Robert Haley, M.D. – master of deception.
Just last June I reported on a study that showed, as the Associated Press put it, "More Birth Defects Found among Gulf War Vets Children." Actually it found they had no more defects than non-Gulf vets and fewer than in the general population. Sigh.
Now were told, "Studies Tie Lou Gehrigs Disease to Gulf War Vets" as a front-page USA Today headline screamed. Never mind that studies published in 2000 and 2001 found no such connection. Lets focus on the alleged increased risk in the two studies reported in the Sept. 23 issue of Neurology.
One report by Ronnie Horner of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and his colleagues found 40 ALS cases among the nations approximately 700,000 Gulf vets and 67 among almost 1.8 million non-deployed vets. Thus, the rate of ALS among Gulf vets was about double that of their counterparts.
The other Neurology study was written solely by die-hard activist Dr. Robert Haley of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who for six years now has been bankrolled by Gulf War syndrome activist H. Ross Perot. Haley considered only Gulf vets below the age of 45 and identified 17 with ALS. This too, he concluded, was about twice the expected rate.
But while a doubling sounds substantial, it may be meaningless when talking about merely 40 cases out of 700,000. "Epidemiological research indicates that such a small increase when working with such small numbers is unlikely to be a true result and more likely to be a statistical quirk," says Dr. Michael Rose, a neurologist at Kings College Hospital in London. Rose wrote an editorial in the same issue of Neurology.
Thats why one of those two previous studies found that Gulf vets had merely 59 percent the expected ALS risk. With so few cases, a couple more or less can cause huge statistical swings. Obviously the smallest flaw would ruin such a study; yet both the Horner and Haley studies shared one so large you could drive a Mack truck through it sideways. Random selection is crucial in such research, yet both identified some of their cases through appeals to Gulf War syndrome activist groups. Would you trust a "national" survey of the presidents job approval if most of the respondents lived in Berkeley? Further, as Horner and colleagues conceded, there is a greater likelihood that sick Gulf vets would come forward because, unlike non-Gulf vets, they would have hope of compensation. This would be the case even though the Horner and Haley data were collected before the VA announced its compensation policy.
NO Gulf soldiers showed signs of exposure to nerve gas during the war and there is no evidence that any had even the least exposure.
Never mind, though. Haley is positive hes onto something and ALS is just the tip of the iceberg. But look below that waterline. The overall death rate among both U.S. and British Gulf vets is the same as that of non-deployed vets. Moreover, its half that of the general population, according to research published last December in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Haleys favorite cause is nerve gas, notwithstanding no evidence that a single vet had such exposure. But the December study compared soldiers who had potential nerve gas exposure with those who did not and again found no differences in death rates.
"We need to (medically) keep track of Gulf veterans but its my feeling and that of other medical researchers that it probably wont pan out," says Rose. Gulf vets will continue to get sick and to die, but at rates comparable to other vets.
But the media dont like negative results, and theyll always be able to find a journal or researcher to feed the fear machine. The myth of Gulf War Syndrome will live forever.
Read Michael Fumentos additional writing on Gulf