did not. But this is because the vaccine is administered at 12 to 15 months of age, and autism is an age-linked condition—so the unvaccinated group includes a large number of children who are both too young to receive the vaccine and to be diagnosed with autism, Hviid says.

He and his colleagues accounted for this in both studies by adjusting for age. The adjusted analysis produced the main findings of the two studies: Vaccinated children do not have a higher chance of having autism than unvaccinated children. Hviid outlined this explanation in a 2019 response to Crosby’s commentary.

And, echoing what I said above:

Crosby’s critique is a common one for anti-vaccination activists, Hviid says. “They say we somehow are trying to obfuscate or conceal this clear association with all kinds of hocus pocus. But it’s not hocus pocus; it’s clearly just how you should analyze this kind of data.”

Indeed it is. In fact, it’s the very same claim that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. made about an epidemiological study by Verstraeten et al that became the basis of the Simpsonwood conspiracy theory that he first promoted in 2005, namely that the corrections for confounders made the link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism “disappear” and that the entire Simpsonwood conference had been called by the CDC in order to “cover up” the link between the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal that was used in several childhood vaccines at the time and an elevated risk of autism. It’s also the same claim that biochemical engineer turned incompetent epidemiologist Brian Hooker made when he and Andrew Wakefield cooked up the “CDC whistleblower” conspiracy theory. (Of note, Hooker was known for doing “simple” analyses that, conveniently enough, didn’t bother to do the appropriate statistical corrections for confounders that epidemiologists normally do.

As odd as this all is, to be reminded of someone whom I used to feature regularly on this blog because of all his antivax propaganda, I was left with two huge questions. First, what is Jake Crosby up to these days? You might recall that ultimately he did get an MPH—frightening!—from the George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services. It’s been difficult to find out what he’s been up to since he got his MPH, although I do know that he served as a production assistant on the Andrew Wakefield-directed antivax movie 1986: The Act. Given that his family lives in Florida, one wonders if he now works for the Florida Department of Health, which has been corrupted into an antivax organization by Gov. Ron DeSantis and his appointee to run the department, Dr. Joseph Ladapo. Maybe one of my readers knows. All I could find was that he might be a Government Operations Consultant for the State of Florida, whatever that title means.

Finally, why did Jake Crosby decide to retract a five-year-old criticism of a study? And why now? Who knows? The optimist in me would like to think that maybe—just maybe—Mr. Crosby has finally seen at least some of the error of his ways and wishes to correct at least one of his past misdeeds promoting antivax misinformation. On the other hand, given that he became antivax as a youth and by college was a hardened antivax propagandist, it’s difficult to believe that in his 30s he would change. Again, who knows? I care mainly because, before I lost track of him before the pandemic, I had been documenting Mr. Crosby’s antivax proclivities dating back at least to 2009.

I can’t help but finish by repeating that being a longtime blogger is the damnedest thing sometimes.

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]

13 replies on “A blast from the past: Jake Crosby retracts his antivax criticism of an MMR study”

I wonder if he’s attempting to get a “real job” & had discovered that his past has become entirely inconvenient.

Maybe it’s a personal disillusionment with Andrew Wakefield, like the sort he had towards his antivaccine mentors around the congressional hearings.

Who the hell bothers to retract _a letter to the editor _?

Is there a mechanism for retracting a comment you made on a radio call-in show?

Well I would like to formally apologize to all the drivers I accidentally cut off on the road when I was learning to drive 45 years ago. There. I feel better now and I know they do too.

Last year I found a linked in for “Jacob Lawrence Crosby epidemiologist” that led to Dept of Health Florida. Today, Open Paychecks said 44K USD, 2 jobs 2022 and 2023. He is/ was a “government operations consultant 2″/ Ponte Vedra Florida, age 35 something else but I lost my place
I know he worked for Trump 2016

Yeah, one of my links goes to that “Government Operations Consultant 2” for $44K/year. My first thought was: WTF is a Government Operations Consultant 2? My second thought was: Geez. $44K a year is not a lot of money for someone with an MPH to be earning.

A Google search returns this result:

It’s a posting for a position as Orange County epidemiologist. Poking around a bit more, “Government Operations Consultant” in Florida seems to be kind of a catch-all for a state position with specific technical skill requirements, which provides, as the name implies, consultation on government operations in a specific field.

My personal semi-educated guess would be that state agencies in Florida are authorized some number of “Government Operations Consultant” positions at various grades that they have flexibility in assigning duties to. So the Florida Department of Health may not be authorized by law to have a “County Epidemiologist” position, but they can assign those duties to one of their authorized Government Operations Consultant billets. Civil service rules are sometimes weird like that. I’m certainly no expert on Florida state civil service jobs, though, I may well be wrong.

By the way, the posting above pays a bit more than Mr. Crosby was apparently making, in the neighborhood of $55,000 a year, but $44,000 a year seems to be around the baseline for a Government Operations Consultant II. I have no idea how much someone with an MPH would expect to make straight out of school, but that does seem to be the going rate for a job with the Florida Department of Health.

As a side note….

I tried in vain to find more information about Jake’s current status BUT I was only able to find loads about his mother, Nicole, who seems to have moved on from anti-vax activism to environmental protection, attempting for the past decade to preserve pristine wetlands and their abundant wildlife for posterity. Developers wanted to put new homes on her street so she formed a committee, ran for office, lobbied the government etc. SAVE GUANA/ Ponte Vedra, Florida.

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