They say that about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as though it were a bad thing

Why is it after a three day weekend, it always feels as though I have to “catch up”? After all, it’s only one day more than the average weekend, and I didn’t really do anything that different. A little yard work, out to dinner, a bit of grant writing, a bit of chilling, that’s it. Maybe it’s because pseudoscience and quackery never rest, while, my never-sleeping, computer-inspired moniker notwithstanding, I do. I have to, particularly as age creeps up on me. In any case, right before the Labor Day weekend, I felt a disturbance in the antivaccine crankosphere. It began Wednesday, with a post by Sayer Ji entitled Gates Foundation Funds Surveillance of Anti-Vaccine Groups. We’ve met Ji before when he made the outrageously silly claim that vaccines are “transhumanism” that “subverts evolution.” This time around, he’s outraged—outraged, I say!—that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a grant to Seth Kalichman, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Connecticut, entitled “Establishing an Anti-Vaccine Surveillance and Alert System,” whose goal is to “establish an internet-based global monitoring and rapid alert system for finding, analyzing, and counteracting misinformation communication campaigns regarding vaccines to support global immunization efforts.”

My first reaction would be to retort to Ji: You say that as though it were a bad thing.

It wasn’t long before the disturbance in the antivaccine crankosphere bubbled to the surface, with outraged and alarmed posts appearing on various antivaccine websites, including MotheringDotCom (MDC), NaturalNews.com, and Jon Rappaport’s blog, where Rappaport claims:

This means the attack is on. Gates intends to do a surveillance operation across the Internet and locate anti-vaccine advocates. His minions will then undertake a counter-insurgency campaign to neutralize them.

Again, Rappaport says this as though it would be a bad thing if that’s what the Gates Foundation were doing.

Oddly enough, it took several days for this meme to find its way to the ultimate wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery (the one that beats even the Huffington Post on that score), Age of Autism, which basically posted an excerpt from Ji’s post with a link to it. Be that as it may, the antivaccine crankosphere is now in full lather about this grant and other Gates Foundation initiatives in a way they haven’t been since they tried to claim that Bill Gates was in favor of a global eugenics program in which vaccines would be the means of reducing the global population. It’s such a brain dead take on the matter that it’s probably worth briefly explaining again, so that you don’t have to go and look it up again. Here’s what Gates said back in 2010:

The world today has 6.8 billion people. That’s heading up to about nine billion. Now if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by perhaps 10 or 15 percent.

Antivaccinationists have leapt on this statement as “evidence” that (1) Bill Gates supports eugenics and (2) that, by saying this, Bill Gates “admitted that vaccines are used for depopulation.” Of course, it’s obvious from the context that Bill Gates is pointing out a general observation that better health care, which includes reproductive services and vaccines, usually leads to populations leveling off. Think of it this way. If the world population is heading up towards 9 billion and we manage to lower that by 15%, that would mean that the world population would still rise to 7.65 billion, which is still nearly a billion more than 6.8 billion. In other words, all Gates was saying was that better health care (including mass vaccination programs) plus wider access to contraception could slow the rate of population increase while at the same time resulting in much healthier populations, not that it would “depopulate” the world. Such willful misinterpretation of Gates’ statement in order to support the existence of a “New World Order”-style conspiracy to slash the global population. At the extreme end, people like Mike Adams at NaturalNews.com links Bill Gates to what he calls the “great culling,” in which vaccines, genetically modified foods, pharmaceuticals, and other products of the pharmaceutical, food, and chemical industries to begin a global program of eugenics, just like Hitler, only not nearly as crude:

Today’s eugenicists are more subtle. They’ve learned, through experience, that openly gassing entire populations doesn’t win over the hearts and minds of the public. So they’ve developed covert methods of accomplishing the same thing. These coverts methods include convincing people to eat genetically modified foods — which promote infertility — to drink fluoride, take vaccines, use synthetic chemicals, increase abortions and pursue other actions that either kill people outright or drastically reduce rates of reproduction.

The idea behind these is that, first off, the culling of the human race can now be accomplished without all the horrifying images of Nazi Germany’s gas chambers. While the Jews in World War II had to be forcibly lined up and herded into railroad cars, today’s eugenics victims willfully line up at pharmacies to be injected with flu vaccines containing stealth cancer viruses that accomplish the same thing: Death.

Death by vaccines is just slower and more covert than death by Zyklon B.

Which brings us back to Ji’s article and Rappaport’s article, the latter of which warns:

Gates is obviously out to create an atmosphere and set a tone for legislation that would make vaccination mandatory everywhere, with no exemptions allowed. That’s what he’s shooting for. That’s his wet dream, the one that goes hand in glove with depopulation, his mountaintop desire.

Of course, what Rappaport means by “exemptions” is in reality non-medical exemptions. No one, not even Paul Offit (or yours truly, for that matter) advocates eliminating medical exemptions. Some children and adults can’t be immunized for various reasons. What Rappaport really means is “philosophical” exemptions, which are not based in religion and were so aptly described by Paul Offit as the “I do not want to get vaccines because I have read a lot of scary things about vaccines and I am afraid that they might hurt my child, and I am not so sure I believe in pharmaceutical companies or the medical establishment or the government, so I do not want my child to get them” vaccine exemptions. Or, in the case of Ji and Rappaport, the “I do not want to get vaccines because I am extremely suspicious of government and pharmaceutical companies, believe that ‘natural’ is always better, and think Bill Gates is leading a global eugenics program to ‘cull the herd'” exemption.

The idea that the Gates Foundation is somehow in league with a “New World Order” of global elites who, for reasons that are never really spelled out, want to drastically decrease the global population by whatever nefarious means they can think of underlies the paranoia behind the attack on Kalichman’s project and its funding by the Gates Foundation. It’s also a typical misunderstanding on the part of Ji and Rappaport frequently utilized by denialists of all stripes, be they vaccine denialists, evolution denialists, or anthropogenic global warming denialists, that calling out misinformation, lies, pseudoscience, and quackery is somehow “suppressing free speech,” as Rappaport describes here:

He intends to create his very own Surveillance State, in which the targets are all Internet reporters and groups that have dug up the real facts about vaccines. The facts the medical cartel wants to hide in their vaults: vaccine deaths, paralysis, maiming, brain damage, autism, immune dysfunction…

He wants to create a chilling effect, for those who are thinking about covering the vaccine issue honestly.

Um, no. That’s utterly ridiculous. As anyone who’s tried to control information and speech on the Internet knows, it’s nearly impossible to shut down speech on the Internet. Even totalitarian countries have a hard time doing it. Like life in Jurassic Park, in the Internet age information will not be contained. Information breaks free. It expands to new territories and crashes through barriers. Information finds a way.

Unfortunately, the same is true of misinformation. Certainly, antivaccine misinformation always seems to find a way.

What this project clearly aims to do is to monitor antivaccine websites for misinformation and to find better ways to counter it. This is a goal of which I approve heartily, given that I already do this in my own way on this blog. However, my invocation as my pseudonym of a completely connected computer that can extract information from any other computer anywhere in the galaxy notwithstanding, I’m just one person with a demanding day job. Even if I were able to devote all of my waking hours to combatting antivaccine propaganda, it would be the proverbial drop in the ocean. It would be reason, science, and medicine diluted homeopathically in an ocean of antivaccine pseudoscience. Compared to the sheer number and influence of antivaccine propagandists in the blogosphere, the relatively small number of us who devote our blogging time to critically examining antivaccine propaganda and pseudoscience are outmatched.

That’s why I find Seth Kalichman’s project interesting and would like to know more about it other than the imaginary version of it being touted by antivaccinationists. Kalichman, as you might remember, has been very active against another antiscience movement, namely HIV/AIDS denialists, a particularly pernicious variety of denialists who push the dangerous myth that HIV does not cause AIDS. He runs his own blog, Denying AIDS and Other Oddities, which unfortunately is not updated as much as one would wish. Again, I do not view it as a bad thing to monitor antivaccine websites and develop new ways to counter their misinformation, as Kalichman appears to propose to do. In fact, I find the wails and gnashing of teeth of the antivaccine crowd rather amusing, given that they seem to vastly overestimate what $100,000 can do in this respect, particularly when the grant applications are peer reviewed. They disingenuously imply that Gates himself is funneling his billions of dollars into the project to produce a global surveillance program that will stomp free speech flat, when what I see is a small pilot grant to try a new method of promoting good science on vaccines by the Internet.

Moving from Rappaport to Ji, just to conclude by emphasizing how much the sort of paranoid thinking (if you can call it that) about vaccines permeates the reaction to the Gates Foundation’s activities, I note that Ji is also unhappy about a lot of the other projects funded by the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative. For instance, here’s what Ji says about one initiative:

Synthetic Lymph Nodes: Steven Meshnick and Carla Hand of the University of North Carolina in the U.S. will develop a bio-compatible, biodegradable polymer device that can be placed under the skin to introduce vaccines and antigens to the immune system. The device will attract immune cells and trigger their proliferation as well as act as an adjuvant at the site of injection. If successful, the device could help boost immune response to new and existing vaccines. [see our article on transhumanistic technologies].

Yes, once again, Ji links to his old article as though developing synthetic lymph nodes that improve vaccine function is a bad thing. To him, it’s “unnatural” and “transhumanism” that somehow makes people less human by inducing an even more “artificial immunity” that vaccines do. The article to which he links also castigates the biotech industry for the “the increasingly God-like power” it is “assuming for itself.” Yes, indeed. Making better medical devices to make vaccines work better is too “God-like.” Because, apparently, God wants babies to die of vaccine-preventable diseases rather than to let humans use the intelligence that believers believe he gave them to try to prevent that.

Other technologies that the Gates Foundation is funding are equally benign (to individuals with a science-based understanding of medicine) but horrific to Ji. These include “Needle Free Vaccination Via Nanoparticle Aerosols”; “Plant-Produced Synthetic RNA Vaccines”; “Vaccine in a Salt Shaker” (whose goal is “to develop an inexpensive, safe, and effective oral vaccine against invasive Salmonella disease using gas-filled bacterial vesicles”); new methods of contraception; edible vaccines; a new circumcision tool (OK, I’m not so sure I’m big on this one); “Nanotechnology-Based Contraception”; and “Ultrasound as a Long-Term, Reversible Male Contraceptive.” With one exception, I again say to Ji: You say that as though these were bad things.

The bottom line is that antivaccine views often feed into a generalized world view of conspiracy theories in which shadowy global elites are trying to impose some sort of bizarre new order on the world for reasons that are unclear because…well, because they’re shadowy elites who aren’t like you and me, leading to calls for “the arrest & prosecution of Bill Gates for mass murder & genocide, and if convicted that he hang for his crimes.” It’s sheer lunacy at its most bizarre, but it’s very pervasive.

I do have to admit that one proposal by an antivaccinationist that did amuse the heck out of me appeared on AoA from a woman named Patricia:

Shouldn’t we lobby Donald Trump to take the opposite view and also fund another University to monitor the Internet and give out anti vaccine information? Isn’t that playing with a level field? Isn’t that encouraging debate rather than discouragig it?

Donald Trump versus Bill Gates in a global smackdown over vaccines? I know where I’d lay my money, and, no, it’s not on the guy with the bizarre hair.