“Outing” anonymous bloggers: A favorite technique of antivaccine cranks

A reader of this blog was outed by a moron posting as “Mark” on the Age of Autism blog. I will not link to the outing, nor will I link to Age of Autism. I have, however, kept a nice screen shot of the page, just in case someone over there has an attack of conscience, and I will also comment on the observation that “outing” its enemies is a favorite technique of cranks in general. However, it seems to be a particular favorite of antivaccine cranks. So is hypocrisy, it would appear. After all, “Mark” did not post under his full name but only under his first name, while he thinks nothing of outing commenters who don’t use their full name. Worse, Kim Stagliano also says he’s one of the editors of AoA, which makes me wonder if he’s Mark Blaxill. She also disingenuously says that each editor has “full autonomy” to moderate how he or she sees fit. In other words, it’s not AoA policy to out critics they don’t like, but it is AoA policy if one of its editors feels inclined to do so, if you know what I mean. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Plausible deniability and all that, you know.

Indeed, “outing” its enemies is such a staple of antivaccinationist behavior, that I consider it standard operating procedure for them. They do it gleefully and gloatingly. They’re obsessed with “outing” anonymous bloggers and commenters and won’t hesitate to do it if they get the opportunity. I’ve been on the receiving end before, beginning nearly three years ago (the first time an antivaccinationist “outed” me). I will admit that the first time I was “outed” it was not by an antivaccinationist but rather a full-fledged cancer quack named William O’Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group, but the antivaccinationists followed a mere four months later. Heck, this year I was even “honored” by having J.B. Handley himself out me in a long, spittle-flecked tirade. He seems to think it would somehow intimidate me or shut me up. If anything, it made me angry. Indeed, you may notice that of late I’ve adopted a much more take-no-prisoners approach with antivaccinationists, although all these stories about the resurgence of vaccine-preventable disease have played a much bigger role in the hardening of my attitude recently than Handley’s childish rant a few months ago did.

In wondering why the mercury militia is so obsessed with anonymous bloggers, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the paranoid conspiracy-mongering at the heart of their beliefs that leads to their obsession. They honestly believe that anyone they can’t identify must be a pharma plant sent to wreak havoc upon the Brave And Bold Antivaccine Autism Warriors Who Know The Real Truth About Vaccines. It simply doesn’t occur to them and they can’t imagine that there might be a perfectly legitimate reason that has nothing to do with being an astroturf agent for someone to decide to comment or blog under a pseudonym.

The first reason cranks believe this, I suspect, is because they frequently argue from (misplaced) authority, not science. Indeed, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about antivaccinationists in the three years antivaccine pseudoscience and autism have been major themes of this blog is that antivaccinationists are way too impressed by fancy-sounding credentials, which is why they fawn over Mark Geier, Boyd Haley, etc. At least, they’re impressed when the people with those fancy credentials say what they want to hear. Regardless, however, they’re definitely far more concerned with who is making an argument rather than whether the argument being made is sound, based on science, evidence, and reason. Second, their obsession with the “who” above the argument means that, if they know who someone is, they can just automatically and reflexively dismiss that person’s argument because, being anonymous, the blogger or commenter doesn’t have adequate “authority” in their eyes, that “authority” seemingly consisting mainly of either having an autistic child herself or being a doctor or a scientist who says what they want to hear. (In my specific case, antivaccinationists couldn’t believe I was who I said I was, a surgeon with an MD/PhD and an active researcher. I was quite amused when they were forced to accept that I am indeed exactly what I’ve claimed all along.)

Finally–and most importantly–if antivaccine cranks know who a blogger or commenter is, they can try to attack, smear, and harass that blogger or commenter. This reason, I suspect, is probably the most important reason of all for antivaccinationists’ love of “outing” their perceived enemies. It’s worked before. A couple of years ago, there was a blogger who wrote a provaccine blog that they outed and intimidated into shutting his blog down. Indeed, for some pseudonymous bloggers trumpeting their real name on AoA or antivaccinationist websites is nothing more than naked retribution for having displeased the antivaccination loons.

There’s no reason to suspect or expect that they will change their behavior, either. Anyone who wants to do battle with antivaccine activists should be forewarned. They can’t win on facts, scientific evidence, or reason. Consequently smears and intimidation are all that’s left for them to use against those who refute their nonsense. Unfortunately, those on the “other side” (i.e., certain antivaccinationists and their enablers) who claim to value civility all too often remain silent in the face of this behavior.