The Refusers attack Orac’s readers

I was thinking of taking Memorial Day off. There are several reasons. First, it’s a holiday. Second, the blog still isn’t functioning quite up to snuff after the transition to WordPress. In particular, we still have a major spam infestation that is unlikely to improve before Tuesday. It also doesn’t help that I have a whole bunch of grant writing to do.

Then I saw this. I became aware of the post through a TrackBack, and that TrackBack came from the website of a rock group—yes a rock group, and a bad one, at that—made up of antivaccine loons. Those antivaccine loons call themselves The Refusers and are known for such gems as Mad Hatter Blues, Vaccine Gestapo, and First Do No Harm. The Clash doing The Guns of Brixton, they ain’t.

For some reason, The Refusers, in all their whacked-out quacky glory, have taken note of little ol’ me. More importantly (and the reason why I felt obliged to apply some Insolence, in this case of the not-so-Respectful variety, to this merry band of ear-splittingly bad antivaccine rockers), Michael Belkin, head Refuser, has attacked my readers. This I cannot abide, even if I could resist an opening paragraph like this?

Message boards on the virulently pro-vax web site ORAC Respectful Insolence advocate fraudulently impersonating disease-injured families and insane people on the comment sections of vaccine injury and vaccine freedom websites such as Age of Autism, Mothering Magazine and Amazon.

These pro-vax maniacs’ purpose in life is to discredit anything that casts doubt on vaccines, which is their pseudo-scientific religion.

“Virulently pro-vax”? Michael Belkin says that as though it were a bad thing.

Personally, I don’t care when an antivaccine loon like Belkin smears me, attacks me, or insults me. I actually rather view it as a badge of honor and am pleased that my efforts are being—shall we say?—appreciated. If they don’t attack me, then I start to worry that my effectiveness in countering their pseudoscience, quackery, and downright idiocy is on the wane. However, when they start attacking my readers? As I said, thato I cannot abide. Belkin is in essence accusing you of lying:

The next time you see comments saying: ‘My unvaccinated child has autism’ or ‘My immune-compromised child can’t take vaccines – it is your duty to immunize your child so my child doesn’t get sick’ or ‘My sister got measles and died’ etc. – please be aware that these may be totally fabricated lies concocted by vaccine fanatics to intimidate and discredit vaccine freedom and awareness websites and facebook pages.

They also advocate setting up phony email accounts and IDs so that their dishonest comments cannot be traced back to the source.

This despicable behavior makes it impossible to believe the veracity of any pro-vax comments you may read on news articles, Amazon forums, Mothering Magazine, etc., where these slimebag commentators lurk.

First off, two out of the three of Belkin’s examples are massive straw men. I don’t know of anyone who’s ever claimed (at least not on my blog) that her sister died of measles or that her unvaccinated child has autism. I don’t recall if anyone’s ever mentioned her immunocompromised child not being able to take vaccines.

In addition, I can’t help but note that Belkin is all about the selective quoting as well. For instance, he cites something g724 says in this post. He completely leaves out g724’s suggestions to send lawyer letters to antivaccine bloggers, siccing the Postmaster General on bloggers advocating sending infectious material through the mails, discontinuing religious exemptions, and developing religious counterarguments to vaccine objections. Instead, out of the many suggestions made in that comment, Belkin zeros in like the proverbial laser beam on one part of the comment, the part in which g724 recommends using emotional warfare over aon antivaccine blogs and going in there agreeing with them but doing so in an overtly “nuts” way.

He then lists a bunch of comments from my blogs, most of them by someone going by the ‘nym of g724. Looking at those quotes, they certainly appear on the surface to be somewhat damning. What Belkin forgets to notice is that the reaction to these suggestions by g724 were uniformly negative. For instance, Antaneus Feldspar writes in the comments (damn the new WordPress not letting me link right to the comment; you’ll have to search and scroll):

Oh, not this from g724 again. I thought he’d finally bought a clue and given up this stupid “let’s win against the antivaxxers with an ethics-free dirty tricks campaign!!” No. We have an advantage that the antIvaxxers cannot match, which is that ours is the one that doesn’t need lies and distortions to support it. There are few stupider ideas anyone could come up with than “let’s do lots of dishonest things to counter the antivaxxers! Let’s post fake messages pretending to be crazy anti-vax conspiracy nuts!” Yeah, that’s a great idea. You know what happens if we do that? Any crazy anti-vax conspiracy crap that comes from anyone other than an established antivaxxer can be written off as “probably just a vaccine pusher up to dirty tricks again.” Yeah, g724, let’s give them plausible deniability; great idea! For the last time, stop with this crap! If you can’t defend science-based medicine with anything except dishonesty, it’s not because antivaxxers are such an unconquerable enemy, it’s because you aren’t up to the challenge; it’s no excuse for stooping.

Denise Walter also commented:

Altho’ your plan has its charm- if you like black ops- I believe that *my* own strong point is that I use my education and experience to expose the blatant lies and posturing by those who rely upon pretense: I can’t do what I’m opposing.

I could probably present myself in a way that might be more appealing to the average alt med-friendly person: I could talk about my (non-existent) children or play down-home girl-next-door but that’s not who I am. Like Antaeus says, we do have something that the woo-meisters don’t: a better grasp on how the real world works.

Belkin’s broadside got me to thinking: Who is this g724 person anyway? I have no idea, but I did decide to do a little searching. Fortunately, even after the messed-up transition to WordPress, all of g724’s comments are still here. So I went looking around on the back channel. The interesting thing I noticed is that this major comment cited by Belkin has a unique IP address that is different from all of g724’s other posts. That makes me wonder whether someone in the antivaccine movement is doing exactly what Belkin claims we are doing. Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for the antivaccine movement), Belkin is so transparent, so utterly obvious, and so utterly clueless, that I have a hard time believing he thinks that this is an effective attack.

Finally, let me just say that, as tempting as it is, I do not support any sort of campaign of the sort proposed by g724. As several of my readers have pointed out, the single biggest advantage that we have is that science is on our side. Snark is OK (as long as it’s science-based). So is laying down the science. We don’t need to lie; we don’t need to pretend to be something we are not; we don’t need to “infiltrate” and try to lay emotional cards. We need to keep reiterating the science and refuting the quackery. True, that’s not enough, at least not in and of itself, but it’s the bare minimum we need as foundation to build on.