2005 Study is Fatally Flawed

    After months of insistence that the study of the 2005 aerial ULV spraying of Sacramento was going to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, we received word that a report had been posted on the CDC website as of May 2008.  A list of reviewers for that outlet, however, includes the names of vector-control officials.  This is clearly not a scientific journal, as had been implied.  A careful review of the paper reveals why it was not published in a scientific journal, as it is fatally flawed in a number of ways.

    We considered this study to be critical, because the District had previously offered the Nasci Fort Collins study and a "Louisiana paper" as evidence of efficacy.  Neither of these supplied evidence, however.  This left the 2005 Sacramento study as the sole bit of "evidence" on which the District relies to justify its aerial ULV spraying of populated areas.  However, the study is fatally flawed.  See a more complete discussion of the complete lack of scientific evidence to support the aerial ULV spray over populated areas here.

    An unsupported assumption about where the human infections originated renders the human-infection data meaningless, and a failure to take the heavy wind into account renders the mosquito count data meaningless.  Therefore, no conclusions whatsoever about efficacy of aerial ULV spray can be drawn from the paper. 

    There is no need to point out the significant flaws in the analysis, as the fatally flawed data renders them moot.  The heavy winds were not mentioned in the paper.  One PhD molecular biologist who reviewed the paper and our critique said that "I agreed with the points you made and am likewise appalled at their use and interpretation of the data." 

    Only a quick read of the Carney article and our critique shows, however, that no credentials are needed to see the fatal flaws in this study -- all one needs is a little intelligence and an inquiring mind. 

    We had previously commented on various charts and tables that had been released by CDPH. 

    We had also previously tried to get a copy of the draft of the paper, since the CDPH was citing it in different parts of the state as efficacy of adulticiding.  Several Public Record Act (PRA) requests, however, failed to turn up the raw data upon which the analysis is based, and no referee's reports were produced.  We are left to wonder if the data were incomplete and if the report actually was reviewed by any reviewers, independent ones or otherwise.   The authors thank a number of people for "thorough review of this manuscript," no sign of any such reviews was ever produced in response to the PRA requests, and we can only conclude that if any reviews happened they were at best word of mouth.  A detailed account of our efforts to procure the raw data and the supporting documents follows.

CDPH Refuses to Divulge Purported Evidence.

    As we  noted above,  in absence of any scientific evidence whatsoever as to the efficacy of adulticide spraying, vector control and public health officials have made claims around the state (on the radio, before city councils, to concerned citizens, etc.) that their "study" of the 2005 spraying of Sacramento proves that spraying "works," and they said this was all explained in a paper they were submitting for publication.  We began long ago to try to uncover this "evidence."  We outline some of our efforts below.  If this study really had provided good evidence of efficacy, one would think that the CDPH would have been eager to get it into the hands of skeptics.

    After a number of past discussions with them about the details of their "study," our entomologist had critiqued it for us.  The information he was able to obtain suggests that this "study" is a scientific embarrassment, perhaps coming mainly because impertinent citizens began to ask them for evidence that spraying adulticides "works" (slows the transmission of West Nile virus to humans).

    On July 27, 2007, in a meeting with Sacramento City Councilmember Rob Fong, Vicki Kramer, Chief of the Vector-Borne Disease Section of the California Department of Public Health, held a paper in her hand she claimed contained the evidence gleaned from the 2005 Sacramento spraying.  She held it up as proof that adulticiding works and indicated that they were getting ready to submit it to a peer-reviewed journal.  She noted to us that they had repaired certain problems in what they had previously released.  She did not provide us with a copy of the paper and showed parts of it selectively.

    On August 1, 2007, we made an email request of Vicki Kramer for a copy of the paper.  We never received the courtesy of any reply whatsoever to this note.  On August 8, 2007, we thus filed a Public Records Act request for copies of any risk/benefit analyses on which they had relied and for a copy of the paper in order finally to get a complete look at what they considered evidence.  In an email response on August 20, their attorney supplied several items in response to our queries about risk/benefit analyses (a copy of the 2007 California plan, a copy of a 2006 paper about ground spray we have already critiqued, a copy of a 2005 paper primarily about ground spray in several southern states, and a copy of a 2004 paper about ground spray in New York City) but denied our request for a copy of their paper about the 2005 spraying of Sacramento "on the ground that the public interest in withholding this draft from public scrutiny prior to its publication outweighs the public's interest in disclosure of the draft."  It was hard for us to see how it is in the public interest that we be kept in the dark about the evidence that proves it is good for us to be sprayed with poison. 

    The paper about the spray in the southern states did include a test of aerial application, but it was of malathion (Naled), which is not used here.  Once again, we must note that ground spray is a completely different method than aerial spray, which means that vector control and public health officials had no appropriate risk assessments before they sprayed these urban areas aerially

    On August 31, we explained that if they had wanted to keep their "evidence" secret they could perhaps have chosen to do so, but that once they chose to advertise it as justification of their spray campaign the law does not provide for selective disclosure.  In a second email response, on September 4, they produced some numbers and one chart they said was in the paper, but this at best continued to be selective disclosure.

    In a subsequent email note of September 11, Senior Staff Counsel Barrow indicated that he was reviewing our assertions and authorities.  We responded on September 12 that the law leaves them no discretion in the matter and that we would hold off until the following week to file a Petition for Writ of Mandate, in anticipation of receiving the paper in the meantime.  We also made an additional Public Records Act request of any and all documents that were used in the preparation of or are cited in the report/paper.  Barrow responded on September 18 that the California Department of Public Health was still reviewing our request. 

    We then asked by what date they would make their decision, Barrow responded only that the matter was under active review, and on September 25 we indicated that if the requested documents were not provided by noon on September 28, we "will file a Petition for Writ of Mandate requesting the Court to direct the Department to turn over the requested documents and to award petitioners their attorney's fees and costs."  These last three emails are posted here, in reverse order.

    What were they hiding?  Why would they keep evidence secret?  Of course solid scientific evidence would not be kept secret, and certainly none of us would want our names associated with anything like this.

    At 10:20 on the morning of September 28, they faxed us a copy of a draft of a paper entitled "Efficacy of aerial mosquito adulticiding in reducing human cases of West Nile virus in Sacramento County, 2005."  [We have removed this draft from the web page since the final version of the report has been posted.  It is available upon email request.]  However, their attorney also faxed us a letter that claimed that "CDPH has no such documents responsive to the request set forth in your PRA request, dated September 12, 2007."  This is a most remarkable statement, as it would seem to imply that the draft was either written in the absence of any data or all data and other materials were destroyed after the draft was written.  Why would CDPH not want people to see the data upon which the paper is based?  A quick note back indicated that "DPH's refusal to acknowledge the existence of the requested documents is the most egregious violation of the Public Records Act that I have ever encountered," and stated that "As it appears that DPH will only comply with its obligations under the threat of litigation, if the requested documents are not made available by 12:00 noon on October 8, 2007, my clients will be left with no choice but to file a Petition for Writ of Mandate in Sacramento Superior Court."

    At 2:00 in the afternoon of October 10, we received a fax from Senior Staff Counsel Barrow that 175 pages of documents relevant to our request of September 12 had indeed turned up after all.  He indicated that our request had previously seemed to be more limited in focus.  Apparently our September 28 threat of litigation served to clarify the focus for Senior Staff Counsel Barrow.  He also indicated that some other relevant documents may be in the hands of Ryan Carney, "who is not a CDPH employee."  However, Carney is listed on the draft report as an Associate Public Health Biologist for the California Department of Health Services, Vector-Borne Disease Section.  Were documents being hidden with Carney?  We have never seen a joint work in which all authors did not have essentially all information.  If these documents are being hidden with Carney, we can only ask why. 


    In spite of yet more attempts to get it, the missing raw data was never supplied, but as we noted, the final version of the report was finally posted on the CDC website, as of May 2008.  Again, no referee's reports were ever supplied.  No reports of any kind by any reviewers were ever supplied, even though in the final paper the authors thank eight people "for thorough review of this manuscript."  A full critique was not possible without full information, including the distribution of case reports with case id; onset date and region for the 152 cases detailed in the main table; the mosquito mortality data from SYMVCD, including "sentinel" caged mosquitoes and the weekly population samples for mosquito abundance and infection rates in the mosquitoes; the bird infection rates from sentinel chickens; field population samples; and detailed maps of the indicated zones.  Once again, however, the analysis is moot, as significant errors in the paper mean that it is fatally flawed and no conclusions whatsoever can be drawn about the efficacy of aerial ULV spraying.  The unsupported assumption about where the human infections originated renders the human-infection data meaningless, and a failure to take the heavy wind into account renders the mosquito count data meaningless.