A crazy mixed up kid comes up with a crazy mixed up conspiracy theory about a crazy mixed up blog collective

That Jake Crosby, he’s a crazy mixed-up kid, but I kind of like him.

He seems like a nice enough and smart enough kid, but, sadly, he’s fallen in with a bad crowd over at the anti-vaccine crank propaganda blog, Age of Autism, so much so that he’s even blogging there, helping, whether he realizes it or not, to promote the message that vaccines cause autism and that various forms of biomedical quackery can somehow “cure” autism. I say “whether he realizes it or not” because he seems to have settled into the role of AoA’s token young adult on the spectrum who promotes the party line. Indeed, he’s truly drunk the Kool Aid–big time–as I pointed out a few months ago when I noticed that he had written in my comment section in response to my observation that “no amount of science…will ever convince them [anti-vaccinationists] 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.

Even so, I continue to think that Jake might be educable if he would only dissociate himself from the merry band of anti-vaccine loons over at AoA. I even kind of admire his moxie for trying to do some research in writing what he bills as part I of a piece entitled “Science”Blogs: Seed Media’s Aggressive Weed. (Cue the pot jokes here.) True, it’s about as wrong-headed as anything I’ve seen on AoA, but, unlike the nonsense that J.B. Handley, David Kirby, or the other adults lay down on a regular basis, it’s an innocent sort of wrong-headedness. Yes, I know the entire post is nothing more than an extended ad hominem attack combined with a pharma shill gambit. Yes, I know it’s an incredibly inept and obvious ad hominem attack combined with a pharma shill gambit. But Jake showed some initiative. That’s why I think I need to school Jake a bit. However, unlike the case with the other members of AoA, I just can’t get angry over it. As I said, Jake’s just a crazy mixed-up kid; the rest of the crew at AoA are dangerous cranks. And maybe, just maybe, I can show Jake a bit of the error of his ways.

Jake begins with a little snark directed at both my benevolent overlords and me:

To Seed Media Group, “science” is its gimmick, defined by corporate sponsors. This has led to the vitriol emanating from “Science”Blogs, so much so that it has directly prompted multiple responses from Age of Autism, mostly to a “Science”Blogger using a fake name, hardly ethical journalistically. While the media’s job is to report the news, not make it, that principle has not merely been ignored, but butchered by Seed Media Group, that presents itself as an unbiased, scientific source. Instead, it doesn’t just report on science, it attempts to define “science” as the pharmaceutical industry sees fit

Gee, whom do you think Jake’s referring to there? Of course, Jake knows who I am. So does everyone else on AoA. I know this because, whenever I get on their nerves enough, someone (usually J.B. Handley) will post something to slime me and intentionally try to poison my Google reputation by putting my name in the title and mentioning it as often as he can along with my job. The most recent member of the Borg–I mean AoA–collective to have done this is Ginger Taylor, who not only attacked me but published a private e-mail exchange I had with her when she wrote to complain about a post I had written after one of her tirades. She also published private e-mail exchanges with Sheril Kirshenbaum and reporters from the L.A. Times. Definitely not cool, and definitely not ethical “journalism.” Besides, probably at least a quarter, if not many more, of my readers know who I really am. It’s not exactly the best-kept of secrets. Moreover, I’ve said nearly exactly the same things about AoA under my real name in public as I’ve said here. Yet, oddly enough, AoA never, ever mentions any of those posts. Indeed, when I do publish the same thing here and at my other locale, AoA attacks me here, because then whoever the attack poodle du jour is can whine about my pseudonym.

Jake’s also laboring under a major delusion. Who ever said that Seed Media Group represented itself as an “unbiased” source? SMG has a definite point of view and advocates a certain political viewpoint, which is obvious to anyone who actually–oh, you know–reads the magazine. It also has a definite viewpoint, namely that “science is culture.” Everything published in the magazine flows from that viewpoint. Methinks Jake needs to grow up a bit and learn the difference between a magazine designed for the popular dissemination of science and the discussion of its relationship to culture and politics and an “unbiased” source of science.

Of course, criticizing Seed’s politics or failure to be “unbiased” isn’t really what Jake’s about. What he’s about is a plethora of logical fallacies, including ad hominem attacks, straw man arguments, and poisoning the well (a.k.a. charging guilt by association, in this case the pharma shill gambit). He begins by attacking the founder of Seed Media Group, Adam Bly, in a manner that can only kindly be called ridiculous. Trust me, if I didn’t like Jake, I would have laid a heapin’ helpin of not-so-respectful insolence on him for this. On the other hand, if Jake wants to play with the big boys, he’d better learn to be able to handle the slapdown he’s going to get for writing dreck like this:

Seed Media Group, established in 2005, was born out of SEED Magazine, founded in 2001 by Adam Bly, young Canadian entrepreneur and self-proclaimed prodigy. Bly wants the world to know he served at the age of sixteen as the youngest guest researcher at the National Research Council- a Canadian government body that overseas scientific progress, studying “cell adhesion and cancer.” That, apparently, was his springboard to success. It is unclear if Bly was actually doing real research, or just the equivalent to entering a high school science fair. The significance of this is not obvious from the website, and I can’t imagine what gets taught by 10th grade in Canada that merits cancer research. He does not mention any previous accomplishments that qualified him for such a position. Nor does he mention who invited him to be a guest researcher. Nonetheless, this, Bly claims, was what inspired him, not to become a scientist, but to become a businessman who runs a media company that writes/blogs about scientists, which is exactly what he did. This was when SEED was conceived, though it would be a couple more years before it would start to sprout weeds.

Well, at least Jake can read Bly’s bio on Seed’s website. What, I ask, does Adam Bly’s activities as a teenager have to do with anything? Absolutely nothing. Jake seems to be trying to denigrate Bly’s having done research, belittling it as a “high school science project.” Dude, high school science projects can be very valuable in teaching teenagers science. I can also tell Jake as a scientist and physician myself that it’s quite impressive for a 16 year old to have done what sounds like a research fellowship in cancer research at the NRC. Indeed, Jake needs to expand his mad Google skillz and actually–oh–search the NRC website. If he did, he’d note that the NRC has high school students doing all sorts of interesting biotech research and engineering projects, all apparently designed to nurture the next generation of scientists. By comparison, I didn’t start doing real research until I was in college and I didn’t publish my first scientific paper until I was 26. What Jake missed was that the biotech research was sponsored, at least in 2006, by the pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis. It was even called the National Sanofi-Aventis Biotech Challenge! Obviously that was what corrupted the young Adam Bly’s mind at such an impressionable age. Then was the time that the Dark Lords of Pharma inducted him into their Dark Order of Vaccines and turned him into a willing servant.

Really, Jake, you need to do better. If an old fart like me can out-conspiracy monger you, you need to work a lot harder to find those tenuous connections and weave them into a truly compelling yarn. Bring in the Illuminati. Really. And black helicopters, too. It works for David Ayoub, and it could work for you too.

I do note, however, that Jake’s quite the budding journalist. Unfortunately, he seems to be learning his investigative technique from David Kirby and Dan Olmsted. There’s a famous line from a famous movie from around 30 years ago, in which the dean of a college tells a young man, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” “Fat, drunk, and stupid” is the perfect description of the “journalism” of David Kirby and Dan Olmsted, and it’s sad to see a promising young man apparently think it’s a good idea to emulate their methodology. Even worse, it could seriously harm Jake’s aspirations. He lists himself as a history student. If Jake were to use “research” methodology that in any way resembles how he did this paper for his history writing assignments, I fear for his ability to pass his classes. I really do. On the other hand, maybe his history professors will manage to teach him that real research doesn’t involve weaving tenuous connections into a major conspiracy theory that supports his own pseudoscientific beliefs. At least, I hope they can. Otherwise, I fear that Jake may find himself researching Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories or falling into the 9/11 “Truth” movement.

Jake, you don’t want to end up like Kirby and Olmsted. You really don’t. Don’t you want to do some good? To be respected? To have your life mean something? Emulating those two is not the way to accomplish those ends.

Much of the rest of Jake’s piece is a tortured attempt to demonstrate that, because ScienceBlogs accepts–gasp!–advertising that it must be hopelessly in the thrall of big pharma and, by implication, vaccine manufacturers. Indeed, it’s one of the most tenuous bits of trying to slime Seed with guilt by association that while reading it my fatherly instincts kept coming out. I wanted to sit Jake down and explain to him just where he had screwed up so badly, just how ridiculously fragile a house of cards he had constructed. I’ll try here, but it won’t be fatherly.

Jake makes a lot of hay over the fact that Seed Magazine published an article in March 2005 about the father and son team of vaccine quacks, Mark and David Geier. He praises this article thusly:

In May 2004, for example, a contributor launched an impressive, critical investigation into the controversy surrounding mercury in vaccines. The article was a thoughtful piece of investigative journalism in which public health officials declined to comment while outside researchers willingly participated.

This article appeared in the May 2004 issue of Seed, and a link to a PDF of the file is right here. As anyone who’s read my blog over the years would immediately recognize, this is a credulous piece of garbage. It lionizes “brave maverick doctors” who (1) inject autistic children with a drug used for chemical castration to “treat” autism and (2) set up their own fake institute to do and fake IRB to rubberstamp a highly unethical and pseudoscientific “clinical trial” using this drug on autistic children. Quite honestly, if I had read that Seed article before I was asked to join ScienceBlogs I don’t know if I would have joined. The article was that bad.

But, then, if you believe Jake, something changed after that, something that opened the way for bloggers like me to have carte blanche to attack the anti-vaccine movement. He even attacks P.Z. Myers:

Nothing published before 2005 is traceable on the magazine website, and the article can only be located from alternative sources. SEED magazine would never take such a contribution now, especially since the most popular “Science”Blogger, P.Z. Myers, writes a column for the bimonthly magazine. Myers’s “Science”Blogging about the subject of autism and vaccines is not very in-depth, but he still calls proponents of the theory that vaccines cause autism “anti-vaxers.” I wonder if he thinks the late W.D. Hamilton, arguably the greatest evolutionary biologist since Charles Darwin, was an “anti-vaxer,” for saying he was 95% certain the polio vaccine in Africa caused AIDS.

I can’t speak for PZ, but as far as I’m concerned, why, yes. I would call someone who claims that the polio vaccine caused AIDS not just an anti-vaxer. I’d call him a crank and a pseudoscientist, because there’s no evidence to support such a contention. I am, however, fascinated to see an actual case of an evolutionary biologist venturing into a field not his own and becoming a crank about it. Usually, it’s neurosurgeons or engineers thinking that evolutionary theory couldn’t possibly explain the diversity of life and descending into pseudoscience.

So naturally my presence and that of PalMD, and others who slap down antivaccine lunacy; revere, who advocates vaccination against seasonal flu; and others who don’t put up with anti-vaccine nonsense, are clearly because something changed after 2004. Jake thinks he sees copious evidence in the fact that ScienceBlogs posted a favorable review of Paul Offit’s book and advertised it. These days, according to Jake:

Today, SMG is divided into two categories: SEED Magazine and “Science”Blogs, formed in 2006. The latter is an invitation-only blog of around 69 paid “Science”Bloggers, and every blogger’s view relating to the controversy over autism and its relation to vaccines is entirely predetermined and seemingly the same, whether it’s thimerosal, or the MMR: They do not cause autism, and anyone who thinks otherwise is an “anti-vaccinationist.”

Actually, relatively few bloggers here at ScienceBlogs ever even write about vaccines. The few who do on anything resembling a regular basis include PalMD, revere, Mark Hoofnagle (who has started a surgery residency and doesn’t blog much anymore), Tara Smith (who is on hiatus), and, of course, yours truly. That’s five blogs out of the current 69, not exactly a high percentage. Of these bloggers, I’m the one with the highest traffic, and my traffic is at best an order of magnitude lower than PZ’s. If Jake looked at the topics of conversation that dominate ScienceBlogs, he’d find they’re not generally about vaccines. Evolution is huge. So is atheism, thanks to PZ. But vaccines? Actually, sometimes I feel as though I’m a lone voice in the wilderness. The only reason it seems to Jake that ScienceBlogs is all about vaccines is because AoA and he concentrate on me. It’s all confirmation bias.

It’s also all about big pharma, too, according to Jake. He spends quite a bit of verbiage spinning connections between various pharma companies and Adam Bly, mainly by listing ads by pharmaceutical and chemical companies that have appeared in the past on ScienceBlogs, and basically going wild about them. The most amazing example of making connections where there almost certainly are none. Jake also seems to have an inflated view of his own power:

My mention of a Schering-Plough ad in the comments section of a thread on “Science”Blogs hit a nerve. For one, I never saw that ad on “Science”Blogs again after mentioning it. Secondly, I immediately found myself on the receiving end of the ad nauseum “anti-vax” gambit along with a complaint from a “Science”Blogger of how horrible it was that I was interfering with “normal commerce” to prove my point about the conflicts of interest on “Science”Blogs from a typical “Science”Blogger.

This, I assume, was Jake’s comment. I actually don’t remember it. As is not uncommon among youth, he thinks he made more of an impact than he really did.

In any case, let me school Jake a bit now about how ScienceBlogs works. Seed Media Group has never–I repeat, never–told me how to blog or what to blog. SMG exercises no editorial control over what I or any other blogger here writes. Indeed, some of us have been rather brutally frank in our opinions of certain advertisers. Nor are we in any way monolithic or do we march in lockstep. Indeed, the occasional bouts of internecine blog wars between members of our collective have at times led me to fear for the future of ScienceBlogs. Let’s look at it this way. Jake probably doesn’t read my blog every day. So I can forgive him that he’s blissfully unaware of a string of posts by me that have been very critical of the practices of pharma, for example:

What do you think the consequences were to me for daring to criticize my big pharma paymasters? What horrific punishment did the Great Pharma Powers That Be inflict upon me? Absolutely nothing. I continued to collect my massive paycheck from Seed Media Group every month based on my traffic. It’s enough to pay for my cable (including Internet access and phone) with some beer money left over. Riches galore are mine!

What do you think the consequences have been when I’ve gone after Age of Autism articles or, for that matter, other advocates of pseudoscience? Outing, poisoning my Google reputation, full frontal ad hominem attacks, at least two attempts to get me in trouble with my bosses over the last few years, one by a cancer crank a while back and a more recent one spurred by an AoA post. (There may be more that I never heard about.) No, I’m not saying that big pharma doesn’t try to make its critics pay at times, but from my admittedly anecdotal standpoint the anti-vaccine movement has tried to do me far more harm than any drug company.

In any case, I’ll give Jake a hint. In the real world, it takes money to run a magazine and website. Lots of it. The way magazines and websites make enough money to continue to operate. Advertising has been a part of publishing for a very, very long time and likely will continue to be. As Jake points out, even AoA accepts quite a bit of advertising these days:

Right after I pointed out the Schering-Plough ad on “Science”Blogs and its connection to Merck, one of the “Science”Bloggers attempted to counter this by criticizing Age of Autism, “Apparently AoA has graduated from accepting advertising from supplement manufacturers to accepting pure pseudoscience, as long as it brings in the green,” as if the contributors of Age of Autism are blogging just so Lee Silsby can sell more vitamins. Comparing Lee Silsby to Merck is like comparing a Chihuahua to a Rottweiler.

I can only hope that more maturity leads Jake to understand that he is harping on a distinction without a difference. Size per se is not the issue when it comes to advertising. Accepting the money is. What matters is not the size of the company sponsoring ads, but rather how much money that company is contributing relative to the total budget of the publication. Seed has lots of other advertisers. Heck, Lexus even advertised here for a while. In any case, if Lee Silsby contributes the same amount of money relative to the AoA budget as Schering-Plough does relative to the entire ScienceBlogs budget, they are equivalent. Indeed, I would throw Jake’s words right back at them: “As if ScienceBloggers are blogging just so Schering-Plough can sell more vaccines.”

We aren’t, and that’s not what SMG is in business for. Jake apparently can’t see the hypocrisy and double-standard behind his argument.

I’ll finish by doing two things. First, a reality check. Jake apparently thinks that we ScienceBloggers are kicking back at home in their underwear or sweats, churning out verbiage that is pleasing to our big pharma paymasters and wallowing in the filthy pharma lucre, all the while cackling gleefully as we spit on autistic children. As I always say to anyone who pulls the pharma shill gambit on me, I would really love it if I could make my current salary just by doing what I was doing for free before ScienceBlogs asked me to join and would do for free again if ScienceBlogs ever asked me to leave or if I ever decided to leave for another reason. (In fact, I do still do this for free once a week at another blog.) It would be fantastic to be able to stay home every day and churn out that not-so-Respectful Insolence that my readers have come to know and (mostly) love, meanwhile just waiting for that lovely pharma money to roll in.

It doesn’t work that way, and Orac don’t roll that way.

The fact is that my day job is hard. I work long hours. Blogging is my main hobby. Sad and pathetic, perhaps, but I do so love it. Who does or does not fund SMG matters not one whit to me. It affects what I do or don’t write not at all. I daresay that the same is true for virtually every blogger here. We don’t blog because we’re trying to curry favor with pharma masters; we blog because we love it.

I’ll give one last example. If SMG exercised any influence whatsoever on the editorial content of the blogs here, does Jake really think that it would have allowed PZ to desecrate a Catholic host? After all, there’s nothing like publicly crapping on the deeply held religious beliefs of around 25% of the population to attract advertisers.

Jake labels his post as “Part I.” My advice to him is to quit before he digs himself in too deeply. However, if I may speculate, I bet I know what part II will be about. He will once again, as so many on AoA have before, start trying to dig dirt on me again. If he is really, really good, he may figure out that I’ve been funded for cancer research through the Department of Defense in the past. He may even find out that I, too, have–gasp!–got a small payment from a pharmaceutical company for an invention I co-invented back around 1994. Alas, there has been none since. As I always say when I disclose my potential conflicts of interest before a talk, I don’t have any because no pharmaceutical company thinks my research is worthy of funding.

Jake, you crazy mixed up kid, someday maybe you’ll understand. I also hope that you learn that David Kirby and Dan Olmsted are not the “journalists” you want to emulate, which, sadly, is what you appear to be doing now.

And vaccines still don’t cause autism.

ADDENDUM: Oh, goody. I see Jake has written Part II. Whether I bother to deconstruct that as well, depends on my mood when I get home tonight. I have to operate today and I may be too tired. In any case, Jake did confirm one thing I suspected. Sarah Bridges, who wrote the execrable 2004 Seed article about Mark and David Geier, appears to be someone who thinks that vaccines “injured” her child.

ADDENDUM #2: PalMD is not feeling as mentor-like as I am in his response.